Happy Pi Approximation Day

Back in March, we (or at least some of us) celebrated Pi Day and in June we (or probably rather fewer of us) celebrated Tau Day.

Today is the turn of Pi Approximation Day.

As I wrote on Pi Day, the mathematical constant π is an irrational number, which means that its exact value can’t be written down as a fraction or a finite decimal expansion.  A decimal approximation that’s good enough for many practical purposes is π≈3.14, which is why Pi Day is celebrated on 14th March (3-14 in ISO date format, without the year).  A slightly more accurate figure is 3.14159 (and beyond that, I’d have to look it up to be sure).

There are, of course, many fractional approximations to π (i.e. ones expressed as a ratio of two integers, aka whole numbers).  Probably the simplest one is π≈22/7.   That’s 3.14286 to 5dp, so it’s pretty close and certainly good enough for everyday use (essentially, any situation where 3.14 or 3.142 is a close enough approximation, which is most of the time in non-high-precision situations).  It’s also, conveniently, today’s date in standard British date format (omitting the year), which gives us another excuse to eat pies and do all the other stuff we do to celebrate our favourite mathematical constant.



The Non-Stick Penguins have now made it on to YouTube, twice!

The first video is from our first open mic night last month and is of the song called Lorraine.  I’m playing bass ukulele on that one (on the left of the frame).  As far as I’m aware, the bass was quite a bit louder in the gig than it comes across on the video.  It looks like the video was taken on somebody’s phone so I assume it couldn’t cope with the lower frequencies, or perhaps it’s just my computer’s speakers that fail to handle it. Certainly the bass line gets easier to hear later in the song as it goes higher up.

The second is an audio-only recording of one of Jon’s newest songs: Big Fat Hairy Monster.  This one is actually a collaboration between us and a chap called Ken that I’ve never met.  He and Jon have done some songs together online (I’m not sure that they’ve ever met in person either) and in this case he’s taken a recording that we made at my house and overdubbed harmony vocals and a second guitar part.  I’m playing (soprano) ukulele on this one, and it mostly blends in with the guitars.

We played a second open-mic night last week at which we did our first live performance of Big Fat Hairy Monster (without Ken).  It was actually only about an hour after we’d made the recording, which was the first time Rob and I had played the song.  The live performance wasn’t entirely polished, so I hope no one made a video of it!

Jon assures me that the song, which contains references to “a big fat hairy monster with big fat hairy legs”, is not about me!

Not quite self-sufficient

In principle, I’m very much in favour of the idea of growing one’s one food.  However, I’m glad I don’t have to rely on eating what I’ve grown for myself…

Today I harvested the first-fruits of this year’s yield from my garden – just enough spinach and rhubarb to contribute to tonight’s dinner (fortunately I was dining alone, as it wouldn’t have stretched).  That’s already better than last year, when I don’t think I managed to get anything at all edible out of my garden despite trying to grow several things, but I’m not expecting very much more of either crop and I’m doubtful that my sprouts are going to produce anything at all.  I should get a nice crop of nasturtium leaves if I actually remember to harvest them this year.

I steamed the spinach and enjoyed that as an accompaniment to the pasta con funghi (and other random ingredients, all non-home-grown)  that I cooked up for dinner. I’m sure there are more adventurous ways of preparing spinach but this simple approach works perfectly well and I didn’t want anything too complex to clash with the array of flavours in the pasta dish.

The rhubarb went, as it usually does in my kitchen, into a crumble.  There was only just enough fruit to cover the base of the dish, so I ended up letting the crumble topping mix in with it rather than sit on top.  I also varied this crumble a bit by using honey instead of sugar to sweeten the rhubarb (along with a dash of lemon juice – the citrus seems to complement the rhubarb quite well – and a bit of water) and drizzling a bit more on top, as well as using a mixture of plain and self-raising flour (instead of just plain) to make the crumble.  I’m not sure if that pushes it towards cobbler territory, as I can’t remember whether the use of raising agents is the differentiating factor (if there is one) between cobblers and crumbles, but it certainly helped to lighten it a bit, which was quite useful given the higher than usual crumble-to-fruit ratio.

Back in the saddle

For most of the past 3 weeks, my bike has been down for maintenance so I have been having to walk to work. The problem was caused by a hub-related failure of the rear wheel, which necessitated getting a new wheel.  The parts I needed arrived towards the end of last week, but then I was away for the weekend and only got round to fixing it yesterday.

This morning I was enjoying cycling in to work again when I noticed that my rear tyre was looking suspiciously flat.  Since I had only pumped it up yesterday, in the process of changing the wheel, I knew that something was amiss.  I was able to reach the office safely enough on the tyre as it was and resolved to fix it after I’d finished work this afternoon, and before going home.

When I got down to it, I took out the inner tube (which I’ve patched a few times but has held up well for several years) and gave it a quick examination but there were no signs of fresh punctures.  It hadn’t completely deflated, so evidently the puncture was quite a slow one.  Since I had a spare tube with me, I decided to put that on the bike and save further examination of the old tube for later (or possibly just give it an honourable retirement).

As I was about to put the new tube onto the wheel, I realised that I had forgotten to put rim tape on it and hence the tube problem was probably caused by one or more of the spoke ends making a tiny hole in the tube.   My old wheel, from which I could salvage the rim tape, was at home but fortunately I had some PTFE tape to hand which would work fine for a temporary substitute (and in fact may be just as good long-term as a proper rim tape).

The next problem came when I tried to pump up the tyre and discovered that my pump has sustained some damage and no longer works.  I hadn’t noticed this as for the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to only need to inflate my tyres when I’ve been at home and able to use my track pump.  The last time I had a tyre go flat while I was on the road, the tube exploded and took a fair chunk of the outer tyre (which was very old and turned out to be somewhat rotten) with it – so I had to push the bike home and didn’t even bother to try to fix it at the roadside.  Therefore, although I’ve been dutifully carrying my small pump with me as part of the basic tool kit I always carry on my bike it’s not actually been working, presumably, for some time.

The upshot of this is that I had to leave my bike at the office and walk home this evening.  Tomorrow, I’ll have to carry my track pump in (it should fit in a rucksack if I let it stick out at the top), pump up my tyre and ride home later.  Needless to say, I have now ordered a new pump to go in my travelling tool kit.

There are two main lessons I’ve learned from today’s exciting adventures.  The first is specifically bike related, which is to remember the rim tape when changing a wheel.  The other lesson is doubtless equally applicable to many other contexts, namely that it’s a good idea to periodically check any tools or supplies that you are relying on for emergency purposes to ensure that they will actually work when they are needed.

Incidentally, in case you’re a long-term reader of this blog (or have browsed through the archives of bike-related posts) and are wondering why I didn’t just use my spare bike while the other one was down for maintenance (which is, after all, the main reason I keep two bikes), it is that I have been unable to get hold of the freewheel tool I need to replace the broken spoke on the back wheel of that bike and therefore it is still out of action.  The problem is that it’s quite an old French bike and uses parts that are no longer standard.  I may have to resort to getting a new wheel for it (fortunately 27″ x 1 1/4″ wheels, while no longer in common use, are still available).