Posts Tagged ‘Wolfram Research’

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Tides Calculator
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $.99

Wolfram’s Mathematica (now version 8.0.4) is a mature product used by many professionals and academics, and the past couple of years Wolfram has started getting developing mobile applications. I’ve already reviewed their Astronomy and Chemistry course assistant apps, which are excellent and inexpensive products for students. This review is on Wolfram’s Tides Calculator, one of their new Reference apps for the iPhone/Touch and iPad.

The tides are relevant to many people around the world that live on or near the coast, or that make a living on the sea. Wolfram provides a low cost ($.99) app that is easy to transport and provides good information about the tides, including Current Tide, High Tide, Low Tide, Average Tide, Tide Forecast/History, and Extras.

Getting Started

I downloaded the Tides app from the iTunes store and it was a typically easy install onto my iPod Touch. I selected the first option (Current Tide), and and the default location was set to Current Location (handy of you are on the go and want the tide info for your current site. As tides are not as much of an issue for us in Minneapolis, MN, I entered Maine for the Location and pressed the Compute button. In a couple of seconds, the app displayed a chart for the tides covering 24 hours, with the time and height of high and low tides for Maine. As I entered the search in the afternoon, the returned results covered the current and next days which is better than forcing one to go to a different path to get the tide info for the next day. One thing to note: this data was computed based on historical data and did not include weather-influenced factors like hurricanes, so take this into consideration if you need current information and bad weather impacts your location.

There is other useful data on the same screen. The tide reporting station for Maine is at Bangor, at the Penobscot River, and the coordinates of the station are included (good for using with Google Earth), along with the relative position of the station in relation to the state of Maine. Another bit of useful information on the screen is sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Not all of the screen information is visible at the same time, but it is easy to move around or zoom out as needed.

Next I checked out the High Tide and Low Tide information. I again used Bangor Maine as the location and essentially saw the same information displayed as I saw at the Current Tide screen, although the graphs highlighted the high and low tides respectably. I used Bangor again for the Average Tide option, and there were a few extra bits of information (range of tide, average high tide, average of high and low tides, and average low tide), but had mostly the same information as was shown at the Current Tide screen.

The next option I tested was Tide Forecast/History. Using my favorite (Bangor, Maine) location, I retrieved the tides forecast for 11/24/2011 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) and saw a nice 24 hr graph of the expected tides, with times/heights of high/low tides along with sun/moon rise/set times. Good data for a forecast. Next I left the location alone and changed the date to 11/24/2010 and the app downloaded the historical tide data for last year – also, good data.

Finally I checked out the Extras options and they were: Sunrise and Sunset, Sun Exposure, UV Forecast, Weather and Forecast, Moon Phase, and Properties of Oceans. For Sunrise and Sunset, I retrieved the information for my current location (Minneapolis, MN) for tomorrow and saw the data, plus the duration of daylight (good to know as we edge closer to the shortest day of the year), the altitude and azimuth for my location, a nice graph of the sun path for tomorrow, some cool (to amateur astronomers) star properties, an image of the current Earth/Moon/Sun configuration (science teachers, paying attention?), and the 10 closest stars (including Wolf 359, mentioned once or twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Excellent information for educators and astronomers.

Another Extras option is Sun Exposure, where you can enter your location, date, and skin type to compute the most appropriate sun tan lotion needed to protect your body. Nice. With my skin type, I will need an SPF 15 if I head outdoors tomorrow. I like the UV Forecast option too – it gave the current UV conditions, along with a map of most of the country that showed this data, along with the expected time to get a sunburn (based on skin type and exposure), and the recommended SPF factor for sun tan lotion.

The next Extras item I checked out was the weather forecast. I regularly check weather when I fly, and I’m just as interested in the weather when driving in Minnesota in January and February, so this is one of my favorite extras.The forecast for the current day and next day is useful, and the graph for the temperatures for the upcoming week is also good to know (especially as the highs and lows for each day is also included). I also find the precipitation rate and wind speed forecast graphs to be very useful and both enhance this aspect of the app. I should add you can get weather forecasts for other locations than current location, so this could be a nice assistant when planning a vacation.

The next option in Extras is Moon Phase, which provides good info if you’re wanting to look at the Moon. The last Extras option is Properties of Oceans and it provides Ocean Information, Ocean Properties, Speed of Sound in the Ocean, and Pressure Under Water data. Good information for planning a dive, don’t you think?

Likes

  • The price is excellent, and the UI is simple yet functional.
  • This is a good tool to use to help plan a vacation.
  • The app does what good apps do – it retrieves information over the internet (from Wolfram servers), reducing the footprint of the downloaded/installed app.
  • I like how the locations default to the current location (great for lazy mobile device owners like myself).
  • The amount of information in Extras is excellent and really expands the app. Weather is my absolute favorite option in this app.

Dislikes

  • Didn’t like seeing the same information in Current Tides duplicated in the High, Low, and Average Tide screens. I’d rather have buttons at the Current Tide screen that would provide the additional information. I think it might have been better to release a Weather App, which includes Tide information, that a Tides App with weather information.

Conclusion

The information is useful to a lot of people, not just sailors. As a fiction writer, I may need to know past or future tides that affect the characters in some of my stories, and this inexpensive app would be an excellent resource. While I know many people (including me) prefer free apps, it is hard to argue with the low price for this app.

Recommendation

Buy it. Skip the burger on the McDonald’s value menu and buy this app. It is interesting information, and good, inexpensive apps need to be purchased to encourage vendors to continue to provide quality apps at a low price. Wolfram currently has another 8 Reference Apps available, and the next one I’ll review is their Fractals App.

Please let our readers know if you’ve tried this app and your impression of the software. Sharing experiences on expensive apps is important, but so is telling others about good, low cost applications.

Be well.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: General Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

Many modern students use their smart phones in school, and Wolfram understands this so they are releasing a series of course assistant applications for smart phones and devices like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve already looked at Wolfram’s Course Assistant for Astronomy, and I wanted to look at Wolfram’s General Chemistry Course Assistant when it was released since I initially majored in Biochemistry when I first started my undergrad degree.

This Course Assistant is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95, and I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was flawless. The data (just like in the Astronomy Course Assistant) was organized by categories:

  • Atoms, Molecules, Ions
  • Atomic Structure & Periodicity
  • Reactions & Stoichiometry
  • Gases
  • Chemical Bonding
  • Liquids & Solids
  • Acids & Bases
  • The Nucleus
  • Units & Chemical Properties

Atoms, Molecules, Ions

This category has these subcategories: Find an Element. Find an Isotope, Atomic Properties of Elements, Abundance of Elements, Properties of Monoatomic Ions, and Ion Groups.

I went to the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory and entered 8, and then pressed ‘Compute’ to see the information on Oxygen, which displayed the element name,the location in the periodic table, an image of the element, some basic element properties (symbol, atomic number, electron configuration, block, group, period, and atomic weight), thermodynamic properties (melting point, boiling point – in centigrade and fahrenheit – critical temperature and pressure, molar heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, specific heat at STP, and adiabetic index), material properties (density, molar volume, refractive index, sound speed, and thermal conductivity), electromagnetic properties, reactivity (valence, electronegativity, electron affinity, ionization energies, atomic properties (term symbol, atomic radius, covalent radius, and van der Waals radius), abundance (universal, crust, and human), nuclear properties (half-life, isotopes), and identifiers (CAS and PubChem numbers).

In addition to searching for elements by atomic number, you can also use the number of protons and electrons. My favorite subcategory of this category of the course assistant was the ‘Atomic Properties of Elements’, because the search criteria you can use to find information include atomic number/weight/radius, number of protons/electrons.neutrons, and the Lewis structure.

Atomic Structure & Periodicity

This category has four subcategories: Light & Matter, Electron Configuration, Periodic Properties of Elements, and Ionic Radii.

The ‘Light & Matter’ subcategory lets you compute EM Radiation, the energy of a photon, and photon energy. The ‘Electron Configuration’ subcategory lets you compute configuration information for atoms or ions. The ‘Periodic Properties of Elements’ calculates information for elements and element groups. The ‘Ionic Radii’ subcategory computes radii for monoatomic and polyatomic ions.

Reactions & Stoichiometry

This category has eight subcategories to Solve for Mass/Volume, Convert Mass/Volume, Calculating Molar Mass, Composition of Compounds, Concentration and Solutions, and Equations and Reactions. My favorite subcategory was Equations and Reactions, which lets you plug in data to compute Reaction Enthalpy, the Reaction Equilibrium Constant, balance chemical equations, and calculate theoretical yields. Each section lets you specify 1 to 4 reactants and 1 to 4 products. Very useful.

Gases

This category has nine subcategories to solve for Avogadro’s Law (V or n), Boyle’s Law (V or P), Charles’s Law (V or T), Gay-Lussac’s Law (P or T)/Density or Molar Mass, the Ideal Gas Law (P, V, n, and T), Graham’s Law, Average Kinetic Energy, and RMS Velocity.

Chemical Bonding

This category has two subcategories: Bond Properties of Chemicals and Lewis Structures of Elements. The ‘Bond Properties’ include dipole moment, bond types and bond lengths for water, ethanol, acetic acid, acetone, and chloroform.

Liquids & Solids

This category has three subcategories: X-ray Analysis of Solids (Bragg Equation), Boiling Point of Liquids, and Liquid Vapor Pressure. I really liked how the second subcategory lets find boiling points based on city, elevation or mountains.

This was the only area of the app that I saw an error. I went into all three subcategories and all were blank, even though I waited 10 minutes. I quit the app and after I went back into it I was able to see each subcategory, but then the app locked up for a minute. I was able to restart the app, but I have notified Wolfram about this issue and will update this review as soon as I hear back from them.

Acids & Bases

This category lets you look up properties of acids and bases, calculates the ionization percentage of a solution, determine acidity and basicity of solutions (calculate pH and pOH, H+ and OH-, and look up the pH of a chemical), calculate pKa, and solve for pH or pKa.

The Nucleus

This category lets you look up information on isotopes (get element isotopes, look up nuclear properties, and find isotope half-life), as well as compute carbon-14 dating (if you believe that the earth is actually older than 6400 years). I went into the ‘Isotopes’ subcategory and looked up the isotopes for Oxygen, which showed all of the stable and unstable O isotopes. My favorite subcategory of this section was the ‘Isotope Half-Life’, as you can easily use element name or mass numbers to compute the half-lives of elements, which was interesting considering the reactor problems currently being experienced in Japan (as well as in Chernobyl).

Units & Chemical Properties

This category contains five subcategories: Unit Conversions, Physical Properties, Thermodynamic Properties, Element Properties, and Chemical Properties. The ‘Unit Conversion’ subcategory allows conversions based on length, mass, temperature, and volume. The four types of ‘Physical Properties’ are molecular weight, density,boiling point, and melting point. The types of properties found using ‘Thermodynamic Lookup’ are enthalpy of formation, entropy, free energy, heat capacity, enthalpy of fusion, and combustion heat.

I liked the ‘Element Properties’ subcategories, because it returns a ton of information for each element (the element name, periodic table position, an image, basic element properties, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers), but that seems to be the same as the data returned in the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory option in the ‘Atoms, Molecules, Ions’ category of the app.

Conclusion

Wolfram has expanded their offerings beyond the first 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. I tested this app using my iPod touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I did have a problem at one point and had to exit the app, but it then functioned normally.

As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to be able  to retrieve all of the ‘Element Properties’ (in the ‘Units & Chemical Properties’ category) using a GUI image of the periodic table instead of the keyboard that was implemented in the app. To select elements not included on the keyboard, you just need to highlight the element that begins with the same first letter of the alphabet, then select the desired element. Preferring a GUI for this UI is a person preference and not a bug or error, but it might be more appropriate on the larger screen on the iPad.

Recommendation

A good value. Good data that will preclude the need to look up technical information in a textbook, which is handy for high school or college students.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

When  I returned to college to earn my undergrad degree in Computer Science in 2007, I was surprised to see how many students used their smart phones in school. I started on a Masters degree (MS in SE) in the Fall of 2010 and was surprised to see how many students have embraced mobile devices to help with classwork. With the release of the iPad 1.0 product, I’ve seen little or no use of netbooks on campus, and huge numbers of students using mobile devices to access and retrieve information while studying and in classrooms. I bought a iPod Touch in March and have to admit I’m hooked. The apps I’ve tried look and function very well, so I was pleased to see Wolfram Research releasing course assistants for students.

For the 3 or so readers that are unfamiliar with Wolfram Research, they have been selling Mathematica for many years. Over the course of the product life-cycle they have constantly added functionality to their powerful software. Many universities provide Mathematica for their students at low or no cost, and it is a fantastic product for Math, Engineering, and Science majors. I started using Mathematica 5 and have enjoyed using and reviewing versions 6 and 7 for MacWorld UK, and I cover 8.0 (and 8.0.1) on this blog.

This review covers the Wolfram Astronomy Course Assistant, which is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95. I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was as fast as you’d expect. After opening the app for the first time, I noticed the data was organized by categories:

Sky Orientation, Moon, Physical Astronomy, Light and Telescopes, Starlight and Atoms, The Sun and Stars, Black Holes, Cosmology, Solar System, and Life on Other Worlds.

Sky Orientation

This category has data on: Constellations, Zodiac, Reference Points, Basic Angles, Degrees to Right Ascension, Angular Diameter, Size Comparison, Seasons, Periapsis/Apoapsis. My favorite option was the size comparison, where you compare 2 astronomical objects. My least favorite option was Seasons, where you look up the nearest solstice/equinox for a specified date.

Moon

The moon is one of my favorite bodies to observe as it is so close that many features can be seen with binoculars. I liked everything in this category, which covers moon phases, lunar and solar eclipses, and the tides. I checked out the most recent solar eclipse yesterday, and it was yesterday (May 20), although it was not visible from many places as it was primarily seen over the Atlantic ocean.

Physical Astronomy

This section covers Newton’s Laws, Newton’s Second Law, Circular Orbit Velocity, Stationary Orbits, Escape Velocity, Moment of Interia, Rotational Angular Momentum, Kepler’s Laws, Kepler’s Third Law, Kepler’s Third Law with Mass, and Relativistic Energy. All are good to have when taking an astronomy or physics class, but my favorite was escape velocity where you can compute this information for astronomical bodies based on radii of AUs, kilometers, miles, meters, and feet. Mass is set using kilograms, pounds, or grams. Very useful.

Light and Telescopes

This section covers materials useful for building or using telescopes. It uses eyepiece focal length and objective focal length to determine telescope magnification. I also like how it calculated light gathering power, so you can compare 2 telescopes (very handy when you decide to purchase your next telescope).

Starlight and Atoms

There were a few options I really liked, but don’t see a need for the Temperature Conversions as this is fairly simple to calculate and I’ve seen the conversion formulas in more than a few intro programming books. My two favorite areas in this category were the Stellar Spectral Classes (determine the property of stars using class/subclass/luminosity) and the Relativistic Doppler Effect (determine speed of a light source using wavelengths). Good stuff!

The Sun and Stars

A ton of information about our sun and stars. It is useful being able to compute the physical properties of the sun based on distance from the surface.

The Star Properties section of the category provides properties for Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Rigel Kentaurus A, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, Achernar, Betelgeuse, Hadar, Altair, Acrus, Aldebaran, and Spica. The type of data returned for each star was useful, however I’d rather have a dynamic list of stars pulled from Wolfram’s servers than a fixed, hard coded list.

Black Holes

How can you not be interested in one of the most powerful objects in the known universe? This category provides a means to calculate Schwarzschild Radius, Hawking Temperature, entropy, surface gravity, surface area, and gravitational redshift for black holes. Excellent information, especially for students.

Cosmology

This category lets you calculate the wavelength of an object that is red shifted. Nice, but I wish there were more sections than the 3 that are provided.

Solar System

Some good, quick reference information on bodies in our solar system. I particularly liked being able to retrieve images of the planets – you first retrieve a thumbnail image and can select a larger image if you want. I like how much amount data you can retrieve on our solar system bodies. I did use some of the data in the Dwarf Planets section when I wrote my piece on Dwarf Planets (see the Astronomy page of this blog for more information).

Life on Other World

This category consists of inputs to compute the Drake Equation, which accepts various data to yield the probability of life on other worlds. Very handy.

Conclusion

Wolfram has 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and touch. I tested this app using my touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I would like to see fewer hard-coded lists in future releases, as Wolfram’s data source servers are excellent sources of materials and I’d love to have the capability of this (and other) apps expanded without needing to download an updated version of the app.

I had no crashes or errors when testing, although 1 time I had a timeout when attempting to retrieve an image of Mercury. As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to see it on an iPad.

Recommentation

A good buy for reasonable price. Good for students in high school or college, as they can have a good valid source of information that will help when they take a class in the fascinating subject of astronomy.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Wolfram Research (http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica)

Hardware Requirements:

  • CPU:
    • Intel Pentium III 650MHz or faster for Windows/Linux
    • Intel CPU for Macs
  • Hard drive space – 4 GB
  • Memory – 512 MB (1 GB recommended)
  • Internet access

Operating Systems:

  • Windows – 7/Vista/XP/HPC Server 2008/Server 2008/Server 2003
  • Mac OS X – 10.5 and 10.6 with Intel CPU
  • Linux – Ubuntu 7-10/Red Hat Enterprise 4/CentOS 5/Debian 5/openSUSE 11

Price:

  • Standard New License $2495/GBP 2035/EURO 3185 (download or shipped media)
  • Standard Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Academic New License $1095 (download or shipped media)
  • Academic Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Student Regular New License $139.95 (download or shipped media)
  • Student Annual $69.95 (download only)
  • Student Semester $44.95/starting at GBP 20/EURO 29 (download only)
  • Student Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Home/Hobbyist New License $295.95/GBP 195/EURO 295 (download only)
  • Home/Hobbyist Upgrade $99 (available as of 01/02/2011)

Network licenses offer discounts and special pricing is available for use in education, government, and non-profit organizations.

* Upgrade pricing varies depending on version owned.

Introduction to an on-going review

Wolfram released version 8 of Mathematica on November 15, 2010, and it is similar to the version 6 update where there are many enhancements and improvements over the previous version. This review will be ongoing – I will revise and add to it as I become more familiar with the product and so I encourage readers to periodically check back to see updates to the material.

BREAKING NEWS (4-27-2011)

Wolfram released an update to Mathematica 8, version 8.0.1 is now available. Click here to see our post on the new version of Mathematica.

BREAKING NEWS (3-8-2011)

I was informed by Wolfram’s PR firm on 12/01/2010 that the Player plug-in for interaction with Wolfram Demonstrations will not be available before January, 2011, and the plug-in would support the latest versions of all major browsers on Mac/Windows, including Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera on both platforms, and IE for Windows. Under Macintosh, the plug-in requires that you run the installer in the disk image–i.e., copying Mathematica.app is insufficient to set it up.

As of today (3/8/2011) Mathematica Player and Player Pro have been replaced by the CDF (Computable Document Format) Player, which is available for download from Wolfram. The Mac OS X version includes plug-ins for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. The Windows 7/Vista/XP version supports the same browsers as the Mac OS X version, but includes support for IE. The Linux version currently is a desktop application – browser plug-ins are currently under development.

Click here if you want to test whether you already have the CDF Player installed.

Mathematica users that want to publish MM6 and 7 Notebooks for Player can still do so, using Wolfram’s online service.

RELEASE DATES FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE VERSIONS OF MATHEMATICA 8 (Updated 3/30/2011): Per Wolfram’s PR, Mathematica 8 Japanese Edition was available on 1/20/2011, and Mathematica 8 Chinese Edition was available 3/23/2011. Mathematica 8 Spanish Language Kit will be available in early 2011 (Unlike fully localized editions, this plug-in kit localizes the interface (menu, palettes, error messages) but not the documentation)-still no release date as of 1/20/2011.

Getting Started

I downloaded the 1 GB file from Wolfram and installed it on my 2.26 GHz dual core Macbook laptop, where it took up nearly 2.9GB for the installation.

Tip! If you have an older version of Mathematica already installed, rename the executable by appending the version to the file name, so that older version is not overwritten during installation of version 8. NOTE: Wolfram’s PR firm confirmed this was intentional in an email to me I received on 12/1/2010.

The initial version 8 screen is shown here:

The Welcome screen is new – better organized than earlier versions.

First, the new browser plug-in

One of the first things I wanted to check was the new browser plug in which comes with the software. Be aware that the new Mathematica 8 Player was not available when this product shipped in mid-November, so people strictly using the player will need to wait to test this added functionality.

This was seen while using a Safari plug in – Mathematica launched Safari even though I already had Firefox running. I now have the list of browsers that will have this plug in (see Very Important Notes below). I suspect user demand will drive the plug in release for other browsers.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL BROWSER PLUG-IN INFORMATION (12-02-2010)

Busy day yesterday, but I received more information from Wolfram’s PR about the browser plug-in that I want to share with you. Per the PR contact:

“The browser supports notebook content in two modes.  The first mode is a full-screen mode, which you can easily see right now by going to any web page which hosts a notebook file.  For example, go to demonstrations.wolfram.com and, for any demonstration, click “Download Live Version.”  This will work for any notebook linked on any website (so long as the web server isn’t configured to override the MIME type, at least).

The second mode is an embedded mode.  For example, you could embed a Mathematica Manipulate output in a regular web page.  Right now, we only have one public example of that, which is shown as part of the installation here:

http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica/plugin/success.html

I tested the first mode this morning by going to Wolfram’s Demonstration Project page and went to the Physical Sciences/Earth Sciences/ Meteorology page and checked out the Sea Level demonstration (contributed by Herbert W. Franke):

I selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and saw this in my browser as the plug-in loaded:

The first time I used the plug-in in Firefox (ver 3.6.12) I had to reload the page to see and use the demonstration. The demo was accessible within my web browser and I could manipulate the controls just like working within Mathematica.

Next (because I’m currently working on a Genetic Programming project) I checked out the Order of Operations Tree demonstration (contributed by Sarah Lichtblau) and was able to change the formulas to use for the tree:

Finally I went to the Physical Sciences/Astronomy page and selected the Bump Map of Mars (contributed by Yu-Sung Chang) and selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and was able to manipulate the controls from the browser:

I rotated the planet and saw Olympus Mons (as well as the three smaller shield volcanoes that make up the Tharsis Montes region below it). Nice detail in the demonstration – not as much detail as I’d prefer, but still usable to show geological features of the red planet.

NOTE: Two times when I tried to open demonstrations (including Bump Map on Mars) they did not display properly: there was a gray box in place of the demonstration. Both times I reloaded the browser page and it fixed the issue each time. I am using Firefox 3.6.12 on a Mac running OS X 10.6.5 and did not test on another browser or operating system, so I informed Wolfram’s support about the issue – they were unable to reproduce the problem.

Moving on beyond the browser plug-in

Time to get back to our review of new Mathematica features. I started the software and did a spot check to verify previous functionality. I periodically use Mathematica to gather astronomical data and so I tested the AstronomicalData function. I produced a table with the 8 planets names and images:

This function provides extrasolar system data as well as planetary information and is my favorite function from version 7 – still works fine. The version 8 documentation says that this function was improved in this release – an email from Wolfram’s PR firm explained that this function was only enhanced in the ability to access data from Wolfram|Alpha.

OK,  lets take a look at the new features in Mathematica 8.

New Features

1. Free-form linguistic input/Integration with Wolfram|Alpha

Free-form linguistic input is a fancy way of saying that you enter content using plain English and still get results. Nice. When I saw this feature during the demo for this release, I understood the rationale. Wolfram is helping new users start using their software before they need to learn all of the aspects of the software’s programming syntax.

I opened a new notebook and entered “= radius neptune/earth” to test this functionality – I just wanted a comparison of the size of Neptune versus Earth. The results I saw are below:

I like this, because it provides both the solution to the query plus the equivalent Mathematica syntax. This test also demonstrates the Integration with Wolfram|Alpha functionality as it retrieved the data from Alpha.

Wolfram’s decision to add the ability to retrieve data from Wolfram|Alpha right into notebooks is appreciated. For some excellent examples of notebooks from Wolfram, check out this link.

A Quick Overview of Wolfram|Alpha

My previous post shows the integration of Mathematica with Wolfram|Alpha, Wolfram’s computational knowledge engine. Since I never reviewed that new service I want to mention it now. I went to their website and did a few searches. I first search was requesting data on extra solar planets this is what I saw:

It took a lot of scrolling to go down through the list of data returned by this search, and I saved the data as a PDF for future reference. I believe this was always available since Wolfram|Alpha was made available, but this was the first time I used it and I like what I see.

My next search was to see if real data agrees with the pseudo-experts that deny global warming and this was the result:

After looking at the graph, even thought I’m no expert I’d have to say it appears that the temperature on our planet is increasing after all.

I like having internet access to scientific and technical data without needing to be concerned about the validity of that data. I would reference Wolfram|Alpha if citing from it, but I would never use data from Wikipedia in a paper. On back to the review of new features in the software.

2. New algorithms for real time image capturing

During the demo, Jon showed how easy he could configure Mathematica to act like a security system by enabling his web cam and utilizing the ability of Mathematica to only send updated images when he moved. This is important for people doing image analysis for security identification systems as well as pattern recognition.

For one test I used the built-in camera of my Macbook (although you can specify a different camera for input) to capture a picture of my alma mater t-shirt using ImageCapture to produced a picture in the notebook. This was the Mathematica screen:

I could save the image in my notebook to a free-standing file in a number of different formats including JPEG, JPEG2000, GIF, etc. Not a major feature but still useful.

Mathematica can capture a single image or record a series of images. Consider how companies could take advantage of this feature. A company using 12 web cams to cover their warehouses need to handle the constant bandwidth of 12 signals, which also requires one or more people to stare at the screens looking for movement, If the only time a camera sends a signal is when something moves, no signals are transmitted so no transmission bandwidth is needed and this changes a dedicated task to a side job for an employee. This is my favorite enhancement so far during my evaluation of this software.

3. New Import and Export Formats

The 26 new import/export formats are:

There are a lot of new import/export formats to test, so I’ll test the C and ICS import/export functionality to save time for assessing other improvements. Why? I already expressed an interest in exporting C, and I have my old Palm Pilot LifeDrive with years of data that I want to move to a more modern (and supported) hardware platform.

4. Automatically convert Mathematica programs into C code

I like writing C and now Wolfram lets you take a Mathematica program and directly convert it into C code for free-standing or integrated use. Nice. No, very nice! During the demonstration I asked about converting programs into object-oriented code (C++/C#/Java) and was told that decision was market-based. Wolfram does sell a C++ solution called MathCode C++ which is compatible with Mathematica 7, but not (as of 1/20/2011) listed as compatible with version 8. If enough users request it then it could happen in a future release. Wolfram didn’t promise this would happen, but they do listen to customer suggestions so let them know if you too would like to see support for object-oriented code generation.

Important Note (3/7/2011)

I spoke with Wolfram’s PR dept on 1/20/2011 and they said that the MathCode C++ is on the list for updating to Mathematica version 8 compatibility, but they do not have a date when we can expect that update. They did say they don’t have any known issues with MathCode C++ and Mathematica version 8. If anyone reads this post and has seen problems with this combination, please let us (and Wolfram) know.

I also requested a list of add-ons being updated for version 8 – the coordinator said all add-ons are being tested for compatibility with Mathematica 8, but there is no date when that testing will be finished.

MathCode C++ is still listed as Mathematica 7 Compatible as of 3/7/2011.

5. Dynamic Library Loading

Incorporate external C and C++ libraries, which is nice for developers integrating Mathematica with other lab systems. Mathematica can share data with external libraries using LibraryLink functions to pass integers, reals, arrays, strings, Mathematica expressions, as well as pass messages.  Sweet.

6. Enhanced 2D and 3D Graphics and Drawing Tools

The primary area where Mathematica 7 stood out over version 6 was the enhanced graphics capabilities. Version 8 has enhanced scaling and surface texture mapping for 2D and 3D images. In truth, a picture is worth a thousand words and improving the way Mathematica represents data is much needed. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this enhancement was based on user feedback, so it does pay to speak up.

Version 8 also has enhanced illustration and drawing tools, which may not beat Photoshop or Illustrator, but they do enhance the quality of work that can be done within Mathematica so this enhancement is a time saver. I do wonder why it took this long to add an easy way to align drawing elements, as that has been a part of most graphic packages for a long time. A new color picker is nice, although I am more inclined to use my browser plug-in or Photoshop for that functionality.

7. UI and Usability

The look-and-feel seems the same between versions 7 and 8, although text processing is improved in version 8. There is a new Custom Style dialog or you can select (and preview) a style using the Format/Style menu options. It is simple to use the supplied styles or create a new one. Something I didn’t see was a way to use external styles from other external word processing products like Word – couldn’t find a menu item or a place on the Classroom Assistant to import styles (but there is a menu option to import stylesheets). If the capability to import or use external styles doesn’t exist yet, it would be one of the enhancements I’d like to see in release 9.

Positives

  • Tons of new features and enhancements. I like how the free-form linguistic input will help newcomers learn the correct way to enter Mathematica syntax, and I like the integration with Wolfram|Alpha. I should add that internet access is a necessity if you want access to Wolfram’s dynamic data.
  • Modest hardware requirements – very little needed in the way of processor, system memory, and disk storage space.
  • I love the new Home license, introduced in version 7. One of my previous complaints was the price of this software precluded many home users from buying and using it. The college I attended for undergrad courses did provide current students with a free 1 year licenses for Mathematica and that did influence my decision to go there. I was pleased to learn the school I’m attended for graduate classes also offers a free 1 year license to current students, but eventually I will no longer be attending classes and appreciate being able to afford to buy this useful product when I complete my degree.
  • Improved image capturing and analysis. Capture a single image or a sequence, where sequences can consist of an image that changes over time. The version 7 release was heavily oriented towards working with graphics and I’m pleased to see they continue to improve that aspect of the program.
  • C code generation from Mathematica programs. (Note: I will test this and post my findings during this review-the fact that Wolfram provides this functionality means a lot to me).
  • Integration with external libraries is huge for multiple system environments. A big plus in my eyes.
  • Technical support response is excellent. I contacted them 3 times during my review and they were prompt in responding and helpful.

Negatives

  • No longer support for OS X running on PPC Macs. This bothers me considering the modest hardware requirements for this upgrade. The problem for most Mac users is that Macs continue to run well even when they are replaced by newer and more powerful computers. I understand other vendors like Adobe made this same business decision, but my 20″ G5 PPC Mac works fine even though it lacks an Intel CPU and now I have to restrict it to version 7 of this software.
  • I also saw that Solaris is no longer in the list of supported operating systems and that is a shame. I didn’t install Mathematica 7 on my Sun workstation but feel others in academia use Suns as well as Linux and would like to see it continue to receive support. I also believe that the Mathematica Player was not supported for Solaris, so perhaps Wolfram felt they did not hear enough from Solaris users when release 7 was released to be a valid reason to drop support for version 8 of Mathematica on Solaris.
  • While it supports creating new styles for text processing, it does not appear to support importing or integrating with external styles. I hope I’m wrong – let me know if I missed that and I’ll correct this review.

Conclusion

Very, very positive so far, and strongly recommended as a new or upgrade purchase. It will take awhile to cover all the improvements and additions in this version of the software, so my final conclusion when come when this review is finished.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I just saw a presentation on version 8 of Mathematica, the newest update to this powerful product used in a wide variety of industries, and I am impressed. There are a ton of enhancements and I will be covering the new release here and for Software Latest. For now, check out the official Wolfram press release:

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Wolfram Research Introduces Unique Concept of Linguistically Controlled Computing

New Mathematica 8 Integrates Wolfram|Alpha – One of More Than 500 New Features

November 15, 2010—Wolfram Research today announced the release of Mathematica 8, the latest version of its flagship computation, development, and deployment platform that introduces the breakthrough concept of linguistically controlled computing. Integrating technology of Wolfram|Alpha, the Mathematica-powered computational knowledge engine, makes it possible to enter math or data calculations in plain English and get immediate answers or start an extensive analysis.

“Traditionally, getting computers to perform tasks requires speaking their language or using point-and-click interfaces. One requires learning syntax, the other limits scope of accessible functions,” said Stephen Wolfram, CEO and Founder of Wolfram Research. “Free-form linguistics understands human language and translates it into syntax—a breakthrough in usability. Mathematica 8 is the start of this initiative, but already it is making a real difference to user productivity.”

Free-form input is a new entry point into the Mathematica idea-to-deployment workflow, but Mathematica 8 adds a major new endpoint too: generation of C code and standalone executables. Using Mathematica, organizations no longer have to rely on separate tools for prototyping and deployment, but can complete the entire workflow with one integrated tool.

“It’s amazing that you can start with free-form linguistic input, model or prototype, and end up with a high-performance standalone program or library…all within Mathematica 8’s comprehensive workflow,” said Tom Wickham-Jones, Director of Kernel Technology at Wolfram Research.

Even with these major enhancements at either end of the workflow, the most significant additions in Mathematica 8 are the more than 500 new functions in many new and extended application areas, including:

  • Probability and statistics: largest collection of statistical distributions and automatic high-level solvers including parameter estimation
  • Software development: built-in GPU support, automatic code generation and linking, multicore parallelism, and standalone code deployment.
  • Engineering: integrated control systems and wavelet analysis
  • Graphs and networks: extensive built-in support for the new science of networks
  • Finance: built-in option pricing solvers, financial indicators, and charts
  • Image processing: enhanced image analysis capabilities, such as feature detection

“In all of these domains, you will find dramatic depth of coverage,” stated Roger Germundsson, Director of Research & Development at Wolfram Research. “The functions are designed to work together seamlessly across different domains which allows combining them in new and innovative ways.”

“Rather than build individual spikes of functionality provided by traditional specialist tools, Mathematica‘s concept is based on building up the complete mountain range,” said Conrad Wolfram, Director of Strategic Development at Wolfram Research. “It’s this broad functionality across a wide area that enabled us to build state-of-the-art application areas such as statistics and probability so quickly for Mathematica 8.”

Availability

Mathematica 8 is available immediately for Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X, Linux x86, and compatible systems. More product details are available on the Mathematica website: http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica

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Notes:

1. I reformatted the content of the release for this site, but did not modify any of the material.
2. Not all Mathematica products are being updated today. The Home and Student editions will be updated soon – stay tuned here for more information.
3. I am writing an ongoing review of Mathematica, also available on this site, which covers new and interesting existing aspects of this software. Please check back from time-to-time as this will be one of my larger and more in-depth reviews.