The Things That Google Does

Now that Bing’s the thing, I have stumbled across some Google capabilities that I didn’t know existed. I have been using Google as my search engine of choice for many, many years but I had absolutely no idea it could do things other than search. So, without further ado, here’s a list of ways to have fun with Google …

Its a calculator …
Type (1+1)/0.5 into the search box, or even 36% of 134, or 2^8.
It Tells You the Weather Forecast …
Type weather:PO29JY, or weather London.
It Converts Units for You …
Type 100 parsecs in light years, 1 kg in pounds etc.
It’s a Capitalist’s Tool
Type stock MSFT, or even just a stock code e.g. VOD.
Don’t wake up Your Relatives Abroad …
time adelaide
Speak to Your Relatives Abroad
Answer the Ultimate Question …
Type this into the search box: the answer to life the universe and everything

I’ll bet there are many other useful features. Let me know if I’ve missed something!



While you are reading this blog, and in fact while you are doing most things on your computer, its Central Processing Unit (CPU) is doing next to nothing. It’s probably using only about 1%-5% of its computational ability. Wouldn’t it be great if you could put the CPU’s ‘idle time’ to good use? You won’t be surprised to learn that you can – and here’s how it works.

Academic research groups around the world frequently need access to very powerful supercomputers to perform very long calculations, or to run short calculations millions of times under slightly different conditions. Supercomputers are relatively few and far between – it’s difficult to book time on them, and expensive if you can.

This is where BOINC comes in. From your point of view, it’s a program that runs on your computer that allows scientific computation programs to run when your CPU would otherwise be idle. That’s about the nub of it: You and about a million others donate your idle CPU time to academic research groups.

There’s also a social side to it. You can choose which projects you want to use your idle CPU cycles. There are currently about 50 active projects, ranging from advanced cosmology simulations to computer experiments on protein molecule folding dynamics to give insight into disease such as cancer. All of the active projects have flourishing forums where you can chat to like-minded people (you’re all there because you have decided that project is worth supporting). There are also “crunching teams” you can join (e.g. BOINC UK), which themselves have active forums and usually have competitive “crunching drives” on the go – often against other teams in a spirit of, mostly, friendly competition.

Nice idea – how do I get started?

Simply download and install the BOINC software from the link below, then choose your projects.

BOINC – Compute for Science

BOINC always needs new contributors. I’ve been BOINCing for years – I hope you get into it as well, it’s very satisfying being able to provide practical support to projects you believe in.

Some links to further reading …

BOINC homepage at UC Berkeley
BOINC on Wikipedia

Some of my favourite projects …



Yogi Stereogram

Here’s an image I processed of the famous “Yogi” rock on Mars. The original images were taken by the Mars Pathfinder lander. Go cross-eyed whilst looking at the centre of the image to get the 3d effect.
This is my first ever stereogram and it’s made using exactly the same image for both sides of the “stereo input pair”, so it isn’t the best stereo image I have seen. I think I’ll have some more fun with this later and learn how to make good ones.
Thanks to these guys for the free software. And also to NASA et al for spending truly vast quantities of cash in order to take pictures of far-far away rocks (and other science stuff, of course).



Have you ever bought a budget airline ticket online for a bargain price, only to get to the payment page where you find all sorts of “extras”. You know, surcharges for outrageous, picky, requirements such as actually wanting to take your luggage on the plane, or taxes if, heaven forbid, you wish to disembark at your destination and walk on foreign soil. The next step will be to charge a variable amount, the final cost being presented to you on landing – based on the ups and downs of the oil markets while you were airborne.

Someone sent me this picture, which says it all.