TITLE: A Programming Digression: Farey Sequences AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 25, 2010 4:50 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Last Wednesday, I saw John Cook's article on rational approximations using Farey's algorithm, and it led me on a programming journey. You might find it entertaining. First, some background. The students in my compilers course are writing a compiler for a simple numerical language I call Klein. Klein is a minimal functional language inspired by Doug Baldwin's MinimL, designed to give compiler students experience with all the important issues in the course while not duplicating very much. The goal is that students be able to write a complete and correct compiler for the language from scratch in a semester. Among Klein's limitations are:
• Repetition is done with recursion. There are no loops.
• There are only two data types, integers and booleans.
• All binding of values to names is done via function calls. There are no local variables, no assignments statements, and no sequences.
• There is only one primitive function, print, that can be called only at the top of a function definition.
As you can imagine, it is difficult to find good, large problems for which we can write Klein programs. So I'm always on the look-out for numerical algorithms that can be implemented in Klein. When I saw Cook's article and Python program, I got to thinking... Wouldn't this be a cool application for Klein? Of course, I faced a few problems. Cook's program takes as arguments a real number in [0..1), r, and an integer N. It returns a fraction that is the rational number closest in value to r with a denominator that no bigger than N. Klein does not have floating-point values, so I would have to fake even the real value being approximated! Without assignment statements and sequences of statements, let alone Python's multiple assignments and multiple returns, I would have to convert the algorithm's loop to a set of functions for computing the individual components of the converging bounds. Finally, without floats again, I would also have to compare the bounding fractions to the faked real number as fractions. Those are just the sort of challenges that intrigue a programmer. I spent a couple of hours on Thursday slowly refactoring Cook's code to a Klein-like subset of Python. Instead of passing r to the main function, I fake it by passing in two arguments: the digits to the right of the decimal point as an integer, and a power of 10 to indicate its magnitude. These serve as numerator and denominator of a rational approximation, albeit with a very denominator. For example, r = 0.763548745, I pass in 7635487 and 10,000,000. The third argument to the function is N. Here is an example:
```     >>> farey( 127, 1000, 74)
8
63
```
8/63 is the best rational approximation for 0.127 with a denominator ≤ 74. My code prints the 8 and returns the 63, because that is best way for an equivalent Klein program to work. Here is Cook's example of 1/e with a denominator bounded by 100:
```     >>> farey( 367879, 1000000, 100 )
32
87
```
Take a look at my Python code if you are easily amused. In one part of the program, I duplicated code with only small changes to the resulting functions, farey_num() andfarey_den. In another section, I avoided creating duplicate functions by adding a selector argument that I allowed me to use one bit of code for two different calculations. while_loop_for returns the next value for one of a, b, c, and d, depending on the value of its first argument. For some reason, I am fond of the code that replaces Cook's mediant variable. At this point, the port to Klein was straightforward. In the end, there is so much code to do what is basically a simple task: to compute row N of this tree on an as-needed basis, in the service of a binary search:
Programming in Klein feels a lot like programming in an integer assembly language. That can be an interesting experience, but the real point of the language is to exercise students as they write a compiler. Still, I find myself now wanting to implement refactoring support for Klein, in order to make such digressions flow faster in the future! I enjoyed this little diversion so much that I've been buttonholing every colleague who walks through the door. I decided I'd do the same to you. -----