## Talk: Finding Congruent Numbers, Arithmetic Progressions of Squares, and Triangles

Here are some notes for my talk Finding Congruent Numbers, Arithmetic Progressions of Squares, and Triangles (an invitation to analytic number theory), which I’m giving on Tuesday 26 February at Macalester College.

The slides for my talk are available here.

The overarching idea of the talk is to explore the deep relationship between

1. right triangles with rational side lengths and area $n$,
2. three-term arithmetic progressions of squares with common difference $n$, and
3. rational points on the elliptic curve $Y^2 = X^3 – n^2 X$.

If one of these exist, then all three exist, and in fact there are one-to-one correspondences between each of them. Such an $n$ is called a congruent number.

By understanding this relationship, we also describe the ideas and results in the paper A Shifted Sum for the Congruent Number Problem, which I wrote jointly with Tom Hulse, Chan Ieong Kuan, and Alex Walker.

Towards the end of the talk, I say that in practice, the best way to decide if a (reasonably sized) number is congruent is through elliptic curves. Given a computer, we can investigate whether the number $n$ is congruent through a computer algebra system like sage.1

For the rest of this note, I’ll describe how one can use sage to determine whether a number is congruent, and how to use sage to add points on elliptic curves to generate more triangles corresponding to a particular congruent number.

Firstly, one needs access to sage. It’s free to install, but it’s quite large. The easiest way to begin using sage immediately is to use cocalc.com,  a free interface to sage (and other tools) that was created by William Stein, who also created sage.

In a sage session, we can create an elliptic curve through


> E6 = EllipticCurve([-36, 0])
> E6
Elliptic Curve defined by y^2 = x^3 - 36*x over Rational Field


More generally, to create the curve corresponding to whether or not $n$ is congruent, you can use


> n = 6   # (or anything you want)
> E = EllipticCurve([-n**2, 0])


We can ask sage whether our curve has many rational points by asking it to (try to) compute the rank.


> E6.rank()
1


If the rank is at least $1$, then there are infinitely many rational points on the curve and $n$ is a congruent number. If the rank is $0$, then $n$ is not congruent.2

For the curve $Y^2 = X^3 – 36 X$ corresponding to whether $6$ is congruent, sage returns that the rank is $1$. We can ask sage to try to find a rational point on the elliptic curve through


> E6.point_search(10)
[(-3 : 9 : 1)]


The 10 in this code is a limit on the complexity of the point. The precise definition isn’t important — using $10$ is a reasonable limit for us.

We see that this output something. When sage examines the elliptic curve, it uses the equation $Y^2 Z = X^3 – 36 X Z^2$ — it turns out that in many cases, it’s easier to perform computations when every term is a polynomial of the same degree. The coordinates it’s giving us are of the form $(X : Y : Z)$, which looks a bit odd. We can ask sage to return just the XY coordinates as well.


> Pt = E6.point_search(10)[0]  # The [0] means to return the first element of the list
> Pt.xy()
(-3, 9)


In my talk, I describe a correspondence between points on elliptic curves and rational right triangles. In the talk, it arises as the choice of coordinates. But what matters for us right now is that the correspondence taking a point $(x, y)$ on an elliptic curve to a triangle $(a, b, c)$ is given by
$$(x, y) \mapsto \Big( \frac{n^2-x^2}{y}, \frac{-2 \cdot x \cdot y}{y}, \frac{n^2 + x^2}{y} \Big).$$

We can write a sage function to perform this map for us, through


> def pt_to_triangle(P):
x, y = P.xy()
return (36 - x**2)/y, (-2*x*6/y), (36+x**2)/y

> pt_to_triangle(Pt)
(3, 4, 5)


This returns the $(3, 4, 5)$ triangle!

Of course, we knew this triangle the whole time. But we can use sage to get more points. A very cool fact is that rational points on elliptic curves form a group under a sort of addition — we can add points on elliptic curves together and get more rational points. Sage is very happy to perform this addition for us, and then to see what triangle results.


> Pt2 = Pt + Pt
> Pt2.xy()
(25/4, -35/8)
> pt_to_triangle(Pt2)
(7/10, 120/7, -1201/70)


Another rational triangle with area $6$ is the $(7/10, 120/7, 1201/70)$ triangle. (You might notice that sage returned a negative hypotenuse, but it’s the absolute values that matter for the area). After scaling this to an integer triangle, we get the integer right triangle $(49, 1200, 1201)$ (and we can check that the squarefree part of the area is $6$).

Let’s do one more.


> Pt3 = Pt + Pt + Pt
> Pt3.xy()
(-1587/1369, -321057/50653)
> pt_to_triangle(Pt3)
(-4653/851, -3404/1551, -7776485/1319901)


That’s a complicated triangle! It may be fun to experiment some more — the triangles rapidly become very, very complicated. In fact, it was very important to the main result of our paper that these triangles become so complicated so quickly!

## Writing a Python Script to be Used in Vim

It is no secret that I love vim. I’ve written and helped maintain a variety of vim plugins, but I’ve mostly restricted my attention to direct use of vimscript or to call external tools and redirect their output to a vim buffer.

Only recently did I learn how easy it is to use python to interact directly with vim objects through the vim-python package. And it was so easy that this felt a bit like writing a quick shell script to facilitate some immediate task — it allows quick and dirty work.

In this note, I’ll review how I recently wrote a quick python function (to be used in vim) to facilitate conversion of python f-strings (which I love) to python 3.5 (which I also love, but which is admittedly a bit behind).

Of course the real reason is to remind future me just how easy this is.

## Description of the Problem

In python 3.7+, one can use f-strings to format strings. This syntax looks like

x = 4
print(f"Python has at least {x} many ways to format strings now.")

I love them, they’re great. But they are not backportable since they are a change to fundamental syntax. Thus systems relying on previous versions of python (be it python2 or even python3.5) can’t parse python files containing f-strings.

The goal is this: given a line containing an f-string, write an equivalent line containing no f-string.

The formula I choose is simple: use .format() instead. Thus given

s = f"string with {some} {variables}"

we will convert this to

s = "string with {} {}".format(some, variables)

I will assume that the string takes place on one line for simplicity (and because in my application this was almost always true), but that there are any number of variables included in the line.

## Background on python in vim

Some good insight is gained through reading :h python-vim. In fact, this is essentially the only documentation on the python-vim interface (though it is pretty good documentation — perhaps the actual best source of learning this interface is to read some plugins which leverage the python connection).

I will assume that vim has been compiled with python3 support (which can be checked by looking for +python3 in vim --version). Then the key idea is that one can use :py3 to call python functions. For example,

:py3 print("Hello")

Being restricted to one line is inconvenient, and it is far more useful to use the form

:py3 << EOF
def say_hello():
print("Sup doc.")
EOF
:py3 say_hello()

In this way, we can define and use python functions. Right now, the output of these functions simply appears in the status lines at the bottom of the screen. This is of limited value. Often, we will really want to interact directly with the vim buffer. The key to do this is the vim module for python.1

The vim module for python can be used through

import vim

# do vim things

This is what :h python-vim actually documents, and I defer to the list of methods there. The important thing is that it provides direct access to vim buffers.

Today, we will use only the direct access to the current line, vim.current.line.

## A Solution

I very routinely open scratch buffers (i.e. buffers that I call scratch.tmp). Sometimes I momentary notes, or I edit vim macros in place, or I define vim functions for short-term use. I will assume that we have opened up a scratch buffer and our pythonfile withfstrings.py. (In fact, I usually open it in a vsplit). I also very routinely assign Q to do whatever convenient function I have written in my scratch buffer (or whatever macro I want to repeat most simply). Of course, these are my idiosyncratic habits — the ideas are easy enough to translate.

In our scratch buffer, we can write a vim function, which is internally a python function, and map the symbol Q to call it.

function! Convert()
py3 << EOF

import vim

import re
bracketed = re.compile("{.*?}")

def convert():
line = vim.current.line
single = line.find("'")
double = line.find('"')
if single == -1:
sep = '"'
elif double == -1 or single < double:
sep = "'"
else:
sep = '"'

# l sep inner sep post
l, _, m = line.partition(sep)
inner, _, post = m.partition(sep)

#get rid of f
l = l[:-1]

ret = ""
var_names = bracketed.findall(inner)
var_names = list(map(lambda x: x[1:-1], var_names))

ret += l + sep + inner + sep
ret += ".format("
for var in var_names:
ret += "{}={}, ".format(var, var)
ret = ret[:-2]
ret += ")" + post
vim.current.line = ret

convert()
EOF

endfunction

com! Conv call Convert()
nnoremap Q :Conv<CR>

To use, one sources the scratch buffer (either directly, like :source scratch.tmp, or through navigating to its split and using :so %). Then one can find a line containing an f-string and hit Q (or alternately use :Conv).

## Why is this good?

Although nontrivial, writing a simple python script like this takes only a few minutes. And then converting f-strings became the least important part of my backporting project.2

And more broadly, this is such an easy process. Off-loading the mental burden of repeating annoying tasks is valuable. The most revelatory aspect of this experience for me is that it’s easy enough to allow throwaway functions for momentary ease.

In my recent application, I converted 482 f-strings using this function. A few of them were multiline strings and my (admittedly simple) function failed — and so I did those by hand. But it took me less than 10 minutes to write the function (maybe even less than 5, though my first function expected double quotes only). Overall, this was a great gain.

## Keeping the Script

Having come this far, it’s worth considering how we might keep the script around if we wanted to.

One good approach is to separate the python from the vim (allowing, for instance, testing on the python itself) and have a thin vim wrapper. We’ll look at this in two possible levels of encapsulation.

1. Separate the python from the vim.
2. Make the function a plugin. (Presumably for slightly more meaningful functions than this one).

### Separate the Files

Let’s separate the python from the vim. In this was we can approach the python as proper little python script, merely waiting for a thin vim wrapper around it at the end.

We can separate the python out into the following file, convert_fstring.py.

# convert_fstring.py
import re
bracketed = re.compile("{.*?}")

def convert(line):
single = line.find("'")
double = line.find('"')
if single == -1:
sep = '"'
elif double == -1 or single < double:
sep = "'"
else:
sep = '"'

# l sep inner sep post
l, _, m = line.partition(sep)
inner, _, post = m.partition(sep)

# get rid of f
l = l[:-1]

ret = ""
var_names = bracketed.findall(inner)
var_names = list(map(lambda x: x[1:-1], var_names))

ret += l + sep + inner + sep
ret += ".format("
for var in var_names:
ret += "{}={}, ".format(var, var)
ret = ret[:-2]
ret += ")" + post
return ret

if __name__ == "__main__":
test_input = 'mystr = f"This {is} an {f}-string".reverse()'
expected  = 'mystr = "This {is} an {f}-string".format(is=is, f=f).reverse()'
assert expected == convert(test_input)

This is a raw python file. I included a mock unit-test (in case one was testing the function while writing it… I didn’t compose the function like this because I didn’t think about it, but in the future I probably will).

Now let’s write a thin vim wrapper around it.

" convert_string.vim

let s:script_dir = fnamemodify(resolve(expand('<sfile>', ':p')), ':h')

function! Convert()
py3 << EOF

import sys
import vim

script_dir = vim.eval('s:script_dir')
sys.path.insert(0, script_dir)

import convert_fstring

def convert():
out = convert_fstring.convert(vim.current.line)
vim.current.line = out

convert()
EOF

endfunction

com! Conv call Convert()
nnoremap Q :Conv<CR>

This is mostly pretty clear, with (I think) two exceptions concerning s:script_dir.

The problem comes from trying to import convert_fstring — it’s not in our PYTHONPATH, and the current working directory for python from within vim is a bit weird. It would be possible to directly code in the current directory into the PYTHONPATH, but I think it is more elegant to have convert_fstring.vim add the location of convert_fstring.py to python’s path.3 One can do that through

There are two additions of note that address this import. The first is the line

let s:script_dir = fnamemodify(resolve(expand('<sfile>', ':p')), ':h')

This sets a script-local variable (the prefix s:) containing the directory in which the script was sourced from. (This is where we use the assumption that the vimfile is in the same directory as the python file. If they’re in relative directories, then one much change the path addition to python appropriately).

The string <sfile> is populated automatically by vim to contain the filename of the sourcefile. Calling expand with the :p filemodifier returns the complete path of <sfile>. Calling resolve follows symlinks so that the path is absolute. And the final fnamemodify with the :h modifier returns the head, or rather the directory, of the file. Thus the result is to get an absolute path to the directory containing the script (and in this case also the python file).

Then in the python function, we add this location to the path through

script_dir = vim.eval('s:script_dir')
sys.path.insert(0, script_dir)

The first line has vim convert the vim variable into a python string, and the second inserts this directory into the PYTHONPATH.

I have a collection of loosely organized helper scripts in a (creatively named) ~/scripts directory. Some of these were written as pure python shellscripts that I’ve added some vim wrappers around.

### Writing a Plugin

To reiterate, I consider this excessive for my sample application. But we’ve covered so many of the ideas that we should touch on it now.

Any plugin should follow Tim Pope’s Pathogen design model, with the ultimate goal of having a structure that looks like

myplugin/
myplugin.vim
...
plugin/
...

Pathogen (or Pathogen-compatible plugin managers, which as far as I know means all of them… like Vundle or vim-plug) will allow plugins to be installed in ~/.vim/bundle, and each plugin there will be added to vim’s rtp. 4 Each plugin manager installs plugins (i.e. adds to the runtimepath) in its own way. For Vundle, I include an extra line in my .vimrc.

Suppose I want to package my script as a plugin called fstring_converter. Then I’ll create the directory structure

fstring_converter/
ftplugin/
python.vim
convert_fstring.py

where python.vim is what I called convert_fstring.vim before. Placing fstring_converter in ~/.vim/bundle (or symlinking it, or installing it there through e.g. Vundle) will “install it”. Then opening a python file will load it, and one can either Conv a line or (as it’s currently written) use Q. (Although I think it’s a bit unkind and certainly unsustainable to create this mapping for users).

I note that one should generically use autoload/ when available, but I don’t touch that now.

As an additional note, vim does add some directories to the PYTHONPATH under the hood. For each directory in vim’s runtimepath, vim adds the subdirectory python3 (and also pythonx) to the python module search path. As a result, we could omit the explicit path addition to the python.vim (aka convert_fstring.vim) file if we organized the plugin like

fstring_converter/
ftplugin/
python.vim
python3/
convert_fstring.py

Regardless, this describes a few ways to make a vim plugin out of our python script.

## Slides for a talk at JMM 2019

Today, I’m giving a talk on Zeroes of L-functions associated to half-integral weight modular forms, which includes some joint work with Li-Mei Lim and Tom Hulse, and which alludes to other joint work touched on previously with Jeff Hoffstein and Min Lee (and which perhaps should have been finished a few years ago).

## Update to Second Moments in the Generalized Gauss Circle Problem

Last year, my coauthors Tom Hulse, Chan Ieong Kuan, and Alex Walker posted a paper to the arXiv called “Second Moments in the Generalized Gauss Circle Problem”. I’ve briefly described its contents before.

This paper has been accepted and will appear in Forum of Mathematics: Sigma.

This is the first time I’ve submitted to the Forum of Mathematics, and I must say that this has been a very good journal experience. One interesting aspect about FoM: Sigma is that they are immediate (gold) open access, and they don’t release in issues. Instead, articles become available (for free) from them once the submission process is done. I was reviewing a publication-proof of the paper yesterday, and they appear to be very quick with regards to editing. Perhaps the paper will appear before the end of the year.

An updated version (the version from before the handling of proofs at the journal, so there will be a number of mostly aesthetic differences with the published version) of the paper will appear on the arXiv on Monday 10 December.1

## A new appendix has appeared

There is one major addition to the paper that didn’t appear in the original preprint. At one of the referee’s suggestions, Chan and I wrote an appendix. The major content of this appendix concerns a technical detail about Rankin-Selberg convolutions.

If $f$ and $g$ are weight $k$ cusp forms on $\mathrm{SL}(2, \mathbb{Z})$ with expansions $$f(z) = \sum_ {n \geq 1} a(n) e(nz), \quad g(z) = \sum_ {n \geq 1} b(n) e(nz),$$ then one can use a (real analytic) Eisenstein series $$E(s, z) = \sum_ {\gamma \in \mathrm{SL}(2, \mathbb{Z})_ \infty \backslash \mathrm{SL}(2, \mathbb{Q})} \mathrm{Im}(\gamma z)^s$$ to recognize the Rankin-Selberg $L$-function $$\label{RS} L(s, f \otimes g) := \zeta(s) \sum_ {n \geq 1} \frac{a(n)b(n)}{n^{s + k – 1}} = h(s) \langle f g y^k, E(s, z) \rangle,$$ where $h(s)$ is an easily-understandable function of $s$ and where $\langle \cdot, \cdot \rangle$ denotes the Petersson inner product.

When $f$ and $g$ are not cusp forms, or when $f$ and $g$ are modular with respect to a congruence subgroup of $\mathrm{SL}(2, \mathbb{Z})$, then there are adjustments that must be made to the typical construction of $L(s, f \otimes g)$.

When $f$ and $g$ are not cusp forms, then Zagier2 provided a way to recognize $L(s, f \otimes g)$ when $f$ and $g$ are modular on the full modular group $\mathrm{SL}(2, \mathbb{Z})$. And under certain conditions that he describes, he shows that one can still recognize $L(s, f \otimes g)$ as an inner product with an Eisenstein series as in \eqref{RS}.

In principle, his method of proof would apply for non-cuspidal forms defined on congruence subgroups, but in practice this becomes too annoying and bogged down with details to work with. Fortunately, in 2000, Gupta3 gave a different construction of $L(s, f \otimes g)$ that generalizes more readily to non-cuspidal forms on congruence subgroups. His construction is very convenient, and it shows that $L(s, f \otimes g)$ has all of the properties expected of it.

However Gupta does not show that there are certain conditions under which one can recognize $L(s, f \otimes g)$ as an inner product against an Eisenstein series.4 For this paper, we need to deal very explicitly and concretely with $L(s, \theta^2 \otimes \overline{\theta^2})$, which is formed from the modular form $\theta^2$, non-cuspidal on a congruence subgroup.

The Appendix to the paper can be thought of as an extension of Gupta’s paper: it uses Gupta’s ideas and techniques to prove a result analogous to \eqref{RS}. We then use this to get the explicit understanding necessary to tackle the Gauss Sphere problem.

There is more to this story. I’ll return to it in a later note.

## Other submission details for FoM: Sigma

I should say that there are many other revisions between the original preprint and the final one. These are mainly due to the extraordinary efforts of two Referees. One Referee was kind enough to give us approximately 10 pages of itemized suggestions and comments.

When I first opened these comments, I was a bit afraid. Having so many comments was daunting. But this Referee really took his or her time to point us in the right direction, and the resulting paper is vastly improved (and in many cases shortened, although the appendix has hidden the simplified arguments cut in length).

More broadly, the Referee acted as a sort of mentor with respect to my technical writing. I have a lot of opinions on technical writing,5 but this process changed and helped sharpen my ideas concerning good technical math writing.

I sometimes hear lots of negative aspects about peer review, but this particular pair of Referees turned the publication process into an opportunity to learn about good mathematical exposition — I didn’t expect this.

I was also surprised by the infrastructure that existed at the University of Warwick for handling a gold open access submission. As part of their open access funding, Forum of Math: Sigma has an author-pays model. Or rather, the author’s institution pays. It took essentially no time at all for Warwick to arrange the payment (about 500 pounds).

This is a not-inconsequential amount of money, but it is much less than the 1500 dollars that PLoS One uses. The comparison with PLoS One is perhaps apt. PLoS is older, and perhaps paved the way for modern gold open access journals like FoM. PLoS was started by group of established biologists and chemists, including a Nobel prize winner; FoM was started by a group of established mathematicians, including multiple Fields medalists.6

I will certainly consider Forum of Mathematics in the future.

## The wrong way to compute a sum: addendum

In my previous note, I looked at an amusing but inefficient way to compute the sum $$\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^n – 1}$$ using Mellin and inverse Mellin transforms. This was great fun, but the amount of work required was more intense than the more straightforward approach offered immediately by using Lambert series.

However, Adam Harper suggested that there is a nice shortcut that we can use (although coming up with this shortcut requires either a lot of familiarity with Mellin transforms or knowledge of the answer).

In the Lambert series approach, one shows quickly that $$\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^n – 1} = \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{n}{2^n},$$ and then evaluates this last sum directly. For the Mellin transform approach, we might ask: do the two functions $$f(x) = \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^{nx} – 1}$$ and $$g(x) = \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{n}{2^{nx}}$$ have the same Mellin transforms? From the previous note, we know that they have the same values at $1$.

We also showed very quickly that $$\mathcal{M} [f] = \frac{1}{(\log 2)^2} \Gamma(s) \zeta(s-1).$$ The more difficult parts from the previous note arose in the evaluation of the inverse Mellin transform at $x=1$.

Let us compute the Mellin transform of $g$. We find that \begin{align} \mathcal{M}[g] &= \sum_{n \geq 1} n \int_0^\infty \frac{1}{2^{nx}} x^s \frac{dx}{x} \notag \\ &= \sum_{n \geq 1} n \int_0^\infty \frac{1}{e^{nx \log 2}} x^s \frac{dx}{x} \notag \\ &= \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{n}{(n \log 2)^s} \int_0^\infty x^s e^{-x} \frac{dx}{x} \notag \\ &= \frac{1}{(\log 2)^2} \zeta(s-1)\Gamma(s). \notag \end{align} To go from the second line to the third line, we did the change of variables $x \mapsto x/(n \log 2)$, yielding an integral which is precisely the definition of the Gamma function.

Thus we see that $$\mathcal{M}[g] = \frac{1}{(\log 2)^s} \Gamma(s) \zeta(s-1) = \mathcal{M}[f],$$ and thus $f(x) = g(x)$. (“Nice” functions with the same “nice” Mellin transforms are also the same, exactly as with Fourier transforms).

This shows that not only is $$\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^n – 1} = \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{n}{2^n},$$ but in fact $$\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^{nx} – 1} = \sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{n}{2^{nx}}$$ for all $x > 1$.

I think that’s sort of slick.

## The wrong way to compute a sum

At a recent colloquium at the University of Warwick, the fact that
\label{question}
\sum_ {n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^n – 1} = 2.

Although this was mentioned in passing, John Cremona asked — How do you prove that?

It almost fails a heuristic check, as one can quickly check that
\label{similar}
\sum_ {n \geq 1} \frac{n}{2^n} = 2,

which is surprisingly similar to \eqref{question}. I wish I knew more examples of pairs with a similar flavor.

[Edit: Note that an addendum to this note has been added here. In it, we see that there is a way to shortcut the “hard part” of the long computation.]

## The right way

Shortly afterwards, Adam Harper and Samir Siksek pointed out that this can be determined from Lambert series, and in fact that Hardy and Wright include a similar exercise in their book. This proof is delightful and short.

The idea is that, by expanding the denominator in power series, one has that

\sum_{n \geq 1} a(n) \frac{x^n}{1 – x^n} \notag
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} a(n) \sum_{m \geq 1} x^{mn}
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} \Big( \sum_{d \mid n} a(d) \Big) x^n,

where the inner sum is a sum over the divisors of $d$. This all converges beautifully for $\lvert x \rvert < 1$.

Applied to \eqref{question}, we find that

\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^n – 1} \notag
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} \varphi(n) \frac{2^{-n}}{1 – 2^{-n}}
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} 2^{-n} \sum_{d \mid n} \varphi(d),

and as

\sum_ {d \mid n} \varphi(d) = n, \notag

we see that \eqref{question} can be rewritten as \eqref{similar} after all, and thus both evaluate to $2$.

That’s a nice derivation using a series that I hadn’t come across before. But that’s not what this short note is about. This note is about evaluating \eqref{question} in a different way, arguably the wrong way. But it’s a wrong way that works out in a nice way that at least one person1 finds appealing.

## The wrong way

We will use Mellin inversion — this is essentially Fourier inversion, but in a change of coordinates.

Let $f$ denote the function

f(x) = \frac{1}{2^x – 1}. \notag

Denote by $f^ *$ the Mellin transform of $f$,

f * (s):= \mathcal{M} [f(x)] (s) := \int_ 0^\infty f(x) x^s \frac{dx}{x}
= \frac{1}{(\log 2)^2} \Gamma(s)\zeta(s),\notag

where $\Gamma(s)$ and $\zeta(s)$ are the Gamma function and Riemann zeta functions.2

For a general nice function $g(x)$, its Mellin transform satisfies

\mathcal{M}[f(nx)] (s)
= \int_0^\infty g(nx) x^s \frac{dx}{x}
= \frac{1}{n^s} \int_0^\infty g(x) x^s \frac{dx}{x}
= \frac{1}{n^s} g^ * (s).\notag

Further, the Mellin transform is linear. Thus
\label{mellinbase}
\mathcal{M}[\sum_{n \geq 1} \varphi(n) f(nx)] (s)
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{n^s} f^ * (s)
= \sum_ {n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{n^s} \frac{\Gamma(s) \zeta(s)}{(\log 2)^s}.

The Euler phi function $\varphi(n)$ is multiplicative and nice, and its Dirichlet series can be rewritten as

\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{n^s} \notag
= \frac{\zeta(s-1)}{\zeta(s)}.

Thus the Mellin transform in \eqref{mellinbase} can be written as

\frac{1}{(\log 2)^s} \Gamma(s) \zeta(s-1). \notag

By the fundamental theorem of Mellin inversion (which is analogous to Fourier inversion, but again in different coordinates), the inverse Mellin transform will return the original function. The inverse Mellin transform of a function $h(s)$ is defined to be

\mathcal{M}^{-1}[h(s)] (x) \notag
:=
\frac{1}{2\pi i} \int_ {c – i \infty}^{c + i\infty} x^s h(s) ds,

where $c$ is taken so that the integral converges beautifully, and the integral is over the vertical line with real part $c$. I’ll write $(c)$ as a shorthand for the limits of integration. Thus
\label{mellininverse}
\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^{nx} – 1}
= \frac{1}{2\pi i} \int_ {(3)} \frac{1}{(\log 2)^s}
\Gamma(s) \zeta(s-1) x^{-s} ds.

We can now describe the end goal: evaluate \eqref{mellininverse} at $x=1$, which will recover the value of the original sum in \eqref{question}.

How can we hope to do that? The idea is to shift the line of integration arbitrarily far to the left, pick up the infinitely many residues guaranteed by Cauchy’s residue theorem, and to recognize the infinite sum as a classical series.

The integrand has residues at $s = 2, 0, -2, -4, \ldots$, coming from the zeta function ($s = 2$) and the Gamma function (all the others). Note that there aren’t poles at negative odd integers, since the zeta function has zeroes at negative even integers.

Recall, $\zeta(s)$ has residue $1$ at $s = 1$ and $\Gamma(s)$ has residue $(-1)^n/{n!}$ at $s = -n$. Then shifting the line of integration and picking up all the residues reveals that

\sum_{n \geq 1} \frac{\varphi(n)}{2^{n} – 1} \notag
=\frac{1}{\log^2 2} + \zeta(-1) + \frac{\zeta(-3)}{2!} \log^2 2 +
\frac{\zeta(-5)}{4!} \log^4 2 + \cdots

The zeta function at negative integers has a very well-known relation to the Bernoulli numbers,
\label{zeta_bern}
\zeta(-n) = – \frac{B_ {n+1}}{n+1},

where Bernoulli numbers are the coefficients in the expansion
\label{bern_gen}
\frac{t}{1 – e^{-t}} = \sum_{m \geq 0} B_m \frac{t^m}{m!}.

Many general proofs for the values of $\zeta(2n)$ use this relation and the functional equation, as well as a computation of the Bernoulli numbers themselves. Another important aspect of Bernoulli numbers that is apparent through \eqref{zeta_bern} is that $B_{2n+1} = 0$ for $n \geq 1$, lining up with the trivial zeroes of the zeta function.

Translating the zeta values into Bernoulli numbers, we find that
\eqref{question} is equal to
\begin{align}
&\frac{1}{\log^2 2} – \frac{B_2}{2} – \frac{B_4}{2! \cdot 4} \log^2 2 –
\frac{B_6}{4! \cdot 6} \log^4 2 – \frac{B_8}{6! \cdot 8} \cdots \notag \\
&=
-\sum_{m \geq 0} (m-1) B_m \frac{(\log 2)^{m-2}}{m!}. \label{recog}
\end{align}
This last sum is excellent, and can be recognized.

For a general exponential generating series

F(t) = \sum_{m \geq 0} a(m) \frac{t^m}{m!},\notag

we see that

\frac{d}{dt} \frac{1}{t} F(t) \notag
=\sum_{m \geq 0} (m-1) a(m) \frac{t^{m-2}}{m!}.

Applying this to the series defining the Bernoulli numbers from \eqref{bern_gen}, we find that

\frac{d}{dt} \frac{1}{t} \frac{t}{1 – e^{-t}} \notag
=- \frac{e^{-t}}{(1 – e^{-t})^2},

and also that

\frac{d}{dt} \frac{1}{t} \frac{t}{1 – e^{-t}} \notag
=\sum_{m \geq 0} (m-1) B_m \frac{(t)^{m-2}}{m!}.

This is exactly the sum that appears in \eqref{recog}, with $t = \log 2$.

Putting this together, we find that

\sum_{m \geq 0} (m-1) B_m \frac{(\log 2)^{m-2}}{m!} \notag
=\frac{e^{-\log 2}}{(1 – e^{-\log 2})^2}
= \frac{1/2}{(1/2)^2} = 2.

Thus we find that \eqref{question} really is equal to $2$, as we had sought to show.

## Using lcalc to compute half-integral weight L-functions

This is a brief note intended primarily for my collaborators interested in using Rubinstein’s lcalc to compute the values of half-integral weight $L$-functions.

We will be using lcalc through sage. Unfortunately, we are going to be using some functionality which sage doesn’t expose particularly nicely, so it will feel a bit silly. Nonetheless, using sage’s distribution will prevent us from needing to compile it on our own (and there are a few bugfixes present in sage’s version).

Some $L$-functions are inbuilt into lcalc, but not half-integral weight $L$-functions. So it will be necessary to create a datafile containing the data that lcalc will use to generate its approximations. In short, this datafile will describe the shape of the functional equation and give a list of coefficients for lcalc to use.

## Building the datafile

It is assumed that the $L$-function is normalized in such a way that
$$\Lambda(s) = Q^s L(s) \prod_{j = 1}^{A} \Gamma(\gamma_j s + \lambda_j) = \omega \overline{\Lambda(1 – \overline{s})}.$$
This involves normalizing the functional equation to be of shape $s \mapsto 1-s$. Also note that $Q$ will be given as a real number.

An annotated version of the datafile you should create looks like this

2                  # 2 means the Dirichlet coefficients are reals
0                  # 0 means the L-function isn't a "nice" one
10000              # 10000 coefficients will be provided
0                  # 0 means the coefficients are not periodic
1                  # num Gamma factors of form \Gamma(\gamma s + \lambda)
1                  # the \gamma in the Gamma factor
1.75 0             # \lambda in Gamma factor; complex valued, space delimited
0.318309886183790  # Q. In this case, 1/pi
1 0                # real and imaginary parts of omega, sign of func. eq.
0                  # number of poles
1.000000000000000  # a(1)
-1.78381067250408  # a(2)
...                # ...
-0.622124724090625 # a(10000)


If there is an error, lcalc will usually fail silently. (Bummer). Note that in practice, datafiles should only contain numbers and should not contain comments. This annotated version is for convenience, not for use.

You can find a copy of the datafile for the unique half-integral weight cusp form of weight $9/2$ on $\Gamma_0(4)$ here. This uses the first 10000 coefficients — it’s surely possible to use more, but this was the test-setup that I first set up.

## Generating the coefficients for this example

In order to create datafiles for other cuspforms, it is necessary to compute the coefficients (presumably using magma or sage) and then to populate a datafile. A good exercise would be to recreate this datafile using sage-like methods.

One way to create this datafile is to explicitly create the q-expansion of the modular form, if we happen to know a convenient expression. For us, we happen to know that $f = \eta(2z)^{12} \theta(z)^{-3}$. Thus one way to create the coefficients is to do something like the following.

num_coeffs = 10**5 + 1
weight     = 9.0 / 2.0

R.<q> = PowerSeriesRing(ZZ)
theta_expansion = theta_qexp(num_coeffs)
# Note that qexp_eta omits the q^(1/24) factor
eta_expansion = qexp_eta(ZZ[['q']], num_coeffs + 1)
eta2_coeffs = []
for i in range(num_coeffs):
if i % 2 == 1:
eta2_coeffs.append(0)
else:
eta2_coeffs.append(eta_expansion[i//2])
eta2 = R(eta2_coeffs)
g = q * ( (eta2)**4 / (theta_expansion) )**3

coefficients = g.list()[1:] # skip the 0 coeff
print(coefficients[:10])

normalized_coefficients = []
for idx, elem in enumerate(coefficients, 1):
normalized_coeff = 1.0 * elem / (idx ** (.5 * (weight - 1)))
normalized_coefficients.append(normalized_coeff)
print(normalized_coefficients[:10])


## Using lcalc now

Suppose that you have a datafile, called g1_lcalcfile.txt (for example). Then to use this from sage, you point lcalc within sage to this file. This can be done through calls such as

# Computes L(0.5 + 0i, f)
lcalc('-v -x0.5 -y0 -Fg1_lcalcfile.txt')

# Computes L(s, f) from 0.5 to (2 + 7i) at 1000 equally spaced samples
lcalc('--value-line-segment -x0.5 -y0 -X2 -Y7 --number-samples=1000 -Fg1_lcalcfile.txt')

# See lcalc.help() for more on calling lcalc.


The key in these is to pass along the datafile through the -F argument.

## Extra comparisons in Python’s timsort

Reading through the comp.lang.python mailing list, I saw an interesting question concerning the behavior of the default sorting algorithm in python. This led to this post.

Python uses timsort, a clever hybrid sorting algorithm with ideas borrowing from merge sort and (binary) insertion sort. A major idea in timsort is to use the structure of naturally occuring runs (consecutive elements in the list that are either monotone increasing or monotone decreasing) when sorting.

Let’s look at the following simple list.

10, 20, 5

A simple sorting algorithm is insertion sort, which just advances through the list and inserts each number into the correct spot. More explicitly, insertion sort would

1. Start with the first element, 10. As a list with one element, it is correctly sorted tautologically.
2. Now consider the second element, 20. We insert this into the correct position in the already-sorted list of previous elements. Here, that just means that we verify that 20 > 10, and now we have the sorted sublist consisting of 10, 20.
3. Now consider the third element, 5. We want to insert this into the correct position in the already-sorted list of previous elements. A naively easy way to do this is to either scan the list from the right or from the left, and insert into the correct place. For example, scanning from the right would mean that we compare 5 to the last element of the sublist, 20. As 5 < 20, we shift left and compare 5 to 10. As 5 < 10, we shift left again. As there is nothing left to compare against, we insert 5 at the beginning, yielding the sorted list 5, 10, 20.

How many comparisons did this take? This took 20 > 10, 5 < 20, and 5 < 10. This is three comparisons in total.

We can see this programmatically as well. Here is one implementation of insertion_sort, as described above.

def insertion_sort(lst):
'''
Sorts lst in-place. Note that this changes lst.
'''
for index in range(1, len(lst)):
current_value = lst[index]
position = index
while position > 0 and lst[position - 1] > current_value:
lst[position] = lst[position - 1]
position = position - 1
lst[position] = current_value

Let’s also create a simple Number class, which is just like a regular number, except that anytime a comparison is done it prints out the comparison. This will count the number of comparisons made for us.

class Number:
def __init__(self, value):
self.value = value

def __str__(self):
return str(self.value)

def __repr__(self):
return self.__str__()

def __lt__(self, other):
if self.value < other.value:
print("{} < {}".format(self, other))
return True
print("{} >= {}".format(self, other))
return False

def __eq__(self, other):
if self.value == other.value:
print("{} = {}".format(self, other))
return True
return False

def __gt__(self, other):
return not ((self == other) or (self < other))

def __le__(self, other):
return (self < other) or (self == other)

def __ge__(self, other):
return not (self < other)

def __nq__(self, other):
return not (self == other)

With this class and function, we can run

lst = [Number(10), Number(20), Number(5)]
insertion_sort(lst)
print(lst)

which will print

10 < 20
20 >= 5
10 >= 5
[5, 10, 20]

These are the three comparisons we were expecting to see.

Returning to python’s timsort — what happens if we call python’s default sorting method on this list? The code

lst = [Number(10), Number(20), Number(5)]
lst.sort()
print(lst)

prints

20 >= 10
5 < 20
5 < 20
5 < 10
[5, 10, 20]

There are four comparisons! And weirdly, the method checks that 5 < 20 twice in a row. What’s going on there?1

At its heart, this was at the core of the thread on comp.lang.python. Why are there extra comparisons in cases like this?

Poking around the implementation of timsort taught me a little bit more about timsort.2

Timsort approaches this sorting task in the following way.

1. First, timsort tries to identify how large the first run within the sequence is. So it keeps comparing terms until it finds one that is out of order. In this case, it compares 20 to 10 (finding that 20 > 10, and thus the run is increasing), and then compares 5 to 20 (finding that 5 < 20, and thus that 5 is not part of the same run as 10, 20). Now the run is identified, and there is one element left to incorporate.
2. Next timsort tries to insert 5 into the already-sorted run. It is more correct to say that timsort attempts to do a binary insertion, since one knows already that the run is sorted.3 In this binary insertion, timsort will compare 5 with the middle of the already-sorted run 10, 20. But this is a list of length 2, so what is its middle element? It turns out that timsort takes the latter element, 20, in this case. As 5 < 20, timsort concludes that 5 should be inserted somewhere in the first half of the run 10, 20, and not in the second half.
3. Of course, the first half consists entirely of 10. Thus the remaining comparison is to check that 5 < 10, and now the list is sorted.

We count4 all four of the comparisons. The doubled comparison is due to the two tasks of checking whether 5 is in the same run as 10, 20, and then of deciding through binary insertion where to place 5 in the smaller sublist of 10, 20.

Now that we’ve identified a doubled comparison, we might ask Why is it this way? Is this something that should change?

The short answer is it doesn’t really matter. A longer answer is that to apply this in general would cause additional comparisons to be made, since this applies in the case when the last element of the run agrees in value with the central value of the run (which may occur for longer lists if there are repeated values). Checking that this happens would probably either involve comparing the last element of the run with the central value (one extra comparison, so nothing is really saved anyway), or perhaps adding another data structure like a skip list (which seems sufficiently more complicated to not be worth the effort). Or it would only apply when sorting really short lists, in which case there isn’t much to worry about.

Learning a bit more about timsort made me realize that I could probably learn a lot by really understanding an implementation of timsort, or even a slightly simplified implementation. It’s a nice reminder that one can choose to optimize for certain situations or behaviors, and this might not cover all cases perfectly — and that’s ok.

## Speed talks should be at every conference

I recently attended Building Bridges 4, an automorphic forms summer school and workshop. A major goal of the conference is to foster communication and relationships between researchers from North America and Europe, especially junior researchers and graduate students.

It was a great conference, and definitely one of the better conferences that I’ve attended. What made it so good? For one thing, it was in Budapest, and I love Budapest. Many of the main topics were close to my heart, which is a big plus.

But what I think really set it apart was that there were lots of relatively short talks, and almost everyone attended almost every talk.1

The amount of time allotted to a talk carries extreme power in deciding what sort of talk it will be. A typical hour-long seminar talk is long enough to give context, describe a line of research leading to a set of results, discuss how these results fit into the literature, and even to give a non-rushed description of how something is proved. Sometimes a good speaker will even distill a few major ideas and discuss how they are related. A long talk can have multiple major ideas (although just one presented very well can make a good talk too).

In comparison, 50, 40, and 30 minute talks require much more discipline. As the amount of time decreases, the number of ideas that can be inserted into a talk decreases. And this relationship is not linear! Thirty minutes is just about long enough to describe one idea pretty well, and to do anything more is very hard.2

Something interesting happens for shorter talks. For 20 minute, 15 minute, and 10 minute talks, the limitation almost serves as a source of inspiration.3 Being forced to focus on what’s important is a powerful organizing force.

The median talk length was 20 minutes, which is a very comfortable number. This is long enough to state a result and give context. It’s also long enough to tempt speakers into describing methodology behind a proof, but not long enough to effectively teach someone how the proof works.

An extraordinary aspect of a 20 minute talk is also that it’s short enough to pay attention to, even if it’s only an okay talk. It is perhaps not a surprise to most conference goers that most talks are not so great. To be a skilled orator is to be exceptional.

At Building Bridges, I was introduced to math speed talks. These are two minute talks. I’ve seen many programming lightning talks (often used to plug a particular product or solution to a common programming problem), but these math speed talks were different.

People used their two minutes to introduce an idea, or a result. And they either chose to give the broadest possible context, or a singular idea in the proof.

People were talking about real mathematics in two minutes. And I loved it.

Simply having a task where you distill some real mathematics into a two minute coherent description is worthwhile. What’s important? What do you really want to say? Why?

Two minutes is so short that it feels silly. And silly means that it doesn’t feel dangerous or scary, and thus many people felt willing to give it a try. At Building Bridges, the organizers gamified the speed talks, so that getting the closest to 2 minutes was rewarded with applause and going over two minutes resulted in a buzzer going off. It was a game, and it was fun. It was encouraging.

I firmly support any activity that encourages people who normally don’t speak so much, especially students and junior researchers. You learn a lot by giving a talk, even if it’s only a two minute talk.4

This conference had 19 (I think) speed talks over a three day stretch. They were given in clumps after the last regular talk each day. Since people were there for the big talk, everyone attended the speed talks. This is also important! In conferences like the Joint Math Meetings, where there might even be something like speed talks, it’s essentially impossible to pay attention since there are too many people in too many places and you never can step in the same river twice. Here, speed talks were given on the same stage as long talks, to the same audience, and with the same equipment.

Every conference should have speed talks. And they should be treated as first-class talks, with the exception that they are irrefutably silly.

Go forth and spread the speed talk gospel.

## A bookmarklet to inject colorblind friendly CSS into Travis CI

In my previous post, I noted that the ability to see in color gave me an apparent superpower in quickly analyzing Travis CI and pytest logs.

I wondered: how hard is it to use colorblind friendly colors here?

I had in the back of my mind the thought of the next time I sit down and pair program with someone who is colorblind (which will definitely happen). Pair programming is largely about sharing experiences and ideas, and color disambiguation shouldn’t be a wedge.

I decided that loading customized CSS is the way to go. There are different ways to do this, but an easy method for quick replicability is to create a bookmarklet that adds CSS into the page. So, I did that.

You can get that bookmarklet here. (Due to very sensible security reasons, WordPress doesn’t want to allow me to provide a link which is actually a javascript function. So I make it available on a static, handwritten page).1

Here’s how it works. A Travis log looks typically like this:

After clicking on the bookmarklet, it looks like

This is not beautiful, but it works and it’s very noticable. Nonetheless, when the goal is just to be able to quickly recognize if errors are occuring, or to recognize exceptional lines on a quick scroll-by, the black-text-on-white-box wins the standout crown.

The LMFDB uses pytest, which conveniently produces error summaries at the end of the test. (We used to use nosetest, and we hadn’t set it up to have nice summaries before transitioning to pytest). This bookmark will also effect the error summary, so that it now looks like

Again, I would say this is not beautiful, but definitely noticeable.

As an aside, I also looked through the variety of colorschemes that I have collected over the years. And it turns out that 100 percent of them are unkind to colorblind users, with the exception of the monotone or monochromatic schemes (which are equal in the Harrison Bergeron sense).

We should do better.