[Beowulf] Re: Matlab and Octave

Lux, James P james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Dec 29 15:11:27 PST 2008

On 1
> 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.

OTOH, computing is just a tool.  We don't expect biologists to make their
own microscope, or even understand optics, just how to effectively use the
instrument.  The vast majority of folks using a computer should do it by
whatever makes their job easier.  Certainly, some amount of knowledge of how
software engineering or software development is done helps in the "being an
informed consumer" area, but I'd hardly say that, for instance, all
electrical engineers should be able to write good code in language X.

If folks like those populating this list can make a good and seamless blend
between the user facility of Matlab and the inexpensive computational
horsepower available from a Beowulf, then all the better. There will, of
course, always need to be folks who can really eke out the maximum in
performance, and if they have some application domain specific knowledge,
all the better. There are also certain research questions which are
sufficiently complex that only someone who really understands the question
can ask it effectively and who must also be a software whiz to get the
answer in finite time, even with that hulking Beowulf in the room next door,
but I would contend that they are in the minority.  Thus, those sorts of
applications (which we discuss daily, here) should not be the driver of
undergraduate courses.


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