From The Seattle Pi
While celebrating a numerical ratio may seem geeky to some, others find Pi to be sublime – in their view an irrational number that can transcendentally go on and on, never repeating itself into infinity, yet that is vital to everyday math, definitely deserves recognition.
And gradually, since it was first started 25 years ago, the celebration on March 14th has developed a following. In years past it has been overshadowed by the boisterous Saint Patrick’s Day celebration which follows a few days later, but this year with the box office success of “The Life of Pi”, maybe more people will take note of this significant day and join in the celebration.
Appropriately, Pi lovers dine on pies on this date, from pizza pie to pumpkin pie. They tell math jokes, write pi songs, rap, and make videos. Celebrations are often carefully timed around the first digits in the infinite string – for instance, 3/14 at 1:59 pm is the number 3.14159.
A blogger for Scientific American wrote in an article titled How Much Pi Do You Need:
Susan Gomez, manager of the International Space Station Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) subsystem for NASA, said that calculations involving pi use 15 digits for GNC code and 16 for the Space Integrated Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (SIGI). SIGI is the program that controls and stabilizes spacecraft during missions.
…So NASA scientists keep the space station operational with only 15 or 16 significant digits of pi, and the fundamental constants of the universe only require 32. Yet in 2006 Akira Haraguchi of Japan recited 100,000 digits of pi from memory in 16 ½ hours, stopping for five minutes every hour to replenish his strength with onigiri rice balls. And the world record for number of digits of pi computed is 10 trillion, at least as of October 2011. Pi computation can be used to test computer precision, but I think this is a symptom of pi-mania rather than a legitimate need for pi. Other numbers could be used just as meaningfully, but we choose to use pi.
In this clip from Star Trek, Pi even saves the day! It’s definitely appropriate to celebrate this number that makes GPS possible…we’d be lost without it.
And by the way, if you have 10 minutes to spare, you can hear someone singing a randomized version of the first 100 digits here (purists note – it is not accurate, but that is artistic license at work).