Postcard from the road: Meeting the press

October 16 2008 Tom 4 724

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For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been flying around the world on a press tour … sounds glamorous doesn’t it? Images of Brad Pitt or Prince William come to mind? Well, any similarities between a Brad Pitt press tour and one that I’m involved in is purely coincidental (if not miraculous). So what does one do on a Maplesoft press tour?

 Well, as it turns out, there actually is a fairly active community of journalists from far and wide who have a particular interest in recent developments in engineering and mathematical computing. And every year or so, we like to meet the press face to face to keep the lines of communication open between the company and these influential people of letters. This year, my tour took me through key regions in the US, UK, and Germany.

I’m happy to report that the 2009 edition of the Maplesoft press tour was a great success by any measure: number of journalists met, number of potential articles that you’ll be able to read, and number of appreciative nods from journalists who seemed genuinely interested and impressed by what has happened in the mathematical software world in the past year.

Since the last major press tour, Maplesoft has announced a whole range of newsworthy items. Of course there were product announcements. Maple 12, MapleSim, and Maple T.A. all have had significant respective product stories but what seems to be capturing a lot more attention is the proverbial “big picture”.

My friend Fred Kern has written several blog postings on the topic of the importance of mathematics in the world; past, present, and future, and the big picture in many ways is about just that – how mathematics is becoming an ever more important and influential part of modern industry and society. Since the last major live press tour, some very big developments have not only made news but, in many ways, have begun fundamentally transforming the company.

At the top of this list has to be the announcement of the collaborative relationship between Maplesoft and Toyota. In many ways, this constituted a validation by the auto market leader that rigorous mathematics is a valuable tool for modern industry. Concurrent with that was the announcement of the new Plant Modeling Consortium, (PMC -- then referred to as the Physical Modeling Consortium) an industry think tank exploring new techniques for modeling and simulation – most of which involve the innovative use of symbolic math techniques.

The PMC is an amazing story in itself. Today, we count over 150 active members representing virtually every major automotive OEM, their supplychain, and organizations providing a variety of services and solutions to the automotive industry. Not ten years ago, such a collection of people concerned with deep mathematical modeling would have been unheard of and the press is genuinely interested in the emerging trends that triggered this organization. At the end of October 2008, we will convene the third general meeting of the PMC in Tokyo. Organizers are anticipating the largest attendance in PMC history. The ball just keeps on rolling.

Even in terms of product announcements, we find an interesting twist this time around. The pilot testing phase that we launched for MapleSim (post-beta testing involving real users and real problems) produced an impressive 1500+ with a substantial concentration from industry of all sorts. Fifteen hundred engineers and scientists voluntarily investing time to build experience with new modeling techniques is definitely a trend by any measure.

A singular moment for me during the tour was the London press conference held at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street (Wikipedia Article founded in 1538 rebuilt in 1666 after the Great Fire of London). The Cheshire Cheese is Britain’s most famous “tavern of letters” and was frequented by Dickens, Tennyson, Conan Doyle, Twain, Disney, to name a few. And of course Fleet Street is London’s center of news and publishing. Twenty journalists and editors, a legendary venue dripping with inspiration and history, and some of the best food and ales anywhere in London, make for a very special press meeting indeed.

The Cheshire Cheese seemed to be the ideal location to discuss that larger picture – of emerging industry trends, of the pursuit of richer, more rigorous techniques that will help our society deal with some of the most challenging technical issues in history. A pub may seem like an odd choice for a press meeting for such serious issues but it seemed entirely appropriate. Most writers, even engineering writers, want to tell interesting stories and spark readers’ imaginations and let’s face it, detailed technical lists of new product features usually can’t draw out such a response. But in a convivial environment like the Cheshire Cheese, the post-presentation chats were that much more lively, engaging, and rich – the stuff of great stories that could hope to do justice to the storied venue.

When the press picks up a thread with this much interest, you know you’re on to something very special and important. Those of us who have been around for a while perhaps get more satisfaction from this as we always knew the value mathematics and symbolic computation had to offer and we knew that it was only a matter of time before the technological and the business pieces fit into place and the true potential of these amazing tools would be realized.

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