Archive for March, 2011

Snippet: Class that never raises AttributeError

Sometimes we’d like to have a class that is tolerant of attribute accesses that weren’t anticipated at class design time, returning a default ‘None’ value for an uninitialized attribute. Using defaultdict to override the `__dict__` attribute makes this very easy:

from collections import defaultdict

class X(object):
    def __init__(self):
        self.__dict__ = defaultdict(lambda : None)
    def __getattr__(self, attr):
        return self.__dict__[attr]

Now we can initialize an object with some attributes, but access others and get back the default None:

x = X()
x.color = "RED"
x.size = 6

print x.color
print x.size
print x.material



Of course, this defeats a key validation feature in Python, so you’ll need to take extra care that you specify attributes correctly.

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Snippet: sgn function

From time to time, I find that I need a function to return +1, 0, or -1 representing the sign of a value: +1 or -1 for positive or negative values, or 0 for a zero value. I remember learning this as the sgn function in high school. Python’s standard lib leaves this out, but does supply cmp as a built-in, so the standard approach would probably be to define sgn using:

sgn = lambda x : cmp(x,0)

I found a nice website of Bit-Twiddling Hacks the other day, and it had a nice alternative for sgn, which in Python would be:

sgn = lambda x : (x>0) - (x<0)

The elegance of this appeals to me and I did a quick timing pass:

C:\Users\Paul>python -m timeit "[cmp(x,0) for x in (-100,0,14)]"
1000000 loops, best of 3: 0.645 usec per loop

C:\Users\Paul>python -m timeit "[lambda x:x>0 - x<0 for x in (-100,0,14)]"
1000000 loops, best of 3: 0.496 usec per loop

So by cutting out the repeated function calls to cmp, this also has the benefit of being just a tad faster.

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Snippet: Uniquify a sequence, preserving order

I came across some code today that used a set to keep track of previously seen values while iterating over a sequence, keeping just the not-seen-before items. A brute force kind of thing:

seen = set()
unique = []
for item in sequence:
    if not item in seen:

I remembered that I had come up with a simple form of this a while ago, using a list comprehension to do this in a single expression. I dug up the code, and wrapped it up in a nice little method. This version accepts any sequence or generator, and makes an effort to return a value of the same type as the input sequence:

def unique(seq):
    """Function to keep only the unique values supplied in a given 
       sequence, preserving original order."""
    # determine what type of return sequence to construct
    if isinstance(seq, (list,tuple)):
        returnType = type(seq)
    elif isinstance(seq, basestring):
        returnType = type(seq)('').join
        # - generators and their ilk should just return a list
        returnType = list

        seen = set()
        return returnType(item for item in seq if not (item in seen or seen.add(item)))
    except TypeError:
        # sequence items are not of a hashable type, can't use a set for uniqueness
        seen = []
        return returnType(item for item in seq if not (item in seen or seen.append(item)))

My first pass at this tried to compare the benefit of using a list vs. a set for seen – it turns out, both versions are useful, in case the items in the incoming sequence aren’t hashable, in which case the only option for seen is a list.

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