ARCHIVE: November 2009
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November 30, 2009– 3

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.

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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 »

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November 25, 2009– 12

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.

Transcript Excerpt:
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November 24, 2009– 6

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!
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November 23, 2009– 5

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!

November 19, 2009– 4

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.

To hear more of Stephen’s keynote, please see part 1 and part 2 of this series in the Wolfram Blog.

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November 16, 2009– 4

When we first announced Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, we were pleasantly surprised by the response from educators who were eager to share how they use Wolfram|Alpha with their students.

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.

The lesson plan Shannon highlights in this video and many others are available in the Homework Day Submission Gallery.

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November 12, 2009– 114

Popular Science's 100 Best Innovations of the Year issue

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 »

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November 11, 2009– 37

Having announced the Wolfram|Alpha API just over three weeks ago, I am pleased to share in announcing Microsoft’s Bing decision engine as one of our first API customers.

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.

November 5, 2009– 3

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.

The Wolfram|Alpha booth at the OECD World Forum

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 »

November 4, 2009– 3

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 »

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November 2, 2009– 41

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 »