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Welcome to the MUG WikiEdit

Welcome to the Mathematica User Group (MUG) Wiki, a user maintained guide-book for effectively using Wolfram Mathematica. If you are a beginner, hopefully we can teach you; if you are an expert, hopefully you can teach us. The aim of MUG is to address any given topic at all levels, so that anyone can become an expert.

Basic Principles of MUGEdit

The Documentation of Mathematica is extensive and excellent; every Function has a page, as do most tools. Almost all Mathematica questions can be throuroughly answered through careful examination of the Documentation, and especially by surfing the "See Also" cross-references at the bottom of each Documentation page. However, such self-learning is often time consuming, and can frequently lead to misconceptualization. Furthermore, when a language is explained with itself (e.g. the meat of the Documentation is real Mathematica code), confusion can remain. Finally, knowledgable Mathematica users were once noobies themselves, and did not become knowledgeable without numerous struggles, trials, and errors. Drawing upon their own experiences, MUG users can target instruction towards the areas most likely to hinder the advancement of others. Hence, MUG was created to augment the Documentation via a community of people who want to help and learn. Using just a few basic principles, this goal should be readily attainable. 

Start From the BegginningEdit

Every page on the MUG Wiki should start by addressing a topic like the reader has absolutely no knowledge of the topic. Explanation of the topic, and why it is useful, should progress through a series of levels (L0, L1, etc.) deliniated by Major sections in the Wiki page. The lowest level (L0) is the Inroduction, which should consist of mostly words and some code. Moving to higher levels, one will encouter less words and more code, including entire notebooks or screen-capture videos. The highest levels will be devoted to exploiting a function or concept for advanced goals, so that even the expert users have something to gain from being part of the MUG community.

Cross-reference EverythingEdit

The best part of any Wiki are the cross-references. There is no point in briefly explaining a concept in one page when the concept already has its own page. Additionally, it is impossible to explain most concepts in Mathematica wihtout utilizing others which require explanation. Hence, it is exteremely important to cross-reference as much as possible when adding to the Wiki. Even if the page you want to cross-reference doesn't exist, create the link so that it is clear that a new page is required. Conversely, keep an eye out for red links (pages which don't yet exist) and lend a hand by creating the page. 

Tell Me WhyEdit

The worst thing in the world is to be told the what and the how but not the why. Explaining the purpose of a trick, tool, or concept helps people form the connections in their brain which allow them to remember it. Stressing the importance of something is useless unless you stress why it is important. For example, if I tell a child never to stand in an open field during a lighning storm, they might remember my advice. If I tell them that it's because they will be tallest thing around, and invariably get struck by lightning and turned into burnt toast, this mental image will likely get stored in their long term memory. Thus they will probably remember not be the tallest thing around during a lightning storm, and perhaps, by induction, will know not to stand on top of hills during a lightning storm, even though this wasn't their explicit instruction. The same is true in mathematics; there is no point in introducing a concept if you don't immedietely explain why you are introducing it, as well as giving concrete examples of why it is useful. Hence, when teaching me to use software that does mathematics (like via the MUG Wiki) tell me why

Give Me Examples, Not HandoutsEdit

Just like the Mathematica Documentation , it is important to include examples of working code. You can't expect people to learn how to do something if you don't first show them how to do it. MUG is for teaching people how to fish, not giving them the fish. As such, we must remember that humans, like electricity, always take the path of least resistance. If the low level sections of a page (L0, L1, and maybe L2) include too much fully functional, standalone code, then users might be inclined to use the code without first understanding how and why it works. On the other hand, higher level sections should be relatively unitelligable to the newbie, so if lots of standalone code resides here, they probably won't be able to to figure out how to use it without first graduating to those higher levels. Hence, each pages low level sections should have only code snippetts (and not entire notebooks) so that users are forced to build a solid foundation of understanding, instead of getting an immediete jackpot.

ContributeEdit

The best way to kill a community is to reap the benefits without ever sowing them. Certainly, we can't expect beginners to regail us with their accumen; but if MUG works, then beginners should become novices, then eventually advanced users. Don't hesitate to lend a hand; we won't think you're stupid if you make a mistake. Besides, even a novice should be able to start a page which has been cross-referenced, but has yet to be created, since it isn't too difficult to come up with a basic description and an L0 Introduction. 

Ask Questions and Make CommentsEdit

Every page on this Wiki has a "Talk" page, where users can talk about the content of the page. This is the perfect forum for people to ask questions like: 

"I don't quite understand what you mean when you say ...?"

"Is there any way to ...?"

"Why doesn't it work when I ...?"

"Should I explain it like this ...?"

or comments/critiques: 

"I think MUG needs a new Basic Principle that says ..."

"I feel like the level system (L0, L1) needs revampment because..."

"We need a better way of displaying Mathemica code, I think we should ..."

It cannot be stressed enough how important these "Talk" pages are to the MUG community. Without feedback, MUG could set out in the completely wrong direction (like over a cliff). We need your support, we need your ideas, we need your questions, and we need your critiques. Remember, this is a community, so talk to each other.

Be PoliteEdit

The last thing we need are snotty experts who answers peoples questions by telling them to look at the Documentation page. If that's going to be the extent of your contribution, we don't need it. Newbies can't really understand Documentation pages, because they're meant to be technically perfect, not perfectly transparent; that's why MUG was created! So please be cordial and respectfull. This includes not removing huge sections of someone elses work. If you feel that your stuff is better, and should completely replace someone elses, put your stuff in front of theirs (or maybe move theirs up to a higher level) but don't completely delete their stuff. Then, make a detailed comment explaining your actions on the "Talk" page. That way, people don't get discouraged from contributing to the Wiki (i.e. "Why should I invest my time adding to a page if someone else is just going to come along and rip it all down?"). 

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