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| From: Sebastian Egner <sebastian.egner@xxxxxxxxxxx> | Date: Wed, 25 May 2005 09:35:25 +0200 | | > LIMIT was created so that static choices for limit cases like: | > | > (expt 0 0) ==> 1 | > or | > (expt 0 0) ==> 0/0 | > | > don't necessitate workarounds when computing with functions like | > (lambda (x) (expt x x)): | > | > (limit (lambda (x) (expt x x)) 0 1e-9) ==> 1/0 | | Unfortunately, my experience is that this approach is highly | unreliable. In the end, I spent more time doing analytical sanity | checks myself than it took to write the proper numerical code | directly after understanding the limits properly. | | Example: An important function from information theory is | | f(x) = -x log(x). | | This function is in principle well behaved (smooth, analytic, etc.) on | (0,1], but its derivative does not exist at x = 0. Moreover, f(0) | cannot directly be computed numerically because the underflow from | log(x) is not cancelled by the multiplication with zero. Practical | numerical code: IF x < xmin THEN 0 ELSE x log(x), where xmin is chosen | minimal such that log(xmin) is an ordinary number and not -infinity. | | Using LIMIT in this case is not a good idea for two reasons: | a) It is expensive and unnecessary, except for very small x. Its cost is a small multiple (currently 7) of the function call cost plus constant overhead. The multiple can be reduced; the effect will be reduced detection of bad limits. It would be straightforward to wrap a function so that LIMIT is called only when the argument is within some given range (say 1e-50) of the limit point; and otherwise the function is called directly. | b) At least the reference implementation of LIMIT doesn't get it right: | | (limit (lambda (x) (* -1 x (log x))) 0 1e-9) => -inf.0 | | This may be a bug in the reference implementation, but it is | certainly a violation of the new specification as f(x) is monotonic | on [0,1/e]. I have fixed the bug using the method described in <http://swiss.csail.mit.edu/~jaffer/III/Limit.html>. (limit (lambda (x) (* x (log x))) 0 1.0e-9) ==> -173.28679513998937e-12 I am working on improving the interpolation; and infinite limits must be addressed separately. I will update srfi-70 when it is complete. | When you try to fix the reference implementation, you will find | that it cannot be fixed because it comes from the "black box" | procedure: At a certain moment f(x) becomes -inf.0, so that must be | the limit. The width is passed to the LIMIT procedure so that the overflow point can be avoided. | I can relate another experience: The Mathematica system has an | operation Limit, which finds limits symbolically, and a function | NLimit which finds limits numerically. Limits turns out to be | useful sometimes, but it took many years and many releases until it | became something I nearly trust. NLimits on the other hand is | tricky, even though it makes an effort to report when it fails, | e.g. NLimit[x Log[x], x -> 0.] => "cannot recognize limit". (limit (lambda (x) (* x (log x))) 0 1e-200) ==> -1.7328679513992641e-201 | Bottom line: In the end, LIMIT might do more harm than it is worth. | You might want to reconsider if it is a feature that is essential | for the Scheme programming language itself. Rationalize, string->number, and number->string are precedents for Scheme specifying very clean mathematical semantics at the possible expense of efficiency.