Best cargo cult symbolic equation editor?
October 18, 2014 7:08 AM   Subscribe

You're an armchair scientist and you like reading scientific papers. A lot of the fun ones include a lot of equations. You'd like to be able to recreate those equations in a virtual blackboard. You'd select terms and be able to replace them with a library of previous equations you've made. The blackboard would enforce whatever symbolic manipulation rules are required to maintain consistency (because you sure won't be able to). If you replace a term with a number or a data input, it does the calculations necessary to display properly. What is it?

The best tool for this will be able to do literally everything visually with the symbols, i.e., no text-based programming language required to use the features described here.
posted by bigbigdog to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mathematica, perhaps?

(sorry, on preview I see that was one of your tags...)
posted by stinkfoot at 7:11 AM on October 18, 2014

If you want to create an interactive blackboard-like environment in which calculations are updated as you make changes, you might want to look at Mathcad.
posted by Omission at 7:22 AM on October 18, 2014

Sage is kind of an interesting thing to try out, but it is a bit code-intensive:

(free, web based version)
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:24 AM on October 18, 2014

I agree that MathCad would meet your needs with the type of interface you're looking for. (And thanks, Omission, I had no idea that it still existed!)
posted by BrashTech at 7:35 AM on October 18, 2014

Response by poster: (If one of my tags mentions the right answer, please don't let that stop you from providing that answer. I just included things I'd heard of.)
posted by bigbigdog at 7:37 AM on October 18, 2014

Wolfram Alpha, maybe? I used to use it for unit analysis for physics problems fairly often, and it worked pretty well. That was years ago and I assume it has only improved.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help!

I was afraid the answer was going to be Mathematica because $1,800 for a starter edition put me off. But now I've got one of these on the way. (And the price point and form factor has put me in the mind of building a sort of Diamond Age math notebook tablet thing.)
posted by bigbigdog at 11:38 PM on October 18, 2014

Mathcad is the way to go I think. The symbolics are slightly more powerful on there than Mathematica. I have heard Mathcad 15 is better than the newer Mathcad Prime 3. I can't verify this because I haven't tried Prime yet, but I am sure the symbolic solver in both will more than suit your needs. Also, if there is anyway you can get a Student licensed version of it, it will be very cheap, about $100 lifetime.
posted by incolorinred at 7:25 AM on October 19, 2014

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