Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Date Archive: 2008 May

Announcements & Events

International Mathematica Symposium

I’m looking forward to attending the upcoming International Mathematica Symposium (IMS) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, June 20–24. IMS is an interdisciplinary conference run by Mathematica users, and it covers the wide range of applications of Mathematica. Held every two years (sometimes every year) since 1995, this one is the ninth. It has been located in a variety of places, such as Japan, Australia, Canada and in Europe. I was present at the first IMS in Southampton, England in 1995 and have attended most of them since. I have some fond memories of discussing computational theory under the midnight sun in Rovaniemi, Finland; getting to grips with the Tokyo subway system; explaining details of the Mathematica compiler in Hyde Park, London; and studying mussel shells (while enjoying seafood) in Fremantle, Australia. It’s interesting to see how both Mathematica and IMS have developed and grown in the last thirteen years. What I like about IMS is its focus as a Mathematica user event. This gives it a contrast with the Mathematica technology conferences (these are typically held in Champaign, Illinois, in October). IMS presentations are by users and, since it is an interdisciplinary event, these are often very wide ranging but use Mathematica as a common thread. This uniform language means that material is often much more accessible to people outside the subject matter. It allows mathematicians, engineers, scientists, financiers, economists and others, from education, industry and research, to find a common meeting ground to exchange ideas and techniques. This variety gives attendees a good opportunity to get insight into other subjects, and perhaps learn new methods they can bring to their own work. It also gives them a good opportunity to compare and improve their use of Mathematica. It is also interesting to meet the many different sorts of Mathematica users. I like to see the interesting ways that people apply Mathematica, often finding angles and aspects that we had not completely anticipated. I also like to get feedback on parts of the system that people would like to see improved and where they have trouble. Sometimes, of course, I can help them immediately with my own experience and knowledge, but sometimes improvements are longer term. There are a number of other Mathematica developers at IMS and I’m sure they all find it similarly rewarding. Anyway, if you are interested in increasing your experience of Mathematica and getting involved in the community of users, I strongly urge you to attend the 9th IMS in Maastrict. You can find details on the IMS website. I hope to see you there.

The Form of a Form

There are a lot of interesting features hidden “under the hood” of the Wolfram Demonstrations authoring notebook, and most of them are new to Mathematica 6. The authoring notebook acts as a stand-alone form, and not only represents a simple new way to standardize information for systematic deployment, but also offers a convenient basis for sharing these subtle but powerful new technical details. I’m excited by any new features that enhance the document creation process in Mathematica. As an 18-year veteran of the company, I’ve interacted with the notebook front end since Version 2, and have been contributing to the interface and documentation systems since Version 3. I’ve recently taken on new responsibilities for managing some of our web applications, particularly online forms for both internal business and external customer interactions, and I’m eager to insert notebook-based source material and Mathematica controller logic into these systems. We have already done so with the Wolfram Mathematica Documentation Center and the Wolfram Demonstrations Project. Of all these systems, Demonstrations are the most visible to our users from their starting point through administrative stages to ultimate deployment, so let’s dissect the Demonstrations authoring form to expose its hidden talents. If you haven’t done so already, you can open the authoring notebook from Mathematica’s File menu:
Education & Academic

Differential Geometry Carved in Stone

I work on geometric computation and graphics in Mathematica, and for Mathematica 6 I was responsible for our new surface-drawing capabilities. When I talk about my work at university mathematics departments, I am often told that I just have to see what the department has tucked away in some corner of its building: plaster casts of intriguing mathematical surfaces, created in the early part of the twentieth century to illustrate the achievements of the field of differential geometry. It’s been very difficult even to reproduce those plaster casts, let alone to go beyond them—each one represents a sophisticated combination of symbolic mathematics, numerics and geometry. But with Mathematica, we now have just the combination of capabilities that are needed. And I always find it fun to reproduce those plaster-cast surfaces—often with single lines of Mathematica code, usually centered on the function ParametricPlot3D. With 3D printing, I’ve even been able to make my own physical versions of lots of these surfaces.

Announcements & Events

NUMB3RS Season 4 Wrap

A year ago, we highlighted some of our work for the CBS-Paramount TV series NUMB3RS. In September 2007, we wrote about our enhanced involvement and our launch of The Math behind NUMB3RS. The site presents math highlights and activities for every episode, starting with Season 4. Tonight on CBS, Season 4 reaches a conclusion with the 78th episode—When Worlds Collide—and we’ve got our write-up for it available for your perusal. What happens when the worlds of science and government disagree? History provides numerous examples of this timeless subject. Italy, 212 BC: Archimedes wouldn’t leave his diagrams fast enough for a soldier’s liking and was killed. Spain, 1808: Arago was imprisoned as a spy while measuring the shape of the Earth. Poland, 1939: Kuratowski taught math at an illegal underground university. Tonight’s episode gives a modern version of the clash between state and science.

Announcements & Events

Two Hundred Thousand New Formulas on the Web

The Wolfram Functions Site—which just tripled in size—has a rich story. I have spent most of my career deriving integrals and formulas about mathematical functions. When I lived in the Soviet Union, I co-wrote some of the largest books of formulas ever, which contained altogether about 5,000 pages and a total of about 30,000 formulas, and have been reprinted in several languages.
Design & Visualization

Making Photo Mosaics

You’ve probably seen examples of photo mosaics where each “tile” in the mosaic is a tiny photograph, selected so the overall brightness and color of the tiny photo averages out to the brightness and color needed for its position in the overall mosaic.

Following a suggestion by Ed Pegg, I suddenly found it impossible to imagine life without a photo mosaic of Dmitri Mendeleev, the principal inventor of the periodic table, made out of photographs of the elements.

It was convenient in this regard that I possess the world’s largest stock library of photographs of the chemical elements—about 2,000 photographs of roughly 1,550 different physical samples of the pure and applied elements—along with a photograph of Mendeleev and a bit of software called Mathematica. (You can see this library at periodictable.com; don’t forget to order a copy of my photo periodic table poster.)

You might think that creating photo mosaics is a standard task for which software, probably even free software, is available. And for all I know it is. But upon brief reflection I decided it would probably be faster and easier for me to write code to do this from scratch in Mathematica than it would be to find something to download and then figure out how to use it.

It turns out you can do a first pass at it with three lines of input.