Programming Assignment 3 Checklist: Pattern Recognition

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I read input directly from a file, without redirecting standard input? Use the In data type. Read pp. 82-83 of the textbook for more details.

Can the same point appear more than once as input to Brute or Fast? You may assume the input to Brute and Fast are N distinct points. Nevertheless, the methods implemented as part of the Point data type must correctly handle the case when the points are not distinct: for the slopeTo() method, this requirement is explicitly stated in the API; for the comparison methods, this requirement is implict in the contracts for Comparable and Comparator.

The reference solution outputs a line segment in the order pqrs but my solution outputs it in the reverse order srqp. Is that ok? Yes, there are two valid ways to output a line segment.

The reference solution outputs the line segments in a different order than my solution. Is that ok? Yes, if there are k line segments, then there are k! different possible ways to output them.

Can I draw a line segment containing 4 (or more) points by drawing several subsegments? No, you should draw one (and only one) line segment for each set of collinear points discovered: For example, you should draw the line segment pqrs, with either p.drawTo(s) or s.drawTo(p).

How do I sort a subarray? Arrays.sort(a, lo, hi) sorts the subarray from a[lo] to a[hi-1] according to the natural order of a[]. You can use a Comparator as the fourth argument to sort according to an alternate order.

Is Array.sort() stable? Yes, Arrays.sort() is stable when the argument is an array of objects.

Where can I see examples of Comparable and Comparator? See the lecture slides. We assume this is new Java material for most of you, so don't hesitate to ask for clarifications in the Discussion Forums.

My program fails only on (some) vertical line segments. What could be going wrong? Are you dividing by zero? With integers, this produces a runtime exception. With floating-point numbers, 1.0/0.0 is positive infinity and -1.0/0.0 is negative infinity. You may also use the constants Double.POSITIVE_INFINITY and Double.NEGATIVE_INFINITY.

What does it mean for slopeTo() to return positive zero? Java (and the IEEE 754 floating-point standard) define two representations of zero: negative zero and positive zero.

double a = 1.0;
double x = (a - a) /  a;   // positive zero ( 0.0)
double y = (a - a) / -a;   // negative zero (-0.0)
Note that while (x == y) is guaranteed to be true, Arrays.sort() treats negative zero as strictly less than positive zero. Thus, to make the specification precise, we require you to return positive zero for horizontal line segments. Unless your program casts to the wrapper type Double (either explicitly or via autoboxing), you probably will not notice any difference in behavior; but, if your program does cast to the wrapper type and fails only on (some) horizontal line segments, this may be the cause.

Is it ok to compare two floating-point numbers a and b for exactly equality? In general, it is hazardous to compare a and b for equality if either is susceptible to floating-point roundoff error. However, in our case, we are computing b / a, where a and b are integers between -32,767 and 32,767. In Java (and the IEEE 754 floating-point standard), the result of a floating-point operation (such as division) is the nearest representable value. Thus, for example, it is guaranteed that (9.0/7.0 == 45.0/35.0). In other words, it's sometimes ok to compare floating-point numbers for exact equality (but only when you know exactly what you are doing!)

Note also that it is possible to implement compare() and Fast using only integer arithmetic, though you are not required to do so.

I'm having trouble avoiding subsegments when there are 5 or more points on a line segment. Any advice? Not handling the 5-or-more case is a bit tricky, so don't kill yourself over it.

I created a nested Comparator class within Point. Within the nested Comparator class, the keyword this refers to the Comparator object. How do I refer to the Point instance of the outer class? Use Point.this instead of this. Note that you can refer directly to instance methods of the outer class (such as slopeTo()); with proper design, you shouldn't need this awkward notation.


Sample data files. The directory collinear contains some sample input files in the specified format. Associated with some of the input .txt files are output .png files that contains the desired graphical output. Thanks to Jesse Levinson '05 and Enric Boix PHS '14 for the remarkable input files rs1423.txt and kw1260.txt, respectively; feel free to create your own and share with us in the Discussion Forums.

Possible Progress Steps

These are purely suggestions for how you might make progress. You do not have to follow these steps.

  1. Getting started. Download and The latter takes a command-line argument, reads in a list of points from the file specified as a command-line argument (in the format specified) and plots the results using standard draw. To plot the points, type the following at the command line
    % java PointPlotter input56.txt

  2. Slope. To begin, implement the slopeTo() method. Be sure to consider a variety of corner cases, including horizontal, vertical, and degenerate line segments.

  3. Brute force algorithm. Write code to iterate through all 4-tuples and check whether the 4 points are collinear. To draw the line segment, you need to know the endpoints. One approach is to print out a line segment only if the 4 points are in ascending order (say, relative to the natural order), in which case, the endpoints are the first and last points.

    Hint: don't waste time micro-optimizing the brute-force solution. Though, if you really want to, there are two easy opportunities. First, you can iterate through all combinations of 4 points (N choose 4) instead of all 4 tuples (N^4), saving a factor of 4! = 24. Second, you don't need to consider whether 4 points are collinear if you already know that the first 3 are not collinear; this can save you a factor of N on typical inputs.

  4. Fast algorithm.


Can the problem be solved in quadratic time and linear space? Yes, but the only algorithm I know of is quite sophisticated. It involves converting the points to their dual line segments and topologically sweeping the arrangement of lines by Edelsbrunner and Guibas.

Can the decision version of the problem be solved in subquadratic time? The original version of the problem cannot be solved in subquadratic time because there might be a quadratic number of line segments to output. (See next question.) The decision version asks whether there exists a set of 4 collinear points. This version of the problem belongs to a group of problems that are known as 3SUM-hard. A famous unresolved conjecture is that such problems have no subquadratic algorithms. Thus, the sorting algorithm presented above is about the best we can hope for (unless the conjecture is wrong). Under a restricted decision tree model of computation, Erickson proved that the conjecture is true.

What's the maximum number of (maximal) collinear sets of points in a set of N points in the plane? It can grow quadratically as a function of N. Consider the N points of the form: (x, y) for x = 0, 1, 2, and 3 and y = 0, 1, 2, ..., N / 4. This means that if you store all of the (maximal) collinear sets of points, you will need quadratic space in the worst case.