Filip Allberg

code (kōd) …

Iceweasel jumps over the lazy dog


An error that frequently occurs at the school computer labs is one that relates to Iceweasel. Specifically it is the all too well known error that has seemingly affected the Linux community for years (and might continue to do so for years to come, namely:

Iceweasel is already running, but is not responding. To open a new window, you must first close the existing Iceweasel process, or restart your system.  

Some people resolve this by opening Chrome, which is fine for their purposes I suppose. But I'd like access to my plug-ins, bookmarks and history.

The following process has worked so far on the lab computers but might cease to work in subsequent versions of Debian. The last time the following process was utilised was when
the computers were running Debian 3.2.54-2 x86_64 GNU/Linux.


If you are unsure as to what distribution is running currently you can write, into a terminal,
the following command:

uname -a  


Also in a terminal, issue the following command:

find ~/.mozilla -iname "*lock"  

The terminal will now write out the paths to a couple of files residing in the .mozilla folder. Delete these.

You should now be able to open Iceweasel.

The recursive curse pt. 1

This is the Curse that keeps on Cursing!
— Note, I actually like recursion.

In this part we'll start by establishing some mathematical notation commonly used to describe sums before implementing a recursive function for calculating (certain) definite sums in Python.

Initially we'll explore sums of the general form express using the delimited form of Sigma-notation before introducing the generalized form of Sigma-notation which will allow us to express more intricate sums without any extra work, and in general we'll be able to express ourselves more succintly using the generalized form than with the delimited form.

Ultimately we'll introduce the Kronecker Delta which we'll summarize using the ideas that Kenneth E. Iverson introduced in his programming language APL allowing us to be rather expressive with our sums.

Afterwards, in part 2, we'll start expressing these ideas using code using Python, where we will start out by looking at functions only do a certain sum between variable upper- and lower bounds before incrementally adding to our program until we can express some of the same sums that our mathematical notation has afforded us.


Le signe $\sum^{i = \infty}_{i=0}$ indique que l'on doit donne au nombre entier i toutes
ses vaeurs 1, 2, 3, ..., et prenda la somme des termes.

-- J. Fourier, "Refroidissement séculaire du globe terrestre", Bulletin des Sciences par la Société Philomathique de Paris Vol. 3, 7 (1820), 58 – 70 [4]

If you are already quite familiar with the veritable cornucopia of jargon introduced in the preceeding paragraphs feel free to skip ahead to the code section if you are jonesing for some embedded gists.


We'll start at the beginning, consider the sum of the first $n$ natural numbers. That is,

$$1 + 2 + 3 + \cdots + (n-1) + n$$

Thankfully, the '$\cdots$' allow us to write out such a sum without first asserting what $n$ actually is. Basically, what the '$\cdots$' tells us is to complete the pattern established by the surrounding terms.

Sometimes we'd like to find the sum of a general sequence of numbers. Which is to say, not necessarily starting with the number one. Let $a_1, a_2, \ldots , a_n$ be any sequence of numbers, where each number $a_k, k \in \{1, n \} $ is defined somehow.

Terminology: We call each element $a_k$ a term in the sum.

We are now going to introduce the delimited form of the Sigma-notation which allows us to write the sum $a_1 + a_2 + \cdots + a_n$ more compactly by writing $\sum_{k=1}^{n} a_k$.

That is,

$$\sum_{k=1}^{n} a_k = a_1 + a_2 + \cdots + a_n$$

Remark: If $n$ is zero then the value of $\sum_{j=1}^{n} a_j$ is defined to be zero.

What the notation, which was introduced to the world by J. Fourier in 1820, is telling us is that the sum consists of those terms $a_k$ whose index $k$ is an integer where $1 \le k \le n$.

Terminology: We call the term after $\sum$ (in the previous example: $a_k$) the summand.

$\sum_{k=1}^{2.71828} a_k = a_1 + a_2$
1 A modified version of this exercise can be found in [2]

We define the notation precisely using a recursive definition:

$$ \begin{aligned} 1) \sum_{i=1}^{1} a_i & = a_1 \\
2) \sum_{i=1}^{n} a_i & = \sum_{i=1}^{n-1} a_i + a_n \
\end{aligned} $$

Now we can readily express, as Friedrich Gauss once did at the young age of eight, the sum of the first $100$ natural numbers, i.e.

$$ \sum_{i=1}^{100} i = 1 + 2 + \cdots + 100 = \frac{100\cdot(100 + 1)}{2} = 5050 $$

But we might experience some qualms about expressing some slightly more intricate sums such as the sum of all odd numbers below a 100. As far as the delimited form goes we'd have to write

$$\sum_{k=0}^{49} (2k + 1)$$

which is only readibly available to us after thinking for a short stint. What we'd like is to be able to express the same sum with less work which is where the generalized form of the Sigma-notation comes into play. Expressing the same sum as before we'd write

$$ \sum_{\substack{1 \le k \le 100 \\ k\ odd}} k $$

This notation actually allows us to quite succintly express even more intricate sums. For an example, say we'd like to express the sum of all the primes within a certain bound. Doing so with the old, delimited form we'd have

$$ \sum_{k=n}^{\pi (N)} p_k $$

We can write the above sum equivalently, in the generalized form, like so:

$$\sum_{\substack{p \le N \\ p\ prime}} p $$

Which, hopefully, is readily understandable even by those not familiar with the prime counting function.

What this kind of notation allows for is sums of the sort

$$\sum_{P(k)} a_k $$

where $P$ is a property of the integer $k$.

For the final step I'll allow myself to be rather brief, as I said in the beginning of this article I'll introduce the Kronecker Delta.

However, rather than focusing on it's mathematical properties, we'll utilize Iverson's convention which boils down to enclosing a statement in brackets and letting that statement evaluate to $1$ if true and $0$ if false.

An example seems apt at this point,

$$\left[p\ \textrm{prime} \right] = \begin{cases}1 & , \textrm{if } p \textrm{ is a prime number} \\ 0 & , \textrm{if } p \textrm{ is not a prime number} \end{cases}$$

Thus we can write the sum

$$\sum_{k} a_k \left[P(k)\right] $$

with no constraints at all in regards to the index of summation.

Ronald. L. Graham, Donald E. Knuth and Oren Patashnik, Concrete Mathematics: A Foundation for Computer Science. Addison-Wesley, 1989; second edition, 1994.

[2] Donald E. Knuth, The Art of Computer programming, Volume $1$: Fundamental Algorithms. Addison-Wesley, 1968; third edition, 1997.

[3] Michael Spivak, Calculus, Cambridge University Press, third edition, 2006.

[4] Joseph Fourier, "Refroidissement séculaire du globe terrestre", Bulletin des Sciences par la Société Philomathique de Paris Vol. 3, 7 (1820), 58 – 70