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Yet Another Place the U.S. Lags...

The headlines were there...and the 15 seconds of fame as well. On January 25, 2007, Marc Umile, a filing clerk for a company that deals with government health insurance bills, had just set the new North American record-holder for reciting 12,887 decimal digits of the mathematical constant pi.

Umile memorized the digits by writing them out in order by hand, recording them on a cassette tape, and then listening to them over-and-over on a portable tape player during his commute to work, during lunch breaks, and as part of his walks along the street. All of this over-and-over for 2 1/2 years.

His motivation? Umile said he noticed in 2004 that the world record list was dominated by Asians and Europeans. Thus, his claim: "It seems like in the eastern part of the world, they really have their stuff together...I want to help us catch up."

However, desoite his great effort, Umile remains far short of Krishan Chahal's (India) claim for the record with 43,000 digits or the Guinness World Record of 67,890-digits supposedly done in China in 1995.

But, wait...all of this falls far short of the recent claim of Akira Haraguchi, a Japanese mental health counselor, that he recited pi to 100,000 decimal places. Haraguchi began reciting the digits of pi at 9 a.m. Tuesday, October 4, 2006. He reached his previous record of 83,431 digits on Tuesday night, and finished the 100,000th digit precisely at 1:28 a.m. Wednesday. Haraguchi, age 60, took a break of five minutes every two hours, going to the rest room and pausing to eat rice balls. As to his motivation, Haraguchi states: "What I am aiming at is not just memorizing figures, I am thrilled by seeking a story in pi." Of course all sixteen hours of this event were taped and are being submitted for verification by the Guinness World Records office.

So, Mr. Umile, you have a ways to go if you are going to hold the world record and help the U.S. "catch up." It may be important to note that in 2002, mathematicians at the University of Tokyo used a supercomputer to set a similar world record for non-humans, computing the digits of pi to 1.24 trillion decimal places, breaking the previous record of 206.158 billion places. The Japanese mathematicians spent spent five years designing the computer program, which took 400 hours to compute the record number of places.

Note: Thanks to Tim S. for alerting me to the recent Japanese record.

Source: Bellingham Herald, January 25, 2007