[Edu-sig] Why choose Python (subtitled: the lure of the tool)

Peter Bowyer peter at mapledesign.co.uk
Thu Oct 20 18:23:28 CEST 2005

At 01:01 20/10/2005, David Boddie wrote:
>The question is: would you use Matlab in an introductory programming
>course for students in other disciplines? I think it's worth separating
>general programming skills from computational techniques.

Good point

>Are you talking about distributions of the actual language runtime and
>standard library, or installing packages, or something else?

I'm talking about packages.  Coming from PHP with a package manager, 
and having used Debian, the lack of this hurts!  It makes upgrading 
on Windows something to be dreaded rather than welcomed - which is 
why I'm still on 2.3.

>It sounds like you need some kind of IDE, with possibly specialized
>support for scientific or mathematical computing. I'm afraid I'd can't
>suggest one for Python, although I'd be interested in hearing just
>which features you think it would require.

I really appreciate having an inspector window to show me the values 
of variables, either all of them or ones I've asked it specifically 
to watch.  This saves me from having to put in print statements or 
(at the interactive shell) to keep typing the variable names to see 
what happened after the last equation was executed.

I'll think about the rest, there have been other things.  I like an 
integrated searchable manual for a number of reasons.

>You can still learn about efficiency in Python. The result just might not
>be as fast as you would like. :-)

Heh, very true although I hold the learning will not be similar to 
the optimising needed for a C program!

>...I needed to use Matlab and found
>my way to RLaB, which I'm happy to see has recently been brought back to
>life as a different project:
>   http://rlabplus.sourceforge.net/

There seem to be a lot of these around, Scilab and Octave just to 
mention two others.  This always annoyed us, as one professor would 
make us use Scilab while another used a very old version of Matlab 
(not teaching the syntax for either).  It's one reason I support a 
one tool fits all situation.

>In an ideal world, I'd have used an ODE solver from Python.

How about scipy.integrate.odeint :)


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