# Richard Mercer, Associate Professor, Wright State University

So many memories!

In 1979 as a graduate student in mathematics at University of Washington (Seattle), I attempted to use SMP to do some calculations for my PhD thesis. I underestimated the difficulty of doing so and abandoned this effort. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that SMP had been written by Stephan Wolfram at age 17.

The first time I met Stephen Wolfram and the first time I saw *Mathematica* in action was at the (First Annual) Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM), held at Ohio State University in (I believe) October 1988. I was VERY impressed, and upon returning told my (mathematics) department chair, “This is what we’ve been waiting for.” There were less than 200 attendees; I once had an attendance list for this conference but gave it to Joanne Foster at (what is now) Pearson.

From that same conference I still have a price list for *Mathematica* (April 1989) for 10 different platforms. The highlight of this price list is the Cray prices of $160,000 or $240,000 depending on the model. I interpreted that as, “If anyone buys it, we will hire someone to adapt and compile it for the Cray.” I would love to know if any copies were actually sold.

In August 1989, my department chair bought me copies of *Mathematica* (Version 1.2) and Maple to experiment with. Since Maple did not work properly for reasons I never determined, the choice was simple! That same month I purchased a Macintosh IIcx (for well over $5,000!) and an accelerator card in order to use *Mathematica* at home. (I had been using Macintoshes since March 1984.)

I learned to program in *Mathematica* directly from The Book, as no alternatives were yet available. I did buy Roman Maeder’s book when it came out.

Later in 1989, I wrote a Riemann sum routine and demonstrated it to my honors calculus class. In order to do so, I had to roll the computer and project in on a cart, set it up, and connect everything, and when class was over I had to disassemble and return the equipment. I learned a valuable lesson that day as the students did not show much of a reaction.

In 1990, I brought four students volunteers from my honors calculus class to Ohio State to observe the Uhl–Davis–Porta project. (Trivia: Bill Davis was my undergraduate advisor at OSU in 1972-73!) We were not able to observe a class but we could use the workstations. Two of my students worked individually and the other two worked as a pair. The pair accomplished far more than the other two.

In 1991, I applied for and received an NSF grant to adapt the Uhl–Davis–Porta materials for use at my institution. After looking carefully at their materials, I decided that was not feasible and began writing my own materials. In Fall 1991, our Calculus Laboratory Project began with 10 Macintosh IIci computers and 20 students.

Also in 1991, I attended my first *Mathematica* Conference in Boston. I have since attended all but three (?) of the *Mathematica* Conferences. I have fond memories of Stephen’s talk always running over before Jean learned how control him better. Also I remember the time he had *Mathematica* running on four different computers in the front of the room!

In 1992, I received a second NSF grant, which paid for equipping our calculus laboratory with 20 color NeXT workstations, and a color printer! I went to a week-long training session in Chicago to learn how to set up and administer an Ethernet network for these computers.

I remember that each new version had a bigger book and more floppy disks! The most I remember is nine floppies before distribution was transitioned to optical disks.

I continued working on my notebooks for calculus, eventually ending up with over 60 notebooks, of which 55 are still in use. I also wrote a custom package, which I named “calcE”, to adapt *Mathematica* for teaching calculus. Most of calcE was/is about making two- and three-dimensional graphics easier to use. When Version 3 came out with structured notation, major revisions of the notebooks were required, and also when Version 6 came out with user interactivity. I continue to make minor revisions annually. If interested, you can find them here.

I remember Jerry Keiper, Neil Soiffer, and Nancy Blachman. The “Theo and Neil Show” was always my favorite talk at the conferences. Nancy would talk about things that nobody else would.

I remember how Tom Wickham-Jones would give three or more talks at each conference, but no matter how busy he was he would always make himself available to talk to me.

I am now just starting on the Version 10 beta, while our university still has Version 8 installed! (Probably we’ll go to Version 9 next fall.)

I remember asking Stephen at a conference when *Mathematica* would become available for the iPhone. He was not happy with that question! But it should happen soon, right?

For the future… *Mathematica* will continue to change of course, but be careful! Many good programs (and operating systems) have actually become worse due to feature creep and over-complicated user interfaces. Your challenge is now to make it better without making it bigger.

It’s been a good 25 years! Thanks for all the memories.