Skip to main content

The ultimate sorting algorithm for alphabetizing your books efficiently

What's the fastest way to alphabetize your bookshelf? - Chand John
We’re suckers for the kind of “life hacks” that tell you that you’ve been doing some relatively mundane task all wrong, and that there’s a super-easy alternative which can massively speed up your ability to perform it.

That’s what a new video from the TED-Ed YouTube channel does, by showing how different sorting algorithms can transform our ability to quickly alphabetize a large number of books on a bookshelf.

The video starts by describing two common sorting algorithms; “bubble sort” and “insertion sort.” In the former, a sorting algorithm repeatedly steps through a list that needs to be sorted, compares each pair of adjacent items in turn, and then swaps them over if they happen to be in the wrong order. In the latter, new items are constantly “inserted” into previous sublists for an ever-growing search pile.

Both will work for this problem, but are less than efficient if time is of the essence.

The optimal answer, it turns out, is something called “quicksort,” which is regularly used by programmers for a variety of different applications — from sorting items by price to showing you the closest gas station on a GPS map.

To sort your pile of books the quicksort way, begin by taking a book from roughly the middle of the shelf. This becomes your “partition” book, and by sorting everything on its left and right into books which come either before or after it, you instantly reduce the total number of items to search against in sub-piles.

Once this is done, you then add partition books to the middle section of the two smaller piles, and then keep doing this until you have multiple partition books and a bunch of manageable piles to sort. After that, switch to a sorting algorithm like “insertion sort” to get them properly alphabetized.

Simple, right? Sure, it’s a pretty basic bit of computer science translated into the real world, but we bet that you’ll never think about alphabetizing in quite the same way again.

Now if we could only stop spending hours watching such “life hack” videos, we might actually get something done a bit more efficiently around here!

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Don’t buy the Meta Quest Pro for gaming. It’s a metaverse headset first
Meta Quest Pro enables 3D modeling in mixed reality.

Last week’s Meta Connect started off promising on the gaming front. Viewers got release dates for Iron Man VR, an upcoming Quest game that was previously a PS VR exclusive, as well as Among Us VR. Meta, which owns Facebook, also announced that it was acquiring three major VR game studios -- Armature Studio, Camouflaj Team, and Twisted Pixel -- although we don’t know what they’re working on just yet.

Unfortunately, that’s where the Meta Connect's gaming section mostly ended. Besides tiny glimpses and a look into fitness, video games were not the show's focus. Instead, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to focus on what seemed to be his company’s real vision of VR's future, which involves a lot of legs and a lot of work with the Quest Pro, a mixed reality headset that'll cost a whopping $1,500.

Read more
Meet the game-changing pitching robot that can perfectly mimic any human throw
baseball hitter swings and misses

Who’s your favorite baseball pitcher? Shane McClanahan? Sandy Alcantara? Justin Verlander? Whoever you said, two of the top sports-tech companies in the U.S. -- Rapsodo and Trajekt Sports -- have teamed up to build a robot version of them, and the results are reportedly uncannily accurate.

Okay, so we’re not talking about walking-talking-pitching standalone robots, as great a sci-fi-tinged MLB ad as that would be. However, Rapsodo and Trajekt have combined their considerable powers to throw a slew of different technologies at the problem of building a machine that's able to accurately simulate the pitching style of whichever player you want to practice batting against -- and they may just have pulled it off, too.

Read more
The best portable power stations
EcoFlow DELTA 2 on table at campsite for quick charging.

Affordable and efficient portable power is a necessity these days, keeping our electronic devices operational while on the go. But there are literally dozens of options to choose from, making it abundantly difficult to decide which mobile charging solution is best for you. We've sorted through countless portable power options and came up with six of the best portable power stations to keep your smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other gadgets functioning while living off the grid.
The best overall: Jackery Explorer 1000

Jackery has been a mainstay in the portable power market for several years, and today, the company continues to set the standard. With three AC outlets, two USB-A, and two USB-C plugs, you'll have plenty of options for keeping your gadgets charged.

Read more