Factorial Approximations

March 31, 2020

n! (and its logarithm) keep showing up in the analysis of algorithm. Unfortunately, it’s very often unwieldy, and we use approximations of n! (or \log n!) to simplify things. Let’s examine a few!

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How many bits?

March 24, 2020

In this quarantine week, let’s answer a (not that) simple question: how many bits do you need to encode sound and images with a satisfying dynamic range?

Let’s see what hypotheses are useful, and how we can use them to get a good idea on the number of bits needed.

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January 14, 2020

In one of the classes I teach, we end up writing assembly language programs. And while I explain the (sometimes very relative) benefits of writing assembly language, I use bubble sort as an example where even carefully crafted assembly language doesn’t mean much: it’s a bad algorithm to start with.


Except that it’s not quite true.

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Fast Exponentiation, revisited

November 12, 2019

Quite a while ago, I presented a fast exponentiation algorithm that uses the binary decomposition of the exponent n to perform O(\log_2 n) products to compute x^n.

While discussing this algorithm in class, a student asked a very interesting question: what’s special about base 2? Couldn’t we use another base? Well, yes, yes we can.

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November 4, 2019

Last week (at the time of writing, anyway), Ars Technica reported a serious bug in AMD’s implementation of rdrand, an instruction that helps you generate random numbers. Apparently, on (some) Ryzen 3000, 0xfff…ff is “random”.

I recently got an AMD Ryzen 9 3900x, and I wondered if I have the bug as well.

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(Sub)bit-fields (Coding with fractions of bits, Part II)

August 13, 2019

Last week, we used the 6×7×6 palette as an example of very simple fraction-of-a-bit coding1. However, we can generalize still a bit more to allow single field extraction and modification

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The 6×7×6 palette (Coding with fractions of bits, Part I)

August 6, 2019

Remember ye olde dayes when we had to be mindful of the so-called “web safe palette“? Once upon a time, screens could display 24-bits colors, but only 256 at a time in some “hi-res” modes. But that’s not what I’m going to tell you about: I’d rather tell you about the encoding of the palette, and about a somewhat better palette. And also about using fractions of bits for more efficient encodings.

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