Mar. 14, 2010


by Connie Wanek

Luxury itself, thick as a Persian carpet,
honey fills the jar
with the concentrated sweetness
of countless thefts,
the blossoms bereft, the hive destitute.

Though my debts are heavy
honey would pay them all.
Honey heals, honey mends.
A spoon takes more than it can hold
without reproach. A knife plunges deep,
but does no injury.

Honey moves with intense deliberation.
Between one drop and the next
forty lean years pass in a distant desert.
What one generation labored for
another receives,
and yet another gives thanks.

"Honey" by Connie Wanek, from On Speaking Terms. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1939, John Steinbeck's (books by this author) novel The Grapes of Wrath was published. It's the story of the Joad family, Oklahoma farmers who leave the Dust Bowl only to be exploited on the farms of California.

It's the birthday of Sylvia Beach, (books by this author) born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887). She founded an English-language bookstore and lending library called Shakespeare and Company, on the Left Bank of Paris. It opened just as the "lost generation" was discovering Paris, and it became a central feature of the Parisian literary scene of the 1920s. Beach also published books, including the first — blue and white — edition of James Joyce's Ulysses (1922).

Today is Albert Einstein's (books by this author) birthday. He was born in Ulm, Germany (1879), and his pre-kindergarten fascination with a compass needle left an impression on him that lasted a lifetime. He liked math but hated school, dropped out, and taught himself calculus in the meantime. Einstein worked for the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, where his job was to evaluate patent applications for electromagnetic devices and determine whether the inventions described would actually work. The job wasn't particularly demanding, and at night he would come home and pursue scientific investigations and theories.

In 1905, he wrote a paper on the Special Theory of Relativity, which is that if the speed of light is constant and if all natural laws are the same in every frame of reference, then both time and motion are relative to the observer. That same year, he published three more papers, each of which was just as revolutionary as the first, among them the paper that included his most famous equation: E = mc2. E is energy, m is mass, and c stands for the velocity of light.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He said, "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."

Today is Pi Day, in honor of the mathematical constant pi (π), an irrational number that begins 3.14 — like today's date, March 14th or 3/14.

π is a letter of the Greek alphabet, and it's the symbol for the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. In other words, if a circle has a diameter of 10 inches, we could find out its circumference by multiplying 10 inches by π, and we'd find out that the circle with a 10-inch diameter has a circumference (or perimeter) of approximately 31.4159265. It can only ever be approximate — never exact — because π is an irrational number, meaning that it goes on forever without repeating or having patterns. Using powerful computers, π has been calculated in recent years into trillions of decimal places.

Pi Day began in 1988, started by a physicist named Larry Shaw. And just last year, in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution designating today as National Pi Day.

Pi Day celebrations around the nation today involve eating dessert pies or pizza pies, throwing cream pies, and listening to lectures on the importance of the irrational number — sometimes all of these things occurring in unison.

There are legions of people worldwide devoted to memorizing π to as far as they can memorize it. And today around the world, there are π recitation contests. The world record, according to the Guinness Book, is currently held by Lu Chao, a grad student from China, who over the course of 24 hours and 4 minutes recited pi to the 67,890th decimal place without error.

To aid in the memorization of the never-ending, pattern-less number, people have written poetry and stories in a mnemonic called "Pilish," which is a way of constrained writing "in which the number of letters in each successive word "spells out" the digits of π." One of the earliest and best-known examples of it was a sentence by English physicist Sir James Jeans, who wrote: "How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!" 'How' has three letters, 'I' has one, "need" has four — so it forms 3.14, the start of π — and each successive word's letter count represents the next digit in π.

Then, in 1996, a piphilologist (as these people are called), wrote a 3,834-digit Cadaeic Cadenza, which begins with a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven"; every single word adheres to the constraints that render letter counts into accurate successive π digits.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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