2008 April 11 / E-Mail Me
Mathematica is available on all computers in all Carleton computer labs. For example, you can use it in the computer labs CMC 301 and CMC 201, which are open until 1 AM. We will use version 6 of the software.
If you're satisfied using Mathematica on a lab computer, then skip this section. On the other hand, if you have your own computer (running Mac OS X, Linux, or Windows) then you can install Mathematica on it and work from there. The official instructions are on this page. The instructions involve several steps, any one of which might hit a snag. Remember that you can always resort to a lab computer, or talk to the SCIC for help with installation.
Once you're sitting at a computer that has Mathematica installed, here's what you do. Log in, open a web browser such as Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer, and go to the class web page. There you will see a file called "232.visualtransf.nb". The ".nb" at the end stands for "notebook" — it indicates that the file is a Mathematica file.
If you click on this file in your web browser, it will probably look like garbage, because your browser doesn't know the Mathematica language. Instead, save the file to your computer, by right-clicking on it (on Mac OS X, Linux, or Windows) or control-clicking on it (on Mac OS X with a one-button mouse). (If you are using Safari on Mac OS X, then the file may have been saved with a ".txt" appended to the end of its name. If so, rename the file to get rid of the ".txt".)
You should be able to open the notebook file just by double-clicking it. If this doesn't work, then open the Mathematica program itself, go to the File menu, and open the file from there. At that point, you should be viewing the notebook file. Follow the instructions there. I encourage you to work with a friend.
For help with installing the software on your own computer, talk to SCIC.
For help with using the software, go to CMC 301; a schedule of friendly helpers is posted in that room. I am also happy to help you in office hours.
Sometimes I use Mathematica (or other algebra software) to automate tedious computations (e.g. row reduction of a matrix), compute examples to help me understand some new concept, etc. But I never use software to do a computation that I couldn't do myself by hand. Mathematics is a subject loaded with highly abstract ideas, but to understand them you almost always have to get your hands dirty with detailed, concrete calculations of some sort. Do not succumb to the illusion that you can skip the tedious calculational work and proceed directly to enlightenment. Use software to do a calculation only if you've already mastered the calculation yourself.