The Sciences

Phone Pi

Cosmic VarianceBy JoAnne HewettMar 14, 2010 5:18 PM

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Today is the much celebrated pi-day . Ok, perhaps it’s not that big a holiday – I don’t think Hallmark is selling any pi-day cards yet – but anyone who uses google today knows that something mathematical and geeky is being honored. I promise not to go into diatribes about calculations of the first few million digits of pi, or how many digits one needs to keep in order to calculate the radius of the universe to atomic accuracy. Instead, I merely want to relay a simple short story a colleague of mine recounted to me years ago. Several years ago, before pi-day was famous, a student called the phone number associated with the digits in pi that appear after the decimal point, i.e., 1-415-926-5358. Apparently this is rather common now, and in fact, appears to be promoted as a mnemonic for the first 10 decimal places for those folks we need to have those numbers handy at all times. But this story happened in earlier times, back before the Bay Area split into several area codes. And, as the clever reader has already guessed, that student reached the SLAC main gate. How cool to phone pi and reach the main gate of a major national scientific research laboratory! Alas, time and phone numbers march on, and nowadays phoning pi yields a “your call cannot be completed as dialed” message. (And I’m told that I cannot publish this post without noting that 3-14-15 will be a more accurate pi day.)

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