"Pet Paradise Part 1: Algorithms"

March 20, 2009

So Jay Hannah over at ODynUG has issued a programming challenge. Far be it from me to turn that kind of thing down. I am going to be doing this in Erlang.

Before I dive into coding on this, I want to give some thought to the algorithms I want to use in order to solve the problem. The way I tend to approach this is to consider what other problems I’ve solved, and see which this one looks the most like. Given my strong mathematics background, I tend to draw on theory-laden ideas. In this particular case I’m going to use graph theory. I plan to construct an interval graph, do some processing on it, and then find a coloring. I’ll then examine each color class, and find the one that produces the largest revenue.

The first step is to turn the raw demand data into an interval graph. In this graph, each individual demand will be represented by a vertex. An edge will be added to the graph between each demand that overlaps in time. At this point, we’re paying no attention to cats, dogs, small cages or large cages. All we want to see is how the demands overlap in time.

The second step is to group together the vertices that represent demands that can be met simultaneously. So picking a vertex, we’ll traverse all of its edges, and if we can combine two vertices in to one that represents them both, then we’ll do that. This presents an interesting problem, as the order in which we traverse the vertices makes a difference as to how many can be combined. However, it’s more likely that we’ll be able to combine demands if they have fewer pets or if their pets are smaller, so I’m going to traverse them in increasing order of pet quantity and size.

Next, we’ll find a coloring for the graph using the greedy coloring algorithm. To use this algorithm we need to pick a vertex ordering. Since the number of colors used can at most be one more than degree of the most connected vertex in the graph, and the greedy coloring algorithm relies on looking at the colors of previously colored neighbors, it makes sense to order the vertices in decreasing order of degree.

Armed with a coloring, we simply sum the rates for all of the demands in each color class, and then select the color that gives us the biggest revenue. The demands in that color are the ones that get accepted, the rest get rejected.

There are some drawbacks to this approach. For one, the graph coloring problem is NP-complete, so we cannot always be certain that the coloring we produce is the optimal coloring. Also, because of how we’re combining demands together, it is possible that a different combination would yield higher revenue. However, this algorithm should perform fairly well.

Layout, design, graphics, photography and text all © 2005-2010 Samuel Tesla unless otherwise noted.

Portions of the site layout use Yahoo! YUI Reset, Fonts & Grids.