We’re not professional mathematicians, scientists or engineers, so when the new “Mathematica 8” came out recently, we let a Northwestern University doctoral candidate test it for us.

The biggest improvement in this complex program is that you can use ordinary English instead of programming language to communicate with the program. Type in “33 grams of gold” to find out how big that would be and how much it would be worth. It would be a cube about a half inch on each side and worth $1,459 (at prices current when we wrote this).  For equations, you don’t have to remember to use a double equals sign or fancy brackets.

The only drawback is that the new version takes up more memory and storage. You can get an idea of the kind of things Mathematica does by using their free online calculating machine at The standard edition runs $140 to $295, depending on the buyer’s status as a student or non-student user.

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