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NeB not among 50 best math blogs

Via Tanya Khovanova I learned yesterday of the 50 best math blogs for math-majors list by OnlineDegree.net. Tanya’s blog got in 2nd (congrats!) and most of the blogs I sort of follow made it to the list : the n-category cafe (5), not even wrong (6), Gowers (12), Tao (13), good math bad math (14), rigorous trivialities (18), the secret blogging seminar (20), arcadian functor (28) (btw. Kea’s new blog is now at arcadian pseudofunctor), etc., etc. . Sincere congrats to you all!

NeverEndingBooks didn’t make it to the list, and I can live with that. For reasons only relevant to myself, posting has slowed down over the last year and the most recent post dates back from february!

More puzzling to me was the fact that F-un mathematics got in place 26! OnlineDegree had this to say about F-un Math : “Any students studying math must bookmark this blog, which provides readers with a broad selection of undergraduate and graduate concerns, quotes, research, webcasts, and much, much more.” Well, personally I wouldn’t bother to bookmark this site as prospects for upcoming posts are virtually inexistent…

As I am privy to both sites’ admin-pages, let me explain my confusion by comparing their monthly hits. Here’s the full F-un history



After a flurry of activity in the fall of 2008, both posting and attendance rates dropped, and presently the site gets roughly 50 hits-a-day. Compare this to the (partial) NeB history



The whopping 45000 visits in january 2008 were (i think) deserved at the time as there was then a new post almost every other day. On the other hand, the green bars to the right are a mystery to me. It appears one is rewarded for not posting at all…

The only explanation I can offer is that perhaps more and more people are recovering from the late 2008-depression and do again enjoy reading blog-posts. Google then helps blogs having a larger archive (500 NeB-posts compared to about 20 genuine Fun-posts) to attract a larger audience, even though the blog is dormant.

But this still doesn’t explain why FunMath made it to the top 50-list and NeB did not. Perhaps the fault is entirely mine and a consequence of a bad choice of blog-title. ‘NeverEndingBooks’ does not ring like a math-blog, does it?

Still, I’m not going to change the title into something more math-related. NeverEndingBooks will be around for some time (unless my hard-disk breaks down). On the other hand, I plan to start something entirely new and learn from the mistakes I made over the past 6 years. Regulars of this blog will have a pretty good idea of the intended launch date, not?

Until then, my online activity will be limited to tweets.

Where’s Bourbaki’s Escorial?

Early 1936, Andre Weil and Evelyne Gillet made a pre-honeymooning trip to Spain and visited El Escorial. Weil was so taken by the place that he planned the next Bourbaki-conference to be held in a nearby college. However, the Bourbakis never made it to to Spain that summer as the Spanish Civil War broke out July 17th, a few weeks before the intended conference. Can we GEO-tag the exact location of Bourbaki’s “Escorial”?

As explained in the bumpy-road-post, Andre Weil and Evelyne Gillet became involved sometime in 1935.
Early 1936, they made a pre-honeymooning trip to Spain and visited El Escorial. Weil was so taken by the place that he planned the next Bourbaki-conference to be held in a nearby college.

However, the Bourbakis never made it to to Spain that summer as the Spanish Civil War broke out July 17th, a few weeks before the intended conference. Still, the second Bourbaki-meeting remains often referred to as the ‘Escorial conference’. Can we GEO-tag the exact location of Bourbaki’s “Escorial”?

Claude Chevalley came up with a Plan-B and suggested they would use his parents’ place in Chançay as their venue. Chevalley’s father was a French diplomat and his house sure did possess a matching ‘grandeur’ as can be seen from the famous picture below, taken at the (second) Chançay meeting in 1937 (Weil to the left, Chevalley to the right and Weil’s sister Simonne standing).



Thanks to the Bourbaki archives we know that the meeting took place from september 16th to 28th, that each of them had to pay 16 francs for full pension and had to bring along their own sheets and towels.



But where exactly is this beautiful house? Jacques Borowczyk has written a nice paper Bourbaki et la touraine in which he describes the Bourbaki congresses of 1936 and 1937 at the Chevalley-house in Chançay and further those held in 1956, 1957 and 1959 in ‘hôtel de la Brèche’ in Amboise.

Borowczyk places the Chevalley house in the little hamlet of Chançay, called “La Massoterie”. The village files assert that in 1931 three people were living at La Massoterie : father Abel Chevalley, who took residence there after his retirement in 1931, his wife Marguerite and their son Claude. But, at the time of the Bourbaki congres in 1936, Marguerite remained the only permanent inhabitant. Sadly,
Abel Chevalley, who together with Marguerite compiled the The concise Oxford French dictionary, died in 1934.

Usually when you know the name of the hamlet, of the village and add just to be certain ‘France’, Google Maps takes you there within metres. So, this was going to be a quick post, for a change… Well, much to my surprise, typing ‘La Massoterie, Chançay, France’ only produced the answer “We could not understand the location La Massoterie, Chançay, France”.

Did I spell it wrong? Or, did the name change over times? No, Googling for it the first hit gives you the map of a 10km walk around Chançay passing through la Massoterie!

Now what? Fortunately Borowczyk included in his paper an old map, from Napoleonic times, showing the exact location of La Massoterie (just above the flash-sign), facing the castle of Volmer. If you compare it with the picture below from present day Chançay (via Google earth) it is surprising how many of the landmarks have survived the changes over two centuries.





It is now easy to pinpoint the exact location and zoom into the Chavalley-house, and, you’re in for a small surprise : the place is called La Massotterie with 2 t’s…

Probably, Googles database is more reliable than the information provided by the village of Chançay, or the paper by Borowczyk as it is the same spelling as on the old Napoleonic map. Anyway, feel free to have a peek at Bourbaki’s Escorial yourself!

big Witt vectors for everyone (1/2)

Next time you visit your math-library, please have a look whether these books are still on the shelves : Michiel Hazewinkel‘s Formal groups and applications, William Fulton’s and Serge Lange’s Riemann-Roch algebra and Donald Knutson’s lambda-rings and the representation theory of the symmetric group.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one or more of these books are borrowed out, probably all of them to the same person. I’m afraid I’m that person in Antwerp…

Lately, there’s been a renewed interest in $\lambda $-rings and the endo-functor W assigning to a commutative algebra its ring of big Witt vectors, following Borger’s new proposal for a geometry over the absolute point.

However, as Hendrik Lenstra writes in his 2002 course-notes on the subject Construction of the ring of Witt vectors : “The literature on the functor W is in a somewhat unsatisfactory state: nobody seems to have any interest in Witt vectors beyond applying them for a purpose, and they are often treated in appendices to papers devoting to something else; also, the construction usually depends on a set of implicit or unintelligible formulae. Apparently, anybody who wishes to understand Witt vectors needs to construct them personally. That is what is now happening to myself.”

Before doing a series on Borger’s paper, we’d better run through Lenstra’s elegant construction in a couple of posts. Let A be a commutative ring and consider the multiplicative group of all ‘one-power series’ over it $\Lambda(A)=1+t A[[t]] $. Our aim is to define a commutative ring structure on $\Lambda(A) $ taking as its ADDITION the MULTIPLICATION of power series.

That is, if $u(t),v(t) \in \Lambda(A) $, then we define our addition $u(t) \oplus v(t) = u(t) \times v(t) $. This may be slightly confusing as the ZERO-element in $\Lambda(A),\oplus $ will then turn be the constant power series 1…

We are now going to define a multiplication $\otimes $ on $\Lambda(A) $ which is distributively with respect to $\oplus $ and turns $\Lambda(A) $ into a commutative ring with ONE-element the series $~(1-t)^{-1}=1+t+t^2+t^3+\ldots $.

We will do this inductively, so consider $\Lambda_n(A) $ the (classes of) one-power series truncated at term n, that is, the kernel of the natural augmentation map between the multiplicative group-units $~A[t]/(t^{n+1})^* \rightarrow A^* $.
Again, taking multiplication in $A[t]/(t^{n+1}) $ as a new addition rule $\oplus $, we see that $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ is an Abelian group, whence a $\mathbb{Z} $-module.

For all elements $a \in A $ we have a scaling operator $\phi_a $ (sending $t \rightarrow at $) which is an A-ring endomorphism of $A[t]/(t^{n+1}) $, in particular multiplicative wrt. $\times $. But then, $\phi_a $ is an additive endomorphism of $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $, so is an element of the endomorphism-RING $End_{\mathbb{Z}}(\Lambda_n(A)) $. Because composition (being the multiplication in this endomorphism ring) of scaling operators is clearly commutative ($\phi_a \circ \phi_b = \phi_{ab} $) we can define a commutative RING $E $ being the subring of $End_{\mathbb{Z}}(\Lambda_n(A)) $ generated by the operators $\phi_a $.

The action turns $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ into an E-module and we define an E-module morphism $E \rightarrow \Lambda_n(A) $ by $\phi_a \mapsto \phi_a((1-t)^{-1}) = (1-at)^{-a} $.

All of this looks pretty harmless, but the upshot is that we have now equipped the image of this E-module morphism, say $L_n(A) $ (which is the additive subgroup of $~(\Lambda_n(A),\oplus) $ generated by the elements $~(1-at)^{-1} $) with a commutative multiplication $\otimes $ induced by the rule $~(1-at)^{-1} \otimes (1-bt)^{-1} = (1-abt)^{-1} $.

Explicitly, $L_n(A) $ is the set of one-truncated polynomials $u(t) $ with coefficients in $A $ such that one can find elements $a_1,\ldots,a_k \in A $ such that $u(t) \equiv (1-a_1t)^{-1} \times \ldots \times (1-a_k)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} $. We multiply $u(t) $ with another such truncated one-polynomial $v(t) $ (taking elements $b_1,b_2,\ldots,b_l \in A $) via

$u(t) \otimes v(t) = ((1-a_1t)^{-1} \oplus \ldots \oplus (1-a_k)^{-1}) \otimes ((1-b_1t)^{-1} \oplus \ldots \oplus (1-b_l)^{-1}) $

and using distributivity and the multiplication rule this gives the element $\prod_{i,j} (1-a_ib_jt)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} \in L_n(A) $.
Being a ring-qutient of $E $ we have that $~(L_n(A),\oplus,\otimes) $ is a commutative ring, and, from the construction it is clear that $L_n $ behaves functorially.

For rings $A $ such that $L_n(A)=\Lambda_n(A) $ we are done, but in general $L_n(A) $ may be strictly smaller. The idea is to use functoriality and do the relevant calculations in a larger ring $A \subset B $ where we can multiply the two truncated one-polynomials and observe that the resulting truncated polynomial still has all its coefficients in $A $.

Here’s how we would do this over $\mathbb{Z} $ : take two irreducible one-polynomials u(t) and v(t) of degrees r resp. s smaller or equal to n. Then over the complex numbers we have
$u(t)=(1-\alpha_1t) \ldots (1-\alpha_rt) $ and $v(t)=(1-\beta_1) \ldots (1-\beta_st) $. Then, over the field $K=\mathbb{Q}(\alpha_1,\ldots,\alpha_r,\beta_1,\ldots,\beta_s) $ we have that $u(t),v(t) \in L_n(K) $ and hence we can compute their product $u(t) \otimes v(t) $ as before to be $\prod_{i,j}(1-\alpha_i\beta_jt)^{-1}~mod~t^{n+1} $. But then, all coefficients of this truncated K-polynomial are invariant under all permutations of the roots $\alpha_i $ and the roots $\beta_j $ and so is invariant under all elements of the Galois group. But then, these coefficients are algebraic numbers in $\mathbb{Q} $ whence integers. That is, $u(t) \otimes v(t) \in \Lambda_n(\mathbb{Z}) $. It should already be clear from this that the rings $\Lambda_n(\mathbb{Z}) $ contain a lot of arithmetic information!

For a general commutative ring $A $ we will copy this argument by considering a free overring $A^{(\infty)} $ (with 1 as one of the base elements) by formally adjoining roots. At level 1, consider $M_0 $ to be the set of all non-constant one-polynomials over $A $ and consider the ring

$A^{(1)} = \bigotimes_{f \in M_0} A[X]/(f) = A[X_f, f \in M_0]/(f(X_f) , f \in M_0) $

The idea being that every one-polynomial $f \in M_0 $ now has one root, namely $\alpha_f = \overline{X_f} $ in $A^{(1)} $. Further, $A^{(1)} $ is a free A-module with basis elements all $\alpha_f^i $ with $0 \leq i < deg(f) $.

Good! We now have at least one root, but we can continue this process. At level 2, $M_1 $ will be the set of all non-constant one-polynomials over $A^{(1)} $ and we use them to construct the free overring $A^{(2)} $ (which now has the property that every $f \in M_0 $ has at least two roots in $A^{(2)} $). And, again, we repeat this process and obtain in succession the rings $A^{(3)},A^{(4)},\ldots $. Finally, we define $A^{(\infty)} = \underset{\rightarrow}{lim}~A^{(i)} $ having the property that every one-polynomial over A splits entirely in linear factors over $A^{(\infty)} $.

But then, for all $u(t),v(t) \in \Lambda_n(A) $ we can compute $u(t) \otimes v(t) \in \Lambda_n(A^{(\infty)}) $. Remains to show that the resulting truncated one-polynomial has all its entries in A. The ring $A^{(\infty)} \otimes_A A^{(\infty)} $ contains two copies of $A^{(\infty)} $ namely $A^{(\infty)} \otimes 1 $ and $1 \otimes A^{(\infty)} $ and the intersection of these two rings in exactly $A $ (here we use the freeness property and the additional fact that 1 is one of the base elements). But then, by functoriality of $L_n $, the element
$u(t) \otimes v(t) \in L_n(A^{(\infty)} \otimes_A A^{(\infty)}) $ lies in the intersection $\Lambda_n(A^{(\infty)} \otimes 1) \cap \Lambda_n(1 \otimes A^{(\infty)})=\Lambda_n(A) $. Done!

Hence, we have endo-functors $\Lambda_n $ in the category of all commutative rings, for every number n. Reviewing the construction of $L_n $ one observes that there are natural transformations $L_{n+1} \rightarrow L_n $ and therefore also natural transformations $\Lambda_{n+1} \rightarrow \Lambda_n $. Taking the inverse limits $\Lambda(A) = \underset{\leftarrow}{lim} \Lambda_n(A) $ we therefore have the ‘one-power series’ endo-functor
$\Lambda~:~\mathbf{comm} \rightarrow \mathbf{comm} $
which is ‘almost’ the functor W of big Witt vectors. Next time we’ll take you through the identification using ‘ghost variables’ and how the functor $\Lambda $ can be used to define the category of $\lambda $-rings.

Seriously now, where was the Bourbaki wedding?

A few days before Halloween, Norbert Dufourcq (who died december 17th 1990…), sent me a comment, containing lots of useful information, hinting I did get it wrong about the church of the Bourbali wedding in the previous post.

Norbert Dufourcq, an organist and student of Andre Machall, the organist-in-charge at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in 1939, the place where I speculated the Bourbaki wedding took place, concluded his comment with :

“P.S. Lieven, you _do_ know about the Schola Cantorum, now, don’t you?!?”.

Euh… actually … no, I did not …

La Schola Cantorum is a private music school in Paris. It was founded in 1894 by Charles Bordes, Alexandre Guilmant and Vincent d’Indy as a counterbalance to the Paris Conservatoire’s emphasis on opera. Its alumni include many significant figures in 20th century music, such as Erik Satie and Cole Porter.

Schola Cantorum is situated 69, rue Saint Jacques, Paris, just around the corner of the Ecole Normal Superieure, home base to the Bourbakis. In fact, closer investigation reveals striking similarities and very close connections between the circle of artists at la Schola and the Bourbaki group.

In december 1934, the exact month the Bourbaki group was formed, a radical reorganisation took place at the Schola, when Nestor Lejeune became the new director. He invited several young musicians, many from the famous Dukas-class, to take up teaching positions at the Schola.

Here’s a picture of part of the Dukas class of 1929, several of its members will play a role in the upcoming events :
from left to right next to the piano : Pierre Maillard-Verger, Elsa Barraine, Yvonne Desportes, Tony Aubin, Pierre Revel, Georges Favre, Paul Dukas, René Duclos, Georges Hugon, Maurice Duruflé. Seated on the right : Claude Arrieu, Olivier Messiaen.



The mid-1930s in Paris saw the emergence of two closely-related groups with a membership which overlapped : La Spirale and La Jeune France. La Spirale was founded in 1935 under the leadership of Georges Migot; its other committee members were Paul Le Flem, his pupil André Jolivet, Edouard Sciortino, Claire Delbos, her husband Olivier Messiaen, Daniel-Lesur and Jules Le Febvre. The common link between almost all of these musicians was their connection with the Schola Cantorum.

On the left : Les Jeunes Musiciens Français : André Jolivet on the Piano. Standing from left to right :
Olivier Messiaen, Yves Baudrier, Daniel-Lesur.

Nigel Simeone wrote this about Messiaen and La Jeune France :
“The extremely original and independent-minded Messiaen had already shown himself to be a rather unexpected enthusiast for joining groups: in December 1932 he wrote to his friend Claude Arrieu about a letter from another musician, Jacques Porte, outlining plans for a new society to be called Les Jeunes Musiciens Français.
Messiaen agreed to become its vice-president, but nothing seems to have come of the project. Six months later, in June 1933, he had a frustrating meeting with Roger Désormière on behalf of the composers he described to Arrieu as ‘les quatre’, all of them Dukas pupils: Elsa Barraine, the recently-deceased Jean Cartan, Arrieu and Messiaen himself; during the early 1930s Messiaen and Arrieu organised concerts featuring all four composers.”

Finally, we’re getting a connection with the Bourbaki group! Norbert Dufourcq mentioned it already in his comment “Messiaen was also a good friend of Jean Cartan (himself a composer, and Henri’s brother)”. Henri Cartan was one of the first Bourbakis and an excellent piano player himself.

The Cartan family picture on the right : standing from left to right, father Elie Cartan (one of the few older French mathematicians respected by the Bourbakis), Henri and his mother Marie-Louise. Seated, the younger children, from left to right : Louis, Helene (who later became a mathematician, herself) and the composer Jean Cartan, who sadly died very young from tuberculoses in 1932…

The december 1934 revolution in French music at the Schola Cantorum, instigated by Messiaen and followers, was the culmination of a process that started a few years before when Jean Cartan was among the circle of revolutionados. Because Messiaen was a fiend of the Cartan family, they surely must have been aware of the events at the Schola (or because it was merely a block away from the ENS), and, the musicians’ revolt may very well have been an example to follow for the first Bourbakis…(?!)

Anyway, we now know the intended meaning of the line “with lemmas sung by the Scholia Cartanorum” on the wedding-invitation. Cartanorum is NOT (as I claimed last time) bad Latin for ‘Cartesiorum’, leading to Descartes and the Saint-Germain-des-Pres church, but is in fact passable Latin (plur. gen.) of CARTAN(us), whence the translation “with lemmas sung by the school of the Cartans”. There’s possibly a double pun intended here : first, a reference to (father) Cartan’s lemma and, of course, to La Schola where the musical Cartan-family felt at home.

Fine, but does this brings us any closer to the intended place of the Bourbaki-Petard wedding? Well, let’s reconsider the hidden ‘clues’ we discovered last time : the phrase “They will receive the trivial isomorphism from P. Adic, of the Order of the Diophantines” might suggest that the church belongs to a a religious order and is perhaps an abbey- or convent-church and the phrase “the organ will be played by Monsieur Modulo” requires us to identify this mysterious Mister Modulo, because Norbert Dufourcq rightfully observed :

“note however that in 1939, it wasn’t as common to have a friend-organist perform at a wedding as it is today: the appointed organists, especially at prestigious Paris positions, were much less likely to accept someone play in their stead.”

The history of La Schola Cantorum reveals something that might have amused Frank Smithies (remember he was one of the wedding-invitation-composers) : the Schola is located in the Convent(!) of the Brittish Benedictines…

In 1640 some Benedictine monks, on the run after the religious schism in Britain, found safety in Paris under the protection of Cardinal Richelieu and Anne of Austria at Val-de-Grace, where the Schola is now housed.

As is the case with most convents, the convent of the Brittish Benedictines did have its own convent church, now called l’église royale Notre-Dame du Val-de-Grâce (remember that one of the possible interpretations for “of the universal variety” was that the name of the church would be “Notre-Dame”…).

This church is presently used as the concert hall of La Schola and is famous for its … musical organ : “In 1853, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll installed a new organ in the Church of Sainte-geneviève which had been restored in its rôle as a place of worship by Prince President Louis-Napoléon. In 1885, upon the decision of President Jules Grévy, this church once again became the Pantheon and, six years later, according to an understanding between the War and Public Works Departments, the organ was transferred to the Val-de-Grâce, under the supervision of the organ builder Merklin. Beforehand, the last time it was heard in the Pantheon must have been for the funeral service of Victor Hugo.
In 1927, a raising was carried out by the builder Paul-Marie Koenig, and the inaugural concert was given by André Marchal and Achille Philippe, the church’s organist. Added to the register of historic monument in 1979, Val-de-Grâce’s “ little great organ ”, as Cavaillé-Coll called it, was restored in 1993 by the organ builders François Delangue and Bernard Hurvy.
The organ of Val-de-Grâce is one the rare parisian surviving witnesses of the art of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, an instrument that escaped abusive and definitive transformations or modernizations. This explain why, in spite of its relatively modest scale, this organ enjoys quite a reputation, and this, as far as the United States.”

By why would the Val-de-Grace organiste at the time Achille Philip, “organiste titulaire du Val-de-Grâce de 1903 à 1950 et professeur d’orgue et d’harmonie à la Schola Cantorum de 1904 à 1950”, be called ‘Mister Modulo’ in the wedding-invitations line “L’orgue sera tenu par Monsieur Modulo”???

Again, the late Norbert Dufourcq comes to our rescue, proposing a good candidate for ‘Monsieur Modulo’ : “As for “modulo”, note that the organist at Notre-Dame at that time, Léonce de Saint-Martin, was also the composer of a “Suite Cyclique”, though I admit that this is just wordplay: there is nothing “modular” about this work. Maybe a more serious candidate would be Olivier Messiaen (who was organist at the Église de la Trinité): his “modes à transposition limitée” are really about Z/12Z→Z/3Z and Z/12Z→Z/4Z. “

Messiaen’s ‘Modes of limited transposition’ were compiled in his book ‘Technique de mon langage musical’. This book was published in Paris by Leduc, as late as 1944, 5 years after the wedding-invitation.

Still, several earlier works of Messiaen used these schemes, most notably La Nativité du Seigneur, composed in 1935 : “The work is one of the earliest to feature elements that were to become key to Messiaen’s later compositions, such as the extensive use of the composer’s own modes of limited transposition, as well as influence from birdsong, and the meters and rhythms of Ancient Greek and traditional Indian music.”

More details on Messiaen’s modes and their connection to modular arithmetic can be found in the study Implementing Modality in Algorithmic Composition by Vincent Joseph Manzo.

Hence, Messiaen is a suitable candidate for the title ‘Monsieur Modulo’, but would he be able to play the Val-de-Grace organ while not being the resident organist?

Remember, the Val-de-Grace church was the concert hall of La Schola, and its musical organ the instrument of choice for the relevant courses. Now … Olivier Messiaen taught at the Schola Cantorum and the École Normale de Musique from 1936 till 1939. So, at the time of the Bourbaki-Petard wedding he would certainly be allowed to play the Cavaillé-Coll organ.

Perhaps we got it right, the second time around : the Bourbaki-Pétard wedding was held on June 3rd 1939 in the church ‘l’église royale Notre-Dame du Val-de-Grâce’ at 12h?