# Learn Math Through Set Relations

Much of our world deals with relationships – both in the sense of romantic ones or ones that show some interesting property between two sets. When mathematicians think of set theory, a relation between the set A and the set B is a set of ordered pairs, where the first element of the ordered pair is from the set A and the second element of the ordered pair id from the set B. So if we say that R is a relation on the sets A and B, that would mean that R consists of elements that look like (a, b) where a is in A and b is in B. Another way of writing this is that R is a subset of A x B. For more on subsets and cross product, I refer you to my earlier script work on set operations.

Relations can provide a useful means of relating an abstract concept to a real world one. I think of things like the QB rating system in the NFL as an example. We have a set of all quarterbacks in the NFL (or really all people who have thrown a pass) and we would like some means of saying that one QB is performing better than another. The set of statistics kept on a QB is a large set, so attempting to show that one QB is better by showing that every year that they played one is better in every statistical category can be (a) exhaustive, and (b) will lead to very few interesting comparisons. Most of the really good QBs have some areas that they are really good and others that they are not. The QB rating system provides a relation between the set of all QBs in the NFL and the set of real numbers. Once this relation was defined, we can say that one QB is performing better than another if his QB rating is higher. Similarly we can compare a QB to his own statistics at different points in his career to see the changes and trends.

This is just one example, and there are countless others that I could have used instead.

Once we understand what a relation is, we have several properties that we are interested in. Below I list four, although there are many more.

Properties of Relations:
A relation R is symmetric if whenever an element (a, b) belongs to R, then so does (b, a).

A relation R is reflexive if for every element a in the universe of the relation, the element (a, a) belongs to R.

A relation R is transitive if for every pair of elements (a, b) and (c, d) and b = c, then the element (a, d) belongs to R.

A relation R is anti-symmetric if the elements (a, b) and (b, a) do not belong to the relation whenever a is not equal to b.

Once we understand what a relation is, there are a few common ones that we are interested in. Below I list four, but again, I want to stress that these are some of the more common ones, but there are several others.

Types of Relations:
A relation R is a function (on its set of defined elements) if there do not exist elements (a, b) and (a, c) which both belong to R.

A relation R is an equivalence relation if R is symmetric, reflexive and transitive.

A relation R is a partial order set if R is anti-symmetric, reflexive and transitive.

A relation R is a total order set if it is a partial order set and for every pair of elements a and b, either (a, b) is in R or (b, a) is in R.

A partial order is just an ordering, but not everything can be compared to everything else. Think about the Olympics, and a sport like gymnastics. Consider the floor and the balance beam. One person can win gold on the floor and another person wins gold on the balance beam. That puts each of them in the “top” of the order for their particular section, but there’s no way of comparing the person who won the floor exercise to the person who won the balance beam. So we say the set is “partially ordered”. More formally, lets say that two people (person X and person Y) relate if they competed in the same event and the the first person (in this case person X) received an equal or higher medal in that event than the second person (in this case person Y). Obviously any person receives the same medal as themselves, so this relation is reflexive. And if Jamie received an equal or higher medal than Bobby and Bobby received an equal or higher medal than Chris, then Jamie must have received an equal or higher medal than Chris so this relation is transitive. To test this relation for anti-symmetry, suppose that Chuck received an equal or higher medal than Charlie and Charlie received an equal or higher medal than Chuck. This means that they must have received the same medal, but since only one medal is awarded at each color for each event (meaning one gold, one silver and one bronze…if this is not true, assume it is), this must mean that Chuck and Charlie are the same person, and this relation is thus anti-symmetric.

If we have a partial ordering where we can compare everything, then we say that the set is “totally ordered”.

An equivalence relation tries to mimic equality on our relation. So, staying with that example of the Olympics, an example of an equivalence relation could be to say that two athletes relate to one another if they both received the same color medal in their event (for the sake of argument lets assume that no athlete competes in more than one event). Then obviously an athlete receives the same medal as themselves, so this relation is reflexive. If two people received the same medal, then it doesn’t matter if we say Chris and Charlie or Charlie and Chris, so the relation is symmetric. And Finally if Chris received the same medal as Charlie an if Charlie received the same medal as Jesse, then all three people received the same medals, so Chris and Jesse received the same medals and this relation is transitive. Because this relation has these three properties, it is called an equivalence relation.

# New Years is a LEARNINGlover Thing!

Starting this web site has served as the perfect opportunity to unwind. In particular, two blogs I wrote recently have served different purposes. The first was “The Degrees of Consciousness of a Black Nerd“, where I spoke about many of the things I think about being who I am and relating the the (somewhat unique) set of people that I communicate with on a daily basis. The other was what I’ve been working on since mid December. Its the blog entry I wrote on Sudoku and the Sudoku program that I wrote last month using the Dancing Links Algorithm. Since originally writing that, I’ve updated the program with a lot of Sudoku problems, as well as two types of “hints”. One generates the “possibilities matrix” which basically just shows what is possible for each cell. The other scans the possibilities matrix and searches for isolated cells (cells where some number can only go in one row/column/subgrid). Both those additions were extremely fun and provided a nice opportunity to program in my spare time.

So I’ve been thinking about these two things and how much I enjoyed the two, but for different reasons. The Degrees of Consciousness of a Black Nerd brought much attention on facebook where the idea was both accepted and rejected and I was able to explain the ideas further and hear similar stories from others who had similar experiences. Sudoku, on the other hand hasn’t generated as much conversation. A few friends have told me that they liked the program, but I don’t know of too many people outside of myself using it. That’s OK. I didn’t really create the program for publication, moreso because I enjoy Sudoku and took it as a challenge to write a program to solve a puzzle.

That being said, I’ve been thinking about some other things that I would like to do – hopefully they’ll be more than just my opinion, but have some programming, operations research, or mathematical context to them as well. But here’s a list of things that I want to write about in the near future.

• Connections between math and football (or sports in general). Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a huge sports fan. At other sites, I’ve posted stuff on QB rating systems and the flaws/inaccuracies in them. Part of me would like to look further into this stuff and either do a comparison, create a new rating system, or just try to understand (explain) different scouting metrics, particularly for QBs.
• I wrote the Sudoku program, but that’s a well studied problem so it was easy to find research that helped me to understand other stuff. I also studied some problems in Ramsey Theory that can be represented by exact covering algorithms and it would be interesting to try to represent these as exact cover problems and to try to use the Dancing Links algorithm to solve these problems as well, maybe to find a comparative analysis to benchmarks.
• One of the things I’ve picked up on lately is machine learning. While I’ve added flash cards on Bayesian Networks, I would like to add some programs on things like k-means clustering.
• I added my sorting algorithms a few weeks ago, but would like to also add something on data structures (arrays, linked lists, trees, heaps, hash tables, etc). In undergrad this was called the class that weeded people out of computer science majors, so doing something on this type of stuff I think could be helpful to those who want to understand it better.
• I have been in the process of writing a linear programming (Simplex) implementation for a while. I would like to get back to that to allow for a solver that can do at least simple algorithms.
• I’ve written a few drafts that connect math to different areas that I’m interested in (music, sports, philosophy, religion, etc), but I need to find a better way to present the stuff because as they’re currently stated, this stuff can easily be misinterpreted.

The beautiful thing about this site is that I’m not constrained by any advisor or boss or deadlines. Its more of a how am I feeling right now kind of a thing and these are the things I’m feeling right now. So this list is kind of my “New Years Resolutions” for LEARNINGlover.com, and while I reserve the right to change my priorities any time I feel that something else deserves my attention more, these are the things I’m planning to spend time on in the next few weeks.