The Universe of Discourse

Sat, 17 Nov 2018

How do you make a stella octangula?

Yesterday Katara asked me out of nowhere “When you make a stella octangula, do you build it up from an octahedron or a tetrahedron?” Stella octangula was her favorite polyhedron eight years ago.

“Uh,” I said. “Both?”

Then she had to make one to see what I meant. You can start with a regular octahedron:

a regular octahedron made of six steel
ball bearings and twelve blue and green magnetic struts

Then you erect spikes onto four of the octahedron's faces; this produces a regular tetrahedron:

A very similar octahedron, this time
with an orange tripod attached to four of its eight faces, forming an
orange tetrahedron with a blue and green octahedron embedded in it

Then you erect spikes onto the other four of the octahedron's faces. Now you have a stella octangula.

The octahedron from before, but with
red tripods attached to its other four faces, making eight tripods in
all.  The final result looks like interpenetrating red and orange
tetrahedra, with the original octahedron in their intersection

So yeah, both. Or instead of starting with a unit octahedron and erecting eight spikes of size 1, you can start with a unit tetrahedron and erect four spikes of size ½. It's both at once.

[Other articles in category /math] permanent link

Wed, 14 Nov 2018

Counting paths through polyhedra

A while back someone asked on math stack exchange how many paths there were of length !!N!! from one vertex of a dodecahedron to the opposite vertex. The vertices are distance 5 apart, so for !!N<5!! the answer is zero, but the paths need not be simple, so the number grows rapidly with !!N!!; there are 58 million paths of length 19.

This is the kind of thing that the computer answers easily, so that's where I started, and unfortunately that's also where I finished, saying:

I'm still working out a combinatorial method of calculating the answer, and I may not be successful.

Another user reminded me of this and I took another whack at it. I couldn't remember what my idea had been last year, but my idea this time around was to think of the dodecahedron as the Cayley graph for a group, and then the paths are expressions that multiply out to a particular group element.

I started by looking at a tetrahedron instead of at a dodecahedron, to see how it would work out. Here's a tetrahedron.

Let's say we're counting paths from the center vertex to one of the others, say the one at the top. (Tetrahedra don't have opposite vertices, but that's not an important part of the problem.) A path is just a list of edges, and each edge is labeled with a letter !!a!!, !!b!!, or !!c!!. Since each vertex has exactly one edge with each label, every sequence of !!a!!'s, !!b!!'s, and !!c!!'s represents a distinct path from the center to somewhere else, although not necessarily to the place we want to go. Which of these paths end at the bottom vertex?

The edge labeling I chose here lets us play a wonderful trick. First, since any edge has the same label at both ends, the path !!x!! always ends at the same place as !!xaa!!, because the first !!a!! goes somewhere else and then the second !!a!! comes back again, and similarly !!xbb!! and !!xcc!! also go to the same place. So if we have a path that ends where we want, we can insert any number of pairs !!aa, bb, !! or !!cc!! and the new path will end at the same place.

But there's an even better trick available. For any starting point, and any letters !!x!! and !!y!!, the path !!xy!! always ends at the same place as !!yx!!. For example, if we start at the middle and follow edge !!b!!, then !!c!!, we end at the lower left; similarly if we follow edge !!c!! and then !!b!! we end at the same place, although by a different path.

Now suppose we want to find all the paths of length 7 from the middle to the top. Such a path is a sequence of a's, b's, and c's of length 7. Every such sequence specifies a different path out of the middle vertex, but how can we recognize which sequences end at the top vertex?

Since !!xy!! always goes to the same place as !!yx!!, the order of the seven letters doesn't matter. A complicated-seeming path like abacbcb must go to the same place as !!aabbbcc!!, the same path with the letters in alphabetical order. And since !!xx!! always goes back to where it came from, the path !!aabbbcc!! does to the same place as !!b!!

Since the paths we want are those that go to the same place as the trivial path !!c!!, we want paths that have an even number of !!a!!s and !!b!!s and an odd number of !!c!!s. Any path fitting that description will go to same place as !!c!!, which is the top vertex. It's easy to enumerate such paths:

How many?

Here something like “cccbbbb” stands for all the paths that have three c's and four b's, in some order; there are !!\frac{7!}{4!3!} = 35!! possible orders, so 35 paths of this type. If we wanted to consider paths of arbitrary length, we could use Burnside's lemma, but I consider the tetrahedron to have been sufficiently well solved by the observations above (we counted 547 paths by hand in under 60 seconds) and I don't want to belabor the point.

Okay! Easy-peasy!

Now let's try cubes:

Here we'll consider paths between two antipodal vertices in the upper right and the lower left, which I've colored much darker gray than the other six vertices.

The same magic happens as in the tetrahedron. No matter where we start, and no matter what !!x!! and !!y!! are, the path !!xy!! always gets us to the same place as !!yx!!. So again, if some complicated path gets us where we want to go, we can permute its components into any order and get a different path of the same langth to the same place. For example, starting from the upper left, bcba, abcb, and abbc all go to the same place.

And again, because !!xx!! always make a trip along one edge and then back along the same edge, it never goes anywhere. So the three paths in the previous paragraph also go to the same place as ac and ca and also aa bcba bb aa aa aa aa bb cc cc cc bb.

We want to count paths from one dark vertex to the other. Obviously abc is one such, and so too must be bac, cba, acb, and so forth. There are six paths of length 3.

To get paths of length 5, we must insert a pair of matching letters into one of the paths of length 3. Without loss of generality we can assume that we are inserting aa. There are 20 possible orders for aaabc, and three choices about which pair to insert, for a total of 60 paths.

To get paths of length 7, we must insert two pairs. If the two pairs are the same, there are !!\frac{7!}{5!} = 42!! possible orders and 3 choices about which letters to insert, for a total of 126. If the two pairs are different, there are !!\frac{7!}{3!3!} = 140!! possible orders and again 3 choices about which pairs to insert, for a total of 420, and a grand total of !!420+126 = 546!! paths of length 7. Counting the paths of length 9 is almost as easy. For the general case, again we could use Burnside's lemma, or at this point we could look up the unusual sequence !!6, 60, 546!! in OEIS and find that the number of paths of length !!2n+1!! is already known to be !!\frac34(9^n-1)!!.

So far this technique has worked undeservedly well. The original problem wanted to use it to study paths on a dodecahedron. Where, unfortunately, the magic property !!xy=yx!! doesn't hold. It is possible to label the edges of the dodecahedron so that every sequence of labels determines a unique path:

but there's nothing like !!xy=yx!!. Well, nothing exactly like it. !!xy=yx!! is equivalent to !!(xy)^2=1!!, and here instead we have !!(xy)^{10}=1!!. I'm not sure that helps. I will probably need another idea.

The method fails similarly for the octahedron — which is good, because I can use the octahedron as a test platform to try to figure out a new idea. On an octahedron we need to use four kinds of labels because each vertex has four edges emerging from it:

Here again we don't have !!(xy)^2=1!! but we do have !!(xy)^3 = 1!!. So it's possible that if I figure out a good way to enumerate paths on the octahedron I may be able to adapt the technique to the dodecahedron. But the octahedron will be !!\frac{10}3!! times easier.

Viewed as groups, by the way, these path groups are all examples of Coxeter groups. I'm not sure this is actually a useful observation, but I've been wanting to learn about Coxeter groups for a long time and this might be a good enough excuse.

[Other articles in category /math] permanent link

Tue, 13 Nov 2018

A puzzle about representing numbers as a sum of 3-smooth numbers

I think this would be fun for a suitably-minded bright kid of maybe 12–15 years old.

Consider the following table of numbers of the form !!2^i3^j!!:

1 3 9 27 81 243
2 6 18 54 162
4 12 36 108
8 24 72 216
16 48 144
32 96
64 192

Given a number !!n!!, is is possible to represent !!n!! as a sum of entries from the table, with the following constraints:

  • No more than one entry from any column
  • An entry may only be used if it is in a strictly higher row than any entry to its left.

For example, one may not represent !!23 = 2 + 12 + 9!!, because the !!12!! is in a lower row than the !!2!! to its left.

1 3 9 27
2 6 18 54
4 12 36 108

But !!23 = 8 + 6 + 9!! is acceptable, because 6 is higher than 8, and 9 is higher than 6.

1 3 9 27
2 6 18 54
4 12 36 108
8 24 72 216

Or, put another way: can we represent any number !!n!! in the form $$n = \sum_i 2^{a_i}3^{b_i}$$ where the !!a_i!! are strictly decreasing and the !!b_i!! are strictly increasing?


maxpow3 1 = 1 maxpow3 2 = 1 maxpow3 n = 3 * maxpow3 (n `div` 3) rep :: Integer -> [Integer] rep 0 = [] rep n = if even n then map (* 2) (rep (n `div` 2)) else (rep (n - mp3)) ++ [mp3] where mp3 = maxpow3 n

Sadly, the representation is not unique. For example, !!8+3 = 2+9!!, and !!32+24+9 = 32+6+27 = 8+12=18+27!!.

[Other articles in category /math] permanent link

Fri, 09 Nov 2018

Why I never finish my Haskell programs (part 3 of ∞)

(Previously: [1] [2])

I'm doing more work on matrix functions. A matrix represents a relation, and I am representing a matrix as a [[Integer]]. Then matrix addition is simply liftA2 (liftA2 (+)). Except no, that's not right, and this is not a complaint, it's certainly my mistake. The overloading for liftA2 for lists does not do what I want, which is to apply the operation to each pair of correponding elements. I want liftA2 (+) [1,2,3] [10,20,30] to be [11,22,33] but it is not. Instead liftA2 lifts an operation to apply to each possible pair of elements, producing [11,21,31,12,22,32,13,23,33]. And the twice-lifted version is similarly not what I want:

$$ \require{enclose} \begin{pmatrix}1&2\\3&4\end{pmatrix}\enclose{circle}{\oplus} \begin{pmatrix}10&20\\30&40\end{pmatrix}= \begin{pmatrix} 11 & 21 & 12 & 22 \\ 31 & 41 & 32 & 42 \\ 13 & 23 & 14 & 24 \\ 33 & 43 & 34 & 44 \end{pmatrix} $$

No problem, this is what ZipList is for. ZipLists are just regular lists that have a label on them that advises liftA2 to lift an operation to the element-by-element version I want instead of the each-one-by-every-other-one version that is the default. For instance

    liftA2 (+) (ZipList [1,2,3]) (ZipList [10,20,30])

gives ZipList [11,22,33], as desired. The getZipList function turns a ZipList back into a regular list.

But my matrices are nested lists, so I need to apply the ZipList marker twice, once to the outer list, and once to each of the inner lists, because I want the element-by-element behavior at both levels. That's easy enough:

    matrix :: [[a]] -> ZipList (ZipList a)
    matrix m = ZipList (fmap ZipList m)

(The fmap here is actually being specialized to map, but that's okay.)


    (liftA2 . liftA2) (+) (matrix [[1,2],[3,4]]) (matrix [[10,20],[30, 40]])

does indeed produce the result I want, except that the type markers are still in there: instead of


I get

    ZipList [ ZipList [11, 22], ZipList [33, 44] ]

No problem, I'll just use getZipList to turn them back again:

    unmatrix :: ZipList (ZipList a) -> [[a]]
    unmatrix m = getZipList (fmap getZipList m)

And now matrix addition is finished:

    matrixplus :: [[a]] -> [[a]] -> [[a]]
    matrixplus m n = unmatrix $ (liftA2 . liftA2) (+) (matrix m) (matrix n)

This works perfectly.

But the matrix and unmatrix pair bugs me a little. This business of changing labels at both levels has happened twice already and I am likely to need it again. So I will turn the two functions into a single higher-order function by abstracting over ZipList. This turns this

    matrix m = ZipList (fmap ZipList m)

into this:

    twice zl m = zl (fmap zl m)

with the idea that I will now have matrix = twice ZipList and unmatrix = twice getZipList.

The first sign that something is going wrong is that twice does not have the type I wanted. It is:

    twice ::  Functor f             => (f a -> a)   -> f (f a) -> a

where I was hoping for something more like this:

    twice :: (Functor f, Functor g) => (f a -> g a) -> f (f a) -> g (g a)

which is not reasonable to expect: how can Haskell be expected to figure out I wanted two diferent functors in there when there is only one fmap? And indeed twice does not work; my desired matrix = twice ZipList does not even type-check:

    <interactive>:19:7: error:
        • Occurs check: cannot construct the infinite type: a ~ ZipList a
          Expected type: [ZipList a] -> ZipList a
            Actual type: [a] -> ZipList a
        • In the first argument of ‘twice’, namely ‘ZipList’
          In the expression: twice ZipList
          In an equation for ‘matrix’: matrix = twice ZipList
        • Relevant bindings include
            matrix :: [[ZipList a]] -> ZipList a (bound at <interactive>:20:5)

Telling GHC explicitly what type I want for twice doesn't work either, so I decide it's time to go to lunch. w I take paper with me, and while I am eating my roast pork hoagie with sharp provolone and spinach (a popular local delicacy) I work out the results of the type unification algorithm on paper for both cases to see what goes wrong.

I get the same answers that Haskell got, but I can't see where the difference was coming from.

So now, instead of defining matrix operations, I am looking into the type unification algorithm and trying to figure out why twice doesn't work.

And that is yet another reason why I never finish my Haskell programs. (“What do you mean, λ-abstraction didn't work?”)

[Other articles in category /prog/haskell] permanent link

Thu, 08 Nov 2018

Haskell type checker complaint 184 of 698

I want to build an adjacency matrix for the vertices of a cube; this is a matrix that has m[a][b] = 1 exactly when vertices a and b share an edge. We can enumerate the vertices arbitrarily but a convenient way to do it is to assign them the numbers 0 through 7 and then say that vertices !!a!! and !!b!! are adjacent if, regarded as binary numerals, they differ in exactly one bit, so:

   import Data.Bits
   a `adj` b = if (elem (xor a b) [1, 2, 4]) then 1 else 0         

This compiles and GHC infers the type

   adj :: (Bits a, Num a, Num t) => a -> a -> t 


illustration, in the style of the illustration from Stanislaw Lem's
“The Cyberiad”, depicting a giant humanoid computer proudly displaying the
problem “2 + 2 =” and its solution, “7“, on its front panel.

Now I want to build the adjacency matrix, which is completely straightforward:

    cube = [ [a `adj` b | b <- [0 .. 7] ] | a <- [0 .. 7] ]  where
      a `adj` b = if (elem (xor a b) [1, 2, 4]) then 1 else 0

Ha ha, no it isn't; in Haskell nothing is straightforward. This produces 106 lines of type whining, followed by a failed compilation. Apparently this is because because 0 and 7 are overloaded, and could mean some weird values in some freakish instance of Num, and then 0 .. 7 might generate an infinite list of 1-graded torsion rings or something.

To fix this I have to say explicitly what I mean by 0. “Oh, yeah, by the way, that there zero is intended to denote the integer zero, and not the 1-graded torsion ring with no elements.”

        cube = [ [a `adj` b | b <- [0 :: Integer .. 7] ] | a <- [0 .. 7] ]  where
          a `adj` b = if (elem (xor a b) [1, 2, 4]) then 1 else 0

Here's another way I could accomplish this:

        zero_i_really_mean_it = 0 :: Integer
        cube = [ [a `adj` b | b <- [zero_i_really_mean_it .. 7] ] | a <- [0 .. 7] ] where       
          a `adj` b = if (elem (xor a b) [1, 2, 4]) then 1 else 0

Or how about this?

        cube = [ [a `adj` b | b <- numbers_dammit [0 .. 7] ] | a <- [0 .. 7] ] where
          p `adj` q = if (elem (xor p q) [1, 2, 4]) then 1 else 0
          numbers_dammit = id :: [Integer] -> [Integer] 

I think there must be something really wrong with the language design here. I don't know exactly what it is, but I think someone must have made the wrong tradeoff at some point.

[Other articles in category /prog/haskell] permanent link

How not to reconfigure your sshd

Yesterday I wanted to reconfigure the sshd on a remote machine. Although I'd never done sshd itself, I've done this kind of thing a zillion times before. It looks like this: there is a configuration file (in this case /etc/ssh/sshd-config) that you modify. But this doesn't change the running server; you have to notify the server that it should reread the file. One way would be by killing the server and starting a new one. This would interrupt service, so instead you can send the server a different signal (in this case SIGHUP) that tells it to reload its configuration without exiting. Simple enough.

Except, it didn't work. I added:

 Match User mjd
   ForceCommand echo "I like pie!"

and signalled the server, then made a new connection to see if it would print I like pie! instead of starting a shell. It started a shell. Okay, I've never used Match or ForceCommand before, maybe I don't understand how they work, I'll try something simpler. I added:

    PrintMotd yes

which seemed straightforward enough, and I put some text into /etc/motd, but when I connected it didn't print the motd.

I tried a couple of other things but none of them seemed to work.

Okay, maybe the sshd is not getting the signal, or something? I hunted up the logs, but there was a report like what I expected:

   sshd[1210]: Received SIGHUP; restarting.

This was a head-scratcher. Was I modifying the wrong file? It semed hardly possible, but I don't administer this machine so who knows? I tried lsof -p 1210 to see if maybe sshd had some other config file open, but it doesn't keep the file open after it reads it, so that was no help.

Eventually I hit upon the answer, and I wish I had some useful piece of advice here for my future self about how to figure this out. But I don't because the answer just struck me all of a sudden.

(It's nice when that happens, but I feel a bit cheated afterward: I solved the problem this time, but I didn't learn anything, so how does it help me for next time? I put in the toil, but I didn't get the full payoff.)

“Aha,” I said. “I bet it's because my connection is multiplexed.”

Normally when you make an ssh connection to a remote machine, it calls up the server, exchanges credentials, each side authenticates the the other, and they negotiate an encryption key. Then the server forks, the child starts up a login shell and mediates between the shell and the network, encrypting in one direction and decrypting in the other. All that negotiation and authentication takes time.

There is a “multiplexing” option you can use instead. The handshaking process still occurs as usual for the first connection. But once the connection succeeds, there's no need to start all over again to make a second connection. You can tell ssh to multiplex several virtual connections over its one real connection. To make a new virtual connection, you run ssh in the same way, but instead of contacting the remote server as before, it contacts the local ssh client that's already running and requests a new virtual connection. The client, already connected to the remote server, tells the server to allocate a new virtual connection and to start up a new shell session for it. The server doesn't even have to fork; it just has to allocate another pseudo-tty and run a shell in it. This is a lot faster.

I had my local ssh client configured to use a virtual connection if that was possible. So my subsequent ssh commands weren't going through the reconfigured parent server. They were all going through the child server that had been forked hours before when I started my first connection. It wasn't affected by reconfiguration of the parent server, from which it was now separate.

I verified this by telling ssh to make a new connection without trying to reuse the existing virtual connection:

   ssh -o ControlPath=none -o ControlMaster=no ...

This time I saw the MOTD and when I reinstated that Match command I got I like pie! instead of a shell.

(It occurs to me now that I could have tried to SIGHUP the child server process that my connections were going through, and that would probably have reconfigured any future virtual connections through that process, but I didn't think of it at the time.)

Then I went home for the day, feeling pretty darn clever, right up until I discovered, partway through writing this article, that I can't log in because all I get is I like pie! instead of a shell.

[Other articles in category /Unix] permanent link

Fri, 02 Nov 2018

Another trivial utility: git-q

One of my favorite programs is a super simple Git utility called git-vee that I just love, and I use fifty times a day. It displays a very simple graph that shows where two branches diverged. For example, my push of master was refused because it was not a fast-forward. So I used git-vee to investigate, and saw:

    * a41d493 (HEAD -> master) new article: Migraine
    * 2825a71 message headers are now beyond parody
    | * fa2ae34 (origin/master) message headers are now beyond parody
    o 142c68a a bit more information

The current head (master) and its upstream (origin/master) are displayed by default. Here the nearest common ancestor is 142c68a, and I can see the two commits after that on master that are different from the commit on origin/master. The command is called get-vee because the graph is (usually) V-shaped, and I want to find out where the point of the V is and what is on its two arms.

From this V, it appears that what happened was: I pushed fa2ae34, then amended it to produce 2825a71, but I have not yet force-pushed the amendment. Okay! I should simply do the force-push now…

Except wait, what if that's not what happened? What if what happened was, 2825a71 was the original commit, and I pushed it, then fetched it on a different machine, amended it to produce fa2ae34, and force-pushed that? If so, then force-pushing 2825a71 now would overwrite the amendments. How can I tell what I should do?

Formerly I would have used diff and studied the differences, but now I have an easier way to find the answer. I run:

    git q HEAD^ origin/master

and it produces the dates on which each commit was created:

    2825a71 Fri Nov 2 02:30:06 2018 +0000
    fa2ae34 Fri Nov 2 02:25:29 2018 +0000

Aha, it was as I originally thought: 2825a71 is five minutes newer. The force-push is the right thing to do this time.

Although the commit date is the default output, the git-q command can produce any of the information known to git-log, using the usual escape sequences. For example, git q %s ... produces subject lines:

    % git q %s HEAD origin/master 142c68a

    a41d493 new article: Migraine
    fa2ae34 message headers are now beyond parody
    142c68a a bit more information

and git q '%an <%ae>' tells you who made the commits:

    a41d493 Mark Jason Dominus (陶敏修) <>
    fa2ae34 Mark Jason Dominus (陶敏修) <>
    142c68a Mark Jason Dominus (陶敏修) <>

The program is in my personal git-util repository but it's totally simple and should be easy to customize the way you want:


    from sys import argv, stderr
    import subprocess

    if len(argv) < 3: usage()

    if argv[1].startswith('%'):
      item = argv[1]
      ids = argv[2:]
      ids = argv[1:]

    for id in ids:[ "git", "--no-pager", 
                       "log", "-1", "--format=%h " + item, id])

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