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In a code I’m developping (elastic model of discretized shells), I needed to have the arccos of a scalar products of two (normalized) vectors, n1 and n2. So I used :

 std::acos(n1.dot(n2)/(n1.norm()*n2.norm()))


This of course will work beautifully. Because of the normalization /(n1.norm()*n2.norm())), the argument of std::acos will be always smaller than one, in absolute value…

Except, you know, finite precision arithmetic ! Indeed, once has a finite precision for double, so even if one should get x=1, we could get x just just just a pinch slightly bigger than 1.

And, since my vectors very often have the same orientation, my code will crash because I’m taking the std::acos(w) for $x>1$ (even though it’s actually $x=1$).

So the next thing you know, I have to be a bit more careful :

 double safer_acos(double x) {
if (x < -1.0) x = -1.0 ;
else if (x > 1.0) x = 1.0 ;
return acos(x) ;
}


However, I have to compute a lot of safer_acos in my code. Like, many. So it’s slow. Very slow. First thing I can do is to use an approximation of acos, because some work really well, like Nvidia’s :

 double faster_acos(double x) {
// Handbook of Mathematical Functions
// M. Abramowitz and I.A. Stegun, Ed.
double negate = double(x < 0);
x = abs(x);
double ret = -0.0187293;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret + 0.0742610;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret - 0.2121144;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret + 1.5707288;
ret = ret * std::sqrt(1.0-x);
ret = ret - 2.0 * negate * ret;
return negate * 3.14159265358979 + ret;
}


Much faster ! Also, note that your compiler (at least gcc, probably any good compiler) will simplify the algebra for you, so you can keep it in 10 lines for clarity…

However, I still need to add if (x > 1.0) x = 1.0 ; to make the code safe. But this will also make it slower (arguably not much, but…), since if are slow because of branch predictions. You can try x=std::min(x,1.0);, but it’s not really faster.

In the end, we can still use the standard trick of using (x>1.0) as a variable, which requires no branching. And we can write : x -= double(x>1.0)*(x-1.0);. In the end, the fastest, non-crashing acos() I could find was :

 double faster_safer_acos(double x) {
double negate = double(x < 0);
x = abs(x);
x-= double(x>1.0)*(x-1.0);
double ret = -0.0187293;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret + 0.0742610;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret - 0.2121144;
ret = ret * x;
ret = ret + 1.5707288;
ret = ret * std::sqrt(1.0-x);
ret = ret - 2.0 * negate * ret;
return negate * 3.14159265358979 + ret;
}


That was very simple but fun and informative : I was reminded to be careful of finite precision arithmetic, I realized that acos was slow (inverse function…), and remembered that although branching is slow, it can often be avoided !