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March 14, 2011 / Dave Gorham

3.14: Pi Day

I’ll tell you something: I don’t like math. Math was the reason for summer school between 9th and 10th grades and math almost changed my career. So when I heard today is Pi Day on the radio, I didn’t hear “pi,” I heard “pie” and immediately visions of coconut, pecans, flaky crusts and whipped toppings took me to my happy place. Fittingly, I might add, as I was stuck in the morning rush on I-45 trying to get to work.

But no, it’s Pi Day. As in, 3.14159…the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. That number with the “never-ending” string of decimals. Why today? Today is the 14th of March, or 3/14. Get it?

Pi, as represented by the lower case Greek letter π. Image: Wikipedia

Interesting pi and Pi Day trivia:

  • The latest calculation of Pi takes the decimal to 5 trillion digits.
  • In the movie, Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian, pi is the combination that allows the gates to the Underworld to open.
  • A Star Trek, the Series, episode deals with an alien entity that takes over the Enterprise’s computer with the goal of killing the crew. Kirk and Spock trick the entity out of the computer by forcing it to compute pi to the last digit. The entity then gives up and the Enterprise lives to fight another day.
  • In the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan, it was suggested that the creators of the Universe buried a message within the the digits of pi. This was omitted from the movie version.
  • Why does the Greek letter π represent pi? Because it’s the first letter of the Greek word περίμετρος, meaning perimeter. This representation was first used in 1706 by the mathematician William Jones.
  • Pi Day was created in 1989 by physicist Larry Shaw.
  • The fractional approximation of π,227, resembles the date July 22 in the day/month format, where it is written 22/7. Pi Approximation Day is therefore celebrated on July 22. Because Europeans place the day first and the month second when indicating the date, inclined Europeans celebrate Pi Approximation Day on July 22.
  • Pi Day has its own website: www.piday.org.
  • Pi Day (surprise!) has a Facebook page: Pi Day on Facebook.
  • Feeling lucky, or feeling smart? Try the Pi Trivia game.
  • To find the volume of a cylinder, multiply the the area of the base (the area of the circle which is pi × r²), then multiply that by the height of the cylinder.
  • A song has been written to mathematically represent pi. In other words, this is what pi sounds like.

What's your choice of pie on Pi Day? Image: Wikipedia

So how did math almost change my career? The Air Force doesn’t do it this way anymore, but back when I was going through my weather training, the courses were broken down into two basic segments: Weather Technician (weather observer) and Weather Forecaster. One would finish WT school, go out into the field to work as a technician/observer for several years, then return for WF school. I knew high levels of math would be required in forecaster school so I opted not to go but, unfortunately there was no longer a career path for the weather observer. My choice therefore, was to go to forecaster school or leave the Air Force. I left the Air Force. It took only a few months, but I realized I really did want to be a weather forecaster. So I re-enlisted and hit the books hard. I went to forecaster school and passed one of the most difficult schools the Air Force has to offer. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m very glad I chose to overcome my math phobia. That single decision is responsible for not only my career, but my marriage (I met my wife, Tonie, in the Air Force after forecaster school).

What kind of pie is most appropriate for Pi Day? Perhaps if you’re like me, it’s one that you would rather not try but — in the end— tastes pretty darn good after all.

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