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Pi Day vs. Half Tau Day

By now my views on Pi Day are well documented (see earlier posts from 2011 and 2009 if you’re curious). Recently, though, I’ve decided to try to be a little less curmudgeonly when it comes to math holidays. Consequently, while it would be easy to provide snarky commentary on articles with particularly egregious mathematical errors, this year I will try to restrain myself.

As I’ve said before, one of my biggest problems with Pi day is that the activities are, for the most part, a little ridiculous, and don’t actually do anything to better the general populace’s understanding of mathematics. Last year, I explained why contests involving the recitation of digits of are silly, so this year I’d like to offer an alternative. Why not use the day as an opportunity to debate with students the relative merits of and ?

Of course, I’m talking about more than Greek letters . . . → Read More: Pi Day vs. Half Tau Day

Wedding Mathematics, Part 3

Today I would like to wrap up my series on mathematics and weddings (a series begun here and continued here) with a little advice for soon-to-be brides and grooms who are looking to integrate some math into their celebrations. If this describes you, then congratulations – not only on your upcoming nuptials, but also on the classy way you are looking to celebrate them.

For our own wedding, my bride and I decided it would be natural to incorporate some mathematics into the table numbers. There is some freedom in how one decides to do this. For example, we initially toyed with the idea of using numbers for the tables that were somehow significant to us and our relationship, but found it too difficult to come up with examples meeting this criterion. If one wants intrinsically interesting numbers, there are many examples among the whole numbers (I was particularly fond . . . → Read More: Wedding Mathematics, Part 3

Second Annual Tau Day: Interview and Ideas!

Last year marked the dawn of a new era in mathematical holidays. Spearheaded by Dr. Michael Hartl, Tau Day (celebrated today, June 28th) is an attempt to draw awareness to what he sees as a fundamental error in the definition of the beloved circle constant . In particular, he (and others) argue that the more natural choice of the circle constant should be , which he affectionately dubs . I outlined the reasons for this in a post last year, though if you have the time, I highly encourage you to read Hartl’s Tau Manifesto.

This year, I thought it would be nice to talk with Dr. Hartl in more detail about his inspirations for Tau Day, and where he envisions it in the future. He was gracious enough to agree to a brief interview, which I humbly submit to you here.


Q: When did you first . . . → Read More: Second Annual Tau Day: Interview and Ideas!

Math Clock Showdown

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 math-themed paraphernalia.

I’ve written before about my mixed feelings regarding math t-shirts. 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

Watch Out for The Secret Number

I would like to offer my somewhat reserved congratulations to the helmers of the upcoming film project titled The Secret Number, whose Kickstarter project ended today having exceeded its fundraising goal of $10,000 (I’ll also point out that this isn’t the first time Kickstarter has made an appearance on this blog). The film, a senior thesis for director Colin Levy, is based on a short story of the same name, and is the reason behind my inclusion of the word “reserved” in the sentence above. By way of introduction, please take a look at the filmmakers’ fundraising video:

As you can see, the story centers around a mathematician who claims to have discovered an integer between 3 and 4. Forgetting the mathematical particulars for a moment, the source material worries me, mostly because the mathematician featured in the story has been hospitalized following a nervous breakdown brought . . . → Read More: Watch Out for The Secret Number

Pi, I Shake My Fist at You

A couple of days ago I watched a video that really depressed me. Here‘s a link to a local news story from Ankeny, Iowa – I’d encourage you to take a look at the news clip there (unfortunately, I can’t embed it here). The story concerns a 6th grade student who has memorized the decimal expansion of pi to 340 or so digits.

In and of itself, this might not seem like a particularly newsworthy achievement – as any Pi Day aficionado can tell you, there are people who have memorized more digits. Perhaps what makes it newsworthy is the fact that the student is only twelve years old, or, more perversely, the fact that his accomplishment came in response to the challenge of his math teacher, who asked his students to memorize as many digits of pi as possible. By far the most depressing part of the video is . . . → Read More: Pi, I Shake My Fist at You

Happy Tau Day?

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?


Nicolas Cage commands a powerful fan base. On the one hand, this should be expected of any man with the foresight to see how awesome a film The Rock would turn out to be, but on the other hand, some of his more recent outings (I’m thinking of Bangkok Dangerous, Next, Ghost Rider, and Knowing) have met with less than critical praise. Nevertheless, support for Nicolas Cage has, from my perspective, only seemed to grow over the past few years. Perhaps it’s because of the National Treasure series, or because, according to Wikipedia, he named his youngest son Kal-El after Superman. Or perhaps people feel sorry for him because of his tax problems after spending too much money buying castles and islands. Whatever the case, this love for Nicolas Cage manifests itself in a variety of ways, from the usual fan sites such as, to the less standard celebrity . . . → Read More: Knowing