Maple 11 (Cadalyst Labs Review)1 May, 2007 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
The underlying math engine has more power than you'll ever need.
If you design products, you have to do some math. It's unavoidable; it goes with the territory. And if you're like most, you had to invest in a good calculator in college. You've been in the work force for a while, and you probably need to replace that faithful companion. What do you do? If you're smart, you look at Maple 11 by Maplesoft.
Maple 11 is high-end software for calculating, charting and presenting complex math. It continues in the direction of Maple 10 with its Smart Documents, which allow you to integrate a variety of information (graphics, formulas and even notes) into your computations. Maplesoft has continued to improve the underlying math engine, which already has more power than I'll ever need. It has a short learning curve, so you'll be up and running in no time.
The interface has plenty of features to make a difficult subject easier. Self-documenting, context-sensitive menus keep a record of what you are doing as you do it. That way, you'll be able to look at each and every operation—something other math programs, most notably Excel, don't usually allow you to do. I know, many of you use Excel to do your math, but aren't you tired of having to dig deep into the program to see if it will even show you the intermediate steps? Maple 11 shows you all that—without a shovel.
Maple 11 integrates well with other software. Of course, you can cut and paste into and out of office applications such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint, but it also works with CAD programs. That makes it easy for you to find and incorporate data into your calculations and then use the answers where they are needed. And if you can't figure out how to get your information into your document, Maple 11 even includes an Import Assistant that will help. You start by creating a document and entering your equation. Then you can right-click and pick an operation off of the pop-up menu (figure 1).
Figure 1. When you right-click on an equation, a pop-up menu opens to list all the operations that you can sensibly apply. It is context sensitive and very handy.
One data input function of particular note is the Handwriting Input window (figure 2). In past versions, you were allowed to actually handwrite a symbol in a window, and Maple would analyze the drawing and offer a selection of symbols it felt most closely matched what you drew. You selected what you intended. Maple 11 takes this a big step further. You now can handwrite entire equations! If you've ever had to search through a symbols database, you'll immediately know what a great thing this capability is. It will speed whatever you are doing. As with all handwriting applications, accuracy is an issue, but Maple's error rate is getting better all the time. I've been asking Maplesoft about its Tablet PC support, because it seems that it would be an excellent application. The company said it's working on improving it in the next releases.
Figure 2. When in doubt, sketch it out. If you can't find the symbol you want, you can handwrite it. You can write a whole equation if you want to. Maple will recognize what you've written and put it into your document.
Working with Maple 11
After you've input all your data, you need to do something with it. Maple 11 gives you a wide range of choices. You can output your results and put them to good use. Maple 11 is big on digital engineering. With it you can autogenerate formulas (figure 3) that can be derived directly from models and then plot the results to a text document, a whole range of charts, an animation and more. You can even create simulations of working mechanisms right inside Maple 11.
Figure 3. You can generate equations in Maple 11 several ways. You can enter the equation directly, you can autogenerate it or you can use a template.
The MapleNet Web server lets you post live documents on the Internet. What good is that? It will allow those you authorize to edit your Maple docs without even having Maple loaded on their computer. You can set up permissions to allow document viewing, mark up or editing. The free Maple Reader does the same thing.
How many times have you been in a presentation and someone asked you to change some variables to explore a what-if scenario? Usually you have to tell them you'll get back to them. That's not a problem anymore. Maple 11's Technical Slideshow Presentation uses live documents. You can change any part of them as you make your presentation. And because it's Maple, the updated numbers are accurate. You can even use a slider to alter the values and get a live animation of the effect (figure 4). You specify the range of the slider.
Figure 4. You can set up sliders in your document for each variable so you can explore what effect each has on the overall equation.
The new Back-Solver Assistant lets you input values for all the known variables in your equation, solve for what's left and then plot it. You can change your variables, and Maple 11 will update the equation accordingly. This ability allows you to explore different outcomes. You've heard the phrase, "It's not rocket science." Well, maybe Maple 11 is. Maple 11 can do very difficult math, such as plotting the path of a multinode pendulum (figure 5). It can calculate and keep track of the motion of each node on a swinging pendulum. Imagine what it could do for you!
Figure 5. Maple 11 can handle very complicated math problems. This image is a plot of the path of a pendulum. Maple self-generated the equation and plotted the results.
Last but not least, one of the first things you'll notice when you install Maple 11 is the Maple Calculator. This instant-access calculator is much like the one that comes with Windows, but this one runs with the power of Maple 11, so it can handle a lot more. I like it.
Good but Expensive
Maple 11 is good software, but it's not cheap. The price for a professional license is $1,895 (and I thought that TI-84 was expensive!). For academic institutions, pricing is somewhat lower at $995, but you are prohibited from using it for commercial purposes. Students can pick up a copy of Maple 11 for $99, but likewise it's restricted to classroom-related duty.
As I said before, if you design, you do math. If you do math, you can definitely use Maple 11. It has more power than you're likely to ever use. For more information, visit the Maplesoft Web site at www.maplesoft.com. Highly Recommended.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.