Angles And Atriums

I’m not a huge fan of the open atrium design of some modern hotels, with their enormous open central spaces, the glass-walled elevators zipping up and down, and the faint susurrus of lobby conversation wafting up through the cavernous atrium to the floors high above.  I think the design is disorienting.

But, if you like sharp angles and geometric precision in the interior of your hotel, the open atrium approach is about as good as it gets.  These are hotels that appear to have been designed through use of compass, protractor, and slide rule.  You can imagine the architect carefully calibrating the intersecting lines in the floor plan, and efficiency-oriented engineers reveling in the exacting measurements and crisp, ordered, no-frills appearance.

My eighth grade geometry teacher would have loved this place.


Peace Of Pi On Tau Day

You will remember pi, of course.  It is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter.  Pi also is the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius.  Simply by writing those two sentences I have caused most readers to grit their teeth, remember their high school geometry and higher math courses with a grim shudder, and thank their lucky stars that they never have to use such concepts in their jobs.

Pi is probably the most important mathematical constant, and it is also the point at which math begins to reveal its dark, kinky soul.  Pi is an irrational number that starts as 3.14 and then trails off into an endless series of numbers that do not repeat.  Some friendless, misguided people celebrate March 14 — that is, 3.14 — as pi day and do things like bake pies with the value of pi to a certain number of decimal places along the rim of the pie crust.

Given the celebration of pi, and its weird irrationality, in the math community, who would have suspected that there is an anti-pi contingent?  But there is, and yesterday was their dayThese friendless, misguided math enthusiasts propound tau as the preferred alternative to pi.  Tau is a mathematical constant that is twice as large as pi; hence tau is 6.28 and change, and tau day is June 28.  Why do the tau proponents dis pi and tout tau?  They say that tau is a more natural, convenient way to express the mystical qualities of circles, because circles really are about radii — that is, the distance from a circle’s center to the points along the circle — not diameters.

Now that tau day is over, we can gratefully return to our daily lives.

A Reason To Take 8th Grade Geometry

We sat huddled in Mrs. Jackman’s 8th grade geometry class at Hastings Junior High, learning the names of differently shaped solids and how to calculate their volumes, discussing the value of pi and the Pythagorean theorem and other equations, all the while wondering when in the hell we would ever use this self-evidently useless information.

Little did we know that Mrs. Jackman’s diligent instruction would have equipped us to nod yes if Louis XIV had asked us to design the extensive, jaw-dropping gardens at the palace at Versailles!  But in fact those gardens — from their layouts, to their perspectives to the far horizon, to the shapes in which shrubs are trimmed, are all about using geometry, geometry, and more geometry.

In my view, the gardens at Versailles are far more interesting and memorable than the palace.  You can only see so much gilt, and take in so many paintings and busts of Louis XIV, and experience so many vaulted ceilings and marble floors, before you experience sensory overload and ultimate disinterest.

But the gardens!  They are full of wonder and surprises. Who would have thought that geometric lines and shapes could be so enjoyable and, in the case of shrubs, even a bit silly and whimsical?

Mrs. Jackman, who considered geometry to be a very serious topic and applied a no-nonsense approach to her teaching, might not have approved, but I chuckled with delight as Richard and I strolled through the gardens and enjoyed the different shapes and patterns that lay around every corner.  The fact is, geometric lines and shapes are pleasing to the eye and to the mind.  The gardens at Versailles are extraordinarily beautiful not just because of the flowers, and fountains, and canals, but because they are laid out in a precise geometric fashion.  The gardens convey the neatness, and order, and patterns that the human brain craves.