On Jan 27, 2012, at 1:39 PM, Chad Perrin wrote:
> If you think of 1.1 as notation for a much more complex floating point
> number, which is not the same as 1.1, that doesn't mean the =
abstraction
> doesn't exist: it means you're unravelling it in your head to =
accommodate
> the implementation's divergence from decimal 1.1.  In essence, the =
fact
> it looks like 1.1 (but isn't) is the abstraction itself.

I think you are right about the leakiness of the floating point internal
representation vs. external representation.

What I do find surprising when this discussion pops up (and it pops up
with frightening regularity on ruby-talk) is that there are so many
programmers who are unaware of the issues surrounding floating point
representation.  This is not a Ruby issue but is actually a very common
situation across a huge number of programming languages.

I found <http://rosettacode.org/wiki/Literals/Floating_point> to be
an interesting laundry list of floating point literals. Almost every
language defaults to having decimal floating point literals.
A couple variations:

-- ISO C99 has hexadecimal floats: 0x1.fp3  =3D ( (1 + 15/16) * 2^3 )
-- PL1 has binary floats: 111.0101e7b =3D (111.0101 * 2^7) =3D (7.3125 * =
2^7)

I'm sure there are still some gotcha's regarding the mapping of abstract
hex or decimal floats into the reality of the underlying hardware
representation.

A more common approach (but not universal) is support for fixed point
decimal literals and arithmetic. For example, most SQL implementations
have support for fixed point arithmetic and literals.

<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixed-point_arithmetic#Implementations>

> This is where the special comparison method
> proposals make sense: if such a method can guarantee that it is =
accurate
> up to a known, "standard" precision, it's easy to think "Floats are as
> they appear up to precision X," and just move on with your life, =
because
> it works; without them, we only have something like =3D=3D as =
currently
> implemented for Float, whose primary value (as far as I can see) is to
> provide a tool for learning about the implementation of the Float =
type,
> because there's no simple rule of thumb for "accuracy up to precision =
X".

Why the ill-will towards Float#=3D=3D?  Despite the problems associated =
with
floating point representation and computation I don't see how discarding
or modifying the semantics of #=3D=3D would help the situation.

> what we have is the need to implement a
> comparison method of our own individual choosing every single time we
> want to be able to rely on accuracy of decimal math.

Only if you insist on using floating point values as a substitute for
real decimal values (e.g. BigDecimal or something similar). Even then
you need to be aware of how the results of arithmetic computations
are going to be stored.  What 'value' do you expect for this expression:

	BigDecimal("1.0") / BigDecimal("3.0")

It can't be an exact representation of the arithmetic result within
the context of BigDecimal.  So you can switch to Rational:

	Rational(1) / Rational(3)

Fantastic.  You've now got 1/3 stored internally.  What are you going
to do when you want to throw that up on a web page or export it to a
CSV file to be imported into a spreadsheet?  Probably convert it to
a decimal floating point value but how exact do you want to get:

"%.60f" % (Rational(1)/Rational(3)).to_f
=3D> "0.333333333333333314829616256247390992939472198486328125000000"

Hmm. That introduces the decimal/binary problem.  How about:

>> (Rational(1)/Rational(3)).to_d(20).to_s('f') #=3D> =
"0.33333333333333333333"
>> (Rational(1)/Rational(3)).to_d(30).to_s('f') #=3D> =
"0.333333333333333333333333333333"
>> (Rational(1)/Rational(3)).to_d(70).to_s('f') #=3D> =
"0.3333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333"=


Of course what happens when you want to compute something like square =
root
with rational values?  The result can't be exactly represented as a =
rational
so you are back to the representation problem:

>> Rational(2).to_d(20).sqrt(20).to_r
=3D> =
(5656854249492380195206754896838792313/40000000000000000000000000000000000=
00)

No magic bullets. You still have to think about what =
format/representation
is appropriate for your use.
=20
> Note that a decimal "up to precision X" is also an abstraction, but at
> least it is an abstraction that would leak far, far less often, =
because
> of the case of things like rounding.  I think the only way around =
that,
> given the fact there are limits to how much RAM we have available, =
would
> be to store rational literals (e.g. 2/3 instead of 0.666 . . .) =
somewhere
> to provide a back-up method for rounding numbers.

Sure, you can use Ruby's Rational class if you want like shown above. =
Still
doesn't get rid of the problems.

> Someone tell me if I'm mistaken about some part of that -- preferably
> without invective.


I don't think you are mistaken, but I also don't have a handle on what =
you
think should happen or what is missing in Ruby.  The issues surrounding =
numeric
computation (representation, overflow, accuracy, precision, conversion) =
are
inherent in the problem domain.  Programmers need to be aware of them =
and
use appropriate tools as necessary: Fixnum, Bignum, Float, BigDecimal,
Rational, Complex, etc.

Gary Wright=