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Afterthoughts on implicit expansion

Matlab release R2016b introduced implicit arithmetic expansion, which is a great and long-awaited natural expansion of Matlab’s arithmetic syntax (if you are still unaware of this or what it means, now would be a good time to read about it). This is a well-documented new feature. The reason for today’s post is that this new feature contains an undocumented aspect that should very well have been documented and even highlighted.

The undocumented aspect that I’m referring to is the fact that code that until R2016a produced an error, in R2016b produces a valid result:

% R2016a
>> [1:5] + [1:3]'
Error using  + 
Matrix dimensions must agree.
 
% R2016b
>> [1:5] + [1:3]'
ans =
     2     3     4     5     6
     3     4     5     6     7
     4     5     6     7     8

This incompatibility is indeed documented, but not where it matters most (read on).

I first discovered this feature by chance when trying to track down a very strange phenomenon with client code that produced different numeric results on R2015b and earlier, compared to R2016a Pre-release. After some debugging the problem was traced to a code snippet in the client’s code that looked something like this (simplified):

% Ensure compatible input data
try
    dataA + dataB;  % this will (?) error if dataA, dataB are incompatible
catch
    dataB = dataB';
end

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Categories: Low risk of breaking in future versions, Stock Matlab function, Undocumented feature
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Speeding up Matlab-JDBC SQL queries

Many of my consulting projects involve interfacing a Matlab program to an SQL database. In such cases, using MathWorks’ Database Toolbox is a viable solution. Users who don’t have the toolbox can also easily connect directly to the database using either the standard ODBC bridge (which is horrible for performance and stability), or a direct JDBC connection (which is also what the Database Toolbox uses under the hood). I explained this Matlab-JDBC interface in detail in chapter 2 of my Matlab-Java programming book. A bare-bones implementation of an SQL SELECT query follows (data update queries are a bit different and will not be discussed here):

% Load the appropriate JDBC driver class into Matlab's memory
% (but not directly, to bypass JIT pre-processing - we must do it in run-time!)
driver = eval('com.mysql.jdbc.Driver');  % or com.microsoft.sqlserver.jdbc.SQLServerDriver or whatever
 
% Connect to DB
dbPort = '3306'; % mySQL=3306; SQLServer=1433; Oracle=...
connectionStr = ['jdbc:mysql://' dbURL ':' dbPort '/' schemaName];  % or ['jdbc:sqlserver://' dbURL ':' dbPort ';database=' schemaName ';'] or whatever
dbConnObj = java.sql.DriverManager.getConnection(connectionStr, username, password);
 
% Send an SQL query statement to the DB and get the ResultSet
stmt = dbConnObj.createStatement(java.sql.ResultSet.TYPE_SCROLL_INSENSITIVE, java.sql.ResultSet.CONCUR_READ_ONLY);
try stmt.setFetchSize(1000); catch, end  % the default fetch size is ridiculously small in many DBs
rs = stmt.executeQuery(sqlQueryStr);
 
% Get the column names and data-types from the ResultSet's meta-data
MetaData = rs.getMetaData;
numCols = MetaData.getColumnCount;
data = cell(0,numCols);  % initialize
for colIdx = numCols : -1 : 1
    ColumnNames{colIdx} = char(MetaData.getColumnLabel(colIdx));
    ColumnType{colIdx}  = char(MetaData.getColumnClassName(colIdx));  % http://docs.oracle.com/javase/7/docs/api/java/sql/Types.html
end
ColumnType = regexprep(ColumnType,'.*\.','');
 
% Get the data from the ResultSet into a Matlab cell array
rowIdx = 1;
while rs.next  % loop over all ResultSet rows (records)
    for colIdx = 1 : numCols  % loop over all columns in the row
        switch ColumnType{colIdx}
            case {'Float','Double'}
                data{rowIdx,colIdx} = rs.getDouble(colIdx);
            case {'Long','Integer','Short','BigDecimal'}
                data{rowIdx,colIdx} = double(rs.getDouble(colIdx));
            case 'Boolean'
                data{rowIdx,colIdx} = logical(rs.getBoolean(colIdx));
            otherwise %case {'String','Date','Time','Timestamp'}
                data{rowIdx,colIdx} = char(rs.getString(colIdx));
        end
    end
    rowIdx = rowIdx + 1;
end
 
% Close the connection and clear resources
try rs.close();   catch, end
try stmt.close(); catch, end
try dbConnObj.closeAllStatements(); catch, end
try dbConnObj.close(); catch, end  % comment this to keep the dbConnObj open and reuse it for subsequent queries

Naturally, in a real-world implementation you also need to handle database timeouts and various other errors, handle data-manipulation queries (not just SELECTs), etc.

Anyway, this works well in general, but when you try to fetch a ResultSet that has many thousands of records you start to feel the pain – The SQL statement may execute much faster on the DB server (the time it takes for the stmt.executeQuery call), yet the subsequent double-loop processing to fetch the data from the Java ResultSet object into a Matlab cell array takes much longer.

In one of my recent projects, performance was of paramount importance, and the DB query speed from the code above was simply not good enough. Continue reading

Categories: Java, Low risk of breaking in future versions, Toolbox, Undocumented feature
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Working with non-standard DPI displays

With high-density displays becoming increasingly popular, some users set their display’s DPI to a higher-than-standard (i.e., >100%) value, in order to compensate for the increased pixel density to achieve readable interfaces. This OS setting tells the running applications that there are fewer visible screen pixels, and these are spread over a larger number of physical pixels. This works well for most cases (at least on recent OSes, it was a bit buggy in non-recet ones). Unfortunately, in some cases we might actually want to know the screen size in physical, rather than logical, pixels. Apparently, Matlab root’s ScreenSize property only reports the logical (scaled) pixel size, not the physical (unscaled) one:

>> get(0,'ScreenSize')   % with 100% DPI (unscaled standard)
ans =
        1       1      1366       768
 
>> get(0,'ScreenSize')   % with 125% DPI (scaled)
ans =
        1       1      1092.8     614.4

The same phenomenon also affects other related properties, for example MonitorPositions.

Raimund Schlüßler, a reader on this blog, was kind enough to point me to this problem and its workaround, which I thought worthy to share here: To get the physical screen-size, use the following builtin Java command:

>> jScreenSize = java.awt.Toolkit.getDefaultToolkit.getScreenSize
jScreenSize =
java.awt.Dimension[width=1366,height=768]
 
>> width = jScreenSize.getWidth
width =
        1366
 
>> height = jScreenSize.getHeight
height =
        768

Upcoming travels – London/Belfast, Zürich & Geneva

I will shortly be traveling to consult some clients in Belfast (via London), Zürich and Geneva. If you are in the area and wish to meet me to discuss how I could bring value to your work, then please email me (altmany at gmail):

  • Belfast: Nov 28 – Dec 1 (flying via London)
  • Zürich: Dec 11-12
  • Geneva: Dec 13-15
Categories: Desktop, Figure window, GUI, Java, Low risk of breaking in future versions, Undocumented feature
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uigetfile/uiputfile customizations

Matlab includes a few built-in file and folder selection dialog windows, namely uigetfile, uiputfile and uigetdir. Unfortunately, these functions are not easily extendable for user-defined functionalities. Over the years, several of my consulting clients have asked me to provide them with versions of these dialog functions that are customized in certain ways. In today’s post I discuss a few of these customizations: a file selector dialog with a preview panel, and automatic folder update as-you-type in the file-name edit box.

It is often useful to have an integrated preview panel to display the contents of a file in a file-selection dialog. Clicking the various files in the tree-view would display a user-defined preview in the panel below, based on the file’s contents. An integrated panel avoids the need to manage multiple figure windows, one for the selector dialog and another for the preview. It also reduces the screen real-estate used by the dialog (also see the related resizing customization below).

I call the end-result uigetfile_with_preview; you can download it from the Matlab File Exchange:

filename = uigetfile_with_preview(filterSpec, prompt, folder, callbackFunction, multiSelectFlag)

uigetfile_with_preview

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Categories: GUI, High risk of breaking in future versions, Java, Undocumented feature
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Icon images & text in Matlab uicontrols

One of my consulting clients recently asked me if I knew any builtin Matlab GUI control that could display a list of colormap names alongside their respective image icons, in a listbox or popup menu (drop-down/combo-box):

Matlab listbox with icon images   Matlab popup menu (dropdown/combobox) with icon images

Matlab listbox (left) & popup menu (right) with icon images

My initial thought was that this should surely be possible, since Colormap is a documented figure property, that should therefore be listed inside the inspector window, and should therefore have an associated builtin Java control for the dropdown (just like other inspector controls, which are part of the com.mathworks.mlwidgets package, or possibly as a standalone control in the com.mathworks.mwswing package). To my surprise it turns out that for some unknown reason MathWorks neglected to add the Colormap property (and associated Java controls) to the inspector. This property is fully documented and all, just like Color and other standard figure properties, but unlike them Colormap can only be modified programmatically, not via the inspector window. Matlab does provide the related colormapeditor function and associated dialog window, but I would have expected a simple drop-down of the standard builtin colormaps to be available in the inspector. Anyway, this turned out to be a dead-end.

It turns out that we can relatively easily implement the requested listbox/combo-box using a bit of HTML magic, as I explained last week. The basic idea is for each of the listbox/combobox items to be an HTML string that contains both an <img> tag for the icon and the item label text. For example, such a string might contain something like this (parula is Matlab’s default colormap in HG2, starting in R2014b):

<html><img src="http://www.mathworks.com/help/matlab/ref/colormap_parula.png"/>parula</html>

parula colormap image

parula colormap image

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Categories: GUI, Medium risk of breaking in future versions, UI controls, Undocumented feature
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Aligning uicontrol contents

Matlab automatically aligns the text contents of uicontrols: button labels are centered, listbox contents are left-aligned, and table cells align depending on their contents (left-aligned for strings, centered for logical values, and right-aligned for numbers). Unfortunately, the control’s HorizontalAlignment property is generally ignored by uicontrols. So how can we force Matlab buttons (for example) to have right-aligned labels, or for listbox/table cells to be centered? Undocumented Matlab has the answer, yet again…

It turns out that there are at least two distinct ways to set uicontrol alignment, using HTML and using Java. Today I will only discuss the HTML variant.

The HTML method relies on the fact that Matlab uicontrols accept and process HTML strings. This was true ever since Matlab GUI started relying on Java Swing components (which inherently accept HTML labels) over a decade ago. This is expected to remain true even in Matlab’s upcoming web-based GUI system, since Matlab would need to consciously disable HTML in its web components, and I see no reason for MathWorks to do so. In short, HTML parsing of GUI control strings is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

% note: no need to close HTML tags, e.g. 
uicontrol('Style','list', 'Position',[10,10,70,70], 'String', ...
          {'<html><font color="red">Hello</font></html>', 'world', ...
           '<html><font style="font-family:impact;color:green"><i>What a', ...
           '<html><font color="blue" face="Comic Sans MS">nice day!'});
</font></html></i></font></html>

Listbox with HTML items

Listbox with HTML items

While HTML formatting is generally frowned-upon compared to the alternatives, it provides a very quick and easy way to format text labels in various different manners, including using a combination of font faces, sizes, colors and other aspects (bold, italic, super/sub-script, underline etc.) within a single text label. This is naturally impossible to do with Matlab’s standard properties, but is super-easy with HTML placed in the label’s String property.

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Categories: GUI, Low risk of breaking in future versions, UI controls, Undocumented feature
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Customizing uifigures part 2

I would like to introduce guest blogger Iliya Romm of Israel’s Technion Turbomachinery and Heat Transfer Laboratory. Today Iliya will discuss how Matlab’s new web-based figures can be customized with user-controlled CSS and JavaScript code.

When we compare the documented properties of a “classic” uicontrol with an App Designer control such as uicheckbox, we see lists of 42 and 15 properties, respectively. At first glance, this implies that our ability to customize App Designer elements is relatively very limited. This is surely a disquieting conclusion, especially for those used to being able to change most aspect of their Matlab figures via Java. Fortunately, such a conclusion is quite far from reality, as we will shortly see.

To understand this claim, we need to consider a previous post on this blog, where Yair discussed how uifigures are actually HTML webpages rendered by Matlab. As such, they have a DOM that can be accessed and manipulated through JavaScript commands to achieve various visual customizations. Today we’ll explore the structure of the uifigure webpage; take a look at some possibilities provided by the Dojo Toolkit; and see how to use Dojo to customize uifigure controls visually using CSS styles and/or HTML attributes.

User customizations of Matlab uifigures (click to zoom-in)
User customizations of Matlab uifigures (click to zoom-in)

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Categories: Figure window, Guest bloggers, GUI, High risk of breaking in future versions, Undocumented feature
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Zero-testing performance

I would like to introduce guest blogger Ken Johnson, a MATLAB Connections partner specializing in electromagnetic optics simulation. Today Ken will explore some performance subtleties of zero testing in Matlab.

I often have a need to efficiently test a large Matlab array for any nonzero elements, e.g.

>> a = zeros(1e4);
>> tic, b = any(a(:)~=0); toc
Elapsed time is 0.126118 seconds.

Simple enough. In this case, when a is all-zero, the internal search algorithm has no choice but to inspect every element of the array to determine whether it contains any nonzeros. In the more typical case where a contains many nonzeros you would expect the search to terminate almost immediately, as soon as it finds the first nonzero. But that’s not how it works:

>> a = round(rand(1e4));
>> tic, b = any(a(:)~=0); toc
Elapsed time is 0.063404 seconds.

There is significant runtime overhead in constructing the logical array “a(:)~=0”, although the “any(…)” operation apparently terminates at the first true value it finds.

The overhead can be eliminated by taking advantage of the fact that numeric values may be used as logicals in Matlab, with zero implicitly representing false and nonzero representing true. Repeating the above test without “~=0”, we get a huge runtime improvement:

>> a = round(rand(1e4));
>> tic, b = any(a(:)); toc
Elapsed time is 0.000026 seconds.

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Categories: Guest bloggers, Low risk of breaking in future versions
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AppDesigner’s mlapp file format

Six years ago, I exposed the fact that *.fig files are simply MAT files in disguise. This information, in addition to the data format that I explained in that article, can help us to introspect and modify FIG files without having to actually display the figure onscreen.

Matlab has changed significantly since 2010, and one of the exciting new additions is the AppDesigner, Matlab’s new GUI layout designer/editor. Unfortunately, AppDesigner still has quite a few limitations in functionality and behavior. I expect that this will improve in upcoming releases since AppDesigner is undergoing active development. But in the meantime, it makes sense to see whether we could directly introspect and potentially manipulate AppDesigner’s output (*.mlapp files), as we could with GUIDE’s output (*.fig files).

A situation for checking this was recently raised by a reader on the Answers forum: apparently AppDesigner becomes increasingly sluggish when the figure’s code has more than a few hundred lines of code (i.e., a very simplistic GUI). In today’s post I intend to show how we can explore the resulting *.mlapp file, and possibly manipulate it in a text editor outside AppDesigner.

Matlab's new AppDesigner (a somewhat outdated screenshot)

Matlab's new AppDesigner (a somewhat outdated screenshot)


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Categories: GUI, High risk of breaking in future versions, Undocumented feature
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Customizing axes part 5 – origin crossover and labels

When HG2 graphics was finally released in R2014b, I posted a series of articles about various undocumented ways by which we can customize Matlab’s new graphic axes: rulers (axles), baseline, box-frame, grid, back-drop, and other aspects. Today I extend this series by showing how we can customize the axes rulers’ crossover location.

Non-default axes crossover location

Non-default axes crossover location


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Categories: Handle graphics, Low risk of breaking in future versions, Stock Matlab function, Undocumented feature
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