[SciPy-user] Units in SciPy
rkern at ucsd.edu
Thu Mar 31 07:40:44 CST 2005
Duncan Child wrote:
> 3) does anyone have input or suggestions regarding the temperature issue?
I've thought about this a little more, and I would like to describe here
an outline of the system that I would like to see with examples drawn
from my current research.
One of the many things that Konrad got right was the name: the system is
dealing with physical quantities. The most general form would consist of
"numerical quantities tagged by their measurement system." A large
subset can be described as "numerical quantities with units." What we
need is a system that can perform operations and conversions between
measurement systems, some of which will be user-defined and arbitrarily
The methods for dealing with the unit-subset are sufficiently covered by
the currently available software. With the exception of certain, very
standard conversions like temperature scales, most of the
non-unit-subset must be user-defined.
Allow me to describe some of the many measurement systems in my current
project in more detail than you probably care; feel free to skip ahead.
I am a geophysicist. I am modelling the distribution of slip over a
fault surface during and after an earthquake. I am using measurements
from a local GPS network and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar
(InSAR: I get images of the very small displacements from each pixel
between two flyovers of a sattelite; it's kind of like having a very
dense GPS network that doesn't get sampled very often). My measurement
* Latitude and longitude of various entities: GPS stations, corners of
fault patches, the corners of my InSAR images
* Local northings, eastings, up (essentially the meters north, east,
and up from a given local reference point)
* X, Y, Z referenced to the fault geometry
* Pixels in the InSAR images
* Distance along-slip and along-dip on the fault (a location on the
plane of the fault place itself)
* Differential ground displacements of the GPS given a reference station
* Differential ground displacements from the InSAR images given a
reference pixel projected onto the line of sight of the satellite
* Absolute ground displacements given a slip model
* GPS time: seconds from an arbitrary start point, no leap seconds
* Satellite time: seconds from Jan 1 00:00 of the launch year of the
satellite, no leap seconds
* Calendrical time: leap seconds!
* Slip, rake: magnitude and direction of the slip for each fault patch
* Dip-slip, strike-slip: orthogonal slip components for each fault patch
* Green functions: observable displacements (GPS and InSAR) as a
function of slip across each fault patch
* Smoothing kernel: for regularizing my inverse problem
... and probably some more. Now, I don't claim that even given my dream
physical quantities system that I would commit all of these entities to
it. Some, like time, are more suited to the strategy of converting
everything as soon as it enters the picture. Others don't need
conversions between different measurement systems.
Skip to here if you are bored by geophysics.
I have found that I have been duplicating snippets of code, throwing
around little one-to-one conversion functions, or worst, just not
bothering with some task because it's too annoying to switch between
Here is my sketch of a physical quantities system:
Each quantity has a value, which can be anything reasonably number-like,
and measurement system, which probably should be a full-fledged object,
but perhaps could also be a string for standard shortcuts.
In: x = quantity(10.5, apples)
In: y = quantity(12, oranges)
There will exist a function for converting quantities from one system to
In: z = convert(x, oranges)
In the case of real, honest-to-goodness units like "m" and "degC" (the
differential kind, not absolute systems, not even Kelvin or Rankine),
converting falls down to the well-known algorithms.
Failing that, convert() will look for an appropriate conversion path
from all of the measurement system objects registered with it. This
lookup algorithm can be stolen from PyProtocols. Operations that can
be performed on quantities of a given measurement system will be defined
by the measurement system object.
For example, quantities in the (lat, lon) system can be converted to
(northings, eastings). To a (lat, lon) quantity, I can add or subtract a
unitted quantity of dimensions (length, length). I cannot add another
(lat, lon) quantity, but I can subtract it yielding a (length, length),
which, given a suitable context, can be converted to (range, azimuth).
Multiplication does not make sense, nor does division, but trigonometric
functions might depending on your use cases.
Of course, temperature scales fit neatly into this system. Since the
"shift-scale-shift" type of conversion happens reasonably often, a bit
of general-purpose scaffolding can be constructed for it and which the
temperature scales can use.
rkern at ucsd.edu
"In the fields of hell where the grass grows high
Are the graves of dreams allowed to die."
-- Richard Harter
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