Joining PTC in June of 2010, I arrived in the Mathcad Unit at a time of transition. Mathcad 15.0 was released during my onboarding process. Mathcad Prime 1.0 was progressing rapidly towards its January 2011 launch. Over the next several months learning both Mathcad and Mathcad Prime simultaneously was an interesting experience. Mathcad was chock full of capabilities, but, it presented a longer learning curve. For my own use – solving a problem of interest to me – Prime 1.0 offered greater ease of use. Worksheets came together more quickly and they were easier to revise. It was also more efficient to seek, learn, and apply Prime 1.0 features.
It has now been six months since the release of Mathcad Prime 2.0. In my role in the PTC Academic Program I am spending a lot of time preparing educational programs for the upcoming FIRST Robotics season. In particular, I am working on a series of webinars to teach FIRST participants to use Mathcad as a tool for creating reusable worksheets for their engineering calculations. FIRST participants are often brand new Mathcad users, used to graphing calculators and pencil and paper notebooks. In planning my webinars my primary goal is to enable them. They are smart, talented, and motivated. All I need to provide them is an on-ramp.
Working on the curriculum for the webinars, I recognize that there are several new features in Mathcad Prime 2.0 that I have learned to really love. They are small, but, they are powerful because they offer speed, efficiency, and elegance. In today’s blog I will share three of them.
When creating a Mathcad worksheet I use Text Boxes for comments to describe new parameters or functions as I add them to the worksheet. This habit dates back to my years as a mathematics teacher, when I encouraged my students to think about the process of writing up solutions as telling a story about how you solved the problem. These days, I use Text Boxes in my Mathcad worksheets to better illustrate “the plot” of the analysis or calculation that I need to perform.
Mathcad Prime’s worksheet Pop-Up Menu (accessible by right-clicking on the worksheet) enables me to insert these comments quickly and easily, directly in line with new definitions. The more that I use this technique, the faster I am able to work. Both the ribbon icon and the HotKey “Ctrl-t” are efficient. The Popup Menu is efficient and fast.
Taking advantage of the worksheet Pop-Up menu speeds documentation
For example, after typing the definition for the length of the beam above I was able to right-click outside of the Math Region containing the definition to place the blue insertion cursor (+). When I released the mouse button, the Pop-up menu appeared and I was quickly able to insert a Text Box by left-clicking on this option in the menu. Now that I have learned to use this technique each time, I find it much quicker than either of these alternatives:
(1) Using the mouse to place the insertion point and then dragging the mouse to the ribbon to select the text box
(2) Using the mouse to place the insertion point and then typing the HotKey “ctrl-t” to insert a text box
I have learned to use this technique almost exclusively at this point and I am confident in saying that I think other users will find it can improve their productivity when creating worksheets.
If faster introduction of Text Boxes is not a concern of yours, there is one other trick on the Pop-up menu that I use a lot. The combination of Add Page and Remove Space is an extremely easy way to create the space necessary to: (1) create open space in the middle of a worksheet, (2) add the desired content, and (3) trim the unused content from the middle of the worksheet. After using this trick for several weeks, I find it incredibly helpful when adding content to worksheets to or making revisions that require additional worksheet space.
In my current work it is often the case that I am seeking the best function from Mathcad’s extensive library of functions. I find the Functions ribbon to be easy to use when I am looking for a function that I use often enough to know well. However, when I am not sure which function to deploy, I find it more efficient to open the sidebar Functions library by clicking on the All Functions icon.
The Function Ribbon is rich with capability and easy to explore
With the sidebar Library open, I can more easily search through a category of functions. The thumbnail help windows that pop up when I hover over the name of a function in the library are well placed for easy reading. The same help content appears when searching on the ribbon. However, I find that I can scroll and read more easily when the content appears on the left margin of my worksheet.
Mathcad’s sidebar library enables efficient selection of built-in Functions
Working from the sidebar library, it is easier to visualize both the Help content and my worksheet content, enabling me to make the best choice the first time around. I suspect that this technique will be efficient for most new Mathcad users, given the large library of functions available to users.
Finally, as a problem solver who benefits from seeing a problem using different modalities (e.g., symbolically & graphically), I have learned to love the Hidden Areas that are available in Mathcad Prime 2.0. A trick that I use often is to employ Hidden Areas to hide content that helps to tell the story of my solution, but is not part of the solution process.
For example, I often use horizontal and vertical markers to illustrate solution points on an x-y plot. When possible, I assign the horizontal and vertical markers to have the value of a variable or parameter. (In order to do this, simply type the name of the variable in the value-bubble attached to the marker.) Using a parameter to assign values to the markers enables the markers to update when changes are made to the worksheet.
One requirement for the marker values, however, is that they must be unit-less. As a result, I sometimes use division to strip the units away from a parameter for the purpose of creating the markers. When I do so, I use new variable names and I hide the definition of the new variables as shown in the image below. Placing a hidden area above the plot is an elegant way to document such a workaround. The flow of the worksheet is not interrupted, and, the engineering of the worksheet is carefully documented.
Mathcad Prime’s Hidden Areas enable the subtle documentation of workarounds
The Fluent Ribbon interface has not always been a favorite of mine. For me the transition to Microsoft Office 2007 was bothersome. As I gain experience with Mathcad Prime’s UI, I am coming to recognize that there are noteworthy gains in the speed and quality of my workflow when I make full use of the Fluent Ribon interface to present my work.
The tips above are little things, but when you use a tool for as many different purposes as I use Mathcad Prime, little things can make a big difference. I have been in contact with several other Mathcad users who have acquired a liking for Mathcad Prime’s UI improvements. Two of them have written a very nice book: Calculate and Communicate with Mathcad Prime. The authors, Hans Wesselingh and Hans de Waard, did an excellent job of describing best practice techniques for using Mathcad with an historical perspective. As a result, the book makes a terrific introduction to Mathcad for new users. It is also a useful reference for long-time users who want to get up to speed quickly on the new interface.
If you try these techniques or you have some favorite new features of your own. Let us know what you like. We always appreciate your comments. If you have discovered a great new way to complete a task, feel free to contact us about submitting a Guest Blog.
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