Amazon, like Google, gets transcendental

In e-commerce, transcendental numbers are all the rage.

Google, which prides itself on its Ph.D. population, started things off with a novel use of "e," a fundamental mathematical constant that's the base of natural logarithm calculations. Google priced its initial public offering such that it would raise $2,718,281,828--the product of e and $1 billion.

Perhaps trying to grab a little nerd cachet of its own, Amazon.com is promoting its A9 search engine by using pi, a circle's circumference divided by its diameter. Frequent users of A9 get a discount of pi/2 percent on purchases at Amazon.

Both e and pi are transcendental numbers. If you want the technical description, a number is transcendental if it's not a solution to a polynomial equation. If that sounds complicated, suffice it to say that they're thorny enough characters that mathematicians only proved they existed in 1844.

Mathematicians can take heart at these moves but probably shouldn't raise their hopes too high. It seems improbable that eBay will find a way to employ the Gelfond-Schneider constant--two to the power of the square root of two, another transcendental number.

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