4 Million Digits, Fifteen Furlongs, and 5 Eames Vids

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

We’ve written about Pi before, but when I found this new way of visualizing the number, Pi, I knew I’d have to share it with you. In 2011, Shigeru Kondo and Alex Yee concluded an incredible project – to design and execute a program to calculate digits in the decimal expansion of Pi. What makes their attempt so remarkable is that the program ran for over a year (371 days), during which time it calculated precisely the first 10 trillion digits of Pi! (1 with 13 zeroes!)

A New York design firm, called Two-N, built a wonderful website using the first 4 million digits to help us see the patterns in the digits (or lack thereof). Each digit was assigned a color, and included in the image as a single pixel. What we see is a long (really long) string of colored digits. You can drag across the screen to zoom in on rows. There’s even a search bar so that you can find where your birthday appears, or any other 6-digit string for that matter.

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around 4,000,000 digits, check out Fifteen Furlongs. It’s a website designed by Kevin Wang, a college student at the University of Chicago, and it’s designed to help us understand different sizes and units of measurements. Try it.

Fifteen Furlongs? – “That’s about two minutes on the highway.” Didn’t help me  much, but 1 Furlong? – “That’s just under one Empire State Building tall.” Which is really interesting. So, if we laid down several empire state buildings in a row to make a highway, then I could drive over 15 of them in about 2 minutes. Cool! How can I understand 4 million?

  • 4 million pounds is the weight of 1,000 cars.  hmmmm.
  • 4 million cups is about one Olympic-sized pool.  whoa.
  • 4 million seconds is just over forty-six day’s time.  so cool.

Maybe you can play around and figure out just how big 10 trillion is. After each answer there’s a place for you to say whether or not the information was useful, which I assume they use that to improve the responses. Have fun.

Kevin agreed to answer a few questions for us, which you can read in our Q&A section.  If you have ideas for how to improve the site, Kevin wants to hear them. Just leave it in the comments, and he’ll see what he can do.

Finally, some mathematical videos by the well-known 20th century design team of Charles and Ray Eames. In 1961 they worked on an exhibition for IBM called “Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond,” which included a huge timeline with descriptions of famous mathematicians and mathematical discoveries from antiquity to modern times. It also included a “mathematics peepshow,” a collection of fantastic short math films, some of which can be seen on YouTube:

Actually my favorites aren’t even available online! There are 5 more videos available in a new fantastic, free iPad app called Minds of Modern Mathematics. If you donwload the app, check out “Symmetry” and “Exponents.” They’re simply stunning.

The best-known Eames vid is probably Powers of Ten, (embedded below) their 1977 film meant to illustrate the incredible scale of the universe, big and small, and how exponents can help us keep track of the different “levels.” It surely inspired the Huang Twins when they designed The Scale of the Universe.

You know, we typically feature at least one video a week, and they’re starting to pile up! Good news, though: we’ve been keeping track on a YouTube playlist of every video ever Featured on Math Munch. You can also use the Videos link at the top of any page.

Have a great week. Bon appetit!

19 responses »

  1. 1.) I like that fact that they expressed pi in a different way then just numbers.
    2.) I Felt that it could have been more interesting and fun.

    • Hello, E.P.-

      1) So glad you like the new way of representing Pi. I thought that was really clever.

      2) Hopefully you’ll find something on here that you’ll like. I love those Eames videos. Did you check them out?

      If there’s a kind of math or something on here that you really love, let us know, and we’ll be sure to give you more good stuff. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

    • If you mean in (2) that there could have been a more interesting and fun way of expressing the digits of pi than just colors, I’d point to What pi sounds like, and then I’d issue a challenge to you and to everyone: what would be an interesting and fun way of expressing the digits of pi?
      I can’t wait to see what you make!

  2. I really liked the fact that each digit of pi is assigned a color and that on a scale it is rendered as a 1 x 1 pixel dot. I also find it amazing that there are so many digits of pi that I didn’t even know of and now I learned from this blog more things about pi that I didn’t know and I find that awesome!

    • Hi, S.T.-
      I’m so glad you learned about Pi from this blog. I really only know about the first 10 digits of Pi (which is actually a lot if you think about what little difference the 11th digit makes), but there are people that know LOTS of them!

      And as a human race, I suppose we know about 10,000,000,000,000 of them, since that program calculated them.

    • Hi, S.T.!

      I think I know even fewer digits than Paul does – and it’s good to know that I could find more if I wanted to, but also amazing that the digits that have been calculated are really just a teeny drop in the (bottomless) bucket and there are SO many more that have yet to be calculated. I think it’s cool that it would take 3 weeks to recite all of the digits listed in the image, and, yet, they can be captured and looked at all at once in this great picture. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I really liked how every number (0-9) had a different color. I was so amazed by how many digits of pi were found and how long i took them to find it. I also thought that 4 million cups is about on Olympic pool.

    • Hi, O.G.!

      Thanks for commenting! I really like how each number has a different color, too. As this shows, you can make some very lovely mathematical art by taking a table of numbers organized in some way and coloring each number with a different color. I think it’s fun and quite interesting to experiment with coloring in all kinds of lists of numbers – the digits in the square-root of 2, the multiples of a particular number in a 100s chart or on a multiplication table filled in like you’re counting on a clock…

      Thanks to you and everyone else for letting us know about what you found interesting!

  4. Erin Sept. 19, 2012

    The Math Munch Article I decided to read was 4 Million Digits, Fifteen Furlongs, and 5 Eames Vids. I decided to read this because I think that the picture of the pi dots is amazing and it would be really cool to learn more. This article was wrote on Sept. 17, 2012.
    Some really cool facts I learned from reading this is that 2 people made a project to calculate the program of pi in decimals to learn how long it was. The decimals ran for over a year 371 days to be accurate, during that period of time they calculated perfectly
    the first 10 trillion digits of pi, wow. All of the dots that are on the picture represent the digits of pi that they found when they were doing this project, the picture is only showing us 4 million digits of pi but that is still amazing. Each digit was a color i learned like 0=dark brown, 1=brown, 2=light brown, 3=skin color, 4=off white, 5=light teal, 6= teal, 7=dark teal, 8=dark blue, and 9=super dark blue.
    What I did not like about the article is having to write about it because I would rather just enjoy it and take my time reading it than writing it. I also don’t like that is is a little bit confusing to read and I wish it was just in order. There are a few things I don’t like, but for the most part I like the website.
    I think it is very amazing picture and I am glad I read this.

    • Hi Erin!

      Thanks for your long comment! Though was it meant to be posted on your teacher’s website? Also you said this was a little bit confusing and that you wished it was “just in order.” What do you mean? Is it out of order? How should it be ordered?

      Thans again for reading! 🙂

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