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[Axiom-developer] address@hidden: [sage-devel] Re: [fricas-devel] Re: [s

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Subject: [Axiom-developer] address@hidden: [sage-devel] Re: [fricas-devel] Re: [sage-devel] Re: [fricas-devel] Re: Project]
Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2008 16:32:59 -0400

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Subject: [sage-devel] Re: [fricas-devel] Re: [sage-devel] Re: [fricas-devel]
 Re: Project
From: TimDaly <address@hidden>
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> >  A good unifying graphical interface is extremely important to creating
> >  something that is a viable alternative to
> >  Maple/Mathematica/Magma/Matlab.  In some sense it is perhaps it
> >  is *the* most important thing.

I fully agree that a unifying graphical interface is extremely
important. But I find that Sage is again not thinking "long term".

Another lesson from history.... Axiom has a help system that was
wildly innovative at the time it was created. Hyperdoc did things
like "back buttons", "tear-off pages" (aka open a new window),
"live embedded graphics" (click on an image and get a graph you
can actively manipulate), "client-server interaction" (AJAX),
"network based" (e.g browser/server model).

It WAS wildly innovative at the time but "just barely" matches
what you can do in today's browser for the clever ideas it did
forsee. However, its "age is showing" and Axiom is moving to a
Firefox-based front end, similar in concept to the Sage notebook.

What causes me pause about the Sage notebook is that it is not
very innovative. Throw yourself into the future 30 years from now.
You have infinite CPU, memory, disk, and bandwidth. What will the
researcher use all of this power for? And what interface will they
use to structure their work? And what concepts will be "painfully
obvious" that everyone "should have"?

Axiom is working on a user interface based around a simple idea
called "the crystal". Think of your "problem" as a graph hanging
in space that gets continually updated with information from the
"river of the internet". Wrap a crystal with many facets around
that graph. Each facet of the crystal shows a different (but
consistent) view of the current state of the problem. Each facet
can be a face of many recursive sub-crystals covering smaller
parts of the problem. The crystals maintain the "intensional
stance" (what the user appears to be trying to do) of the user
and the graph is actively updated dynamically in anticipation
of potential requests. Thus, mentioning "L-functions" will kick
off a dynamics search and classification of all known work from
the "internet river" into the graph. Oh, yeah, and clicking for
"help" on a function brings up a LITERATE version of the function
documentation so you can learn how it really works in readable
form along with clickable bibliographic references to yet-other
literate algorithms.

It is not an issue that this cannot be done efficiently with
today's hardware. The issue is that it is a conceptual structure
that allows a consistent growth path. In the language of design
(e.g. Winograd's books) it has new tacits and new affordances
with less breakage. I'd encourage you to read Winograd or other
"design philosophy" books and think about the design of the user
interface further. Norman's design books are especially entertaining:
Ask the questions: What does a computational mathematician need?
How can we structure the science platform so those needs are
fulfilled? What conceptual structures underlie that solution?

The 4Ms cannot make this kind of leap. The corporate structure won't
allow anything so innovative to set direction. In fact, I doubt you
could get Google, despite its corporate cleverness, to even consider
funding the development of such an interface, despite the fact that
they ARE "the river of the internet". At best, you get funded for
yet-another-notebook. Sigh.

You can continue to copy the 4Ms or by defining the new tacits and
affordances you can make the 4Ms irrelevant. To paraphrase Sun Tzu,
"A great general wins wars by not fighting them"

Think long term. Look toward the 30 year horizon.


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