Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Date Archive: 2008 April

Announcements & Events

Today We Broke the Bernoulli Record: From the Analytical Engine to Mathematica

In Mathematica, a core principle is that everything should be scalable. So in my job of creating algorithms for Mathematica I have to make sure that everything I produce is scalable. Last week I decided to test this on one particular example. The problem I chose happens to be a classic. In fact, the very first nontrivial computer program ever written—by Ada Lovelace in 1842—was solving the same problem. The problem is to compute Bernoulli numbers. Bernoulli numbers have a long history, dating back at least to Jakob Bernoulli’s 1713 Ars Conjectandi. Bernoulli’s specific problem was to find formulas for sums like . Before Bernoulli, people had just made tables of results for specific n and m. But in a Mathematica-like way, Bernoulli pointed out that there was an algorithm that could automate this.
Announcements & Events

Our Million Build Codes

A few days ago we built the millionth version of our software products. For the outside world, we recently shipped Mathematica 6.0.2. But internally we’ve now built a million versions of Mathematica and our other products. I’ve been at Wolfram Research for 17 years, and for the past 13 years I’ve been responsible for our automated product build systems. Every night (and sometimes during the day) a large cluster of computers builds new versions of every product we make. Building a single Mathematica is a complex process, involving a host of different computer languages and systems, and a final Mathematica contains more than 10,000 separate files.
Education & Academic

John Wheeler (1911-2008)

On Sunday, April 13, 2008, John Wheeler passed away at the age of 96. He was a central figure in twentieth-century physics, in the middle of it all, working on the H-bomb and studying black holes. His legacy in physics is continued in his influence on a vast number of students, and their students in turn. His contributions were many. Some have found their way into Demonstrations:
Gravitation versus Curved Spacetime Zonohedron Turned Inside Out
Particle Moving around Two Extreme Black Holes Schwarzschild Space-Time Embedding Diagram
But I want to mention his role in the history of computation in science. In a sense, he is a spiritual grandfather of NKS and of Mathematica.
Announcements & Events

Spreading Mathematica Notebooks One Windows File Association at a Time

Have you ever created a Mathematica notebook (a .nb file) and sent it to a colleague who doesn’t yet have Mathematica? In the past, you’d have to explain about downloading Mathematica Player. This isn’t difficult, but it is an extra step. Wouldn’t it be better if it “just worked”? Well now, on Windows, it does. Thanks to our longstanding relationship with Microsoft, the .nb file format is now officially part of the automatic Windows File Association system. So, whenever any Windows computer with no Wolfram software gets a Mathematica notebook, the operating system automatically takes you to a download link for Mathematica Player. This is also the case for the published notebook files (.nbp) that have been prepared specifically for interactive use in Player. Only the most widespread and useful formats are included in the Windows File Association system, and we’re happy that Microsoft has now extended the system to include the .nb and .nbp formats. It’s a nice reflection of the growing acceptance of these formats as the standard for interactive documents. On the Wolfram Demonstrations Project we automatically point people to Mathematica Player if they need to download it. But if you post a notebook to a site outside of our domain or if you send a notebook in email, we can’t provide automatic, convenient access to Player for others to be able to view it. With .nb and .nbp included in the Windows File Search system, we don’t have to. Now, anyone can use .nb and .nbp files and have confidence that anyone else will be able to read them. It’s another small step in making Mathematica notebooks---and Mathematica---more ubiquitous.
Education & Academic

Demonstrations Pick: Numerical ODE Methods You Might Use for Your Classroom. Or Your Homework.

I would like to point to a recent member of the Wolfram Demonstrations Project: Numerical Methods for Differential Equations. It was submitted a few weeks ago, and I rather liked it because it illustrated several basic numerical approaches to solving a first-order differential equation. Without much fuss this quickly brings one into numerical analysis, approximation methods and other polysyllabic topics important to engineering, math and related fields. As it was making the rounds through our review process, I received one of those phone calls that parents know all too well: the college student emergency homework appeal. I picked up the phone.
Computation & Analysis

Mapping My Travels with Mathematica

Reading Theo’s blog post about his website reminded me that our excitement about the grand projects that get done in Mathematica often make us forget to talk about all the exciting little things that Mathematica makes possible too. It would be easy to think that Mathematica is only suitable for website production if you have something on the grand scale and high traffic of periodictable.com. So I wanted to write about using Mathematica to make a website that is anything but grand and far from popular... my own. My pages are just an attempt to put my footprint on Google so that I can be found. It mostly consists of a few basic pages about me and my work with Mathematica. So what advantage did I get out of doing it in Mathematica? Well, the first was pretty basic personal practicality---why learn new tools if you don’t have to? I know Mathematica, and I knew it would be faster for me to create it in Mathematica than to find and learn how to use other content management and authoring tools. Once I had coded up a page template in the symbolic XML features of Mathematica, I could create any new page by applying that function to the page content text. The whole lot is automatically written out as HTML and uploaded to the server by Mathematica. But the one unusual part of the content is ONLY practical with Mathematica. My work with Mathematica takes me to a lot of places---giving talks about it, meeting business and technology partners and all kinds of users. I also travel for fun. I wanted to make a definitive list of places that I have been to and to present that visually.
Announcements & Events

Player Pro: Unleashing Mathematica’s Development Potential

I’m excited about Player Pro’s release not only in its own right but because of how it will broaden Mathematica’s scope, adding a pivotal deployment stage to Mathematica’s development workflow. Mathematica has increasingly had many elements of a great development environment, particularly since Mathematica 6. Its versatility, modern programming language, Workbench and automated interface building combined with tremendous computational abilities and symbolic architecture make it uniquely suited for quickly building powerful technical applications of any scale. What about the subsequent deployment to your users? For some time, webMathematica has offered an innovative approach, suiting the range of cases where running off a centralized server and interfacing through a browser is what’s wanted. But server-based deployment is not the best methodology for all scenarios. And up until now, local deployment of Mathematica applications has needed each user to have a full version of Mathematica. Today that changed. Both economical and powerful, Player Pro can be the runtime for almost any Mathematica application, with developers “building in” what is Mathematica’s engine to their applications, or with users equipping themselves independently with the Player Pro runtime. For the first time, developing with Mathematica doesn’t have to mean deploying with Mathematica too. Or, putting it another way, Mathematica was the development environment and the runtime all in one. You’ve always needed Mathematica to run Mathematica-made applications. Now you don’t.