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I was considering today, if questions of the form:

Reverse Requirements Form

I am considering Fortran as a tool for numerical computation. If Fortran is a good tool for me, what are my desires? What are its use-cases? What requirements is it particularly good at furfilling?

were on topic?

It is basically your standard question turned around, and may be more straight forward than the reverse:

Standard Form

I'm doing numerical computation, and am looking for a tool/programming language that is widely used by the scientific community, supports BLAS, and has support for multithreading preferably through something like OpenMP.

Or in a third form, the choose between:
Alternatives Form

I am looking to do numerical compuation, I was a tool that is widely used by the scientific community, preferably with multithreading support, and high quality (fast) BLAS. I've been considering Matlab, Octave, Python with numpy and Fortran. What are the best features of these, and what makes one stand out from the others? When should I be using which?

What do people think? Which (if any) are on topic?

I think we are building a community of experts who's expertise is: "What is a particular piece of software good at?" and the normal question involves a reverse look up on this (Ie, Taking someones requirement, and "looking up" which softwhere needs it.) To answer the normal question, being able to answer the reverse is required. So it is with-in expertise.

I guess this could be tried out by experimentation on private beta by asking all 3 questions and linking to this meta post.

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    No. You are now asking for opinions. "What is it good at", "What does it do best", "Which of [list tools] would be best for". We are here to recommend software, not tell you how to use it or what it is used for. – Seth Feb 6 '14 at 1:46
  • but a Good answer here must tell you what is it good for/good at. If someone asks: "I'm looking for X, which could do A,B,C." and the answer was "Y can do that. Link" that would be a pretty poor answer compaired to "Y is particular good at A, alright at B, and C can be done with some work around. Y is also good at D, which you probably also want to do." that is a much better answer. (However in this comment I'm not arguing reverse questions are OK, I'm just arguing that you can't only recommend software, you must explain what it is good for, at least to have a good answer.) – Lyndon White Feb 6 '14 at 1:51
5

I am considering Fortran as a tool for numerical computation. If Fortran is a good tool for me, what are my desires? What are its use-cases? What requirements is it particularly good at fulfilling?

Way too broad, unless you replace "Fortran" with a piece of software that serves an extremely specific task. Fortran, a general purpose programming language, can be used for almost anything. One might argue that engineers who are familiar with Fortran can use it effectively and productively to write any kind of software: GUIs, financials, firmware for controlling solid rocket booster engines, nuclear reactors, games, statistics, big data, etc.

Also, I would re-word this question as:

I am considering (very_specific_purpose_tool). Is there a tool that fulfills the purpose of this tool better than (very_specific_purpose_tool)?

This gives answerers the opportunity to say "maybe you should consider (this_other_tool), which does X, Y and Z better than (very_specific_purpose_tool)."

Be aware that, if you decide to ask a question of this form, you should really define what you mean by the word "better". You may not even want to use the word "better" at all, and simply state, directly, in what way you are hoping to find some kind of improvement.

For instance, let's say you're a clueless user who's never heard of 7-Zip (I mean, come on, everyone knows about it by now, right? :)) and you want to know of a compression tool that makes smaller archive files than Windows Explorer's Zip functionality. Let's also say you googled it and found WinRAR (which, just between you and me, has okay compression, definitely better than Zip, but 7-Zip's LZMA2 is still better.)

You could ask a question like:

I am considering using WinRAR as a replacement for Windows Explorer's Zip functionality, because Zip does not provide a very good compression ratio compared to WinRAR. But before I commit to using WinRAR to create RAR archives, I wanted to know if there is another compression program for Windows that's easy to use, has a GUI, and has a better compression ratio than RAR?

I'm not sure how well this question would be received by the community, but I surmise it would be better-received than the questions you posted in your OP. Let's take it apart:

I am considering using WinRAR as a replacement for Windows Explorer's Zip functionality, because Zip does not provide a very good compression ratio compared to WinRAR.

OK, so the querant is soliciting software recommendations, and we know that their goal is to get a better compression ratio on their archives. So far, so good.

But before I commit to using WinRAR to create RAR archives,

The user has already found a program that's better than the original solution (Zip), but they want to know if it's possible to get even better at compression.

I wanted to know if there is another compression program for Windows that's easy to use, has a GUI, and has a better compression ratio than RAR

...and there are your specific criteria: Windows, GUI-based, easy to use, better compression than RAR.

An answer could be completely objective by citing one of various online studies of compression ratios between compression algorithms, then suggest a program that implements the format with the highest compression ratio. This would answer the question. So the question is answerable in the sense that, by doing a little research and citing your references, you can come up with a very compelling argument -- if not a universal truth -- about which Windows-easy-to-use-GUI program supports the best compression ratio algorithm. So the answers can be:

  • Good-subjective, or very close to being truly objective
  • Unlikely to be flat-out wrong at the time it was posted, if the answerer does their homework. (As an aside: it's possible that after many years a more efficient compression algorithm is invented and obsoletes the old answer, but that's true for almost any question on SE...)
  • Recommending software, which is what Software recommendations is all about

Seems to fit the bill reasonably well.


I'm doing numerical computation, and am looking for a tool/programming language that is widely used by the scientific community, supports BLAS, and has support for multithreading preferably through something like OpenMP.

This is on-topic. It may not be quite specific enough because the condition "widely used by the scientific community" points to a social aspect that's very hard to objectively judge; you might want to specify exactly what kind of work you're planning to do with it. "Numerical computation" isn't enough detail. "Used by the scientific community" isn't enough detail, and too "soft" (too people-oriented and not close enough to technology-oriented). You need to add something more -- say, if you are using this tool to encode many different video streams in parallel, that is an example of a specific use case. So, summary: this question is on-topic, but I can't attest as to its quality.


I am looking to do numerical compuation, I want a tool that is widely used by the scientific community, preferably with multithreading support, and high quality (fast) BLAS. I've been considering Matlab, Octave, Python with numpy, and Fortran. What are the best features of these, and what makes one stand out from the others? When should I be using which?

The sentence starting with "I've been considering" helps. I think it raises the quality of the question and makes it more likely that you will receive a helpful answer. Unfortunately, the first two sentences have the same problems I pointed out in the previous question sample.

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  • I didn't read it all when I figured out the OP. – Braiam Mar 9 '14 at 1:38

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