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Open Source 'Sage' Takes Aim at High End Math Software

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the that'll-take-awhile dept.

360

coondoggie writes "A new open source mathematics program is looking to push aside commercial software commonly used in mathematics education, in large government laboratories and in math-intensive research. The program's backers say the software, called Sage, can do anything from mapping a 12-dimensional object to calculating rainfall patterns under global warming."

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360 comments

Added benefit (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623655)

Plus, its creators' heads can probably fit through normal-sized doorways.

Re:Added benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623941)

Could you please explain that joke?

Re:Added benefit (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623963)

It's a well-deserved shot a Stephen Wolfram.

(I'm not the same AC who posted the original.)

Re:Added benefit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624011)

That's what I thought it might be.

Re:Added benefit (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624255)

My understanding is that his head is that large to contain his fantastically large brain. Apparently he is a genius.

another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623669)

Is there any category of commercial software that can't
be challenged by free software?

Re:another one bites the dust (2, Interesting)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623865)

Decent graphics software, apparently.

Re:another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623995)

GIMP
Blender
Inkscape
etc...

Re:another one bites the dust (2, Insightful)

Andrew Kismet (955764) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624025)

Blender is a user interface nightmare.
GIMP's no good for commercial artwork (Pantone swatches and CYMYK and whatnot)
I can't comment on Inkscape.
They're more "challenged" than a challenge to commercial programs.

Re:another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624073)

Sorry, CMYK. Should learn to use preview.

Re:another one bites the dust (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624365)

I'm told Blender's interface is only difficult until you climb the learning curve -then it starts to make sense and is very productive.

Quite often, an interface that is intuitive for a beginner is an untold frustration to an expert. It might even be argued that an interface that is too focused on beginners will tend to keep them beginners rather than rewarding increased learning.

I can't say from personal experience though - I've only done a couple simple models in Blender using very crude means. I found it acceptable, but clearly something you needed to spend time with to get the hang of. That's inherent in complex tasks.

Re:another one bites the dust (1)

tehniobium (1042240) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624467)

I highly agree.

When I first started using the GIMP i despised it's interface, however MANY elements of it (combined with the focus on keyboard shortcuts) mean that I can work at a much faster pace now that I've "mastered" it.

The minimalistic interface approach is actually a great way to get productivity - thats why I've removed my back / forward /newtab buttons from my firefox interface and assigned the actions to my extra mousebuttons - it forced me to start using the shortcuts which now make me surf faster.

Re:another one bites the dust (2, Informative)

babbling (952366) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623989)

There's a few left. Mainly the software for specialist things. CAD, graphics, audio, video.

Re:another one bites the dust (3, Informative)

The Second Horseman (121958) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624001)

Real video editing software, probably. Real finance software (corporate, not quicken!), real HR software - stuff that has to follow specific regulations on a schedule. And there really isn't a replacement for autocad that a mechanical or civil engineer, or an architect is going to run out and install. Medical applications would be difficult for some of the same reasons as the finance software. And real enterprise email/calendaring and the archiving/retention software to go with it. There aren't any open-source email packages that you could actually use to replace Exchange/GroupWise /Notes in a corporate, healthcare, government and even education. There are pieces, but nothing it would be worth your job to try to sell your organization on.

Re:another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624217)

The primary reason for this I think is that it is either REALLY REALLY hard (proper video editing software), or really expensive just to play (just getting copies of all the regulations for things like corporate finance and HR is a job, to say nothing of ISO standards and other goodies). Indeed, even if open source software DID exist for those domains using it without an active (paid) organization behind it would be next to useless, since regulations change and a crash is Bad News.

Legal liability imposes different costs than simple utility requirements.

As for enterprise email/calendaring software, my only guess is that no one is interested enough to duplicate it. Citadel is probably the closest for the server side and there are decent clients. I think that one will eventually be solved, but it may take a long time and no one can afford to wait.

Re:another one bites the dust (3, Informative)

wvmarle (1070040) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624509)

Luckily the vast majority of the companies, even the vast majority of the employment, falls in the small and medium enterprise segment. The less-than-ten-people businesses. There things work differently. And for those companies OSS is commonly good enough, and many fancy features are simply not used because they are too cumbersome. Like calendaring, I don't even use it for my personal work. Too inconvenient as it is tied to my computer.

Re:another one bites the dust (2, Insightful)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624171)

I don't think there are any FOSS spaceflight applications. Which is odd, I'd expect lots of people would be thrilled to be part of that.

Granted, the requirements for correctness are extreme. But I think open-source people could organize very good code reviews and tests. Properly organized, in the long run I think the risk of metric/imperial confusions, premature triggerings and the like would be much smaller with a FOSS approach.

Re:another one bites the dust (1)

msormune (808119) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624189)

Commercial software is IN INSELF a category that free software can not challenge. Because it's pretty hard to sell something and give it away for free at the same time...

Re:another one bites the dust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624503)

My god, you're right! If by "commercial software" you mean "shrink-wrapped boxes at Best Buy", that is.

Re:another one bites the dust (1)

Hymer (856453) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624323)

Banking software for risk management like SunGard's Adaptiv (aka. Panorama). There are something like 4 commercial solutions worldwide and several in-house solutions developed by larger banks.
The commercial packages are all based on Microsoft SQL server and .NET and are in fact a big reason for banks to switch to MS crapware.

12 dimensions... (3, Funny)

blake1 (1148613) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623673)

but I thought Doc only just figured out the 4th.

Re:12 dimensions... (4, Funny)

TobyRush (957946) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623959)

And E. Lizardo and T. Hikita, et al, made some strides toward the eighth... and even had some independent confirmation by B. Banzai years later.

Re:12 dimensions... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624201)

a dimension doesn't have to mean space or time, it can be anything!
Number of elephants, number or rabbits, aslong as you can define an orthogonal vector in it (basically a perpendicular to all other dimensions line) you can define 12 dimensions easily

Or if your dealing with multiple particle problems a 4 particle time independent solution needs 12 dimensions, although i doubt that anything but a cluster of ps3/supper computer would be able to crunch the numbers

Re:12 dimensions... (2, Funny)

ParaShoot (992496) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624259)

a cluster of ps3/supper computer
If it could make me supper too I'd be far more inclined to buy a PS3!

Go straight to the source (3, Informative)

MollyB (162595) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623677)

Downloadable for Linux, Mac, and the other one:
http://sagemath.org/ [sagemath.org]

Re:Go straight to the source (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623713)

(be kind: use a mirror: http://sagemath.org/mirrors.html [sagemath.org] ) :)

Mirror links (5, Informative)

LinuxGeek (6139) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623803)

The site is already very slow, so posting the actual links.

http://www.sagemath.org [sagemath.org]
http://sage.math.washington.edu/sage [washington.edu]
http://modular.fas.harvard.edu/sage [harvard.edu]
http://www.opensourcemath.org/sage/ [opensourcemath.org]
http://www.cecm.sfu.ca/sage [cecm.sfu.ca]
http://sage.apcocoa.org [apcocoa.org]
http://echidna.maths.usyd.edu.au/sage [usyd.edu.au]
http://sage.scipy.org/sage [scipy.org]

Re:Go straight to the source (2, Funny)

heteromonomer (698504) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623823)

I tried it and it seems great. No matter how hard a problem I throw at it it always gives the correct answer. 42.

Re:Go straight to the source (1)

NoOneInParticular (221808) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624359)

$ swipl
Welcome to SWI-Prolog (Multi-threaded, Version 5.6.14)
Copyright (c) 1990-2006 University of Amsterdam.
SWI-Prolog comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY. This is free software,
and you are welcome to redistribute it under certain conditions.
Please visit http://www.swi-prolog.org/ for details.

For help, use ?- help(Topic). or ?- apropos(Word).

?- X.
% ... 1,000,000 ............ 10,000,000 years later
%
% >> 42 << (last release gives the question)
?-

Questions from evil mastermind (5, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623699)

As an international evil mastermind I have numerous plans which require advanced mathematical calculations and simulations to be performed (wiping out the human race, transmogrifying all kittens into war machines, etc - the usual kind of stuff).

I was wondering if the license of this software will allow me to achieve my goals without giving up my principles and secrets?

Re:Questions from evil mastermind (5, Funny)

WWWWolf (2428) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623801)

As an international evil mastermind I have numerous plans which require advanced mathematical calculations and simulations to be performed (wiping out the human race, transmogrifying all kittens into war machines, etc - the usual kind of stuff).

I was wondering if the license of this software will allow me to achieve my goals without giving up my principles and secrets?

Regrettably in this release, SAGE is somewhat limited and would not meet your goals. Due to some unforeseen limitations, it can only run in Baby Mulching Machines at the moment. However, I believe the next release has worked out these little kinks.

Re:Questions from evil mastermind (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624383)

...Baby Mulching Machines

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial things you can do for your home garden. As mulches slowly decompose, they provide organic matter which helps keep the soil loose. This improves root growth, increases the infiltration of water, and also improves the water-holding capacity of the soil.

As any parent can tell you, babies are an excellent source of organic material.

Very Nice (3, Interesting)

lansirill (244071) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623711)

I haven't had a chance to play around with this yet, but if it's as good a replacement for Mat* as R is for S+ and SAS, I'm quite happy to see it. I'm sad that I'll probably never be able to touch it unless I change my job as I've been told it would, quite literally, require an act of Congress to allow us to use anything other than SAS for our work. It will still be great to have access to a (hopefully) well documented library of algorithms that I can tear into, instead of trying to cobble together things that seem good to me at the time. Huzzah, hip hip, and all those fun things.

Re:Very Nice (5, Informative)

mhansen444 (1200253) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624015)

Speaking of R, we're hard at work getting ready to include R within Sage. --Mike ( a Sage developer )

Re:Very Nice (1)

aim2future (773846) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624069)

I'm sad that I'll probably never be able to touch it unless I change my job as I've been told it would, quite literally, require an act of Congress to allow us to use anything other than SAS for our work.

Can't you hide it behind a "boss is coming" button?

OK, this may not be a long term solution, but if everyone would follow what is centrally decided upon sw solution, not much progress would be done, or at least, it would be less fun... No boss would ever try to tell me what sw tools or OS I should use.

SAS (3, Informative)

bunratty (545641) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624107)

It doesn't have to do with the boss. Certain industries require SAS. No, there's no way to hide the fact you didn't use SAS. You can do the work at first with another product, but you need to submit SAS code that allows others to reproduce results.

Linus is right (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623737)

I am with Linus on this one. His arguments simply make sense.

What about other math software? (3, Insightful)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623749)

How does sage compares with other mathematics FLOSS like maxima, axiom and yacas? Another question is how come they opted to start a new project instead of contributing to other already established projects?

Re:What about other math software? (1)

JustinRLynn (831164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623867)

Well, I can't say how it compares to the examples you've mentioned but it appears to be a new approach. Repeated effort isn't always a bad thing, especially when new approaches are taken in solving old problems -- not to mention that, because it's open source and providing the licenses are compatible, everyone can benefit and that's the joy of open source/free software.

Re:What about other math software? (3, Informative)

m2943 (1140797) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623917)

Maxima, Axiom, and Yacas were all developed specifically as computer algebra systems, with everything best done within their framework, and based on their own languages.

Sage, on the other hand, focuses on gluing together other packages and uses Python. That means that Sage gets a lot of functionality out of the box that you don't easily get in those other packages. For example, Sage uses Twisted for its web service, Pyrex for native code compilation, Numpy for numerical computations, Vtk for 3D visualization, etc.

Also, Sage can invoke packages like Maxima, Axiom, and Yacas and glue them together with each other and other packages.

It includes them (2, Informative)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623949)

It includes maxima and a lot of other packages. It seems to me that Sage is an attempt to glue together the various existing free math packages using Python. I'm not sure what I think of it, it makes it somewhat confusing to get started with because it does so many different things.

Re:What about other math software? (5, Informative)

mhansen444 (1200253) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623981)

Sage provides much more functionality than existing FLOSS projects. One of the ways it does this is by making use of those project. For example, Sage comes with Maxima and uses it as an engine to do symbolic calculus type computations. Axiom can be used from within Sage if it is installed as well. Sage also includes GAP, which is the open-source package for doing abstract algebra computations. One of the main reasons for starting a new project was to take advantage of existing projects and tie them together. Also, most of the existing software focused primarily . The lead developer is a number theorist and needed a fast, extensible platform to carry out his research. None of the existing FLOSS CASs provided this.

Re:What about other math software? (1)

fredrikj (629833) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624083)

As others have said, Sage glues together existing high-quality software. Asking why William Stein opted to start a new project instead of contributing to established projects is a bit like asking why Mark Shuttleworth started Ubuntu instead of contributing to Linux.

Continuum (4, Funny)

drooling-dog (189103) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623763)

do anything from mapping a 12-dimensional object to calculating rainfall patterns under global warming
So those two things are at the extrema of a continuum of what it can do, and I have to figure out whether my particular application also lies on that continuum? Or am I taking this statement too literally?

This makes me think..... (-1)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623767)

... there are those who keep saying programs are mathematical algorithms, as argument against software patents.

So it only makes perfect sense that a mathematical program capable of so much would be done as open source.

Perhaps it will get powerful enough to prove all programs are mathematical algorithms, by being capable of generating program code.

Every equation has at least two sides. Its now just a matter of figuring out the mathematical equations needed to produce any program code.

To be clear, I do not condone software patents. But if such a belief is true that "programs are mathematical algorithms" it should be provable.

And what mathematical software would likely be used to produce such proof? Sage?

Re:This makes me think..... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623837)

"But if such a belief is true that "programs are mathematical algorithms" it should be provable."

Isn't it more a philosophical issue than a mathematics issue?

I think the difference may be execution vs. underlying operation. I'd say that software is an algorithm, but those that don't program it wouldn't know that.

Re:This makes me think..... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623863)

The thing is...programs are algorithms at their core, but to the user...well, a UI makes all the difference. And often the UI is a product of creativity. I mean, take Google, for example. Visiting their page auto-focuses you to the search box. I find this *tiny* feature to be incredibly useful as I can leave my hands on the keyboard and continue typing, yet that's not something a computer program would have generated. The part that is exposed to the user requires creativity to conceptualize and implement. I don't think that should be completely free of any copyright restrictions.

Re:This makes me think..... (2, Insightful)

babbling (952366) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623973)

You need to learn about the difference between copyright and patents.

I've always disliked that argument (1)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624105)

... there are those who keep saying programs are mathematical algorithms, as argument against software patents.

Always sounded to me like saying that all works of literature are, are arrangements of words. And all words are public domain. The dictionary is prior art. So books shouldn't be copyrighted.

Algorithms IMHO are simply the words and sentences you use to make software, which is akin to a work of literature. At least it seems that way to me, anyways.

If we're going to beat software patents, it just seems like we should drop the algorithms argument because it seems a little flimsy.

Re:I've always disliked that argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624513)

The difference is given an instruction "write a story about a princess fighting a dragon in English" to a dozen authors will produce a dozen different stories, while give the instruction "write an efficient sorting algorithm in C" to a dozen programmers will produce a lot of very similar looking C code (if they're good.) Programming solutions to well defined problems should (in theory) converge on a very small set of "best" ways to do things. This is not true in general.

sage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623769)

Someone tried to email these people, but then their post ended up not bumping the thread.

SEGA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623807)

Jesus fucking christ, you just took a half-shitty joke idea and made it all the way 100% shitty.

Not new (2, Informative)

JadeNB (784349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623893)

SAGE has been around for a long time. Will Stein's homepage seems to be down -- possibly slashdotted -- so I can't tell the exact date, but it's certainly been in existence at least since 2004.

What SAGE cannot do is.... (4, Funny)

3seas (184403) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623913)

.... calculate the slashdot effect.

Re:What SAGE cannot do is.... (1)

JadeNB (784349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624159)

The amazing thing is that his homepage isn't even linked from the summary, only from the linked article -- which means that, to get a Slashdot effect, the majority of readers would have had to RTFA!

FLOSS misses the point again (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623915)

mapping a 12-dimensional object to calculating rainfall patterns under global warming
I can do that in Perl, C, assembler, and any other Turing complete language. But I use Mathematica because it is full of functionality, fairly reliable, and has a very elegant programming paradigm. Also, as a student, it'll cost me $100-150, depending on where I live, for the lifetime of my studentship, assuming no site license; the kinds of business that run this software commercially really don't care too much about a $2500 license fee.

This is just like GIMP trying to take on Photoshop. When you're a kid, Adobe prices seem so off-putting that you can't see why people wouldn't flock to the free alternative. When you're doing a real job involving print work, you simply don't think twice about paying Adobe for the required feature set, intuitive UI and better workflow.

So, kids will carry on pirating Adobe or paying a much reduced student price, then paying for it when they go into the real world; and the same goes for Maple, Matlab, Mathematica, or whatever.

Oh, yeah, the whole "open source" thing. Excepting core functionality, some of Mathematica and the majority of Maple is provided in source form. You can whine about needing peer review of implementation at all levels, but how many of you have inspected your CPU's microcode or circuit diagrams? At some point the line is drawn, and you combine a trust in the reputation of your vendor with the fact that usually you're prototyping and modelling. Things will be re-implemented and tested in many ways before your "final product" is out of the door (whether that's theoretical physics or an aeroplane).

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (5, Informative)

mhansen444 (1200253) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624065)

Since you specifically mentioned Mathematica, I'd like to address some reasons why Sage was created when something like Mathematica exists. While good for some types of problems (calculus, solving equations, etc.), Mathematica is not so good at a number of other ones (linear algebra, abstract algebra, number theory). Many of these are important to the Sage developers who need this type of functionality. Mathematica's programming language is a whole lot less flexible than a "real" programming language like Python. Plus, with Mathematica, you aren't allowed to change the internals -- you're stuck with what you get.

These were all reasons that led William Stein to start up Sage.

--Mike ( a Sage developer )

Maxima vs Mathematica (4, Interesting)

hweimer (709734) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624101)

But I use Mathematica because it is full of functionality, fairly reliable, and has a very elegant programming paradigm. Also, as a student, it'll cost me $100-150, depending on where I live, for the lifetime of my studentship, assuming no site license; the kinds of business that run this software commercially really don't care too much about a $2500 license fee.

Free software isn't about price -- it is about freedom. One of the research groups at my university cannot use Mathematica since a few weeks because the license expired, and neither renewing the license nor contacting tech support has so far brought a solution.

Another no-go is that Mathematica 6 notebooks are not compatible with Mathematica 5 notebooks. Also, the unwillingness of Wolfram to timely fix bugs leading to wrong results is unacceptable. I could go on ranting like this, but recently I have completely switched to Maxima [osreviews.net] and have not regretted it.

Re:Maxima vs Mathematica (2, Informative)

bunratty (545641) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624145)

I'm listening to Will Stein's talk about Sage right now, and he mentions the licensing fees as one of the two main problems with commercial mathematics software. The other is that users should be able to examine and change the software as desired, as you mention.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624115)

I call BS. Let's see some of your assembler showing simple double integration without the usage of existing libraries.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624175)

Gentlemen, please do not fall for such an obvious troll as parent.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (1)

MartinG (52587) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624275)

Open source has nothing to do with trusting vendors or drawing lines. One of the central points of open source software is that I want to read it because I might want to change and improve it for myself, and I may want to freely pass those changes to others. Comparing to hardware such as CPUs is bogus because even if I did know how my CPU worked internally, I don't have the fabrication plant to make a new version, nor is it trivially simple to give everyone else the same benefit for next to zero cost because they don't have fabrication plants either.

If you want to trust vendors who won't let you look for yourself how things work, then fine; it's up to you, but don't go claiming it's the same for everyone because it ain't.

Also, the tactics employed by adobe and others, where they let people initially have stuff for free until they are used to it and want to continue using it, and then suddenly make them pay, is very similar to the business model used by some kinds of drug dealers.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624279)

Many people who are interested in mathematics do not qualify for an academic license. The existing license fees are way too expensive for most individuals and many organizations.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624307)

Oh, yeah, the whole "open source" thing. Excepting core functionality, some of Mathematica and the majority of Maple is provided in source form.

For now. But since the program is closed source and very expensive, what happens 30 years from now when Wolfram won't give you the version the original result of interest was created on and it's illegal to get it anywhere else? Oh, and the formatting options changed over 30 years so the results look different and you can't tell easily if they're still the same? Not that this is guaranteed to happen, but it might. Open source is a guarantee, and when you're doing research of this sort that guarantee is very good to have.

You can whine about needing peer review of implementation at all levels, but how many of you have inspected your CPU's microcode or circuit diagrams?

A very good point, but the idea is that (in theory) you could if you have to. Indeed, my own interests with Axiom have lead me in those directions - I have downloaded the MIT CADR machine circuit diagrams and have acquired a couple books on Forth (which has the virtue of being "easily" bootstrapped from machine instructions). I'm also aware of things like OpenSPARC [opensparc.net] and OpenCores [opencores.org] . The point being not that I will ever be good enough at understanding them to verify them other than experimentally (unit testing, etc) I COULD do it in principle because it is available. I would very much like to seen a machine built entirely on open hardware even if it would be slower, but commercial realities may make that difficult.

Anyway, the point is you strive to be as open as possible. Even if hardware today isn't verified, someday open code could be ported to a verified open platform. The principle is worthwhile even if the implementation of it isn't perfect from the beginning.

At some point the line is drawn, and you combine a trust in the reputation of your vendor with the fact that usually you're prototyping and modelling.

Indeed that is what must (practically) be done now, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight to make sure that things remain open - it's a foundational principle of science that things be reproducible and openness facilitates that. Perfection is not currently possible, but that doesn't mean we give up and don't do what we can.

It's your who is missing the point (3, Insightful)

S3D (745318) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624389)

The point here is not workflow or intuitive UI.
The point is, mathematics and other research rely more and more on computer algebra systems. Up to the point of including CAS code into proofs of theorems and other research paper. However the point of mathematical proof is that anyone with enough knowledge can follow it and verify it step by step. If commercial closed source software is part of mathematical proof, proof is becoming essentially unverifiable. Mathematical theorem become hostage of software owner. That is a step toward complete privatization of science.
On of the ugliest incident happens then owner of your favorite Mathematica Steven Wolfram claimed ownership of proof of CA rule 110 universalty [wikipedia.org] and obtained a court order preventing researcer from the publishing the proof in the conference proceedings. To publish it as the Mathematica code in his books.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624421)

I think you're missing point.

>> You can whine about needing peer review of implementation at all levels,
>> but how many of you have inspected your CPU's microcode or circuit diagrams
>> I can do that in Perl, C, assembler, and any other Turing complete language.

Kid, here's a question you need to think about:

What do you think made perl, C, assembler and any other Turing complete language
so reliable?

 

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (1)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624447)

This is just like GIMP trying to take on Photoshop. When you're a kid, Adobe prices seem so off-putting that you can't see why people wouldn't flock to the free alternative. When you're doing a real job involving print work, you simply don't think twice about paying Adobe for the required feature set, intuitive UI and better workflow.
Yes, real professionals are more than welcome to use Maple. But an avid math amateur like myself is not going to pay the huge fees they ask for once I'm no longer a student.

Re:FLOSS misses the point again (2, Insightful)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624479)

You make a great assumption in dividing users into students and pros. Do you need to be a pro to use, say, the gimp resynthesize plugin, which is great to remove spurious stuff from a photo? Not at all. I don't understand the options, but i select the offending area and it works. The toy graphic packages i had with the digital camera and the scanner hadn't got anything similar. They have 20% of the features of gimp. And then there's xara [xaraextreme.org] . They lack when it's time to go to print? How many people work on stuff that ends on paper, what about the rest?

So even if professionally one can spend a grand for the software of the profession of choice, personal computing is much more than that, and i hope FLOSS keeps "missing the point" like it did till now.

About open source having to stop at a certain threshold because you can't inspect microcode and circuits, that's true. But it's also true that malicious actions then must be confined to microcode and circuits to stay undetectable. You have a harder time inserting malware and stuff because that level would have to reconstruct activity at higher levels and act accordingly. Say the random number generator hardware can't be trusted. If you have an OSS stack on top of it you can do something about that, if your whole stack is closed you are toast.

FINALLY! (2, Interesting)

yamamushi (903955) | more than 6 years ago | (#21623943)

I think a lot of us can agree that open source software like this should have been developed YEARS ago, so I'm glad to finally see a good alternative to MATLAB and Mathematica out, I was getting kind of tired of pirating my Mathematica software. Plus with the added benefit of being scripted in Python, I'm sure this project is going to take off like wildfire.

Re:FINALLY! (4, Insightful)

mahlerfan999 (1077021) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624023)

I was getting kind of tired of pirating my Mathematica software.
That's not the reason why open source mathematics software needs to be better developed (your comment is also sadly echoed in the article which didn't get the point). It has nothing to do with the price tag (free as in beer is not why foss is important in math and science), it has to do with reproducibility. The whole point of science and math is that a result can't be accepted if it can't be reproduced. And anything that uses closed source algorithms as part of the process is not transparent, and thus not necessarily reproducible. From personal experience I can tell you that numerical computations depend strongly on the algorithm that you choose, and it's just as important as the rest of the problem.

Re:FINALLY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21624329)

As usual the open source crew shows up late to the game.

So how about that desktop linux already...

sage (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21623969)

sages goes in every field

posting anonymously for obvious reasons

Debian packages (1)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624057)

Sage is interesting and has been around a while, but it isn't packaged by distros - probably because it requires lots of other programs (maxima etc) but modifies them all slightly.

SAGE is an interesting project (5, Insightful)

starseeker (141897) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624135)

I am not personally involved with SAGE, but I know a little about it. Rather than being a totally new system in all respects (although there is certainly new code created for it) SAGE attempts to make use of the plethora of existing open source systems available already and provide a unified interaction environment for them. As it says above, SAGE takes aim at the functionality offered by commercial systems.

This is undeniably a practical approach that will benefit many research teams, and I am rooting for its success. My main concern with it is that by using a wide array of libraries/programs to cover broad functionality, it will become difficult to integrate results from one system into the computations of another. Different systems may make different default assumptions (sometimes very subtle ones) that other systems will not be aware of. Efforts like OPENMATH (http://www.openmath.org) that have attempted to define a protocol for exchange of mathematical information between systems have run into this before.

Unfortunately, any proper solution to that problem is likely to be even more work than re-implementing algorithms inside a single environment. A framework for a CAS that could handle such broad scope is a problem (Axiom probably comes the closest right now) so for problems that don't hit the more difficult situations SAGE will be very useful indeed, but it is something to bear in mind.

In the very long term, we need to integrate formal proof software concepts (ISABELLE, ACL2, COQ, etc.) with computer algebra systems in order to be able to trace any calculation back to its axiomatic roots at need - or, put another way, have the system be able to provide upon request correctness proofs of a result. There is a fair bit of literature on that and related topics, but it cannot be denied that the problem is an awesome one. In the meantime, SAGE is a very promising short term (practical) solution to real world problems.

SAGE's developers are also supporters of the idea of open source software in general, which is probably the most important aspect of the whole discussion: http://www.ams.org/notices/200710/tx071001279p.pdf [ams.org]

It may be argued that computers are not really an appropriate tool when truly "correct" mathematics must be relied upon. My response to that is that as problems of interest become ever more complex, limitations both of the human mind and the human life span will ultimately limit the problems we can solve unaided. The task for us now is to create a system we CAN trust to solve problems correctly, because someday we will have to trust it to solve problems we cannot handle. Some researchers would probably have a philosophical objection to that and define any problem human beings cannot solve and verify themselves as a problem where we will always be uncertain if it is really solved. The philosophical questions involved are fascinating for people who like that sort of thing. My take on it is such a system would be useful and is worth looking into.

SAGE is more pragmatic in its orientation, but that means for many (most?) people it is a project to watch and probably a product to use. Here's hoping they can build increased momentum!

Evidently these "experts" (0, Troll)

LM741N (258038) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624153)

have never heard of SciPy and Numeric Python. Numeric has been around for years and SciPy is usable but in development. Various Govt labs have been using Numeric for a long long time.

Re:SciPy (1)

mhansen444 (1200253) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624197)

Sage includes SciPy and NumPy so it can make use of all the functionality that they provide. While a majority of the developers are "pure" mathematicians, there has been a lot more interest / work on the numerical side of things as of late.

--Mike (a Sage developer )

Re:Evidently these "experts" (1)

Beetle B. (516615) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624459)

SciPy/NumPy is a good alternative to MATLAB type stuff. It's no match for Maple, for example - and it's not trying to be. They serve different ends.

good idea (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624211)

SAGE gives you easy access to documentation and source code. Type plot? for help on the plot command and plot?? to see the source code.

This should be used in all free software, from Firefox to KDE and from bc to cp. The user should be able to have a more direct access to source code to encourage more people study it and hack it. If Firefox users could move their mouse over a button and right-click and select "view source" to see the actual source code generating the button or the called methods, perhaps more people would feel more inclined to contribute to free software.

Re:good idea (1)

renrutal (872592) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624495)

Not really.

Sage encourages the user to view the source of their functions because scientific work must be accountable and peer-reviewed. Everything you depend upon must be proved and their implementation must be correct.

Now Firefox and KDE, the great majority of their users don't even know how to read a line of a program, nor they care.

It's all a matter of "Target User Base".

On the other hand, I'd love run Firefox with a --view-source option. Perhaps even correct/tinker with the code on-the-fly and JIT compile it.

Maple source is viewable (1)

Sara Chan (138144) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624289)

At present, the two main math software packages are Maple [wikipedia.org] and Mathematica [wikipedia.org] . Mathematica is entirely closed source. With Maple, most of the source code can be viewed (though it is copyrighted and cannot be copied). This means that you can check the algorithms used in Maple, but not in Mathematica.

There are some packages that are called by Maple that are closed source. For example, Maple calls the NAG Numerical Libraries [wikipedia.org] for a substantial amount of its numeric computations; the NAG routines are closed source, but they are widely agreed to be the best on the planet, and Maple decided to rely on them.

Sage is interesting, but its functionality is very limited. In the (very?) long term, though, Sage might well pose a challenge to Maple and Mathematica. But in the meantime, I expect to continue to use Maple.

Re:Maple source is viewable (1)

mhansen444 (1200253) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624337)

This means that you can check the algorithms used in Maple, but not in Mathematica.
You can view the source to a lot of the functions, but not some of the really interesting ones like Faugere's implementation of his F5 algorithm.

Sage is interesting, but its functionality is very limited. In the (very?) long term, though, Sage might well pose a challenge to Maple and Mathematica. But in the meantime, I expect to continue to use Maple.
Where do you find the functionality to be most limited? This type of information is very helpful for the developers. For a number of things though, Sage provides much more functionality than say Maple or Mathematica.

--Mike

something at last (1)

nerdyalien (1182659) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624345)

I think this is a great move and everyone should involve in it. Why I say this, because this is something much we needed at this point of the history.

I am sure hardware has gone to some extreme ends in doing the number crunching tasks.. in both accuracy and efficiency (less time in calculations). But still, this power is much un-tapped for some reason which I have no clue of.

While I was a college student, we were somewhat forced to use MATLAB as the default mathematics software. It was the case for most maths, control and communication related modules. MATLAB is quite easy in its commands and help catalog. Most importantly, it easy to view the results in many different forms and shapes (i.e. array, charts..). Also its a great array operation language.

But MATLAB suffers significantly in its computation speed. I am sure, pretty much all of the research community has noticed this. Yes, there are ways to over come this with minor coding tricks. But it won't shorten the time dramatically. The hard way to get a good processing speed is to buy the Distributing Computing package.. which is money (+ global warming).

I expect SAGE to concentrate on this speed issue. YES we can choose something like C++ or Fortran (I love those languages). But lets say, if you have to code something like a CDMA simulator (or any comms simulation model)... C++, Fortran maybe the toughest languges in coding and debugging (due to lack of results viewing capability).

Around what? (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#21624431)

Sage is an browser-based open-source tool developed at the University of Washington that the school says more than a hundred mathematicians from around helped build.
Around what? Just around?
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