An improved proof of the handshaking lemma

In 2009, I posted a calculational proof of the handshaking lemma, a well-known elementary result on undirected graphs. I was very pleased about my proof because the amount of guessing involved was very small (especially when compared with conventional proofs). However, one of the steps was too complicated and I did not know how to improve it.

In June, Jeremy Weissmann read my proof and he proposed a different development. His argument was well structured, but it wasn’t as goal-oriented as I’d hoped for. Gladly, after a brief discussion, we realised that we were missing a great opportunity to use the trading rule (details below)!

I was so pleased with the final outcome that I decided to record and share the new proof.

Problem statement

In graph theory, the degree of a vertex $A$, $\fapp{d}{A}$, is the number of edges incident with the vertex $A$, counting loops twice. So, considering Graph 0 below, we have $\fapp{d}{A}=3$, $\fapp{d}{B}=3$, $\fapp{d}{C}=1$, $\fapp{d}{D}=3$, and $\fapp{d}{E}=2$.

Example of an undirected graph with five vertices

Graph 0: Example of an undirected graph with five vertices

A well-known property is that every undirected graph contains an even number of vertices with odd degree. The result first appeared in Euler’s 1736 paper on the Seven Bridges of Königsberg and is also known as the handshaking lemma (that’s because another way of formulating the property is that the number of people that have shaken hands an odd number of times is even).

As we can easily verify, Graph 0 satisfies this property. There are four vertices with odd degree ($A$,$B$, $C$, and $D$), and 4, of course, is an even number.

Although the proof of this property is simple, all the conventional proofs that I know of are not goal-oriented. My goal is to show you a development of a goal-oriented proof. Also, my proof is completely guided by the shape of the formulae involved, which helps reducing the amount of guessing involved.

Continue reading

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Principles and Applications of Algorithmic Problem Solving

I am currently in Salamanca (Spain), attending the conference Tools for Teaching Logic III. My talk was on teaching logic through algorithmic problem solving and it went quite well, I think. In particular, it seems that the audience enjoyed the examples that I have used and the teaching scenarios that I have shown. As a result, I have promised that I would upload my PhD thesis into this website. Since the thesis can also be useful for other people, I have decided to write a new blog post. I hope you enjoy!


Algorithmic problem solving provides a radically new way of approaching and solving problems in general by using the advances that have been made in the basic principles of correct-by-construction algorithm design. The aim of this thesis is to provide educational material that shows how these advances can be used to support the teaching of mathematics and computing.

We rewrite material on elementary number theory and we show how the focus on the algorithmic content of the theory allows the systematisation of existing proofs and, more importantly, the construction of new knowledge in a practical and elegant way. For example, based on Euclid’s algorithm, we derive a new and efficient algorithm to enumerate the positive rational numbers in two different ways, and we develop a new and constructive proof of the two-squares theorem.

Because the teaching of any subject can only be effective if the teacher has access to abundant and sufficiently varied educational material, we also include a catalogue of teaching scenarios. Teaching scenarios are fully worked out solutions to algorithmic problems together with detailed guidelines on the principles captured by the problem, how the problem is tackled, and how it is solved. Most of the scenarios have a recreational flavour and are designed to promote self-discovery by the students.

Based on the material developed, we are convinced that goal-oriented, calculational algorithmic skills can be used to enrich and reinvigorate the teaching of mathematics and computing.

Download the PDF

Principles and Applications of Algorithmic Problem Solving (PhD Thesis, João F. Ferreira, 345 pages)

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Probabilities in Proofreading

Suppose you write a program and you send the source code to two of your friends, ${\cal A}$ and ${\cal B}$. Your two friends read the code and when they finish, $A$ errors are detected by ${\cal A}$, $B$ errors are detected by ${\cal B}$, and $C$ errors are detected by both. So, in total, $A+B-C$ errors are detected and can now be eliminated. We wish to estimate the number of errors that remain unnoticed and uncorrected.

The original version of this problem concerns manuscripts and proofreaders, instead of source code and programmers. It was posed and solved by George Polya and published in 1976 on The American Mathematical Monthly under the name of Probabilities in Proofreading. Because the problem is interesting and Polya’s solution is short and elegant, I have decided to record and share it. Also, since code sharing and reading is a frequent activity in the software development world, estimating the desired value can be helpful for some readers of this blog.

Estimating the number of unnoticed errors

Let $E$ be the number of all errors, noticed and unnoticed, in the source code. Our goal is to estimate the value of $E-(A+B-C)$. Let $p$ be the probability that friend ${\cal A}$ notices any given error and $q$ the analogous probability for friend ${\cal B}$. The expected number of errors that may be detected by ${\cal A}$ is $E{\cdot}p$ and by ${\cal B}$ is $E{\cdot}q$. Assuming that these probabilities are independent, the expected number of errors that may be mutually detected by both friends is $E{\cdot}p{\cdot}q$.

Because we are interested in an estimate, we can safely assume that the expected numbers are approximately equal to the number of errors detected, that is, $E{\cdot}p \sim A$, $E{\cdot}q \sim B$, and $E{\cdot}p{\cdot}q \sim C$. (We use the notation $\sim$ to denote that two numbers are approximately equal.)

We now have all the ingredients to conclude the solution. Recall that our goal is to estimate the value of $E-(A+B-C)$. We calculate:

\hint{=}{we rewrite $E$ to prepare the introduction of $A$, $B$, and $C$}
\pexp{\frac{E{\cdot}p{\cdot}E{\cdot}q}{E{\cdot}p{\cdot}q} - (A+B-C)}
\hint{\sim}{assumption on estimates}
\pexp{\frac{A{\cdot}B}{C} - (A+B-C)}

This is the desired estimate!

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Calculational proofs are usually direct

jd2718 asked in his blog if anyone knew a direct proof of the irrationality of $\sqrt{2}$. In this post I present a proof that, even if some don’t consider it direct, is a nice example of the effectiveness of calculational proof. But first, there are two concepts that need to be clarified: direct proof and irrational number.

Direct proofs

The concept of direct proof can vary slightly from person to person. For instance, Wikipedia defines it as:

In mathematics and logic, a direct proof is a way of showing the truth or falsehood of a given statement by a straightforward combination of established facts, usually existing lemmas and theorems, without making any further assumptions.

Alternatively, in Larry W. Cusick’s website we can read:

A direct poof [sic] should be thought of as a flow of implications beginning with “P” and ending with “Q”.

P -> … -> Q

Most proofs are (and should be) direct proofs. Always try direct proof first, unless you have a good reason not to.

I consider the wording ‘without making any further assumptions‘ in the first definition ambiguous and I don’t understand why the second definition only applies to implications. But anyway, with these definitions in mind, a direct proof for the irrationality of $\sqrt{2}$ can be something like:

\pexp{\text{$\sqrt{2}$ is irrational}}

Or, alternatively, we can also use a proof of the following shape:

\pexp{\text{$\sqrt{2}$ is irrational}}

Irrational numbers

An irrational number is a real number that can’t be expressed as a simple fraction. Therefore, the number $\sqrt{2}$ is irrational because for all integers $m$ and $n$, with $n$ non-negative, we have that:

\sqrt{2} \neq \frac{m}{n} ~~.

A direct proof for the irrationality of $\sqrt{2}$

Now that we have clarified the concepts above, we prove that $\sqrt{2}$ is irrational. For all integers $m$ and $n$, with $n$ non-negative, we have:

\pexp{\sqrt{2} \neq \frac{m}{n}}
\hint{=}{Use arithmetic to eliminate the square root operator.}
\hintf{\Leftarrow}{Two values are different if applying the same function to them}
\hintl{yields different values.}
\pexp{\fapp{exp}{(n^2{\times}2)} \neq \fapp{exp}{m^2}}
\hintf{=}{Now we choose the function $exp$.}
\hintm{Let $\fapp{exp}{k}$ be the number of times that $2$ divides $k$.}
\hintm{The function $exp$ has two important properties:}
\hintm{$~~~\fapp{exp}{2}=1$ and}
\hintm{$~~~\fapp{exp}{k{\times}l} = \fapp{exp}{k} + \fapp{exp}{l}$}
\hintl{We apply these properties to simplify the left and right sides.}
\pexp{1{\,+\,}2{\times}\fapp{exp}{n} ~\neq~ 2{\times}\fapp{exp}{m}}
\hintf{=}{The left side is an odd number and the right side is an even}
\hintl{number. Odd numbers and even numbers are different.}
\pexp{true ~~.}

Note that, unlike traditional proofs, we don’t assume that $m$ and $n$ are co-prime, nor that $\sqrt{2}$ is a rational number. We simply derive the boolean value of the expression $\sqrt{2}~{\neq}~{\frac{m}{n}}$.

If you have any suggestions or corrections, please leave a comment. I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Note: I learnt the contrapositive of this proof from Roland Backhouse (page 38, Program Construction — Calculating Implementations from Specifications).

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In Defense Of Computer Science

Very good post from Paper Trail:

So why study computer science? The job prospects at the end are usually pretty good – because, if nothing else, you can become a pretty good software developer fairly quickly – but they are unknown. My argument is that the study of computer science is enough of an incentive enough to make it worthwhile.

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