4. Calling Functions¶
Python is capable of more than just simple arithmetic, of course. It provides many functions for performing other operations, like finding the absolute value of a number to computing the cosine of an angle.
4.1. Function Call Expressions¶
A function is a named piece of code that takes in zero or more inputs called arguments and (usually) returns something as output. One of Python’s simplest functions is called
abs. Unsurprisingly, it computes the absolute value of the number it is given as input. We can evaluate a function by writing its name, followed by the arguments inside parenthesis, like this:
A function call is an expression, meaning that it it evaluates to a value. Since it is an expression, we can store the result in a variable, as usual:
my_lucky_number = abs(-7) my_lucky_number
The arguments can be expressions themselves, meaning that things like this work:
x = 4 abs(2*x - 12)
And since function calls are expressions, they can be combined with other function calls:
abs(-4) + abs(-2)
4.2. Multiple Arguments¶
Some functions take more than one argument.
round, for instance, takes in a (decimal) number as well as the number of decimal places to round to. When we call a function with more than one argument, we separate the arguments with a comma:
Suppose we want to round a number like 721 to then tens’ place, so that it becomes 720. How do we do this with
round? To get a hint, we can ask Python for help:
Help on built-in function round in module builtins: round(number, ndigits=None) Round a number to a given precision in decimal digits. The return value is an integer if ndigits is omitted or None. Otherwise the return value has the same type as the number. ndigits may be negative.
This helpful message tells us that the second argument (which is here called
ndigits) may be negative. What happens if we try that?
A big part of learning to program is experimenting with code to see what does (and doesn’t) work. Luckily, Jupyter notebooks make this easy!
Another way to see a function’s help message in a Jupyter notebook is to write the function name, followed by
?. For instance, to see the documentation for the
round function, write
by itself in a code cell.
Suppose we need to calculate the base-2 logarithm of a number. Since
abs finds the absolute value, and
round rounds, we might expect
log to find the logarithm. Let’s try:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------- NameError Traceback (most recent call last) Cell In , line 1 ----> 1 log(1024) NameError: name 'log' is not defined
Uh oh, we get a
NameError. This is Python’s way of saying that the name we are referring to – in this case,
log – isn’t defined, meaning that the kernel doesn’t know of such a name.
It turns out that finding the logarithm isn’t popular enough to necessitate a built-in function. A built-in function is a function that is available by default in Python. But Python provides many more functions in what are called modules. Python comes with plenty of modules, but they are not loaded by default. Instead, we must import them.
For example, Python provides a whole variety of mathematical functions in the
math module (you can see all of them in the Python documentation). To import the math module, we write
Now we can use the various functions within the module. From looking at the Python documentation, we see that there is a function named
log2 that supposedly calculates the base-2 logarithm of a number. Let’s try it out. To call a function in a module, we must preface the function’s name with the module name followed by a dot, like this:
The math module has many other useful functions, like
math.sin for computing the sine of an angle, and
math.comb which will “Return the number of ways to choose k items from n items without repetition and without order.” The math module also contains variables, like
We saw in the previous section that the number of seconds in a year is
seconds_in_a_year = 60 * 60 * 24 * 365 seconds_in_a_year
It turns out that an easy approximation to the number of seconds in a year is \(\pi \times 10^7\):
approximation = math.pi * 10**7 approximation
How far away is the approximation from the true answer?
abs(approximation - seconds_in_a_year)
It appears to be about 120,000 seconds off.
How many days is 120,073 seconds? Write some code to calculate the answer and round it to two decimal places.
round(120_073 / (60 * 60 * 24), 2), which evaluates to 1.39 days.