What you say versus what you think you say

Just put up the transcript of a talk at gave about maths education (similar to my TED talk) at our Technology conference a few weeks ago.

I find it informative to read because I remember saying stuff slightly differently from how I actually did.

I rarely write stuff out word for word for talks. Usually I make headings and fill in in real time. The killer is not having a full text but trying to remember word-for-word what to say...I'm a useless actor.

Manic Monday

It wasn't just my TED talk that got released today but Mathematica 8 and a big redo of our wolfram.com website precipitated by it. Websites are complicated animals these days and including documentation we put up over 10,000 pages. Here's what I emailed around to everyone in our company this morning.


I'm very pleased to say that alongside the release of Mathematica 8, a major revamp of wolfram.com has gone live, including:

- Cleaner homepage that will increasingly represent all Wolfram company activities, not only Mathematica
- Completely revised Mathematica section, including features, customer stories and of course...
-  ...what's new (where for the first time we've added top reasons to upgrade and features by version)
- Different types of video to describe Mathematica, in particular the quick tour and feature spotlights (pop both from pages I linked)
- Solutions page refreshes including major revision of higher-ed and student sites
- Transformed home edition section
- New support center
- And the new, modern navigation style

I hope you like it all, and agree that it puts many, much larger companies to shame!

Please join me in congratulating the many groups that have pulled this together over more than a year--in particular design, tcs, marketing including project management, user experience, web implementation and video productions.

The complexity of satisfaction

We're in the final throes of getting Mathematica 8 out.

It's a massive task. As with each release, it's a far more complex piece of engineering than its predecessor. But so too is our build process, to handle that. Which complexity wins? Is it a more or less fraught process each release? Don't ask me in the next week(!) but I think the release process satisfaction index is improving.

Of course it's not just for Mathematica builds that there are rapidly escalating complexity or expectation competitions. It's a common facet of modern life. Cameras, computer games, smartphones and many other gadgets run this gauntlet. Beating expectations is key to individual satisfaction, though the absolute level of achievement is important to mass adoption of the genre in question.

Key to my satisfaction with products is depth of design: as I discover more, do I like it more or less? Or to put it another way, is the product's satisfaction derivative positive with time? Because I tend persevere with products, I get to the point of sampling this eventual rather than just initial satisfaction; many don't; and to figure it out upfront with complex, modern products is pretty hard.

Am I an Apple or a Droid?

Well, neither I hope...

But I have found the recent experience of picking my new primary smartphone to be as much about subscribing to a philosophy as to deciding on a product. Is it to be locked-down minimalism of Apple or overwhelmingly open Android?

Whichever optimisation one chooses, this much is clear: interface design is now centre-stage. It's the ability to access features rather than the availability of the raw feature itself that's so often the limiting factor to its use.

And almost everyone's tuned in---even a technophile like me. I'm irrationally persistent at getting stuff to work that's more-or-less impossible to work. In the past, I so needed the last ounce of raw capability that I'd grudgingly sacrifice clean design (which I've always cared a great deal about) if needs be. Now I won't. Because if I do, I actually lose the practical functionality. Clean workflows no longer offer better access to power, they themselves increasingly manifest it.

For me, 2010 is the year when design met functionality for smartphones--whether the iPhone's new functionality to match its stupendous design or Android phones like the HTC Desire got the design to leverage and build on high-level underlying functionality.

One more thing. Can you tell who's an Apple and who's a Droid before you see their phone? I'm learning.


Computer-based math @ TED

Amazing reaction to my TED talk starting (even though it will be a while before the video's up...and I can see exactly what I did say!).

So many people at the conference telling me they'd been put off traditional maths and would have found what I'm proposing so much better--more interesting and more useful.

Also got asked for any examples of computer-based maths to play with, like I showed.  One source: 6000+ at our Demonstrations site (get the free Player download from it to interact).

Please do continue to leave ideas and comments.

Making "knowledge apps" as easily as charts

Tomorrow we're holding our first Computational Knowledge Summit and in preparation for my opening talk I made this simple knowledge app example so I can demo it live.

With our forthcoming widget-building technology and Wolfram|Alpha API, it was pretty much as simple to make as a chart, yet it's packed-in a vastly higher density of information.

Watch this space!


Computing the path to web3.0?

I keep being asked about web3.0, including this week by ITPro.

Well, unsurprisingly, I don't presume to know what will mark out this new integer. But I do think real-time content that's computed and computes will be pretty significant to the web's future development.

Here's where I'm coming from.

Most definitions of web2.0 seem to boil down to "users making the content", often where immediacy is crucial to its significance. But there's also real-time content that's computer generated, where a new answer is made through real-time processing of existing or web2.0 style base content.

Custom, interactive apps made on-the-fly just for you: that's a paradigm shift I'm looking forward to.

Photographing an ancient lute

Click for photosMy friend--lutemaker Michael Lowe--invited me to photograph an extremely rare, 16th century lute he had visiting for the weekend.

In fact, the instrument is well known to him: over more than 15 years he and others have restored it to a fully operational, quasi original state. I'm told it is perhaps the only working lute from that era with an original soundboard.

While we picked lute poses and Michael pointed out intricacies of its craftmanship, I kept reminding myself that the instrument was made just 100 years after America was discovered. How the world has changed since it started playing music--music with a richness of tone that even I can discern.

The paper laptop

In education, we sometimes seem to confuse using more basic or earlier invented tools with teaching "the basics" of a subject. For example, just because paper was invented before computers, it doesn't follow that teaching maths on paper gets more to the basics of the subject than teaching it on computers.

Certainly tool invention order is immaterial to those learning a subject, particularly when the tools in question existed from before they were born. 

This reminds me of an anecdote my daughter provided me. She has a game of drawing "paper laptops"--folding an A4 sheet in half with a keyboard drawn on the bottom, a screen on the top. I asked her "When I was your age [4], why do you think I didn't make paper laptops?" After a couple of seconds' reflection, she replied, "No paper?".