In Praise of Pi(e)

pi dayHow I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.

If you’ve read that sentence before, you’re a better geek than I.

So-called Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, is almost upon us. That sentence is the best-known example of a form of writing called, appropriately, Pi-lish, which is designed to help you remember the digits of the number pi. If you count the letters of each word in that sentence, you’ll have recited pi out to 12 decimal places.

Pi, of course, is the so-called circle constant, represented by the Greek letter of the same name. It’s defined as the circumference of any circle divided by its diameter, or roughly 3.14159.

Pi appears repeatedly throughout geometry, but also, says Ron Hipschman, a scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, “anytime you have cycles, frequencies, or anything that’s rotating. It’s in tons of different places.”

Pi has been calculated to 10 trillion digits, and counting.

In 1988, the Exploratorium’s Larry Shaw, a physicist, thought pi deserved a holiday of its own. So on March 14  (3/14) he put out some pie for the staff. The next year, some museum visitors noticed the pie and asked what was going on. And that’s how Pi Day was born.

Read more: In Praise of Pi(e)

7 Smart Ways to (Literally) Play Dumb

no-talksignCommunications consultant Geoffrey Tumlin said he was motivated to write Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life after coming to a simple and sobering realization: In the last 15 years, as technology has changed how we talk to each other and made it easier than ever to communicate, people’s communication skills have actually deterioriated.

“We’re getting better and better at easy communication — at communications checkers — but we’re increasingly getting worse at communications chess, the more sophisticated or harder communication skills, like bargaining, offering emotional support, and delivering bad news,” Tumlin says. “The more we type, text and talk to each other, the more people are realizing that we’re understanding each other less.”

Being able to communicate more easily and frequently -- thanks to email, texting and social media -- also increases the chances that we’ll make mistakes that could jeopardize our personal and business relationships. That may explain why it’s not unusual anymore for a politician, a celebrity, a business leader or some other public figure to make headlines for saying something stupid.

“I can’t build a relationship in a sentence. It can take days, months and years. But I can destroy it in a sentence,” Tumlin cautions.

So what to do?

We can all start by talking a little less, he says. The key to being a successful communicator has to do with verbal restraint, which will help keep you out of trouble. If something does go wrong, the next tack is conversational containment -- thinking about what you want say carefully and limiting the back-and-forth dialogue to stop trouble from escalating. “If you want to know the hallmark between a decent communicator and a great communicator -- it’s the ability to not say what’s on your mind,” Tumlin says.  “What we’re trying to do in any interaction that goes wrong is prevent fatal damage to the relationship."

Read more: 7 Smart Ways to (Literally) Play Dumb

Monday Morning Cheat Sheet: We are Humbled

Last respects About 80,000 people are expected to converge on a soccer stadium in Johannesburg to pay their last respects to one of history's great leaders: Nelson Mandela, the political prisoner, South African president, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who died last week at the age of 95. Mandela's body will then lie in state for three days while official services are held in all nine of the country’s provinces and around the world. Thandika Mkandawire, a former political prisoner who is now the Chair of the African Development program at the London School of Economics, wrote that “Mandela was the one individual of and to whom it can be said the African continent was unanimously proud and infinitely grateful.” A selection of some of Mandela’s own inspiring words, here.
Your tax dollars at work House and Senate negotiators are on track to achieving something they haven’t managed since 2011: a budget deal. It’s far from the “grand compromise” some have hoped for: it won’t significantly reduce the debt, close corporate tax loopholes, reform expensive entitlement programs, of even fully end the sequester. The deal should prevent more last-minute sky-is-falling budget theatrics, which would be a relief.
Time runs out for unemployment benefits Unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million jobless people are due to expire on Dec. 28. In his weekly Saturday address, President Obama argued that the benefits should be extended. “The holiday season is a time for remembering the bonds we share, and our obligations to one another as human beings,” the President said. “But right now, more than 1 million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it.” Senator Rand Paul, on the other hand, said last week that extending benefits beyond 28 weeks “does a disservice to the people you're trying to help... You're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy." 
Men, women, and brain research A recently released study on neurological connections from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows up an interesting difference between the brains of men and women. "[R]esearchers found that in men, fiber pathways run back and forth within each hemisphere, while in women they tend to zig-zag between the left, or 'logical,' and right, or 'creative,' sides of the brain," reports The Atlantic Magazine. Although the jury is still out on the impact of these findings, one possibility is that this interconnectivity makes women better at multitasking  an idea supported by a recent study from the University of Glasgow. More important, however, is the medical impact. One neuroscientist from the University of California at Irvine points out, for example, that "pain medications don’t take male and female pain perception differences into account."
Susan Boyle and Asperger’s syndrome. Scottish singer Susan Boyle, who made a lot of people cry when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, was told when she was a child that she had brain damage. Bullies at school called her “Susie Simple.” But Boyle, 52, announced that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder that affects social and communication skills. Boyle, now one of the best-selling British musicians, says she was “relieved” by the diagnosis. Being told that she was brain damaged “was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."
Quotas in Montana? John Marshall, a libertarian writer, has submitted a Montana constitutional amendment that would require both houses of the state legislature to have equal numbers of men and women. The proposal has quite a few obstacles to overcome: the language has to be reviewed by the Attorney General and the Montana Legislative Services Division, and then needs the endorsement of 48,000 Montana voters before it qualifies for the 2014 ballot. “Women are better at sitting down and negotiating and compromising and coming up with legislation than men,” Marshall says, according to Salon, which points out the evidence to support his claim: “The women of the Senate are largely credited with putting aside partisanship and helping to deliver a deal to end the recent government shutdown, and they also have regular bipartisan dinners together, a small sign of civility in the midst of ever-increasing partisan hostility.”
Bitcoin bus. Bitcoin, the virtual currency that had been on the rise since the beginning of the year, crashed last week after the Chinese government said that while its citizens could trade in bitcoins, they’re not legal tender. “The price of the attention-grabbing crypto-currency got crushed, falling from a quoted $1,200 per "coin" to less than $600. At this writing, it's quoted on the Mt. Gox exchange at about $830,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on Dec. 7. For the rest of us, a bitcoin FAQ.
Reading is physical A study released by U.K research firm Voxburner says that "teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 24-years-old prefer physical books over e-books." Apparently, they liked the feel of the book, a notion supported by some scientific research. A Scientific American article about similar studies says that "modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension." 
We thought fruitcake was the ideal building material... It took almost a ton of butter and 7,200 eggs, but a team in Texas has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house ever built. It was built by a group of volunteers to raise money for a local hospital. In its first week, about 600 people visited the edible house, raising $150,000. The 22-foot-high house can accommodate a family of five -- at least until it rains.
Have a great week!

Missed last week's issue? Here you go:

Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Multi-Tasking Mania and the Art of Telecommuting
The Email Management Tactic That Will Save Your Summer  
Quitting Time

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(Cyber) Monday Morning Cheat Sheet

BaoBaoHappy Monday!

We hope you had a happy, restful Thanksgiving. If you still didn't get your fill of turkeys, there's still a glut of the frozen variety,  thanks to overproduction that continues to drive down the prices. And the Smithsonian's National Zoo finally named its giant female panda born in August. Her name: Bao Bao, which means “precious” or “treasure” in Chinese. Here’s what else is going on.

Thanks, my wallet's empty. Did you shop over Thanksgiving weekend? Chances are, you did less shopping than last year, as Thanksgiving-weekend sales fell for the first time in seven years. More stores were open on Thanksgiving, but it seems that only meant that people spent less on Black Friday. This year, consumers spent about $57.4 billion over the weekend, compared to $59.1 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. We’ll see what happens today, Cyber Monday, which online retailers have been touting as their biggest holiday shopping day of the year.


Near-instant gratification -- in about five years In a 60 Minutes segment with Charlie Rose, CEO Jeff Bezos showed prototype drones, called octocopters, that he hopes will one day deliver packages to his customers. The flying delivery service, called Prime Air, needs Federal Aviation Administration approval, but Bezos, an admitted optimist, thinks the drones can be up and running in four or five years. The octocopters can carry up to five pounds within a 10-mile radius of an Amazon fulfillment location. Bezos said that about 86 percent of Amazon’s orders are for products weighing less than five pounds. He's aiming for half-hour delivery.

Read more: (Cyber) Monday Morning Cheat Sheet

Monday Morning Cheat Sheet: Pre-Turkey Edition

Good morning!

Last week saw the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, Senate approval of the so-called "nuclear option" -- requiring only 51 votes to end debate and move to a final vote on executive branch appointments -- and the debut of Catching Fire, the second movie in The Hunger Games series. Here's what else is going on.

A nuclear respite On Sunday, the Obama administration reached a tentative agreement with Iran that would stall the advancement of that country’s nuclear program in exchange for about $7 billion in sanctions relief. The six-month agreement is intended to buy time for a comprehensive settlement to be reached.  After years of stalemate, any agreement is a coup for Secretary of State John Kerry. Iranians are pretty darn pleased; Congress is skeptical. Israel and Saudi Arabia, in particular, object to the pact because it would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in place while simultaneously strengthening that company’s economy.
So now you're telling us corporations pray? On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to take a case from Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores. Hobby Lobby does not provide free insurance for some types of contraceptives, even though the new healthcare law requires it. The company’s defense is that offering to pay for these contraceptives would violate the religious beliefs of the company – not of the owners, but of the company itself. In the wake of Citizens United, which granted corporations free speech rights, the Supreme Court is expected to take the case.
Now, if only they offered Thanksgiving as a holiday: A Wal-Mart store in Canton, Ohio is running a food drive for its own employees. The donation bins in an employees-only area are accompanied by signs that say "Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner." One employee described the food drive as "demoralizing" and "kind of depressing;" another said a previous food drive helped her when her children’s father was jailed and stopped making child-support payments. Others see it as stark evidence that "employees don't make enough to feed themselves and their families." Wal-Mart workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike today.

Another reason not to mix family and politics: The Wyoming Republican Senate primary is getting nasty – and it’s nothing to do with taunts between Liz Cheney, the challenger and daughter of the former Vice-President, and incumbent Mike Enzi. Instead, it has to do with Cheney’s public rebuke of same-sex marriage, even though her sister, Mary, is a married lesbian. As the Washington Post points out, Wyoming conservatism tends to be of the live-and-let-live variety, and gay marriage, previous to this Facebook-enabled spat, was not high on the state’s political agenda. As Joe Milczewski, a veteran GOP strategist, told the Post, “There’s a joke out here that none of us use turn signals, because it’s nobody’s damn business where we’re going.”
Think your cellphone service is bad? Unless you’re using Sprint, it could be worse. Consumer Reports came out with its annual ranking of cellphone service providers, and among the major carriers, Verizon came in first and Sprint came in last. Among all providers, Consumer Cellular (we'd never heard of them either) did the best, even though it uses the same network as mid-ranked AT&T. Consumer Cellular offers no-contract, prepaid service. The rankings will be online and in the January issue of the magazine.
We may not all be rocket scientists, but… U.S. elementary-school students, especially those in poor districts, aren’t getting a good grounding in science, says teacher Belle Boggs, in "The Science of Citizenship," an interesting essay published in Orion. “The public school system of the United States, the richest country in the world, still struggles to educate our citizens about science and to make that education relevant and present in their daily lives,” Boggs says. “For many of our poorest citizens, science education is largely ignored … as we favor the “basics” of reading and math through a testing and school accountability system that does not prepare our students for the significant social and environmental challenges to come.”
Worth tuning in for A professional coed basketball league might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Started by high school principal and college professor John Howard, the Mixed Gender Basketball Association has a "red-and-blue logo (of a ponytailed woman outleaping a man for the ball), a website and a company based in Florida, M.G.B.A. Inc.," according to The New York Times. Howard says that one television network told him to "send the first highlight of a woman dunking on a man, pronto." With players like Shay Gomez, a 6-foot-3 forward who is a third cousin of the N.B.A. players Derrick Rose and Ryan Gomes, he may not have to wait long. As Gomez says, “Most of us grew up going against guys and we don’t back down, and when we get hit, we don’t break.”
Sci-fi fans celebrate Dr. Who  Fans of the time-traveling Doctor helped make the 50th anniversary Dr. Who special, Day of the Doctor, into a world-record event. The special aired this weekend in 94 countries and was even projected on to the side of the Sydney’s Opera House. It starred the current doctor, Matt Smith (number 11, and counting), the previous Time Lord David Tennant, and acting legend John Hurt as the heretofore unknown War Doctor. The Doctor's preferred form of conveyance, the Tardis, is pictured above.
Thanksgivvukah? Hanugiving? This year, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincide, giving cooks in both traditions license to experiment. The San Francisco Chronicle offers up sweet potato latkes, while The New York Times suggests pumpkin doughnuts courtesy of the Kosher Baker.

Have a great week!
image courtesy of Aussiegal via Wikimedia Commons

Missed last week's issue? Here you go:

Awesome Role Models for Girls--Or Anyone

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Fabulous, Fascinating First Ladies
Life Lessons from Mrs. Peel
Not So Brave: An Open Letter to Pixar

Got a story idea? Think we're fabulous? Email us at more [at] onethingnew [dot] com, follow us on twitter, or visit us on facebook. And help us spread the word. We appreciate your help in getting the word out about what we're up to! 



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