A Slice of Pi

Raster images are made of pixels. MP3 files fit into neat little squares. Who owns a watch with an obsolete dial anymore? We live in the digital age. We are satisfied with less. We are told—and who dares question?—that digitization is more precise than any old analogue technique. There really are not curved surfaces anywhere. At lunch with a friend recently, this topic came up. Again. It is a conversation I’ve had before. Not everything can be quantified. Once upon a time, there was something called “quality of life.” No more can Nigel Tufnel claim, “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten.” Everything is ten.

If you don’t believe me, take a digital image and enlarge it. At some point the edges will grow fuzzy. That’s only because our eyes can’t focus on the smallness of the pixels. Keep on enlarging. Eventually you’ll come to the point where the little squares, the pixels, show their characteristic stairway to Heaven. Then go to your favorite art museum. Look at a painting. Get as close as the docent will allow you. Where are the pixels? Or get to know someone with a high quality camera. Preferably one that handles film larger than 35 millimeters. Watch them at the enlarger. The images get bigger, the edges remain sharp and curved. Where are the pixels? Some of us may be too old to truly tell the difference, but try breaking out your old LP’s. If you can find a turntable try one out. Then listen to the CD. Can’t tell the difference? Try putting it up to eleven.


The classic manual aptitude test has both round and square pegs. We’ve all been told that you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, but we do it all the time. Life is full of circles, swirls, curlicues. We don’t teach our children to read cursive anymore. The square pegs on the keyboard are sufficient for every possible form of communication. There’s no need to sit back and wonder at the implications that pi is a non-repeating, infinite decimal number. You can’t find the area or perimeter of a circle without it. Nature is stunningly rococo with its spirals, from non-pixelated ripples in the water to the colossal swirls of galaxies so large that the human mind can’t comprehend them. For that you need a computer. And just to be safe, you better make sure that it’s one that can go up to eleven.

2 responses to “A Slice of Pi

  1. Brent Snavely

    But Steve, 11 is overwhelming and it cannot be compressed.


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