How Do You Do That in Mathematica?
May 28, 2009 — Nick Gaskill, Technical Documentation Specialist, Technical Communications & Strategy Group
Have you ever wanted a set of straightforward, step-by-step instructions for solving a problem or accomplishing a specific task with Mathematica? Have you ever thought that a Mathematica “quick-reference guide” would be useful? If so, take a look at the “How To” Topics in Version 7. “How tos” are a new type of documentation in Mathematica 7 that provide just the information you need without a lot of detailed background information.
This task-oriented approach makes these “How tos” ideal for those getting started with Mathematica. Some students, educators, researchers, and others that would benefit from using Mathematica feel that it would take too long to learn, or is just too complex to use. While this sentiment might seem reasonable given the computational power and breadth of features available in Mathematica, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
For example, making and labeling a plot are often among the first things that new users want to do. The instructions in the Label a Plot “How to” screencast get you up and running, in just 75 seconds. Feeling adventurous? Then how about making an interactive plot? The Build an Interactive Application screencast shows you how to build an interactive application in just 65 seconds. Now you are ready to share your results with the world. Submit your application to the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, as illustrated in the Create a Demonstration “How to” (8:46). So far, you’ve created a plot, made it interactive, and submitted it as a Demonstration—all in 11 minutes. Not a bad start. You probably even have some time to browse through other Demonstrations to get ideas on what else you can do with Mathematica.
“How tos” aren’t just for beginners though. Users of all levels of experience can benefit from having a set of simple instructions for Mathematica. I’ve spoken with several people within Wolfram Research who find the “How tos” to be useful points of reference. Some experienced users are also unaware that much of the functionality recently built into Mathematica requires little or no additional setup. The Use Built-in Gamepad Support “How to” screencast explains the use of a variety of input devices to control dynamic content. For example, you could use a gamepad to control the interactive plot you made earlier.
Currently there are 103 “How tos”, and more are on the way. If there’s anything that you’d like to see in a “How to”, please let us know!