Pi-ling Up On Pi

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears …

Oops, sorry, you can have your ears back (hope they still fit on the sides of your head); the ides of March are not ’til tomorrow.

But still, friends of pi, do pay heed! For there is foul news afoot this year on pi day (today, 3/14). The naysayers are clamoring against the number pi and its day.

A new majority in Congress thinks such celebrations are frivolous:

“Last Congress, Democrats voted hand over fist to increase spending, in addition to overusing the suspension calendar for hundreds of needless votes on resolutions honoring items such as Confucius’ birthday and ‘PI’ day,” wrote Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Bloggers question the narrowness of confining ourselves to the decimal system and to the middle-endian calendar. [Yes, I’m aware the second blogger is me; I enjoy arguing against myself.]

And the new hero of the math vlogosphere, with her wonderful series about doodling in math class, Vi Hart, has even taken a stand against Pi and Pi Day. Instead she advocates for Tau Day (a.k.a 2pi day, on 6/28) since tau is “more natural” than pi. Click on that latter link and watch her anti-pi video, as it is our most formidable opponent, taking on not just the representation of pi or its holiday-worthiness, but the essence of the number itself.

However, partisans of pi, we shall hold strong! Strong as the trees in the forest!

Photo (c) Kenneth Vincent

Now I ask of you, when a person comes across a circle in the woods, what can one measure about that circle? The circumference, of course, by tying a string or tape measure around the outside of the circle. And the diameter, using a tool like a dial caliper (we use these in the engineering classes I teach!). But one cannot measure the radius without tearing apart the circle and violating its circleness by poking at its innards. Besides, even with the careless circumvention of morals that cutting up a circle would entail, how would one determine that circle’s center to then find the radius? One would simply take a diameter and cut it in twain!–there lies our center.

Thus, pi = C/d is much more natural indeed, based on real-world experience, than tau = C/r. Not the reverse, as Ms. Hart claims!

And so, I issue a call to pi devotees everywhere to use this day to trumpet the glories of pi, as we face its enemies near and far! May your circles always be round!

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NOTE: It has come to my attention that I may be indulging in a bit of hypocrisy with my tirade toward tau. I guess my real opinion is: the more days celebrating pi, its cousins, and all of mathematics, the better. Avery’s conclusion that all of March should be pi month, or Vi’s appeal to celebrate tau day in June, all sound good to me!

In that vein of mathematical mellow-ness, here are a few more pi links that you might enjoy:

• A National Geographic blog post by someone at the Exploratorium (a San Francisco museum that invented or at least popularized pi day).
• A musical composition based on pi. High school friend Brett and I scooped them on this by nine years, using the computers in the band room to compose a pi-digit tune (that wasn’t all that tuneful). The linked video is a very nice rendition of our song, though! 😉
• A pi puzzle (I’ve enjoyed their puzzles each year past, and look forward to working on this one).