The value of pi hasn't changed, but the speed of calculation sure has

John McCormick

How long does it take an average PC to calculate the classic big-iron problem'the value of pi to 500,000 places? My 500-MHz Pentium III with 128M of RAM did it in just 3.5 minutes, running Wolfram Research Inc.'s Mathematica 4.0 from the CD-ROM. The result would take most of the pages in this newspaper to reproduce. The first dozen digits were familiar, anyhow.

Wolfram Research of Champaign, Ill., charges $1,500 for Mathematica 4.0 in Microsoft Windows and Mac OS versions or $2,500 for Unix.

The full-service math package combines powerful numeric and symbolic computation ability with a robust programming environment, plus advanced technical word processing and Hypertext Markup Language publishing support.

No problem

It can now solve big symbolic algebra problems even on older, memory-constricted PCs. The speed increase will matter most to readers who have written custom programs in C or Fortran for earlier versions. Visit the Web site at www.mathematica.com for details.

I also tried several of the Mathematica 4.0 add-in packages. Scientific Astronomer can plot asteroid or satellite paths, generate 3-D animations, and perform other calculations for amateur or professional astronomers.

This graphics-intensive add-in links Mathematica to astronomic functions and databases of celestial objects. It comes on one CD-ROM, like Mathematica, and can be installed on the hard drive or run from the CD.

The Fuzzy Logic add-in, on the other hand, comes on a single floppy diskette because it is a collection of notebook examples and special functions within Mathematica.

Get the concept

Fuzzy Logic manipulates concepts that cannot be assigned rigorous values'too hot, too cold, good and so forth. The Mathematica add-in supplies both an introduction to this 30-year-old branch of mathematics and the basic functionality to use concepts in programs.

Fuzzy logic tools are important in decision support, data analysis, pattern recognition, engineering and economic prediction. One notebook example tells a worker how to evaluate job offers. The same approach would work in choosing the best worker for a certain assignment.

A translation tool automatically converts notebooks from earlier Mathematica releases.

This relatively small package will be useful for some researchers, engineers and managers. Visit www.wolfram.com/products/applications for details about the contents of this and other add-ins such as Signals and Systems, Wavelet Explorer and Experimental Data Analyst.

I also tried Deneba Software Inc.'s Canvas 7 vector and bit map graphics program and DenebaCAD 2.0 computer-aided design program.

Deneba Software of Miami at www.deneba.com, puts the Mac OS and Windows versions of DenebaCAD on the same CD.

I ran it under Windows and found it a worthy midrange CAD offering. It was not as powerful as AutoCAD 2000 from Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., but priced at only about $570.

DenebaCAD can read and save existing AutoCAD .dwg files and is more powerful than AutoCAD Lite. I found it roughly comparable to IntelliCAD from Visio Corp. of Seattle, but with sophisticated rendering tools including texture mapping and photorealistic ray tracing not present in older IntelliCAD versions. Although DenebaCAD isn't the equivalent of the $3,700 AutoCAD 2000, I have all four of the CAD programs mentioned and like them all.

My advice is to compare features. DenebaCAD is a strong competitor among the under-$1,000 CAD programs and worthy of a place on your desktop system if it has the mix of features you need.

The most important considerations are whether you work in a mixed Mac and Windows environment and whether your current hardware can handle a larger, more powerful CAD program.

DenebaCAD's powerful 3-D and photorealistic rendering tools require at least 48M of RAM in either Windows or Mac machines.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at [email protected].


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