A Positive Reminder by J. A. Lindon

“A carpenter named Charlie Bratticks,
Who had a taste for mathematics,
One summer Tuesday, just for fun,
Made a wooden cube side minus one.

Though this to you may well seem wrong,
He made it minus one foot long,
Which meant (I hope your brains aren’t frothing)
Its length was one foot less than nothing,

Its width the same (you’re not asleep?)
And likewise minus one foot deep;
Giving, when multiplied (be solemn!),
Minus one cubic foot of volume.

With sweating brow this cube he sawed
Through areas of solid board;
For though each cut had minus length,
Minus times minus sapped his strength.

A second cube he made, but thus:
This time each one-foot length was plus:
Meaning of course that here one put
For volume, plus one cubic foot.

So now he had, just for his sins,
Two cubes as like as deviant twins:
And feeling one should know the worst,
He placed the second in the first.

One plus, one minus — there’s no doubt
The edges simply canceled out;
So did the volume, nothing gained;
Only the surfaces remained.

Well may you open wide your eyes,
For those were now of double size,
On something which, thanks to his skill,
Took up no room and measured nil.

From solid ebony he’d cut
These bulky cubic objects, but
All that remained was now a thin
Black sharply-angled sort of skin

Of twelve square feet — which though not small,
Weighed nothing, filled no space at all.
It stands there yet on Charlie’s floor;
He can’t think what to use it for!”


This poem by J. A. Lindon[1] was popularized by the inimitable Martin Gardner in “The Magic and Mystery of Numbers[2]”.

Thank you Alon Amit in Quora

Footnotes

[1] J. A. Lindon – Wikipedia

[2] https://books.google.com/books?i…

 

Rapaport rules for referee reports

Anatoli Rapoport, the famous game theorist, provided four basic rules to write successful criticism:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

George Orwell: 6 Questions/6 Rules

George Orwell: 6 Questions/6 RulesGeorge Orwell has earned the right to be called one of the finer writers in the English language through such novels as 1984, Animal Farm, and Down and Out in Paris and London, and essays like “Shooting an Elephant.”

Orwell excoriated totalitarian governments in his work, but he was just as passionate about good writing. Thus, you may want to hear some of Orwells writing tips.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

One can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

From Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.”

Analytic Continuation of the Riemann Zeta Function

The Riemann Zeta function is defined as the series

$$ \zeta(s)=\sum_{n=1}^{+\infty} \frac{1}{n^s} \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (1)$$

which converges for \(\Re (s)>1\).

It can be defined by analytic continuation to the whole complex plane except \(s=1\) through the Riemann functional equation

$$ \zeta(s)=2^s \pi^{s-1} \sin \left({\pi s \over 2} \right) \Gamma(1-s) \zeta(1-s) \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (2)$$

where \(\Gamma(s)\) is the gamma function.  

We want to derive the integral equation and obtain the values of the \(\zeta\) function for negative integers

$$\zeta(-n)=-{B_{n+1}\over n+1} ,\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (3)$$

and in particular the value

$$\zeta(-1)=\sum_{n=1}^{+\infty} n=-{1\over 12}.\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (4) $$

Using smoothed sums

Terry Tao gives a beautiful interpretation to the dry analytic continuation result using smoothed sums. It shows, for example, that

$$ \sum_{n=1}^{+\infty} \eta(n/N) = -{1\over 2} + C_{\eta,0} N + O(\frac{1}{N}) \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (5) $$

where \(\eta(x)\) is a smooth cutoff function with support in \([0,1]\) and \(C_{\eta,s}\) is the Mellin transform of the cutoff function

$$ C_{\eta,s}=\int_0^\infty x^s\eta(x)dx \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ (6) $$

This expression, \((5)\), shows that the result of an analytic continuation of a divergent sum like this gives the unique non-divergent part of the series.