Anybody who’s programmed in Fortran will acknowledge a debt to John Backus, developer of ‘formula translation’, aka Fortran, who died a couple of weeks ago. Fortran allowed programmers to kick the method of 'hand' assembling code into touch and let them write in something, which whilst not English, led to a vast improvement in programmer's productivity.
My first experience of the Backus programming environment, was Fortran 77 at Birkbeck College on a VT100 terminal connected to one of DEC's esteemed 11/750 VAX systems. For some reason, Fortran was always pigeon-holed as the scientist's programming language, whereas Cobol was always touted as for businesses. Windows 2.0 was just about to be released, as was Mathematica the next year. If you weren't yet that good at programming, or didn't even want to be, you hassled somebody who was or, had a program that did what you wanted to do. If you couldn't find such a beast (person or program), it was time to get out a standard Fortran textbook and start to ascend the staircase to enlightenment.
Funnily enough, I've just installed the latest version of Mathematica (5.2) and I'm about to install the latest version (2007a) The Mathworks core software package. Both are programming environments designed to tempt those without god-like coding skills to short-circuit the time needed to sort out knotty scientific problems.
Mathematica installed quickly and it's fairly easy to knock together a few statements that can do a lot of data processing and graphical output. I'm about to install the Matlab package, but I did notice on an earlier install attempt that they use the FlexLM license manager. I've had a few run-ins with this license manager before, one of which was trying to get the computational fluid dynamics package Fluent up and running. Hopefully, it won't be another 'Death or Glory' mission.
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