July 19, 2005

How About a BIG Piece of Pi for Breakfast.

The number Pi never ends. In math terms, it's irrational. Like me whilst playing racquetball.

Pi starts out 3.14159265358- and continues on infinitely. The fact that there is no end to Pi has spawned an increasingly ludicrous - but fascinating - race to harness computer power and cleverness in order to calculate more and more digits of this infinite number.

And even more fascinating and just as senseless, a Japanese mathematician, or professor, or sensei, earlier this year successfully recited from memory 83,431 decimal places of Pi. See, and you thought gamers were obsessed. Actually, believe it or not, the man is a mental health counsellor. Go figure (in a manner of speaking).

Not too many hundreds of years ago merely the first five or six digits past the decimal had been calculated. And really, isn't that close enough?

I read recently that as of last year approximately 1.2 trillion digits past the decimal had been calculated. 1,200,000,000,000 decimal places. I'm thinking, if you use Pi the way it's designed to be used, you could fill a small round pool with water, measure the diameter, let's say exactly, and the depth, and then figure out the exact volume of water in that pool. Now, if you use Pi to the precision of 1.2 trillion digits, I'm guessing you're just as accurate as individually counting every single water molecule in that little pool. Just a thought.

While commenting on a mathematician's blog recently - well, a relative who is/was a mathematician, and who has a blog - I related how I was just trying to put that into context. Trying to wrap my brain around how god-awful LONG 1.2 Trillion digits is.

I figured that, if I were to write out Pi, in my normal handwriting - and assuming I could live the 15,000 years it would take me day and night to write that many digits - the result would start in my office, pass through my living room and kitchen, continue outside and across my back yard and my neighbor's yard too, and then down his street, across the freeway and the golf course and town center, all of San Diego County and over the mountains and through the deserts of California, Arizona and New Mexico, the entire South, continue across the Atlantic, bisect Africa, the Indian Ocean, through Australia and the Pacific, onto our beaches and across our canyons and industrial parks and finally into my neighborhood and across my street and my front yard and then back here into my office from the west. Ten times.

It's a long number. And since it's an infinite number, 1.2 trillion digits is just the first hint of a breath of the thought of the beginning of the actual number. It's not even begun as far as infinity is concerned.

Not that I ever think about this or anything.


At 3:33 PM, Blogger Don Sheffler said...

What, nobody likes Pi?


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