Prime Numbers 3. Wheel Factorization

March 24, 2009

In an earlier post, I described the sieve of Eratosthenes, a very fast algorithm to calculate all primes below a given limit, n. At least when programming it in python, speed is not an issue at all with this algorithm, because we start having memory problems much earlier, due to the fact that we need to keep in memory a list of size n…

This is specially problematic with python, because although all we need is a list of booleans (is prime / is not prime), which could fit in a bit each, I’m afraid python assigns several bytes to each. How many of them is probably machine dependent, but I’m almost certain it is at least 4 of them. So it is very likely that we could improve memory usage by a factor of 32, maybe more, if we could get around this. There are not-so-standard libraries that do just that, but I’ve sworn not to use them, and one day I may expose my failed attempts at using very long ints as bit arrays to the world, but python is definitely not the best language to mess around with low level optimizations, so I’m going to leave this line of thinking aside for the time being.

I also presented a very naive optimization, which simply discards all even numbers, which we already know are not prime, and thus cuts in half the memory requirements. More formally, what was being done there was to partition all numbers into two groups: those of the form 2·n, and those of the form 2·n+1, and then discard the former, since no prime of that form exists, and keep the latter only. This line of thinking is much more promising, as it leads to a very neat way of further reducing the memory required, known as wheel factorization.

For some odd reason that escapes my shallow understanding, the standard description of this algorithm places much emphasis on setting all numbers in circles, and then eliminating what it calls spokes. I personally don’t see any benefit of such a mental image, specially since the number are going to end up arranged in a rectangular array. So for the sake of clarity, I will not honor tradition, and spare you the circles and the spokes.

We begin by choosing a first few prime numbers. Say the first three: 2, 3 and 5. We multiply them together to get M = 30. We are now going to partition the set of all numbers into M groups, of the form M·m + ki, where the ki are the numbers 1 through M, both inclusive. Most of these subsets happen to hold no prime number, and thus need not be considered at all. To find out which of them, remember that M is the product of several prime numbers, M = p1·p2 … pn. Therefore, if ki is a multiple of any of those prime numbers, i.e. ki = pj·k’i, we can always extract the common factor pj from both summands in M·m + ki, which means that all numbers in that subset are composite. These subsets, which we discard, are very closely related to the spokes I was telling you about a while ago.

If M = 30, of the 30 potential ki we are left with just 8 (1, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23 and 29), so we have cut memory required to about 27% of the straightforward implementation of the sieve of Eratosthenes. If we use the first 4 primes, we then have M = 210, and of the 210 potential ki we only need to keep 48. This improves memory use, which now is roughly 23% of the original. But you can probably see a law of diminishing returns at wortk here: the improvement in memory use gets smaller and smaller with every prime you add to the calculation of M. You can find some more data regarding this at the end of this link.

Of course we are still going to have to sieve each of our subsets, in much the same way we did with the sieve of Eratothenes. But sieving all multiples of a prime p when you have several subsets to consider is anything but trivial. Lets see how to tackle it…

The question to answer is, what integer values of m fulfill the equation M·m + ki = p·n? Using modular arithmetic, this equation is equivalent to finding M·m = -ki (mod p). This requires calculating M-1 (mod p), the modular multiplicative inverse of M modulo p, a subject already treated in a previous post. Given that, we can simply write mi = M-1·(-ki) (mod p), and therefore determine all multiples of p in the subset of ki as m = p·j + mi.

Last, but not least, we want to start sieving at the smallest multiple of p in each subset that is larger than or equal to p2, and so we want to increment mi with p·ji, where ji ≥ (p2-ki– M·mi) / (m·p).

Lets try to put all this ideas together in a python script. To make it work, you will need the primeListSofE function from this post, as well as the extEuclideanAlg and modInvEuclid ones from this other post

def primeListWF(n, m, verbose = True) :
    """Returns a list of prime numbers smaller than or equal to n,
    using wheel factorization, with a wheel size of the product of
    all primes smaller than or equal to m
    """
    t = time()
    # We use the standard sieve of Eratosthenes first...
    primes = primeListSofE(m)
    M = 1
    for p in primes :
        M *= p
    if verbose :
        print "Size of factorization wheel is",M
    # We now sieve out all multiples of these primes,including
    # the primes themselves, to get the k[i]
    sieve = [True] * M
    for p in primes :
        sieve[p-1] = False
        for j in xrange(p*p,M+1,p) :
            sieve[j-1] = False
    k = [j+1 for j in range(M) if sieve[j]]
    if verbose :
        print "Memory use is only",len(k),"/",M,"=",len(k)/M
    N = n
    if N %M :
        N += M
    N //= M
    maxP = int(sqrt(M*N))
    if verbose:
        print "Primes will be calculated up to",M*N,"not",n

    sieve = [[True]*N for j in range(len(k))]
    sieve[0][0] = False # Take care of the non primality of 1
    for row in range(N) :
        baseVal = M * row
        for subset in range(len(k)) :
            if sieve[subset][row] :
                p = baseVal + k[subset]
                primes += [p]
                if p > maxP :
                    continue
                # Sieve all multiples of p...
                invMp = modInvEuclid(M,p)
                for i in range(len(k)) :
                    mi = invMp * (-k[i] % p)
                    mi %= p
                    # ...starting at p**2
                    ji = (p*p - k[i] - M*mi)
                    if ji % (M*p) :
                        ji += M*p
                    ji //= M*p
                    mi+= ji*p

                    for r in range(mi,N,p) :
                        sieve[j][r] = False
    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."
        
    return primes

You can play around with this algorithm and look at the time required. It probably depends on the value of n, but there seems to be a sweet spot for speed somewhere around m = 7 (and thus M = 210) or m = 11 (M = 2310). This being a general purpose wheel factorization algorithm, it has speeds that are faster than the unoptimized sieve of Eratosthenes code, but it cannot beat the optimized code, which in fact is a particular case of wheel factorization, for m = M = 2.

On the other hand, using m = 7 I have managed to compute all primes up to 108, a feat unreachable for the previous code, at least without finding a workaround the MemoryError they produce. 109 is still out of reach, though…

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Modular Multiplicative Inverse

March 20, 2009

Now that we are all proficient with modular exponentiation thanks to my previous post, it is time to tackle a more complicated issue, still in the realm of modular arithmetic.
While addition, subtraction and multiplication are “compatible with the congruence relation” introduced by modular arithmetic, the same doesn’t happen with division. This means that solving a simple equation such as a·x = 1 (mod m) is anything but trivial. In fact, determining x = a-1 (mod m) that fulfills that equation is the whole object of this post…

There is, as always, the brute force approach, which I always like to visit first, so that I can later congratulate myself on how much the efficiency has improved with my deep insight. In this particular case, brute force means trying every number between 1 and m-1, and see if the m-modulo of its product with a is 1. :

def modInv1(a,m) :
    """
    Computes the modular multiplicative inverse of a modulo m,
    using brute force
    """
    a %= m
    for x in range(1,m) :
        if a*x%m == 1 :
        return x
    return None

Do notice that the possibility of no multiplicative inverse existing is contemplated in the code. This will actually be the case if a and m have any common factors, i.e. if they are not coprime. So the previous code could serve as a moron’s approach to determining if two numbers are relatively prime. Not that I recommend it, though, as it should be clear that the code I have just produced will be very inefficient for large values of m.

The Extended Euclidean Algorithm
As stated, we are after a number x that fulfills a·x = 1 (mod m). This can of course be written as well as a·x = 1 + m·y, which rearranges neatly into a·x – m·y = 1. Since x and y need not be positive, we can write it as well in the standard form, a·x + m·y = 1. If a and m are coprime, this is a particular instance of a·x + b·y = gcd(a,b), where gcd(a,b) is the greatest common divisor of a and b. This equation is known as Bézout’s identity, and can be efficiently solved using the extended Euclidean algorithm. To find a solution to our particular equation, this algorithm would proceed as follows:

  1. Rewrite the equation as an·xn + mn·yn = 1, starting with n = 0
  2. Compute the quotient, qn, and the remainder, rn, of an divided by mn, and rewrite the original equation as (mn·qn + rn)·xn + mn·yn =1
  3. Rearrange the terms in the equation to get mn·(qn·xn+yn) + rn·xn = 1
  4. Do the changes of variables
    • xn+1 = qn·xn+yn,
    • yn+1 = xn,
    • an+1 = mn, and
    • mn+1 = rn
  5. Repeat the process, until an = 1, and mn = 0.
  6. Such equations has the trivial solution xn = 1, yn = 0.
  7. Work your way back to x0 and y0, noting that
    • xn-1 = yn,
    • yn-1 = xn – qn-1·yn
  8. x0 is the number we are after.

There is a certain component of faith in believing that, eventually, an = 1 and mn = 0. It is in fact not always the case, as if a and m are not coprime, then the values we will arrive at are mn = 0, but an = gcd(a,m). As a matter of fact, the gcd is normally computed using the Euclidean algorithm, dropping the adjective extended, which basically does the same as above, but without the back-tracking of the xn‘s and the yn‘s. With all of this in mind, we can write two functions, one calling the other, as follows:

def extEuclideanAlg(a, b) :
    """
    Computes a solution  to a x + b y = gcd(a,b), as well as gcd(a,b)
    """
    if b == 0 :
        return 1,0,a
    else :
        x, y, gcd = extEuclideanAlg(b, a % b)
        return y, x - y * (a // b),gcd

def modInvEuclid(a,m) :
    """
    Computes the modular multiplicative inverse of a modulo m,
    using the extended Euclidean algorithm
    """
    x,y,gcd = extEuclideanAlg(a,m)
    if gcd == 1 :
        return x % m
    else :
        return None

The gains in speed are tremendous with this new approach. Again, write your own testing function as an exercise, but mine spits out the following results…


>>> testModInv(1234,5,10000)
Got 4 using method 1 in 0.0160000324249 sec.
Got 4 using Euclidean algorithm in 0.0309998989105 sec.
>>> testModInv(1234,56789,10000)
Got 31800 using method 1 in 59.4000101089 sec.
Got 31800 using Euclidean algorithm in 0.047000169754 sec.

So while brute force is good enough, or even the best choice, for very small values of m, as soon as it grows, the benefits of the more elaborate algorithm are all too obvious. According to wikipedia, the algorithm we have coded has complexity O(log(m)2), i.e. time required to compute the modular multiplicative inverse is proportional to log(m)2.


Modular Exponentiation

March 20, 2009

I have a post cooking on wheel factorization, yet another sieving algorithm for the computation of all primes below a given number n. It turns out that while implementing it, one comes across a number of not so obvious preliminary questions. It is a rule of this blog not to resort to any non standard library, and I feel it would be breaking the spirit of that rule to post code which hasn’t been thoroughly explained in advance. So in order not to make that soon-to-be post on prime numbers longer than anyone could bear, I find myself in need of covering a couple of preliminaries, and so here comes this thrilling post on modular exponentiation

What we are after is determining ab (mod m), or to put it in plain English, the remainder of a to the power of b, divided by m. Doesn’t seem much, does it? We could just go ahead and write:

def modExp1(a, b, m) :
    """
    Computes a to the power b, modulo m, directly
    """
    return a**b % m

The problems begin if a and b are both big. Python’s integers don’t overflow, and we all love it for it, but the memory juggling it has to do to accommodate a huge number in memory does come at a speed cost. Specially if m is small, it definitely seems a little overkill to keep a zillion digit number in memory, given that the answer will be smaller than m…

We can, and will, use modular arithmetic to our advantage. See, wikipedia says that “the congruence relation (introduced by modular arithmetic) on the integers is compatible with the multiplication operation of the ring of integers,” and if it’s on the internet it has to be true, right? Translated to plain English, the idea is that if we want to take the product of two numbers, a and b, modulo m, we can first multiply them, and then take the m-modulo of the result, or we can take the m-modulo of a and/or b, prior to multiplication, and the m-modulo of the result will still be the right answer. So the least a conscious programmer should do is to rewrite the previous function as:

def modExp2(a, b, m) :
    """
    Computes a to the power b, modulo m, a little less directly
    """
    return (a%m)**b % m

Of course, if b is large enough, you may still find yourself in the realm of zillion digit numbers, which is a place we don’t really want to go. It turns out then that it may be a good option to remember that exponentiation is just repeated multiplication. If we multiply a by itself b times, and take the m-modulo of the result after every multiplication, the larger number we will ever have in memory will be m2. It doesn’t really seem right to put a loop of b iterations into the code, since what we are worried about are large b’s, but lets do it anyway:

def modExp3(a, b, m) :
    """
    Computes a to the power b, modulo m, by iterative multiplication
    """
    ret = 1
    a %= m
    while b :
        ret *= a
        ret %= m
        b -= 1
    return ret

The only reason why this last function deserves a place here, is because it helps introduce the really cool algorithm that this whole post really is about, binary exponentiation. In John D. Cook’s blog there is a great explanation on how it could be implemented iteratively, based on the binary representation of the exponent, but I’ll go for a recursive version, which is essentially the same, but which I find easier for my brain’s wiring…

So what we are about to do is, when asked to compute ab, check if b is even, in which case we will compute it as the square of ab/2. If b is odd, we will compute it as a·ab-1. If b is 0, we will of course return 1. If we also throw in all the modulo m stuff I have been discussing previously, we finally arrive at THE function to do modular exponentiation:

def modExp(a, b, m) :
    """
    Computes a to the power b, modulo m, using binary exponentiation
    """
    a %= m
    ret = None
    if b == 0 :
        ret = 1
    elif b%2 :
        ret = a * modExp(a,b-1,m)
    else :
        ret = modExp(a,b//2,m)
        ret *= ret
    return ret%m

Now that we have all four versions of the same function written, we can do a little testing, I will leave writing the testing code as an exercise for the reader (I’ve been wanting to say this since my first year of university…), but when computing 1234 to the power 5678, modulo 90, a 1000 times with each function, these is the performance I get:


>>> testModExp(1234,5678,90,1000)
Got 46 using method 1 in 3.73399996758 sec.
Got 46 using method 2 in 0.546999931335 sec.
Got 46 using method 3 in 1.25 sec.
Got 46 using THE method in 0.0150001049042 sec.

Results which really don’t require much commenting…

EDIT: There is some very interesting information in the comments: python comes with a built-in pow function, which can take two or three arguments, the third being, precisely, the modulo. It probably implements an algorithm similar to what has been presented, but is more than an order of magnitude faster.


Prime Numbers 2. The Sieve of Erathostenes

March 16, 2009

The problem with the algorithms described in the previous post lies on the very large amount of redundant testing that goes on. Because once we have checked the primality of a certain number p, we know that 2p, 3p, 4p, …, np are composites. So what is the point of checking those numbers at all? When you follow this line of thinking to the very end, it turns out you don’t have to do any trial division at all! The resulting algorithm is attributed to Erathostenes, and it employs a technique, known as sieving, which may come in handy in many other problems. But enough for a presentation, lets get going with the Sieve of Erathostenes.

All the information we need to begin with, is that 2 is the first prime. This means, following the previous approach, that no other even number can be prime. To keep track of this information, we begin by writing a list of all the numbers between 2 and the desired limit, say N:

We now draw a circle around 2, because it is prime, and then strike out all even numbers, i.e. all multiples of 2:

Now, there is a good and a bad way to strike out all multiples of a number from a list. The wrong way is to do trial division to find out if it is a multiple. The right way is to use the fact that two consecutive multiples of a number differ by that exact number. Writing it out in python, you can check the tremendous gain for yourself:

from time import time

def strikeOut(mul, n) :
    # note that list index i corresponds to number i+2
    sieve = [True for j in xrange(2,n+1)]

    # The bad way to sieve
    t = time()
    for j in xrange(2,n+1) :
        if j % mul == 0 :
            sieve[j-2] = False
    t = time() - t
    print "Sieved (bad!!!) all multiples of",mul,"below",n,"in",t,"sec."

    sieve = [True for j in xrange(2,n+1)]

    # The good way to sieve
    t = time()
    for j in xrange(mul,n+1,mul) :
        sieve[j-2] = False
    t = time() - t
    print "Sieved (good!!!) all multiples of",mul,"below",n,"in",t,"sec."

No, I’m not taking you, dear reader, for an idiot: you can find sieving algorithms on fist pages of google searches that do sieving this very wrong way…

But lets get back to primes. We had our list, with 2 circled and all its multiples crossed out. The first unmarked number we come across is 3. Just a coincidence that 3 is a prime number? Not really: it is unmarked because it is not a multiple of any smaller number. Or to put it another way: it is only divisible by 1 and itself, which is the very definition of prime… So we circle 3 and cross out all its multiples:

I’ve underlined the multiples of three that where already crossed out. The first number which gets crossed out for the first time is 9. Will it be just a coincidence that 9 = 32? Of course not! We have already crossed out all multiples of numbers smaller than 3, and 32 is the first multiple of 3 which is not a multiple of any smaller number.

So we keep going down our list, and find 5 to be the next unmarked number in the list, which of course is prime, so we circle it, and then cross out all of its multiples. But as we saw before, rather than starting at 10, and crossing out the already crossed out 10, 15 and 20, we proceed directly to 52, that is 25.

This goes on until we’ve searched the whole list, circling numbers and crossing out its multiples. But since we start crossing out at the square of the new found prime, we only need to do the crossing out for primes smaller than the square root of N: once we get there, any uncrossed number up to N will be prime. This is what the beginning of our list will look like once we are through:

So lets try and write our very own sieve of Erathostenes in python, with all this square and square root tricks pointed out above…

from time import time
from math import sqrt

def primeListSofE(n, verbose = True) :
    t = time()
    sieve = [True for j in xrange(2,n+1)]
    for j in xrange(2,int(sqrt(n))+1) :
        i = j-2
        if sieve[i]:
            for k in range(j*j,n+1,j) :
                sieve[k-2] = False

    ret = [j for j in xrange(2,n+1) if sieve[j-2]]

    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."

    return ret

Play around with it and once more feel the thrill of speed. On my computer it does all primes below 1,000,000 almost 5 times faster than the best trial division approach from the previous post. But the real beauty is in how the time now scales with n, because you can no longer find a suitable fit of the form nq. We haven’t simply reduced the size of the exponent, but are treading uncharted territory, as it turns out that the time required to calculate all primes below using this sieve requires (n.log(n))(log(log(n))) time. Actually, for the first 1010 numbers, this is basically indistinguishable from linear time, i.e proportional to n.

This speed does come at a memory cost, though: you need to store an array of size n. And while the algorithm could produce all primes below 1010 in just a few minutes, the program will very likely crash giving an out of memory error. Some memory saving can be done by not storing even numbers at all. Without boring you with the details, below is the python function I use to compute primes at work, which does 107 almost three times faster than the previous one, and uses half the memory, but still crashes when asked for all primes below 109

from time import time
from math import sqrt

def primeListSofE(n, verbose = False) :
    """
    Returns a list of prime numbers smaller than or equal to n,
    using an optimized sieve of Erathostenes algorithm.
    """
    t = time()
    maxI = (n-3) // 2
    maxP = int(sqrt(n))
    sieve = [True for j in xrange(maxI+1)]
    for p in xrange(3,maxP+1,2) :
        i = (p-3) // 2
        if sieve[i] :
            i2 = (p*p-3) // 2
            for k in xrange(i2,maxI+1,p) :
                sieve[k] = False
    ret = [2]+[2*j+3 for j in xrange(len(sieve)) if sieve[j]]
    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."
    return ret

There are slightly faster ways of sieving, and we could memoize precalculated primes, to speed up repeated calls to the function. But this is probably enough for today’s post…


Prime Numbers 1. The Wrong Way

March 5, 2009

A prime number is a natural number larger than 1 which is only divisible by 1 and itself. Simple, isn’t it? Euclid already proved quite a while ago that there are infinitely many of them, so lets try and write a function that returns all primes below a given number, using the most straightforward approach. What would that be? Well, there is nothing less sophisticated than to try and divide each number by every integer larger than 1 and smaller than the number itself, and if we never get a zero remainder then the number is prime. Putting it in python:

from time import time
def primeList1(n, verbose = True) :
    t = time()
    ret = []
    for j in range(2,n+1) :
        jIsPrime = True
        for k in range(2,j) :
            if j % k == 0 :
            jIsPrime = False
            break
        if jIsPrime :
            ret += [j]
    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."

    return ret<br /></pre><br />

Do notice the feeble attempt at code optimization, with the break statement that ends the loop as soon as a divisor is found… If you try it out, it will work fine. Use it to calculate all prime numbers below 1,000, and it will probably give you an instant answer. 10,000 delays a second or two, nothing too worrying. If you try it with 100,000, you’ll have time to take your coffee break before it finishes, and adding any more zeroes will require leaving your script running overnight… Not too surprising really, since to determine that, for example, 9973 is indeed a prime number, our program is having to do trial division by every number between 2 and 9972, both inclusive. All in all, the time required grows with n2.

There are several very simple improvements that can speed things up dramatically, and which require a little, but just a little, mathematical insight…

First, we don’t need to test every number between 2 and 9972 to determine that 9973 is prime; we can stop after the largest integer smaller than the square-root of 9973, i.e. 99. Why? Well, if a number is divisible by a number larger than its square-root, it will also be divisible by the quotient of that division, which is necesaarily smaller than the square-root. And since we have already tried (and failed) to divide by those smaller numbers, there is no need to keep going…

The resulting code is very similar to the previous one:

from time import time
from math import sqrt

def primeList2(n, verbose = True) :
    t = time()
    ret = []
    for j in range(2,n+1) :
        jIsPrime = True
        kMax = int(sqrt(j))
        for k in range(2,kMax+1) :
            if j % k == 0 :
                jIsPrime = False
                break
        if jIsPrime :
            ret += [j]
    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."

    return ret

Do try it, and feel the thrill of the new speed of the algorithm. If you are after all primes below 10,000, this new function will probably get them for you… a hundred times faster!!! If you try it for larger numbers, you will find even better speed increases, because the time required by our algorithm now grows with n1.4.

But we are still doing a lot of superfluous checking. Think again of 9973. Once we have tried to divide it by 2 and failed, there is no point in checking with 4, 6, 8 or any other multiple of 2. So yes, we could double the speed of our algorithm by checking only odd numbers, but lets spend a little more time thinking before going back to coding… Because, after failing with 2, once we turn our attention to 3 and again fail, what’s the point in trying 6, 9, 12 or any other multiple of 3? If you keep the reasoning going, it becomes obvious that you only need to do trial division by prime numbers, since by the time we test whether a composite number divides 9973, we have already tested all its prime factors, and if those have failed, this one will as well.

Now wait a minute! Isn’t finding whether a number is prime or not precisely what we are after? How are we going to figure out what numbers to do trial division with? Well, we already saw in our first optimization that our division trials only need to go up to the square root of the number being tested, so we only need to know the first prime number, 2, and afterwards we can use the list of prime numbers that we are building to generate the additional items… The code to do that would look something like this:

from time import time
from math import sqrt

def primeList3(n, verbose = True) :
    t = time()
    ret = []
    for j in range(2,n+1) :
        jIsPrime = True
        kMax = sqrt(j)
        for k in ret :
            if k > kMax :
                break
            if j % k == 0 :
                jIsPrime = False
                break
        if jIsPrime :
            ret += [j]

    if verbose :
        print "Calculated primes to",n,"in",time()-t,"sec."

    return ret

If you test this code you’ll surely notice the new speed increase. This last optimization doesn’t make it a hundred times faster, but on my computer the new code is 3.5 faster than the previous one when calculating all primes below 100,000 and 5.5 times faster when calculating all primes below 1,000,000. And again, what really makes the new code more efficient is not that 4x increase in speed, but the fact that, the larger our input number gets, the better the new code is. It seems that now time required grows with n1.25

This last version holds the fundamental ideas of really fast code, i.e. skipping multiples of primes, but still relies on the slow and time consuming operation of trial division. Getting rid of it is the next optimization, which we will see in the next post.


Excusatio Non Petita

March 4, 2009

The year probably was 1994, so I guess its understandable that I don’t exactly recall how did I come across a copy of Numerical Recipes in C: The Art of Scientific Computing. But while skimming through the pages, I eventually got to the part on evaluating polynomials, and read something that struck me very deeply. The paragraph that described what I now know is Horner’s scheme read as follows:

We assume that you know enough never to evaluate a polynomial this way:

p=c[0]+c[1]*x+c[2]*x*x+c[3]*x*x*x +c[4]*x*x*x*x;

or (even worse!),

p=c[0]+c[1]*x+c[2]*pow(x,2.0)+c[3]*pow(x,3.0)+c[4]*pow(x,4.0);

Come the (computer) revolution, all persons found guilty of such criminal behavior will be summarily executed, and their programs won’t be! It is a matter of taste, however, whether to write

p=c[0]+x*(c[1]+x*(c[2]+x*(c[3]+x*c[4])));

or

p=(((c[4]*x+c[3])*x+c[2])*x+c[1])*x+c[0];

Boy was I guilty! Who would have ever thought there was another way of evaluating a polynomial than the obvious one? And that it would be so much more elegant and efficient?

Would be nice if it was just a polynomial thing, but of course it isn’t, and the more complicated the math you are trying to get your computer to do, the larger the chance you are doing it terribly bad. And although much has been written about algorithms, the gospel doesn’t seem to be spreading too swiftly: as I am writing this, the first match for a search of “prime numbers python ” that google returns is this. And he is not alone

So what am I in for? The idea is to bridge the gap between straightforward brute force (a sin I have been as guilty as anyone else of) and the elegant simplicity of efficient code. Hopefully, this will allow me to escape the guillotine when the Jacobins take over…

There are some simple rules that I intend to follow, at least until I decide not to:

  1. Uncomplicated complexity. The math content will be kept reasonably simple. Or maybe simple isn’t the word, as things may get utterly complex. But I will try to stay out of unnecessary complications, so a high school diploma should be all you need to come along on the ride…
  2. Plain python. Sure, C++ is a zillion times faster, but python takes care of most gory details, and makes it easier to concentrate on the algorithm. Plus, it’s so cool and trendy!
  3. No libraries. Sage, SciPy, PARI, qhull, FFTW… whatever it is you are trying to achieve computationally, there is a faster way than replicating the code you find in this blog. And interesting as that may be, it would take a lot of the charm of writing this blog, if it turned into a description of somebody else’s API. So yes, we will even code our own FFTs!