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Jupyter and JupyterLab: A first computational notebook


Teaching: 0 min
Exercises: 20 min
  • What does a simple notebook with some analysis look like?
  • How can keyboard shortcuts speed up my work?
  • Get started with notebooks for analysis.
  • Practice common keyboard shortcuts.
  • Get a feeling for the importance of execution order

Creating a computational narrative

Let’s create our first real computational narrative in a Jupyter notebook.

Adapted from

Imagine you are on a desert island and wish to compute $\pi$. You have a computer with you with Python installed but no math libraries and no Wikipedia.

Here is one way of doing it - “throwing darts” by generating random points within a square area and checking whether the points fall within the unit circle.

Calculating $\pi$ using Monte Carlo methods

  1. Create a new notebook, name it, and add a heading.
  2. Document the relevant formulas in a new cell:
     - square area = $(2 r)^2$
     - circle area = $\pi r^2$
     - circle / square = $\pi r^2 / 4 r^2$ = $\pi / 4$
     - $\pi = (circle/square) * 4$
  3. Add an image to explain the concept:
  4. Import random module:
    import random
  5. Initialize variables:
    N = 1000
    points = []
  6. “Throw darts”:
    hits = 0
    for i in range(N):
     x, y = random.random(), random.random()
     if x**2 + y**2 < 1:
         hits += 1
         points.append((x,y, True))
         points.append((x,y, False))
  7. Plot results:
    %matplotlib inline
    from matplotlib import pyplot
    x, y, colors = zip(*points)
    pyplot.scatter(x, y, c=colors)
  8. Compute final estimate of $\pi$:
    fraction = hits / N
    4 * fraction

What do we get from this?

  • With code separate from everything else, you might just send one number or a plot to your supervisor for checking.
  • With a notebook as a narratives, you send everything in a consistent story.
  • A reader may still just read the introduction and conclusion, but they can easily see more - and try changes themselves - if they want.

Key points

  • Notebooks provide an intuitive way to perform interactive computational work.

  • Allows fast feedback in your test-code-refactor loop (see test-driven development).

  • Cells can be executed in any order, beware of out-of-order execution bugs!

  • Keyboard shortcuts can save you time and protect your wrists.