Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning Math: Square Acres

In case you aren't aware of it, Google provides a very useful calculator/conversion feature built right into its search form. For example, type "5*9+(sqrt 10)^3=" into Google and let it serve as a calculator. Or, type "10.5 cm in inches" to do unit conversion. Google can also perform whimsical searches. For example, type "number of horns on a unicorn" into Google and the Google calculator returns the correct answer of "1".

After the jump, some tricks that are harder for Google to master.

Google will do its best even if the question is ambiguous. For example, type "how many square acres of trees are there in texas" and Google dutifully presents 1,860,000 results in 0.21 seconds. Unfortunately, Google doesn't inform the poor Internet searcher that his search has some basic problems with it. Google doesn't explain why "square acres" is, to put it charitably, redundant. Google doesn't explain that an "acre of trees" is an ambiguous measure. I'm guessing the searcher means "acres of forest" but whether it's commercial forests, state and national forests, or some other definition of forest, is still guesswork.

Still, out of those 1,860,000 hits, the second hit returned to this search is to my own blog post, "Where Do You Put 50,000 Trees?" in which I do a lot of cocktail napkin figuring of the feasibility of planting 50,000 trees in Richardson's 28 acres. I hope I can help any poor Internet searcher who stumbles on my page with his search for the number of square acres of trees in Texas, but I doubt it. Google is amazing already, but just imagine its calculator returning, right at the top of the page, this answer: 60 million acres. Maybe some day. Google keeps getting better.

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