Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pi Day

People who know me know that I love holidays. I think they help to mark the year, help one to create memories, and serve to keep one aware of what one is doing with their life and focusing on. They work for me as simple awareness exercises. I'm not ashamed to admit that I remember my wedding anniversary because it's on Bloomsday (the day in which James Joyce's Ulysses takes place.) I try to keep on top of simple awareness exercises like taking a walk and noticing everything I see that is red on one day's walk or a triangle on another day and so forth, or going a day without turning this infernal machine on, or switching from coffee to black tea for a week or, indeed, changing my diet dramatically or walking in a direction I've never walked before. Or, right after reading a Victorian novel, I'll pick up a post-modern piece of meta-fiction. Little adjustments help me to keep things fresh, keeps my patterns from getting too embedded, keeps my mind from turning mechanical, keep my synapses sparkling.

Not that I'm against consistency, mind you. Laurie will tell you that I am very much a creature of habit, which I also think is a valuable life tool. I think cultivating reliability is a good thing, but I strive for a middle path by tweaking my patterns slightly. Holidays aid me in this pursuit.

And especially the nerdy ones (although, personally, I find the "talk like a pirate" one annoying.) For those out of the geek loop, much as the church calendar as well as the secular one are sprinkled throughout with holidays in their idioms, so is the geek calendar. There's Bilbo Baggins' birthday, Darwin Day, Towel Day for those who like the works of Douglas Adams, Mole Day, Pretend to Be a Time Traveller Day, and March 4 is Sentence Day (because "march forth" is a complete sentence.)

By far, one of my favorites is Pi Day, which is tomorrow. Pi, as you well know, is a mathematical constant. From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (since the OED online makes you subscribe):
a: the symbol π denoting the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter b : the ratio itself : a transcendental number having a value rounded to eight decimal places of 3.14159265
Note the number at the end. In 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, some PR genius came up with the annual Pi Day celebration on March 14th starting at 1:59 pm (that's 3/14 1:59. Which, really, is about as much of pi as a lay-person is ever going to use.) March 14th also happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday. Einstein really didn't have a lot to do with pi, but it adds to it being a day celebrating mathematics.

I'm not a mathematician by any means, although in college I had a calculus professor who was excellent and who inspired a great interest in mathematics in me. I was never any good at math until he explained how mathematics is really the study of everything, the study of reality and all that that could possibly mean. In all honesty, I remain extremely amateur in my enthusiasm (in the interest of full disclosure, anything I read on mathematics is going to be written for popular consumption. For example, Godel, Escher, Bach is about my limit), but fascinated none the less.

Also, needless to say, the day is usually celebrated with pie, which adds a nice incentive. I will be getting us a pie. I think we all like Razzleberry. I know it sounds silly, but what better day to be irrational! And eat a really transcendent pie.

By the way, my birthday occurs in pi beginning at the 701st position after the decimal point.

If you'd like to take a few moments to think about mathematics (and really, how often do you do that in your everyday life) I would highly recommend this excellent episode of Radiolab:
This cute little Science Friday video:
Or cruise on over to the Mensa website and click on The Mensa Workout link to keep you brain limber:
Here's a fun Pi Song for all ages:

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

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