1月 222011

Calculate the factorial of 171 (171!)? Just TRY! It is equal to 171*170*169*….2*1.

1. Google calculator

As Google fanatics, I first try to search the answer via Google:


Whoops, nothing interested returned! Type “170!” and get the output:

Google170 Why kinda things happened in this calculator? 171! is just equal to 171*170!.

2. Excel

Switch to Excel spreadsheet. Function fact(*) used:

Excel170 Excel171 Oo, interesting. The same.

3. SAS

Google and Excel may be the niche players in calculators’ family. Why not try to use some programming languages?

As a SAS programmer, my handy tool is SAS of course.

First, I use SAS data step with its build-in function fact(*):

data _null_;
    put x= y=;

and I get

NOTE: Invalid argument to function FACT at line 49 column 7.
x=7.257416E306 y=.
x=7.257416E306 y=. _ERROR_=1 _N_=1
NOTE: Mathematical operations could not be performed at the following places. The results of the operations have been set to missing values.

Expected or unexpected? I don’t know how this fact(*) function is defined, and  try to define a function to calculate the factorials by myself. In SAS 9.2, you can use PROC FCMP(also available at 9.1.3 as a experimental procedure):

proc fcmp outlib = work.funcs.math ;
    function factorial(k) ;
        if k = 0 then return(1) ;
        z = k ; *preserve k ;
        x = factorial(k-1) ;
        k = z ; *recover k ;
        k = k * x ;
        return(k) ;
    endsub ;
quit ;

options cmplib=work.funcs ;

Use this self-defined function to get 170!

proc fcmp ;
    x = factorial (170) ;
    put x = ;
run ;

The FCMP procedure returns


Try to calculate 171! ?

proc fcmp ;
    y = factorial (171) ;
    put y = ;
run ;

Just get the overflow error. The interaction stops at 170!:

ERROR: An overflow occurred during execution in function ‘factorial’ in statement number 7 at   line 10 column 1.
       The statement was:
    1      (10:1)    k = (k=171) * (x=7.257416E306)

The above function definitions use recursion. Recursion may have some limitation on efficiency. We could try the loop without recursion. SAS/IML doesn’t support recursion. Let SAS/IML to the court:

proc iml;
    start factorial (n);
        do i=1 to n;
        return (fact);
    finish factorial;

    x= factorial (170);
    print x;

    y= factorial (171);
    print y;

Again, I get 170!


and a overflow error for 171!

            y= factorial (171);
ERROR: Overflow error in *.

Turing, Von Neumann and Tony, what happened?

4. R

When SAS failed, lots of voices pop up: use R! OK, Rction!

> x=factorial(170);x
[1] 7.257416e+306
> y=factorial(171);y
Warning message:
In factorial(171) : value out of range in ‘gammafn’
[1] Inf

5. C++

I don’t want to lose my patience. Think C++(use both recursive and non-recursive methods):

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

double factRecursive(double num);
double factNonRecursive(double num);

int main()
    cout<<"Recursive: the factorial of 170 is "<<factRecursive(170)<<endl;
    cout<<"Recursive: the factorial of 171 is "<<factRecursive(171)<<endl;

    cout<<"NonRecursive: the factorial of 170 is "<<factNonRecursive(170)<<endl;
    cout<<"NonRecursive: the factorial of 171 is "<<factNonRecursive(171)<<endl;

return 0;

double factRecursive (double num)
    if (num==0)
        return 1;
        return num*factRecursive(num-1);

double factNonRecursive (double num)
    double fact=1;
    for (double i=2;i<=num;i++) fact *=i;
    return fact;

Unfortunately, same story once more:


Well. The story’s played out like this. It may be not the limitable of the language but the machine. I check which is the largest numbers my computer supports:

#include <iostream>
#include <cfloat>

using namespace std;

int main()
  cout<<"maxinum double value of machine: "<<DBL_MAX<<endl;
  return 0;

maxinum double value of machine: 1.79769e+308

Now everything’s in the open. The factorial of 170 is about 7.257416e+306. 171! is too big to be supported by my PC.

(Note: I put these codes in, a online complier. if you don’t have any C++ complier in your machine, you can see the codes and outputs in:  and

6. WolframAlpha

Struggled for hours, I turn to WolframAlpha computing platform. It returns the factorial of 171 AT LAST:

WA171 WA171_s  AT LAST we know the factorial of 171 has 310 digits.

7. Windows Calculator

I try to use Windows build-in calculator. Amazing, it is powerful:


8. Python

Return to programming language.  First, I defined a function(recursive version) in Python and then use its MATH library:

>>> def factorial(n):

    if n==0:

        return 1


        return n*factorial(n-1)

>>> factorial(170)







>>> factorial(171)







>>> import math

>>> math.factorial(171)







Amazing, Python beats up C++!

(to be continued :

Too Big to Be Accurate(2): Approximation


Recursion: Biblical Evidences

 Logic, recursion  Recursion: Biblical Evidences已关闭评论
11月 062010


             To Iterate is Human, to Recurse, Divine. 

      –by L. Peter Deutsch, creator of Ghostscript. (I also love his saying “The best thing about a Boolean is even if you are wrong, you are only off by a bit”)

I learned this quote from Tony Barr, designer and developer of SAS (the Statistical Analysis System).  He also used the Recursive Descent method to develop SAS complier. Now Tony is working for AMOR (A Model of Reality). AMOR is the self-defining system for modeling ideas and concepts (or human knowledge).—Recurse again: in AMOR, the type is defined by the type of type, and, the type of type is also defined by the type of type of type . . .

To help to understand the DIVINE part of recursion, Tony gave two examples from the Bible:

1. The Golden Rule is recursive.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (see Matthew 7:12, or Luke 6:31)

2. God indentify himself in a recursive way.

Moses asked God for his name. Then God said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” (see Exodus 3.14)

I’d like add two items (from a programmer’s perspective rather than Biblical Theology):

3. Recursion at the very start

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (see John 1.1; also see here)

4. The Trinity recursive way

First, there is only one God in Christian doctrine. God the Son duplicates the nature of God the Father in every way exactly, and so God the Spirit. And what’s about God the Father? see above.

Recursive Referencing and Binomial Proportion Interval

 Binomial proportion inverval, Inception, Logic, misc, Newcombe, recursion  Recursive Referencing and Binomial Proportion Interval已关闭评论
11月 032010

To understand recursion, one of the most important concepts in programming languages, you could watch the movie, Chris Nolan’s Inception: it is about a dream within a dream within a dream, …and, read two statistical papers by Professor Robert Newcombe, one of the most prolific statisticians:

These two widely cited papers evaluate 7 and 11 methods to calculate single proportion (paper A) and the difference between proportions (paper B), respectively. Further more, they were in the same issue of Statistics in Medicine(Volume 17, 1998), and, they were also cross referenced! So here is a live story about recursive referencing(thanks to Prof. Newcombe):


    • An author writes two papers, A and B;
    • Paper B is in the  bibliographic reference session of paper A;
    • Paper A is also in the  bibliographic reference session of paper B;
    • Paper A and paper B are in the same issue of a journal.

Note that for Prof. Newcombe’s two linked papers, it is common and acceptable in publication practices. Recently I used these two wonderful papers to learn CI calculation and this post just want to lead to the concept of “recursion”  (reference in reference in reference).