Emergent Mathematics with Xojo

How author James Bailey uses Xojo to tell a story

James Bailey is a published American author who specializes in emergent mathematics, which is the way we construct mathematics throughout life by a combination of cognitive development and interactions. In the past, Bailey worked for Thinking Machines Corporation, where they made a computer that was used for a menagerie of novel, nonnumeric applications, such as cellular automata, neural networks and genetic algorithms. Bailey was enamored with their innovations and after the company folded, he wrote the book After Thought (Basic Books, 1996), that positions their new algorithm as the third wave of mathematics, after ancient geometry and “Age of Reason” algebra. The book did well, and Bailey continued his work in the industry.

By 2013 it was obvious to him that neural networks and genetic algorithms had become everyday tools in biology and ecology, but they still had zero impact on school curriculum’s. When Bailey asked a mathematics curriculum developer what role biology played in his latest recommendations, he did not even understand the question. Finally, when pressed, he responded, “None.”

“How could this be?” he wondered.

“The answer is that it is not enough to just read about these techniques to appreciate them,” commented Bailey. “You have to see them play out on your own screen and there weren’t any easy ways to do that. One good book on the subject offered apps, but they had to be compiled under Linux in order to be run.”

“To get people to appreciate these new maths, they had to be brought together in a coherent set of books, apps and a website,” continued Bailey. “So, my starting point was probably unique. I had a professional designer do the design for all three and then I hired Jeremié Leroy implement the interface. It was only then that I started to implement. Where I could, I found open source Linux apps that were already in use among scientists. Being Linux, they all have a command line interface that I can drive from Xojo. These apps all had text based interfaces so my job was to replace those with friendly, graphical interfaces. In cases where no appropriate app existed, I just implemented the algorithm directly in Xojo.”

He now has three such apps -- each with a companion book -- with the fourth in progress and a fifth yet to come. The entire collection will be released in mid-2013. He believes that a person who goes through all four will come out with a full appreciation of the power of these non-numeric forms of mathematics.

Lower Learning Curve with Xojo

After spending most of his career on the business side, Bailey was intrigued when Xojo came on the market, hoping he would be able to skip the whole UNIX/C era and pick back up where he left off.

At first Bailey started learning Xojo just as a hobby. It was a big step from his past programming experience, but he found it easy to learn.

“I am not a developer,” stated Bailey. “I am a published book author focusing on the impact of computing in the overall history of ideas. In this field it is not enough to just write paragraphs telling people about what happens on computer screens. To really understand and appreciate the innovations that are now sweeping the life sciences in particular, my audience needs to see actual apps running live on their own screens.”

“For me, writing a Xojo method is no different than writing a text paragraph,” commented Bailey. “Both are essential literacy skills in the 21st century. I consider myself to be adequate at both, but I do not spent full time on either. One of the huge benefits of Xojo, for me, is that I can leave the code for months at a time, while working on a book and/or my website, but then go back and be able to understand the code and work with it. I believe this is a result of the way Xojo lets me architect around the user interface. Other environments seem to treat the user interface as the last step in the process, but for me it is the first.”

“I appreciate that Xojo does not ignore folks like me for whom programming is a means to an end, not a full-time end in itself,” continued Bailey. “We are well into an age where programming is an essential part of basic literacy. If you cannot even write simple scripts, you cannot function in the world that is now unfolding. Xojo has genuine advantages as the platform for learning programming as literacy, not just as a job skill.”

The whole message of the project is that one cannot truly learn about emergent mathematics by reading about it. It is only as you see the result unfold on your computer screen that you can begin to understand. Show don’t tell. This is the best way to learn.