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

Laura Creighton lac at strakt.com
Thu Oct 20 20:53:23 CEST 2005

Given that you are talking about enriching the experience for the
physics student, be advised that they use computers in two very 
different ways.

The first way works fine living inside a closed system such as
SAS, Matlab or whatever.  You have your data, and you take it into
the world-of-matlab, and then you do whatever it is that the designers
of Matlab thought would be cool and useful things to do.  Courses such
as 'how to get the most out of Matlab' are extremely useful and
justifiably popular.

But the other thing to use computers for is to build our own models,
libraries, worlds and what-have-you.  This, be definition, cannot
be done in sombody else's world.  The skills to do this have to come
from somewhere else -- and this is where a course in Python might be
most useful.

But they are different skills.  And the baby-step things they have
in common mostly don't have to be taught at all -- physics students
can learn these things by reading the appropriate manuals.

My person al belief is that most physicists would get more joy out
writing programs and get better results if they learned to do
test driven development when they wrote their own code, so if your
goal is to improve the experience for the physics major, I would
start there.


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