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Physics class

Speaking as a recent high school graduate from the silicon forest...

In high school, the only department I ever saw make use of computers as
educational tools was Physics (outside Keyboarding and Computer Science,
that is).  Two, maybe three, categories of things went on there...  

One was simulation of physical systems.  High school physics is simple stuff
to a computer, even the Apple ]['s didn't have to work very hard.  

One was preparation of lab reports.  This involved use of spreadsheets and
statistical analysis programs for data processing, and word processors for
typing reports.  Learning practical knowledge of how to operate spreadsheet
and data analysis programs was as at least as important as learning the
physics and lab technique there.

The third thing computers were used for was data aquisition in lab
experiments, using light or pressure sensitive timers, and the
ever-popular Sonic Transducer.  Sensors from Vernier Software
(http://www.vernier.com/) were used...  They support their software on
Apple ]['s as well as other platforms, and also make some of the
statistical analysis and simulation programs...

So from this we can build a resource/project list...  Do we have
equivalent Linux tools for a physics class?

I found xldlas (http://a42.com/~thor/xldlas/) could do the job of
Vernier's Statistical Analysis.  After all, we weren't doing anything
more complicated than a linear regression fit to data...  However,
xldlas has a clumsier interface than Vernier's.  It's a shame to rewrite
something that works, but there's a temptation to recast this in GTK and
add CORBA so it could play nice with GNOME, in hopes that doing so would
eliminate the hassle of having xldlas use gnuplot to save as eps and
later insert in TeX and...

Spreadsheet:  At the time (two years ago), the best thing I found was
mc.  It wasn't exactly stable and it wasn't exactly open source, but...
At the moment though, we've got GNOME throwing a lot of effort into
tackling this problem with gnumeric.  (I dearly hope gnome will speed up
as it matures.  Just painting menus for gnumeric seems slower than
non-gnome apps on my 486/100.)

Word processor:  At the time, there was . . . um . . . emacs and LaTeX?
What do the licenses of StarOffice and WordPerfect say in terms of
educational use?  There are people at work on open-source solutions too,
but I, for one, don't know what's happening in that field at the moment.

I bounced a message off the Vernier people back in May...  After all,
they're not bad folks, they don't charge much, and they still support
software and hardware on Apple ]['s.  At the time, the company showed no
interest in Linux (although they admitted that their network admin was a
Linux fan), did not intend to release their source code, but said that a
software developer guide could be ordered for $25 that would contain all
instructions necessary to write software for the interface.

Simulators: I haven't looked thoroughly.  Two-dimensional projectile
motion type things are easy to write and fairly common though, check
your nearest artillery game.  :) I've seen gravity simulation programs
around too (with orbiting bodies in space and whatnot), but haven't
taken a close look at any of them.  As long as one is at it, one might
as well throw in some simulations of the motion of charged particles in
electric or magnetic fields, as they're not much harder to do than

There's also AERO, "A Physically Based Simulation and Animation System",
(http://www.ee.uwa.edu.au/~braunl/aero/) which is lots of fun, as you
can have objects fall, roll, bounce on rods or springs, smash into each
other, and all sorts of other fun stuff in 3D...  And you can use it to
render animations with POV if you like.  Last time I used it, it wasn't
entirely stable under Linux and development appears to have stagnated.

Well, I hope all this writing has done some good somewhere.  ;)
 - Kevin