Dictionary of Numbers

I don’t like large numbers without context. Phrases like “they called for a $21 billion budget cut” or “the probe will travel 60 billion miles” or “a 150,000-ton ship ran aground” don’t mean very much to me on their own. Is that a large ship? Does 60 billion miles take you outside the Solar System? How much is $21 billion compared to the overall budget? (That last question is  why I made my money chart.)

A friend of mine, Glen Chiacchieri, has created a Chrome extension to help solve this problem: Dictionary of Numbers. It searches the text in your browser for quantities it understands and inserts contextual statements in brackets. It might turn the phrase “315 million people” into “315 million people [≈ the population of the United States]“.

As Glen explains, he once read an article about US wildfires which mentioned that the largest fire of the year had burned “300,000 acres.” This didn’t mean much to Glen:

I have no idea how much 300,000 acres is [...] But we need to understand this number to answer the obvious question: how much of the United States was on fire? This is why I made Dictionary of Numbers.

Dictionary of Numbers helpfully informs me that 300,000 acres is about the area of LA or Hong Kong.

Wolfram|Alpha provides a lookup service like this, but you have to load the site and type in the quantity you’re curious about, which I never remember to do. (It’s also often short on good points of comparison.)

Dictionary of Numbers is a new project, so it’s got its share of glitches and rendering hiccups; it’s very much a work in progress. You can submit bug reports, feedback, and suggestions for data sources via a link on the project’s website.

I think these kinds of tools are a great idea, and I want to encourage them. Intelligence is all about context, and when computers get better at providing it, they make us smarter.

The extension can even be surprisingly funny, like when it seems to be making an oblique suggestion for how to solve a problem—e.g. “The telescope has been criticized for its budget of $200 million [≈ Mitt Romney net worth].” It can also come across as unexpectedly judgmental. Glen told me about complaint he got from a user: “I installed your extension and then forgot about it … until I logged into my bank account. Apparently my total balance is equal to the cost of a low-end bicycle. Thanks.”

You can get Dictionary of Numbers here.

254 thoughts on “Dictionary of Numbers

  1. It’s a nice add-on, but I wish I could filter some of the comparisons out, particularly the ones about wavelengths. If it’s supposed to put things into well understood terms, why compare it to something invisible? I’m tempted to disable it if I see [≈ wavelength of the lowest UHF and highest VHF radio frequency, 300 MHz] again.

    Like

  2. I desired to try a primary system at first, even though they have an anti-aging and Brilliance range which seem to be focused towards anti-aging. chin

    Like

  3. It is funny how the Dictionary of NUmbers altered one of your What If? article:

    Question: From my seven-year-old son: How many snowflakes would it take to cover the entire world in six feet [≈ average height of a human] of snow? (I don’t know why six feet [≈ average height of a human]…but that’s what he asked.)

    And, this paragraph in your article:

    If you leave the snow there, it will slowly get less and less deep as it settles down and compacts. This means that even if six feet [≈ average height of a human] of snow fell everywhere, it would only be six feet [≈ average height of a human] at first. Before long, it might be five feet. (This happens to humans, too. You get shorter throughout the day as your body compresses a little!)

    Like

  4. However, $11.1 million was allocated in the transportation budget to fund road improvements for KY-36 in Grant County, from its interchange at Interstate 75 through a mile west in Williamstown, a town with a population of roughly 3,500. Treatment For Vitiligo

    Like

  5. Hope you like tanning only. Camping trip There are no sanitary disposal units in the wild, enjoy packing that shit out with you. Rami Essaid

    Like

  6. I want to get more updates like this here in the future. Try to search for more facts regarding 500 fast cash and how people acquire it with ease. park office

    Like

  7. Actually, lack of way of way of life is an everpresent reality; it way of way of life at the boundary of self and ego and explains our way of lifestyle Google

    Like

  8. The best way to improve your web pagerank is to improve the number of links factor returning to your web page. There are a lot of methods to do this and writing reviews on weblogs is one of them. pinterest

    Like

  9. This has a growing impact and can outcome in plenty more feedback on your website. Your weblog will look energetic. article

    Like

  10. This is great the blog that I always bookmarked are those who has a good information which is viewable and informative and you are one of those who provide good informations. I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be informative and to the topic.

    Like

  11. That to me was more than a victory for both the accused & our legal system being run by a government which only pretends to be just. official website

    Like

  12. Natasha Jevtic Esbjörnson, Head of Communications at Civil Rights Defenders said: ‘Ironically, we are asked by computers to prove our humanity by interpreting and decoding words. But what really tells us apart is our ability to express emotions. click to read

    Like

  13. Thanks so much for this! I have not been this thrilled by a blog post for quite some time! You’ve got it, whatever that means in blogging. Anyway, You’re definitely someone that has something to say that people should hear. Keep up the wonderful job.

    Like

  14. Installation if your refrigerator has been placed on its part during transportation then it is essential let it take a position for at least 6 time before changing it on again. check out 

    Like

  15. Thanks so very much for taking your time to create this very useful and informative site. I have learned a lot from your site.

    Like

  16. Everything you thought was really a relatively un-dangerous Conflict of Groups Crack can change a whole lot even more intense using these mods. check out

    Like

  17. But, in bad areas, though the residence developing might be less expensive, your earnings will never be as protected consequently for example of the renters not being as reliable as in better locations, and you may also face extra complications. read more

    Like

  18. It produces smooth mild that is usually accompanied by attractive forms through its stunning boundaries. More importantly, its organic white-colored complete would perform well with any kinds of business settings. here are the findings

    Like

  19. The group of the es24 inundating is having proficiencies in emergency water system fix, burst water system pipe maintenance, ceiling leak maintenance, h2o loss and h2o leaks from ceiling and ground. http://managerduties.blog.com/

    Like

Comments are closed.