Wednesday, June 27, 2007

a couple of realistic sorting challenges

Update: [[algo in a nutshell]] written by professors, has practical problem-solving suggestions.
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Q: what if the storage system holding the long list doesn't support random access, such as tape?
%%A: read into memory first, by chunk, then merge sort?

Q: what if there are too many items to hold in a computer's RAM available within our budget? merge sort, but the bucket idea below is better.

Q: what if data is still arriving when we need to start sorting?
%%A: standard merge sort
%%A: if you know data is string and distribution is fairly uniform, you may want to create 26 (or 26+10) trees for A - Z, 0-9 and put incoming data therein. If data rate is too high, you can build 26 queues/circular arrays as the buffer in a producer/consumer pattern.
%%A: even with numeric input, you can do the same provided you know the distribution. In real system, use histogram to estimate the distribution.

I feel this is one case that needs real world experience. Designing a sorter without any idea of distribution is too academic and a waste of time.

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