|Volume LIV||May 2007||Number 2|
A Mathematical Marathon
If you ask Bro. Marc Umile, of Palestine-Roxborough Lodge No. 135, for the phone number to his insurance company, he won't have a clue. But if you ask him to list 12,887 digits of pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, he'll start rattling off numbers as if it is second nature.
The task, which took him three hours and 40 minutes, set a Northern American record. Bros. C. Scott Meyer, of Melita Lodge No. 295; Warren Nelson, of Harmony Lodge No. 52 and a former security guard at the Masonic Temple; and Harry Rutter, of William L. Elkins Lodge No. 271 and Grand Lodge Controller, witnessed the achievement. The Guinness World Records lists the record as 67,890 digits held by a man in China.
Pi, which most people know simply as 3.14, calculates out to many billions of digits. Web sites enable fanatics to search for patterns, like their Social Security number, within the mathematical constant. To the acclaim of anyone who has memorized even a few hundred digits, there are no repeating patterns throughout pi.
Bro. Umile received lots of media recognition for his efforts, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Associated Press, which has run the article in newspapers all over the country, and NPR (National Public Radio), which aired his interview on March 14, known as Pi Day (3/14). "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno requested a tape of him typing out the digits.
He has been practicing for that record-setting moment on and off since 1995, first attempting the record at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia last December. In fact, he knows the numbers so well, he couldn't forget them if he tried, he says.
Bro. Umile did most of his research in private, sharing it only with people who know he "has all his marbles together."
"People tend to discredit what they don't understand," he said.
He is intrigued, not specifically by mathematics, but by patterns of numbers. He has found many unique and personal patterns within pi. At one point, his name is spelled numerically. There are also quirks, like at the 360th decimal place (a circle has 360 degrees), the numbers 3, 6 and 0 appear in that order. He has written about 18 pages of these discoveries.
"Pi has a historical, mystical meaning," he said. "It's close to using your imagination. For me, it satisfies my limitless hunger to explore and find patterns. By nature, I always want to go higher."
He was inspired by the movie Rain Man, in which a man with Asperger's Disorder is able to quickly and accurately calculate complicated mathematical problems in his head.
"I did a lot of research to see if I could tap into that ability," he said. "It's a lot of fun trying to memorize things."
Bro. Umile is considered an auditory memorizer compared to someone with a photographic memory. He previously worked at a concert hall in Philadelphia and this has given him an ear for rhythms. When he is recalling the digits of pi, which he breaks up into stanzas, it is almost like music to his ears, he said. He even made a tape of himself, which he played on his commute to work to help him study.
"As we get older, our minds and brains become set," he said. "We need to learn to use more than 10 percent of our brain. Don't just be content and let your mind go. Use your time to your best advantage."
He currently works as a Medicare Part B biller. While this vocation involves numbers, it doesn't utilize his memory skills.
"Who welcomes memory?" he asked. "It's fairly unheard of and few people in the world can do it, but do you put it on a resume?"
He gave a lecture to residents of a retirement community explaining what inspired his numerical marathon and how he had a goal, different from the everyday humdrum, and worked hard at it. He hopes to give more talks in the future. Bro. Umile has been a Mason since 1990. He also spent six and a half years as a tour guide at the Masonic Temple. His auditory memory skills came in handy when he became a member of the fraternity.
"It's a ritual that requires memory work," he said. "It goes from mouth to ear, unwritten. You hear it so often that naturally you remember it."
He would like his accomplishment to inspire others to believe in themselves and find a passion, and perhaps lead to some new opportunities for him.
"I hope people find a goal and develop their own technique and ability," he said. "Even if people think it's strange, then keep it a secret. When you succeed, you'll know your dedication was worth it."
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