How Many Miles? -or- Weird Conversions Part 1

I love conversions and comparisons. How many ball bearings would it take to fill up the Empire State Building? If Jupiter was made entirely out of lead, how much smaller would it be?

Well, finally, the strange people at Wolfram (who are responsible for the ridiculously expensive and popular math software Mathematica), have created something to titillate this extremely weird and unproductive part of my soul. They call it Wolfram Alpha, and it is honestly a frightening piece of technology. You can, for example, ask it questions like “(mass of jupiter / density of lead),” and it will, in a flash, give you the answer. Which, as it turns out, is 167,400,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic meters. And, like an obedient child or an extremely well-trained German Shepherd, it also serves up the tidbit that this volume of lead would have a radius of 21,244 miles, which, the link Wolfram Alpha provides will gleefully tell you is about half the radius of Saturn.

Because I am a sad and lonely man, I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time punching numbers into this thing and seeing what kind of funny stuff comes out. I can, through a simple multi-step process involving some shadowy calculations that I feel compelled to trust without question (Wolfram Alpha, as an extra feature, apparently comes with hypnotism), find out how large a cube of uranium weighing the same as me would be (distressingly large, is the answer). But sometimes, it comes up with slightly odd comparisons. Something might, for example, be said to have 0.25 times the mass of Earth’s atmosphere. Or, this little gem, which has spawned what may or may not turn into a post series of strange conversions and comparisons:

Don’t you go sticking your nose into why I wanted to know what 45,000,000 times 3 centimeters was, just take note of the bit at the bottom. Wolfram Alpha very helpfully pointed out that the result is 0.84 times the number of miles the Proclaimers would walk to fall down at your door. Which is a reference to this:

Every other weird comparison I’ve gotten has been, well, weird, but not quite as weird as this. And now, because, as I mentioned earlier, I am a sad and lonely man, I’m off to stick a lot of other weird numbers into it to see if it will tell me more odd facts about Scottish bands. And if it doesn’t serve up a reference to Harry Chapin’s 30,000 Pounds of Bananas, I shall write a scathing letter of complaint.


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