# 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”

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2. It is funny how it seems to offer alternatives to things you’re buying. I was buying textbooks online when it said that a calculus book was \$280 [[≈ cost of PS3 gaming system, 2011]

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4. Lol reading this post with Dictionary of numbers already installed makes it hilariously confusing.

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5. So what happens if I type in 100 yards, 60mph, 250,000lb, and 2.0 Simon-Binet?

The frequently made comparison monster loves this blog post!

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6. I tested this on the ISS wikipedia.
Speed of orbit: 7.71 km/s [≈ Speed of International Space Station and typical speed of a satellite and the Space Shuttle in low Earth orbit.]
I never would have guessed 😐

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7. it’s fun. but unfortunately it doesnt comment the probe or the ship. what a disappointment.

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8. It says that 00000000000 dollars ~= ‘Value of US natural gas reserves’…What?

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9. I read this entry, and installed said Chrome plugin, and have enjoyed it immensely. I was reading an article earlier, about the Voyager probes, and when it was referring to the distances, something interesting happened:

Thought you might find it funny. : ]

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10. Re-reading this post after installing the app is great if only because I can watch the number define itself as the same thing already posted lol

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11. I like playing with numbers. Extremely large numbers are used. Glad I came to this site. Well thank you

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12. Playing with numbers is very interesting, especially the large numbers

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13. Numbers have always been a big influence in our lives. Many events are recorded with numbers. Counting numbers. Days with numbers. Though the numbers were not what

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14. The frequently made comparison monster loves this blog post!

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16. That is very interesting topic you’ve started. Prices have many roles in our lives.

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17. That is very interesting topic you’ve started. Prices have many roles in our lives.Dictionary of Numbers is a Chrome extension that watches your browsing activity for mentions of large numerical measurements and automatically inserts equivalences in real-world terms that are meant to clarify things. For example, a story about a 300,000 acre forest fire would be annotated to note that this is about the area of LA or Hong Kong; or that 315 million people is about the population of the USA.

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18. Glen was great and I enjoyed the work very much like to thank you for this text enjoyable activity Chiacchieri

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19. The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers is a reference book for recreational mathematics and elementary number theory written by David Wells. The first edition was published in paperback by Penguin Books in 1986 in the UK, and a revised edition appeared in 1997..

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20. Dictionary of Numbers is an award-winning Google Chrome extension that tries to make sense of numbers you encounter on the web by giving you a description of that number in human terms. Like a dictionary describes words you don’t know in terms you do, Dictionary of Numbers puts quantities you’re unfamiliar with in terms you can understand. Because “8 million people” means nothing, but “population of New York City” means everything.

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21. It was very informative

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22. Very interesting information on this post!

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23. very nice.

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25. it was really brilliant.I really got the advantages.thanks a lot.

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26. Hello, My opinion is the numbers have always been a big influence in our lives. Many events are recorded with numbers.

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27. nice.i really used it.it was very useful and informative for me as a student in university.thanks a lot.

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28. it’s fun. but unfortunately it doesnt comment the probe or the ship. what a disappointment.

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29. Regarding acres and wildfires, I simply cannot understand why news readers in large cities where the city blocks are carved into lots sixty feet by a hundred feet or so insist on citing fire areas in acres. What city dweller understands an acre? 650 to the square mile helps if you happen to be good at math.

The best I’ve come up with is that an acre is about 10% larger than a football field. I haven’t bothered to calculate whether that include no, one, or two end zones.

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30. Very interesting information on this post!

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31. Like a dictionary describes words you don’t know in terms you do, Dictionary of Numbers puts quantities you’re unfamiliar with in terms you can understand.

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32. My opinion is the numbers have always been a big influence in our lives. Many events are recorded with numbers.

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33. The best I’ve come up with is that an acre is about 10% larger than a football field. I haven’t bothered to calculate whether that include no, one, or two end zones. My opinion is the numbers have always been a big influence in our lives. Many events are recorded with numbers.

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34. My opinion is the numbers have always been a big influence in our lives. Many events are recorded with numbers. Glad I discovered this site. Visit the above link to see my profile. Issues you raised is very interesting site to see them encouraged me.

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35. Of my opinion of the time is Extremely large numbers are used. Glad I came to this site. Well thank you

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36. I was ordering stationary and it came up with 1J [≈ energy required to heat 1 gram of dry, cool air by 1 degree Celsius]5 exercise book

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