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What are your memories of all things Wolfram ?


When I was 15 years old General Motors dropped a big V8 into the Chevy. That was one of the happiest days of my life. I couldn't wait to drive one of those Chevies. And I had exactly the same feeling when somebody dropped Mathematica into a Macintosh.

This is one of my favorite quotes about Mathematica. It is by Jerry Uhl, a math professor from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, said in 1989, as you can witness in the video below.

For those of you who enjoys history, here is a wonderful piece, a glance into the Wolfram past. There is a YouTube channel, The ReDiscovered Future, which acts as the public "silver screen" of an initiative that aims to rescue video and audio recordings from older, volatile formats, store them on more reliable media, and share them with the world. They've just published a delightful video:

Macintosh + Mathematica = Infinity - April 1989

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I like how there are so many things that said then but still hold true. Of course this goes for the Alfred North Whitehead quote they started from:

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

And the quote from student Donald Brown: "

With the use of Mathematica you are allowed in some sense to wander into zones of thoughts where you might not be inclined to go otherwise.

Note already then the ideas of automation, Computer Based Math, data accessibility, and diversity of computation in sciences. In the video Donald A. Glaser, who got the Nobel Prize in Physics 1960 for the invention of the bubble chamber speaks very nicely of importance of automation for cultivating intuition:

I think science will always have the same amount of perspiration and inspiration as before but we will eliminate calculus and differential equations and graphics from the perspiration category and that'll give us more time for having more sophisticated inspirations.

Mathematica hadn't touch me then yet. I experience it fully later coming to USA. But then in 1989 we of course did do some computing in Soviet Union. That was two years before the Soviet regime would end after 69 years of reign. We used computers like the one shown on the photo below. The Iskra-1030 was a Soviet version of IBM's PC/XT, a personal computer based on the processor analogical to the Intel 8086. The model had 256 KB RAM expandable to 1MB, also featured hard drives - up to 10 MB.

So I did not use Mathematica, but I did run some programs simulating Cellular Automata that I was reading about in Stephen Wolfram papers already published then. They were fascinating systems to me, because of the mysterious link between simplicity of rules and complexity of behavior. So the most fundamental NKS computations of simple programs reached me earlier. What a pleasant surprise was to discover CellularAutomaton function in Wolfram Language later that replaced pages of my old Soviet code.

What do you think? Any recollections or quotes? How did Wolfram ideas enter your life?

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POSTED BY: Vitaliy Kaurov
2 years ago

I got Mathematica right about the time that this video was produced. I had just gotten a Mac SE/30, which was one of the first computers to have a built-in hardware Floating Point Unit. I was able to get and use the faster version of Mathematica, version 1.1, which made use of the FPU.

Mathematica was the 'killer app' that justified having a computer. All through the 1990s, I would max out the RAM and storage for all the computers I had, even though in many cases it would double the cost of the computer. (Fortunately, you don't have to do this anymore.)

I really liked Donald Brown's quote. I suspect that there is a typo -- wander instead of wonder --- although both words convey the magic that happens when you can explore. I certainly would not have made the same discoveries I did if I had to program in c or use paper and pencil.

Even though today's hardware and Mathematica are orders of magnitude better than what is in the video, I think we are still just starting out on the journey.

POSTED BY: George Woodrow III
2 years ago

Thank you, @George Woodrow III, this is a nice memory! I did correct the wander typo now ;-) I hope some other folks will share their memories and thoughts too.

POSTED BY: Vitaliy Kaurov
2 years ago

While I was an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech in the early 80's, I first had a little exposure to Macsyma (MAC’s SYmbolic MAnipulator) which was developed at MIT. It sparked my interest in symbolic formula manipulation, but as a student I didn't have more purchasing power than to buy a manual of the software.

In the mid 80's as PhD student in mechanical engineering at MIT, I finally was able to acquire my own IBM XT clone (still not able to afford Apple computers). In 1987 I bumped into Borland's Turbo Prolog and decided to write my own version of an algebraic equation manipulator. I remember I spend quite some time on the equation and command parser and then added a couple of algebraic functions like "collect" and "simplify" etc. of course nowhere near the capabilities of Macsyma and no graphics. I remember, I proudly demoed my system at my weekly laboratory lunch discussion to my fellow mechanical engineering students and professors, but the reception was no more than lukewarm. So, busy with more pressing projects, I abandoned my pursuit of my own symbolic equation solver, drifting back to Fortran, C and later Matlab and Mathcad (which later included some version of Maple).

From time to time, my interest got re-awakened when I read interesting articles in the Mathematica Journal.
Then about 6 years ago, I was looking for something better to replace Mathcad. Mathcad was fine to do a quick graph or integration etc. but the user interface makes it very cumbersome to write actual programs. I discovered the inexpensive home edition of Mathematica and decided to try and learn. Needless to say, I can't let go..

So shortly after, I had my company acquire a professional license for work. I now do a lot of my research in Mathematica as well as fun stuff at home. From my experience, Mathematica proves Alfred North Whitehead right, and I agree, it's the V8 dropped into a Chevy, even today.

My daughter now studies physics (IPSP) at the University of Leipzig in Germany in her first year. She decided to take an introduction to programming in her second semester. When looking at the course description 12-PHY-BIPCS I was excited that they teach Mathematica. However, to my disappointment, I found out today that the instructor teaches Python instead. I'm not sure what the reason is, but I hope it is not the cost to the students and instructor that is the hurdle to teaching Mathematica anymore.

POSTED BY: Kay Herbert
2 years ago

Just for the logs: Bought back in 1991 a Macintosh LC just because it could run Mathematica 1.1.

The package (Mathematica and the Mac) was very expensive (twice the monthly salary), but had the option to upgrade without extra costs to Mathematica 1.2. The Mac had a black-white display, by default 2 MB RAM and a 40 MB hard disk. We expanded the RAM to 10 MB and some colleagues asked: What is that good for? Why do you need so much memory?

By the way, at that time (1991) you got Seasons Greetings from Wolfram Research, which was really lovely.

POSTED BY: Udo Krause
2 years ago

terrific video. i well remember the 'old days' when Mathematiica was being created at stephen's Center for Complex Systems Research (CCSR) on the U of I campus. i would stop by there almost daily at around 3am (my own working hours are a bit strange) and invariably find a group of people working on making Mathematica. stephen would sometimes emerge from his office, usually holding a Dove ice cream bar. it was great to have people to talk to; they were much more interesting, and had more interesting things to say, then my professorial colleagues. an exciting time and probably the most fun i ever had on campus or in C-U. I also enjoyed watching the ducks in the pond just outside the CCSR building.

POSTED BY: Richard Gaylord
1 year ago

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