I received today an e-mail containing constructive, yet negative critique of the Math-o-mir software. It was written by an engineering student who wanted to remain unnamed, but was kind and allowed me to publish this part of his e-mail. Among else, he says:
“I wish I could be able to use such a capable program, but I am finding that it will take many days to learn how to use even basic functions. And I must move on with my studies. I think that I will have to continue using hand written notes. I am sorry, but it would take too much time to become proficient with Mathomir. I have printed the manual and am constantly having to flip through it. Finding instructions for one problem or feature causes me to flip to several more pages and often these searches branch out to looking at more pages. It is though I am lost in a huge maze with no overall map. It is a shame that I printed out about 100 pages of manual and have spent hours determined to learn to enter text and basic equations, but I can only spent so much time before I have to go back to my studies. I do hope that you will be able to refine the program and the manual so that more people will be able to use it. I am not a trained computer professional, but I do have an education in electronics and mechanics. It is perplexing to me why very complex software is required just to enter math equations into a computer only for the purpose of keeping notes.”
The paragraph is well written and because it also contains my own deepest concerns, I decided to publish it. While it is a very rare occasion to receive such a response, I have that feeling that there are many, many potential users who feel the same when they first face the software. Many of them eventually just return to paper-and-pencil. Some of them possibly feel swindled and robbed of their time.
But I am not cheating. Math typing is hard and I mentioned this fact several times on this blog. It takes some serious effort and time to master it. It took me one year to stop instinctively looking for paper-and-pencil when I needed to make a quick calculation… But I don’t know, I really don’t have the slightest idea why everybody (including me) have this feeling that typing mathematics on a computer should be an easily solvable problem. When I first started working on the Math-o-mir software, I was thinking ‘to first spend a week to implement a perfect keyboard handling mechanism and then I can move on to more serious things’. Years passed…
And I am not even the most incompetent programmer around. It seems that nobody managed to solve the problem perfectly. In fact, Math-o-mir implements one of best solutions ‘in business’ (if you ask me, the best)… In any case, the problem still stands and all those users complaining have all rights doing so! I however believe that I can still find ways to improve the software, and documentation too, even if by the trail-and-error methods.
So if you are under time constraints, I don’t recommend switching your paper-and-pencil for a computer software. I am sure such switch would slow you down for at least several weeks. If you want to make the switch, I would recommend a relaxed approach. I don’t think math typing is a skill you can learn overnight. It takes time for your brain to rewire. (You might be thinking that paper-and-pencil is so much more intuitive, but just recall how many years you spent, in your quickest-learing-ages, to master the pencil.)