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JACOB RICHEY

This investigation comes out of the following Purdue Problem of the Week (Problem 6, Fall 2012): For which numbers r ∈ (0, 1) is { 1 ]? [0, 1− r

k ∈F

rk : F is a subset of the non-negative integers}=

The question only attracted my eye because it suggests an interesting generalization of the “unit fractions” problem I’ve been working on for some time: instead of considering only sums of unit fractions, why not try to form a general theory of sum constructions? That is, given a set of positive reals, which reals can be written as a (perhaps inﬁnite) sum of those numbers? The Purdue POW question is not so hard to answer: the two sets are equal for any r ∈ [1/2, 1), and unequal for any r < 1/2. To prove the former, ﬁrst note that for any r ∈ [1 , 1) and n ∈ N, 2

∞ i=n+1

ri =

rn+1 1−r

≥ rn , since

rn+1 1−r

1 ≥ rn ⇐⇒ r ≥ 1 − r ⇐⇒ r ≥ 2 . (1)

That is, each term is less than or equal to the sum of all the remaining terms (past that n 1 ], > 0, and pick N so that 1r < ∀n > N . This last choice one). Now ﬁx x ∈ [0, 1− r −r rn is possible since limn→∞ 1−r = 0. Now approach x greedily - that is, take at each step the largest possible rk so that the remainder x − rk1 − rk2 − . . . is non-negative. One issue presents itself: what if we are going along greedily, when suddenly we can’t get to x, even if we take all the remaining terms? If this did happen, i.e. ∃M such that j k1 kM −1 − rkM < 0, then we would x − rk1 − . . . − rkM −1 − ∞ j =kM +1 r < 0 and x − r − . . . − r j have rkM > ∞ j =kM +1 r , which contradicts (1). This issue - where any term of a sequence exceeds the sum of all the terms past it - will come into play later. It remains to show that we can come within of x: if the greedy algorithm on x terminates in ﬁnitely many steps then we are done. So suppose it never terminates: then consider the expansion out to kN ≥ N , so that the remainder satisﬁes x − r k1 − . . . − r kN ≤

∞ j =N +1

rj =

rN +1 1−r

<

rN 1−r

= , the desired result.

Therefore, we can converge on any x using a base r ∈ [1/2, 1). To see that any r < 1/2 doesn’t work, we need only produce a single unconstructable point. We have already done the work for this: for in this case, each term in the sequence is greater than the sum of

1

2

JACOB RICHEY

Figure 1. Blue:

1 ; 1−r

Red:

1−2r ; (1−r)3

Green = Blue - Red

all the remaining terms, so that the issue we conisdered above will actually occur. For r example, given r < 1/2, the entire interval ( 1− , 1) is not constructable, since for any x in r that interval, 1 is too big, but all of the remaining terms together are still too small.

1 ] can be constructed, given r < 1/2? A natural question arises: which numbers x ∈ [0, 1− r It is easier to ﬁrst show a (surprisingly) large set of numbers which are not constructible; to do so, we’ll use a generalization of the issue we discovered in answering the problem of the week. r For, the interval ( 1− , 1) is completely inconstructible - similarly, the intervals ( 1r , r), ( 1r , r2 ), r −r −r i +1 or in general, all the intervals ( r , ri ) are not constructable. Together, all these intervals 1−r give us ∞ i=0

2 3

ri −

ri+1 1−r

=

1 1−r

∞ i i=0 (r

− 2ri+1 ) =

1−2r (1−r)2

**of unconstructable length.
**

2

But wait: there’s more! We can generalize further: the intervals (1 + 1r , 1 + r), (1 + −r k +1 3 , 1 + r + r2 ), or in general, (1 + r + . . . + rk−1 + r1−r , 1 + r + . . . + rk ) are all r + 1r −r not constructable by similar reasoning. These two methods can be combined, so that in i+k general, for any i ≥ 0, k ≥ 1, the interval (ri + . . . + ri+k−2 + r , ri + . . . + ri+k−1 ) cannot 1−r be constructed. It is easy to see that each of these intervals is non-empty; to see that they are all disjoint is slightly harder. Both are left as exercises for the reader. Together, these intervals give us a total unconstructable length of: L= L=

∞ k=1 ∞ k=1 ∞ i=0 ( i+k−1 j =i

rj −

i+ k − 2 j =i

rj −

ri+k ) 1−r

ri+k ) 1−r

∞ ri −ri+k i=0 ( 1−r

−

ri −ri+k−1 1−r

−

SUM CONSTRUCTIONS

L= L= L= L=

1 1−r 1 1−r 1−2r (1−r)2 1−2r (1−r)3 ∞ k=1 ∞ k=1 ∞ ri+k−1 −2ri+k ) i=0 ( 1−r

3

r k −1 rk−1

∞ i i=0 (r

− 2ri+1 )

∞ k=1

1 So there is a signiﬁcant part of [0, 1− ] that is not constructible. (Plots of the constructible r and unconstructible length are given in ﬁgure 1.) What about what is left over? Is everything not in one of these intervals constructible? We can prove a result about the set of numbers that are constructible, though ﬁrst we need a lemma:

Lemma: For any r ∈ (0, 1/2), if a number x is constructible by geometric terms in r, then the construction must be greedy, and hence unique. Pf: Suppose there exists x = x and x= = ≤ <

n−1 j =1 ∞ j =1 n−1 j =1 n−1 j =1 n−1 j =1 ∞ n=1

rsn that isn’t a greedy construction, i.e. ∃n,

n j =1

r sj ≤

rsj + rsn −1 ≤ x. Then

r sj

∞ j =n ∞ j =0

r sj + r sj +

r sj rsn +j

r sj + r sn − 1

≤ x by assumption; then x < x, a contradiction. Now we can prove the main theorem: Theorem: For any r ∈ (0, 1/2), the set C = { integers} contains no open intervals.

k∈F

rk : F is a subset of the non-negative

Pf: Suppose there was an interval I ⊂ C , and ﬁx x ∈ I . If x has ﬁnite construction, x = rp1 + . . . + rpn , pick N > n so that x + rN ∈ I ; then nothing in the non-empty interval N +1 (x + r1−r , x + rN ) ⊂ I is constructible. For, by the lemma, any number y in this interval must have construction beginning with y = rp1 + . . . + rpn + rN +1 + rN +2 + . . ., the greedy construction. This value is exactly the left endpoint; and any additional rk we add will be greater than or equal to rN , taking us out of the interval. If x has an inﬁnite construction, x =

∞ j =1

rsj , we divide into two cases.

4

JACOB RICHEY

Case 1: ∀N ∈ N, ∃ n > N, sn + 1 = sn+1 . In this case, pick N ∈ N so that x + rsN ∈ I . sj By hypothesis, there exists n > N, sn + 1 = sn+1 . Then the interval A = ( n + j =1 r ∞ n sn +j sj sn , j =1 r + r ) is non-empty, contained in I (since n > N ), and has no conj =1 r structible points. For if some y ∈ A was constructible, by the lemma the construction must sj si be greedy, and hence start with n for i ≤ n would j =1 r , since taking any additional r mean y is greater than the right endpoint of A. But then the construction must end with ∞ sn +j , i.e. y is exactly the left endpoint of A, a contradiction. j =1 r Case 2: ∃N ∈ N, sn +1 = sn+1 ∀ n ≥ N . In this case, pick M ≥ N so that x − rsM ∈ I . Then the interval B = (x − rsM , x) is non-empty, contained in I , and has no constructible element. For if y ∈ B was constructible, by the lemma its construction starts with x − rsM ∈ / B. The construction can’t have any additional terms, since by the assumption of this case, the only remaining terms left to take are those rsi for i < N ≤ M , so that adding any of them on would mean y is greater than the right endpoint of B . Therefore y is the left endpoint of B , a contradiction. This proves the theorem. Thus, C contains no open intervals. It seems intuitive, then, to think that C must have zero measure: but this is not the case! The so called Smith-Volterra-Cantor set, which has a construction similar to that of the Cantor set, has positive measure, but is nowhere dense, and so contains no intervals. I am inclined to believe that C is such a set, so that any point r2 not in those removed intervals - i.e. in the remaining (1− - should be constructable. I r)3 see no simple way to prove this, so it will be left for later. To oﬀer a little interpretation of these results, think of using the r ∈ (0, 1) we picked as the “base” for the real number system. We should expect r = 1/2 to be able to construct everything since in binary, each (1/2)j term is only ever used once (the coeﬀecient on each power can be either 0 or 1). Our requirement that we only take one of each power of r is why smaller powers can’t be used as bases: to use base 3, for example, (i.e. look at r = 1/3), we would need to be allowed two of each power, and in that case any number would be constructible by taking its ternary decimal expansion. Some of these ideas can be generalized further. For example, there is nothing special about a geometric series:

∞ Theorem: Let S = {sn }∞ n=1 ⊂ R such that s = j =1 sj < ∞ and ∀n ∈ N, Then for any t ∈ [0, s], there exists T ⊂ S such that j ∈T sj = t. ∞ j =n+1

sj ≥ sn .

Pf: Fix such a t, and let > 0. We apply the greedy algorithm to t; by hypothesis, the greedy algorithm never fails in ﬁnitely many steps, i.e. n such that ∞ j =n+1 sj < sn . Since limn→∞

∞ j =n n−1 j =1

sj = s − limn→∞

sj = 0,

SUM CONSTRUCTIONS

5

we can choose N such that ∞ for any n > N . Then when we surpass sN in our j = n sj < greedy terms, (else we end in ﬁnitely many terms, i.e. with a ﬁnite sum t = st1 + . . . + stk ), we have remainder: Rn = t − st1 − . . . − stn (for some n > N , i.e. N < n ≤ tn ) ≤ ≤ < < . Therefore, the greedy algorithm does converge to t, the desired result. This works, for example, with any of the sets {1/k p }∞ k=N , for some N : we have

∞ 1 j =n+1 j p

∞ j =tn +1 ∞ j =n+1 ∞ j =n

sj

sj

sj

>

∞ dt n+1 tp

1 1 ∞ = ( 1− p tp−1 |n+1

=

1 1 p−1 (n+1)p−1

≥

1 np

⇐⇒ (p − 1)(n + 1)p−1 ≤ np

**We can choose n large enough to make this last statement is true, since limn→∞
**

(p−1)(n+1)p−1 np

= (p − 1) limn→∞

p−1 p−1 i=0 i

1 np

p−1 p−1 i=0 i

ni

= (p − 1) limn→∞ = 0, so ∃N ∈ N,

ni− p

(p−1)(N +1)p−1 Np

≤ 1.

The following is a list of the minimum N values that work for 2 ≤ p ≤ 20, in the form {p, N }: {2, 2}, {3, 3}, {4, 5}, {5, 6}, {6, 8}, {7, 9}, {8, 11}, {9, 12}, {10, 13}, {11, 15}, {12, 16}, {13, 18}, {14, 19}, {15, 21}, {16, 22}, {17, 24}, {18, 25}, {19, 26}, {20, 28}. This says, for example, that for each x ∈ [0, π 2 /6 − 1], there exists I ⊂ N,

i∈I

1/i2 = x.

There are a few directions these kind of questions can go next. We could ask more questions about inﬁnite compositions: that is, given a set of real values S , what is the set C of reals we can write as a (perhaps inﬁnite) sum of elements of S ? We might (and already have) restrict our attention to those numbers we can write as a ﬁnite sum of elements in S . We could even take one step further back, and look just at ﬁnite sets S , and ask when there

6

JACOB RICHEY

are overlaps (i.e. distinct ways of writing the same number with elements of S ). All of these avenues seem worth exploring.

E-mail address : jacob.f.richey@dartmouth.edu

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