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The questions about sorting in O(N) time on Stack Exchange are misleading and uninformative. The current top answers basically say:

  • Use radix sort
  • Use counting sort (under favorable circumstances this is fine)
  • Use this python code

These answers are rarely appropriate for the question, be it an interview question, exam question, or one's own problem. It's very frustrating to me that this basic and important problem is abused so gravely.

Is there any chance of a remedy? FAQs or Community Wiki?

share|improve this question
You accepted Bill's answer too soon. I was going to post some python code ... – Dr. belisarius Mar 21 '11 at 17:31
@Wether If you post python code that answers this question you might find a bounty headed your way. – Adam Davis Mar 21 '11 at 20:47
@Adam No, I was just about to post other python code – Dr. belisarius Mar 21 '11 at 21:03
@Wether NO BOUNTY FOR YOU! – Adam Davis Mar 21 '11 at 21:04
@Adam Double pity, so. I'll return home with my empty basket, and you'll never know how to sort in sublinear time. – Dr. belisarius Mar 21 '11 at 21:29
@Wether That's Ok. The good sorts are too mainstream for me. I use a variant of bubble sort I found at a thrift shop, you probably don't know this variant. – Adam Davis Mar 21 '11 at 21:40
Sort of fancy sort, I see – Dr. belisarius Mar 21 '11 at 21:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't think this is a problem that community-wiki will solve.

Have you tried adding your own answers to these questions that demonstrate why the current top answers are misleading and uninformative? The community will usually respond to hard evidence.

Also, can you link to some specific examples of what you're talking about?

share|improve this answer
Yes, I have, still the accepted answer goes contrary to the question, like here… – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 16:55
@Captain Giraffe: In that case you already have the top voted answer. The accepted answer is completely up to the person who asked the question, and out of the community's control. Voting seems to have worked as designed. – Bill the Lizard Mar 21 '11 at 16:57
btw how do I decide on a good answer on meta? that seems like an experiment at best =) – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:13
@Captain Giraffe: You should test the code of each solu... Oh wait, no... :) – Bill the Lizard Mar 21 '11 at 17:16
Ok I tried, the apple fell, you're good here. =) Any and all metaphors concerning apples in this comment are concerning Newton, not the other kind that I might have to pay to mention. – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:19

The best course of action is to list the offending question(s) here and request that people make an effort to improve them in specific ways where you feel they are failing. Improvements should include editing existing answers where appropriate, closing as duplicates, and adding new answers where it appears editing an answer would be inappropriate.

We can rebuild them. We have the technology. We can make them better than they were.


Keeping in mind, of course, that the accepted answer may not directly address the question. I've seen a lot of cases where the person asking the question was really hinting at something different, and they accepted the answer that fixed their deeper problem.

We can't fix that, but we can certainly craft better answers and upvote them such that they go right under the accepted answer. Any diligent seeker of knowledge will come across the "better" answer right after reading the accepted answer anyway.

share|improve this answer
Six Million Dollar Man references will always get my upvote (as will MacGyver, The A-Team, and The Incredible Hulk references, if you can work them in.) Now you know my weakness. – Bill the Lizard Mar 21 '11 at 17:00
But can we build them faster than O(N) time? – Grace Note Mar 21 '11 at 17:02
I feel so uncomfortable editing answers apart from any formatting stuff, even for clarification of "I lik to du 4 algos where" stuff. – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:05
@Adam Also "was really hinting at something different, and they accepted the answer that fixed their deeper problem." I really don't think that is the case here, and that is a part of my frustration. They actually think that generic sorts can be O(N) if just clever enough. – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:09
@Captain Yes, we straddle an uncomfortable fence separating wiki from user-owned posts. It takes more work, but if the person appears to be generally active on the site, leaving comments asking for them to update their answer with particular points can be done instead. There's a difference between "editing" and "putting words in someone else's mouth". I don't have a problem expanding on points someone made, but I sometimes stop short of adding new points they didn't introduce in the first place. I have no problem removing and/or fixing wrongness. Usually they get new upvotes regardless... – Adam Davis Mar 21 '11 at 17:10
@Grace as shown in the comment for the first link they are all O(1) :) – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:11
@Adam you are braver than me =) – Captain Giraffe Mar 21 '11 at 17:12

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