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Pi Day

Today is a more-special-than-normal day for two reasons.

The first is quite obviously stated in the title:

Today is Pi day!

As if getting your eyes checked isn't annoying enough...

I dont know how all of you “celebrate” or acknowledge pi day, but we used to hold pi competitions: as in seeing how many digits of pie you can memorize.

Pretty typical, huh?

But to be honest, though I give you major props for doing so, what exactly do you gain from memorizing maybe 600 digits of pi?

Yeah, you can win. Yeah, you know more pi digits than the majority of us, but what other practical application is there? In most calculations I’ve encountered, you need just 3.14. For more detailed calculations (with more sig figs) you need maybe 3.14159265 (and even that is being a bit lenient). There’s also the handy button on your calculator or it being pre-programmed into your computer software…

I just don’t quite understand what encouraging people to memorize digits of pi will do.
Again, I will say that it isn’t easy to memorize all those digits. I’m not saying I can do it no problem (actually I’d have quite a bit of trouble… I’m not the best memorizer of digits) and I definitely think “wow. That’s… I can’t believe they memorized all of that,” but where do you go from there?

Many people argue that some parts of math are “stupid” or “useless” to learn because most of us may never use advanced math in the future. Though I’m a math nerd myself and don’t quite like the notion of learning only the basics needed to do day-to-day computation, I believe memorizing digits of pi runs in the same vein.

Why spend so much time on an irrational number? It’s never going to end… ever…

I once downloaded a document that contained 1 million digits of pi (I was really young… and curious… and possibly stupid) and the document was over 600 pages long. Plus, it almost made my computer crash (though I give computers back then were… lackluster).
There really doesn’t seem to be a purpose in memorizing so many digits except for a feeling of accomplishment and momentary fame (if you win).

I grant you that to some, that may be reason enough.

But I feel like… Couldn’t time be spent in more beneficial ways?

Plus for those of you who actively memorize, I hate to tell you this but there are people out there who don’t even need to do that.

Some people known as Savants have an amazing memory. I’m not talking photographic memory or just good at memorizing things: they can remember things at a level beyond normal human capacity. It’s an extraordinary thing that is, unfortunately, often coupled with conditions like Autism.

But regardless, a particular Savant I’ve heard of is one who knows a freakishly huge number of digits of pi without needing to try to remember. He has described it as the numbers just “coming to him” in his mind — like pictures or images that just form.

It’s amazing, but, regardless, all it really has is WOW-factor.

Of course, such an ability to memorize — for both Savants and normal memorizers of pi — can be applied to many other fields. My point is that they should be. Pi is cool and such, but thats about it. It’s a never-ending number.

And I shall now digress…
The second thing about pi day is MIT. Yep. MIT.
Now I don’t know if this has always been true, but from personal experience and what I’ve observed, MIT regular decision results tend to come out on pi day.

This would be this year's date and time, complete with a cute little email to diffuse the tension.

Of course, it’s not coincidence. Clever MIT planned this all along! At least from what I think. No one ACTUALLY thinks it just HAPPENS to be pi day… right?

Well, either day, it’s a big day for any MIT applicants
And quite a stressful one…

But in addition to the date being pi day, I’ve been wondering about the time.
I remember that last year they had the date and time so amazingly worked out. It went a little something like this:

Yep. They even included lottery numbers. Way. To. Go.

I could be over-thinking, but given that last year’s time had meaning I’m starting to wonder if this year’s time means anything. Plus the fact that it’s 6:28 rather than like 6:30 or 6:00 makes me suspect something. At first I thought suspected it was e (because of the 28) but that doesn’t really correspond to the 6. I wonder if they’ll release something after the fact…?

Then again, I think too much

Phew that was a long post. Sorry if I ranted a bit. Despite what I might wonder about memorizing pi, pi day is still an awesomely nerdy day (they should make Feb 7th e day! haha). Hope you all enjoy it (or have a normal, rational day!)


14 Hours of Math

So, I just spent 14 hours on a math modeling competition.

I cannot begin to tell you how mentally exhausted, and yet mentally uplifted I feel.
I had a LOT of fun. And I’d gladly do it again… and again… and again!

To begin with, I do not recommend doing such a math contest unless you actually like the subject. It can give you a good push or something to talk/write about in terms of college, but it’ll be pure torchure unless you’re ready to spend 14 hours on math (plus you might not do well).

Oh and when I say 14 hours, I mean starting at 7 am to 9 pm. And if you don’t turn it in by 9 pm time stamped exactly, then you just spent 14 hours making a model for nothing.

Luckily they do accept partial answers, so you can turn in an unfinished paper to be evaluated just in case. It’s so much better to turn in an unfinished model then nothing at all. Especially when you invest 14 hours. So in this case, being a perfectionist may not pay off…

So onto the actual competition. Now I don’t know if I’m allowed to disclose the actual problem we had to model yet. I haven’t been advised about that, so I won’t try.
I do have some big-picture things to say and encouraging points in case you’re interested in similar contests.

First of all, you’re not alone. Literally. I don’t mean you’re not the only nerd, but that you have teammates. In this competition I had 4 teammates. In another one I did earlier this school year, I had 3. I won’t guarantee that all math modeling contesta will give you teammates, but at least the ones I’ve been apart of have teammates (and that’s 2 … so you don’t have to listen to me).

Now believe it or not, it can be both a help and a detriment to have a small or large number of teammates. It can help because with all the different viewpoints and minds, a lot of good ideas go floating around. In addition to this, it keeps you from being focused on one thing.
The number one error you could do in such a competition would be to get caught up with one little detail or aspect, dump way too much time into it, and then end up regretting it.

And that would really suck.

Now the thing to be wary of with teammates would be a lack of organization or even over-discussion of modeling methods. Although it’s always good to talk about things and not always helpful to create rigid groups, don’t let it go overboard. Talking too much can eat a ton of time and open groups might prevent efficient resource allocation.
Keep ideas flowing and energy high.

On a general note, make sure to pull back every so often an really ask yourself what am I accomplishing it right now and is this what I need to do? I know it sounds stupid and people might tell you similar advice for a lot of things, but in a high-pressure situation like this, it’s quite crucial. You might stumble upon a brilliant idea and a beautiful model, but it might just be extra stuff — details you dont need — while you miss answering a crucial question outlined in the quesiton.

My suggestion to easily avoid this is to just reread the problem you’re given every so often. Often times they will have bullets or questions outlined for you to answer. Just go over it, quickly think of what you have so far, and then evaluate your situation from there.

It’s really easy. Takes 1 minute tops.

Oh and one big thing: simplify, simplify, simplify. I cannot emphasis this enough. I was lucky to have a group that was on task, concise and understood the time restraint for my first competition. We were a little less on task due to complications with my second group, but we were still on time. Either way, you need to understand that if you’re doing a 14 hour competition, they’re expecting a solution that can be produced in 14 hours. They aren’t asking you to factor in EVERY SINGLE variable or EVERY SINGLE possibility. Those are what strengths and weakness sections are for (or other sections where you talk about what you omitted).

You are NOT EXPECTED to address everything. And you can’t.
So go simple.
Of course… not too simple.
Yep. I’m going to be that way

On a happier note, despite all the mind-numbing hard work and willingly sacrificing your Sunday, it can be a lot of fun (at least I had a great time). So much mental stimulation and energy occurs in that room that it is very enjoyable. You’re talking to each other about this and that, sometimes going a bit off topic or making a joke in-between, while also working on your model together. Plus, despite what you may think, we don’t just sit in front of computers or notebooks silently and think for 14 hours. We joke around, we break for lunch, and we have fun. It’s really a great Sunday.

Just… for nerds.

And I LOVE that.

Plus you feel smart and accomplished afterwards.

(We wrote a 15 solution paper. Yeah. How’s that for getting something done).

Til next time ^.^