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Objective-C can be quite verbose, especially when handling nested data – there is no simple associative array indexing of the kind found in PHP, Ruby etc.

ObjC : verbose : id value = [map objectForKey:@"key"];

Using atx functions : concise : id value = at(map, @”key”);

This comes in very handy for deeply nested json data trees, where you might want to index a multidimensional array or nested tree – vis :

id pop = at(at(at(stats, @”USA”), @”NewYork”), @”popn”);

Not quite as simple as pop = stats["USA"]["NewYork"]["popn"]; but more readable than several objectForKey’s.  Note, I propagate the nulls up so if an item is not found at any level, it can be checked once at the top level without crashing the app.

The small suite of related functions can be found at google code here, under BSD licence –


Just a note that Ive uploaded the initial version of vfuncs to google code. Ive released under a BSD license so you can use it in your commercial and noncommercial code easily.

Download from here [I'll import to SVN sometime soon]. See my previous post for a description of vfuncs.

This version contains an example of a digital filter. This can be used to smooth the series data, or apply other signal processing operations. If your familiar with applying a blur filter in photoshop or gimp, using a gaussian filter kernel, this is exactly the same idea (except in one dimension).  Gaussian filter is basically just a moving average of the data.

Think of the algorithm as applying a sliding window across the data – the sliding window contains the filter weights, and at each position you apply the weighted average [dot product] of the filter weights against each data point in the window.

If the filter contains a single element of weight 1.0, then the result is just the input (the filter is just the Dirac delta function in that case). If the filter contains [0.25 0.50 0.25] its going to mix each element with its neigbours and take a weighted average, thus smoothing the data.

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I want to describe a simple experiment Ive just done, a direct way to write code with medium level verbs in a semi-functional style in pure C.

All of this can be done in C++ and theres certainly more syntactic sugar there, but I wanted to explore the idea in C… C is close to the metal [but not too close, like assembler], compilers generate fairly good machine code, while the language supports a minimalist way to define functions [without lambdas, but we can use function pointers and context pointers to get that, if not in a type safe way].

Another approach would be to do it in C++ with operators and templates, much of it is reusable from STL and boost… yet another way would be to do it in ansi C and use MACROS heavily… but my experiment is to make simple, readable C code thats fairly quick.

In the K (terse) and Q (less terse) languages of KDB+, one can express something like this -

drawfrom:{[spec; vals; n]
mon: 0, sums nmlz spec; idx: mon bin n?1.0; vals[idx] }

Basically this reads -

function drawfrom(spec, vals, n)
mon = partial sums of spec (the cdf after normalizing to 1.0)
generate n random numbers uniformly in [0,1]
idx = array of indexes of each random sample into mon
return the values indexed by idx

So basically, this semi-functional zen kaon simply generates n random samples from the spectrum supplied.  Think of spec as the weights that determine how often each of vals appears – spec is a histogram or discrete pdf.  Actually this is the readable version, closer to Q than K, as Ive defined nmlz and used the verbose style – in K it can be much more ‘terse’ [proponents would say succinct].

At first this style of programming is annoying if your from a C++ background, but once you get used to it, you begin to think directly in terms of verbs working on vectors – In the same way that std::vector allows you to think at a higher level and avoid many for() loops by using accumulate and other languages the foreach construct…

So how does this look in C?  Try this -

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