More fractals: Laakso spaces and slit carpets

In early 2000s Tomi Laakso published two papers which demonstrated that metric spaces could behave in very Euclidean ways without looking Euclidean at all. One of his examples became known as the Laakso graph space, since it is the limit of a sequence of graphs. In fact, the best known version of the construction was introduced by Lang and Plaut, who modified Laakso’s original example to make it more symmetric. The building block is this graph with 6 edges:

Building block

Each edge is assigned length 1/4, so that the distance between the leftmost and rightmost points is 1. Next, replace each edge with a copy of the building block. This increases the number of edges by the factor of 6; their length goes down by the factor of 4 (so that the leftmost-rightmost distance is still 1). Repeat.

Laakso graph (click to magnify)

The resulting metric space is doubling: every ball can be covered by a fixed number (namely, 6) balls of half the size. This is the typical behavior of subsets of Euclidean spaces. Yet, the Laakso space does not admit a bi-Lipschitz embedding into any Euclidean space (in fact, even into any uniformly convex Banach space). It remains the simplest known example of a doubling space without such an embedding. Looking back at the building block, one recognizes the cycle C_4 as the source of non-embeddability (a single cycle forces a certain amount of distortion; adding cycles withing cycles ad infinitum forces infinite distortion). The extra edges on the left and right are necessary for the doubling condition.

In some sense, the Laakso space is the antipode of the Cantor set: instead of deleting the middle part repeatedly, we duplicate it. But it’s also possible to construct it with a ‘removal’ process very similar to Cantor’s. Begin with the square and slit it horizontally in the center; let the length of the slit be 1/3 of the sidelength. Then repeat as with the Cantor set, except in addition to cutting left and right of the previous cut, we also do it up and down. Like this:

Slit pseudo-carpet: beginning

Our metric space if the square minus the slits, equipped with the path metric: the distance between two points is the infimum of the length of curves connecting them within the space. Thus, the slits seriously affect the metric. This is how the set will look after a few more iterations:

Slit pseudo-carpet (click to magnify)

I called this a slit pseudo-carpet because it has nonempty interior, unlike true Sierpinski carpets. To better see the similarity with the Laakso space, multiply the vertical coordinate by \epsilon and let \epsilon\to 0 (equivalently, redefine the length of curves as \int |x'| instead of \int \sqrt{|x'|^2+|y'|^2}). This collapses all vertical segments remaining in the set, leaving us with a version of the Laakso graph space.

Finally, some Scilab code. The Laakso graph was plotted using the Chaos game, calling the function below with parameters laakso(0.7,50000).

function laakso(angle,steps)
s=1/(2+2*cos(angle));
xoffset = [0,1-s,s,s,1/2,1/2];
yoffset = [0,0,0,0,s*sin(angle),-s*sin(angle)];
rotation =[0,0,angle,-angle,-angle,angle];
sc=s*cos(rotation);
ss=s*sin(rotation);
point = zeros(steps,2);
vert = grand(1,steps,'uin',1,6);
for j = 2:steps
point(j,:) = point(j-1,:)*[sc(vert(j)),ss(vert(j));-ss(vert(j)),sc(vert(j))] + [xoffset(vert(j)), yoffset(vert(j))];
end
plot(point(:,1),point(:,2),'linestyle','none','markstyle','.','marksize',1);
endfunction

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