Thursday 14 March 2013

3.14 reasons to celebrate Pi Day (March 14)

Okay, now just how geeky is this? The mathematical constant Pi is equal to three point one four one five nine yadda yadda yadda. - Some clown in the audience is going to impress us all by reciting this to 20 decimal digits. Geeks rule! - Well, who would have guessed? Pi has its own day and that day is March 14. I can see the perplexed looks now. March is the third month of the year so that gives us 3/14, the first three digits of Pi. [slaps forehead] Oh... my... gawd! I have to add here that the U.S. shows dates in the format month - day - year. Britain shows day-month-year and Japan shows year-month-day. Only in America!

Yes folks, it's Pi Day, a holiday commemorating this most unusual of mathematical constants. Well, is it the oddest? Maybe the know-it-all geniuses may disagree but I would come back to Pi being the most commonly known of all constants, at least for us lay people and/or dunderheads.

FYI: March 14 is also Albert Einstein's birthday! (1879) Pi and Einstein? Coincidence? I think not! Ha ha.

What is Pi?
Just what the heck is Pi anyway? π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle's circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. (Wikipedia) [stunned silence] Ah, but what exactly does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

Pi is represented by the Greek letter π, and it is the most important constant in mathematics. You can find out the area of a circle of radius r, using πr2. The perimeter of this circle would have the length 2πr. Without pi there is no theory of motion and no understanding of geometry. Likewise, the volume of a sphere of radius r is 4/3πr3 and that of a cylinder of height h is πr2h. Pi occurs in important fields of applied mathematics such as Fourier analysis. It is used throughout engineering, science and medicine and is studied for its own sake in number theory. (ABC Science)

Well, didn't that just clear things up nicely! Oh boy, am I in over my head. However, the fascination with this mathematical constant goes on to the nutty and the funny.

This oddball word (read made-up) is the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember the digits of Pi. The word derives from Pi (natch!) and philology which is the study of language based on historical sources. A "piem" (Pi and poEM) is a poem which represents the constant. The trick is that the number of letters of the word must correspond to a digit. For example (supposedly the most famous):

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!

If you look back at Pi, you find 3.141592653. How = 3, I = 1, want = 4, etc. Funny, eh? But some have even gone further in pushing the limits of this mathematical slash artistic creativity:

Sir, I have a rhyme excelling,
In mystic power and magic spelling,
Mystical spirits elucidate,
For my own problems can't relate.

That one takes you out to the twentieth digit of Pi. I see though that some have gone nuts. Wikipedia gives an example of a poem to the 75th position written in iambic pentameter and talks about texts going on for thousands of digits. That's a lot of free time on your hands. Then again, I appreciate the challenge of creatively working within certain constraints.

And speaking about working creatively, I just happened to run across two creative guys who put together an amusing musical number about Pi set to the tune of American Pie, the 1971 song written and sung by Don McLean. Here is "Mathematical Pi" by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan.

The following YouTube video by Steve Toner, a teacher, is his version of Mathematical Pi by Ferrier and Chan. (A MP3 of Ferrier and Chan singing their own song can be found below.)

(or Mathematical Pi to the tune of 'American Pie')
by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan

A long, long time ago
Long before the Super Bowl and things like lemonade
The Hellenic Republic was full of smarts
And a question resting on the Grecian hearts
Was "What is the circumference of a circle?"
But they were set on rational numbers
And it ranks among their biggest blunders
They worked on it for years
And confirmed one of their biggest fears
I can't be certain if they cried when irrationality was realized
But something deep within them died
the day they discovered pi.
They were thinking

Pi, pi, mathematical pi
3 point 14 15 92
65 35 89 7
932384 62
6433832 7 (not rounded)

Well this kind of pie is different than most
It hasn't got berries, ain't spread on toast
And that's how it's always been
We keep extending its decimal places
Pushing our computers through their paces
But we'll never reach the end

So why the fascination with
A number whose end is just a myth
Whence the adulation
For mental masturbation
It might have something to do with the stars
To calculate distances from afar
But that's just a guess 'bout the way things are
Regarding the precision of pi
I am pondering


Now I feel that I should mention
Pi is applicable in any dimension
At least as far as I know
If there were no Pi we'd be missing things
Like marbles and mugs and balls of string
And sports such as soccer and curling
The orbs in their celestial paths
Navigate along elliptical graphs
Ellipses have pi in them too
Just one side of them has grew
You can see pi in most everything
It's in Cornell's Electron Storage Ring
And also in slinkies and other springs
And that's why it's important to know pi
You should memorize


Once one night I had a dream
That pi was gone and I had to scream
Cause all pi things had disappeared  (pause)
Can you imagine a world like that
Circles aren't round and spheres are flat
It's the culmination of everything we've feared
'Twas a nightmare of epic proportions
One that gave me brain contortions
Oh wait!  I mean contusions
They put me in some institutions
But then I escaped and now I'm free
To sing of the virtue of pi


Pi itself set to music
Phil Tulga has some unique offerings to teaching on his web site. In one of them, he has put together a little music using the digits to select notes. Look at "part 2 Sequencing with Pi" and listen to "Phil's Pi song". Starting with middle C as 1, he creates some harmony, adds some timing and manages to come up with something quite pleasant to the ear based on 3, 1, 4, 1, and 5. Hmmm, does nature have a lot of surprises? A lot of connections between mathematics and music? It's uncanny.

Another oddity about Pi: The Feynman Point
The decimal representation of Pi goes on forever and the current world record (as of October 17, 2011) is calculating Pi out to 10 trillion digits. An oddity of these numbers is that starting at the 762nd decimal place, there is a sequence of six 9s. It is called the Feynman point after physicist Richard Feynman who once stated during a lecture he would like to memorize the digits of π until that point, so he could recite them and quip "nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on", suggesting, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that π is rational. (Wikipedia)

Final Word
Some miscellaneous references:

There are all sorts of references to Pi on the Net especially ones making use of the homonym pie. Hats off to Larry Shaw who created Pi Day in 1989 at the San Francisco Exploratorium where he worked as a physicist.

The U.S. House of Representatives made it official on March 12, 2009 recognising March 14 as National Pi Day.

July 22 or 22/7 (day/month) is Pi Approximation Day as the fraction 22⁄7 is a common approximation of Pi.

I can't wait until 2015 when we can all really go all out as then Pi Day will consist of not three but five digits of Pi (3.1415) as 3/14/15 in the month/day/year format.

Now, I think I'll go cut me a slice... of pie. Hmmm, now where is the whipped cream?


Wikipedia: Pi Day
Pi Day is a holiday commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (or 3/14 in month/day date format), since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.

Wikipedia: Pi
π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle's circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. It is approximately equal to 3.14159265 in the usual decimal notation. Many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants.

Wikipedia: Piem, Piphilology
Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant π.

Wikipedia: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the general theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics).

Mathematical Pi by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan
The following link is to a MP3 of our two troubadours giving their rendition of their own opus. Please note that unlike YouTube videos which are set up to stream (they start playing without you having to wait for the whole video to download), this MP3 is not streaming so you have to patiently wait for the whole thing to come down to your computer before it starts to play. You are forewarned. Enjoy.

MP3 of the complete song

All Too Flat
Welcome to All Too Flat. Prepare yourself for some serious time-wastin' and (hopefully) a fair amount of laughing.

Alright, so what is this site all about?
I think Yahoo describes ATF the best: "A web site that takes its name from a Monty Python sketch seems like the natural place to find oddities like The Bible According to Cheese and scientist trading cards. At, quirky humor is the name of the game. The ATF Squad tries to debunk myths such as don't overfeed your goldfish, although tragically, this turns out to be sound advice. They play some vaguely funny pranks on their friends and offer tips on how to stage your own. They even get pretentious and spout off poetry -- don't miss the haikus about bowling, NAFTA, tech guys, raves, NYC, and Law and Order. And if you have questions or need some advice, just ask the fish."

So then what is all this "Too Flat" nonsense anyway?
It's an obscure Monty Python reference:
"He is an halibut. I chose him out of thousands.
I didn't like the others; they were all too flat."

Pi and Google in the (humorous) News

Mail Online - Feb 2/2013
A piece of the pi: Google offers $3.14159 million in cash rewards to any hacker who can crack its Chrome operating system
Google is so confident in security on the company's Chrome operating system its offering $3.14159 in cash rewards for successful hacks of the system at this year's Pwnium hacking contest. The figure is a nod to pi, an irrational number that has intrigued mathematicians for thousands of years. Previously the tech giant has offered reward of $1 million and $2 million to crack its systems.

Reuters - Jul 1/2011
Dealtalk: Google bid "pi" for Nortel patents and lost
At the auction for Nortel Networks' wireless patents this week, Google's bids were mystifying, such as $1,902,160,540 and $2,614,972,128. Math whizzes might recognize these numbers as Brun's constant and Meissel-Mertens constant, but it puzzled many of the people involved in the auction, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation on Friday. "Google was bidding with numbers that were not even numbers," one of the sources said. "It became clear that they were bidding with the distance between the earth and the sun. One was the sum of a famous mathematical constant, and then when it got to $3 billion, they bid pi," the source said, adding the bid was $3.14159 billion.


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