Description of the computational tool wasora


1 Introduction

Wasora is a free computational tool that essentially solves the mathematical equations that are usually encountered in the models that arise when studying and analyzing engineering systems. In particular, the code history and the development team (see appendix 5) is closely related to nuclear engineering and reactor analysis. Nevertheless, the code provides a number of basic mathematical algorithms and methods that make it suitable for solving problems in a wide variety of engineering and scientific applications, especially when dealing with dynamical systems. The main focus are parametric runs and multidimensional optimization of parameters that are themselves the results of the afore-mentioned models.

Even though wasora is a general mathematical framework, particular computations (such as specific finite-element formulations of problems or models of digital control systems) or features (such as real-time graphical outputs or the possibility to read ad-hoc binary data formats) may be implemented as dynamically-loadable plugins. The set of codes that comprise the wasora code plus its plugin is also known as the wasora suite (section 1.3).

The code is free software released under the terms of the GNU Public License version 3 or, at your option, any later version. Section 3 contains further details about the license of wasora.

1.1 What wasora is

Wasora should be seen as a syntactically-sweetened1 way to ask a computer to perform a certain mathematical calculation. For example, the famous Lorenz system [@lorenz63]

\begin{aligned} \dot{x} &= \sigma ~ (y - x) \\ \dot{y} &= x ~ (r - z) - y \\ \dot{z} &= xy - bz\end{aligned} may be solved by writing these three differential equations into a human-friendly plain-text input file that wasora reads and solves when executed:

Appendix [ap:run] illustrates how wasora should be invoked in order to solve each of the example input files shown in this document. It also shows the output and associated figures and graphics built out of wasora’s results.

As detailed in section 2, on the one hand wasora uses the UNIX idea of relying on existing libraries instead of re-implementing what other people have already done better. On the other hand, one of wasora’s golden rule is “simple problems ought to need simple inputs.” Therefore, it essentially consists of a high-level interface to low-level mathematical libraries so the final user can state the problem to be solved as simple as possible without wasting time and effort on unnecessary details. The example above should be compared with other ways of solving the Lorenz system, which may range from preparing a snippet of code to solve the equations (i.e. in C or Python) or using another computational tool (i.e. Octave or some non-free programs) that are not designed with syntactic sugar in mind as wasora is from the very beginning of its conception. For instance, in the example above, the parameters, initial conditions and actual differential equations are written in a natural way into a text file which is the read and solved by wasora. Moreover, the user does not need to get involved with tolerances or how to choose the time step in order to obtain convergence or other low-level details, although she may if she really needs to. This way, attention is paid to the part of the problem that is really important.

Wasora heavily relies on the GNU Scientific Library [@gsl] to perform many low-level mathematical operations, including one-dimensional function interpolation, numerical differentiation and integration, one and multi-dimensional root-finding, random and quasi-random number generation, non-linear fitting and minimization, amongst others. A convenient high-level access to many of the features the library provides is given by wasora, as illustrated in the following two-line example that finds and prints the location of the minimum of the function f(x) = \cos(x)+1 in the interval 0<x<6:

This example should be compared with section 34.8 of the GNU GSL manual [@gsl], that shows how to solve the same problem using a 65-lines-long source file written in C, which consists in preparation and calls to the library. In the same spirit, wasora solves systems of differential-algebraic equations (DAE) using the SUNDIALS IDA library [@sundials]. The Lorenz example above should also be compared to the examples of usage of the low-level API provided in the library documentation.

The main focus of wasora is the numerical solution of non-linear equations,2 which may represent either static or transient (i.e. time-dependent) models. Even more, an outer iterative scheme may be applied in order to perform parametric or optimization runs. In the case that the numerical methods provided by wasora through the GNU GSL and/or SUNDIALS IDA are not enough to model a certain problem, arbitrary user-provided code can be executed by loading dynamically-loadable shared objects. For even more complex or specific tasks (for example numerical routines coded in legacy Fortran code decades ago), a plugin may be implemented in such a way that new functionality is added to the code by interfacing with functions and administrative structures provided by wasora as an API. Many particular plug-ins may be loaded at the same time and can share data structures in order to perform coupled calculations.

Wasora is thus, on the one hand, a computational tool that can be used to solve complex mathematical problems in such a way that the details are kept in a background plane as long as they are not needed. On the other hand it provides a flexible and extensible computational framework in which to develop specific calculation codes in the same spirit.

1.2 What wasora is not

Wasora should not be seen as a programming language, because it is definitely not. If a certain problem can be better solved by coding a computer program, then it should not be solved using wasora. A set of definitions and instructions (which is what wasora inputs are) does not necessarily configure a computer program. Wasora is neither a high-performance computing (HPC) tool. As usual, high-level interfaces come at the cost of speed.

1.3 The wasora suite

The set of computational codes comprised of wasora and the plugins freely distributed under a GPL-compatible license plus other related tools (the script qdp and the documentation system techgdoc) is known as the wasora suite, namely

  • wasora: the main code that solves general mathematical problems and loads one or more plugins

  • skel: template to write a wasora plugin from scratch

  • besssugo: a graphical visualization plugin for wasora

  • milonga: core-level neutronic code that solves neutron diffusion or transport on unstructured grids

  • fino: plugin to solve general partial differential equations using the finite element method

  • waspy: plugin to execute python code within wasora

  • qdp: a shell script to generate scientific plots from the commandline

  • techgdoc: a set of scripts and macros that help to create, modify and track technical documents

These codes share a common framework (the wasora framework) and are written in the same spirit. Many of them make extensive use of other free libraries (e.g. PETSc, SLEPc, SDL). They are hosted on Bitbucket using a distributed version control system (either Git or Mercurial). The list of codes can be accessed at

https://bitbucket.org/wasora

Besides the repository with the code itself, each project contains a wiki and an issue tracker. A public mailing list is available at wasora@seamplex.com. Contributions are welcome by first forking the tree and then sending back a pull request.

There exist other plugins that involve private know-how and which are meant to be used within a certain company (i.e. not to be distributed). These plugins (for example pcex and dynetz) are considered private (not privative) and are not part of the wasora suite.

2 Design basis overview

The code was designed according to how a computational code that should serve as an aid to a cognizant engineer such as wasora was supposed to behave, from the original author’s humble point of view. The original development began before he actually read Eric Raymond’s 17 rules of UNIX Philosophy (appendix 6), but it turned out that they were more or less implicitly followed. This section briefly reviews some design decisions that affect how wasora works.

2.1 Types of problems

Wasora performs a series of mathematical and logical algorithms in order to solve the equations that model real physical systems of interest. These equations include both static and transient problems. Static problems may involve many steps, for example, to solve a non-linear problem by performing several iterations. Transient problems may involve one or more static computations at t=0, such as in the case suitable initial conditions are the result of non-linear equations. The number of static steps is given by the special variable static_steps. After the static computation, the time t advances either by explicitly setting a time step dt (which may change with t) or by allowing the DAE solver to choose an appropriate value for dt. The computation (either static or transient) ends when t exceeds a special variable called end_time or when the special variable done is set to a value different from zero.

Single-step static problems can be used to compute a simple mathematical expression such as

or to solve a more complex but still one-step problem

or to evaluate a function at several points. For example, the following function f(x) gives only prime numbers when x is an integer:

Multi-step static problems are employed to solve iterative problems. For example, the Fibonacci sequence may be generated iteratively with the following input:

Transient problems may advance time either by explicitly setting the special variable dt

or by writing a DAE equation and letting wasora (actually IDA) take care of handling the time steps:

Engineers usually need to analyze how systems respond to changes in the input parameters. Therefore, wasora provides a convenient way to perform parametric computations by solving the same problem several times with different input parameters. Wasora can sweep a multidimensional parameter space in a certain pre-defined way (for example by sampling parameters using a quasi-random number sequence to perform a parametric computation) or by employing a certain recipe in order to find extrema of a scalar function of the parameters (for example using conjugate gradients to minimize a cost function). This sweep is obtained by performing an outer iterative loop, which ends either when the parameter space is exhausted by reaching the specified number of outer steps or by convergence of the minimization algorithm.

For instance, the logistic map x_n = r\cdot x_{n-1}(1-x_{n-1}) can be studied by solving it for different values of the parameter r sampling a certain range with a quasi-random number sequence:

Instead of sweeping the parameter space, one may want wasora to automatically find the best suitable value for one or more parameters following a certain recipe (e.g. conjugate gradients or Nelder & Mead simple method). The figure to be minimized can be any result computed by wasora, including the result of solving a system of non-linear DAE equations. The following example computes what is the needed reactivity step in order to increase the flux level of a nuclear reactor exactly 2% in 20 seconds:

A particular case of multidimensional minimization problems is that of parameter fitting. For example, the following input uses the binding energy per nucleon as a function of N and Z to fit Weizsäcker’s semi-empirical mass formula to predict the mass of isotopes [@weizsacker]:

\frac{B}{A}(A,Z) \approx a_1 - a_2 \cdot A^{-1/3} - a_3 \cdot Z(Z-1) A^{-4/3} - a_4 \cdot (A-2Z)^2 A^{-2} + a_5 \cdot \delta \cdot A^{-\gamma} where

\delta = \begin{cases} +1 & \text{for even-$A$ and even-$Z$} \\ 0 & \text{for odd-$A$} \\ -1 & \text{for even-$A$ and odd-$Z$} \\ \end{cases}

To summarize, wasora solves one or more outer iterations (parametric, minimization or fit), each one consisting of

  1. one or more static steps, up to static_steps

  2. zero or more transient steps, until t > end_time or done \neq 0 (one step for each t)

2.2 Input

As already seen in the examples reviewed in the previous section, wasora reads a plain-text input file containing keywords that define the problem to be solved. There are some basic rules that wasora follows, namely

  1. the problem definition and its associated math should be entered as naturally as possible,

  2. whenever a numerical value is expected, any valid algebraic expression may be entered,

  3. arguments should not be position-dependent, they have to be preceded by a self-explanatory keyword, and

  4. simple problems ought to need simple inputs.

Input files contain English-based keywords that are either definitions (such as PHASE_SPACE) or instructions (such as PRINT). These keywords take zero or more arguments, usually by means of other secondary keywords. For example, when defining a matrix one may explicitly state the number of rows and columns using the secondary keywords ROWS and COLS of the primary keyword MATRIX:

Some other mathematical tools may give a keyword or an API call with three arguments: a name, a number of rows and a number of columns that should be given in a certain order and one has to refer to the manual to check which one is the appropriate. This behavior in non-compact3 and in principle is deliberately avoided by the wasora design.

The input file is parsed by wasora at run-time. The following example illustrates and annotates some features of the parser:

# this file shows some particularities about the wasora parser

# there are primary and secondary keywords, in this case
# PRINT is the primary keyword and TEXT is the secondary, which
# takes a single token as an argument, in this case the word hello
PRINT TEXT hello

# if the text to be printed contains a space, double quotes should be used:
PRINT TEXT "hello world"
# if the text to be printed contains quotes, they should be escaped:
PRINT TEXT "hello \"world\""

# it does not matter if the argument is a string or an expression, whenever
# a certain argument is expected, either spaces are to be remove or
# the arguments should be enclosed in double quotes:
PRINT 1 + 1    # the parser will read three different keywords
PRINT "1 + 1"  # this is the correct way to compute 1+1
PRINT 1+1      # this line also works becasue there are no spaces

# you already guessed it, to insert comments, use the hash `#` character
PRINT sqrt(2)/2     # comments may appear in the same line as a keyword

# in case a hash character is expected to appear literally in an argument
# it should be escaped to prevent wasora to ignore the rest of the line:
PRINT TEXT "\# this is a commented output line"  # this is a wasora comment 

# secondary keywords and/or arguments can be given in different lines either by
# a. using a continuation marker composed of a single backslash:
PRINT sqrt(2)/2 \
      sin(pi/4) \
      cos(pi/4)
# b. enclosing the lines within brackets `{` and `}`
PRINT sqrt(2)/2 {
      sin(pi/4)
      # comments may appear inside brackets (but not within continued lines)
      cos(pi/4) }

# arguments may be given in the command line after the input file
# they are referred to as $1, $2, etc. and are literally used
# i.e. they can appear as arguments or even keywords
# if a $n expressions appears in the input file but less than n
# arguments were provided, wasora complains
# this behavior can be avoided by giving a default value:
DEFAULT_ARGUMENT_VALUE 1 world
DEFAULT_ARGUMENT_VALUE 2 2

PRINT TEXT "hello $1"
PRINT sqrt($2)/$2

# try executing this input as
# $ wasora parser.was WORLD
# $ wasora parser.was WORLD 3

# if a literal dollar sign is part of an argument, quote it with a backslash:
PRINT TEXT "argument \$1 is $1"

In general, the term table is avoided throughout wasora. Functions are functions and vectors are vectors. Functions may be algebraically-defined and then evaluated to construct a vector whose components can be copied into a shared-memory object. Or a function can be defined point-wise from a set of values given by a vector (maybe read from a shared-memory object) and then interpolated:

Again, functions are functions and vectors are vectors. This is one loose example of the application of the rule of representation and the rule of least surprise, which are two of the seventeen rules of UNIX Philosophy listed in appendix 6.

2.3 Output

The main design decision in wasora regarding output is

  1. output is completely defined by the user

In particular, if no instructions about what to write as the computation output, nothing is written (rule of silence). In principle, output refers to plain-text output including both the terminal (which may be redirected to a file nevertheless) and ASCII files. But it also refers to binary files and to POSIX shared-memory objects and semaphores, which wasora is able to write to (and of course read from also).

This feature is actually a thorough implementation of the rule of economy. Back in the seventies, when memory was scarce and CPU time expensive, it made sense in scientific/engineering software to compute and output as many results as possible in a single run. Nowadays (mid 2010s), most of the every-day computations we engineers have to perform take just a few seconds. And as indeed our cost far exceeds current CPU time, it now makes sense to compute just what the user needs instead of having to find a needle in a haystack (i.e. post-processing a fixed-format output file). Should another result be needed, another PRINT instruction is added and wasora is re-run to obtain the desired figure. It will be exactly in the expected location.

Besides the fact that output is user defined, some instructions will actually write information in a pre-defined way. For example, the instruction PRINT_FUNCTION writes the values that one or more functions take at certain points of the independent variables as an ASCII representation of numbers in a column-wise function—first the independent variables and then the dependent one (or ones if the user asked for more than one function). In this regard, attention was paid to the rule of composition, the rule of separation and the rule of parsimony. If the user wants to plot an interpolated two-dimensional function of a certain data set, she would be better off by feeding the ASCII output generated by wasora into a dedicated plotting program such as Gnuplot, Pyxplot or Paraview instead of trying to use whatever lame plotting capabilities that may be coded into wasora.

2.4 Implementation

Wasora is implemented as an executable that reads one plain-text input file (which may further include other files) and executes a set of instructions. Essentially it is best suited for execution in GNU/Linux, as wasora was born and designed within the UNIX philosophy (see section 2.5 below). The usage of wasora in non-UNIX and/or non-free environments is highly discouraged. It is really worth any amount of time and effort to get away from Windows if you are doing computational science.

I first started coding it in C [@kr] (see appendix 5) because it is the language I feel most comfortable with. But then I stumbled upon the concept of glue layer [@raymond] and everything started to add up. In effect, wasora is a glue layer between the user at a high level and a bunch of low-level numerical algorithms, most of them from the GNU Scientific Library [@gsl] and the SUNDIALS IDA library [@sundials]. It is therefore appropriate to use C as the programming language. Besides, wasora makes extensive use of complex data structures such as linked lists, hash tables and function pointers in order to reduce the complexity of the algorithms involved (rule of representation). Again, the C Programming Language is the appropriate choice for this endeavor because for example Fortran was not designed to manage complex data structures and does not provide flexible mechanisms for handling such added complexity (or at least not in a thorough and native way). On the other hand C++ adds much more complexity than the threshold needed without a net gain.

The development originally started in 2009 as a re-write of some real-time fuzzy-logic control software I wrote for my undergraduate and masters’ thesis [@theler2007; @theler2008] in my free time. Shortly after, I realized that the code was suitable for the usage in my everyday chores at the company TECNA working as a contractor for the completion of the Atucha II Nuclear Power Plant. Further development was continued both at TECNA and in my free time, with other people contributing with bug reports, ideas for enhancements and actual code. First versions (series 0.1.x) used Subversion as the version control system. Then we switched to Bazaar for the 0.2.x versions to finally converge to Mercurial since the 0.3.x series. Current version (as of 2016) is 0.4.x.

As knowing exactly which version of the code is being used to run a certain computation, versions in wasora change with each commit to the control version system. So the x above increases with each commit, including merges. Of course, when using distributed control version systems one cannot guarantee that there are no independent commits that result in the same version number with the proposed scheme. However, by hosting the repository in Bitbucket we can minimize the issues of duplicate commits, that will appear only in private forks. Nevertheless, not only does wasora report the major-minor-revision version number but it also reports the actual SHA1 hash of the changeset used to compile the binary. Moreover, if the Mercurial working tree contains uncommitted changes, a +\Delta4 is appended to the hash string. So, if wasora is called with no arguments, it reports the version, the hash and the date of the last commit:

The \Delta shows that this particular version of wasora was compiled from a tree that has some modifications with respect to the last commit. After committing the changes and calling the executable with the -v (or –version) argument in the command line, we get rid of the \Delta and obtain further details about the binary executable:

2.5 Wasora and the UNIX philosophy

As can be seen in the detailed output of wasora -v, wasora is linked against three libraries. The first is the GNU Scientific Library, which implements most of the numerical method used to solve the mathematical problem defined in the input file (function interpolation, integration, differentiation, root finding, data fitting, etc.). The second library is SUNDIALs IDA and is optional. It is used to solve differential-algebraic equations (referred to as DAEs, i.e. a generalization of ordinary differential equations or ODEs), which is a very useful feature wasora provides and may be the central issue for many users. The third one is also optional, and is the GNU Readline library which is used for a debugger-like interactive interface that wasora can provide for transient problems. A very basic scheme of breakpoints and watches can be used to track the evolution of complex time-dependent problems, normally needed only by advanced users.

Although it may be difficult for new users to get all the needed libraries compiled and installed, the usage of third-party libraries—especially free and open high-quality math libraries designed by mathematicians and coded by computer scientists— instead of hard-coding particular poorly-coded routines into the source code is one of the most important aspects of the UNIX philosophy [@raymond], in which wasora was first born and conceptually designed. In effect, appendix 6 summarizes the seventeen rules of UNIX philosophy compiled by @raymond. Some of them were deliberately used when programming wasora, but some others were just implicit consequences of the programming style used in wasora.

3 License

Wasora is free software—both as in free speech and as in free beer, although the first meaning is far more important than the second one—and is distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License version 3. In words of the Free Software Foundation,

Nobody should be restricted by the software they use. There are four freedoms that every user should have:

  1. the freedom to use the software for any purpose,

  2. the freedom to change the software to suit your needs,

  3. the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors, and

  4. the freedom to share the changes you make.

When a program offers users all of these freedoms, we call it free software.

Developers who write software can release it under the terms of the GNU GPL. When they do, it will be free software and stay free software, no matter who changes or distributes the program. We call this copyleft: the software is copyrighted, but instead of using those rights to restrict users like proprietary software does, we use them to ensure that every user has freedom.

Not only does wasora provide all the four basic freedoms to the software user, but it also encourages her to study, understand, analyze and hack it. And of course, to share the associated discoveries, suggestions, improvements and fixed bugs under the terms of the GNU GPL—especially with wasora’s original author. To sum up:

Wasora is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

Wasora is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

4 How to refer to wasora

Wasora means “Wasora’s an Advanced Suite for Optimization & Reactor Analysis”, which is of course a recursive acronym as in “GNU’s Not Unix” and in “to understand recursion one has first to understand recursion.” The code name should always be written using lowercase letters, except when it starts a sentence. In such case, the “W” should be capitalized. The expression “WASORA” ought to be avoided because

  1. words written in uppercase letters ANNOY READERS

  2. names written in uppercase letters remind of old-fashioned inflexible poorly-coded Fortran-based engineering programs

4.1 Pronunciation

The name is originally Spanish, so it should be pronounced /wɒ’sɔɹɑ/ although the English variation /wɒ’soʊɹɑ/ and even the German version /vɒ’sɔɹɑ/ are accepted.

4.2 Logo and graphics

The official wasora logotype is shown in figure [fig:logoa]. The original is a vector image in SVG format that can be found in the doc subdirectory of the wasora repository [fig:logob]. Usage in the form of other vector formats (e.g. PDF or EPS) is allowed. Conversion to lossless-compressed bitmap formats (e.g. PNG or TIFF) is discouraged but may be needed if the media format does not support vector graphics (note that HTML does support plain SVG). Conversion to compressed bitmap formats with pixel-level degradation (i.e. JPEG) is forbidden.

The logo is distributed under the terms of the GNU GPLv3. It may be freely modified as long as the distribution satifies the license and the author of the modifications claims copyright on the changes only.

5 Development history

It was at the movies when I first heard about dynamical systems, non-linear equations and chaos theory. The year was 1993, I was ten years old and the movie was Jurassic Park. Dr. Ian Malcolm (the character played by Jeff Goldblum) explained sensitivity to initial conditions in a memorable scene, which is worth to watch again and again (figure [fig:jurassicpark]). Since then, the fact that tiny variations may lead to unexpected results has always fascinated me. During high school I attended a very interesting course on fractals and chaos that made me think further about complexity and its mathematical description. Nevertheless, not until college was I able to really model and solve the differential equations that give rise to chaotic behavior.

Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) explaining the concept of sensitivity to initial conditions in chaotic systems in the 1993 movie Jurassic Park.
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) explaining the concept of sensitivity to initial conditions in chaotic systems in the 1993 movie Jurassic Park.

In fact, initial-value ordinary differential equations arise in a great variety of subjects in science and engineering. Classical mechanics, chemical kinetics, structural dynamics, heat transfer analysis and dynamical systems, amongst other disciplines, heavily rely on equations of the form

\dot{\vec{x}} = \vec{F}(\vec{x})

During my years of undergraduate student, whenever I faced these kind of equations, I had to choose one of the following three options:

  1. program an ad-hoc numerical method such as Euler or Runge-Kutta, matching the requirements of the system of equations to solve

  2. use a standard numerical library such as the GNU Scientific Libary and code the equations to solve into a C program (or maybe in Python)

  3. use a high-level system such as Octave, Maxima, or some non-free (and worse) programs5

Of course, each option had its pros and its cons. But none provided the combination of advantages I was looking for, namely flexibility (option one), efficiency (option two) and reduced input work (partially given by option three). Back in those days I ended up wandering between options one and two, depending on the type of problem I had to solve. However, even though one can with some effort make the code read some parameters from a text file, any other drastic change usually requires a modification in the source code—some times involving a substantial amount of work—and a further recompilation of the code. This was what I most disliked about this way of working, but I could nevertheless live with it.

Regardless of this situation, during my last year of Nuclear Engineering, I ran into a nuclear reactor model that especially called my attention and forced me to re-think the ODE-solving problem issue. The model was implemented in a certain non-free software which I had been told was the actual panacea for the engineering community—and yet I was using for the very first time. When I opened the file and took a look at something that I was told was a graphical representation of the model, I was not able to understand any of the several screens the model contained. Afterward, somebody explained to me that a set of unintelligible blocks that were somehow interconnected in a rather cumbersome way was how the reactor power was computed. I wish I had a copy of the screen in order to illustrate how shocking it was to me.

The equation represented by what seemed to me as a complex topology problem was as simple as [@stability-nucengdes]

\frac{d\phi}{dt} = \frac{\rho - \beta}{\Lambda} + \sum_{i=1}^{I} \lambda_i \cdot c_i

My first reaction was to ask why someone would prefer such a cumbersome representation instead of writing something like

in a plain-text file and let a computer program parse and solve it. I do not remember what the teacher’s answer was, and I still do not understand why would somebody prefer to solve a very simple differential equation by drawing blocks and connecting them with a mouse with no mathematical sense whatsoever.

That morning I realized that in order to transform a user-defined string representing a differential equation into something that an ODE-solving library such as the GNU Scientific Library would understand, only a good algebraic parser plus some simple interface routines were needed. The following two years were very time-consuming for me, so I was not able to undertake such a project. Nevertheless, eventually I earned a Master’s Degree in 2008 [@theler2008] and afterward my focus shifted away from academic projects into the nuclear industry and some gaps of time for freelance programming popped up. I started to write wasora from scratch in my free time, and one of the first features I included was an adaptation of a small algebraic parser posted online6 (which should be replaced by a more efficient tree-based parser), freely available under the Creative Commons License. Before I became aware, I was very close to arriving at a tool that would have met my needs when I was an engineering student. Moreover, a tool like this one would have been extremely helpful during the course on non-linear dynamics I took back in 1999. With some luck, it would also meet somebody else’s needs as well. This is how wasora entered into the scene.

From this point onward, the development continued as explained in section 2.4 in page .

6 Raymond’s 17 rules of UNIX philosophy

These are briefly Eric Raymond’s 17 rules of UNIX philosophy as discussed in “The Art of UNIX Programming” [@raymond], which of course is a word game to Donald Knuth’s “The Art of Computer Programming” [@knuth]. Both references are a great source of inspiration for wasora in particular and for my professional life in general.

Rule of Modularity

Developers should build a program out of simple parts connected by well defined interfaces, so problems are local, and parts of the program can be replaced in future versions to support new features. This rule aims to save time on debugging code that is complex, long, and unreadable.

Rule of Clarity

Developers should write programs as if the most important communication is to the developer, including themself, who will read and maintain the program rather than the computer. This rule aims to make code readable and comprehensible for whoever works on the code in future.

Rule of Composition

Developers should write programs that can communicate easily with other programs. This rule aims to allow developers to break down projects into small, simple programs rather than overly complex monolithic programs.

Rule of Separation

Developers should separate the mechanisms of the programs from the policies of the programs; one method is to divide a program into a front-end interface and back-end engine that interface communicates with. This rule aims to let policies be changed without destabilizing mechanisms and consequently reducing the number of bugs.

Rule of Simplicity

Developers should design for simplicity by looking for ways to break up program systems into small, straightforward cooperating pieces. This rule aims to discourage developers’ affection for writing “intricate and beautiful complexities” that are in reality bug prone programs.

Rule of Parsimony

Developers should avoid writing big programs. This rule aims to prevent overinvestment of development time in failed or suboptimal approaches caused by the owners of the program’s reluctance to throw away visibly large pieces of work. Smaller programs are not only easier to optimize and maintain; they are easier to delete when deprecated.

Rule of Transparency

Developers should design for visibility and discoverability by writing in a way that their thought process can lucidly be seen by future developers working on the project and using input and output formats that make it easy to identify valid input and correct output. This rule aims to reduce debugging time and extend the lifespan of programs.

Rule of Robustness

Developers should design robust programs by designing for transparency and discoverability, because code that is easy to understand is easier to stress test for unexpected conditions that may not be foreseeable in complex programs. This rule aims to help developers build robust, reliable products.

Rule of Representation

Developers should choose to make data more complicated rather than the procedural logic of the program when faced with the choice, because it is easier for humans to understand complex data compared with complex logic. This rule aims to make programs more readable for any developer working on the project, which allows the program to be maintained.

Rule of Least Surprise

Developers should design programs that build on top of the potential users’ expected knowledge; for example, ‘+’ should always mean addition in a calculator program. This rule aims to encourage developers to build intuitive products that are easy to use.

Rule of Silence

Developers should design programs so that they do not print unnecessary output. This rule aims to allow other programs and developers to pick out the information they need from a program’s output without having to parse verbosity.

Rule of Repair

Developers should design programs that fail in a manner that is easy to localize and diagnose or in other words “fail noisily”. This rule aims to prevent incorrect output from a program from becoming an input and corrupting the output of other code undetected.

Rule of Economy

Developers should value developer time over machine time, because machine cycles today are relatively inexpensive compared to prices in the 1970s. This rule aims to reduce development costs of projects.

Rule of Generation

Developers should avoid writing code by hand and instead write abstract high-level programs that generate code. This rule aims to reduce human errors and save time.

Rule of Optimization

Developers should prototype software before polishing it. This rule aims to prevent developers from spending too much time for marginal gains.

Rule of Diversity

Developers should design their programs to be flexible and open. This rule aims to make programs flexible, allowing them to be used in other ways than their developers intended.

Rule of Extensibility

Developers should design for the future by making their protocols extensible, allowing for easy plugins without modification to the program’s architecture by other developers, noting the version of the program, and more. This rule aims to extend the lifespan and enhance the utility of the code the developer writes.


  1. Quote from Wikipedia, “In computer science, syntactic sugar is syntax within a programming language that is designed to make things easier to read or to express. It makes the language sweeter for human use: things can be expressed more clearly, more concisely, or in an alternative style that some may prefer”.

  2. Actually, wasora’s main focus is to help engineers to cope with the non-linear equations that appear in their chores. These include analysis and interpolation of data generated by other computational codes.

  3. Compactness is the property that a design can fit inside a human being’s head. A good practical test for compactness is this: Does an experienced user normally need a manual? If not, then the design (or at least the subset of it that covers normal use) is compact. See section “Compactness and Orthogonality” in chapter 4 of reference [@raymond]

  4. This glyph can be seen only in operating systems with native UTF8 support.

  5. I will not name such privative programs so I do not encourage new generations to even know their name. Non-free software, especially scientific and academic software, is evil. Avoid it at any cost.

  6. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1384811/code-golf-mathematical-expression-evaluator-that-respects-pemdas