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COMP: Update on MathCad 7.0 - MathConnex and Component Projects

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I have had the opportunity to investigate a few programs in the last couple
of days. As many of you know, I have been beta testing Intellicad from
Visio, Imagineer from Integraph and received my upgrade to Mathcad 7.0
Professional.
As I started to work with MathCad 7.0 it soon became clear to me that a new
platform used to organize and interlink varies applications into components
is emerging.
To understand this, consider that Mathcad has very poor capabilities for
database retrieval. Lets assume for the moment that you created a database
for steel shapes within Excel. You use Excel to search for the section
modulus of a W8x35 section and have, at this time used Excel to perform
other calculations with this section modulus.
Inasmuch as you can not easily seach for a section modulus using Mathcad,
you can not attach excel as a component to Mathcad to perform this task and
have the results of the task inserted into your Mathcad analysis for the
analysis that you need to perform.
This is different from OLE since you can change the section of steel that
you are searching for and do not have to embed the spreadsheet into MathCad.

To understand this better, Mathcad includes a module called MathConnex. This
is simply an explore based component "erector set". To accomplish the above
problem you create an input for the section you wish to extract properties
from. You next drag and Excel spreadsheet icon into the "whiteboard" which
contains your program used to obtain section properties. You link the input
with the cell in Excel that represents the section you are searching for.
You then link the output cell from the Sx (section modulus or any other
properties you need) to the Mathcad template which performs an analysis that
needs the section property.
Where it become really useful is when you take the resultant output from one
Mathcad sheet and link it to the input cells of another analysis (Mathcad or
any associated application) - say a CAD drawing that requires the attributes
for the beam that you just designed.
In summary, you have linked a section (and possibly various load
combinations) to Excel to draw out section properties that you needed, which
are linked to various MathCad sheets needed to design beams, footing and
columns, which is then linked to a Cad program that lables the footings,
beams and columns and creates attributes you might need to draw upon a bill
of materials later. This is all done from one program.
What is not apparent is that this technology is supported by all of the
Office 97 products, Visio, Intellicad from Visio, Eagle Point Software, and
Imagineer. Sadly, good documentation is not available to provide us with the
"seeds" for creative programing that we need to see the potential in
structural engineering applications.
The most usefull applications I can see now would be for finite element
analysis where the need to create arrays of information within Excel is
needed to be linked to a program like MathCad for the evaluation of the
arrays.
Visio is heavily invested in this area with the future of their beta product
Intellicad. From my initial views, it is a dynamite product that sells for a
fraction of Autocad and claims over 95% straight compatibility with Release
14.
On a side issue, Imagineer is not slouch. The program uses the same smart
technology that Acad 14 uses to determine the location on an object or line,
but goes Autocad one better. If you freehand sketch in Imagineer, it
interprets your movements and shapes and converts it to what it believes you
need. For example if you start to draw a line in freehand, it comes out like
wavy lines, but does not require the input that the line command needs.
Imagineer recognizes that you are trying to draw a line, circle, retangle or
arc and converts your rough sketch into a finished object. This is a neat
feature.


I went onto the Internet to search out more information on Visio, Integraph,
Microsoft and one other company I have not discussed here - just to see how
these companies charted on the stock exchange over the last two years. It
soon became evident that there is much riding on the ability of programs to
become components for an overall solution package to scientific, business
and engineering problems. The fact that four or five very large companies
have quietly pooled their resources to support this technology is
impressive. I just don't understand why the technology is not spoken of in
wider circles.
The charts for each of these companies showed increased and steady growth
over the last 12 months - each comming out of a fairly stable but
unspectacular growth period. As many of you may know, Microsoft announced
and executed a stock split a few days ago, and looking at their chart, they
moved from about $100.00 a share two years ago to over $156.00 a share as of
last Friday (I don't have the actual numbers in front of me).

Finally, for those interested, the other company I have been watching (mind
you I don't have anything to invest but wishful thinking and a few dollars
savings since building my home) is a Belgium company called Lernout &
Hauspie Speech Products. I read about six months ago that L&H may be the
recipient of a contract with Microsoft to provide the speech technology for
Windows 98 or a near future upgrade.
L&H provides speech engineers most notibly for a subsiderary American
company Kurtzweil Software - which as one of the top three dictation and
voice command programs on the market today (IBM and Dragon Software are the
other two). However, L&H not only manufactures Kurtzweil products, but has
been supplying the medical and business community with voice technology for
over five years. Some of their clients have been Dell Computer as well as
Symantec for their up comming voice recognition software.
Microsoft (as reported from Gates book "The Road Ahead") is betting heavily
on the future of voice technology to overcome that part of the market that
has refrained from purchasing computers due to the fear of typing. Gates is
gearing their technology to a time when 90% of all communication with
computers is based upon voice recognition.
Personally, I could not be as productive in the Cad programs that I use
without voice commands. I can work more than twice as fast as I could
searching toolbars and menu's.

I believe that we are in for some very interesting changes in the software
industry that will help solve some of the questions that a few of you had
about organizing and creating finished submittal analysis. The ability to
create a project within a program like Mathconnex has the potential to unite
each separate piece of software, use it as a component in you total project
model and finally print the results in a common format. Finally, the project
is contained in one package and easily saved and distributed.
We are getting there, but I wish that we did not have to search so hard to
find out these tools are available. Lastly, the documentation needs a lot of
improvment so that we can clearly see the potential if offers us.

Dennis S. Wish PE

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