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This post is derived from an interesting conversation I had several years ago with my friend Jason Newquist on trying to find some intuitive analogies for the non-classical nature of quantum mechanics. It occurred to me that this type of informal, rambling discussion might actually be rather suited to the blog medium, so here goes nothing…

Quantum mechanics has a number of weird consequences, but here we are focusing on three (inter-related) ones:

  1. Objects can behave both like particles (with definite position and a continuum of states) and waves (with indefinite position and (in confined situations) quantised states);
  2. The equations that govern quantum mechanics are deterministic, but the standard interpretation of the solutions of these equations is probabilistic; and
  3. If instead one applies the laws of quantum mechanics literally at the macroscopic scale, then the universe itself must split into the superposition of many distinct “worlds”.

In trying to come up with a classical conceptual model in which to capture these non-classical phenomena, we eventually hit upon using the idea of using computer games as an analogy. The exact choice of game is not terribly important, but let us pick Tomb Raider – a popular game from about ten years ago (back when I had the leisure to play these things), in which the heroine, Lara Croft, explores various tombs and dungeons, solving puzzles and dodging traps, in order to achieve some objective. It is quite common for Lara to die in the game, for instance by failing to evade one of the traps. (I should warn that this analogy will be rather violent on certain computer-generated characters.)

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Earlier this month, in the previous incarnation of this page, I posed a question which I thought was unsolved, and obtained the answer (in fact, it was solved 25 years ago) within a week. Now that this new version of the page has better feedback capability, I am now tempted to try again, since I have a large number of such questions which I would like to publicise. (Actually, I even have a secret web page full of these somewhere near my home page, though it will take a non-trivial amount of effort to find it!)

Perhaps my favourite open question is the problem on the maximal size of a cap set – a subset of {\Bbb F}^n_3 ({\Bbb F}_3 being the finite field of three elements) which contains no lines, or equivalently no non-trivial arithmetic progressions of length three. As an upper bound, one can easily modify the proof of Roth’s theorem to show that cap sets must have size O(3^n/n) (see e.g. this paper of Meshulam). This of course is better than the trivial bound of 3^n once n is large. In the converse direction, the trivial example \{0,1\}^n shows that cap sets can be as large as 2^n; the current world record is (2.2174\ldots)^n, held by Edel. The gap between these two bounds is rather enormous; I would be very interested in either an improvement of the upper bound to o(3^n/n), or an improvement of the lower bound to (3-o(1))^n. (I believe both improvements are true, though a good friend of mine disagrees about the improvement to the lower bound.)

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I’ve just uploaded the short story “Uchiyama’s constructive proof of the Fefferman-Stein decomposition“. In 1982, Uchiyama gave a new proof of the celebrated Fefferman-Stein theorem that expressed any BMO function as the sum of a bounded function, and Riesz transforms of bounded functions. Unlike the original proof (which relied, among other things, on the Hahn-Banach theorem), Uchiyama’s proof was very explicit, constructing the decomposition by building the bounded functions one Littlewood-Paley frequency band at a time while keeping the functions taking values on or near a sphere, and then iterating away the error. Here I have written some notes on how the proof goes. The notes are a little condensed, in that a number of standard computations involving estimations of Schwartz tails, Carleson measures, etc. have been omitted, but hopefully the gist of the argument is still clear.

For over eight years (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007) I’ve manually set up a “What’s new” web page off of my home page to list various research updates and other sundry news items. As an experiment, I’ve decided to move this page to a blog, to try out the various content management tools and make it a little easier to get feedback on things.

It may well be that this page will eventually evolve into a true blog, with external links, commentary, opinion pieces, and so forth, though this probably would require more time and attention than I actually have available. For now, though, its primary (and rather pedestrian) purpose is the same as with the old incarnation of this page: to announce and describe any new research papers, expository papers, or related material that I have.

(Update, Feb 25) Moved over to wordpress, due to better LaTeX support.