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Google Searches the Web And Does Math Homework

 _____Recent Columns_____ • Search Engine Rivalry Brings Improvements (The Washington Post, May 16, 2004) • Iraq Prison Scandal At Its Most Graphic (The Washington Post, May 9, 2004) • Russian Site Peddles Music By Megabyte (The Washington Post, May 2, 2004) • Web Watch Archive • Leslie Walker's .com
By Leslie Walker
Sunday, August 17, 2003; Page F07

Between Blaster and the blackout last week, one of the Google search site's quirkiest experiments yet went largely unseen.

The Internet's top search engine announced it had crammed a mathematical calculator into its search service, letting users type math problems directly into the search box and get instant answers. Google's calculator is trained to recognize words as well as numbers, so you can type in "eight plus seven minus four" or "8 plus 7 minus 4." Both will yield 11.

You can type numeric expressions either into the search box at Google's Web site (www.google.com) or directly into your Internet browser if you've installed Google's tool-bar software or you use a browser with built-in Google searching, such as Mozilla or Apple's Safari. Below the numeric answers Google returns, it will present a link to a regular Web search for your phrase in case you weren't trying to use the calculator.

But this calculator doesn't just do simple multiplication. It also handles conversions. Cooks may like being able to type in "quarter cup in teaspoons" and see Google reply "1 quarter US cup = 12 US teaspoons." Does a mechanic want to know the size of a replacement part for a clock in inches, but you only know it in millimeters? Enter " .715 mm in inches" and Google will inform you it equals 0.0281496063 inches.

Google's calculator goes beyond basic arithmetic to do complex math and crunch physical constants, too. It will process such queries as "G * mass of earth." or "speed of light * two." Type "What is the speed of light in furlongs per fortnight" and you'll get this reply: "the speed of light = 1.8026175 x 10{+1}{+2} furlongs per fortnight."

If only Google marketed its own pocket research tool, it could be the pocket calculator of this decade. With all the other new tools it's rolling out, can one be far behind?

Household Risks at a Click

If you're worried about the health risks of all the junk lying around your house, the National Library of Medicine, run by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, can help. It launched a Web site this month that lists the potential health effects of more than 2,000 product ingredients. The site also details the contents of more than 4,000 common household items. Its database lets people search by product type, manufacturer name or ingredients.

Online Frequent-Flier Auction Expands

Continental Airlines has redesigned its auction Web site, which lets frequent fliers use their "OnePass" miles as currency to bid on prizes besides airplane tickets. The airline has also expanded the choice of awards and added tools to help people find and monitor its frequent-flier auctions. On Friday, the high bid for a five-day vacation package for two to the Dominican Republic was 150,900 miles. Another hot item was a luxury suite for 22 guests in Yankee Stadium for the Yanks vs. the Orioles on Sept. 26. Bidding had reached only 100,500 miles and runs through Sept. 19. Since launching frequent-flier auctions last summer, Continental has offered more than 525 packages and drawn bids from more than 6,000 people.

E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.

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