Random Opinions of MATLAB

While working on my Masters at BYU I had a professor that did all his demonstrations in MATLAB. It was as if nobody had told him that they had invented other languages. Or he just really loved MATLAB.

Lately I’ve been doing a project where I’ve had to experience the joy of using MATLAB. As a numerical processing suite it definitely effective: concise, quick, easy. It is also quirky. I thought I’d log a few observations for posterity.

First, the editor has some nice things: autocomplete, lots of suggestions for writing more idiomatic MATLAB. For example:

  • number conversion – i was tempted to use str2num, which does work, but MATLAB suggested str2double, which also works but is mo’ betta
  • string finding – Of course there is a findstr and strfind… you guess which one MATLAB prefers. The MATLAB will correct you. (hint: its strfind)
  • printing – My very first transgression was trying to log statements using disp(sprintf(‘stuff: %s))… For some reason i found sprintf but didn’t yet know that disp(sprintf()) is analogous to fprintf()… but MATLAB wasn’t afraid to correct me

Matlab has a ton of quirks:

  • The editor is SOOO WEIRD. Examples: weird key combos for copy and paste… seriously, Alt+2?? Where are my vim bindings?
  • Performance of deeply nested classes. Deeply meaning depth > 1. I wrote a file reader class. The reader had a data member that allocated a large array. Performance went in the gutter. Then I moved the array to the same level as the file reader, keeping all logic the same, and performance was better. Why oh why would it matter. I don’t know, but it does.
  • Weird behavior when return value not specified. I realized c++ does this. If you don’t specify a return on a non-void function, bad things can happen. I’d expect more from a (presumably) high-level language like MATLAB.
  • paths. I think the notion of having code paths is weird. Why not just have a project with all the paths set up?

Except for the editor, which is appalling, I actually find MATLAB quite usable. I wouldn’t claim it is superior to python, just different.