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Happy Birthday MATLAB Central!

MATLAB Central launched 15 years ago, in the fall of 2001, and it’s been growing fast ever since. I’ve had a front row seat for the entire show, and it’s been great fun. I’m writing this partly to share some of that history with you, and partly to say thanks. Because of course you are the reason the site exists, and you are the reason it grows. I wish I could reach through the wire and shake your hand. Since I can’t, I will instead tell you a story about a Viking ship.


This is not just any Viking ship. Back in September of 2001, this was one of the first submissions to the the newly launched File Exchange. It’s been there ever since. Check it out! (I just ran the code in MATLAB 2016a, and can verify that it still works.) We on the original MATLAB Central team loved this image. We put it on the wall so it would remind us how awesome MATLAB users are and why we should work hard to build the community they deserve.

Who made the ship? Pontus Axelsson made it. When I was contemplating the history of MATLAB Central, I remembered this ship and what it meant to us. I began to wonder if I could track down Pontus, thank him, and maybe learn more about the ship. I am very happy to report that today he is alive and well and running a company that makes apps for smartphones and tablets.

This is Pontus (2016 edition).


He doesn’t use MATLAB much anymore, but he was happy to recall the story of the Viking ship. In 1995 he was working on a Master’s degree in Computer Science at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. That’s when he first came across MATLAB. His words tell the story best.

I was given an assignment to render a simple rowboat in 3D using cubic Bézier curves and calculate water displacement. I was immediately intrigued by the power of Matlab. I had previous experience using tools like Adobe Illustrator, so I had some knowledge of vector graphics. But with Matlab I could do so much more. It could tell me stuff, rather than just visualize; I could simulate reality, and control everything. A simple assignment turned into something much bigger as I set out to “push the envelope”.

The ship was “drawn by eye”, but inspired by Explorer Vodka, probably the cheapest vodka you could buy at the time. Great for students. The pink delta on the shields is the logo of the Computer Science student section. When the ship was complete, I proceeded to add multiple color ranges to the rendering – which wasn’t really straightforward in Matlab at the time – and to animate it. It was such a joy to explore the possibilities.

This Viking ship signifies for me all that is great about the MATLAB community. Over the years, many powerful and useful algorithms have been contributed to the File Exchange, but this magnificent ship grew beyond the bounds of a school project not just because it was functional or accurate but because it was wonderful. It exists because of the joy of expression and the joy of sharing. MATLAB is canvas and paint and Pontus made something beautiful. So I thank him and I thank all of you who have contributed your own wonderful files over the years. Here is a toast to 15 more years. Will you send us your Viking ship?

In my next post, I will say more about the history of MATLAB Central, but today I will close with an image of the site circa October 2001. Note the antique version of Internet Explorer.


Look carefully and you’ll see that we liked the Viking ship so much that we put it into our free MATLAB screensaver. And I can’t resist showing you just a little more Nordic grandeur. Pontus, it turns out, wasn’t satisfied with just a static image of a Viking ship. He used MATLAB to generate an animation of it sailing across the Baltic, which he then rendered into an MPEG file. I must remind you this was not a simple task back in the Elder Days of the last century. I’ve taken his animation and re-rendered it as an animated GIF. Please enjoy.


Look at those oars! Look at that fluttering banner streaming o’er the billowing sea! I think I need some Explorer Vodka.

ALSO: I should mention that we are celebrating our birthday with some online games. See MATLAB Central Anniversary.

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