Tuesday, May 1, 2007

What Computers were Meant to Be

Today I got the new version of Mathematica. I first learned to use this in 1989 when I took a class from Dan Greyson as a freshman at UIUC. The first example they showed was to type in some function and take its derivative. Seeing the answer pop up on the screen, my reaction was "this is what computers were meant to be."

Now we're at version 6. There are many new features. Many. The things that will catch your attention when you look at the web page will be all the fancy presentation abilities, but there are other nice things as well. One that I particularly like is the "curated information": databases of all kinds of information about chemicals, cities, stocks.... Imagine your almanac was embedded into Mathematica. The command

ChemicalData["Caffeine", "MoleculePlot"]
brings up a (interactive!) picture of one of my favorite molecules:

Here's another feature that will be handy for investment research. This command brings up a nice visual to illustrate a certain banking decision I made last month.

DateListPlot[FinancialData["NTBK", All]]

One of the first of my own programs was to make a picture of a fractal called the Sierpinski Gasket.

I have a lot of ideas for how I'm going to use this. It's interesting in its own right, since I am a programming language professor, and this is a very interesting programming language. But it will also help with administration: I've been collecting exam score data for years now, and I've really been wanting to do some statistical analysis to see how effective various teaching techniques will be. It will be much easier to do that now.

I should have gotten this a long time ago.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hey Matt (I guess you go by Mattox now),

This was a flash from the past to read this for me too. I remember your gasket diagrams and Dan Grayson and how awed I was by Mathematica when I first saw it.

How fun to reconnect with you.

Take care,

-Steve March