Date Archive: 2008 June
Today is an important anniversary for me and our company.
Twenty years ago today—at noon (Pacific Time) on Thursday, June 23, 1988—Mathematica 1.0 was officially launched.
Much has changed in the world since then, particularly when it comes to computer technology.
But I’m happy to be able to say that Mathematica still seems as modern today as it did back then when it was first released. And if you take almost any Mathematica 1.0 program from 20 years ago, it’ll run without change in the latest Mathematica 6.0 today.
From the beginning, I had planned Mathematica for the long term. I wanted to build a system that could capture the essence of computation, and apply it wherever that became possible.
I spent great effort to get the fundamentals right—and to build the system on principles that would endure.And looking back over the past two decades it’s satisfying to see how well that has worked out.
June is a special time around Wolfram Research. Every year we have a big company picnic to celebrate the anniversary of the release of Mathematica, which occurred June 23, 1988. That’s right, Mathematica turns 20 years old this month.
When you think about it, having a 20th birthday is pretty remarkable for a piece of software. How many other software products do you use now that were around in 1988? More importantly, how many of them are still at the top of their game after so long? We’re pretty proud of the fact that Mathematica’s core design and functionality have stood the test of time.
We thought it would be appropriate to celebrate this anniversary by having a “memory museum” at this year's picnic. Being the de facto company archivist (having once been the corporate librarian and having reached the “relic” status in both raw age and tenure at the company), I took on the role of organizing our displays.
We had a big collage of photos of employees past and present. An awful lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into the creation of Mathematica over the years and it only seemed right to highlight the people behind the product. Anyway, it’s always fun to note the passage of time through funny hairdos, expanding waistlines and receding hairlines.
We wanted to show how Mathematica has changed over time, too. We came up with a few displays that seemed to show this fairly well. Here’s a graphic we used as a poster to show the disk space used by each of our major versions.
As an astronomy enthusiast, I try to keep up on all the various goings-on in astronomy news. Astronomy, being a primarily visual science, often lends itself quite well to computer visualization. Recently, NASA landed on Mars again, this time near one of the Martian poles in an attempt to study the ice and landscape of this frigid region. Is there water ice there, or just dry ice made of frozen carbon dioxide? How much of each? That's what the Phoenix Mars Lander was sent to try to unravel.Solar Power Grid Unfurled—image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
As an editor for the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, I often get quite interested in new astronomy-related Demonstrations. One particular set, written by Sándor Kabai, focuses on the mechanics of not only the Phoenix Mars Lander, but probes from the past as well.Landers, as opposed to other spacecraft, must overcome unique design challenges. Unlike orbiters, which typically have only sensors and cameras, landers usually have mechanical components to directly manipulate the surrounding environment like an astronaut could. These components come in many forms, such as wheels, scoops, drilling instruments and so on, which make landers much more interesting to visualize interactively. Although these are not strictly astronomy, more engineering, few would argue that they are space-related and therefore pretty cool!
Recent Demonstrations: Visual Encryption
When I was a kid, dinosaurs and secret codes were topics of surefire interest, since one was useful for eating your little sister and the other one for denying her the password to the clubhouse. I haven't noticed any Demonstrations about dinosaurs yet (I continue to keep an eye out), but interesting ones about cryptography turn up regularly, including a couple of neat recent entries on visual encryption: Michael Schrieber's Visual Encryption Pad and Paul van der Schaaf's Graphical Modulo-4 Image Encryption.
One cipher (if you can call it that) common in my kiddie code books involved printing a message in red stipple overlaid with a noise field of blue stipple. You could use the piece of red cellophane included in the back of the book to mask out the blue part and reveal the secret message. The Visual Encryption Pad Demonstration is the sophisticated cousin of this scheme, involving the overlay of a random bit mask (the key) with another bit mask of the same size (the message). Applying a set of rules to the combination of bits at a given pixel (in the case of this Demonstration, XNOR) reveals the message, which might look like this:If your spies in the field don't have computers, and you are limited to passing around messages on microfilm or something, then the only bit-combination rule set you will be able to use is OR. And of course your messages are limited to one bit per pixel. The Graphical Modulo-4 Image Encryption> scheme, on the other hand, can encode more than one bit per pixel, even on physical media. Let me quote some snippets of the Demonstration's code and describe how they work, and then I'll discuss a couple of extensions that suggest themselves.