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The meaning of π (or not)

January 28, 2011

The (circular?) π day is coming.  It comes every year on March the 14th (just a day before that Shakespearean Isles of March!).  But a more interesting day comes exactly a month before π day.  They called it Valentine’s Day, but I prefer to call it (π-1) day (Pi-Minus-One Day!).

The reason π day is on March the 14th is because π‘s two decimal approximation is 3.14.  And since the United States of America is the all-powerful nation today (or so they claimed even in Mathematics) March the 14th was chosen to be π day.  If China was the one to name π day, I wager it’s going to be 31st of April (31/4),(but wait, April has only 30 days) or 3rd of January (3/1).  So then Valentine’s Day would be numerically uninteresting.

But wait, the number π isn’t so important after all, claimed the author (Michael Hartl a physicist, educator, and entrepreneur) of “The Tao Manifesto”.  This article is based on another article “π Is Wrong!” by Bob Palais appearing in the The Mathematical Intelligencer about a decade ago.  So now if Hartl is right, should we be celebrating τ and not π?

Maybe China can take this up and celebrate τ day (pronounced tau-day) on June the 28th?  Wait since τ is about 6.28 in numerical value and China reads the day first not the month, τ day should be 62nd of August?  Or would it be better on the 6th of February!  Now that’s another happy day to celebrate in the month of February! No, no, no, WAIT if we consider only the first two digits, it’s more like 6.3 which means tau day should be on the 6th of March!  I just won’t know what the Chinese would call it.  逃日, 桃日 or 陶日 (run-away day, peach day or mischievous day).

Assuming the Chinese prefer 6.2 and assuming Chinese New Year also falls in February (which happens 23.4325% of the time) Baidu can design their “τ day logo” around the auspicious Chinese New Year season!  Why Baidu?  Because Google (with its team of PhDs and Computer Scientists and Mathematicians) celebrates π day every year and they even have a logo for that day.

Google π day logo (click to see somebody’s large flickr photo)

pi day logo

Actually there’s a number more important than π.  It’s the natural number e.  It comes up in Calculus and most scientific calculators have ex (exp(x)) function built in them.  It’s about 2.718281828… and it’s also transcendental (not just irrational) like π.  But nobody in the US is excited a week before V. Day.  And China has a choice to celebrate it either on the 2nd of July or on the 27th of January …errr, I mean February.


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