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Name: lace school cougar
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1995


Question:
, crystal l kirk How do you find square roots?


Replies:
There is a brute-force method. It is straightforward in that, if done correctly, all digits calculated are correct. But each succeeding digit costs more computation than its predecessor, and it would be very hard to write a program to have a computer do it (it is also much too complicated to explain in words on this BB.

There is a really slick way to calculate a square root, easy to program or even do by hand. It is different from most methods you are likely to have seen because it uses successive approximation -- that is, you use the method repeatedly to get a better and better approximation. Let me demonstrate with an example. The method requires an initial guess, but it does not have to be a very good guess (a poor initial guess simply requires more repeti- tions of the method). Let us compute sqrt(10), using the not-very-good guess of 1.0 and carrying 8 digits accuracy:
       (10.0/1.0 + 1.0)/2              = 5.5
       (10.0/5.5 + 5.5)/2              = 3.6590909
       (10.0/3.6590909 + 3.6590909)/2  = 3.1960051
       (10.0/3.1960051 + 3.1960051)/2  = 3.1624556
       (10.0/3.1624556 + 3.1624556)/2  = 3.1622777
       (10.0/3.1622777 + 3.1622777)/2  = 3.1622777
       

The last two results are the same, so we stop. And this result is correct to all digits shown (a more accurate result is 3.162277660, which when rounded to 8 digits is in fact 3.1622777).

Do you see the pattern? To get a new estimate, divide 10 by the current estimate, then add that quotient to the current estimate, then divide by 2. A better initial guess (say, 3.0) would require fewer repetitions to get the same

number of digits accuracy. This is an example of what is called Newton's method, a very powerful numerical method. It may also be used to find cube roots, fourth roots, etc. (though the formulations for these are not as simple as the one for computing square roots).

By the way, calculators use yet another method -- logarithms. But that is another story.

rcwinther

Update April 200
I'd offer the following on "babylonian" square root algorithm, sometimes attributed to Hero/Heron:
http://www.seanet.com/~ksbrown/kmath190.htm

BTW, most impressed that you responded so quickly, and on a Sunday at that!!!

Bob "A"


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