[Numpy-discussion] feedback request: proposal to add masks to the core ndarray

Nathaniel Smith njs@pobox....
Fri Jun 24 22:59:53 CDT 2011

On Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 6:57 PM, Benjamin Root <ben.root@ou.edu> wrote:
> On Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 8:11 PM, Nathaniel Smith <njs@pobox.com> wrote:
>> This is a situation where I would just... use an array and a mask,
>> rather than a masked array. Then lots of things -- changing fill
>> values, temporarily masking/unmasking things, etc. -- come from free,
>> just from knowing how arrays and boolean indexing work?
> With a masked array, it is "for free".  Why re-invent the wheel?  It has
> already been done for me.

But it's not for free at all. It's an additional concept that has to
be maintained, documented, and learned (with the last cost, which is
multiplied by the number of users, being by far the greatest). It's
not reinventing the wheel, it's saying hey, I have wheels and axles,
but what I really need the library to provide is a wheel+axle

>> Do we really get much advantage by building all these complex
>> operations in? I worry that we're trying to anticipate and write code
>> for every situation that users find themselves in, instead of just
>> giving them some simple, orthogonal tools.
> This is the danger, and which is why I advocate retaining the MaskedArray
> type that would provide the high-level "intelligent" operations, meanwhile
> having in the core the basic data structures for  pairing a mask with an
> array, and to recognize a special np.NA value that would act upon the mask
> rather than the underlying data.  Users would get very basic functionality,
> while the MaskedArray would continue to provide the interface that we are
> used to.

The interface as described is quite different... in particular, all
aggregate operations would change their behavior.

>> As a corollary, I worry that learning and keeping track of how masked
>> arrays work is more hassle than just ignoring them and writing the
>> necessary code by hand as needed. Certainly I can imagine that *if the
>> mask is a property of the data* then it's useful to have tools to keep
>> it aligned with the data through indexing and such. But some of these
>> other things are quicker to reimplement than to look up the docs for,
>> and the reimplementation is easier to read, at least for me...
> What you are advocating is similar to the "tried-n-true" coding practice of
> Matlab users of using NaNs.  You will hear from Matlab programmers about how
> it is the greatest idea since sliced bread (and I was one of them).  Then I
> was introduced to Numpy, and I while I do sometimes still do the NaN
> approach, I realized that the masked array is a "better" way.

Hey, no need to go around calling people Matlab programmers, you might
hurt someone's feelings.

But seriously, my argument is that every abstraction and new concept
has a cost, and I'm dubious that the full masked array abstraction
carries its weight and justifies this cost, because it's highly
redundant with existing abstractions. That has nothing to do with how
tried-and-true anything is.

> As for documentation, on hard/soft masks, just look at the docs for the
> MaskedArray constructor:


-- Nathaniel

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