[Beowulf] Teaching Scientific Computation (looking for the perfect text)

Jim Lux james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Wed Nov 21 09:26:03 EST 2007

Quoting "Robert G. Brown" <rgb at phy.duke.edu>, on Wed 21 Nov 2007  
05:56:51 AM PST:

> On Tue, 20 Nov 2007, Jim Lux wrote:
>> Octave is nice, but.... the graphics are MUCH better in Matlab, and  
>>  there's all those toolboxes full of cool stuff (signal processing,  
>>  control systems, maps, etc.)
>> And, an academic license for Matlab is only $100.  That's less than  
>>  the textbook likely costs.  Granted Matlab isn't quite as cool as   
>> the symbolic
> "Only $100" is IMO highway robbery, especially for students.

For a copy that they get to have on their very own personal computer  
(as opposed to a shared class license, which is cheaper, on a per seat  

I don't know that it's highway robbery.. It's comparable to the cost  
of a textbook these days. It's less than the cost of a couple concert  
tickets or a live theater presentation like "Wicked".  (No starving  
students buying tickets to see the Stones or the Eagles these days...)

> toolboxes are typically separately licensed at similarly high cost.

Yes, indeed, that could accumulate pretty darn quick...

> Duke has a site license of sorts for students, but for a long time
> faculty had to buy their own copies (or departments had to buy a copy
> for them) even if they were using it to teach part of a course.  If you
> have a department with order of 100 desktops, that "only $100" adds up
> to $10,000, which is a truly absurd chunk of our department's entire
> annual computing budget (outside of the much larger human costs).  We
> literally would have to let the server/desktop replacement cycle stretch
> out to have a hope of covering it.

I think their pricing model is quiet different. If the department buys  
the copies and lets the students share licenses, it's less on a per  
seat basis.

The individual purchase model is more like a textbook.  Your  
department doesn't supply textbooks to your students, do they?

And, granted, the academic world IS different in terms of computing  
cost models, but for most medium to large businesses, a computer  
sitting on someone's desktop costs about $300/month for equipment  
lease/replacement, maintenance and help desk support, and a basic load  
of software.  (about half the cost is equipment, half is support).

In the world of $200 Walmart computers and free-for-the-downloading  
Ubuntu, yes, $100 is significant.

> With all that said, for engineering types (matlab use is taught and
> required in the Engineering school) and for various research groups or
> student uses matlab is OK.  But if you don't need a toolbox, octave
> really is just as good and almost identical in terms of its command set,
> and free is a lot better than $100, even for students.

I agree, and use both...

I just get spoiled with the substantially better graphing capabilities  
of Matlab, and some of the toolbox things that one gets used to.   
Sure, one could probably find equivalents (or write them) for Octave,  
but it's nice when it's just right there.

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