ECSE 343 Assignment 0: Floating Point and Vectorized Python


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1.2 Installing Python, Libraries and Tools
The assignments and group project are to be implemented using Python 3.7 and the latest version of the
numpy and matplotlib libraries.
You are free to install and configure your development environment, including IDE choices, as you wish. One
popular, more self-contained installation package that we recommend is the Individual Edition of the
Anaconda software installer.
After following your platform specific installation instructions, the Anaconda Navigator provides a simple
graphical interface that allows you to:
define isolated development environments with the appropriate Python version (3.7)
download and install the required libraries (numpy and matplotlib), including their dependencies,
into the environment, and
[optionally] to pick between a variety of development IDEs.
1.3 Python Language and Library Usage Rules
Python is a powerful language, with many built-in features. You should feel free to explore the base
language features and apply them as a convenience, whenever necessary. A good example is that, if you
need to sort values in a list before plotting them, you should feel free to use the built-in sort function rather
than implementing your own sorting algorithm (although, that’s perfectly fine, too!):
Every time you submit a new file, your previous submission will be overwritten. We will only grade
the final submitted file, so feel free to submit often as you progress through the assignment.

We will, however, draw exceptions to the use of (typically external) library routines that allow you to shortcut
through the core learning objective(s) of an assignment. For example, if we ask you to develop a linear
solver and apply it to a problem, and you instead rely on calling one of numpy’s built-in solvers, you will be
penalized. When in doubt as to whether a library (or even a built-in) routine is “safe” to use in your solution,
please contact the TA.
To help, the (purposefully minimal) base code we provide you with includes a superset of all the library
imports we could imagine you using for the assignment.
As you may have noticed, this course will rely heavily on numpy — in fact, you’ll likely learn just as much
about the power (and peculiarities) of the Python programming language as you will about the numpy library.
This library not only provides convenience routines for matrix, vector and higher-order tensor operations,
but also allows you to leverage high-performance vectorized operations if you’re careful about restructuring
your data/code in a vectorizable form. This assignment will briefly expose you to some of these nuances;
those of you with MATLAB experience will find this coding paradigm familiar, but also a little painful, since
myFavouritePrimes = [11, 3, 7, 5, 2]
# In ECSE 343, learning how to sort a list is NOT a core learning objective
myFavouritePrimes.sort() # 100% OK to use this!
print(myFavouritePrimes) # Output: [2, 3, 5, 7, 11]
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt # for plotting
import numpy as np # all of numpy, at least for this assignment
Python 3.7 has a built-in convenience breakpoint() function which will break code execution
into a debugger, where you can inspect variables in the debug REPL and even execute code! This
is a very powerful was to test your code as it runs and to tinker (e.g., inline in the REPL) with the
function calling conventions and input/output behaviour of code.
Be careful, as you can change the execution state (i.e., the debug environment is not isolated
from your scripts execution stack and heap), if you insert REPL code and then continue the
execution of your script from the debugger.

You must not use any additional imports for your solution, other than the ones provided by
Doing so will result in a score of zero (0%) on the assignment.

many foundational conventions are different (e.g., 0- versus 1-indexing, column- vs. row-major default
behaviours, broadcasting conventions, etc.)
1.4 Let’s get started… but let’s also not forget…
With these preliminaries out of the way, we can dive into the assignment tasks. Future assignment
handouts will not include these preliminaries, although they will continue to hold true. Should you
forget, they will remain online in this handout for your reference throughout the semester.
2 Floating point number systems
Any floating point number system can be characterized by four parameters, , where
is the base of the number system,
is its precision (i.e., number of significant digits),
is the lower bound on the exponent , and
is the upper bound on the exponent .
Given an instance of any such system, we can express a real number in its floating point representation
where the base is an integer greater than 1, the exponent is an integer between and (inclusive, i.e.,
) and the digits are integers in the range . The number is usually an
approximation of , unless it happens to fall on one of the (relatively few) numbers that can be perfectly
represented in the floating point system. For any non-zero value, we normally force by adjusting the
exponent so that leading zeros are dropped. As such, the smallest (in magnitue) perfectly representable
non-zero number has a mantissa of .
(𝛽, 𝑡, 𝐿, 𝑈)
𝐿 𝑒
𝑈 𝑒
fl(𝑥) ≡ ± ×

+ + ⋯ +


𝛽 𝑒 𝐿 𝑈
𝐿 ≤ 𝑒 ≤ 𝑈 𝑑𝑖 0 ≤ 𝑑𝑖 ≤ 𝛽 − 1 fl(𝑥)
𝑑0 ≠ 0
(1.0 ⋯ 0)𝛽
2.1 Fictitious Floating Point Systems
Let’s get a better sense of how far removed representable floating point numbers can get from real
Here’s a code snippet with an example visualization of the expected output of this function for a fictitious
floating point system with , , and . Any real numbers that don’t fall exactly on
the stars in the plot below cannot be perfectly represented in this fictitious floating point number system.
The perfectly representable real numbers in a fictitious floating point system example.
# Plot an asterisk at each perfectly representable value along the real line
plt.title(‘Perfectly representable numbers for the $(2,2,-1,2)$ floating point
tmp = FloatSystem(2, 2, -1, 2)
plt.plot(tmp, zeros(tmp.shape[0]), ‘*’)
Deliverable 1 [20%]
Complete the implementation of the function FloatSystem that returns a 1D numpy.array of all
the perfectly representable numbers (in base 10) for a given floating point number system. You
can safely ignore the NaN and cases, and explicitly add 0 to your representable numbers
output (i.e., without having to treat any special case exponent settings).

𝛽 = 2 𝑡 = 2 𝐿 = −1 𝑈 = 2
3 Vectorizing Python with numpy
Writing numerical code requires balancing several (sometimes competing) design parameters: correctness
of the code, numerical stability (i.e., in the floating point sense of the word), and the efficiency and
scalability of the code are among these parameters.
Python is undoubtedly a flexible and powerful language, affording numerical software developers with many
tools to tackle their modeling and simulation tasks — however, as an interpreted language, Python’s
performance cannot compete with lower-level optimized code generated from, e.g., a compiler. Luckily,
Python allows for callable modules and libraries that need not be implemented in Python but rather in any
number of higher performance compiled languages. Moreover, Python’s vast ecosystem of specialized
libraries often comprise high-performance compiled backends: in this sense, Python serves just as much as
a high-level “glue” language as it does as a standalone one.
For numerical computation, numpy is one such library that is implemented in highly-optimized machine
code. When used appropriately, numerical code implemented in a manner that leverages numpy’s ability to
efficiently perform data-parallel operations over vectors and higher-order tabular data can be several
orders of magnitude more efficient than its Python-only equivalent.
One could easily teach an entire course on how to write efficient numpy code, and that is not the main goal
of ECSE 343; however, learning to think about numerical operations in vectorized form whenever
appropriate will open up the opportunity for cleaner, more readable and (much) more efficient code.
3.1 Slicing and dicing numpy.arrays
Multi-dimensional arrays are fundamental data structures in numerical computation, and numpy implements
sophisticated indexing schemes that respect specialized broadcasting rules, in addition to treating multidimensional arrays as first-class objects in all the library’s exposed functions.
The next deliverable will give you a brief sense of the power and flexibility of some of numpy’s indexing
notation. It is not meant, by any means, to be comprehensive; instead, the learning goal here is to open the
door to your independent exploration of numpy in order to facilitate implementation tasks, e.g., in future
Deliverable 2 [20%]
This is a written answer-only deliverable: answer these questions using Python comments (i.e.,
not code) in your submission .py file. Feel free to experiment with indexing schemes using the
Python REPL or the __main__, in support of your written answers (i.e., do not regurgitate online

Without coming anywhere close to exhaustively enumerating effecient numpy coding practices, to first-order
approximation, the following advice is a good place to start:
avoid for loops by restructuring data (if needed) into (potentially high-dimension) numpy.arrays, and
then performing operations across subsets of the data,
map and reduce strategies, often applied across numpy.array dimensions are a common strategy,
leverage numpy’s many built-in vectorized conditional, mathematical, and logical utility functions.
3.2 Avoiding for loops
documentation but, rather, run tiny code snippets to support any understanding you gain with the
support of online documentation.)
Answer the questions below given two numpy.array variables, the first (a) has a shape of (3,)
and the second (b) has a shape of (4,5):
1. What do b[0:3] and b[:, 0:3] do?
2. Why does b[:,:] = b[1,:] work and how would you make b[:,:] = b[:,1] work? Hint:
one of the more elegant solutions relies on using None.
3. Write a one-line Python/numpy expression that returns a numpy.array with shape of (5,)
with elements [a[0], a[1], a[2], a[0], a[1]], but without this explicit parameter list
(i.e., your answer should not be numpy.array([a[0], a[1], a[2], a[0], a[1]]) but
should use an indexing expression on a.) Hint: one of the many valid ways to do this
requires using a Python list comprehension.
4. How are the outputs of a[2], a[[2]] and a[[2,np.newaxis]] different?
. Why is a[a % a.shape[0]] guaranteed to work whereas a[a] may not?
Deliverable 3 [20%]
Perhaps the simplest example of a vectorizable mathematical operation is the computation of the
scalar dot product of two 1D vectors. Complete the implementation of the SlowDotProduct and
FastDotProduct functions, both of which accept two 1D numpy.arrays (you can assume they
have equal shape) and returns the scalar dot product of the two vectors. The SlowDotProduct
routine should not use any numpy utility functions and, instead, rely on Python language math
operators and for loops. The FastDotProduct function should instead use the full functionality
of numpy.

4 Computer arithmetic
Let’s learn about errors due to floating point number representations, using simple numerical algorithms as
4.1 Catch the NaN
In the IEEE floating point standard, NaNs are “infectious”. You can use the Python REPL to explore how NaNs
behave with different arithmetic, inequality and logical operations. To do so, you can use numpy’s NaN as nan
= np.float64(“nan”) and then tinker with expressions like, e.g., nan < 4 or nan == nan or 3 + nan, etc.
4.2 Floating point errors
There are many types of floating point error your numerical code will be susceptible to, some of which you
can guard against… some of the time. Examples include
catastrophic cancellation resulting in loss in significant digits when, e.g.,
summing numbers with different scales, e.g., , or
In Python, unlike other languages like C/C++/Java, any expression containing an integer and floating
point arithmetic is automatically cast to the highest precision (64-bit) floating point representation to
favour precision over efficiency. While Python itself is a loosely typed language, numpy has explicit
facilities to force underlying numerical type representations, such as numpy.float64 and
numpy.float32 for double- and single-precission floating point values.
Deliverable 4 [20%]
Tracking down a NaN in a numerical algorithm can sometimes be a real pain. You will implement a
routine CatchTheNaN that identifies the source of a single spurious NaN in a very simple numerical
algorithm. The function takes as input a single (potentially very large) 2D matrix with many
NaNs in it. Behind the scenes (i.e., before the function is called), it turns out that was
constructed as the outer product of two 1D column vectors and , i.e., such that .
Both and each have a single NaN (i.e., in only one of their vector elements), and CatchTheNaN
should return an np.array of shape (2,) of the indices of these NaNs, where element [0] is the
index of the NaN in and element [1] is the index of the NaN in . We will grade you on the
correctness and performance of your code, i.e., avoid using brute force search with for loops.

𝐱 𝐲 𝐌 = 𝐱 𝐲
𝐱 𝐲
𝐱 𝐲
10 +
38 10
summing numbers with differences in low-precision bits, e.g.,
round-off errors that accumulate, e.g., , and
overflow and underflow, e.g., , to name a few.
Consider the following concrete example: when evaluating the natural logarithm of the sum of
exponentials of a set of values ,
the differences in the magnitude of the exponential terms of the summands may lead to overflow during
accumulation, depending on the value of .
After careful mathematical manipulation, leveraging the properties of logarithms and exponentials, we can
rewrite this equation as
where is the maximum value among the ,
This alternative mathematical formulation — when implemented in a floating point system — will be more
stable to the variations in the scale of the exponential terms.
1.38383 × 10 − 1.38382 ×
38 10
∑ 1.0
10 ×
24 10
𝑦 = log (
exp( )) ∑ ,
𝑦 = 𝑚 + log (
exp( − 𝑚)) ∑ ,
𝑚 𝑥𝑖
𝑚 = max .
Deliverable 5 [20%]
Implement and compare a naive version of this sum (in LogSumExpNaive) and a more numerically
robust version (in LogSumExpRobust). Each function takes a single 1D numpy.array with a shape
of (N,) as input and returns the scalar sum. You can use the __main__ test suite to explore the
differences in the outputs of these functions, particularly for large and/or elements in
different ranges of minimum and maximum magnitude.
Include a brief (i.e., one- to two-sentence long) comment in your solution implementation
of LogSumExpRobust that explains why this reformulation leads to more robust floating
point calculations.

𝑁 𝑥𝑖
5 You’re Done!
Congratulations, you’ve completed the zero
th assignment. Review the submission procedures and
guidelines at the start of the handout before submitting the Python script file with your assignment solution.
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