# Spaceship operator in Python

Some programming languages, such as Perl, have an infix operator <=> that returns a three-state comparison. The expression

    a <=> b

evaluates to -1, 0, or 1 depending on whether a < b, a = b, or a > b. You could think of <=> as a concatenation of <, =, and >.

The <=> operator is often called the “spaceship operator” because it looks like Darth Vader’s ship in Star Wars.

Python doesn’t have a spaceship operator, but you can get the same effect with numpy.sign(a-b). For example, suppose you wanted to write a program to compare two integers.

You could write

    from numpy import sign
def compare(x, y):
cmp = ["equal to", "greater than", "less than"][sign(x-y)]
print(f"{x} is {cmp} {y}.")


Here we take advantage of the fact that an index of -1 points to the last element of a list.

The sign function will return an integer if its argument is an integer or a float if its argument is a float. The code above will break if you pass in floating point numbers because sign will return -1.0, 0.0, or 1.0. But if you replace sign(x-y) with int(sign(x-y)) it will work for floating point arguments.

Related post: Symbol pronunciation

# Illustrating Gershgorin disks with NumPy

Gershgorin’s theorem gives bounds on the locations of eigenvalues for an arbitrary square complex matrix.

The eigenvalues are contained in disks, known as Gershgorin disks, centered on the diagonal elements of the matrix. The radius of the disk centered on the kth diagonal element is the sum of the absolute values of the elements in the kth row, excluding the diagonal element itself.

To illustrate this theorem, we create a 5 by 5 diagonal matrix and add some random noise to it. The diagonal elements are

0, 3 + i, 4 + i, 1 + 5i, 9 + 2i.

The eigenvalues of the diagonal matrix would simply be the diagonal elements. The additional random values pull the eigenvalues away from the diagonal values, but by an amount no more than Gershgorin predicts. Note that in this example, two of the eigenvalues land in the smallest disk. It’s possible that a disk may not contain any eigenvalues; what Gershgorin guarantees is that the union of all the disks contains the union of all the eigenvalues.

Here’s the Python code that created the graph above.

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

np.random.seed(202103014)

N = 5 # dimension of our square matrix

D = np.diag([0, 3 + 1j, 4 + 1j, 1 + 5j, 9 + 2j])
M = np.random.rand(N, N) + D

R = np.zeros(N) # disk radii
for i in range(N):
R[i] = sum(abs(M[i,:])) - abs(M[i,i])

eigenvalues = np.linalg.eigvals(M)

# Plotting code
fig, ax = plt.subplots()
for k in range(N):
x, y = M[k,k].real, M[k,k].imag
ax.add_artist( plt.Circle((x, y), R[k], alpha=0.5) )
plt.plot(eigenvalues[k].real, eigenvalues[k].imag, 'k+')

ax.axis([-4, 12.5, -4, 9])
ax.set_aspect(1)
plt.xlabel("$x$")
plt.ylabel("$y$")
plt.title("Gershgorin disks and eigenvalues $x + iy$")


# Pareto and Pandas

This post muses about what it means to learn a software library. I’ll use Pandas as an example, but the post isn’t just about Pandas.

Suppose you say “I want to learn Pandas.” That implicitly assumes Pandas one thing, and in a sense it is. In another sense Pandas is hundreds of things.

At the top level, the pandas module (version 1.2.0) has 142 things inside.

    >>> import pandas as pd
>>> len(dir(pd))
142


The two most important things inside are the Series and DataFrame objects. They each in turn contain hundreds of things.

    >>> len(dir(pd.Series))
434
>>> len(dir(pd.DataFrame))
441


That’s evidence Pandas’ diversity. But here’s evidence of it’s unity: most of the things inside these two objects have the same names.

    >>> s = set(dir(pd.Series))
>>> d = set(dir(pd.DataFrame))
>>> len(s.union(d))
491
>>> len(s - d)
50
>>> len(d - s)
57


Pandas kinda has a fractal dimension, having both complexity and unity. The best way to think about it is not as one monolithic thing, or as hundreds of isolated things. It’s a coherent, but not perfectly coherent, collection of related things. This is true of all software libraries. Pandas is more coherent than most libraries because it was initially the product of one mind, that of Wes McKinney.

This has a couple implications for what it means to “learn Pandas.” Because Pandas is big, you have to explore it strategically, not exhaustively. And because Pandas is coherent, part of what it means to learn Pandas is to develop a feel for the way Pandas does things.

No one is going to learn Pandas by studying every object, every method on every object, and every argument to every method on every object. It’s too big. That’s also unnecessary.

There’s probably something like a Pareto distribution on the usefulness of features. The most commonly used features are used far, far more often than the most obscure features.

It would be interesting to do some kind of survey to see which features are actually used and how often. But I don’t think that’s practical. The easiest thing to do would be to find some large code base that heavily uses Pandas. But that’s not typical of how Pandas is used. Probably most lines of code using Pandas are scattered over millions of small scripts, much of it not in production code.

A well-designed library makes it possible to make good guesses about functionality you haven’t used. You learn the gestalt of the library. You can always look up API documentation as needed, but you can’t develop an intuition for a library just-in-time.

“Learn Pandas” is a daunting goal, and maybe an impossible goal if by “learn” you mean explore exhaustively. But “learn how to do my common tasks quickly in Pandas” and “develop a feel for how to do things in Pandas” are much smaller tasks.

## Related posts

In my previous post, I looked at the map Δ that takes a column vector to a diagonal matrix. I even drew a commutative diagram, which foreshadows a little category theory.

Suppose you have a function f of a real or complex variable. To an R programmer, if x is a vector, it’s obvious that f(x) means to apply f to every component of a vector. Python (NumPy) works the same way, and calls this broadcasting. To a mathematician, this looks odd. What does the logarithm of a vector, for example, even mean?

As in the previous post, we can use Δ to formalize things. We said that Δ has some nice properties, and in fact we will show it is a functor.

To have a functor, we have to have categories. (Historically, functors came first; categories were defined in order to define functors.) We will define C to be the category of column vectors and M the category of square matrices as before. Or rather, we should say the objects of C are column vectors and the objects of M are square matrices.

Categories need morphisms, functions between objects . We define the morphisms on C to be analytic functions applied componentwise. So, for example, if

z = [1, 2, -3],

then

tan(z) = [tan(1), tan(2), tan(-3)].

The morphisms on M will be analytic functions on square matrices, not applied componentwise but applied by power series. That is, given an analytic function f, we define f of a square matrix X as the result of sticking the matrix X into the power series for f. For an example, see What is the cosine of a matrix?

We said that Δ is a functor. It takes column vectors and turns them into square matrices by putting their contents along the diagonal of a matrix. We gave the example in the previous post that [4, i, π] would be mapped to the matrix with these elements on the diagonal, i.e. That says what Δ does on objects, but what does it do on morphisms? It takes an analytic function that was applied componentwise to column vectors, and turns it into a function that is applied via its power series to square matrices. That is, starting with a function we define the morphism f on C by and the morphism Δ f on M by where Z is a square matrix.

We can apply f to a column vector, and then apply Δ to turn the resulting vector into a diagonal matrix, or we could apply Δ to turn the vector into a diagonal matrix first, and then apply f (technically,  Δf). That is, the follow diagram commutes: ## Python example

Applying an analytic function to a diagonal matrix gives the same result as simply applying the function to the elements of the diagonal. But for more general square matrices, this is not the case. We will illustrate this with some Python code.

    import numpy as np
from scipy.linalg import funm

d = np.array([1, 2])
D = np.diag(d)
M = np.array([[1, np.pi], [2, 0]])


Now let’s look at some output.

    >>> np.sin(d)
array([0.84147098, 0.90929743])

>>> np.sin(D)
array([[0.84147098, 0.        ],
[0.        , 0.90929743]])

>>> funm(D, np.sin)
array([[0.84147098, 0.        ],
[0.        , 0.90929743]])


So if we take the sine of d and turn the result into a matrix, we get the same thing as if we turn d into a matrix D and then take the sine of D, either componentwise or as an analytic function (with funm, function of a matrix).

Now let’s look at a general, non-diagonal matrix.

    >>> np.sin(M)
array([[0.84147099, 0],
[0.90929743, 0]])

>>> funm(D, np.sin)
array([[0.84147098, 0.        ],
[0.        , 0.90929743]])


Note that the elements in the bottom row are in opposite positions in the two examples.

 OK, morphisms are not necessarily functions, but in practice they usually are.

# Python triple quote strings and regular expressions

There are several ways to quote strings in Python. Triple quotes let strings span multiple lines. Line breaks in your source file become line break characters in your string. A triple-quoted string in Python acts something like “here doc” in other languages.

However, Python’s indentation rules complicate matters because the indentation becomes part of the quoted string. For example, suppose you have the following code outside of a function.

x = """\
abc
def
ghi
"""


Then you move this into a function foo and change its name to y.

def foo():
y = """\
abc
def
ghi
"""


Now x and y are different strings! The former begins with a and the latter begins with four spaces. (The backslash after the opening triple quote prevents the following newline from being part of the quoted string. Otherwise x and y would begin with a newline.) The string y also has four spaces in front of def and four spaces in front of ghi. You can’t push the string contents to the left margin because that would violate Python’s formatting rules.

We now give three solutions to this problem.

## Solution 1: textwrap.dedent

There is a function in the Python standard library that will strip the unwanted space out of the string y.

import textwrap

def foo():
y = """\
abc
def
ghi
"""
y = textwrap.dedent(y)


This works, but in my opinion a better approach is to use regular expressions .

## Solution 2: Regular expression with a flag

We want to remove white space, and the regular expression for a white space character is \s. We want to remove one or more white spaces so we add a + on the end. But in general we don’t want to remove all white space, just white space at the beginning of a line, so we stick ^ on the front to say we want to match white space at the beginning of a line.

import re

def foo():
y = """\
abc
def
ghi
"""
y = re.sub("^\s+", "", y)


Unfortunately this doesn’t work. By default ^ only matches the beginning of a string, not the beginning of a line. So it will only remove the white space in front of the first line; there will still be white space in front of the following lines.

One solution is to add the flag re.MULTILINE to the substitution function. This will signal that we want ^ to match the beginning of every line in our multi-line string.

    y = re.sub("^\s+", "", y, re.MULTILINE)

Unfortunately that doesn’t quite work either! The fourth positional argument to re.sub is a count of how many substitutions to make. It defaults to 0, which actually means infinity, i.e. replace all occurrences. You could set count to 1 to replace only the first occurrence, for example. If we’re not going to specify count we have to set flags by name rather than by position, i.e. the line above should be

    y = re.sub("^\s+", "", y, flags=re.MULTILINE)

That works.

You could also abbreviate re.MULTILINE to re.M. The former is more explicit and the latter is more compact. To each his own. There’s more than one way to do it. 

## Solution 3: Regular expression with a modifier

In my opinion, it is better to modify the regular expression itself than to pass in a flag. The modifier (?m) specifies that in the rest of the regular the ^ character should match the beginning of each line.

    y = re.sub("(?m)^\s+", "", y)

One reason I believe this is better is that moves information from a language-specific implementation of regular expressions into a regular expression syntax that is supported in many programming languages.

For example, the regular expression

    (?m)^\s+

would have the same meaning in Perl and Python. The two languages have the same way of expressing modifiers , but different ways of expressing flags. In Perl you paste an m on the end of a match operator to accomplish what Python does with setting flasgs=re.MULTILINE.

One of the most commonly used modifiers is (?i) to indicate that a regular expression should match in a case-insensitive manner. Perl and Python (and other languages) accept (?i) in a regular expression, but each language has its own way of adding modifiers. Perl adds an i after the match operator, and Python uses

    flags=re.IGNORECASE

or

    flags=re.I

as a function argument.

## More on regular expressions

 Yes, I’ve heard the quip about two problems. It’s funny, but it’s not a universal law.

 “There’s more than one way to do it” is a mantra of Perl and contradicts The Zen of Python. I use the line here as a good-natured jab at Python. Despite its stated ideals, Python has more in common with Perl than it would like to admit and continues to adopt ideas from Perl.

 Python’s re module doesn’t support every regular expression modifier that Perl supports. I don’t know about Python’s regex module.

# Searching Greek and Hebrew with regular expressions

According to the Python Cookbook, “Mixing Unicode and regular expressions is often a good way to make your head explode.” It is thus with fear and trembling that I dip my toe into using Unicode with Greek and Hebrew.

I heard recently that there are anomalies in the Hebrew Bible where the final form of a letter is deliberately used in the middle of a word. That made me think about searching for such anomalies with regular expressions. I’ll come back to that shortly, but I’ll start by looking at Greek where things are a little simpler. Continue reading

# Descartes and Toolz

I was looking recently at the Python module toolz, a collection of convenience functions. A lot of these functions don’t do that much. They don’t save you much code, but they do make your code more readable by making it more declarative. You may not realize need them until you see them.

For example, there is a function partitionby that breaks up a sequence at the points where a given function’s value changes. I’m pretty sure that function would have improved some code I’ve written recently, making it more declarative than procedural, but I can’t remember what that was.

Although I can’t think of my previous example, I can think of a new one, and that is Descartes’ rule of signs.

Given a polynomial p(x), read the non-zero coefficients in order and keep note of how many times they change sign, either from positive to negative or vice versa. Call that number n. Then the number of positive roots of p(x) either equals n or n minus a positive even number.

For example, suppose

p(x) = 4x4 + 3.1x3x2 – 2x + 6.

The coefficients are 4, 3.1, -1, -2, and 6. The list of coefficients changes signs twice: from positive to negative, and from negative to positive. Here’s a first pass at how you might have Python split the coefficients to look sign changes.

    from toolz import partitionby

coefficients = [4, 3.1, -1, -2, 6]
parts = partitionby(lambda x: x > 0, coefficients)
print([p for p in parts])


This prints

    [(4, 3.1), (-1, -2), (6,)]

The first argument to partitionby an anonymous function that tests whether its argument is positive. When this function changes value, we have a sign alteration. There are three groups of consecutive coefficients that have the same sign, so there are two times the signs change. So our polynomial either has two positive roots or no positive roots. (It turns out there are no positive roots.)

The code above isn’t quite right though, because Descartes said to only look at non-zero coefficients. If we change our anonymous function to

    lambda x: x >= 0

that will work for zeros in the middle of positive coefficients, but it will give a false positive for zeros in the middle of negative coefficients. We can fix the code with a list comprehension. The following example works correctly.

    coefficients = [4, 0, 3.1, -1, 0, -2, 6]
nonzero = [c for c in coefficients if c != 0]
parts = partitionby(lambda x: x > 0, nonzero)
print([p for p in parts])


If our coefficients were in a NumPy array rather than a list, we could remove the zeros more succinctly.

    from numpy import array

c = array(coefficients)
parts = partitionby(lambda x: x > 0, c[c != 0])


The function partitionby returns an iterator rather than a list. That’s why we don’t just print parts above. Instead we print [p for p in parts] which makes a list. In applications, it’s often more efficient to have an iterator than a list, generating items if and when they are needed. If you don’t need all the items, you don’t have to generate them all. And even if you do need all the items, you could save memory by not keeping them all in memory at once. I’ll ignore such efficiencies here.

We don’t need the partitions per se, we just need to know how many there are. The example that escapes my mind would have been a better illustration if it needed to do more with each portion than just count it. We could count the number of sign alternations for Descartes rule as follows.

   len([p for p in parts]) - 1

# Time spent on the moon This post will illustrate two things: the amount of time astronauts have spent on the moon, and how to process dates and times in Python.

I was curious how long each Apollo mission spent on the lunar surface, so I looked up the timelines for each mission from NASA. Here’s the timeline for Apollo 11, and you can find the timelines for the other missions by making the obvious change to the URL.

Here are the data on when each Apollo lunar module touched down and when it ascended.

    data = [
("Apollo 11", "1969-07-20 20:17:39", "1969-07-21 17:54:00"),
("Apollo 12", "1969-11-19 06:54:36", "1969-11-20 14:25:47"),
("Apollo 14", "1971-02-05 09:18:13", "1971-02-06 18:48:42"),
("Apollo 15", "1971-07-30 22:16:31", "1971-08-02 17:11:23"),
("Apollo 16", "1972-04-21 02:23:35", "1972-04-24 01:25:47"),
("Apollo 17", "1972-12-11 19:54:58", "1972-12-14 22:54:37"),
]


Here’s a first pass at a program to parse the dates and times above and report their differences.

    from datetime import datetime, timedelta

def str_to_datetime(string):
return datetime.strptime(string, "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S")

def diff(str1, str2):
return str_to_datetime(str1) - str_to_datetime(str2)

for (mission, touchdown, liftoff) in data:
print(f"{mission} {diff(liftoff, touchdown)}")


This works, but the formatting is unsatisfying.

    Apollo 11 21:36:21
Apollo 12 1 day, 7:31:11
Apollo 14 1 day, 9:30:29
Apollo 15 2 days, 18:54:52
Apollo 16 2 days, 23:02:12
Apollo 17 3 days, 2:59:39


It would be easier to scan the output if it were all in hours. So we rewrite our diff function as follows.

    def diff(str1, str2):
delta = str_to_datetime(str1) - str_to_datetime(str2)
hours = delta.total_seconds() / 3600
return round(hours, 2)


Now the output is easier to read.

    Apollo 11 21.61
Apollo 12 31.52
Apollo 14 33.51
Apollo 15 66.91
Apollo 16 71.04
Apollo 17 74.99


These durations fall into three clusters, corresponding to the Apollo mission types G, H, and J. Apollo 11 was the only G-type mission. Apollo 12, 13, and 14 were H-type, intended to demonstrate a precise landing and explore the lunar surface. (Apollo 13 had to loop around the moon without landing.) The J-type missions were more extensive scientific missions. These missions included a lunar rover (“moon buggy”) to let the astronauts travel further from the landing site. There were no I-type missions; the objectives of the original I-type missions were merged into the J-type missions.

Incidentally, UNIX systems store times as seconds since 1970-01-01 00:00:00. That means the first two lunar landings were at negative times and the last four were at positive times. More on UNIX time here.

# A spring, a rubber band, and chaos

Suppose you have a mass suspended by the combination of a spring and a rubber band. A spring resists being compressed but a rubber band does not. So the rubber band resists motion as the mass moves down but not as it moves up. In  the authors use this situation to motivate the following differential equation: where If ab then we have a linear equation, an ordinary damped, driven harmonic oscillator. But the asymmetry of the behavior of the rubber band causes a and b to be unequal, and that’s what makes the solutions interesting.

For some parameters the system exhibits essentially sinusoidal behavior, but for other parameters the behavior can become chaotic.

Here’s an example of complex behavior. Here’s the Python code that produced the plot.

    from scipy import linspace, sin
from scipy.integrate import solve_ivp
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

def pos(x):
return max(x, 0)

def neg(x):
return max(-x, 0)

a, b, λ, μ = 17, 1, 15.4, 0.75

def system(t, z):
y, yp = z # yp = y'
return [yp, 10 + λ*sin(μ*t) - 0.01*yp - a*pos(y) + b*neg(y)]

t = linspace(0, 100, 300)

sol = solve_ivp(system, [0, 100], [1, 0], t_eval=t)
plt.plot(sol.t, sol.y)
plt.xlabel("$t$")
plt.ylabel("$y$")


In a recent post I said that I never use non-ASCII characters in programming, so in the code above I did. In particular, it was nice to use λ as a variable; you can’t use lambda as a variable name because it’s a reserved keyword in Python.

Update: Here’s a phase portrait for the same system. L. D. Humphreys and R. Shammas. Finding Unpredictable Behavior in a Simple Ordinary Differential Equation. The College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Nov., 2000), pp. 338-346

# More efficient way to sum a list comprehension

List comprehensions in Python let you create a list declaratively, much like the way you would describe the set in English. For example,

    [x**2 for x in range(10)]

creates a list of the squares of the numbers 0 through 9.

If you wanted the sum of these numbers, you could of course say

    sum( [x**2 for x in range(10)] )

but in this case the brackets are unnecessary. The code is easier to read and more efficient if you omit the brackets.

    sum( x**2 for x in range(10) )

With the brackets, Python constructs the list first then sums the elements. Without the brackets, you have a generator expression. Python will sum the values as they’re generated, not saving all the values in memory. This makes no difference for a short list as above, but with a large list comprehension the generator expression could be more efficient.