Algorithms For Dummies
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People actually use algorithms all the time. For example, making toast is an example of an algorithm, as explained in this blog post. Making toast isn't an amazing algorithm, but the ones in the following table, which use a computer to perform tasks, are.
Task Why It's Amazing
Cryptography Keeping data safe is an ongoing battle with hackers constantly attacking data sources. Algorithms enable you to analyze data, put it into some other form, and then return it to its original form later.
Graph analysis The capability to decide on the shortest line between two points finds all sorts of uses. For example, in a routing problem, your GPS couldn't function without this particular algorithm because it could never direct you along city streets using the shortest route from point A to point B.
Pseudorandom number generation Imagine playing games that never varied. You start at the same place and perform the same steps in the same manner every time you play. Boring! Without the capability to generate seemingly random numbers, many computer tasks become pointless or impossible.
Scheduling Making the use of resources fair to all concerned is another way in which algorithms make their presence known in a big way. For example, timing lights at intersections are no longer simple devices that count down the seconds between light changes. Modern devices consider all sorts of issues, such as the time of day, weather conditions, and flow of traffic. Scheduling comes in many forms, however. Consider how your computer runs multiple tasks at the same time. Without a scheduling algorithm, the operating system might grab all the available resources and keep your application from doing any useful work.
Searching Locating information or verifying that the information you see is the information you want is an essential task. Without this capability, many tasks you perform online wouldn't be possible, such as finding the website on the Internet that sells the perfect coffee pot for your office.
Sorting Determining the order in which to present information is important because most people today suffer from information overload, and need to reduce the onrush of data. Imagine going to Amazon, finding more than a thousand coffee pots for sale, and yet not being able to sort them according to price or most positive review. Moreover, many complex algorithms require data in the proper order to work dependably, so sorting is an important requisite for solving more problems.
Transforming Converting one kind of data to another kind of data is critical to understanding and using the data effectively. For example, you might understand imperial weights just fine, but all your sources use the metric system. Converting between the two systems helps you understand the data. Likewise, the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) converts signals between the time domain and the frequency domain, enabling things like your WiFi router to work.

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John Paul Mueller has produced 102 books and more than 600 articles to date on topics ranging from networking to machine learning. Luca Massaron is a data scientist specializing in organizing and interpreting big data and transforming it into smart data by means of the simplest and most effective data mining and machine learning techniques.

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