Google Calculator

February 10th, 2006

I have become dependent over the past couple years on Google Calculator. This is the feature that allows you to type in queries like “X in Y” and get meaningful (not search results), immediate responses.

For example, even though I’m a technical person, I can’t seem to memorize anything metric to save my life. So I often end up looking at some programming API and thinking “hmm… ‘in ms’ … is that milliseconds or microseconds … and how much is a millisecond anyway?” It’s easy for at least this American to let the “milli” part of such words remind me of “million” more than of “thousand” (yes, even after learning much Spanish and a bit of French). So, never wanting to waste much time with trial and error when it comes to API navigation, I pop over to Google and type in:

“1ms in seconds”

Yielding the extremely concise and accurate:

“1 milliseconds = 0.001 seconds”

Not only have I confirmed that “ms” means milliseconds, but I know that yes, there are a thousand of them in a second. Phew! Glad I got that out of the way for the billionth time in my life. Metrislexia is hard!

It’s not just technical values that Google is good at converting. Take money, for instance (but not mine!). If you type in something reasonable like this:

“$1 in pesos”

You get:

US$ 1 = 10.5014991 Mexican pesos

Which not only tells me exactly what my leftover vacation money is worth, but also reminds me that I’m a big dummy for assuming that “$” means “US$”.

I have come to depend on the calculator so much that I seem to be good at discovering things that are not (yet?) covered. So what is missing? Just about everything! Off the top of my head:

  • Quickie word translations. Google has its obvious “Language Tools” section which allows you to translate a sentence or web page from one language to another as quickly as you can configure a complicated form and press “Submit.” Much better for everyday use would be a facility where I could type “english ‘happy’ in japanese” and have something meaningful appear.
  • Historical money. They’ve got a nice head-start in the currency department, but what we need now is expanded tools to deal with money in real terms. For instance, in the news and such you often hear explanations of money from times past: “The young painter earned about $30 a week, or around $650 in present-day dollars.” So if there’s anything close to a consensus on what money was worth historically, Google should be willing to do to the work for me. I want to type “13 dollars in 1983” and have the magic answer appear. Instead, I get close to 9 million results from across the entire, faulty spectrum of web content.

What have you found to be lacking? If you’ve been using Google Calculator for a while, what have its relatively magical qualities led you to believe should also be smartly handled? If you’ve never used it before, give it a spin and see what you’re inspired to expect. I look forward to seeing some brainstormed ideas for improving Google Calculator. Maybe if we get a good enough collection the Google people themselves will find this page through a Google search and start acting on our feedback!

10 Responses to “Google Calculator”

  1. keith Says:

    i love google calculator too. i used to wish it could do more electrical calculations, like

    1mAh in aH

    i too always think “milli” equals millionths, but it is in fact thousandths. unfortunately this doesn’t work in google, but after reading your article i played with google calculator some more and found that it will perform the calculations. it just wasn’t recognizing my short hand. you must spell it out and then it will work.

    1 milliamp hours in amp hours

    i believe google calculator needs a broader vocabulary, especially in abbriations. they also need to post a complete vocaulary list. they do support many astronomical units, but i’d like to see additial orbits added. like 1 martian year in earth days, for all the planets and moons. also has anybody figured out if it will do degrees, minutes, seconds?

  2. Matt Deatherage Says:

    You all want Measure by Dave Lyons, at least if your’e on Mac OS X. It’s not Google, but it provides a full stack-based calculator and all the units you want.

    Typing “1 MaH” in Measure gives “0.001 ampere hours (electric charge)” on the stack. You can’t type “1 martian year”, but you can type “orbital period of Mars” and get back “orbital period of Mars: 1.88 years (time interval)” on the stack. Type “=days” next and you get “orbital period of Mars: 687 days (time interval)“.

    It doesn’t do currency conversions, but it’s very cool in many ways. Sure, Google Calculator takes “1 kg * c^2” and returns “.98755179 × 1016 joules”, but Measure returns “21.480 764 310 2 megatons of TNT (energy, torque)“.

    Megatons of TNT.

    Now that’s cool.

  3. Lee Says:

    The biggest thing missing from Google is membership to TRUSTe. Privacy concern from google is the main reason why I am leaving gmail and blogger. Saying, “do no evil” is not enough for me.

  4. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Thanks Matt for reminding me about Dave’s Measure application. It is definitely cool, albeit a bit more in the direction of “hecka more units” than what I’m requesting for Google. I think it would be cool if Google were to say buy all of Dave’s cool units data and augment Google Calculator with them, but also add more humanities-oriented calculations like language and currency translations.

  5. Fab Says:

    I don’t know about, but in the german there alreaday is a quick translation integrated. Just type a word and ad “en-de” (for english to german) and it links you to a translation page.

  6. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Fab: no such luck on the English google … what a rip! However I will note that your doesn’t seem to work for ohter languages (e.g. en-es), and also that the link to the dictionary isn’t quite as immediate as I would like. For typical google calculator results, you get the result to the exclusion of all other web results – no further clicking required!

  7. Rhett Sutphin Says:

    For historical currency values, I’ve found What Is Its Relative Value in US Dollars? interesting. Not only does it convert US dollar amounts for years from 1789 to 2004, it does it 5 different ways and explains what they all mean.

  8. one digital life » Blog Archive » Google Calculator? Says:

    […] Found via Red Sweater Blog […]

  9. Kevin Ballard Says:

    Amusingly, Google Calculator knows what a “smoot” is. Try it! “1 smoot in feet”. Or if you want something interesting, try “1 joule in kg smoot^2 / fortnight^2”

  10. Claire Says:

    I am SO dependant on google calculator. Taking IPC as an eighth grader, I still haven’t mastered how many cups are in a pint, how many pints are in a quart, how many feet are in a mile, etc. I LOVE google calculator!

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