
By Matt, on March 14th, 2011% Dessert aside, longtime readers are probably already aware of my decidedly mixed feelings towards Pi Day (see, for example, here). Nevertheless, the holiday seems only to be growing in popularity, and so I feel compelled to take it to task once again.
In my earlier post, I complained about mathematical mistakes that frequently appeared in Pi Day articles aimed at a general audience; these errors still exist, but rather than nitpick, let me instead focus on the most bothersome activity of the day. I’m speaking, of course, about pi recitation competitions.
Reciting the digits of pi is, unfortunately, becoming a popular activity – dare I say even a tradition – on Pi Day. Competitors recite as many digits of pi as they can, and the person who can recite the most digits is declared the winner. As I’ve said before, I fail to see the point of this exercise. From . . . → Read More: Pi Day Post Mortem
By Matt, on February 4th, 2011% When shopping for gifts for someone, there are a few wells from which one frequently draws inspiration. A person’s favorite TV show, for example, or favorite band; such preferences can often provide good fodder for gift ideas. One’s career can also be included in this list – in my case, the result is that I am frequently the recipient of maththemed paraphernalia.
I’ve written before about my mixed feelings regarding math tshirts. Today, though, I’d like to tackle a different type of gift: the math clock. This is inspired, in part, by a gift I received from my grandmother (bless her heart) over the holiday. The gift, pictured below, was an analog clock in which the numbers have been replaced by (what one would hope to be) mathematically equivalent expressions.
Figure 1: Clock with a black background.
Don’t tell her, but we haven’t yet put this clock up in . . . → Read More: Math Clock Showdown
By Matt, on October 6th, 2010% Another year, another night of dressing in costumes on a quest for candy and/or debauchery. In previous years, I’ve tried to encourage mathematically influenced Halloween costumes (see here and here), and so if for no other reason than the sake of consistency, this year will be no different. Here are some new ideas for 2010:
1. The Count
This costume idea was suggested to me in the comments section of last year’s list. Known and loved by children and adults alike, this costume would give the wearer ample opportunity to teach children about the wonders of math. If you’re one of those people who give out pennies or toothbrushes, though, I would caution you against this costume decision, since the combination of a lack of candy and an insistence on discussing mathematics may dramatically increase the likelihood of you being at the receiving end of a “trick.”
. . . → Read More: Math Goes Trick Or Treating Yet Again
By Matt, on June 28th, 2010% In the past, I’ve used this blog as a platform to make clear my mixed feelings about Pi Day, a math themed holiday celebrated every year on March 14th (3/14, har har) in honor of the beloved mathematical constant . My thoughts on the subject can be found here.
It would seem that I am not alone in my frustration. Michael Hartl, an educator and entrepreneur (as well as a Ph.D. graduate from Caltech), has just today launched a website in favor of Tau Day as a replacement for Pi Day. However, his argument (based on a 2001 paper by Bob Palais) goes a step farther – he argues that day shouldn’t be celebrated because isn’t the fundamental constant we should be considering! Rather, he argues that the true fundamental constant is , which is approximately 6.283185… . Hartl argues that this should be the fundamental constant of interest, and . . . → Read More: Happy Tau Day?
By Matt, on January 27th, 2010% If you come here regularly, you know of my complaints regarding socalled “math holidays” that get plenty of press, but rarely have anything to do with actual mathematics. The most well known is pi day, celebrated here in the states on March 14th, also known here as 3/14.
Aside from the mathematical arguments one can make for or against this holiday, there is a larger problem. It’s all well and good to celebrate pi day on the date representing the first three digits of pi, but this is only possible if we write dates in the MM/DD format. Most of the world, however, uses the (more logical) DD/MM format, therefore depriving them of such a delicious play on numbers. Many loyal international fans of this holiday no doubt decry the fact that April has only 30 days, for otherwise they could simply celebrate pi day on 31/4. As it is, . . . → Read More: e day?
By Matt, on November 18th, 2009% Big ups to Liz Landau for bringing attention to one of the most important unsolved math problems of our time, the Riemann Hypothesis. Over at the CNN SciTechBlog, she has written a nice article on the problem aimed at a general audience. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Riemann’s manuscript, where he proposed the now famous conjecture on the zeros of the Riemannzeta function, and November was the month in which it was published. However, as Landau points out, the exact date of publication isn’t known, which makes having a birthday celebration a little tricky. The American Institute of Mathematics picked today to celebrate, and in honor of Riemann talks were held all around the world.
The Riemann Hypothesis has held the attention of the mathematical community for a century and a half, but it’s also made occasional forays into the realm of popular culture. For . . . → Read More: Happy Birthday, Riemann Hypothesis!
By Matt, on October 16th, 2009% UPDATE: 2010 costume ideas can be found here! Around this time last year, I wrote up some suggestions for maththemed Halloween costumes. Based on the traffic I received from that article, I can tell that many people are desperate to integrate their holiday festivities with mathematics. For this reason, and in the interest of not breaking tradition, I thought it would be fitting to suggest a few more ideas for this year. 1) Mathemagician.
In the strictest sense, a mathemagician is simply a mathematician who does magic. Or, perhaps it is a magician who does mathematics. You may (rightfully) be tempted to say that every mathematician does magic, but the tricks of the mathemagician are geared more towards a general audience, although they do often feature mathematics in a starring role. Sadly, the same cannot always be said for the typical magician.
There are examples of mathemagicians in real life, . . . → Read More: Math Goes Trick Or Treating Again
By Matt, on September 8th, 2009% Let me begin by saying that, in response to the question Why is 9/09/09 so special?, my response is simple: it’s not.
In fact, I would argue that 09/08/09 is much more interesting. This claim has nothing to do with numerology, and everything to do with President Obama’s speech to the youth of America on the value of education. The speech made very clear the importance of taking education seriously, and hopefully convinced students that a good education benefits not only themselves, but also society at large. In case you missed the speech, the transcript can be found here.
Although the speech was about education in general, mathematics got a little bit of love too. Here’s one such example:
What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation . . . → Read More: Make Money Money, Make Money Money Money! (and Learn Math, too)

