Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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CPlot

464 words

As I am tutor for our complex analysis lecture this term, I was told that one of our students has written a program for drawing graphs – not all of them for lack of dimensions, but real or imaginary part of a function's value, for example – of complex functions. He asked for further interesting examples.

Usually I wouldn't bee too enthusiastic about this, but this time we seem to have a winner. The application, CPlot, is for the Mac to begin with and it works really well for a 0.x version. It draws graphs, admittedly at possibly imperfect precision, as 3D-objects in OpenGL, giving you all the neatness of textures or transparency the technology has to offer, which can really aid visualisation.

OK, people might say, you've drawn graphs before, using Mathematica. So why not use Mathematica? I did and I must admit it was a royal pain. Mathematica is all powerful and nice but I hardly ever use it and if I do, it is ostly for drawing graphs. This means, every single time I want to draw a graph I'll end up reading the help file all over again to get the syntax right in my second or third attempt. The graphs I get in exchange are nice and precise graphics.

This application is aimed at a different (most likely more common) audience: Mostly, I want a graph for quick and easy visualisation and will gladly accept a slight loss in precision. That's what made the Graphing Calculator so lovely: Three simple steps – Launch, type, see. And while CPlot may not be as pretty as the Graphing Calculator yet when it comes to entering formulæ, it's actually more efficient: You can throw virtually anything at it, dropping brackets and multiplication signs wherever reasonable possible and it will still get things right. Similarly you can use whatever combinations of x, y, z, r, φ you like as variables, allowing everyone to input things the way they're most comfortable with. The latter is probably an easy thing to implement, but one that's neglected in many programs. Thumbs up for the parsing of expressions.

It also has animations with a time parameter as the Graphing Calculator used to have, but the UI for still needs a bit of attention. If the program continues to improve as nicely as it is done so far, this could easily become the one-stop solution for most graphing needs: simple function entry, many different drawing styles enabling you to get drawn whatever you're interested in with little effort, easy graph manipulation. Oh, and because it's for complex functions that means it works for your real graphs as well. Nice.

It comes with many pretty example files, so download you copy today and discover the beauty of mathematics.

May 27, 2003, 22:10

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