Posts Tagged ‘pie’

What does 16th Letter mean?

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

Hands down, the most frequent question I get about this blog is about its name and what 16th Letter means. I’m glad that everyone who asks thinks that it must mean something, but so far, no one has figured it out without me telling them. So here’s the scoop.

I love piI started a company this year called Pure Incubation. The naming process was difficult, but when Pure Incubation came up as an initial idea, part of the appeal of the name was that the initials are “PI” – like pi (or pie). The super-geeky part of me really liked some of the symbolically interesting things about naming a company after pi (the 3.14 version), if you read up on the listing in Wikipedia you’ll see what I mean, but here are the highlights:

  • Pi is related to math. I am not a big math-lover, so I like the irony.
  • Pi is “transcendental” – in math definition is too hard to explain, but its other definition is “surpassing all others” or “beyond common thought or experience.”
  • People often say that pi is infinite, but it isn’t – it’s “irrational.” This is another math term that means that a number can’t be written as the ratio of two integers – you cannot reach the end of trying to calculate the exact value of the number.
  • There were many people who worked extensively on calculating pi across many nations and cultures and centuries. The first was Archimedes around 250 B.C. Over the years, mathematicians from Greece, China, Babylonia, Egypt, India, Scotland, Germany and France dedicated their entire lives to working on the calculation. It was considered to be a great breakthrough in 1424 when a Persian calculated the number to 16 decimals. There was something so appealing about this number that people dedicated their lives to discovering more about it.
  • With the advent of computers, work on pi was revolutionized. In 1949, John von Neumann used ENIAC to compute 2,037 digits of pi – a calculation that took 70 hours. The current record (set in 2002) is pi calculated to 1,241,100,000,000 decimals.

That was likely more information than you ever wanted to know about pi.

After I figured out the company name, I needed to come up with a name for my blog. I wanted it to be related to Pure Incubation, but not tied so closely to it that it couldn’t stand alone. Finally, it dawned on me that pi is the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Photo by jaqian