Today is Pi Day. Because the 14th of March could be written as 3.14, the first three digits for the irrational number we all learned something about in elementary mathematics.
Of course, this little bit of trivia only works if you’re writing the date as we do in the US. The whole exercise falls apart in most of the rest of the world where they traditionally write the day before the month. 14.3 makes no sense.
Anyway, beyond the fluff of memorizing lots of the digits and serving actual pies to math teachers (which we do appreciate), pi is a core mathematical concept with a long history and many important applications.
In this New Yorker article from three years ago, a math professor at Cornell University briefly offers a few reasons Why Pi Matters.
So it’s fair to ask: Why do mathematicians care so much about pi? Is it some kind of weird circle fixation? Hardly. The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi.
A little knowledge makes for a better Pi Day.
The image is from the header of the New Yorker article.
This is my idea of an annual tradition: a collection of the holiday-related songs I can stand to have on heavy rotation over the next month or so. As opposed to the traditional playlist of earworms that even the programmers at Muzak must be embarrassed to let loose on the world.
But regardless of your musical tastes, and whatever you are celebrating this time of year, enjoy!
Strangest Christmas Yet – Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
Christmas Coming Home (feat. Lennon & Maisy) – Nashville Cast
To Christmas! (The Drinking Song) – Straight No Chaser
Christmas Is the Time – Katharine McPhee
Naughty Naughty Children (Better Start Actin’ Nice) – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Santa Claus Is Comin’ (In A Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train) – The Tractors
Warmer in the Winter (feat. Trombone Shorty) – Lindsey Stirling
Santa Stole Thanksgiving – Jimmy Buffett
Feels Like Christmas (feat. Jana Kramer) – Straight No Chaser
Santa Claus, Santa Claus – Dennis Turner
California Christmastime – Rachel Bloom, Vincent Rodriguez III, and the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast (the video)
Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ – Bill Kirchen & Austin de Lone
They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore – Great Lake Swimmers
Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Davina & The Vagabonds
Santa, My First Love – Swear And Shake
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Lindsey Stirling
Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy – The Tractors
Baby Don’t Leave Me (All Alone on Christmas) – Echosmith
Your students probably don’t know who Monty Python was. You may not even know who they were.1If that’s the case, go spend a little time enjoying their YouTube channel.
But certainly one of the very memorable parts of the essential British sketch comedy programme from the 70’s and 80’s were the amazing interstitial animations created by the only American Python, Terry Gilliam.
In this video from 1974, Gilliam demonstrates his relatively simple process, using illustrations cut from old books and magazines, mixed with a lot of imagination, to tell short, funny stories. Or just be very silly.
This is often called stop motion animation and the technique is still being used in 2017, most notably by the animators at South Park.
It’s also a process that is very accessible for students in telling their stories.
It starts with illustrations that can come from a variety of sources, and then requires only a camera like the one that’s probably in their pocket and one of many video editing apps.
To make the point, he runs through a list of common sci-fi alien invasion movie plots. Like when the monsters come to Earth looking for slaves. Or lunch.
Alien races enslaving each other is a common trope of many science fiction universes. While enslavement of defeated enemies or other vulnerable populations has regrettably been a common feature of our history on Earth, it’s hard to see why a species with the capability of voyaging between the stars, and therefore having already demonstrated the mastery of a highly advanced level of machinery and of marshaling energy resources, would have any need for slaves. Constructing robots, or other forms of automation or mechanization, would be a far more effective solution for labor — people are feeble in comparison, harder to fix, and need to be fed.
Maybe they will arrive looking to steal the Earth’s water or other raw materials.
The problem with this supposition is that there are loads of far better sources of water in space… you’d have access to a far greater amount of water in the icy moons and cometary halo of the outer solar system. You’d also find it much more practical to operate in deep space, rather than trying to suck up the oceans against the gravitational pull of the planet Earth. And as with the water, it’s hard to see why aliens would bother extracting material against the gravity of the Earth when the asteroids are composed of the same basic rocky stuff.
Of course the process of just getting here in the first place is a major physics problem. Instead of sending bulky, fragile life forms, our first extraterrestrial visitors would more likely be “sentient robots as emissaries”.
Although alien invasion films like “Independence Day” often do huge box office,2One exception being the recent sequel, of course. thought exercises like this that address the science (and pseudo-science) behind them are actually more fun. I even enjoy it when people like Neil deGrasse Tyson take a science poop all over big sci-fi movies.
I’ve been posting this list for more than 10 years, but this year we seem to have a major shortage of original, interesting, and/or weird holiday songs. Even The Killers, instead of a new, oddball holiday song, dropped a compilation of their past Christmas singles (adding one cover of a holiday classic).
So in that spirit, here is a short list of the best holiday-themed stuff in my music collection, now in heavy rotation for the season. Enjoy.
Christmas is Interesting – Jonathan Coulton
Elf’s Lament – Barenaked Ladies (With Michael Buble)
Christmas in L.A. – The Killers
You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft
I Want an Alien for Christmas – Fountains of Wayne
Merry Christmas from the Family – Robert Keen Earl
Can I Interest You In Hannukah? – Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart2I really miss these guys.
Father Christmas – The Kinks
Ain’t No Chimneys In the Projects – Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings2RIP Sharon
Yuleman Vs. The Anti-Claus – The Bobs
Snow Globe Christmas – Pink Martini
The Christians and The Pagans – Dar Williams
The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball – The Killers
Come Darkness, Come Light – Mary Chapin Carpenter
Alternate Christmas In Heaven Song – Monty Python
Light One Candle – Peter, Paul & Mary
Fifty Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs
A Great Big Sled – The Killers
Oklahoma Christmas – Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison
Another Christmas Song – Stephen Colbert
The Man in the Santa Suit – Fountains of Wayne
Getting Ready For Christmas Day – Paul Simon
Fruitcake – The Superions
And not really a holiday song, but still one that seems appropriate for some this time of year:
Atheists Don’t Have No Songs – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers