I was learning Perl last weekend from the book, Learning Perl, 3rd edition by Randal L. Schwartz and Tom Phoenix. While reading the book, I came across these lines:

It's easier to type $pi than π, especially if you don't have Unicode. And it will be easy to maintain the program in case the value of π ever changes.379

The corresponding footnote said:

379It nearly did change by a legislative act in the state of Indiana. http://www.urbanlegends.com/legal/pi_indiana.htm

I searched the web and found that the original urbanlegends.com is no longer there. However, I came across this brilliant piece of humour: http://www.snopes.com/religion/pi.asp. It is a fictitious report on a state legislature redefining the value of π to 3.

If you read the snopes page, you'll find that it was actually posted in a newsgroup as humour and then people started circulating it as hoax from there. Some of the intriguing and funny bits from it:

Lawson called into question the usefulness of any number that cannot be calculated exactly, and suggested that never knowing the exact answer could harm students' self-esteem.
Scientists have arbitrarily assumed that space is Euclidean, he says. He points out that a circle drawn on a spherical surface has a different value for the ratio of circumfence to diameter.

In fact, with a little geometry one can find out that, if a flatlander living on a globe with diameter D draws a circle of diameter d assuming that he is on a flat surface, the ratio of the circumference to the diameter would be: πDd · sin dD. A few more extracts from the snopes page:

"These nabobs waltzed into the capital with an arrogance that was breathtaking," Learned said. "Their prefatorial deficit resulted in a polemical stance at absolute contraposition to the legislature's puissance."
One member of the state school board, Lily Ponja, is anxious to get the new value of pi into the state's math textbooks, but thinks that the old value should be retained as an alternative. She said, "As far as I am concerned, the value of pi is only a theory, and we should be open to all interpretations." She looks forward to students having the freedom to decide for themselves what value pi should have.

The real event that the footnote mentioned is: Indiana Pi Bill.

1 comment

Randal L. Schwartz said:

Glad you enjoyed that bit. That was Tom's humor on that one. I could never have been that clever. :)

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