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I rarely apply anything that I've learned from competitive programming to an actual project, but I finally got the chance with Snapstream Searcher. While computing daily correlations between countries (see Country Relationships), we noticed a big spike in Austria and the strength of its relationship with France as seen here. It turns out Wendy's ran an ad with this text.

It's gonna be a tough blow. Don't think about Wendy's spicy chicken. Don't do it. Problem is, not thinking about that spicy goodness makes you think about it even more. So think of something else. Like countries in Europe. France, Austria, hung-a-ry. Hungry for spicy chicken. See, there's no escaping it. Pffft. Who falls for this stuff? And don't forget, kids get hun-gar-y too.

Since commercials are played frequently across a variety of non-related programs, we started seeing some weird results.

My professor Robin Pemantle has this idea of looking at the surrounding text and only counting matches that had different surrounding text. I formalized this notion into something we call contexts. Suppose that we're searching for string $S$. Let $L$ be the $K$ characters the left and $R$ the $K$ characters to the right. Thus, a match in a program is a 3-tuple $(S,L,R)$. We define the following equivalence relation: given $(S,L,R)$ and $(S^\prime,L^\prime,R^\prime)$, \begin{equation} (S,L,R) \sim (S^\prime,L^\prime,R^\prime) \Leftrightarrow \left(S = S^\prime\right) \wedge \left(\left(L = L^\prime\right) \vee \left(R = R^\prime\right)\right), \end{equation} so we only count a match as new if and only if both the $K$ characters to the left and the $K$ characters to right of the new match differ from all existing matches.

Now, consider the case when we're searching for a lot of patterns (200+ countries) and $K$ is large. Then, we will have a lot of matches, and for each match, we'll be looking at $K$ characters to the left and right. Suppose we have $M$ matches. Then, we're looking at $O(MK)$ extra computation since to compare each $L$ and $R$ with all the old $L^\prime$ and $R^\prime$, we would need to iterate through $K$ characters.

One solution to this is to compute string hashes and compare integers instead. But what good is this if we need to iterate through $K$ characters to compute this hash? This is where the Rabin-Karp rolling hash comes into play.

Rabin-Karp Rolling Hash

Fix $M$ which will be the number of buckets. Consider a string of length $K$, $S = s_0s_1s_2\cdots s_{K-1}$. Then, for some $A$, relatively prime to $M$, we define our hash function \begin{equation} H(S) = s_0A^{0} + s_1A^{1} + s_2A^2 + \cdots + s_{K-1}A^{K-1} \pmod M, \end{equation} where $s_i$ is converted to an integer according to ASCII.

Now, suppose we have a text $T$ of length $L$. Define \begin{equation} C_j = \sum_{i=0}^j t_iA^{i} \pmod{M}, \end{equation} and let $T_{i:j}$ be the substring $t_it_{i+1}\cdots t_{j}$, so it's inclusive. Then, $C_j = H(T_{0:j})$, and \begin{equation} C_j - C_{i - 1} = t_iA^{i} + t_{i+1}A^{i+1} + \cdots + t_jA^j \pmod M, \end{equation} so we have that \begin{equation} H(T_{i:j}) = t_iA^{0} + A_{i+1}A^{1} + \cdots + t_jA_{j-i} \pmod M = A^{-i}\left(C_j - C_{i-1}\right). \end{equation} In this way, we can compute the hash of any substring by simple arithmetic operations, and the computation time does not depend on the position or length of the substring. Now, there are actually 3 different versions of this algorithm with different running times.

  1. In the first version, $M^2 < 2^{32}$. This allows us to precompute all the modular inverses, so we have a $O(1)$ computation to find the hash of a substring. Also, if $M$ is this small, we never have to worry about overflow with 32-bit integers.
  2. In the second version, an array of size $M$ fits in memory, so we can still precompute all the modular inverses. Thus, we continue to have a $O(1)$ algorithm. Unfortunately, $M$ is large enough that there may be overflow, so we must use 64-bit integers.
  3. Finally, $M$ becomes so large that we cannot fit an array of size $M$ in memory. Then, we have to compute the modular inverse. One way to do this is the extended Euclidean algorithm. If $M$ is prime, we can also use Fermat's little theorem, which gives us that $A^{i}A^{M-i} \equiv A^{M} \equiv 1 \pmod M,$ so we can find $A^{M - i} \pmod{M}$ quickly with some modular exponentiation. Both of these options are $O(\log M).$

Usually, we want to choose $M$ as large as possible to avoid collisions. In our case, if there's a collision, we'll count an extra context, which is not actually a big deal, so we may be willing to compromise on accuracy for faster running time.

Application to Snapstream Reader

Now, every time that we encouter a match, the left and right hash can be quickly computed and compared with existing hashes. However, which version should we choose? We have 4 versions.

  1. No hashing, so this just returns the raw match count
  2. Large modulus, so we cannot cache the modular inverse
  3. Intermediate modulus, so can cache the modular inverse, but we need to use 64-bit integers
  4. Small modulus, so we cache the modular inverse and use 32-bit integers

We run these different versions with 3 different queries.

  • Query A: {austria} from 2015-8-1 to 2015-8-31
  • Query B: ({united kingdom} + {scotland} + {wales} + ({england} !@ {new england})) from 2015-7-1 to 2015-7-31
  • Query C: ({united states} + {united states of america} + {usa}) @ {mexico} from 2015-9-1 to 2015-9-30

First, we check for collisions. Here are the number of contexts found for the various hashing algorithms and search queries for $K = 51$.

Hashing Version A B C
1 181 847 75
2 44 332 30
3 44 331 30
4 44 331 30

In version 1 since there's no hashing, that's the raw match count. As we'd expect, hashing greatly reduces the number of matches. Also, there's no collisions until we have a lot of matches (847, in this case). Thus, we might be okay with using a smaller modulus if we get a big speed-up since missing 1 context out of a 1,000 won't change trends too much.

Here's the benchmark results.

Obviously, all versions of hashing are slower than no hashing. Using a small modulus approximately doubles the time, which makes sense, for we're essentially reading the text twice: once for searching and another time for hashing. Using an intermediate modulus adds another 3 seconds. Having to perform modular exponentiation to compute the modular inverse adds less than a second in the large modulus version. Thus, using 64-bit integers versus 32-bit integers is the major cause of the slowdown.

For this reason, we went with the small modulus version despite the occasional collisions that we encouter. The code can be found on GitHub in the StringHasher class.

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