miscellanea peevishness

The Irrationality of Pi Day


(Update 2007-03-16: See the end for revised time; the chronological calculation should of course be from solstice to solstice, not based on an arbitrary “year”.)

Slashdot just reminded me that March 14 is celebrated as Pi Day. 3/14? How gauche. 1:59pm? Local time?


The commemoration of a transcendental constant should not be tied to the grubby political vagaries that resulted in the Gregorian calendar‘s accidents of number. Even worse, most of the world will write it as 14/3, which seems a bit depressing. (Even if the Europeans go for a Pi Approximation Day on 22 July, it doesn’t really improve matters.)

Those of us who truly appreciate pi should pick a more meaningful moment. There are plenty of candidates.
We’d like this to happen once a year so picking a chronological basis seems reasonable: how about when 1/pi-th of the year has elapsed?

At times like this, I turn to Frink.

> 1 year / pi -> days

So, 116 days after the start of the year? That seems like a good start. Let’s see, as a date, that would be:

> #2007-01-01# + (1 year / pi) -> UTC
AD 2007-04-27 01:14:41.515 PM (Fri) Coordinated Universal Time

Now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s check what this works out to for the East Coast of the US:

> #2007-01-01# + (1 year / pi) -> EST
AD 2007-04-27 08:14:41.515 AM (Fri) Eastern Standard Time

Fair enough. Still, basing it off of the Gregorian New Year still seems pretty absurd. Let’s pick something tied to something observable. The winter solstice seems like a pretty good candidate.

According to the US Naval Observatory, the 2006 winter solstice was at Dec 22 at 00:22 UTC. The table is only accurate to the minute, so (assuming rounding rather than truncation) we’ll have to accept +/- 30 seconds of slop in our calculations.

> # 2006-12-22 12:22 AM UTC # + (1 year / pi) -> UTC
AD 2007-04-17 06:36:41.515 AM (Tue) Coordinated Universal Time
> # 2006-12-22 12:22 AM UTC # + (1 year / pi) -> EST
AD 2007-04-17 01:36:41.515 AM (Tue) Eastern Standard Time

Hm, you could certainly manage a celebratory drink around that time. Sadly, that’s 6 AM in the UK, which is much less congenial; consider scheduling a Pi Day-hangover for that time. On the other hand, it’s 3 PM on Tuesday in Japan.

A possible improvement would be to define the “Pi Point” from the physics of the Earth’s orbit, say, when the Earth has proceeded through 1/pi-th of its path around the Sun. In this case, picking perihelion (the closest approach of the Earth to the Sun) as the starting point would seem to be a good choice. 2007’s perihelion occurred on January 3. The Naval Observatory’s tables are only precise to the hour, so we just know it was sometime around 20:00 UTC.

Earth’s mean orbital velocity is 29.79 km/second. Unfortunately, that’s not enough information. Kepler’s Second Law tells us that the orbital velocity is not constant, and planets move faster while they are closer to the sun. This exceeds my present research . . . working this one out will require some astrophysical chops. (After writing this, I discovered than Wikipedia mentions April 26 as the date when “the distance of the Earth’s orbit divided by the time it has traveled so far is equal to pi”, so I’m not the first to tread these waters.)

For now, though, let us remember: the vulgar Pi Day is meant to deceive, drawing our eyes to the shadows cast by a shallow culture, away from Platonic Truth! Our arbitrary choices have revealed the TRUE Pi Day as April 17, 2007, with the chronosolsticial Pi Point occurring close to 06:36:41 UTC (+/- 30 seconds). Hoist a few pints in its honor; it doesn’t matter how many, as long as it’s a round number and enough to get you feeling a bit irrational.

Updated calculation: Rather than “1 year”, we need to calculate from solstice to solstice. The 2007 winter solstice will be on December 22 at 6:22 UTC. So:

> # 2006-12-22 12:22 AM UTC # + ((#2007-12-22 06:22 AM UTC# - #2006-12-22 12:22 AM#) / pi) -> UTC
AD 2007-04-17 04:26:34.655 AM (Tue) Coordinated Universal Time
> # 2006-12-22 12:22 AM UTC # + ((#2007-12-22 06:22 AM UTC# - #2006-12-22 12:22 AM#) / pi) -> EST
AD 2007-04-16 11:26:34.655 PM (Mon) Eastern Standard Time

Further updates to follow as imperfections are revealed and stripped away.


How to Defend Yourself with a Stick against the most Dangerous Kick of an Expert Kicker

Illustration from Barton-Wright’s “Self Defense with a Walking-Stick”, 1901

Two masculine habits of previous decades have fallen into sad decline in these present times: the wearing of hats and the carrying of walking sticks. It falls upon those of us who appreciate what has gone before to make up for this modern degeneration. Despite my lack of avoirdupois, I feel great kinship with Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently:

He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in one so young.

Today, the hat marks its wearer as a mild eccentric (a label I do not eschew).  Sadly, the carrying of a walking stick would be truly outré.  I’ll be devilled, though, if this article by E. W. Barton-Wright (from Pearson’s Magazine, 1901) doesn’t make me want to round out my ensemble:

The student of the art of self-defence with a walking-stick might think it hardly worth while to study any particular method of defending himself which might insure him against an attack by a savater, or foot-boxer. You might suppose that there would be no great difficulty in guarding a high kick, provided you carried a stout stick in your hand. Those who have seen savaters at work, however, and realise the extraordinary swiftness of the kicks which they plant on their opponents’ bodies, will understand that scientific kicking can only be guarded with certainty by a scientific method of defence.

books miscellanea religion

A High Weirdness Update

J. R. “Bob” Dobbs It’s been eighteen years since the publication of that auxiliary tome of Subgenius sacred aesthetics, High Weirdness by Mail. It was a perfect core sample of the peculiar, and still makes for bemusing, slackful reading.

You may have looked sadly at your copy and said to yourself, “My, I sure do wish that someone would update this book for this modern era of email and those new-fangled hyperlinks.”

You, my friend, are in luck:

  • The Church of the Subgenius has made available the research of Friar Synapse as “The Return of High Weirdness by Mail.” It’s a “where are they now” of the organizations mentioned in the original book. Happily, the “where” seems to be largely Internet-accessible, so you’ll have plenty of oddness to enliven your weekend. (I just found out Factsheet 5 may publish again. Huzzah!)
  • Reverend Modemac’s High Weirdness Project wiki extends the mission of the original work into an “interactive directory of the differently-saned,” and includes a Bulldada Newsblog.  This latter often burbles up topical oddities that might be missed if you aren’t following alt.slack as closely as you should.

Remember: JHVH-1 is a space alien, and still threatens this planet!  Praise “Bob”!

books miscellanea

Casanova's Fiction: Color-Coded Hermaphroditic Dwarves from within the Hollow Earth

Giacomo Casanova in 1788, the year Icosameron was publishedOver my last few lunches I’ve been reading Hollow Earth, by David Standish. It’s a nice overview, tracing the the idea of habitable lands inside the Earth from Edmund Halley through modern fiction. I was particularly pleased by this passage on Giacomo Casanova’s Icosameron, a peculiar utopian tale published in 1788. I quote Standish’s description:

The novel recounts the experiences of a teenage brother and sister who fall into the earth’s interior through a watery abyss. There they find an inner world inhabited by many-colored hermaphroditic dwarves called Megamicres, who live in a color-coded social hierarchy with the red ones at the top of the heap. Their primary method of eating consists of sucking on each other’s breasts. They’re also nudists. Edward and Elizabeth promptly rip off their own clothes, declare themselves married, and set about propagating as fast as they can. Each year during their eighty-one year stay, Elizabeth gives birth to twins, who in turn marry at age twelve and begin having twins. Finally Ed and Liz make their way back to London, leaving behind millions of offspring. Not only do they cause a population glut down there, they screw up a previously balanced society in other ways as well, introducing gunpowder and war, among other things.

I’ve never read Casanova, but this certainly makes me want to look up a copy.

(Portrait of Casanova at age 63 by Johann Berka is courtesy of Wikipedia. The portrait is from 1788, and was used as the frontispiece of L’Icosameron.)

UPDATE: I’ve scared up a link to an online version of Icosameron (in French, I hope you don’t mind).  The interface is unconscionably dreadful; it’s a scan of the original text (all five volumes totalling more than 1,800 pages) with each page as its own PDF. Tome 1; Tome 2; Tome 3; Tome 4; Tome 5.


The Pack Goat

North American Pack Goat AssociationI haven’t been camping in years, but it’s great to get out in the woods. Once I finally have a bit more time, I hope to engage in a more active lifestyle. Unfortunately, I’ve been having back problems, so loading myself down with fifty pounds of gear would not be the brightest thing to do. The solution to this problem is clear: the pack goat.

Goats are good people: they’re intelligent and (typically) quite friendly, and I certainly wouldn’t mind having one along with me on a trip.

There are quite a few places where you can actually rent trained pack goats. Some (such as Escape Goats in Utah) provide the services of a goat wrangler. If you get really serious, you can even join the North American Pack Goat Association.

There’s a lot of information out there, both on training the goats and the mechanics of actually packing with them. I’ll have to check the zoning. I wonder how strongly the borough would object if I tried keeping a goat in my backyard?


The Art of Conversation

I’ve been catching up on my backlog at Radio Open Source. If you haven’t listened to the show, I recommend it highly. Christopher Lydon used to host The Connection, formerly one of my favorite NPR shows.

It just wasn’t the same after he left. Lydon was the show – his lyrical speech patterns, comfortable erudition, and conversational style made for an excellent hour of radio. Unfortunately, differences between Lydon and WBUR management led to a parting of ways.

In 2005, Lydon started a new project, Radio Open Source, which is sporadically excellent. It’s taken it a while to hit its stride, but it’s been much more consistent of late. I find the format (several invited guests who drop in and out over the course of the show) to be a bit less congenial, but some very interesting conversations do develop.

And conversation it is . . . Lydon is a thoughtful participant in the discussions, not relegating himself to the role of interviewer, foil, or egotistical blowhard. When the right guests are on, the show is superb, and Lydon’s cadences are always a pleasure.

This post was prompted by the show from January 3, 2007, Optimism. It’s a great mix of musings and speculation . . . I was quite frustrated to be driving while listening to it, as it kept generating new ideas. All the traffic lights were green, so safety precluded jotting down any notes.

Keep it up, Chris. Good stuff.