Wolfram Computation Meets Knowledge

Meet the Authors of Hands-on Start to Wolfram Mathematica, Second Edition

Hands-on Start cover

Jeremy Sykes: To celebrate the release of Hands-on Start to Wolfram Mathematica and Programming with the Wolfram Language (HOS2), now in its second edition, I sat down with the authors. Working with Cliff, Kelvin and Michael as the book’s production manager has been an easy and engaging process. I’m thrilled to see the second edition in print, particularly now in its smaller, more conveniently sized format.

Q: Let’s start with Version 11. What’s new for Version 11 in HOS2 that you’d like to talk about?

Michael: As with any major Mathematica release, there are more new things to talk about than can be discussed in the time we have available. But I’m getting a lot of use out of the new graphics capabilities—the new labeling system, the ability to have callouts on a graph, word clouds, enhanced geographical visualizations and even things you don’t think about, such as the removal of discontinuities when plotting things like tan(x). The second edition of the book also includes updates for working with data, like the ability to process audio information, working with linguistic data, new features for date computation and preparing output for 3D printing. (Also new is an index, to make it easier to find specific topics.)

Q: Getting back to basics, I know that HOS existed in some form long before the book came out. Maybe you could fill out some of the history for us.

Cliff: Twenty years ago, I started at Wolfram on the MathMobile, traveling from city to city, visiting organizations (mostly universities—some companies and government labs as well). The MathMobile was a 30-foot trailer (connected to a truck) with three laptop stations where people would come into the trailer to see Mathematica in action in this mobile computer lab. My job was to walk people through how to get started with Mathematica, sometimes answering technical questions for existing users, and sometimes going through a first overview for non-users. Afterward, I worked in technical support and then in sales, and through these experiences, I had the opportunity to see many types of first-time interactions with Mathematica. Thus, my passion for helping people get started with Mathematica was initiated. Several years ago, I came up with the idea for a free video series showing people how to get started. That was extremely popular. From that, many requests for a book version of the video series came. Then we translated the video series into a book.

Q: Tell me a bit about the partnership behind CKM Media and how you came together for the project.

Cliff: In the late 1990s, Kelvin and I began working closely together on many Wolfram projects relating to academia. We found a lot of shared ideas and approaches to problems, bringing very different strengths to those projects. I tended to look at things from a liberal-arts-college perspective and that of a math student who had strong math skills but not a lot of programming experience. Kelvin often came at things more from the mindset of an engineer at a research university. We found that these different mindsets helped ensure that more members of academia were well represented in those projects. Michael started at Wolfram in the mid-2000s. The three of us worked closely together after his hire. Michael brought a computer science mindset with a focus on data analytics and programmatic solutions to real-world problems. So while we have been good friends for about fifteen years, we also bring such different skill sets to projects and feel we make for a great collaborative team for this book.

Q: What makes HOS a good Mathematica teaching tool?

Kelvin: I think it’s a good teaching tool from two perspectives—one, it’s extremely useful for teaching anyone how to get started with Mathematica. We’ve had lots of great feedback from students, teachers, professors and lots of different types of people in the government and commercial sectors. But also, it’s been a great tool for the classroom. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot from the free Hands-on Start video series. The comments and feedback from educators using the videos for their classes helped shape the philosophy of the book. What we wanted was a slow buildup of material that works well for non-users, and specifically for non-users without any coding experience. As the chapters progress, the examples get more intricate and more interesting, using multiple Mathematica functions. At the same time, we wanted the first few chapters to also show a complete sample project in Mathematica. Then, when syntax conventions are covered, they are framed with a discussion about why that convention is useful for a project. The second thing we wanted to do was show the scope of Mathematica and the Wolfram Language.

There are many good books and tutorials for learning Mathematica, but they often focus on one field or class. Our team wanted to provide a good foundation for how to use Mathematica and the Wolfram Language for a broad range of applications. Even Mathematica users who have focused on a select few functions could learn how to use Mathematica in new types of applications or projects. And it’s been fun to see the results so far.

The first edition has been a recommended or required text in classes like chemistry, economics, physics and mathematics, and in classes specific to teaching Mathematica or the Wolfram Language itself.

Hands-on Start authors

Jeremy: HOS2 is available from our webstore. It’s also available on Amazon. It’s available in the beautiful, perfect-bound 7×10 paperback copy, and also as a fully updated Kindle version. For those who buy the printed book, we have enrolled the book in Kindle’s MatchBook program, which allows you to buy the EPUB at a reduced cost. We also have plans to release on iTunes. For our international users, we plan to release translated versions of HOS2 in Japanese, Chinese and other languages.

Be sure to check out our upcoming series of Hands-on Start to Wolfram Mathematica Training Tutorials. Learn directly from the authors of the book and ask questions during the interactive Q&A. Visit Wolfram Research’s Facebook event page to learn more about upcoming events.


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  1. I have this book, among many others on Mathematica, and it is a very good resource for the new features in recent versions of Mathematica, e.g., the dynamic functionality behind Manipulate. Mathematica’s development often seems to be outstripping the supply of books such as this that enable a user to make full use of new features and packages. A welcome addition to the pantheon, so to speak.

  2. Is there a published errata for the book?


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