[PYTHON MATRIX-SIG] Are we talking about one thing or two?

Chris Chase S1A chris.chase@jhuapl.edu
Wed, 13 Sep 1995 16:47:19 -0400

>>>>> "Dave" == Dave Forrest <forrest@rose.rsoc.rockwell.com> writes:

Dave> Rather than trying to make a one-size-fits all that isn't exactly what
Dave> anyone wants, why not make two interfaces (maybe one implementation?)
Dave> that give each camp what they want to work with?

By two interfaces do you mean having different meanings for an
operator such as "*" depending on the arguments classes?

I think it would be too confusing to have an operation "A*B" that
performs matrix multiplication when A and B are matrices (two
dimensional arrays) but performs elementwise multiplication for the
a general class of arrays (whatever you want to call them - arrays,
tensors, tables - I prefer arrays).

I think that supporting the Matlab-like matrix linear algebra such as
matrix multiplication and matrix division is a high priority for many
people.  One question is can the new operators be added to the
language without difficulty, in a logical fashion, and without
cluttering the language with operators that are only used for this
"matrix" class?

The Matlab approach uses 

"+", "-", ".*", "./" ".^"  for elementwise operations (called array
operations in Matlab. I call them vector operations.) 

"*", "/", "\", "^" for matrix operations.  ("^" is a Matrix power operator).

Python is much more general than a matrix language, so I think that
using all of these would give Python operator bloat.

Is adding new operators to the language even a possibility?

New methods or functions would have to be defined anyway to implement
the operators, e.g. matrixmultiply(a,b), vectormultiply(a,b),
leftdivision(a,b), etc.  Without operators that call these functions we
would probably want shorter names.

>> Why?  For practical reasons.  We here - and I would submit that many
>> other organizations are like this - do more Matlab-like work.  The way
>> Matlab defines a matrix is not a problem but a huge advantage for us.
>> But in what way would a more general concept be a disadvantage?
Dave> Easy - a more general concept might require me to worry about extra
Dave> things that I'm not interested in (like the number of dimensions, or
Dave> the "rank" that J uses).  These things are not interesting and can only
Dave> cause problems by being there to make mistakes on.  We will end up
Dave> writing a wrapper that gives us the interface we want and hides the
Dave> things that we're not interested in - but since we're not the only ones
Dave> who want this and it would be more efficiently done as an intrinsic
Dave> part of the language I think that's the right thing to do.

Even if you limit yourself to only two dimensions you still have to
worry about rank.  In Matlab you can make a mistake using
one-dimensional vectors when a matrix is required.  Tela is a perfect
example of a language that took the Matlab syntax and added higher
dimensional arrays without breaking any of the basic Matlab matrix
features.  IDL and APL are additional examples with higher dimensional
arrays that don't limit their capability to do matrix linear algebra.
Matlab is two-dimensional more because of its limited scope and
computer resources from historical beginnings.  I even seem to recall
being informed by Mathworks representatives at a tradeshow that higher
dimensional arrays would be added in a future release to Matlab.

The natural implemenation would be a multi-dimensional array class as
Jim is proposing with a matrix linear algebra module to specialize
this class [for implementing matrix multiplication, matrix
inverses/adjoints (square and non-square "matrix division") , linear
equation solvers, column rank, factorization, spectral/eigenvalue
computations, special matrices (diagonal, Hankel, toeplitz, Hilbert,
sparse, etc.), norms, matrix exponential, and on and on].  This would
easily be a whole additional SIG - the Matrix Linear Algebra (Matlab
clone) SIG.  Such a SIG wouldn't have to implement another object type
and external interface except for subclassing to special matrices
(sparse in particular).

Is the purpose of this SIG only for implementing a two-dimensional
matrix linear algebra system within Python or for implementing a more
general purpose multi-dimensional array class with homogeneous
elements for easy interface to external scientific and mathematical


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