On Computing

On Computing: New Tricks to Learn

Joel Howell

Article by Joel Howell Newsletter Editorial Board


There are always new tricks to learn in computing. This is a continuation of the last column on search tips that you can use with Google (and most any other search engine) and may not be aware of, with thanks to the Internet and PC Mag.

Ever done math in a search box? Whether you want to figure a tip for a meal or create a complex geographical rendering, Google search gives you the ability to do calculations directly in the search bar. For example, searching 34+7, 3 times 7, or 20% of $67.42 will prompt a calculator below the bar with the correct answer already filled in. You can also input “calculator” to input your own equations.

Super math nerds can create interactive 3D virtual objects (on desktop browsers that support WebGL) by plugging in an equation that uses “x” and “y” as free variables.

You can convert units You can input 38 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit, 10 ounces in pounds, and even 17.5 millimeters in light years. Google will not only answer but also provide an interactive conversion calculator for further converting.

Additionally, you can find up-to-date currency conversion rates without needing to know the official currency symbol ($, £, etc.) or ISO designator (i.e. USD for the US dollar or GBP for the British pound). Google’s algorithm is able to discern sentence-style queries to provide an answer, interactive chart, and a calculator for further conversions.

For example, a search for 38 dollars in Iceland returns the answer that (as of the search date) $38 is equal to 4,890.60 Icelandic Krona. A search for 1 bitcoin in dollars gives its current value. The convertor table will also include other crypto coins, like Ethereum and Dogecoin.

A Google search can define unfamiliar words (or two-word phrases) by typing the word or phrase followed by define/definition. This will prompt Google to return a card with the definition, pronunciation, and—when available—a detailed etymology. Sometimes Google will define the word inside the autocomplete box before you press Search.

Wondering where that delivery has gone? You can track (most) packages in your search bar. Just paste the tracking number into search and Google will recognize the carrier and display the package’s current status. A link will take you to the carrier’s official tracking page for more details.

Calculating time difference can be hard, so why not let Google do the work for you? Type time [any location], which could be the name of a country, city or (if it’s in the US) a ZIP code, to return a card with the up-to-date local time of your search. It beats having to calculate manually how many hours ahead or behind you are.

Want to to know when the sun will rise or set? Search sunrise or sunset and Google will give you the answer based on your device’s current location.

Get the weather in your area by typing weather. Autocomplete will give you today’s current forecast as you type, but a full search will present an interactive card with weather information for the location of your IP address, courtesy of The Weather Channel. If you’re traveling or just want to know what it’s like elsewhere, search weather [any location], e.g. weather Washington D.C. or weather London England.

Type in any publicly traded company’s ticker symbol and Google will present real-time price information on that company, e.g. GOOG(for Alphabet), AAPL (for Apple), or AMZN (for Amazon).

If you’re headed to the airport or picking someone up, type in a flight number and Google will return a card with a current arrival time and terminal/gate information. If you’re looking to book a flight, Google Flights can find the cheapest flights.

It’s almost impossible to keep track of what movies are streaming on which services, but Google does a valiant job of doing that for you. Just search for the movie or show you wish to watch, and a card will list all the video-streaming services that currently have it. Select the service and it will link you to a video on the web to help you keep track of all the stuff you want to watch, choose Watchlist to save it for later. You can later search my watchlist to review what you’ve saved.

Google has a host of built-in games and tools you can access by Googling them, including Pac-Man, Tic Tac Toe, Solitaire, Minesweeper, and Snake. Search flip a coin and Google will do it for you, same thing with a die or spinner. There is also a metronome, breathing exercise, and a color picker.

Search timer to get a five-minute timer (or stopwatch to time something). To change the interval to time, click and enter the desired time. Press Start. The countdown will continue even if you navigate to a new tab; and you’ll get a warning if you try to close the tab with the timer by accident. The remaining time will show on your browser tab; once it’s up, an alarm will sound, and the tab will display an hour-glass icon until you click OK to silence it.

How do you spell 6,546,345,645? Google can tell you if you search [number]=english. A card will show you that it’s six billion five hundred forty-six million three hundred forty-five thousand six hundred forty-five.

If you want to be notified whenever a keyword or topic is published on the web, create a Google Alert. Add the information you want to track, then customize the alert by determining how often you should be notified, what sources, language, and region should be included, how many results will be shown, and to what email address it should be. A preview will show you what the alert will look like with existing stories already indexed. From the main Alerts screen, you can manage all your results by having them sent at a certain time or all in one email.

You can protect children from explicit content with Google’s SafeSearch feature. From a search results page, click the gear icon on the top right and toggle the Explicit results filter option to on. Though Google admits it’s not 100% accurate, it’s intended to filter out explicit links, images, or video that may be deemed inappropriate for a younger audience.

Ever tried the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button? On Google’s homepage, type in a search term and click I’m Feeling Lucky to be taken to the first search result. It’s an effective way to save time when you know exactly what you’re looking for. However, Google added a new wrinkle that can help you find something else.

Before you type anything into Google, hover over the I’m Feeling Lucky button and the wording will change. It may change to “I’m Feeling Adventurous,” which will provide you with a coin to flip. “I’m Feeling Hungry” will Google nearby restaurants. “I’m Feeling Trendy” will show you recent Google trends. Every day there are new suggestions with different results.

Engineers like to have fun, too, and on Google, there are a number of search-related Easter eggs. Here are a few words or phrases to search if you want a surprise:

Wordle: Capitalizing on the current Wordle phenomenon, Google wordle for a logo inspired by the web game on the top left.

Anagram: Google will ask if you meant “Nag A Ram.”

Define anagram: Google will ask if you meant “nerd fame again.”

the answer to life the universe and everything: The answer is 42.

Askew: Your screen will tilt.

Bletchley Park: Google will decode the name under the Google Maps card.

Blink HTML: The words “HTML” and “blink” will blink on the search page.

Do a barrel roll or z or r twice: The screen will do a 360.

Festivus: A Festivus pole is added to the left side of the screen.

Google in 1998: Google will look like it did from back in the day.

Google logo history: Take a tour through the different iterations of the Google logo.

Marquee HTML: The number of search results will be displayed as a marquee sign.

Recursion: Google will ask if you meant “recursion.”

Sonic the Hedgehog game: An animated sprite of Sonic will appear in the search card. Click him for a surprise.

Super Mario. Bros. 1985: An animated sprite of a coin block will appear in the search card. Click it to grab a coin.

ebdriver torso: The Google logo will turn into colored blocks.

Questions or comments? Drop me an email: jwh3@mindspring.com