The Obligatory Ultimate Pi Day Post

…and, thanks to the magic of post scheduling, this post is going up at exactly 9:26AM on 3/14/15.

To be honest, I initially wasn’t sure what my Pi Day post should be about. I’ve already written about pie and circumference; what aspect should I cover now? The answer struck me as I recalled a question on a job application I filled out recently. I was asked what my educational philosophy was and how I had demonstrated this in previous positions. After years of studying and working in education, my response felt hackneyed, but it really is my philosophy: people learn better when they see and experience concepts rather than just memorizing facts and formulas. This requires hands-on activities and real world demonstrations. So how can we apply this to pi?

The essence of pi is that it’s the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter. We don’t have to put blind faith in this formula, because we can test it for ourselves.

You will need:

  • a variety of round objects
  • a flexible tape measure (think sewing box, not tool box) OR ribbon, a marker, and a ruler

1. Take a round object. Use the tape measure or ribbon to measure across the diameter of the object; if using the ribbon, mark the length of the diameter with a marker and use the ruler to measure this length.


Continue reading


SiS Quickie: Repeatability is Delicious…

…and soggy French toast is not.

Like fried rice, French toast is a dish that the SigFig and I both enjoy. We had a lot of eggs that we needed to use up, so I told him I’d make a batch. He asked me if I knew how. I made French toast once or twice back in college.

So of course I said yes.

The result was an unmitigated disaster.

The lesson to be learned here is that good food, like good science, must be repeatable. You can’t run an experiment once, get the results you want, and say that you’re done. You also can’t run an experiment several times, get drastically different results every time, and cherry-pick which data you draw your conclusions from. A scientific experiment has to be run several times, producing consistent results, in order for those results to be valid. The fact that I’ve made successful French toast once or twice does not, in fact, mean that I “know” how to make it. I’ll have to try again a few times- and succeed in all of those attempts- before I can reasonably make that claim.

All that being said, I’d still like to think that the results had less to do with my (lack of) culinary ability and more to do with the fact that the bread wasn’t thick enough.

Sriracha (Chips) in Suburbia?

AKA Observation vs. Inference.

Lay’s has recently introduced a limited edition run of potato chips in three flavors: Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread, and Chicken and Waffles. The idea is that people will try these flavors and vote on which one should become a permanent flavor.

I love Sriracha. Only The Oatmeal can describe how much I love Sriracha. So I asked people what stores they’d managed to find them at and began my quest.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an empty shelf in the potato chip aisle before, let alone two. Yet there before me were several cubic feet of disappointment.

Continue reading

When I cook unscientifically…

…it ends up sticking to the pan.

The SigFig and I moved in together last month, and meals have been…interesting. We’re on very different work schedules and he’s kind of a picky eater, so we often fend for ourselves in the kitchen. I like cooking, though, and I’ve been trying to put together meals that we both enjoy. One of the dishes that falls into this category is also one that I’d never cooked before I moved in: fried rice.

My first few attempts were decent, but none of them were quite right. (Bear in mind that the SigFig and I both have Asian mothers, thus any fried rice I make could never measure up to either of their versions.) I felt that my rice wasn’t frying up evenly; it was probably too clumpy going in and I don’t think I was moving it around enough in the pan.

On my most recent venture I wanted to remedy these issues, but in my attempt I committed a major scientific no-no:

Continue reading

Weighing your options…

…because you pay by the ounce.

One of my best friends from high school, who currently lives in NYC, is in town right now. So a bunch of us met up for pho (which is reportedly awful in New York), then went to a make-your-own-mix fro-yo shop for dessert.

I can’t get fro-yo without thinking two things:

1) All frozen yogurt shops are absolutely adorable, right down to the spoons.

2) I wonder how many different combinations I can make.

On the drive to the shop, I decided that I’d actually calculate out the number of combinations while we enjoyed our dessert. But upon our arrival, when I was reminded of exactly how many flavors and toppings were available, I realized the numbers would be staggering. Continue reading

NPH, scotch, and seventh-grade science…

…also, Science in Suburbia is not responsible if you start burning things after reading this post.

I don’t always watch television, but when I do, it’s usually a game show, a cooking show, Mythbusters, or anything with Neil Patrick Harris in it. So imagine my elation when I learned that Neil Patrick Harris and his better half, David Burtka, were judges on the latest Iron Chef. I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or two in my time (though that consumption has dropped precipitously as I’ve reached my later twenties), so I was only further excited to see that the secret ingredient was scotch. Continue reading

I should have written this on March 14th

One of the most difficult things about teaching math and science is figuring out interesting and accurate ways to make concepts concrete.

Solutions frequently involve pie. I have used pie to explain everything from the extremely straightforward (how to calculate the area of a sector of a circle) to the less tangible (the amount of thermal energy in an object depends on both its temperature and its mass). Bill Nye has used pie to demonstrate the transfer of momentum. Mixed-variety pies can show how ratios work; while my examples generally include more mundane flavors such as apple, banana, and cherry, the ratio of “crack” slices to candy bar slices to cinnamon bun slices in Momofuku’s “frankenpie” is 2:1:1. This ratio doesn’t definitively tell you how many slices there are, but it does tell you that the total number must be a multiple of 4. (I’ve never had this pie and it looks delicious, but the price is awfully steep. Maybe I could use it in a tutoring session and write it off as a business expense?)

I’d write more- the pies-as-science possibilities are endless- but for some reason I’m suddenly ravenous. Pardon me for a moment.