Four letter words

Here’s another funny question about the English language: what is the sequence of three letters XYZ (where X, Y and Z are among the 26 letters of the alphabet) such that the number of correct (English) words of the form TXYZ is maximal, where T is just another letter? In this, it seems also best to assume that the last letter Z is not “s”, since the latter allows for many plurals of what are really three-letter words.

I think that, depending on the dictionary used (in particular, archaic words can be quite common among short words like this, and will only appear in the OED), the answer is between 13 and 17. The dictionary on my laptop (aspell-0.60-en) gives one word with 13 (say TWR), two with 12 (say BGA and IPX), and a few ending with “s”. The ending TWR jumps to 17 when permitted to appeal to the OED, and so does BGA. However, IPX only goes to 13.

Answers next week if nobody tries his/her hand first at the solution…

One shouldn’t disturb binomial identities too much

When teaching the most elementary courses at the university, a little bit of combinatorics enters, and the relation between the binomial coefficients and the expansion of (x+y)k, for non-negative integers k. An often appreciated trick for the students is to prove some identities among binomial coefficients using “analytic” properties of polynomials, and interpret them combinatorially, or conversely. The most basic of these identities is probably


In the spirit of fun, assume we think of rewriting this as


And now, maybe while whistling idly to pretend that we are not doing anything, let’s jolt the denominators with a quick flick of the finger:


Since it seems that no one has noticed anything, let’s do it again:


and again, and again… but stop! a red-faced policeman comes, and says that he has nothing against some good clean fun, especially on Boat Race Night, but enough is enough, and what horror have we done with poor Newt’s lovely identity:


Well, of course, what is behind this is an undoubtedly well-known identity, which can be expressed in terms of hypergeometric functions with very general parameters. But the sliding denominators might be a nice thing to show students, and the (or at least, one elementary one) actual proof of the actual formula is a good exercise in exploiting “polynomiality” in various forms, so it can be used for that purpose…

An exercise with orthonormal basis

While writing the general case of the large sieve, one question of minor interest arose, which provides a nice exercise (or exam problem) for a course on finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces.

Since it’s not yet possible (as far as I can see, but I will try to investigate the issue) to include either LaTeX formulas (in the style used in a number of WordPress math blogs) or MathML formulas in the ETH blogs, I’ve resorted to the rather embarassing option of using dvipng to produce an image with the LaTeX content of this post…

[LaTeX text]

Coming back to regular HTML, where one can make links, here’s one to the short note I wrote on this, with the proof of the result indicated. Note that I would be surprised is this were really at all new. There’s one lingering question that I haven’t answered at the moment: does there exist a proof by pure thought that, for the uniform density, there is an orthonormal basis of functions with constant modulus 1?