Fun with the Google calculator AUG 14 2003
Instead of replying to my endless queue of unanswered email, I spent some time last night playing with Google's newest toy, the Google Calculator. Maybe if people would email back solutions to arithmetic problems included in my email replies to them I would more readily respond to my backlog. But I digress.
After verifying that 2+2=4 (contrary to popular belief), I tried to figure out the largest difference between the smallest and largest units of measurement on a given scale, finally ending up with ~3.08 x 10^26 angstroms in a parsec (26 orders of magnitude difference). If you delve into the world of obscure metric prefixes, you can get up to 64 orders of magnitude difference....there are ~3.08 x 10^64 yoctometers in a yottaparsec. If you want to get really ridiculous, you can find out how many yoctometers there are in one vigintillion parsecs (~3.08 x 10^103 if you're curious).
That got me thinking...what's the limit of the Google Calculator's computational ability? 170! (170! = 1*2*3*4* ... *168*169*170) is equal to ~7.26 x 10^306, but 171! doesn't work. 2^1023 = ~8.99 x 10^307, but 2^1024 doesn't work. After some trial and error, the upper limit of the calculator is ~1.797 × 10^308...or basically anything less than 2^1024. My binary math is a little rusty, but that limit seems to correspond to 32-bit double precision real arithmetic. Which makes sense, but it would have been more fun if the limit would have been a googol (1.0 x 10^100). (Regarding other large numbers, neither googolplex nor infinity return calculator results.)
In addition to playing with big numbers, the calculator can help you finally figure out the number of drams in a pennyweight (~0.878 drams/pennyweight), rods in a fathom (~0.364 rods/fathom), or the speed of light in knots (582,749,918 knots)...but unfortunately not the mileage of your automobile in rods/hogshead.
Andy's got some more calculator fun going.