Tim Hoar's Matlab Demo
June 12, 2000

Info about Tim Hoar

You can contact me at 303-497-1708 or by emailing thoar@ucar.edu
If you are at NCAR, my extension is simply 1708.

Info about Matlab

Matlab is an interpreted language that handles matrices with a natural syntax. This generally means a very short spin-up period for people unfamiliar with Matlab. One of Matlab's founding fathers (who is still president of the MathWorks) is Cleve Moler of Linpack fame.

As with any interpreted language, it is possible to write some incredibly slow F77 code. We recommend against that ... Take advantage of the vector- or matrix- based syntax and avoid loops whenever possible.

Table of Contents:

Matlab 6

is available, but I have had some problems and cannot recommend it yet. A Fundamentally different interface, and I am having problems simply cutting&pasting into the command window! One cool thing is the XML help ... put a "info.xml" file in a directory in the MATLABPATH and the directory is added to the help widget -- now called the "launchpad" ...

The Environment for Matlab:

Nothing is really required, but there are some things that make life nicer, naturally.

mkdir ~/matlab
mkdir /local/scr/data/
mkdir /local/scr/
export EDITOR=vi

Matlab searches for a ~/matlab directory upon startup, this is a nice place to have general purpose scripts/functions. If there exists a ~/matlab/startup.m file, it is automatically executed upon startup. The file may contain any sequence of valid Matlab commands. If there are directories that contain certain third-party toolboxes, the obvious way to add them is with your startup.m file, which could be as simple as this:

% Startup.m  is executed by the matlabrc script automatically at startup.
path(path,'/local/scr/data');		% append these directories to path

To start Matlab:

Simply type matlab at the UNIX prompt. If your PATH is correct, this will work. If it is not, you might as well give up now. You can fire up Matlab from any directory and your MATLABPATH will be set to search the normal Matlab installation, anything specified in your ~/matlab/startup.m file, and the current working directory.

The matlab prompt is:

if you didn't get the little splash screen, it means your DISPLAY is not set properly, which will make graphics a challenge. Let me know ASAP.

To quit MATLAB:

>> quit

Help while in Matlab

There are lots of ways to get help in Matlab. Simply typing help at the command line gets you started. If you know the command you want, (for example "fft") simply type help fft.

If you do not know the name of the command, you can look for functions by keywords -- lookfor fft, for example. This works for ALL functions in the MATLABPATH, including the ones you create. More on this when we get into the function section, ditto for "help".

Matlab also has an interactive WWW-based help system, called HelpDesk. This is the 800# gorilla of help. Search all the manuals, connect to the MathWorks FAQ site, list by topics, alphabetically, etc. It will commandeer your browser, simply by typing helpdesk. "If you don't have one; GET ONE!"

Matlab's syntax:

Matlab is short for Matrix Laboratory. If you can think of the algebra in 2D, it will probably work exactly as you expect. The thing to get used to is that any command without a ";" at the end will print the result of the command to the screen. Not particularly desirable for large results. I am in the habit of terminating every command with a ";", whether it needs one or not.

General help for all the relational operators can be had with help relops. The only tricky part is that the square brackets are used for defining arrays, parentheses are for indexing, and the variables MUST be conformable.


a = [0:127];                            % "a" is a row vector
b = cos(2*pi*a/length(a));              % so is "b"
plot(b(1:64));                          % only plot the first 64 elements
title('My mental retention prowess.');
ylabel('fraction of capacity');


Multiplying a 10x3 matrix by a 10x3 matrix will generate an error message, unless you want the operator to work on an element-by-element basis. For example, if you want to multiply each element of an array by the corresponding element of another array:

c = a.*b;           % should be reminiscent of the "dot product"
d = sum(c);         % wow

Thinking like vectors and matrices

It is best to simply ignore the existence of vectors and just admit they are really N x 1 or 1 x N matrices. All the rules of matrix algebra apply. Some functions are tailored for 1D matrices and can be used on higher-dimensional matrices, like sum.

c = b'*b;           % premultiplying b by its transpose --> 128 x 128
d = sum(c)          % what is "d"? (semicolon intentionally left off)
imagesc(c);         % color-code the result and plot
colorbar;           % plot a legend

The classic one is fft. Taking the fft of a 1D variable is pretty clear. What happens if you feed fft a M x N matrix? Matlab grew from Fortran beginnings, so it takes ffts of each column, since these are stored sequentially in memory (and it can take unit strides). If you want a real 2D fft, use fft2. This is a common theme in Matlab. Operations that have a different connotation for 2D as opposed to 1D have an additional "2" in the function name.

load topo;
wow = topo - mean(topo(:));
C = fft(wow);      % take the fft of each column of "c"
whos                % "who and size" (semicolon intentionally left off)
D = fft2(wow);
  title('Real part of FFT of each column')
  title('Real part of 2DFFT')
  title('Imaginary part of FFT of each column')
  title('Imaginary part of 2DFFT')

Public-domain functions/tools:

SEA-MAT is a free collection of toolboxes for Matlab. There is a distinct Oceanographic flavor to it. Download these into your favorite directory (Don't forget to include the directory in your MATLABPATH -- preferably by tailoring your ~/matlab/startup.m file).

There are simply hundreds of third-party books and toolboxes. Check out the MathWorks home page and poke around.

Import an ascii file (of a matrix):

The ascii file in question contains ONLY numeric characters, no alphabetic. This is important if you want to use the (simple) load command. If you have mixed characters, you want to see the help file for fread.

first, we copy the ascii file to /local/scr/data/soi.ascii and get on with it. The matlab variable will be the filename without the extension, so we should wind up with a variable called soi.

load /local/scr/data/soi.ascii
whos;			% the command you will use most
years = soi(:,1);	% save years as Nx1 matrix
a = soi(:,2:13);        % strip out years, other columns are monthly values.
inds = find(a < -900);	% locate the "missing" values
a(inds) = NaN;		% replace with Matlab's "missing" flag.
[nrows,ncols] = size(a);       
b = reshape(a',nrows*ncols,1);	% reformat into Nx1 matrix.
plot(b)				% plot, but pretty ugly

% Lets zoom in on just the first 10 years (120 months)

axis([0 10*12 -Inf Inf])	% [xmin xmax ymin ymax]  (Inf == unknown)

% It would be convenient to have a better time axis.
% I will make a matrix the same size as the input with each entry
% corresponding to the month midpoint == year.fraction

t    = ones(nrows,1) * [0.5/12 : 1/12 : 11.5/12];   % matrix of fractions
tmat = years * ones(1,ncols) + t;		    % matrix of times
T    = reshape(tmat',nrows*ncols,1);                % array of times


Contour Plots:

The only thing tricky about contour plots in matlab is the resulting orientation. (1,1) is at the bottom left.

clear			% clears all variables in your workspace!!!!!
load topo		% a default dataset

Changing the number of contour lines is easy.


Specifying which contour levels is also easy.


Personally, I like the imageplots a lot better, they give clues as to the original resolution. However, the plot has (1,1) in the upper left.

This is the introduction to "Handle Graphics". It is generally trivial to tweak almost any aspect of a figure.
set(gca,'YDir','normal')	% GetCurrentAxis attribute "YDir"; set to ...
To see _what_ you can tweak, do a:
There are other neat plots, like mesh, pcolor, spy and a bunch more.

Meridional/Zonal means:

We need a field of data. The peaks functions creates some. In Matlab, output variables are on the left of the equal sign. If there are more than one, they must be enclosed in square brackets []. If you only put a single variable on the left, the FIRST output variable is returned, the rest are ignored.
[x,y,z] = peaks(360);		% CREATE SOME FAKE DATA (z is 360x360)
imagesc scales a matrix so the min corresponds to the lowest color and the max corresponds the highest. Any of the "image" commands plots element 1,1 in the upper left hand corner. This can be changed by setting the appropriate axis attribute. This is "advanced", but simple.
newz = z(1:2:360,:);		% GRAB EVERY OTHER ROW OF DATA
set(gca,'YDir','normal');	% PLOT 1,1 IN THE LOWER LEFT
Taking the mean is simple. In general, Matlab applies operators to each column, there is no need to "loop" over them. Since we conceptualize our matrix z as 180 latitudes X 360 longitudes, we get the meridional or zonal means in the following fashion:
subplot(2,2,1);			% CHOP PLOT WINDOW INTO A 2X2 MATRIX
imagesc(newz);			% CHEAP PLOT OF DATA
set(gca,'YDir','normal');	% PLOT 1,1 IN THE LOWER LEFT
title('Peak data');

subplot(2,2,4);			% use the 4th window of the 2x2 
contour(newz);			% duhhhhhhhh
title('Contoured peak data');

subplot(2,2,3);			% USE THE THIRD WINDOW OF THE 2x2 set
plot(mmeans);			% PLOT THEM (versus their index [1,360])
title('Meridional means');

plot(zmeans);			% PLOT THEM (versus their index [1,180]
title('Zonal means');

Labelled contour plots

[cs,h] = contour(peaks); 	% this is kinda sneaky

Weighted Averages

This is simply multiplying two arrays together. Since Matlab does "matrix" multiplication by default, it is necessary to have a separate "operator" for this -- enter the dot "." -- which means to do a the operation "pairwise". Since arrays are actually either Mx1 or 1xM matrices, you must make sure the two matrices in question have the same dimension.
a = hamming(length(zmeans));	% CREATE WEIGHTING FUNCTION (column vector)
lats = [-89:1:90];		% CREATE A "REALISTIC" LATITUDE AXIS
legend('unweighted zonal mean','weighted zonal mean')
Here's where you click/drag the legend (multiple times if you wish). Instead of plot, try semilogy, semilogx, or loglog.

Linear Least Squares:

The solution to A*X = B is simply X = A\B; Pretty boring, but true.

help \
help relop

Masking (a bunch of color-coded matrix elements):

Masking can be achieved by setting the desired matrix elements equal to some predefined color (like the background color).

Just for grins, put worldmap.m in your ~/matlab directory.

clear; clf;				% clear workspace, clear figure
load topo;				% get some elevation data [180x360]
lon = [0.5:359.5];
lat = [-89.5:89.5];

a   = peaks(360);			% make some bogus data (too big)
cph = a(1:2:360,:);			% cph is same size as elevation data

mask = topo < 0;			% make a land/sea mask (sea is 1.0)

clear a topolegend topomap1 topomap2;		% for illustrative purposes

figure(1); clf;



newdat = cph.*mask;	% Use only "cph" data over land
imagesc(lon,lat,newdat,[-7 7]);	% quick look 
set(gca,'YDir','normal');	% correct orientation
title('"Peaks" Masked by the Earth''s topography.');
colorbar;			% because I said so
tim = jet;			% snag a colormap
tim(32:33,:) = 0.9;		% make colors around 0 == gray
colormap(tim);			% apply new colormap


Masked Contour Plots:

Just for grins, put sinusoid.m in your ~/matlab directory.

figure(1); clf
a = sinusoid(360,1,1,90);		% make some phony data
b = a*a';
c = b(1:2:360,:);

imagesc(lon,lat,c);			% look at the phony data
set(gca,'YDir','normal');		% correct orientation

i     = find(mask > 0);			% Find locations of land
c(i)  = NaN;				% set land elements to NAN

contour(lon,lat,c,[-10:2:10]);		% "gapped" contours
hold on;				% add to current plot
[d,h] = contour(lon,lat,topo,[0 0]);	% continents

Cheap Projections:

For this, we can "texture map" (drape?) a matrix over a matched set of 3 matrices specifying a "solid".
load topo
[x,y,z] = sphere(35);					% MAKE A 3D SURFACE
h = surface(x,y,z,'FaceColor','texture','Cdata',topo)	% DO TEXTURE MAP,
set(h,'EdgeColor','none')				% USE HANDLE TO CHANGE
axis square;						% MAKE AXES EQUAL
axis off;						% TURN OFF LABELLING
colormap(jet);						% A DIFFERENT PALETTE

Also try the free mapping routines in the SEA-MAT distribution.


By now, you should be sick of cutting and pasting. Enter the script, generically called a ".m" file. By inserting your matlab commands into a file called (for example) foo.m, you can simply type "foo" at the Matlab prompt and the entire file is checked for syntax and executed. Put the following lines in a file called ~/matlab/foo.m:

% This is a generic matlab script.

  load topo;                            % GET [180x360] ELEVATION DATASET
  lats = [-89.5:89.5];                  % CREATE LAT ARRAY FOR TOPO MATRIX
  lons = [0.5:359.5];                   % CREATE LON ARRAY FOR TOPO MATRIX
  imagesc(lons,lats,topo);              % CREATE SOME PLOT w/ true x,y limits
  set(gca,'YDir','normal');             % CORRECT ORIENTATION

Then, (one at a time) from Matlab's command line:

which foo
help foo
type foo
Notice that the initial block of comment lines forms the "help" entry for the script! Pretty cool. A nice way to keep documentation up-to-date with the program.


A Matlab Function is a special .m file. The first line of the file is the function declaration.

You can peruse most functions with type.

The FIRST line of the help file should contain some keywords. This is the only line searched by the lookfor function.


profile your favorite script/function --- VERY impressive. follow the example from "help profile"

Handle Graphics:

Perhaps the best part of Matlab. Infinitely customizable graphics.

You will definitely want wysiwyg.m in your ~/matlab directory.

% A pretty ugly figure

h1 = subplot('position',[0.2 0.4 0.4 0.2]);	% l, b, w, h
h2 = subplot('position',[0.1 0.1 0.8 0.2]);
h3 = subplot('position',[0.2 0.6 0.6 0.3]);
     title('trumpets blare, twice')
     h = colorbar;

orient tall		% fill a page -- portrait style
wysiwyg			% What You See Is What You Get ... wysiwyg

% Clean it up. 

set(h,'Position',[0.743 0.6 0.025 0.3]);	% thinner colorbar
child = get(h,'Ylabel');			% get handle to the Ylabel.

set(h3,'YTick',[1 13 22 38]);			% change tick positions
set(h3,'YTickLabel',['     1';'    13';'kahuna';'    38']); % change labels
child = get(h3,'Title')
set(child,'String',{'Trumpets Blare','Two times'},'FontSize',18)

set(h1,'Position',[0.2 0.4 0.6 0.1], ...
       'YAxisLocation','right');           % line continuation, multiple
                                           % attributes in one "set"

Importing binary:

Easy, as long as you know how the data is written. For this exercise, save some binary data as /local/scr/data/chi_jan96.ieee

With a clever combination of fread, I feel supremely confident in the ability to read any valid file. Read the help file for fread and fopen

Fortran unformatted binary

Every Fortran unformatted write makes a "record" that has a 4 byte header and a 4 byte tailer(?) as well as the data you want to write. C does not do this, this is the biggest difference in the binaries. To be able to read both is a trivial thing IF you remember the little 4 byte extras.

The binary file below was written in the following manner:

      real datmat(129,64)
      integer nt

      do i = 1,nt
so each record is (1+129*64+1)*4 bytes, the file is this_same_number x nt. Logically the format is:
[4bytes][129*64*4 bytes of data][4bytes]
[4bytes][129*64*4 bytes of data][4bytes]
[4bytes][129*64*4 bytes of data][4bytes]
[4bytes][129*64*4 bytes of data][4bytes]
The following segment just reads the data and makes a crude contour plot. For more information on contour plots -- try help contour or help clabel. Since each plot is being made in a loop, Matlab must be told to `pause' so we can look at each plot being made. Otherwise, Matlab's graphics is intelligent enough to realize it shouldn't bother to draw each frame (on the screen) since you couldn't possibly just want to see it flicker by.
nlon = 129;
nlat = 64;
nt   = 5;

fid  = fopen('/local/scr/data/chi_jan96.ieee','r')
for islice = 1:nt,
      expr = sprintf('slice %.0f',islice);
      dum1 = fread(fid, 1,'float32');
      udat = fread(fid,[nlon nlat],'float32');
      dum1 = fread(fid, 1,'float32');

      disp('Hit a key to continue ...'); pause;


Fortran direct access

Basically exactly the same as the unformatted binary without the little 4 byte record headers/enders. Every record is constrained to be the same, however. The logical format is:

[xxx bytes of data]
[xxx bytes of data]
[xxx bytes of data]
[xxx bytes of data]
Your Matlab script to read it could be:
fid  = fopen('/local/scr/data/DirectAccess.ieee','r')
for islice = 1:nt,
      udat = fread(fid,[xxx],'float32');

C binary

The most flexible yet. "Let the buyer beware". C binary generally comes with no header bytes, everything is simply data pasted together. If you get off by a byte, you get garbage. There is no error-checking. You can mix reads of different lengths and data types in any fashion. The following is snytactically correct, but may not match the data at all.

fid  = fopen('/local/scr/data/wildcard.ieee','r')

udat = fread(fid,[10],'float32');
a    = fread(fid,[10 30],'int32');
b    = fread(fid,[1],'float64');


You can print from the plot GUI directly, which I have never done. I got into the game before that was possible and never saw the need ... I do all my printing from the command line.

To a particular printer:

If you leave off the -P[printer] argument, the default printer is used.

To a file:

Making Matlab do the rasterization

Lots of postscript files are simply ascii files of postscript commands. You can view and change the source with your favorite editor. This shifts the burden of rendering the figure from the computer to the printer. There can be some relatively small postscript files that take an extremely long time to print because of this. By making the computer render the figures to some finite raster density, the computational burden stays on the computer at the expense of making potentially large (but simple and relatively fast to print) postscript files for the printer. This is particularly true for maps.

If you have figures that are taking too long to print, you may consider having Matlab do the rendering. There is a huge tradeoff between size of the file and the raster level (dots per inch).

print -dpsc2 -zbuffer -r200 [filename]

[overview] [history] [documentation] [reading] [creating] [low-level examples] [KeithLindsays examples]

Matlab and netCDF:

One public-domain package worth a separate entry is
MEXCDF, the Matlab/NetCDF interface. There is a function (ncstartup) which modifies your MATLABPATH such that the netcdf operators are avialable. The function lives in the /contrib/matlab directory. From the Matlab prompt, type:
Or you can beat the rush by simply putting those two lines in your ~/matlab/startup.m file and the netcdf functions/operators will be avialable to every matlab session you invoke.

History of MexCDF

Chuck Denham of the USGS wrote the first netCDF/Matlab interface using m-files that called stand-alone C-programs to implement the interface. For each netCDF operation, netCDF files were opened and closed, and netCDF data were written to matlab .mat files which were then "loaded" into Matlab. The result was useful, but inefficient. To increase the efficiency, Jim Mansbridge of CSIRO combined many operations into a single FORTRAN mex-file, called xnetcdf.f. Realizing the utility of this method, Julie Allen of WHOI rewrote xnetcdf.f in C, implemented additional operations (including operations relating to creation of netCDF files from Matlab), and named the mexfile mexcdf.c. The mexcdf.c code was rewritten by Chuck Denham to allow more flexibility in the way the netCDF operations are invoked, and to streamline the code to work on Macintosh and IBM PCs.

MexCDF Documentation

is available in several forms.

Reading a (known) variable from an existing netCDF file

In this case, the variable is depth and is a 2-dimensional array. It could just as easily be a scalar or an "N"-dimensional variable.

fname = '/contrib/matlab/ncexample.nc'; 	% saves typing
depth = getnc(fname,'depth'); 			% depth is a *gasp* matrix

Creating a netCDF file.

One of the best examples of
How to create a netCDF file is from the master -- Chuck Denham.

Low Level Examples

You can roll around in broken glass and use the "low-level" netCDF library routines via mexcdf.m:
cdf = '/data/csm/b003.01/atm/01-0011.to.0060.nc';
[cdfid,rcode ]=mexcdf('open',cdf,'NOWRITE');

Keith Lindsay's Examples

to access/create NetCDF data can be found in /data/OCMIP/levitus (on CGD systems). gen_TS.csh & gen_grid.csh are both cshell scripts that use Matlab to put data sets into NetCDF format. load_ann_temp.m is an mfile that loads data from the created files and computes an annual average.

I am still building this ... as of May 1, 2002

[overview] [history] [documentation] [reading] [creating] [examples]

Movies / Animations

History of MexCDF

Movie Documentation

some user

Ingesting animations

Creating a movie.

There are two functions called MPGWRITE and MPGREAD for creating MPEG files on the UNIX and PC platforms. MPGWRITE translates a MATLAB movie into an MPEG file. MPGREAD translates a movie file in MPEG format into a MATLAB movie matrix. You can download them from the anonymous FTP server:

Low Level Examples

Tim Hoar thoar@ucar.edu