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Let's Do It!

Alexander Bogomolny

Since you are reading this, you may already be aware of the new Mathematics Digital Library (MathDL) and the JOMA Applets initiative. If not, see Tina Straley's article in this issue for a description of the former and part 2 of Tom Roby's article for the latter. Eventually JOMA may have separate "area" pages for developers, faculty, and students. For the time being, only the first of these is available.

About the author: Alex Bogomolny writes the Cut the Knot column for MAA Online and is the developer of the popular Interactive Mathematics Miscellany and Puzzles site.

The library has been conceived as a place to deposit (among other things) small items of instructional value, "mathlets", created with one of the modern means of online communication: Java, JavaScript, Flash, etc. Several factors place this initiative apart from other digital libraries. Most important is its exclusivity. Only those items that pass a rigorous screening process will be included (published) by JOMA. Moreover, the project plans to solicit mathlet submissions in topics identified by the editorial board. The screening process and solicitations will at first be confined to specific subject areas, starting with Calculus, to eventually cover completely the undergraduate and pre-college curriculum. The scope of a subject area will be expressed as a Table of Contents, more like a book than a library. Herein lies the greatest challenge. May from this effort emerge what the legendary Paul Erdös might have called The Mathlet Book!

What does it take? Quite simply this: bringing together a lot of experience, good taste, and the desire to share your teaching insights. JOMA intends to distinguish between areas for faculty and developers. This should not imply that these two categories of people have an empty intersection. I believe that the best results might be achieved when the faculty, as a source of insights, gets directly involved in the development process. I, as many others, taught myself Java -- one of the modern wonders that makes the (no less wonderful in itself) Web come alive. It's not that difficult at all.

This column and a parallel forum are intended for those developers who (coming from the teaching background) seek programming advice, and those with the software development background, who seek to develop an item of value to the teaching and learning communities.

The development effort should not be restricted to a specific programming language or programming environment. On the other hand, I believe that to be good, a book must be coherent in style and expressive means. And as we have to start somewhere, Java is as good a choice as any other.

From the time it became public some 4 years ago, Java underwent several transformations. The most remarkable was the leap from version 1.0 to version 1.1, and the latest was Java 2, which came after version 1.1.8. Standard libraries, or packages in Java parlance, have been also evolving. One noticeable change that may be relevant to the library of small items was in the expansion of the Abstract Window Toolkit (awt) to the JFC/Swing collection of classes. In general, I think, the more advanced the version of Java that is admitted for publication in JOMA is, the more hassle-free the maintenance will be for specific components. The decision then to require the latest versions in published applets should be that easy, but it's not. The reason is that applets are not stand-alone programs. Applets run from inside Web browsers which may or may not accommodate a more advanced Java version. Most browsers nowadays support Java 1.1.8 and the awt classes. Plug-ins are required for applets that use the Swing library, a process that I judge cumbersome (but this may not reflect JOMA policy). Accordingly, I shall offer examples based on Java 1.1 model and the awt package.

© 2001 by A. Bogomolny
Published January, 2001

Alexander Bogomolny, "Let's Do It!," Convergence (September 2004)