The second piece of housekeeping has to do with a stereotype that we are about to perpetuate. You may have noticed that the title of today's post is "Nerds in an Uproar" and what you will find as you read on (should you read on) is that it is a post about mathematicians and a mathematical concept. I am not trying to say that everyone who is adept at or interested in math is a nerd. That is not true. There are plenty of people who love math who are cool-ass-mo-fo's, and there are plenty of nerds who like to race cars. But these particular folks are getting really riled up over something that most of us, well, couldn't care less about. So riled up that they are talking about how certain concepts in mathematics just feel more "natural" and how they get angry about the perpetuation of other mathematical concepts, and that sounds like fanatical devotion to an idea that is far from the mainstream - the definition of nerddom. They have ever tried to proclaim a day to celebrate their cause.
|Tau - looks like a T|
Let me take a moment to try and explain it in sort of layman's terms. If you draw a perfect circle (the geometric shape, not the band) on a piece of paper, every spot along the circle will be the same distance from the center. That is the radius. It is twice the distance of the radius from and given point the the point on the opposite side. Hartl is saying that that factor of two is a big problem in mathematics. What tau does is apply the power of two to the ratio instead of making you have to do it on your own. I think.
But all that doesn't matter. What matters is that Hartl and his buddies get really into tau. First of all, they all, they have proclaimed today to be Tau Day, because tau is roughly 6.28 and today is 6/28. How clever. They wrote something called the Tau Manifesto, which really lends credibility to a cause. Because, I mean, more than just crazy people write manifestos, right?
|Pi - I made it twice as large as tau even though in reality|
it is one-half the size. Dr. Hartl is going to be pissed.
One of the people who has undergone the "conversion experience" (I imagine a beam of light and choir of heavenly angels singing a chord in perfect harmony) but whose rage has subsided is University of Leeds mathematician Kevin Houston, who had this to say: "It's surprising people haven't changed before. Almost anything you can do in maths with pi you can do with tau anyway, but when it comes to using pi versus tau, tau wins - it's much more natural."
I contend, however, that it is not surprising, Kevin. You are a mathematician, and you work with numbers every day of your life as a way of making a living, so it is not surprising that you or some of your colleagues would seize on a new way of doing your work, especially if you feel that it makes your life easier. But the general public doesn't give a flying fuck about the fact that tau fits better and feels more natural, or that it makes things easier, etc, etc. That is because the general public knows and understands pi, and it doesn't do enough with math, or do advanced enough math, to really understand why tau is so neat or special or useful.
|Signs with Clearview font.|
Big Dave mad, BIG DAVE SMASH!
No, pi is not ruining the world. Pi is fine for the bulk of us, and if tau works better for you, then by all means use it in your daily or work life. I don't care. But don't beat down pi. Generations have learned pi. We have built the Great Wall of China with pi. We have electrified the nation with pi. We have gone to the moon with pi. Pi works just fine, so just leave it alone. Go ahead and promote tau, but don't try to knock down pi. Happy Tau Day in any event.