Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day!

Some people know pi to trillions of decimal places.. actually they don't, but that's beside the point.~ Lee Houghton

Hopefully, you have discovered this little missive on March 14, for that day is known to many as Pi day. For those of you who are totally dense, the mathematical constant pi, which is the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference, is usually given as 3.14. The more astute among you might recall it as 3.14159 (hence the time of this post).

Actually, pi is an irrational number. This doesn't mean that pi is argumentative or illogical. It simply means that it can't be expressed evenly as the ratio of two integers. In other words, calculate pi however you want to, you'll never get to a point where you're done resolving it. Pi has been calculated to gazillions of digits, mostly by people who have a lot of computer time and no girl friends.

Just to give you an idea, here's a relatively short value for pi: 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288. The spaces are there for readability. If you want to impress your friends, you can rattle this one off at the next party you attend. Of course, it'll be the last party you attend, but you'll have had your moment in the sun.

The funny bit is that, after 3.141592, you could probably rattle off any group of digits without fear of contradiction. And you still wouldn't get invited to any parties.

Assuming you've got anyone left listening to you, you could wow them with something like this:

At the twenty-seventh decimal position, you'll find the number 27, flanked by 3 and 9. This is explained by the person quoted above, Lee Houghton, in a comment at Pi Land. Even Mr. Houghton admits he needs a hobby. As do people who regularly frequent a site called Pi Land.

If you want to disseminate some really arcane facts, read this article. I guarantee people will avoid you for weeks.

People love to get all goofy about calendar dates that seem significant, like June 6, 2006. This, of course, can be written 6/6/06, which got some of the nuttier folks around going off about all that number of the beast (666) nonsense. Well, besides 666 being silly, relating 6/6/06 to the number makes no sense because it's got a ZERO in it. I know of no Biblical significance to 6606. Of course, there was a 6/6/6 in the year 6, except that no one was calling it the year 6 back then (that would come much later when some monk or another calculated when Jesus was born --incorrectly, as it turns out). Besides, Revelations hadn't been written yet, so had people been calling it the year 6, they still wouldn't have related any significance to it.

Personally, I think we should have more number holidays, but most people don't bother to remember the math they learned, so making a fuss about February 7, xx18 being related to e, the base of the natural logarithms probably isn't going to draw much of a crowd.

The square root of 2, which relates the value of the diagonal of a square to its sides, is a friendly 1.414 (or 1.41421 35623 73095 04880 16887 24209 69807 to the more precision-minded). But, like e, it's a once-a-century holiday.

Let's face it. The real reason we remember pi is because of that old, old joke:

Father: What did you learn in school today, son?
Son: We learned pi r2.
Father: Well, that's stupid. Pie aren't square. Pie are round.

Sad, but there it is.

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