[SciPy-dev] SciPy versus Matlab, Excel, and other tools

Jochen Küpper jochen at jochen-kuepper.de
Wed Oct 24 22:08:15 CDT 2001


Kevin, All,

just stumbled over this. Maybe it still helps.
(Not speaking for "scipy.org" by any means.)

Kevin> I asked a number of friends involved in science on a daily
Kevin> basis what tools they use day to day and for publication.  The
Kevin> top answer for doing analysis and graphs seems to be Excel and
Kevin> presentations are done in PowerPoint which are then projected
Kevin> rather than printed and then publications are done in PDF
Kevin> format.

Excel? What kind of "scientist" did you ask? I don't know any serious
scientist who uses Excel for more than calculating a mean or getting a
histogram. (Btw, these people also publish standard deviations for
2-value means... Well, it's not wrong, I guess) 

Try plotting a dataset (simple x,y will do) with >1e6 points in
Excel. Last time I tried (ok, years ago) the limit was 2**14:( I know
the limit is bigger nowadays, but generated data sets are so as well:O

Not considering that Excel calculates "wrong" (by design(?))! There
are papers in the scientific literature that test Excel's
"numeric-engine"; Microsoft doesn't consider it worthwhile fixing
"bugs" (that is, wrong numerical calculation results) that were
pointed out half a decade (or more) ago.

(Yes, I have read some of these papers. Sorry, I don't keep references
of that stuff, but searching any reasonable literature database should
provide you with the papers I am talking about. I do know a former
colleague who has hardcopies of some of these papers, so I could
contact him to get references if really needed.)


Origin, SigmaPlot, and such are used by many to plot (mostly 2d) data
and do some analysis (low-scale usually, although these programs
promise to do a lot for you nowadays). I actually use Origin myself
all the time to prepare presentation graphics. If you have repeating
tasks it may still be faster to write a specific solution yourself,
though. 

Kevin> Again, I'm not a scientific computing user, so I'm just trying
Kevin> to better understand the SciPy goals

I don't know what the goals of Eric, Travis, and Co. were when they
started scipy. I think it is a really useful programming library for
me. I use stuff like LAPACK or FFTW all the time writing data analysis
software.
Now I get that stuff within one package for my little python scripts,
which do most of my day2day job (well, I haven't gotten them to
*produce* the data I actually need, yet).

And I can tell you it is faster to write a small python script to do
some analysis instead of loading 50 files into any of these ready-made
programs, clicking through the menus for minutes, rearranging
intermediate results from one function to another, ...

Yes, scripting of these apps should be a solution here. I never
figured that out because it changes with every version, so I start
back from scratch again.... Never had the passion to get that
working. python worked right from the first line... 
Ok, knowing C/C++, Fortran, Pascal, Lisp, HTML, LaTeX, bash,
whatever...
You know what?  These "languages" are actually designed to be useful,
not put around a program designed to be colorful and menu-driven as
its main goals.

I hope nobody (besides maybe Excel designers) feels offended, that is
not my intention at all. If you are happy with Excel, good for you! If
you are *sure* you don't have problems with precision, stick with
it. Nothing is easier and faster than what you know. (Unless you know
something better:)

Greetings,
Jochen
-- 
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