Maplesoft Blog

The Maplesoft blog contains posts coming from the heart of Maplesoft. Find out what is coming next in the world of Maple, and get the best tips and tricks from the Maple experts.

It seems like everywhere you turn lately, people are talking about how to be kinder to the planet. One example is just how much interest was generated when GM unveiled its plans for the Chevy Volt last year. As I write this, 46,527 people are on the waiting list for the upcoming electric car, which is scheduled to be released in late 2010 as a 2011 model. At my house, we wash our clothes in cold water; use a programmable thermostat; turn off the lights when we’re not in a room; recycle and compost our waste; use a low flush toilet, energy efficient appliances, and an electric lawnmower; and of course, snuggle our two dogs for warmth!   

Yesterday was one of those remarkable days when everything seems just about right. The highlight was an email message I received from a Prof. Fang from Ryerson University notifying us that we had been both nominated and awarded the Omond Solandt Award by the Canadian Operational Research Society for ongoing and outstanding contribution to the field of Operations Research (OR). No, it’s not a Nobel Prize or an Oscar, but whenever a group of smart people publically recognize our work, the honor and pride are genuine.

I thought I’d exercise my left brain a little with this post and write on something a bit more technical. Actually, this was triggered by a chat I had over dinner last night with our 3D graphics development manager and a client. As you may have guessed math is intimately related to computer graphics of all sorts. My PhD thesis so many years ago was on the topic of creating funny surfaces that smoothly join two complex surfaces with a relatively small number of shape control parameters: such surfaces are called blend surfaces. This required the development of a bunch of algorithms that related either implicitly defined surfaces (i.e. f(x,y,z) = 0) or parametrically defined surfaces (i.e. each point is defined by the triplet (x(t), y(t), z(t)) ). That was twenty years ago and I always thought that any problem that I was wrestling with would have been resolved twice over by now. My ego was pleasantly surprised that indeed such problems are still the stuff of heated debates and vigorous research.

For almost 20 years, Math education has been recognized as the first killer application for symbolic computing. By taking out the grunt work of manipulating equations, calculating integrals and performing matrix computations with symbolic entries, systems such as Maple have transformed the math classroom.

A dramatic change in how we interact with the environment demands an equally dramatic change in how we develop technology. The evolution of predictive technology – in other words, software - has been a precursor to the development of environmentally progressive technologies like clean coal power stations and hybrid energy vehicles.

On a recent trip to McGill University in Montreal, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Paul Oh of Drexel University in Philadelphia and the Director of the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) robotics programs. During a fascinating presentation on the US robotics research landscape, Dr. Oh made a few comments that really made me think … and reflect.

Robotics has always been a “sweet spot” for Maplesoft technology. Between the necessary complex...

One of the great parts of my job is getting to meet all sorts of incredible people from all over the world. One of these, a math professor, is very close by to us, both geographically and professionally. Professor Jack Weiner is one of the most popular educators at the nearby University of Guelph. He is passionate about his work and it shows: he has won numerous awards, including the award for most "Popular Prof" in a national annual survey of Canadian Universities, for eight out of the last nine years.

I was recently forwarded a link to this Snopes article.

According to the urban legend described therein, text is still readable if all the letters in a word apart from the first and last are randomized. I quickly threw together a Maple worksheet, primarily using its flexible string manipulation tools.

Go to Maplesoft on Facebook? Math talk mingling with my meaningless personal status reports? Are we now laying a clear path for the Maple world to walk right into our private lives? Now I’m worried.

We’re now at an inflection point in which symbolic technology will automate physical modeling and equation generation through tools like MapleSim. As a recent webinar hosted by Maplesoft and the Society of Automotive Engineers proved, engineers are fascinated by the application of the technology, and the technology itself.

  • Voting patterns in Mexico and Florida.
  • The size of files in your Maple 12 installation
  • Stock trading volumes on the NYSE

What do all of these have in common? They, and other data sets drawn from the real world, often follow a non-intuitive pattern called Benford’s Law.

A colleague of mine recently mentioned something to me about an article that circulates every year during the holiday season, entitled “The Physics of Santa Claus”. This was news to me, so I ran a few Google searches to find out what she was talking about.


It seemed that some enterprising person had taken the time to go through and explain just what is involved in Santa’s Christmas Eve trip around the world delivering presents. How many households does he have to visit? How much do all those presents really weigh? How fast do the reindeer need to fly in order to get it all done in a finite amount of time? There is much speculation as to the origins of this piece; the general consensus seems to be that it began life published in SPY magazine in the early 1990s. Whatever the true story, it’s still an entertaining read in 2008.

I’ve taken some time to update the original with more current data – for instance, it seems the world’s population has grown a bit in the last 20 years. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world population in 2008 was approximately 6,705 billion; 28% of these are children (defined as being under 15):

In fact, making some assumptions about the percentage of these children that celebrate Christmas and the number of children per household, it turns out that Santa needs to visit close to 200 million homes in one night.

We assume he distributes gifts from 5 pm to midnight, or for 7 hours. Due to the Earth's rotation, there is an overall time difference of 24 hours between different time zones, so we can therefore say that Santa has 31 hours to finish his work (assuming he logically travels east to west). Visiting 200 million homes in 31 hours means that Santa has to visit approximately 1586 homes per second:

This gives him about 1/1600th of a second to do everything at each home, such as parking his sleigh, looking for the right gifts, climbing down the sleigh and chimney, binge on snacks, fill the stockings, come up again and rush to his next stop!

For the complete details of his annual trip, visit the Applications Center where I’ve posted the Maple document in which I’ve recreated the Santa calculations. Happy Holidays!!

My wife will tell you that I am horrible at remembering important things like birthdays and sending Christmas cards on time … or at all. As we approach the end of another remarkable year, it’s always rewarding to reflect on the events of the year and take the time to thank all those who made the year so remarkable. So, in no particular order

And probably on your mind as well.

When there isn’t a hot news story about an election, a scandal or a disaster, it seems that China is the constant background music we all hear.  China’s incredible growth.  China’s incredible wealth.  China’s growing need for oil that will soon exceed world production capacity.  China as the manufacturer of everything.

I’m sure you’ve heard the same.

Two things are focusing my attention on India these days.

The first is something that I’m sure I share with most of you – the sad and terrifying news of recent terrorist attacks.  We all hope that these were acts of small groups and will not lead to wider conflict.

The second is that I am very pleased to be resuming a relationship with a very fine organization in India that I have known for 20 years.  Maplesoft recently announced that Cranes Software International will represent us in India.  I expect exciting things in the coming months and years.

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