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A Hard SF story about Math.
Whoever says Pi is a constant simply hasn't
checked it precisely enough — which may be a
by Andrew Burt
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by Andrew Burt
(being the date,
and the first occurrence
of the digits 06082037 in Pi,
starting at the 38,117,837th decimal.)
Kinsey Stafford noticed it--or, rather, the effect of it--in
his office at the Center for Mathematical Studies, Cambridge,
England. His chest tightened and he hung his head in grief: His
program to calculate the deep digits of pi had suddenly crashed.
In a race against time to save his career, he'd just lost precious
Monica Ozawa, at the other end of the video link in Kuala
Lumpur, noticed it too. "What in hell was that?" Her program
The staff at the Rio superconducting supercollider noticed it,
thousands of miles away from either.
Two small children playing in Mexico City really noticed it as
their cinderblock walls crashed down on them from the resulting
earthquake, an intensity XII on the twelve degree Mercalli damage
index. The media, still in love with the useless Richter scale,
called it as an 8.7. At least two hundred thousand dead, they
reported without emotion.
And a junior high school student noticed it in Fertile,
Minnesota, doing her Intro to Trig homework. Not that she knew or
cared how similar the cosine algorithm in her calculator was to
Kinsey's or Monica's pi routines. She knitted her brows: cos(0.5)
should not equal 1.000000000 as displayed on the screen. She
cleared the entry and retyped, carefully, point, five, cosine.
0.877582562; that looked better. She resumed her calculations, as
oblivious as all the others to the monumental discovery mankind had
(Pi, 93,997,063rd decimal)
Almost a month later, Kinsey was still blissfully unaware of
the role he'd played in the Mexico City carnage. He wasn't cruel
or psychotic; had he known, he certainly wouldn't be running the
program again. He was, however, narrowing his eyes in disbelief as
"Ozawa," he commanded the screen. Oh, damn, the eight hour
time difference--she was going to be pissed off.
"Kinsey?" She craned her neck to check the time. "You forgot
again, didn't you." She yawned. "It's three A.M. This is
Earth-shatteringly important, right?"
His sheepish grin quickly gave way to his natural excitement.
"Sorry, I, uh... Yes. Yes, it is! It's the first time in three
weeks that I've had time to get on T. Rex to check the
Gauss-Legendre-Stafford convergence, and, uh... Earth-shattering,
yes!--sorry, I'm rambling--been up two days--paper deadline--tenure
thing--look, have you compared your recent results from your hacked
Borwein with your old ones?"
Her eyes were closed as she talked, indicating the depth to
which she didn't care. Summing up enormous quantities of ever
shrinking fractions as the total homed in on some value, like pi,
wasn't the most glamorous work, but she took her shared research
into rapid convergence algorithms as seriously as Kinsey. Though,
having no career-ending tenure decision riding on it, she didn't
feel compelled to work twenty hours a day on it. "No, sorry, we
don't have the luxury of a dinosaur system like you society
She smiled at his grimace. She enjoyed poking fun at his
swellheaded employers--having chosen not to accept their offer four
years earlier, instead opting for the slightly less impressive, but
much less stressful, world of Bell-Matsushita Lab's Southeast Asian
site. He might have access to T. Rex, a "DiNosAur" DNA-based
supercomputer to play with, but she hadn't taken to the high
intensity life that the Kinsey Staffords of the world thrived on.
With only an old Hyper-Cray, she'd still published twice as many
papers as Kinsey since she'd left CMS, a sore point she impishly
He was far too serious lately, with only six months until the
curmudgeonly faculty decided his tenure, and it was not looking
good. He was brilliant, but never satisfied enough to commit to
publication. His algorithmic work was make or break--and 'break'
from the CMS meant he might as well look for a job as a dishwasher:
CMS only took people they knew they would keep, but not being kept
was a scarlet letter. She didn't have that same pressure, which
made collaboration with him difficult at times. Like now.
"Besides, I didn't restart it until last week; it hasn't reached
where it was when it bombed. It's only at a couple trillion digits
"Go check it!" His head bounced energetically, eyes wide.
She looked at him sourly; he was far too awake for her tastes.
"Can't this wait until our usual link time, tomorrow?"
"No! Right now! Listen, my GLS is at about twenty
trillion--and--and--it's changed! Can you say 'Nobel
Prize'? My birthday, the digits used to be around fifty million,
now they're at two hundred million! And the earthquakes, this must
be what's causing them!"
Talking through another yawn, she managed, "Yu-ih nah may-ing
"Pi, damnit! Pi! It's changed!"
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Copyright © by Andrew Burt
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