[SciPy-dev] SciPy Foundation

Neil Martinsen-Burrell nmb@wartburg....
Sun Aug 2 15:44:49 CDT 2009


On 08/02/2009 01:58 PM, David Goldsmith wrote:

>> I don't think that Joe and I are that far apart either. My point
>> (very badly formulated) was that trying to make scipy be a
>> replacement for IDL or matlab is in my opinion not the right goal.
>> IDL in particular has a lot of field specific code available in it.
>> I would like to see a structure where scipy provides the
>> underlaying code needed by many fields (like the Numerical Recipes
>> codes) but stay away from providing field specific code. Also
>> scipy should not venture into GUI or provide an interactive
>> environment like IDL (there are other packages that provide this).
>>
>> Just my opinion Tommy Grav
>
> OK, that helps. :-)
>

> Fine goal (between the two, I choose to remain neutral for now), but
> one comment: you say avoid a GUI, but the kind of "tool set" you
> describe would greatly benefit from (dare I say require) some sort of
> UI that makes it "easy" for the uninitiated (at the very least) to
> find the specific resources they need; IMO, for example, the UI
> LAPACK provides for this is a good example of how *not* to do it.

This may be an instrumentality on the way to the "Goal of Scipy" 
(whatever that is) but I wanted to mention here the importance of 
reaching students with SciPy.  Software vendors know this: if a student 
learns about a certain type of computing using your software, then they 
are likely to continue using your software throughout their career. 
Matlab has been stupendously good at this sort of marketing in 
engineering schools, where learning Matlab is seen by some as a 
*required* part of the curriculum, due to its industry dominance.

Apropos of David's point about the relevance of a GUI, I think that in 
addition to the packaging, documentation and communication aspects of 
Joe's plan, an easy-to-install environment for interactive computation 
is important for teaching students with SciPy.  When I taught an 
undergraduate class on Markov chains using numpy and scipy, it was hard 
for students to install scipy.  Once they had it installed, they were 
able to be moderately productive in IDLE, but they missed some of the 
features of IPython (command completion, saved inputs and output).  An 
interactive Python environment that allowed access to documentation, an 
editor and a rich interpreter would have made the uptake much easier for 
students.

In the past, Alan has spoken strongly about the importance of the matrix 
class for teaching linear algebra and I want to echo his message about 
the importance of pedagogical usability for the continued adoption of 
the SciPy stack.  Students who start using software in their classes 
will continue using that software throughout their careers, particularly 
so for something such as SciPy which has some significant advantages 
over its better-known competitors.  I think that there is a tendency for 
active researchers to underestimate the importance of 
undergraduate-level learning and I hope that in this discussion, we will 
keep in mind the singular importance of that young audience.

-Neil


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