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Polygonal functions

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N. L. Carothers

Dept. of Mathematics & Statistics

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green, OH 43403

carother @ math.bgsu.edu

Introduction

To begin, a polygonal function is a piecewise linear, continuous function; that is, a continuous function f : [ a, b ] R is a polygonal function if there are finitely many distinct

points a = x0 < x1 < < xn = b, called nodes, such that f is linear on each of the

intervals [ xk1 , xk ], k = 1, . . . , n. If we fix the nodes a = x0 < x1 < < xn = b, then

its clear that any polygonal function based on these nodes is completely determined by

its values at the nodes.

Our first result is due to Lebesgue. In fact, its the first observation in Lebesgues

first published paper Sur lapproximation des fonctions (complete references are given at

the end of this paper), which appeared in 1898; Lebesgue was 23 at the time. Lebesgues

observation is that uniformly continuous functions can be uniformly approximated by

polygonal functions. In what follows, we will use k k to denote the uniform, or sup-norm;

specifically, given a continuous function f on an interval [ a, b ], we write

kf k = max |f (x)|.

axb

function g : [ 0, 1 ] R such that kf gk < .

Proof. Since f is uniformly continuous, we can choose a positive integer n, sufficiently

large, so that |f (x) f (y)| < whenever |x y| < 1/n. What this means is that the

polygonal function g defined by g(k/n) = f (k/n), for k = 0, . . . , n, and g linear on each

interval k/n, (k + 1)/n , satisfies kf gk < . (Why?)

Next we modify our approximating function: Let h be another polygonal function,

also having nodes at (k/n)nk=0 , but with h(k/n) rational and with |h(k/n) g(k/n)| <

for each k. It follows that kg hk < and, consequently, that kf hk < 2.

Since the set of all polygonal functions taking only rational values at the nodes

(k/n)nk=0 , for some n, is countable (Exercise 1), this shows that C[ 0, 1 ] is separable.

Polygonal Functions

1. For each n, let Qn be the set of all polygonal functions that have nodes at x = k/n,

k = 0, . . . , n, and that take on only rational values at these points. Check that Qn is

a countable set, and hence the union of the Qn s is a countable dense set in C[ 0, 1 ].

Fix distinct points a = x0 < x1 < < xn = b in [ a, b ], and let Sn denote the set of

all polygonal functions having nodes at the xk s. Its not hard to see that Sn is a vector

space. (Why?) In fact, its relatively clear that Sn must have dimension exactly n + 1

since there are n + 1 degrees of freedom (each element of Sn is completely determined

by its values at the xk s). More convincing, perhaps, is the fact that we can easily display

a basis for Sn .

2. Let a = x0 < x1 < < xn = b be distinct points in [ a, b ], and let Sn be the set of all

polygonal functions having nodes at the xk s. Show that Sn is an n + 1-dimensional

subspace of C[ a, b ] spanned by the constant function 0 (x) = 1 and the angles

k+1 (x) = |x xk | + (x xk ), for k = 0, . . . , n 1. Specifically, show that each

Pn

h Sn can be uniquely written as h(x) = c0 + i=1 ci i (x). [Hint: Since each side

of the equation is an element of Sn , its enough to show that the system of equations

Pk

h(x0 ) = c0 and h(xk ) = c0 + 2 i=1 ci (xk xi1 ) for k = 1, . . . , n can be solved

(uniquely) for the ci s.]

3. Each element of Sn can be written in the form

Pn1

i=1

ai |x xi | + bx + d for some

It is of some interest numerically to know just how well a continuous function can be

approximated by polygonal functions through an interpolation scheme. Specifically, lets

stick with the nodes (k/n)nk=0 , n = 1, 2, . . ., associated to [ 0, 1 ]. Given f C[ 0, 1 ] and a

positive integer n, let Ln (f ) denote the unique polygonal function, with nodes at (k/n)nk=0 ,

which agrees with f at each of these nodes.

4. Show that kf Ln (f )k 2/n in the case f (x) = x2 .

5. Let f be Lipschitz; that is, suppose that f satisfies |f (x) f (y)| C|x y| for some

constant C and all x, y in [ 0, 1 ]. Show that kf Ln (f )k 2 C/n. [Hint: Given x

in [ k/n, (k + 1)/n), check that |f (x) Ln (f )(x)| = |f (x) f (k/n) + Ln (f )(k/n)

Ln (f )(x)| |f (x) f (k/n)| + |f ((k + 1)/n) f (k/n)|.]

6. Show that kf Ln (f )k 2 f (1/n), where f is the modulus of continuity of f . In

particular, if f C[ 0, 1 ], then Ln (f ) converges uniformly to f .

7. Prove that Ln is a linear projection from C[ 0, 1 ] onto Sn . Moreover, given f C[ 0, 1 ],

show that kLn (f )k kf k.

Polygonal Functions

The upshot of Exercise 3 is that each polygonal function is a linear function plus a

linear combination of translates of the function |x|. If we knew that the function |x| could

be uniformly approximated by polynomials on, say, [1, 1 ], then we could fashion a proof

of the Weierstrass theorem. Lebesgues original proof uses the fact that the binomial series

1 z = 1 + c1 z + c2 z 2 + c3 z 3 + c4 z 4 + ,

where

cn =

(1) 1 3 (2n 3)

,

2 4 6 (2n)

|x| =

1 (1 x2 ) = 1 + c1 (1 x2 ) + c2 (1 x2 )2 + c3 (1 x2 )3 +

1 3 (2n 1)

for n 1. Show that cn = an an1 and,

2 4 (2n)

hence, that c1 + + cn = an a0 1. Conclude that the binomial series for

8. Let a0 = 1 and an =

(a) Define (Pn ) recursively by Pn+1 (x) = Pn (x) + [x Pn (x)2 ]/2, where P0 (x) = 0.

Use induction to show that each Pn is a polynomial.

(d) Pn (x2 ) is also a polynomial, and Pn (x2 ) converges uniformly to |x| on [ 1, 1 ].

Since the collection of polynomials is invariant under translation, standard arguments

now show that we can approximate |x x0 | uniformly by polynomials on any interval

[ a, b ]. Specifically, if f is a continuous function on [ a, b ], and if we can find a polynomial

p that uniformly approximates the function g(t) = f (b a) t + a on the interval [ 0, 1 ],

say kg pk < , then the function q(x) = p (x a)/(b a) is again a polynomial, and

uniformly approximates f on [ a, b ]; in fact, its easy to see that kf qk < . This proves

Corollary. Let f : [ a, b ] R be continuous, and let > 0. Then, there is a polynomial

p such that kf pk < .

This familiar result is often called Weierstrasss First Theorem. It appeared in 1885

in the first installment of a two-part paper. The main result in the second part, called

Weierstrasss Second Theorem, states that each continuous, 2-periodic function can be

uniformly approximated, on the whole line, by trigonometric polynomials. Lebesgue also

addressed this second theorem in his 1898 paper; he deduced Weierstrasss Second Theorem

Polygonal Functions

from the First through purely elementary techniques. Whats more, Lebesgue pointed out

that the two results are actually equivalent; in other words, the First Theorem can likewise

be deduced from the Second. Since there are many independent proofs of the two theorems,

this is of some interest.

A somewhat simplified version of Lebesgues original proofs can be found in the books

by de La Vallee Poussin and by Natanson. Instead of pursuing Lebesgues proof, we

will next discuss Dunham Jacksons observation, taken from Jacksons Carus Monograph

Fourier Series and Orthogonal Polynomials, that Weierstrasss Second Theorem already

follows from Lebesgues first result and a few simple calculations.

Weierstrasss Second Theorem

To begin, we denote the collection of continuous, 2-periodic functions f : R R by

C 2 . Please note that each element of C 2 is completely determined by its values on, say,

[, ]. In particular, each element of C 2 is uniformly continuous (on all of R), and we

may continue to use the sup-norm; in this case,

kf k =

max |f (x)|.

x

coefficients for f satisfy |ak |, |bk | C/k 2 . In particular, each 2-periodic polygonal

function is the uniform limit of its Fourier series. Since the polygonal functions are clearly

dense in C 2 , this observation gives a quick proof of Weierstrasss second theorem.

10. Let f (x) = cx + d be a linear function on the interval [ a, b ] and let n be a positive

integer. Use integration by-parts to show that

Z

f (x) cos nx dx =

a

1

c

f (b) sin nb f (a) sin na + 2 cos nb cos na .

n

n

having slope ck in the k-th interval [ xk1 , xk ]. Then,

1

m Z

1 X xk

f (x) cos nx dx =

f (x) cos nx dx

xk1

k=1

Z

xk

f (x) cos nx dx =

xk1

ck

1

f (xk ) sin nxk f (xk1 ) sin nxk1 + 2 cos nxk cos nxk1 .

n

n

Polygonal Functions

m

X

f (xk ) sin nxk f (xk1 ) sin nxk1 = f () sin f () sin() = 0,

k=1

m

X

2m

ck

cos nxk cos nxk1 2 max{c1 , . . . , cm }.

2

n

n

k=1

weve shown that

Z

1

2M .

|an | =

f

(x)

cos

nx

dx

n2

A similar calculation will show that we also have

Z

2M

1

f (x) sin nx dx

.

|bn | =

n2

That is, the Fourier coefficients for a polygonal function f are of order 1/n2 . An application

of the Weierstrass M -test (and other standard arguments) shows that the Fourier series

for f converges uniformly to f on [, ].

11. Let f be a polygonal (but not necessarily periodic) function on R. Fix x R, and

consider the function

g(t) =

f (x + t) f (x)

,

t

for 0 < | t | ,

and g(0) = 5.

particular, both g and g 2 are Riemann integrable on [, ].

f (x + t) f (x)

, for 0 < | t | , and (0) = 5.

2 sin 2t

13. If and 2 are both integrable over [, ], show that

Z

lim

(t) sin(n + 21 ) t dt = 0.

12. Do the same for the function (t) =

[Hint: sin(n + 12 ) t = cos 2t sin nt + sin 2t cos nt. Thus, the integral can be written as a

sum of Fourier coefficients for the functions (t) cos 2t and (t) sin 2t .]

If we denote the n-th partial sum of the Fourier series for a fixed function f by

n

a0 X

sn (x) =

+

ak cos kx + bk sin kx ,

2

k=1

Polygonal Functions

then we may appeal to the familiar Dirichlet formula (and Exercise 12) to write:

1

sn (x) f (x) =

sin(n + 12 ) t

1

f (x + t) f (x)

dt =

t

2 sin 2

tends to 0 as n ; that is, the Fourier series for f converges pointwise to f . But we

already know that the Fourier series for f is uniformly convergent (by the M -test), thus

sn (x) must actually converge uniformly to f .

As Jackson then points out, since each continuous, 2-periodic function on the line is

uniformly close to a polygonal function, each continuous, 2-periodic function is in turn

uniformly close to a trigonometric polynomial. That is, weve just proved Weierstrasss

Second Theorem.

Theorem. Let f : R R be continuous and 2-periodic, and let > 0. Then, there is a

trigonometric polynomial T such that kf T k < .

Many modern textbooks present Weierstrasss Second Theorem (and often even the

First) as a corollary to Stones version of the Weierstrass theorem. Its interesting to

note in this regard that, according to Cheney, Stone was influenced at least in part by

Lebesgues paper. In particular, the fact that |x| is the uniform limit of polynomials plays

a key role in Stones proof.

References

E. W. Cheney, Introduction to Approximation Theory, Chelsea, 1982.

E. W. Hobson, The Theory of Functions of a Real Variable, 2 vols., Cambridge, 1950.

D. Jackson, Fourier Series and Orthogonal Polynomials, MAA, 1941.

e Poussin, Lecons sur lApproximation des Fonctions dune Variable Reele, GauthierCh.-J. de La Valle

Villars, 1919; also available in the volume LApproximation, by S. Bernstein and Ch.-J. de La

e Poussin, Chelsea, 1970.

Valle

H. Lebesgue, Sur lapproximation des fonctions, Bulletin des Sciences Mathematique, 22 (1898), 278

287.

S. Lojasiewicz, The Theory of Real Functions, Wiley, 1988.

I. Natanson, Constructive Function Theory, 3 vols., Ungar, 19641965; but see also Theory of Functions

of a Real Variable, 2 vols., Ungar, 1955.

W. Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis, 3rd. ed., McGraw-Hill, 1976.

K. Weierstrass, Uber

die analytische Darstellbarkeit sogenannter willk

urlicher Functionen einer reellen

(1885), 633639, 789805. See also, Mathematische Werke, Mayer and M

uller, 1895, vol. 3, 137. A

French translation appears as Sur la possibilite dune representation analytique des fonctions dites

arbitraires dune variable reele, Journal de Mathematiques Pures et Appliquees, 2 (1886), 105138.

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