[Beowulf] Re: Matlab and Octave

Gus Correa gus at ldeo.columbia.edu
Mon Dec 29 12:38:15 PST 2008

Greg Lindahl wrote:
> On Mon, Dec 29, 2008 at 12:18:32PM -0500, Gus Correa wrote:
>> (This thread should be renamed "Matlab and Octave".)
> Indeed, it only takes a few seconds to change a subject...
> I'm surprised that Columbia doesn't still have a Fortran or
> computing-for-scientists class; they are often found in the Physics
> department, or in CS but taught by a physicist.
> -- greg
Hi Greg, Beowulfers

My statements about Intro to Computers courses were generic,
not specific about this university.

Our online course catalog (Fall/08, Spring/09)
shows four Intro to Computers course flavors:
Programming Matlab (two sections, one specific for Life Sciences)
Programming C,
Programming Java,
and one generic
Intro to Information Science (a survey of different things:
WWW, databases, human-computer interfaces, etc)
A search with the keyword "Fortran" didn't show any result.
Besides Matlab, some courses also use Mathematica or Maple for programming.

Prototyping tools seem to be preferred to computer languages.
OO-languages seem to be preferred to procedural ones.
C is preferred to Fortran.
Basic Unix/Linux skills don't seem to be covered anywhere.

I don't have any statistics or data, but I guess this is the picture 
across the country.

However, there is computer and programming expertise spread
across many departments, and there may be courses that use Fortran,
as you supposed.
To name a few, the QCD people in Physics (associated to the
IBM BlueGene prototype), the computational chemists, the engineers,
the professors at Applied Physics and Applied Math,
and the medical imaging and genetics folks, etc,
most likely are skilled in Fortran,
teaching to and learning from their peers.
However, these may not be general introductory courses for a broad 
at least I couldn't find one with these characteristics.

Our Earth Science Department has a small number of undergraduate students,
and a large number in graduate school,
coming from across the country and from abroad, not necessarily from 
This is the sample I interact with.
Our foreign students tend to have had more exposure to Unix/Linux
and to programming than those from the US.

My daughter's recent freshman Intro to Computers class
at another high-ranked college consisted of
C programming (K&R was the textbook) with OpenGL examples.
I would guess fashionable/pedantic approaches push young people
with no previous exposure to Unix and programming
towards the more comfortable, useful, and sensible Matlab,
and turn them away from other (equally useful and important) computer tools.

Gus Correa
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory - Columbia University

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