Prior to releasing Wolfram|Alpha into the world this past May, we launched the Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Since our welcome message on April 28, we’ve made 133 additional posts covering Wolfram|Alpha news, team member introductions, and “how-to’s” in a wide variety of areas, including finance, nutrition, chemistry, astronomy, math, travel, and even solving crossword puzzles.
As 2009 draws to a close we thought we’d reach into the archives to share with you some of this year’s most popular blog posts.
Rack ’n’ Roll
Take a peek at our system administration team hard at work on one of the
many pre-launch projects. Continue reading…
The Secret Behind the Computational Engine in Wolfram|Alpha
Although it’s tempting to think of Wolfram|Alpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story. The thing that truly sets Wolfram|Alpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.
Why does computation matter? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers. Continue reading…
Live, from Champaign!
Wolfram|Alpha just went live for the very first time, running all clusters.
This first run at testing Wolfram|Alpha in the real world is off to an auspicious start, although not surprisingly, we’re still working on some kinks, especially around logging.
While we’re still in the early stages of this long-term project, it is really gratifying to finally have the opportunity to invite you to participate in this project with us. Continue reading…
Wolfram|Alpha Q&A Webcast
Stephen Wolfram shared the latest news and updates about Wolfram|Alpha and answered several users’ questions in a live webcast yesterday.
We’re really catching the holiday spirit here at Wolfram|Alpha.
We recently announced our special holiday sale for the Wolfram|Alpha app. Now we are launching our first-ever Wolfram|Alpha “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” contest.
Here’s how it works.
From tomorrow, Tuesday, December 22, through Saturday, January 2, we’ll use Twitter to give away a gift a day. Be the first to retweet our “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” tweet and you get the prize! You can double your chances to win by following and playing along with Wolfram Research.
Start following us today so you don’t miss your chance to win with our Wolfram|Alpha “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” contest.
When we launched Wolfram|Alpha in May 2009, it already contained trillions of pieces of information—the result of nearly five years of sustained data-gathering, on top of more than two decades of formula and algorithm development in Mathematica. Since then, we’ve successfully released a new build of Wolfram|Alpha’s codebase each week, incorporating not only hundreds of minor behind-the-scenes enhancements and bug fixes, but also a steady stream of major new features and datasets.
We’ve highlighted some of these new additions in this blog, but many more have entered the system with little fanfare. As we near the end of 2009, we wanted to look back at seven months of new Wolfram|Alpha features and functionality.
When astronomers observe a distant object in the universe, how do they know how far away it is? One method involves the object’s redshift.
What is redshift? It is a shift in the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation toward the longer-wavelength (red) end of the spectrum. Astronomers measure redshift by looking at the spectrum of light from a given distant object.
The assumption pod at the top indicates that Wolfram|Alpha has interpreted our “redshift” query as “cosmological redshift”. The “more” menu there lets you access alternate interpretations. More »
In the spirit of the holiday season, the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone & iPod touch will be on sale for US $19.99, starting December 11 (tomorrow) through December 31.
You can get it at the App Store.
And just for fun, here are some holiday-inspired nuggets of knowledge from Wolfram|Alpha:
- Eggnog turns out to be quite the guilty pleasure
- What the heck is frankincense, anyway?
- Did you know that Santa had a brief flash of popularity as a proper name?
- Koch snowflakes prove that the holidays can be pretty geeky after all.
- Where exactly are Santa Claus, the North Pole, and Christmas?
- Ever wonder about the taxonomy of the reindeer?
One of Wolfram|Alpha’s primary sources for medical test data is the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual survey of thousands of people, from throughout the United States, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Wolfram|Alpha’s presentation of this data is unique in that it doesn’t just report reference ranges, but allows you to see where your own measurements and test numbers fall within the survey’s distribution of results. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give advice, medical or otherwise.)
At the most basic level, an input of “cholesterol test” returns the survey’s distribution of total cholesterol values:
Psychrometry deals with the thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures. Air-water vapor mixtures are the most common systems studied because of their importance in heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and weather reporting.
Students of engineering are introduced to the subtleties of psychrometry in their thermodynamics courses. But we are all exposed to psychrometry any time we watch weather reports on television. Your favorite meteorologist probably speaks about the relative humidity, dry bulb temperature, and dew point temperature.
Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Computer Sciences John Erickson has long used Mathematica in his courses. So when he heard Wolfram Research was launching Wolfram|Alpha, which is built on Mathematica, he knew it would become a major resource for engaging students in mathematics.
Now with Wolfram|Alpha fully integrated into his courses, he says the site is “the best thing for education” because it helps him take his lessons beyond what’s covered in a typical textbook. In this video, he shares an example of how Wolfram|Alpha allows him to show real-world applications of the math he’s teaching.
Wolfram|Alpha has also been quite a hit with Professor Erickson’s students, who now use Wolfram|Alpha for all of their courses. They say it’s like having a “personal tutor” available at all times. In this video, they demonstrate why Wolfram|Alpha has become their go-to tool.
(January 15, 2014 Update: Step-by-step solutions has been updated! Learn more.)
Have you ever given up working on a math problem because you couldn’t figure out the next step? Wolfram|Alpha can guide you step by step through the process of solving many mathematical problems, from solving a simple quadratic equation to taking the integral of a complex function.
As you can see, Wolfram|Alpha can find the roots of quadratic equations. Wolfram|Alpha shows how to solve this equation by completing the square and then solving for x. Of course, there are other ways to solve this problem! More »
Teaching with technology and improving math and science education are becoming increasingly hot topics at school districts and campuses around the globe. For more than two decades, our company has been dedicated to promoting advances in education, so we are very excited by the growing focus on the “modern classroom”.
As part of our first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, we wanted to highlight the use of technology in education. We brought together teachers of all levels who use Wolfram technologies, including Wolfram|Alpha and Mathematica, to hear some of the lessons they’ve learned from integrating technology into their classes and to let them share some of their successes.
Noted journalist Elizabeth Corcoran led the panel discussion, which featured Debra Woods, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Abby Brown, a math teacher at Torrey Pines High School; and Maria Andersen, a math instructor at Muskegon Community College.
Part of the discussion focused on dispelling some of the myths about teaching with technology.
The panel also shared thoughts on whether teaching with technology increases student exploration, changes how students learn the fundamentals, and helps students make connections to real-world applications. More »
Last week we shared with you a highlight from Stephen Wolfram‘s keynote at the International Mathematica User Conference 2009. The highlight included a look at what’s in the research and development pipeline for Mathematica and future directions of Wolfram|Alpha.
In this final video of our series, Stephen shares how the developments of Wolfram|Alpha will be integrated with Mathematica. (For more of Stephen’s keynote, please see parts 1 and 2 on the Wolfram Blog and part 3, “Future Directions for Wolfram|Alpha,” here on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog.)
If you can’t see the video, please enable Flash in your browser or install the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.
Ah, fall! The signs of the season are all around us: the sounds of leaves rustling along the sidewalks, the smell of piping hot apple cider, and the sight of 12-pound pumpkins being hurled through the air at speeds upwards of 350mph. Yes—pumpkins!
Recently, we had an opportunity to participate in one pumpkin pastime that’s right up Wolfram|Alpha‘s alley. We’re not talking about pies here, we’re talking about the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation’s CUPunkin’Chuckin’ Challenge! Punkin’Chuckin’ is the art of hurling pumpkins (or multiple pumpkins) great distances with smartly engineered, often homemade, devices such as trebuchets and catapults. In a typical Punkin’Chuckin’ competition, the goal is simple—to go the distance, or in this case, to hit a city bus.
This is one competition you have to see to believe.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking. We want to build our own, too!
We’ve blogged quite a bit about Wolfram|Alpha’s nutritional data, and with Thanksgiving this week, U.S. users are probably already peppering us with queries like “turkey leg + mashed potatoes + gravy + cranberry sauce + stuffing + pumpkin pie.” But you probably didn’t know that you could go a little further up the food-supply chain now—all the way to the “turkey population of all countries,” if you’re so inclined—and see that Americans are clearly the biggest turkey-gobblers on the planet, with a livestock population of more than 270 million birds.
Our new data, which comes from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), covers worldwide populations of turkeys, chickens, sheep, pigs, and other livestock animals from 1961 to 2007… which lets you uncover some interesting trends. Ask Wolfram|Alpha about “chickens vs cows in the USA,” for example, and you’ll clearly see a dramatic half-century increase in chicken, while the cattle population has undergone a slight but steady decline. Or try comparing “chickens in US and China,” and you’ll see not only an even more dramatic growth in the Chinese chicken population, but also an equally dramatic drop in population between 1997 and 1998—when Chinese authorities ordered the slaughter of millions of chickens in response to the 1997 outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong.
And for all the smart alecks out there: yes, Wolfram|Alpha knows exactly what you mean when you ask, “How many turkeys are in Turkey?” Happy holidays!
Stephen Wolfram highlighted several future directions of Wolfram technologies during his keynote address at the International Mathematica User Conference 2009. Among them were new developments surrounding Wolfram|Alpha.
In the following video, Stephen outlines some of the directions in the works for Wolfram|Alpha and gives a sneak peek at one soon-to-be-released service.
One of those educators was an inspiring fourth grade teacher named Shannon Smith.
Shannon integrates Wolfram|Alpha into all of the subject areas that she teaches, from spelling and language to geography, science, and math.
In this video, she shares examples of how she utilizes Wolfram|Alpha and describes the advantages that she and her students get from incorporating it into her lesson plans.
Popular Science, the world’s largest science and technology magazine, has released its list of the top 100 innovations for 2009, and named Wolfram|Alpha as the “Best of What’s New” Grand Award winner in the category of computing. Popular Science states that all 100 innovations must “push past what we thought was possible,” and we are honored by that recognition.
Popular Science‘s article begins:
“A typical search engine is a reference librarian: Ask it a question and it suggests where to find the answer. Wolfram|Alpha, physicist and software guru Stephen Wolfram’s lifelong labor of love, is the impatient geek who overhears your query and leaps in with the answer.”
The entire text is on the Popular Science website.
The December 2009 issue of Popular Science, which hit newsstands on November 12, also features an in-depth profile on Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram and the process of building the computation engine that today holds more than ten trillion pieces of curated data. More »
Starting today, Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge, computed from expertly curated data, will enrich Bing’s results in select areas across nutrition, health, and advanced mathematics. Wolfram|Alpha provides immediate, unbiased, and individualized information, making it distinctly different from what has traditionally been found through web search. By using Wolfram|Alpha, Bing recognizes the complementary benefits of bringing computational knowledge to the forefront of the search experience.
By using our API, Bing will be able to seamlessly access the tens of thousands of algorithms and trillions of pieces of data from Wolfram|Alpha, and directly incorporate the computations in its search results.
Microsoft’s initiative and interest in Wolfram|Alpha began earlier this year. In fact, there is an interesting story that circulates within our walls around some of our early discussions with Microsoft.
Highlighting examples of Wolfram|Alpha to the most senior executives at Microsoft, Stephen Wolfram entered the query “2^2^2^2^2”. Upon seeing the result, Bill Gates interrupted to say, “What, is that right?”
A profound silence fell over the entire room.
Stephen replied, “We do mathematics!”
Amused, Stephen, Bill, and the other executives dissected the calculation and determined that the result was, indeed, correct. Microsoft continues to pepper us with questions to this day, reflecting its continued enthusiasm in Wolfram|Alpha.
We applaud Microsoft’s vision and foresight in augmenting their search with Wolfram|Alpha, and we look forward to a fulfilling and productive partnership.
We’ve just returned from our visit to Busan, Korea for the 3rd Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy. We had the pleasure of joining some 1500 people from over 130 countries to discuss this year’s theme, “Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life.” Our visit was quite productive, with many interesting discussions with people from around the world on statistics, Wolfram|Alpha, and Mathematica. We are honored that our booth at the Forum’s International Exhibition received a Visitors’ Choice Award based on visitors’ and exhibitors’ votes.
Wolfram Alpha LLC’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything; and democratize access to knowledge. The Forum provided an opportunity to engage in very interesting conversations with people and organizations from many developing and developed countries who have traditionally struggled with capturing, managing, and most importantly disseminating accurate statistical information to their different stakeholders. More »
We hope you had a chance to tune into the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day. We are still delighted by all of the excitement!
The 14-hour webcast was jam-packed with insightful demonstrations, thought-provoking interviews, interesting Q&A with the Wolfram|Alpha scholars, and much, much more. We’ve started uploading video highlights in case you missed parts or want to see them again.
Our host, Eric Hansen, kicked off the event with an interview with Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram.
Famous physicist and author Brian Greene joined us to talk about why this is such an exciting time for science and technology. More »
It’s been little over two weeks since the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch was released to the world on the App Store. During that time, the app has gained a substantial following, was listed as “What’s Hot” on the App Store, has ignited a passionate discussion over pricing and the viability of ambitious apps on the App Store, and has even had an unexpected bug fixed. It has been an exciting couple of weeks.
As noted in a couple of the App Store reviews, the initial release of the app wasn’t perfect. We’ve been developing commercial software for over 20 years, but despite this, it seems no matter how much effort one puts into testing, you’ll always find issues in the wild. Thanks in large part to immediate feedback through Twitter, this blog, and other blog posts about the Wolfram|Alpha App, we were able to narrow the issue down to an obscure bug in the auto-update mechanism for the in-app examples and immediately issue a fix by updating the way the Wolfram|Alpha API responds to the problematic queries. We agree with you: a $50 app should not crash.
The discussion on pricing has certainly been lively. I’d like to take a moment to respond to a number of questions that have popped up in the discussion.
Why not offer a free version of the app?
The Wolfram|Alpha website is the free version. You can access the website through Safari on the iPhone at no cost. You can even put a link to the Wolfram|Alpha web page on your home screen if you want.
If the website is free, why pay $50 for the app?
The website and the app offer different experiences in using Wolfram|Alpha. We’ve spent a great deal of time tuning the Wolfram|Alpha App for the specific needs of iPhone users. As has been observed by many, the changes aren’t dramatic. You get the exact same results from the website as you do from the app, and you have the same level and breadth of capability. We’re not limiting the website’s functionality to drive app sales. More »
Each October around here, as we stare into the seemingly endless bowls of “fun-size” Halloween candies, we tell ourselves, “Oh, it’s just a bite!” Chances are some of those tempting treats will be the always-popular Snickers candy bars. But have you ever wondered just how much “fun” there is in a fun-size Snickers candy bar compared to a full-size one? And by fun we mean all the fun nutrition such as calories, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and so on. Being that we’re in the holiday spirit (or at least in the mood to eat candy), we want to share some fun comparisons for the Snickers bar we found in Wolfram|Alpha’s nutrition database.
Let’s enter the query, “Compare 1 fun size snickers v 1 regular snickers bar.” The output page shown below provides individual nutrition labels for the fun-size bar and the full-size bar, followed by comparison pods highlighting the difference in mean values and the percentages of daily recommended values for calories, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and sterols. It will also provide you with a comparison of the physical mass.
Click the image to see a full breakdown:
The Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch popped up on the App Store’s “What’s Hot” list today. We are delighted that Apple selected the app to be featured, recognizing the intense interest and excitement being shown in Wolfram|Alpha.
We were pleasantly surprised, too, to see the Wolfram|Alpha App appear on the store’s “Top Grossing” list on the second day it was available and remain there through the week. We’ve also been thrilled by the positive feedback from those who have purchased the app, visible in the reviews on the App Store.
If you haven’t seen the app yet, check it out.
It’s now been a week since the first version of the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch was released, and we’re excited to see how people are using it.
Our excitement was heightened by the opportunity to showcase the Wolfram|Alpha App at our Homework Day event and by the surprise of discovering—right in the middle of Homework Day—that there were reports of the app crashing unexpectedly. More »
A few months back we introduced our blog readers to Wolfram|Alpha’s chemistry data, and we thought it would be fitting to have a Chemistry 101 review blog post for Homework Day. Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of chemistry data, and provides you with rapid and accurate computations at the simple push of a button. Wolfram|Alpha is an incredible learning tool for new chemistry students looking for ways to learn and test their knowledge of chemistry basics. Many of the topic areas found in an introductory or basic chemistry course syllabus can be explored in Wolfram|Alpha.
Need to compute how many moles are in 5 grams of iron? Query “how many moles are in 5 grams of iron?“, and Wolfram|Alpha quickly computes your input and returns a result, along with unit conversions.
Whether you are an astronomy student, an educator, or a hobbyist with an eye to the sky, Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource for exploring astronomy data. A while back we posted an introduction to using Wolfram|Alpha to compute and explore properties and locations for objects and events in our solar system. Since then we’ve added a new set of data we’d like to share: solar system features.
Ever wanted to explore the solar system? If so, you might like to take a look at a new set of data available on Wolfram|Alpha: the complete catalog of over 14,000 officially recognized and named solar system features maintained by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Each feature includes not only its name, but also what type of feature it is, what astronomical body it’s on, and its surface coordinates. For most named features, Wolfram|Alpha also includes a surface map showing where it is located on its parent body. Let’s go exploring!
It’s been an exciting afternoon here at the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day—and the day is just getting started. We will be broadcasting live from the Homework Day website until 2am U.S. CDT. Our host, University of Illinois and University of Syracuse Adjunct Professor Eric Hansen, kicked the show off with a live interview with Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram.
Shannon Smith and her mother Nancy Brachbill, the teachers behind Recess TEC, joined us for live demonstrations and interviews about how they are using Wolfram|Alpha in their 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms. Learn more about Nancy and Shannon in our earlier blog post.
We’ve also had the opportunity to interact with students, educators, and parents at the Dell-sponsored Internet Cafe:
When we were preparing for Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, a tweet from @mwarntzen caught our attention: “just learned how to use an abacus while messing around on Wolfram|Alpha.” It brought smiles to our faces to think about this ancient tool being explored with our modern-day technology, and to think about how learning tools have evolved.
The abacus was developed as a counting tool long before the time of calculators. More modern versions of the abacus are wooden frames with rows of beads used for counting. Query “abacus” in the computation bar, and Wolfram|Alpha will return an abacus page (as shown below). You can enter a number, and Wolfram|Alpha will show you how the number would appear on a modern Chinese abacus. More »
If you’re writing an essay for history or a speech for debate class, Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource. It has an enormous words and linguistics database that you can use for such things as word definitions, and word origins, synonyms, and hyphenation. Wolfram|Alpha can even compute the number of pages a given text might produce based on the number of words it contains, such as “500 words in French”. Wolfram|Alpha also has the ability to compute details such how long it should take you to type, read, and deliver that 500-word speech you’ve been preparing.
Type “word contest”, and Wolfram|Alpha will retrieve the word data for the English word “contest”. The results tell you many definitions of the word, that its first known recorded use was in 1603, that it rhymes with “conquest”, and a wealth of other data on just that word. More »
We want to introduce you to a mother-daughter team who will be joining us for the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day to share their passion for advancing educational technology in the classroom.
Shannon Smith and her mother, Nancy Brachbill have more than 30 years of combined teaching experience, and are working hard to integrate technology into their 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms on a daily basis. Through their company Recess TEC, they strive to help other educators do the same. They have been involved in countless hours of various educational technology programs to gain a full understanding of what continually engages students.
The first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day is here! We’re so pleased that you’ve stopped by to join us. This groundbreaking live marathon event runs from noon until 2am U.S. CDT, and is being broadcast live on the Homework Day website. Please visit the site to see the event, browse the program highlights, send your questions to be answered by members of the Wolfram|Alpha team, and even submit your homework examples to be showcased live on the air.
We’re just hours away from the start of the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, and we thought we’d give you a sneak peak of the Dell-sponsored Homework Day Cafe. This groundbreaking, marathon webcast will be broadcast live from the Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day website beginning at noon U.S. CDT, on October 21. Visit the site now to submit your questions and homework examples!
There’s a lot going on in the Wolfram|Alpha project these days—and this week there’s a remarkable convergence of events.
Late last week we introduced the Wolfram|Alpha Webservice API, allowing outside developers to call Wolfram|Alpha from their websites or application programs.
Then yesterday we released the first mobile implementation of Wolfram|Alpha, in the form of an iPhone app.
Tomorrow, we’re doing something completely different: Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day—a 14-hour live webcast event for students and educators.
In case you yet haven’t yet heard: the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch is now available. An enormous amount of effort went into creating this app. Thanks to the entire team for all your work.
The news broke last night and has continued today on many different sites: Mashable, Mobile Tech Addicts, Gizmodo, Rafe’s Radar on CNET, Search Engine Land, Download Squad, Daring Fireball, and many others. We certainly liked hearing…
“The mathematical and scientific information is really outstanding and it’s pretty mind-blowing the sorts of data you can extrapolate and the sorts of information that you can get back. Ultimately, this app showcases the very real potential Wolfram|Alpha has.” Christina Warren, Mashable
“I found in testing it over the weekend that I would be much more inclined to use the iPhone version than the online version of the engine. I would even say it was more ‘fun.’” Greg Sterling, Search Engine Land
“The app does the kind of high-level math that would make Texas Instruments weep. If you’re a student or someone in a math-intensive technical field, it might rock your world.” Jay Hathaway, Download Squad
“…I’m glad they’ve set the price high. There’s widespread consensus that the current race-to-the-bottom in App Store pricing discourages the development of deep, significant applications.” John Gruber, Daring Fireball
Program highlights for the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, which begins at noon U.S. CDT on Wednesday, October 21, 2009, are now on the Homework Day website. We’re very excited by the amount of enthusiasm that students, parents, and educators are generating about this groundbreaking live web event, which aims to solve your toughest assignments and explore the power of using Wolfram|Alpha for school, college, and beyond.
You’re invited to tune in to the event at any time throughout the day. Here are just a few of the highlights we have planned for you:
- A special Homework Day welcome from Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram
- Live interviews, demonstrations, and vibrant panel discussions with educators
- A thought-provoking in-depth conversation with an internationally known actor and education advocate
- Live Q&A with members of the Wolfram|Alpha team tackling your toughest questions
- A fun science experiment from our very own mad scientist Theodore Gray
You can see more of our program highlights on the Homework Day website. While you’re there, find out how you can contribute your questions and examples today!
On behalf of the Wolfram|Alpha API team, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Wolfram|Alpha Webservice API.
The response to Wolfram|Alpha and the interest from the community in using the API to build innovative computational knowledge applications has been staggering. Since Wolfram|Alpha launched in May, developers anticipating the release of the API have been sending us their ideas for how they want to use Wolfram|Alpha in their applications. I stopped counting after the 2000th idea crossed my desk. Overwhelmingly, developers see Wolfram|Alpha as a platform for building a business—providing commercial services that leverage Wolfram|Alpha’s unique capabilities.
We’ve seen interest across a wide range of areas for which the developer community wants to use Wolfram|Alpha—researching cancer through computational biology, augmenting web and meta-web search with computed knowledge, enriching online journalism with interactive content, building artificial intelligence systems on our domain expertise, leveraging our data analysis for decision support, optimizing renewable-energy efficiency, and even determining the optimal temperature for draft beer based on the current weather conditions. Clearly, a straightforward API that enables applications to access advanced computations based on trusted information and backed up by a supercomputer-class infrastructure invites developers to explore ideas that were not otherwise possible.
The API is the first of many products and services within the growing Wolfram|Alpha developer ecosystem, from computed data services to GUI-based tools for building interactive web applications that seamlessly integrate into your website.
The API allows your application to interact with Wolfram|Alpha much like you do on the web—you send a web request with the same query string you would type into Wolfram|Alpha’s query box and you get back the same computed results. It’s just that both are in a form your application can understand. There are plenty of ways to tweak and control the results, as well. You can read all about that in the documentation.
The Wolfram|Alpha developer community has already proved itself to be as involved and imaginative as any. There are two ways to get started and become a part of this vibrant community. First, you can register for an API account and explore and experiment on your own. Or, if you’ve got the next Big Idea(TM), let me know. Let’s see what fresh and ingenuous ways we can apply computational knowledge and change the world.
Thanks to our early Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day participants, we are pleased to announce that a submissions gallery is now live on the Homework Day website. Please visit the site and view some of the sampling of interesting questions and work that have been submitted. Some of the posted works include questions, courseware, and lesson plans for astronomy, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry, geology, history, physics, and writing. If you haven’t already done so, please consider submitting your questions and examples for Homework Day!
This first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day is set to begin at noon U.S. CDT, on October 21. So swing by the Homework Day Website and learn how to submit your contributions today!
We are pleased to announce that Dell, Inc. will be a principal sponsor of the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day on October 21, 2009.
Dell, whose hardware system helped power the launch of Wolfram|Alpha this May, is sponsoring Homework Day’s Internet Cafe. During the multi-hour live web event, the Internet Cafe will allow on-site participants to interact and use Dell laptops to explore Wolfram|Alpha’s computational knowledge engine as a cutting-edge learning tool in education.
During Homework Day, scholars, experts, and members of the Wolfram|Alpha team will help participants take on a wide variety of subjects, for K–12 to college and beyond.
Students and educators are invited to submit homework questions and examples to be answered by members of the Wolfram|Alpha team, and showcase how they’ve already been using Wolfram|Alpha to bring their homework to life. Please visit http://homeworkday.wolframalpha.com to learn how you can submit your questions and work examples today. People can tune in to see if their submissions are shown.
Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day begins at noon U.S. CDT on October 21, 2009. The live webcast can be viewed on the Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day site. Students, educators, and parents are invited to interact with each other and the Wolfram|Alpha team via Homework Day chat, Twitter, and Facebook.
We are very pleased by the level of excitement and enthusiasm for the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, being held on October 21, 2009, beginning at noon U.S. CDT. We’re receiving interesting questions about how Wolfram|Alpha can be used to solve your toughest assignments, and submissions from students and educators highlighting how they are already using Wolfram|Alpha to enhance the learning experience. There’s still time for you to get your submission in to be addressed during the live webcast by our team of experts.
What types of examples are Homework Day participants submitting?
- Homework questions in any subject area that could benefit from the computable knowledge that Wolfram|Alpha can generate—math, science, history, social studies, geography, languages, and more!
- Videos and screencasts that show how they’re using Wolfram|Alpha
- Lesson plans and homework activities that incorporate Wolfram|Alpha
Selected Homework Day submissions may be eligible to receive a Wolfram|Alpha T-shirt. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to showcase your work during Homework Day. Visit the Homework Day website to get started!
The barcode’s 57th birthday is being celebrated this week all around the web. People really took notice of this event. And why wouldn’t they? From books to food to clothing, barcodes have found their place on just about every manufactured item we consume.
The system was invented by Norman J. Woodland and Bernard Silver, and was later honed by David Collins, as a way to track and catalog items. The barcode is an optical binary encoding system that was designed to be fault tolerant so that it can be scanned from a variety of distances and angles. It’s also designed so that the directionality is never ambiguous, and most barcodes have some kind of check digits or characters to improve accuracy (in Wolfram|Alpha, click “Show details” to see the encoded form and the check characters). First applied as a way to identify railroad cars, barcodes came into wide use after the laser and the computer were more developed. More »
For active investors, the fast-paced nature of the trading floor requires having tools available to make confident decisions in a timely manner. Wolfram|Alpha offers a collection of money and finance tools ideal for finance professionals and personal finance matters. This data flows into Wolfram|Alpha in real time, providing traders with computation results in charts and graphs. In this post, we’ll look at a variety of ways Wolfram|Alpha can compute and present stock data.
Let’s start with the basics. Simply enter the name of a stock, such as Starbucks or its ticker symbol SBUX, into the computation bar. Wolfram|Alpha retrieves and analyzes both real-time and historical data, and presents the output in category pods. The pods display information such as the stock’s current value at last trade, its value at open and close, and range for that trading period. The “Fundamentals and financials” pod displays information such as the stock’s market share, revenue, number of employees, dividends, and more. Change the “Fundamentals” option on the right side of the pod to see additional information, including ratios, balance sheets, and income and cash flow statements.
Join us on Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at noon CDT, for the start of Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, a groundbreaking marathon live interactive web event that brings together students, parents, and educators from across the United States to solve their toughest assignments and explore the power of using Wolfram|Alpha for school, college, and beyond.
The multi-hour event will be broadcast live on our new Homework Day website. You can interact with Wolfram|Alpha team members and other Homework Day participants via Homework Day chat, Facebook, and Twitter.
If you caught Monday night’s Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers American football game, then you certainly noticed the new Cowboys Stadium, which is one of the largest domed stadiums and has the largest single-span roof structures in the world. As a tribute to this monumental building, we want to take a moment to point out some of the cool comparisons that Wolfram|Alpha computes automatically whenever you type in a specific measurement or quantity.
The stadium’s roof, for example, measures 660,800 square feet. Type that figure into Wolfram|Alpha, and you’ll discover that it’s just slightly larger than another, possibly more familiar monument:
Each exterior arch of the stadium weighs 3,255 tons, which Wolfram|Alpha instantly computes as measuring a little bit more than the space shuttle’s launch mass, but just one-quarter of the mass of trash produced each day in New York City, or one-ninth the mass of the Titanic:
And those arches are an incredible 292 feet tall—greater than the length of a Boeing 747-400, and just shy of the length of the football field they cover:
For virtually any measurement or conversion query, Wolfram|Alpha will return a variety of dynamically computed comparisons like these. Try out a few of your own (like your age, height, and weight, for example) and let us know if you get any surprising results.
Yesterday an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.0 struck the South Pacific, near the Samoan islands. Wolfram|Alpha’s earthquake feed immediately brought information on that quake into the system, and continues to pick up data on aftershocks in the region. Here’s the latest 24-hour view of earthquake activity within 250 miles of Upolu, one of the Samoan islands devastated by the resulting tsunami.
(The image below reflects activity within the 24 hours before this post was written; click the image for current information.)
That earthquake in the South Pacific was the largest quake in the past 24 hours, but not the only one. Today there have been several other major quakes near Indonesia, including one of magnitude 7.6, and smaller quakes near China.
(The image below reflects worldwide earthquake activity within the 24 hours before this post was written; click the image for current information.)
Thanks for participating and submitting great questions. We look forward to sharing more with you in future web events.
We like to demonstrate ways Wolfram|Alpha can be a helpful tool for everyone. Today we’d like to share a cool feature Wolfram|Alpha users are talking about on the web. The Retirement Savior blog posted an item on Wolfram|Alpha describing how it can be used to calculate your retirement investments.
Wolfram|Alpha’s investment-returns calculator prompts you to describe your current investment strategy. Once you submit your query, Wolfram|Alpha will provide you with a number of results such as a linear chart depicting investment value projection scenarios, pie charts of resource allocation, a bar graph that allows you to easily compare the distribution of ages at which the account balance would reach zero, and a table displaying projections of your portfolio’s value at various ages. More »
Thank you for participating. A recording of today’s webcast will be available soon on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog.
Whether it’s Wolfram|Alpha, Mathematica, or A New Kind of Science, Stephen Wolfram is a man of big ideas. And this Thursday, September 17, at 2pm U.S. CDT, he will be sharing some of his thoughts, and taking your questions during a live webcast on justin.tv.
If you have a question you’d like to ask Stephen, please send it as a comment to this blog post or tweet to @Wolfram_Alpha. We’ll also be taking questions live on the justin.tv chat during the webcast.
Thanks again for all of your interest and support. We look forward to sharing this live webcast with you.
So you have more Facebook friends than anyone else on campus, the quad is a place where everyone knows your name, and you just happened to ace your business and marketing courses—it sounds like you are the perfect fit for a Wolfram|Alpha marketing internship. We’ve launched this challenging new internship program for talented and ambitious students just like you. It’s an opportunity for you to engage in immediate, real-world marketing experiences, testing out cutting-edge and traditional strategies and methods.
The semester-long internship program will be conducted on college campuses across the United States. The program integrates academic theory and scenario-based practice that puts you in the position of making mid-level business decisions, analyzing marketing campaign results, and reflecting on your campaigns. (Your professors will love this!) More »
We know college is hard. So we’re highlighting examples of how Wolfram|Alpha can make subjects and concepts a bit easier to learn. Wolfram|Alpha is a free computational knowledge engine that can help you tackle everything from calculus, to computing the number of pages for a double-spaced 1000-word essay, to comparing the flash points of methane, butane, and octane, to figuring just how much money it’s going to cost you to drive home to do your laundry. Check out a quick introduction to Wolfram|Alpha from its creator, Stephen Wolfram.
We want to help you take full advantage of this resource. Over the next term, we’ll be highlighting helpful computations and information here on the blog, and even providing ways you can get involved with our company. (Would you like to be a part of the Wolfram|Alpha Team on your campus? Stay tuned to find out how you can be involved.) For this post we selected several of our favorite examples to help you start thinking about how you can use Wolfram|Alpha in your courses, and in your always-changing college life. More »
We use this blog to provide helpful tips on using Wolfram|Alpha. So when a relevant screencast caught our eye on Twitter—”Wolfram|Alpha for Calculus Students,” produced by Robert Talbert, PhD, an associate professor of mathematics and computing science at Franklin College—we wanted share it with you. We think his straightforward video is a great demonstration of just how valuable Wolfram|Alpha is for students. In the screencast, Professor Talbert discusses the concept of Wolfram|Alpha, and illustrates how it solves problems such as factoring or expanding expressions, solving quadratic equations, and more.
The screencast covers just a few of the ways educators and students are using Wolfram|Alpha. Are you an instructor who has found innovative ways to incorporate Wolfram|Alpha into your lesson plans? Or are you a student using Wolfram|Alpha to assist in your studies? You can join others having these conversations on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site.
We are pleased to announce the arrival of the new and improved Wolfram|Alpha Community site. As Wolfram|Alpha‘s vibrant community has grown, we’ve received helpful feedback, and it was clear that you needed a more expandable platform for sharing ideas and interacting.
The new Community site enables you to talk to each other and share relevant and interesting content. We created some starter groups based on topics we’ve already seen arise around Wolfram|Alpha. If you don’t see the group you are looking for, feel free to post it in the Community. We also created forums for general feedback, including ideas and suggestions, bugs, and how-to’s, so that you can propose and discuss changes and ideas.
In the new Wolfram|Alpha Community you can track individual posts more easily, create polls, send messages to other users, and see who else is online. You can also select views, such as unanswered posts, most active posts, or posts new since your last login. Members can also see a detailed User Panel that lets them view their posting statistics and share contact information with other members.
If you are already a member of the Community, you will receive an email containing a new password, which you can change upon logging in to the new Community site. If you want to become a member, simply go to the Community and select “register” to create a profile so you can begin posting.
We hope that the Wolfram|Alpha Community can continue to be the hub for discussion about Wolfram|Alpha. We would like the thank the active members who have made the Community a success, and invite you to join it if you haven’t already done so!
The amount of activity that takes place here on planet Earth is at times unfathomable. But it’s the merest drop in the bucket in comparison to the boundless amounts of activity in our universe—Earth is merely one planet within the Milky Way Galaxy. Most deep-sky objects cannot be seen by the naked eye, but observers looking through a telescope are treated to views of colorful clusters of light and fuzzy clouds of gas in the sky. Here we’ll demonstrate ways Wolfram|Alpha can help you find deep-sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters—our universe has about 100 billion member galaxies, and with so many, it’s nice to have a place to start.
Querying “galaxies” in Wolfram|Alpha will produce a list of some of the brightest as seen from Earth. Let’s compare the properties of the galaxies NGC 7544 and the nearby M 83 (well, only 15.78 million light years away). Wolfram|Alpha provides information including their approximate distance from Earth, Hubble type, apparent magnitude, equatorial position, and position in the sky and visibility from your current location. Keep in mind that object distances may not be available for all objects; one of the great mysteries of astronomy is that distance is notoriously difficult to determine except in special cases. More »
In an earlier post, we had some fun with Wolfram|Alpha’s popular collection of name data and its ability to compare given names’ popularity and demonstrate historical naming trends. Wolfram|Alpha can also compute statistics for surnames, rank them in order of commonality, and provide the approximate number of people living in the United States with any last name.
The data Wolfram|Alpha uses to compute surname statistics is largely drawn from name results from the U.S. Census. The United States is sometimes referred to as a “melting pot” because of the number of people who move to it from all corners of the world, bringing and melding their native cultures. Because of this, surnames found in the U.S. have origins from all over the world.
In this example below, we compare a set of random surnames. Take a guess at the most common surname in the U.S. Yes, it’s Smith. According to Wolfram|Alpha there are approximately 2.376 million Smiths living in the U.S.—that’s almost the population of Nevada.
Time just named Wolfram|Alpha as one of the 50 best websites of 2009. We are delighted to receive this recognition in just our first 100 days. According to journalist Adam Fisher, “Clear out your bookmarks. You’re going to need the space for 50 offerings that are indispensable….”
“Today’s search whiz kid is Stephen Wolfram, one of the biggest brains on the planet—and he’s got the new idea. Wolfram has developed a search engine that can actually understand your questions and try to figure out answers. It takes some doing to learn how to talk to Wolfram|Alpha, but it’s well worth it. If the sci-fi writers are right and the Internet does gain a consciousness of its own someday, we’ll all blame Wolfram.”“The 50 Best Websites of 2009,”
As Stephen Wolfram wrote last week, we’ve been very busy since Wolfram|Alpha’s public launch. We’re constantly working toward our ultimate goal of making all of the world’s knowledge computable, and while we’ve got quite a way to go, we already have many trillion pieces of information available—something of value for everyone.
Thank you for your continued support and feedback. We hope you enjoy Wolfram|Alpha.
So what’s been happening with Wolfram|Alpha this summer? A lot!
At a first glance, the website looks pretty much as it did when it first launched—with the straightforward input field. But inside that simple exterior an incredible amount has happened. Our development organization has been buzzing with activity all summer. In fact, it’s clear from the metrics that the intensity is steadily rising, with things being added at an ever-increasing rate.
Wolfram|Alpha was always planned to be a very long-term project, and paced accordingly. We pushed very hard to get it launched before the summer so that we could spend the “quiet time” of our first summer steadily enhancing it, before more people start using it more intently in the fall.
Two really great things have happened as a result of actually getting Wolfram|Alpha launched. The first is that we’ve discovered that there’s a huge community of people out there who want to help the mission of Wolfram|Alpha. And we’re steadily ramping up our mechanisms for those people to contribute to the project. More »
On Monday, we kicked off our series on using Wolfram|Alpha for chemistry in honor of the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2009 National Meeting & Exposition, taking place in Washington, DC, USA this week. In this post, we begin to break down chemistry topics by taking a look Wolfram|Alpha’s collection of chemical element data. If you are attending the meeting, stop by the Wolfram Research booth, #2101, for a personal introduction to Wolfram|Alpha and the technology behind it.
The periodic table and its elements can be viewed as the foundation for building your knowledge and understanding of chemistry. Wolfram|Alpha defines a chemical element as any of the more than 100 known substances that cannot be separated into simpler substances and that singly or in combination constitute all matter. Currently, there are 118 commonly recognized elements, 92 of which occur naturally, and the others synthetically. The periodic table is organized in 18 columns (called groups) and 7 rows (called periods). Elements are arranged in the table based on their atomic weight.
In Wolfram|Alpha you can retrieve data for a chemical element in a number of ways, such as by name, symbol, atomic number, or a specific class, such as radioactive elements. In this example we query “hydrogen” and quickly learn from the basic elemental properties pod that it has an atomic number of one, which places it in the first position on the periodic table. We also learn its symbol, atomic weight, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties, abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers. Click the image to explore more properties of hydrogen.
This week the American Chemical Society (ACS) is holding its Fall 2009 National Meeting & Exposition in Washington, DC, USA. In honor of professional chemists, educators, and students, we’re celebrating chemistry this week. If you are attending the meeting and would like a personal introduction to Wolfram|Alpha or the technology behind it, drop by the Wolfram Research booth, #2101.
Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of chemistry data, and provides you rapid computations that ensure accuracy and save time. Wolfram|Alpha is also an incredible learning tool, especially for new chemistry students looking for ways to learn, understand, compare, and test their knowledge of chemistry basics. Many of the topic areas found on an introductory or advanced course syllabus can be explored in Wolfram|Alpha.
Need to compute how many moles are in 5 grams of iron? Query “how many moles are in 5 grams of iron?”, and Wolfram|Alpha quickly computes your input and returns a result, along with unit conversions.
With Wolfram|Alpha you can explore additional areas of basic chemistry such as computing a unit conversion, referencing chemical elements, ions, chemical compounds, thermodynamics, quantities of chemicals, and chemical solutions.
In Wednesday’s blog post we will break down chemistry topic areas and explore how Wolfram|Alpha can help you work through specific exercises, such as identifying and comparing classes of chemical elements, calculating thermodynamics, preparing solutions, converting units, and stoichiometry. Are you a professional who is using Wolfram|Alpha in your research today? Are you an instructor who has incorporated Wolfram|Alpha into your classroom, or a student who is using it to prepare for your chemistry courses? Share your experiences with other chemistry enthusiasts having this conversation on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site.
Does this summer seem hotter than last year’s? Are you debating between a trip to Miami or Florence in the springtime? Or perhaps heading to Tokyo in November, and wondering how to pack? Wolfram|Alpha has a number of helpful tools to answer your weather questions, by retrieving current conditions, forecasts, and historical data from weather stations located all over the world.
For example, simply enter “weather” into the computation bar, and Wolfram|Alpha’s geoIP capabilities identify your approximate location and produce the latest records from your nearest weather station. The “Latest recorded weather” pod may feature information like the current temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and conditions, such as clear, thunderstorms, or fog. Go ahead and click here to give it a try for your area.
Whether you are an astronomy student or just interested in learning more about those points of light in our sky, Wolfram|Alpha contains star data that will help you get started and understand what you’re seeing up there. Wolfram|Alpha not only charts the stars from your location, but offers detailed information including their distance from Earth, color, size, and much more.
To figure out which stars are the most visible to you, simply enter “10 brightest stars“. The query’s results indicate that the brightest stars as seen from Earth are the Sun, Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Rigel Kentaurus A, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, and Betelgeuse. Pods show comparisons of the stars’ size, their equilateral locations, and their locations in the current sky (not necessarily the night sky—unless you specify a time/location, Wolfram|Alpha assumes the current time from your current location).
Are you interested in learning more about Mathematica—the powerful technology engine that makes Wolfram|Alpha possible, from its advanced computational algorithms to web deployment? We are pleased to announce that the International Mathematica User Conference 2009 will be held October 22–24 in Champaign, Illinois, USA. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about Mathematica to meet and hear from Mathematica users from around the globe and all walks of life.
If you’d like to learn more about Mathematica and all it brings to Wolfram|Alpha, we’d love to see you at this year’s conference. Please visit the Wolfram Blog for more details.
We have heard from many people who are interested in learning more about calculating their daily food intake in Wolfram|Alpha. If you have been following our posts on how to use Wolfram|Alpha to help achieve your nutritional and wellness goals, this will be easy as apple pie.
Our data curators have been busy working on over 7,000 food entities that are listed in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and other food databases. Currently, they’re adding additional brand-name and specialty food items. Once a food entity is placed into Wolfram|Alpha’s nutrition bank, rules and algorithms are applied to help categorize it by typical attributes (e.g. raw, boiled), units (e.g. cups, tablespoons), and unique serving forms (e.g. slices, pieces). As a result of these categorizations, when you enter a food item such as “strawberries” into the site’s computation bar, Wolfram|Alpha computes a breakdown of total calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, and other particular nutrients based on standard serving sizes (units) and attributes.
Now let’s get started! For this example, a member of our team tracked her food intake yesterday to be computed for the world to see.
Breakfast: egg + bacon + strawberries
Lunch: turkey breast meat + 2 slices of whole-wheat bread + mustard + grapes
Snack: Snickers candy bar
Dinner: McDonald’s McChicken sandwich + McDonald’s French fries
As Wolfram|Alpha defaults to one unit serving, we only need to enter units if she consumed more than one serving.
“egg + bacon + strawberries + turkey breast meat + 2 slices whole-wheat bread + mustard + grapes + Snickers + McChicken + McDonald fries” More »
A trip to the doctor’s office can sometimes leave patients with more questions than answers, specifically if their doctor has requested they undergo medical tests. Wolfram|Alpha is a helpful reference for understanding what the tests measure and how to interpret the results. Wolfram|Alpha allows you to query information on a specific medical test or a panel of tests, compare tests and results for patients with specific characteristics, compute your estimated risk for heart disease, and find the diagnosis corresponding to an ICD-9 code. Wolfram|Alpha can take into account specific patient characteristics like gender, age, smoker, non-smoker, pregnant, diabetic, obese, and underweight. Wolfram|Alpha can give you a snapshot of available data that might help you understand how your results compare to others’. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give any advice, medical or otherwise.)
First we will demonstrate how you can use Wolfram|Alpha to learn more about a specific type of test your doctor has ordered. By entering the name of the test into Wolfram|Alpha, such as “CBC”, we can learn what the test measures. In this case, the test measures the number of cells commonly found in a blood sample, such as red blood cells and platelets.
Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of astronomy data on many areas of our universe, such as objects within our solar system and in the deep sky, constellations, and computational astronomy, making it a handy resource for astronomers, students, and hobbyists. Some of the most intriguing space activity takes place right here at home, inside of our own solar system. Wolfram|Alpha makes computations and explores properties and locations for objects and events in our solar system, such as the sun, planets, planetary moons, minor planets, comets, eclipses, meteor showers, sunrise and sunset, and solstices and equinoxes. You can query any one of these objects or phenomena, and learn information such as their position in the sky relative to your location, size, or distance; their next occurrence; and much more.
Wolfram|Alpha automatically assumes your geographic location based on your IP address, which is handy when querying for the time and location of an upcoming sky event. For instance, a quick “lunar eclipse” query in Wolfram|Alpha tells us that, for our location in Champaign, Illinois, the next one will occur on August 5, 2009 at 7:38pm U.S. Central Daylight Time and will be penumbral, which means the moon will enter the Earth’s penumbra (the outer part of its shadow), resulting in an apparent darkening of the moon. A penumbral eclipse is often hard to see because the penumbra isn’t very dark.
Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource for writers. It has an enormous words and linguistics database that writers can use for such things as word definitions, origins, synonyms, hyphenation, and Soundex lookups.
Type “word contest”, and Wolfram|Alpha will retrieve the word data for the English word “contest”. The results tell you many definitions of the word, that its first known recorded use was in 1603, that it rhymes with “conquest”, and a wealth of other data on just that word.
We are continuing to demonstrate ways you can use Wolfram|Alpha’s nutrition and wellness data, with helpful input tips and examples. In this example we are talking about how to use Wolfram|Alpha to make smart food choices. A variety of nutritional factors may be of importance depending on your dietary needs and wellness goals, which is why Wolfram|Alpha goes further than just providing the total number of calories in a food item.
Whether you are concerned about monitoring your total fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, or other nutrients, Wolfram|Alpha can provide you with this information for an individual food item, a meal, or a comprehensive calculation of your daily diet. In this post we’ll demonstrate how to calculate and compare the nutritional values of two food items. More »
Many of our world’s advancements can be attributed to the evolution of communication mediums and styles. Today we can tweet a message in 140 characters or less around the world in a matter of seconds. But long before the days of the radio, telephone, the fax machine, and email there was the original text message—Morse code. And Wolfram|Alpha can translate a string of characters to and from Morse code.
Morse code was introduced to the world over 160 years ago, when Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail invented a telegraph that when triggered by electrical pulses made indentions in a paper tape with a stylus. They also developed a code of short dots and long dashes to represent letters, numbers, and special characters, allowing messages to be sent via those indentions. The sounds produced when the telegraph processed the electrical pulses became so familiar that adept users could translate the code by sounds, and the code would eventually be adapted for broadcast across the radio airwaves. This system would go on to become a major form of international communication, especially for those working and traveling in the air or out at sea.
Does today’s crossword have you puzzled? You could continue to fret, and fight the urge to check the full solution, or you could consult Wolfram|Alpha, which has the tools you need to solve the sneakiest constructions. Wolfram|Alpha can find words matching a pattern, words with specific beginnings and endings, and provide word definitions.
We have been highlighting ways that Wolfram|Alpha can be a useful tool in your everyday life, and we believe you will find our salary and wage data helpful in navigating your decisions in today’s job market. A lot of people are searching for full-time employment, relocating, exploring going back to school to change professions, or considering taking on multiple jobs. Many factors play into these decisions, and Wolfram|Alpha’s U.S. occupational salary data, and salary computations for local currencies, help you make informed choices.
Perhaps you are considering changing professions. In addition to supplying data on specific occupations, Wolfram|Alpha can compare U.S. occupational information for multiple jobs, including the median salary, the number of people employed at those jobs, and more. For example, here is the comparative information for a registered nurse, an elementary school teacher, and an accountant: More »
Wolfram|Alpha introduces many new methods for understanding linguistic inputs. Those methods allow you and others around the world to ask it questions in natural ways. In this video, a developer working on Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistics shares a bit about her role in building and improving the system’s understanding to help you get the answers you’re looking for.
You can watch more interviews with Wolfram|Alpha team members here.
We have spent some time on this blog talking about ways Wolfram|Alpha‘s nutrition and wellness data can be useful tools in your everyday life, such as by computing the nutritional value of your favorite recipe and identifying a healthy body weight. Some of you have since asked how you can use Wolfram|Alpha to understand your body’s caloric needs to maintain a healthy body. With all of the talk surrounding the latest fad diets and nutrition programs, information about our bodies’ basic needs often gets lost in the noise.
You can estimate your body’s daily caloric needs by computing your basal metabolic rate (BMR) within Wolfram|Alpha. Your BMR is the estimated number of calories (energy) your body expends when at complete rest—in other words, your daily caloric needs just to operate your vital organs, nervous system, muscles, and skin. BMR varies based on your age, gender, height, and weight, and needs to be recalculated whenever one of these factors changes. As your physical activity increases through routine movements, and exercise, the number of calories your body needs increases. More »
Baseball is the great American pastime. We’re at the midpoint of the Major League Baseball season, and fans are gearing up for the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which will be played on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 in Saint Louis, Missouri. For baseball fans, this “Midsummer Classic” embodies much of what there is to love about baseball: a night at the park, hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, and top players from American and National League teams all on one diamond. But what we at Wolfram|Alpha love about baseball are all of the fast statistics that can be quickly computed and returned as easy-to-read graphs.
Wolfram|Alpha contains statistics and history for Major League Baseball teams’ wins, losses, pitching and batting histories, and more, from 1960–2008. This information allows you to easily compute statistics for a single season, or graph a visual history over decades. More »
More interviews with Wolfram|Alpha team members are available here.
If you’re as excited about Wolfram|Alpha as we are, and want to help out, consider becoming a volunteer curator. Our volunteer curators are passionate, enthusiastic people who are committed to gathering and checking data. We realize there is a lot of diverse knowledge across the world, and we want to give you the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project.
Currently we are working with volunteer curators from all over the world on geographical data, but we are open to volunteers with different interests or areas of expertise as well. If you’ve got knowledge or insight into a specific area, we want to hear from you.
Our ongoing volunteer curators receive a complimentary, temporary Mathematica license, with the potential to extend the license for long-term curation. You don’t need to know Mathematica to become a volunteer curator, but you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the program if you so choose. Volunteers check data, add data, and help us find new ways in which someone might search for data on Wolfram|Alpha.
There is a wide range of time available for volunteers per week, so whether you’d like to help a little or a lot, we would love to have you as a volunteer contributing to the advancement of Wolfram|Alpha.
If you are interested in become a volunteer curator, fill out our form here. If you have questions about the process, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond to you as soon as possible and work with you to determine your area(s) of expertise and where you might fit in.
Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re loosening our belts for the 94th annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, a U.S. Independence Day tradition that draws participants and audiences from all over the world. At this year’s event, two-time champion Joey ”Jaws” Chestnut, from San Jose, California, will face off against six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi, from Nagano, Japan, in the quest for the famous Nathan’s Mustard Belt. We’re getting hungry just thinking about all the numbers at the World Cup of hot dog eating contests.
In 2008, Chestnut and Kobayashi tied when they each scarfed down 59 hot dogs and buns in the 10-minute regulation match, forcing the event into overtime. Ultimately, Chestnut prevailed when he polished off 5 additional hot dogs, for a total of 64.
Based on Wolfram|Alpha’s nutrition computation for 64 generic hots dogs and 64 standard hot dog rolls, Chestnut consumed over 17,000 calories.
Recently, we had the opportunity to showcase Wolfram|Alpha at a local TECH cocktail event in Champaign, Illinois. Our video team had the camera rolling as people got their first look at Wolfram|Alpha. Here’s what they had to say:
Stephen Wolfram recently received an award for his contributions to computer science. The following is a slightly edited transcript of the speech he gave on that occasion. (The audio version of the original speech is here.)
I want to talk about a big topic here today: the quest for computable knowledge. It’s a topic that spans a lot of history, and that I’ve personally spent a long time working on. I want to talk about the history. I want to talk about my own efforts in this direction. And I want to talk about what I think the future holds. More »
We have been working diligently to add your suggested features to the Wolfram|Alpha Community site, and we are pleased to announce that over the next few days you should notice new features there. We hope these changes improve the usability of the site and encourage new people to join the lively discussions.
One of the more notable improvements is the ability to browse posts by category. Categories are now visible from the main toolbar so you can simply jump to posts that interest you. Whether math, science, education, culture, living, or more, there is a place to post your questions and comments.
We also have a new “resolved” feature for posts that have been successfully addressed by either the Community or the Wolfram|Alpha Team and suggestions that have been implemented on Wolfram|Alpha or the Community site. When you click the “Resolved” button, an email is sent to the Wolfram|Alpha Team suggesting the post is resolved. If the Wolfram|Alpha Team agrees the post has been adequately addressed, the post will then appear under the Resolved tab, available for viewing in just one click.
Other new features include automatically updated pods in the sidebar featuring the most recent posts from the Wolfram|Alpha Team and on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, improved search, and the Wolfram|Alpha navigation bar at the top of the site.
We plan to make further improvements to the Community, and would love to hear your ideas about how we can make it better. Please post your ideas under the Usability tab on the Wolfram|Alpha Community once it goes live.
He’s developing some of the most popular frameworks in Wolfram|Alpha. She’s on the front lines of handling and managing all of your feedback. Meet them both in Part 3 of our video series, “A Moment with the Wolfram|Alpha Developers”:
We are pleased to announce that Wolfram|Alpha is featured on the cover of the July/August 2009 issue of MIT’s Technology Review magazine. The article provides industry context for the project as well as an inside perspective on the events leading up to the launch. The issue, including an 8-page spread focusing on Wolfram|Alpha, is available online today and should arrive in subscriber mailboxes this week.
The story includes exclusive interviews with Stephen Wolfram and other members of the Wolfram|Alpha team. The following is an excerpt from the piece:
“Williams wasn’t toiling in a redoubt of Silicon Valley Web entrepreneurs but in a midwestern citadel of science geeks: Wolfram Research, in Champaign, IL, housed in an office block overlooking a Walgreens and a McDonald’s. This was the corporate lair of Stephen Wolfram, the physicist and maker of Mathematica, which is generally acknowledged to be the most complete technical and graphical software for mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. Williams was working on something his company was calling a “computational knowledge engine”: Wolfram Alpha. In response to questions, Alpha was meant to compute answers rather than list Web pages. It would consist of three elements, honed by hand in Champaign: a constantly expanding collection of data sets, an elaborate calculator, and a natural-language interface for queries.”
To read more, visit the Technology Review website, or look for the new issue on United States’ newsstands.
We have been highlighting ways Wolfram|Alpha can be a part of your daily life, and we think you will find it a great addition to your other travel resources. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, Wolfram|Alpha can become a part of your planning by providing essential data.
Let’s say you live in San Francisco, California and want to fly to Miami, Florida. Type “San Francisco airports” into Wolfram|Alpha, and your results conveniently include the airport code “SFO” for the San Francisco International Airport. You can use Wolfram|Alpha to instantly access all codes for all U.S. airports, even those as obscure as 11II. Results also list elevation of the airport, number of runways, local time, and other nearby airports in case you want to search for better alternatives for your departure and arrival cities.
The enthusiasm and support from all of our users has been nothing short of inspiring. We will continue to incorporate your suggestions as we keep building Wolfram|Alpha. We invite you to take a look back on our journey through insightful stories that highlight some of the interesting issues and challenges that opened up dialogues among our community of users.
In recent blog entries we have been highlighting ways Wolfram|Alpha can compute complex data to be helpful in our everyday lives. Yesterday, we discussed how Wolfram|Alpha can help us track all the good (and not so good) nutrients we put in our bodies. Some indications of how well we may, or may not, be doing in that area are measurements of the human body. Wolfram|Alpha has some easy and fun tools to create general or personalized reports for adults and kids alike. As a reminder, all Wolfram|Alpha medical results are based on statistical data, and are not medical advice.
For adults, Wolfram|Alpha can compute body statistics such as your body mass index (BMI), body surface area, and body measurements based on factors such as age, height, weight, and gender. The results of these computations can give you an understanding of the number of calories your body needs daily; recommended body weight based on your gender, age, and height; typical organ properties such as lung capacity; and more. More »
Wolfram|Alpha has the powerful ability to compute complex data into insightful outputs that can be helpful tools in our everyday lives. One area where this is most evident is the Wolfram|Alpha collection of food and nutrition information. Users have marveled over how quick and easy it is to analyze nutrition information for their favorite homemade recipes, and compare nutritional values of everything from dietary staples to those occasional indulgences. More »
We’re pleased to announce that our own Russell Foltz-Smith, a dynamic member of the Wolfram|Alpha business development team, will be interviewed onstage by Nova Spivack, CEO and founder of Radar Networks, which develops semantic social software such as Twine. The interview is part of a special session at the fifth annual Semantic Technology Conference on Wednesday, June 17 at 12:30pm U.S. PDT in San Jose, California.
The interview will focus on going beyond the recent launch news to discuss what’s “under the hood”, so to speak, as well as what’s on the road map for Wolfram|Alpha over the next few months. Nova and Russell will also explore some of the bigger-picture ramifications of computational knowledge, in areas such as education, science, and even ethics.
One of the most popular Wolfram|Alpha features is the name directory. Whether you’re researching your own name or brainstorming baby names, the Wolfram|Alpha given name directory is a fun tool you can use to compare name popularity and statistics.
You can learn a lot about popular culture and history by tracking the popularity of given names. One historical example is the name Roosevelt, which celebrated two bursts of popularity, during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
To view a pop culture example, enter the names Farrah, Mallory, and Britney into Wolfram|Alpha. The charted results show how these names peaked at different times. Note that Farrah’s spike in the late 1970s occurs at the time of Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels fame, Mallory’s spike in popularity appears when Family Ties debuted in 1982, and Britney’s second spike coincides with Spears’ first album release in 1999. The data often has larger implications than just name popularity; think of it as a visual representation of a generation’s cultural influences.
The Wolfram|Alpha name database currently contains U.S. name data dating back to 1880, with international data to follow in the coming months. So whether you’re a parent seeking more information on baby names or are curious to find out more information on your own name, Wolfram|Alpha has the power to compute insightful results.
We love all the feedback that comes pouring in from the Wolfram|Alpha community, and iPhone users have been begging to have Wolfram|Alpha just a touch away since the beginning. We invite you to checkout the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone and iPod mobile page that lets you compute queries, watch the Wolfram|Alpha overview video, view our gallery of examples, and more, all while on the go. See below for instructions on how you can add the Wolfram|Alpha icon to your home screen.
We have also noted the wide interest in having a full Wolfram|Alpha application for the iPhone and other mobile devices. Tell us more! What bells and whistles would be in your ideal Wolfram|Alpha application? Join the the conversation on this topic taking place on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site. More »
Whether you’re a casual user of Wolfram|Alpha or an enthusiast, we have designed several cool tools that put Wolfram|Alpha at your fingertips.
Give these tools a test drive and tell us what you think.
You can access all of these through the Downloads link at the top of Wolfram|Alpha.
If you’ve been following the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, then you have probably heard that two supercomputer-class systems are a big part of what is behind the scenes. One of them is the R Smarr system, belonging to our good friends at R Systems, which is featured in this video. The other is our custom Dell system, highlighted in the Rack ‘n’ Roll video. (That’s me in the blue shirt and the crazy blond hair.) Between the two of them, we can handle around 1800 queries per second (qps). Many people have asked about how we pulled together all of this infrastructure.
First, some background.
Back in mid-March our development team was intensely focused on building Wolfram|Alpha. As each day went by, the pace of development was accelerating and the further we progressed, the faster Wolfram|Alpha was growing in both content and functionality. On the infrastructure side, we had put in place a prudent plan. We knew the rollout would have an audience of early adopters amongst the professional audiences that our company is very familiar with, and we had planned accordingly for a capacity of 200 queries per second. A few colocations spread throughout the United States should do the job; we were well on track to set them up in plenty of time. And we thought that our “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” message would be seen occasionally in the first few weeks if there was overflow beyond our capacity. More »
There’s new data flowing into Wolfram|Alpha every second. And we’re always working very hard to develop the core code and data for the system. In fact, internally, we have a complete new version of the system that’s built every day. But before we release this version for general use, we do extensive validation and testing.
In addition to real-time data updates, we’ve made a few changes to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch three weeks ago. But today, as one step in our ongoing, long-term development process, we’ve just made live the first broad updates to the core code and data of Wolfram|Alpha. More »
Today if you give input to Wolfram|Alpha in a language other than English, you’ll most likely see something like:
But in making Wolfram|Alpha accessible to as many people around the world as possible, our goal is eventually to have it understand every one of these languages.
A certain amount of Wolfram|Alpha input is actually quite language independent—because it’s really in math, or chemistry, or some other international notation, or because it’s asking about something (like a place) that’s always referred to by the same name.
But inevitably many inputs do depend on human language—and in fact even now about 5% of all inputs that are given try to use a language other than English.
Wolfram|Alpha knows quite a bit about the general properties of essentially every language (Spanish, Swahili, ….) But it doesn’t yet know how to interpret input in any language other than English. More »
Wolfram|Alpha is a fascinating and exciting project. What’s made it possible is the terrific team we’ve built around it. And what will make Wolfram|Alpha even stronger is adding more world-class talent to our team.
We believe our mission to make all of the world’s knowledge computable is an important one. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still plenty of work to do—more knowledge needs to be added and updated and new capabilities need to be introduced. We’re ready now to begin bringing more people on board to help us pursue our goals.
A project like Wolfram|Alpha requires a remarkable spectrum of talents—technologists, content experts in almost every conceivable subject area, business experts… and the list goes on.
We are happy to be adding to our outstanding team as we take Wolfram|Alpha into the future. We hope you’ll consider joining us on our journey.
Our team is hard at work going through the tens of thousands of comments, suggestions, and questions coming in about Wolfram|Alpha.
We thought you’d enjoy hearing Stephen Wolfram respond to some of this feedback directly.
This Thursday, June 4, at 4 pm US CDT, we invite you to join us for a live webcast as Stephen answers some of the questions you’ve sent in. He’ll discuss the problems, the fixes, the future, and more.
If you have a question you’d like Stephen to answer, post it as a comment to this blog post.
We’ll also be taking questions live on the justin.tv chat during the webcast.
Thanks again for all of your interest and support. We look forward to sharing this live webcast with you.
It is said that ambition is contagious, and it’s clear that our ambitions for Wolfram|Alpha, one of the most complex intelligence projects ever undertaken, is spreading around the globe. In the two weeks since Wolfram|Alpha first went live, an impressive number of users have asked how they can contribute to the development of this long-term project. We are flattered by your enthusiasm, and want you to join the Wolfram|Alpha Project.
Just take a look at the number of people, just like you, who have found a way to contribute their interests to this project.
2849 registered users have contributed to the Wolfram|Alpha Community. The ideas and feedback generated through conversations on the Community are invaluable tools for Wolfram|Alpha developers.
70,000 feedback submissions have been sent (via the feedback field that can be found on every page of the site), providing the Wolfram|Alpha team with critical input on specific content. More »
Wolfram|Alpha continues to be a hot topic in online newspapers and magazines, blogs, Facebook, and beyond. But one of our favorite (and one of the most insightful) places to find chatter about Wolfram|Alpha is on Twitter.
People tweet Wolfram|Alpha results that amaze them. Some suggest features or domains we should add. Others ask questions about how to get the results they want. And what’s really great is to see people tweeting advice and recommendations to other users.
Here are a few of the tweeted results or suggestions that have caught our eyes or amused us:
- @yooklyde: According to Wolfram|Alpha I was born approx. an hour before sunset, during a Full Moon. That last bit explains everything.
- @petervogel: Students in my ICT classes continue to be fascinated with Wolfram Alpha; a given-name analysis seems to hook them.
- @sqjtaipei: cool about the running calories expended… how about other sports… need swimming and cycling. thx.
We really enjoy reading and exploring your updates and responding when we can.
We also like Twittering to show you some of the many uses of Wolfram|Alpha.
We’re highlighting a different feature or input every day. Today, it was seeing stars with Wolfram|Alpha. Others have been such things as how to get tide forecasts, compute fuel usage, and figure out that tough crossword puzzle. Educational, practical, topical, just plain interesting—we’ll share it all. You’ve just got to follow us to find out.
We hope you enjoy the results we showcase. We’ll be watching for your ideas and favorite inputs—so be sure to include #wolframalpha in your next tweet.
Our teams have been working steadily for a long time to make Wolfram|Alpha successful. The content development team is one of the most essential groups in this process. All of us are still pushing to get the best information into Wolfram|Alpha for our users. These photos show some of the content developers during the launch weekend. Thanks to all who have helped!
It’s now a week since we officially launched Wolfram|Alpha into the world.
It’s been a great first week.
Approaching 100 million queries. Lots of compliments.
But for me the most striking thing is how many people want to help Wolfram|Alpha succeed.
Making the world’s knowledge computable is a huge undertaking.
And it’s wonderful to see all the help we’re being offered in doing it.
We’ve worked hard to construct a framework. But to realize the full promise of computable knowledge, we need a lot of input and support. More »
We are so excited about the response to the Wolfram|Alpha Community site in the past week. Nearly 2,000 people have shared questions, ideas, and inputs since it launched on Monday, and many more are finding this forum to be a great place to communicate with others who are exploring Wolfram|Alpha. More »
The feedback has been pouring in since we launched Wolfram|Alpha into the world. As promised, we’re reading all of your comments and we’re responding.
Here are a few of the quick fixes we’ve implemented already:
- Building height comparisons.
- Adding detail to the data on languages spoken in Germany.
- Improving understanding of questions about the distance to the moon.
- Calculating housing prices in New York.
We’ll keep making updates. In the meantime, keep the suggestions coming. It’s your feedback that will help us make Wolfram|Alpha stronger for everyone.
We are constantly monitoring the vital signs of Wolfram|Alpha, and have been since the moment it went live. Traffic has held strong, with a sustained rate of hundreds of requests per second from all continents, and we’re now able to fine-tune our systems in ways that weren’t possible with simulated traffic.
We found that in some regions the site was not as responsive as it could be, and we are now in the process of rebalancing the load and continuing to problem-solve networking issues.
To date, we have made substantial progress on solving issues with our network, DNS, hardware, web server configuration, and databases. More »
Every aspect of Wolfram|Alpha has been thought through in great detail. Its logo is no exception.
As a tip of the hat to the vast and powerful computational engine that powers Wolfram|Alpha, a natural place to start brainstorming for an appropriate logo was in Mathematica itself. And this is where I, geometry enthusiast and the developer of the PolyhedronData computational data collection, came into the picture.
As many of you may know, Mathematica‘s logo is a three-dimensional polyhedron affectionately called “Spikey.” In its original (Version 1) form, Spikey consisted of the spiked solid obtained from an icosahedron (the regular 20-faced solid that is one of the five Platonic solids) with regular tetrahedra (triangular pyramids) affixed to its faces.
Wolfram|Alpha is officially launched!
Wolfram|Alpha went live in test mode at 8:48pm CST on Friday. Our teams worked intensely through the weekend to complete load testing, fix bugs, and begin to address the feedback you have provided—over 22,000 feedback messages. During testing, Wolfram|Alpha processed nearly 23 million queries; by our estimates, approximately 3 out of 4 gave satisfactory results.
By late Sunday night, we were able to test all compute clusters at full capacity.
Today we are officially launching Wolfram|Alpha to the world at large. It has been a very successful weekend of testing and learning. We’re flattered by the positive reception thus far, and we are dedicated to furthering the project with the help of you, our community of users.
To that end we are officially launching the Wolfram|Alpha Community, which allows you to submit questions, ideas, and favorite inputs.
We already have a few static forms to contribute things such as facts, figures, and structured data or algorithms, methods, and models. The Community serves to supplement these types of feedback with a more free-form discussion among all Wolfram|Alpha users.
In the Community, you can vote for items that you feel deserve further attention. We support threaded commenting, unique user profiles, and social sharing via email, Twitter, and Facebook. The Community also allows you to “save” items of interest so that you can track their progress over time.
This crowd-sourced model will help our team here gain a better understanding of what features, improvements, and possibilities the Community thinks are most interesting and worthwhile.
There has been a tremendous amount of useful feedback thus far, and much of that information is being used to make immediate improvements in near real time.
But it is also our hope that the Wolfram|Alpha Community will help make the feedback process more direct and have more impact. The Community will provide us with a mechanism to report back to you with changes, new results and capabilities, and overall improvements, thereby closing the loop and making the entire system more transparent.
Of course, we won’t be able to respond to every submission. But we’ll do our very best to respond to all relevant and substantive items. Additionally, it is our hope that members of the Community will likewise take the time to assist their peers, pointing them in the right direction and offering valuable advice and context.
Thanks again for all of your support and please join us in the Community!
It’s 3am on the East Coast and we can see from the sampling of our geoIP data that plenty of people are awake and using Wolfram|Alpha. Here’s a sample of 5 seconds on the map:
Europe is just starting to wake up on a Monday morning and our query rate is starting to climb.
In the first 24 hours of our launch weekend, we received nearly 10,000 messages forwarded from the feedback forms on the bottom of each Wolfram|Alpha page. The compliments have been very gratifying.
The feedback has been insightful and entertaining. You’ve offered lots of suggestions, from additional domains and analysis to computations that have gone awry. We thought you might enjoy seeing some of the feedback we’ve received. More »
This is a proud moment for us and for the whole Mathematica community. (We hope the launch goes well!)
Wolfram|Alpha defines a new direction in computing—that would have simply not have been possible without Mathematica, and that in time will add some remarkable new dimensions to Mathematica itself.
In terms of technology, Wolfram|Alpha is a uniquely complex software system, which has been entirely developed and deployed with Mathematica and Mathematica technologies.
It’s a curious—and unintentional—juxtaposition. Because in a sense NKS is the intellectual structure that’s now making Wolfram|Alpha possible. And Wolfram|Alpha is the first “killer app” of NKS.
Stephen Wolfram has written a blog today that reports on the state of NKS and explains a little bit of that connection.
Building the ultimate computational knowledge engine is a highly ambitious and long-term project. The Wolfram|Alpha that you will get to start exploring next week is really just the beginning. Still, there are a lot of ways that you might use Wolfram|Alpha.
In this screencast, Stephen Wolfram gives a quick introduction and demo of today’s Wolfram|Alpha.
We’re now in the final stages of getting ready to launch Wolfram|Alpha. It’s a hugely complex piece of technology; certainly one of the most complex web-based services ever constructed. We’ve sought advice from many experts as we’ve designed its infrastructure and technology management processes.
But we’ve been rather surprised that we haven’t been able to find even a single publicly available record of the commissioning of any large website at all. So we thought we would document our own experience and that perhaps some of you would like to share this journey with us. We can’t guarantee that everything will go smoothly. Indeed, we fully expect to encounter unanticipated situations along the way. We hope that you’ll find it interesting to join us as we work through these in real time. Perhaps you’ll even have some advice to share. More »
When Wolfram|Alpha launches, it will be one of the most computationally intensive websites on the internet. There is no way to know exactly how much traffic to expect, especially during the initial period immediately following our launch, but we’re working hard to put reasonable capacity in place. Will we have enough computing power to provide computable knowledge for everyone who visits? We hope so.
We’ll service Wolfram|Alpha from five distributed colocation facilities, which we somewhat unimaginatively call locations 0, 2, 3, 4, 5 (1 as a backup). What computing power have we gathered in these facilities for launch day? Two supercomputers, just about 10,000 processor cores, hundreds of terabytes of disks, a heck of a lot of bandwidth, and what seems like enough air conditioning for the Sahara to host a ski resort. More »
Soon everyone will have access to the first version of Wolfram|Alpha. Already some have asked: “What kinds of questions can Wolfram|Alpha help me answer?” “Will there be examples for me to use?” “How will I get started?”
As we make our final preparations to release Wolfram|Alpha over the next week, we thought it might be helpful to discuss questions like these in this blog.
Looking at the Examples by Topic page provides a good framework. You will be able to navigate from the Wolfram|Alpha home page to Examples:
As part of our testing, for a short time yesterday we opened up access to a small test cluster that was being used for load testing. Within minutes, thousands of people discovered this and started exploring Wolfram|Alpha.
(We recognize Cape Town, Delhi, Tokyo, Lima, Rio de Janeiro… We’re not quite so sure about the spot in the heart of the Australian desert.)
In any case, we’re continuing our final preparations. We plan to launch late next week, with the official date now set for May 18.
Thanks for all of your encouragement!
In the last three months, I’ve discussed Wolfram|Alpha one-on-one with well over 300 people from all over the world and all walks of life. Wolfram|Alpha is a service unlike any other, and people’s reactions reflect this. When simple analogy is not possible, the discussions take on a whole different tone than that of a typical product introduction.
Here are some of the reactions floating around the web. They reflect the diversity of conversations I’ve had in my one-on-ones. What’s your take?
“While search engines like Google, by and large, find things that already exist on the Internet—Web sites, photos, videos, blogs—Wolfram|Alpha answers questions, often by doing complex, and new computations.” —From The New York Times Bits blog
Although it’s tempting to think of Wolfram|Alpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story. The thing that truly sets Wolfram|Alpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.
Why does computation matter? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers.
To give an amusing example, every school child has at one time or another written a report on the moon, and they probably included the wrong figure for how far the moon is from the earth. Why wrong? Because the distance from the earth to the moon is not constant: it changes by as much as a mile a minute. If you ask Wolfram|Alpha the distance to the moon, it tells you not only the conventionally quoted average distance, but also the actual distance right now, which can at times be well over ten thousand miles off the average. The actual distance is a figure that can be arrived at only by computation based on the moon’s known orbital parameters. It’s rocket science, if you will.
Take a peek at our system administration team hard at work on one of the
many pre-launch projects.
There were lots of interesting questions and comments, particularly about the broader intellectual context of Wolfram|Alpha.
There’s really a very long and rich history behind the kinds of things we’re doing with Wolfram|Alpha.
And in fact, a little while ago my staff took some notes of mine and assembled a timeline about the history of “The Quest for Computable Knowledge.” I think it makes interesting reading; there’s quite a diverse collection of elements, some very well known, some not.
I’ve always been particularly struck by Gottfried Leibniz’s role. He really had pretty much the whole idea of Wolfram|Alpha—300 years ago.
Our teams are working hard to meet our goal of having Wolfram|Alpha ready for you in just a few weeks.
Since Stephen Wolfram’s initial announcement, we’ve had the opportunity to show Wolfram|Alpha to some of the thousands of you who contacted us. Many interesting questions surfaced. We plan to use this blog to address those questions and the many more we expect you’ll have as you think about how you too can use Wolfram|Alpha.
We’ll also let you know about upcoming events around Wolfram|Alpha—like the first public preview that Stephen is giving this afternoon at Harvard Law School. Information on participating in the webcast and Q&A can be found here.
Finally, we’ll use this space to talk about ourselves, giving you a peek into our world, what we’re working on, what we’re thinking, and what you can expect from us as the stewards of this project.
So what is Wolfram|Alpha? To begin, we’ve named it a computational knowledge engine.