ARCHIVE: 2010
December 29, 2010– 11

As we bid adieu to 2010, we want say thank you to all of our loyal blog readers and commenters. Today we’re taking a look back at some of 2010′s most popular Wolfram|Alpha Blog posts. 2010 was a year full of product releases, such as Wolfram|Alpha Widgets and new data for everything from movies to taxes.

These selections are only highlights of the topics we’ve covered in 2010. If you’re feeling really nostalgic, or if you’re new to the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, we invite you to read more in the archives.

January:

Just in time to tackle a common New Year’s resolution, we released “New Physical Activity Data in Wolfram|Alpha”.

February:

After reading “Computing Valentine’s Day with Wolfram|Alpha”, there was little doubt that we speak math, the universal language of love.

March:

Ever wonder which country consumes the most coffee or sugar? In March, we introduced new data that answers these questions in the post “Food for Thought: Consumption Patterns from Around the World”.

April:

In April we were excited to finally be able to share “Stephen Wolfram’s TED Talk: Computation Is Destined to Be the Defining Idea of Our Future”. The inspirational video quickly became a web favorite.

May:

Where did the time go? In May we celebrated Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday with the post “Wolfram|Alpha: The First Year”.

June:

Just in time for family reunion season, we published “My Cousin’s Cousin’s Niece’s Grandfather Said to Just Ask Wolfram|Alpha”, to help you identify all of those branches on the family tree.

July:

In July we shared “Ask Wolfram|Alpha about Medical Drug Treatments” to introduce a new functionality in Wolfram|Alpha that allows you to compare how your medical conditions and treatment plans compare to those of other patients.

August:

Kids say the darnedest things. In the post “10 Fun Questions Kids Can Answer with Wolfram|Alpha”, we took a look at how Wolfram|Alpha can help you and your little one answer common curiosities. More »

December 22, 2010– 4

Oh, the weather outside has been mighty frightful in many parts of the U.S. and Europe these past few weeks! Your mother has told you, and we will remind you, that it is never a good idea to forgo your mittens during cold weather.

How many times have you dashed outside to find that the advertised temperature does not feel the same as you had expected? The wind plays a big role in how the air temperature feels on your skin. For example, today in Champaign, Illinois, the temperature is 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but factor in the wind, and it feels like 9 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Enter your current city in this handy widget and it will provide a wind chill temperature. (The widget is live, so go ahead and try it!)


Icy temperatures can cause frostbite, a condition where tissue such as skin is damaged, and in some cases destroyed, due to exposure to extreme cold. As we encourage our users to create their own widgets, one of our users arwheelock did so by creating a popular related Wolfram|Alpha Widget. This widget allows you to quickly compute how long your skin can be exposed to such weather conditions before becoming susceptible to frostbite. By simply entering the temperature and wind speed for your location, Wolfram|Alpha will tell you approximately how long your skin can be exposed to the conditions before developing frostbite.

So whether you’re off for an evening of caroling or an afternoon on the slopes, be mindful of the risks associated with leaving your mittens (or other cold weather gear) behind.

December 20, 2010– 1

Wolfram|Alpha Holiday App Sale

Deck your mobile device with expert-level facts and knowledge this holiday season for just $0.99! Wolfram|Alpha apps for iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Android devices are on sale through January 5, 2011.

If you’re an iPhone, iPod, or iPad user, you can download or “gift” this app through iTunes to the student, professional, or anyone else on your holiday shopping list. Android users can download the app onto their devices directly from Android Market.

Download your Wolfram|Alpha mobile app for just $0.99 to discover new facts, gain insight, and compute almost anything while on the go.

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December 17, 2010– 2

Wolfram|Alpha already contains many extensive collections of mathematical data, including curves, surfaces, graphs, knots, and polyhedra. However, one type of object we had not systematically incorporated until recently was the class of plane geometric figures technically known as laminae:

Laminae

Most people (including the subset of small people who play with sorting toys such as the one illustrated below) are familiar with a number of laminae. A lamina is simply a bounded (and usually connected) region of the Euclidean plane. In the most general case, it has a surface density function ?(x, y) as a function of x- and y-coordinates, but with ?(x, y) = 1 in the simplest case.

Real world example of laminae

Examples of laminae, some of which are illustrated above, therefore include the disk (i.e., filled circle), equilateral triangle, square, trapezoid, and 5-point star. In the interest of completeness, it might be worth mentioning that laminae are always “filled” objects, so the ambiguity about whether the terms “polygon”, “square”, etc. refer to closed sets of line segments or those segments plus their interiors does not arise for laminae.
More »

December 15, 2010– 6

Contestants in Wolfram|Alpha’s Deck the Halls with Facts & Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away have been busy submitting their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts, assembling their free Wolfram|Alpha Spikey paper sculpture kits, and snapping photos for the vote-off. Now you get to decide who will win!

Now through January 3, 2011, you can vote once per day for your favorite entry. Your votes will help the 500 contestants win great gifts, such as Mathematica Professional (value: $2495), an iPad, Wolfram mobile apps, and much more! Oh, and you could be one of the random lucky voters to win one of the newly inked Wolfram|Alpha Spikey T-shirts—not available anywhere else—in our daily drawings!

Contestants, here are a few helpful tips to help your entry climb the charts. First, be sure to vote every day! Then use the built-in sharing tools to ask your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites to vote for your entry once per day, every day! Be sure to let them know how they can win, too!

If you are a contestant who’s still waiting for your Spikey to arrive, no worries; you can upload your Spikey photo to the gallery anytime through January 3, 2011.

Wolfram|Alpha Spikey paper sculptures in action

Winners will be announced here and on the website on January 5, 2011. Now jump over to the gallery to vote for your favorite entry!

December 13, 2010– 2

When you roll dice, all numbers have the same probability to show up (assuming that the dice aren’t loaded in any way):

Roll one dice

However, the leading digits of numbers in very large accumulated datasets—for example, the amount you pay for each household bill over the course of a year—follow a very different pattern. In such cases it is much more likely that a given number will start with one, with decreasing probability for each higher digit up to nine. This statistical phenomenon is called Benford’s law. More »

December 8, 2010– 1

A little over two months ago, we announced the addition of U.S. retail sales data to Wolfram|Alpha. With the holiday season upon us—and a great deal of attention focused on how current economic conditions will affect consumer spending this year—we thought it might be good to remind users of this functionality.

Retail sales data from the U.S. Department of Commerce always lags a few months behind the present, so the latest available data is for September 2010 (Wolfram|Alpha automatically picks up new data each month when it is released, usually around the 15th). But looking at sales categories that are highly seasonal, like jewelry stores, you can still observe some clear trends in the sales “spike” that occurs each December, with holiday-season sales way down in 2008, but recovering slightly last year:
Monthly U.S. retail sales for jewelry stores

Or choose “last 2 years” from the drop-down menu in the History pod to zoom in on the action a bit more and see how more recent trends match up against previous years:

Monthly U.S. retail sales for jewelry stores

You can also ask Wolfram|Alpha to analyze retail sales in a given category over any arbitrary date range for which data exists. Try asking about “U.S. clothing retail sales September 2005-September 2010” and you’ll get a result with the mean, maximum, and minimum value of retail sales over that time period—plus a zoomed-in view of retail sales in every category over those dates: More »

December 6, 2010– 6

Wolfram|Alpha isn’t just the wolframalpha.com website; it’s a whole range of technologies. While the website may be the most familiar way to access these technologies, there are many potential uses and interfaces for the Wolfram|Alpha technology. We’ve already seen a few. Mobile apps for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS make Wolfram|Alpha accessible anywhere. Widgets allow users to tap portions of Wolfram|Alpha and bring them into their own webpages. The Wolfram|Alpha API allows programmers to integrate Wolfram|Alpha’s data and computation abilities in their own programs. There are even private custom versions of Wolfram|Alpha used to analyze confidential corporate data.

But now there’s another interface to Wolfram|Alpha, one which brings with it a whole new set of capabilities: Mathematica. With the new Mathematica 8, you can access the Wolfram|Alpha engine directly from within Mathematica. Inside a Mathematica notebook document, just type == at the beginning of a line; you’ll get an orange Spikey icon indicating that Mathematica is ready to perform a Wolfram|Alpha query. Now simply type anything that you would type into the Wolfram|Alpha website. You’ll get back the same results as on the website—and more! Using the full power of the Mathematica software, this interface to Wolfram|Alpha allows new levels of interactivity and detail.

In Mathematica, all graphics can be resized, and three-dimensional graphics can be rotated. Moreover, since Mathematica receives the underlying vector graphic from Wolfram|Alpha and not simply a bit-mapped image, this means that enlarging a graphic provides greater detail instead of a boxy image. For example, let’s look at everyone’s favorite three-dimensional surface, the Mathematica Spikey.

Mathematica Spikey

By simply clicking and dragging, you can rotate the Spikey. To resize, click the resize points on the frame that appear after clicking on the graphic. More »

December 1, 2010– 18

Wolfram|Alpha Deck the Halls with Facts and Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away

It has been a magical year here at Wolfram|Alpha, so to say thank you to our loyal community, and to spread a little holiday cheer, we’re kicking off the Wolfram|Alpha Deck the Halls with Facts and Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away

Beginning today, we’re gifting away highly sought after Wolfram|Alpha Spikey sculpture kits to the first 500 people to submit their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts!

But the giving doesn’t end there! If you’re one of the first 500 winners, you can upload a fun photo of your Wolfram|Alpha Spikey to the contest’s photo gallery. And then ask your friends and social networks to vote for your entry every day from December 15, 2010 to January 3, 2011. (Be sure to let them know they can win Wolfram|Alpha T-shirts just for voting!)

The 25 entries with the highest vote totals can win a copy of Mathematica Professional (valued at $2495), an iPad (valued at $499), Wolfram mobile apps, T-shirts, laptop skins, and other gifts. And because the contest is limited to the first 500 people, your chance of winning is shiny and bright!

Wolfram|Alpha Spikey sculptures in action

So, what is a Wolfram|Alpha fun fact? A Wolfram|Alpha fun fact is a unique Wolfram|Alpha result that has some cultural or scientific significance, one which you’ve likely never stumbled upon anywhere else on the web. Here are a few sample submissions to get your wheels turning:

To get started, find a fun or interesting fact in Wolfram|Alpha, and then dash over to the Deck the Halls with Facts and Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away contest page to submit your entry today! Follow @Wolfram_Alpha on Twitter for contest updates and the official hashtag #holidayspikey for fun facts and photo ideas from fellow Wolfram|Alpha Holiday Gift-Away participants.

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November 30, 2010– 3

Automotive data is an important economic parameter that is tracked by both private organizations and governments across the globe. Both the quantity and type of automotive data available in Wolfram|Alpha were recently expanded to include the amount of traffic, vehicles in use, auto-related injuries and fatalities, and road lengths by country. For example, Wolfram|Alpha can now tell you how much traffic there is in the United Kingdom. In addition to answering the primary query with the total amount of road traffic, Wolfram|Alpha also tells you the types of vehicles that are responsible for that traffic.

In the example below, passenger cars were responsible for most of the traffic, with trucks and vans coming in at a distant second. Just below the breakdown of traffic by vehicle type, you can also see the total number of those vehicles that are in use.

United Kingdom auto traffic

As you might have guessed, having both of these data types available lets you calculate the distance traveled by the average car in the U.K. each year. More »

November 22, 2010– 1

This Thursday, we’ll celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. The first U.S. National Thanksgiving was celebrated on November 26, 1789. The holiday was originally established to show gratitude for a plentiful harvest and to give thanks for relationships with family and friends. A customary U.S. Thanksgiving celebration is centered on sharing a great feast that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and more with loved ones. (Of course, in recent years, we’ve also tossed in football and holiday shopping.)

A cornucopia is a traditional centerpiece that symbolizes abundance and is often found on a Thanksgiving meal table. Wolfram|Alpha is a cornucopia of sorts—a horn filled with many trillions of pieces of data that produce an abundance of facts. In the spirit of the holiday, we though we’d share some fun Thanksgiving-themed facts we discovered from Wolfram|Alpha.

waturkey

Fact: A typical turkey bats its wings 3 times per second.

Fact: If you’re in Champaign, Illinois, set your alarm to 6:51am on Thanksgiving Day if you’re planning to rise with the sun to start cooking your holiday bird. Click here for sunrise information for your location.

Fact: The chill point of cranberries is 2 degrees Celsius.

Fact: There are 5.8 grams of fiber in one serving of cornbread stuffing.

Fact: The first known English use of the word “cornucopia” was in 1508.

Fact: Need to burn off holiday calories? Six hours of Black Friday shopping will burn 1050 calories, or you can knock off 457 calories by staying in and watching football.

Dig into Wolfram|Alpha to find interesting facts of your own. (You might need them in the near future—hint, hint.) Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re thankful for all of our dedicated blog readers and Wolfram|Alpha users.

November 12, 2010– 7

The most fundamental mission of Wolfram|Alpha is to be the internet’s hub for all things computable. With this in mind, our medical data team has been combing through peer-reviewed journals, population-based surveys, and credible online health calculators to bring you the most complete, up-to-date, and easy-to-use library of medical calculations available anywhere on the web. This endeavor has been ongoing since the launch of Wolfram|Alpha more than a year ago, and can be demonstrated through queries such as “heart disease risk”, “male age 27, 175 lbs”, or “basal metabolic rate”.

Over the past couple of months, we have worked to implement over 20 new equations. For example, hematocrit levels outside the normal range are indicative of any number of health concerns ranging from dehydration to kidney disease. In circumstances where estimates of hematocrit are in need and only certain parameters are known, Wolfram|Alpha can be used to fill in the gaps and assess whether the estimated value falls within the normal range, given a number of personal attributes such as weight, height, sex, or age:

Hematocrit blood viscosity male age 20

Calcium in the blood is also a very important indicator of various health conditions, including complications of various types of wounds, hyperparathyroidism, and even osteosclerosis. Given total calcium and serum protein levels, Wolfram|Alpha can estimate the blood concentration of unbound ionized versus protein-bound serum calcium: More »

November 10, 2010– 10

As always, we are striving for better linguistic support of all things math, and over the past few months, we have made many improvements to that end.

We have significantly improved our support for queries involving polygons and circles being inscribed in and circumscribed about each other. Give these examples a spin:

Cube circumscribed about a sphere with volume 1

Another improvement of note is that we have gotten better accepting queries like “algebraically find the inverse function of f(x)=3-8e^x” and winnowing this down to the core question, that of  “inverse of f(x)=3-8e^x”. More »

November 5, 2010– 8

As temperatures start falling across the U.S., many of us are looking more closely at our home heating and energy bills, wondering how much they might go up this winter. Wolfram|Alpha can’t yet predict the future, but now it can help you explore historical and recent energy-price trends in most U.S. states, thanks to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Ask Wolfram|Alpha about “heating oil prices in New York”, for example, and you’ll see that as of November 1, the statewide average price was about $3 per gallon—slightly higher than at the start of last winter, but quite a bit below the peak in late winter of 2008. Propane prices are also higher than a year ago, and you can also see that prices climbed dramatically over the course of last winter. You can keep checking back over the course of the season to see which way prices are trending in your state.

Propane prices in New York

(Note that the jagged appearance of heating oil and propane plots is due to the fact that prices are only reported for part of the year; these prices are also reported for only about 20, mostly northern, U.S. states.)

You can also ask Wolfram|Alpha about natural gas and electricity prices. The EIA keeps these figures less up to date than figures for heating oil and propane, but you can clearly see long-term price trends and seasonal fluctuations for both of them. More »

November 4, 2010– 4

Last weekend, we celebrated Halloween in the U.S., and by Sunday evening, retailers had popped up display after display of Christmas trees, snow globes, inflatable snowmen, and other symbols of festive December holidays. And chances are, when the holiday-themed toy commercials hit the television this past week, you asked yourself, “Where did the time go?”

Here at Wolfram|Alpha, the holiday countdown is always on! Wolfram|Alpha knows the dates of many holidays and observations from around the world, from Children’s Day in India to the anniversary of the day the Berlin Wall was opened. Couple that data with Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to calculate dates, and you have a swift tool for counting down to a special day or answering queries such as “number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas”.  And because some similarly named holidays are celebrated on different days in different countries, Wolfram|Alpha will return the appropriate date based on the location of your IP address. So for example, if you’re located in the U.S., Wolfram|Alpha knows that this year, Labor Day was on September 6, and if you’re in the U.K., Labor Day was on May 1.

And if you’re really in the spirit, you can grab one of these simple holiday countdown widgets for your website or blog. This simple widget includes a countdown to Thanksgiving, Chanukkah, Al-Hijra, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve in the U.S.

And since Wolfram|Alpha Widgets are customizable, you can create personal widgets that include your favorite popular holidays or private events, such as Fido’s birthday.

Wolfram|Alpha Widgets are just one more way you can share some holiday cheer on your blog and with your social networks. What holiday or special day are you counting down to?

November 1, 2010– 8

Wolfram|Alpha is still young and constantly improving. One of the biggest hurdles that our developers are constantly faced with is how to correctly interpret the meaning of general user inputs like “How do I factor an equation?”

Wolfram|Alpha is great at calculating answers that have specific inputs, but when general concepts are given (like “factoring”, for example), it becomes a bit tricky. How would one calculate a concept like that? Let us look at a specific example—Wolfram|Alpha can easily calculate integrals, as long as you ask it to integrate an explicit function. But what happens when you simply ask Wolfram|Alpha to “integrate”? Before, had you given this input, a number of examples using the word “integrate” would have been generated to show how to properly ask Wolfram|Alpha to calculate an integral. But now, when you enter a generic term or question related to a specific math function or formula, it provides a simple query-specific calculator.

For example, given the query “Show me how to integrate”, the following results appear:

Show me how to integrate

Notice that new input fields appear (as well as optional ones in case the integral is to be calculated within a range, and/or with multiple variables). Similarly, notice how the input fields differ depending on the query: More »

October 28, 2010– 10

We humans often notice the passage of time by observing our watches; the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars across the sky; or by the records left by our ancestors in diaries or other historical records—but these are just fleeting moments in the eyes of geological time. We are used to thinking about recorded history. But recorded history is just a blink when compared to the length of time called pre-history. Recorded history only goes back a few thousand years. The Earth is far older.

It’s hard for humans to grasp just how long the Earth has been here. Using a variety of methods, geologists have been able to put together many pieces of a very complicated puzzle. After all, how do you assemble a puzzle when you’re not sure what the finished picture should look like? From studying processes that are happening today, such as geological composition, rates of deposition, weathering, climatology, biology, and Earth’s magnetic field, geologists can extend these processes back to ancient times and learn what the Earth was like billions of years ago. When combined with data points such as those found in the fossil record, these extrapolations can be constrained, and the picture starts to emerge from the puzzle. More »

October 26, 2010– 3

Halloween week is full of spooky tricks and tasty treats. And between the office parties and the loads of edible loot reaped by the little ghosts and goblins, monitoring consumption of all those treats can be both tricky and scary!

But have no fear, we built this handy Wolfram|Alpha Widget that lets you check out nutrition information for common Halloween candies. We’ve pre-selected treats such as Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers, Butterfingers, and others from Wolfram|Alpha’s large nutrition database.

Simply select your treat from the drop-down menu and enter the number of servings you plan to enjoy. Wolfram|Alpha will then compute a custom nutrition label providing details on calories, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients.

Keep this widget handy throughout the week by embedding it on your blog or website. To explore more nutrition-related widgets, visit the Widget Gallery or build your own widget to explore your favorite candies (or food selections more rich in nutrients).

What’s your favorite Halloween treat?

October 22, 2010– 3

Wolfram|Alpha has many trillions of pieces of data, many of which are facts about people, places, and things. All of this knowledge is built upon a computational engine that allows us to mash up topic areas and do impressive, if not outrageous, computations. In honor of it being Friday, we’ll share a few fun facts to get your mind curious about what else is waiting to be discovered within Wolfram|Alpha.

Fact: Your Halloween Jack-o’-lantern has 40 chromosomes.

Fact: There are 4.3 x 10^6 calories in one short ton of Snickers.

Fact: Lassoing the Moon from Earth will require about 239,200 miles of rope on average!

Fact: 36 degrees was the high temperature in New York City on the day Justin Bieber was born.

Fact: On April 1, 1976, just 47 years after Louis Marx popularized the yo-yo, Apple Computer was created—no joke!

These are just few of the fun facts highlighting data areas such as nutrition, species, science, weather, history, and events. What fun facts have you discovered in Wolfram|Alpha?

October 15, 2010– 4

When we talk on this blog about “making knowledge computable”, the knowledge in question is often mathematical or statistical in nature. But that’s not the only knowledge Wolfram|Alpha can compute. We’ve always had a solid backbone of dictionary-style information about words, but we’ve been steadily adding new features to that traditional output. Some of it should be quite useful, some of it is just for fun, and much of it takes advantage of Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to mash up algorithms and data from a wide variety of knowledge domains.

To celebrate National Dictionary Day (October 16)—which honors Noah Webster, often regarded as “the father of the modern dictionary”—you might like to take advantage of this classic word widget, which provides quick access to some of the more traditional areas of Wolfram|Alpha’s lexicographical data: definitions, pronunciations, synonyms, and more for most English words.

Or grab the next widget if you want to play around with a few of the “fun” features we’ve added, including the ability to compute anagrams and convert words to telephone keypad digits. More »

October 14, 2010– 4

Have you ever wanted a simple way to explain Wolfram|Alpha to your friends? Now you can by sharing our new video, “Wolfram|Alpha in a Nutshell”.

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Get the latest Flash Player.

Sure, it’s pretty cool that Wolfram|Alpha is the world’s first computational knowledge engine, containing trillions of pieces of data in more than 1,000 domains. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!) But what’s really important to you is how it can provide you with exact answers for questions in topic areas ranging from astronomy and food and nutrition to math, socioeconomics, and so on.

If you’d like to explore more about the world of Wolfram|Alpha, check out our new About page, which contains community resources, products, downloads, and more.

Go ahead, share “Wolfram|Alpha in a Nutshell” with your friends!

October 12, 2010– 7

Have you ever wanted to contribute to Wolfram|Alpha? Do you have an area of expertise you would like to share with the world? By becoming a volunteer data curator for Wolfram|Alpha, you can help us expand our data and be a part of our initiative to make the world’s knowledge computable.

We’ve now made it easier than ever to contribute with the opening of Volunteer Central, the new landing pad for Wolfram|Alpha volunteers.

Volunteer Central Landing Page

Volunteer Central is a place for contributors to get updates, check out new projects, and track their progress. Projects are categorized into challenge areas, which are searchable in the dashboard. After applying for an account on the network and creating a login, you can easily find projects to work on, upload them, and see your completed and in-progress projects all in one place.

Volunteer Central My Current Projects

Uploading a new project earns you “data points”, which add up in your dashboard. Different levels of data points will earn you badges that you can display proudly on your Facebook page and Twitter, as well as other websites.

Volunteer Central Rookie Badge

We currently have projects in challenge areas ranging from currency data to video game data, and we will be adding new projects on a consistent basis. If you want to contribute, but don’t see a challenge area that interests you, you can suggest it by emailing us.

Volunteer Central is a fun and easy way to contribute to Wolfram|Alpha and connect with other Wolfram|Alpha enthusiasts. Use your passion for data for good and sign up to be a volunteer today!

October 8, 2010– 5

From gathering around the family radio to listen to “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938 to watching the local weather forecast on your 52-inch plasma TV, wireless transmission has been a primary source of information, communication, and entertainment for the past century. Today, thousands of radio and television stations are broadcasting around the world. Beyond your favorite songs, news broadcasts, and shows, how much do you know about the broadcast stations you listen to and watch? The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a large amount of information on the radio and television stations broadcasting in the U.S. as well as a number of stations in other countries in the Western Hemisphere, and recently this data was added to Wolfram|Alpha.

Try out the call sign for your favorite radio station. You might be interested to know who holds the license for that station or find out that it’s being broadcast from that antenna you drive by on your way to work. The local map not only shows you the location of the antenna, but is also zoomed in to show the approximate listening area. How tall is that antenna? Wolfram|Alpha has the answer, as well as a lot of other technical details about the station antenna.
Radio station WLS-FM

On a road trip and stumble upon an interesting AM station broadcasting on 1010 kilohertz? You don’t need to know the call sign to get the information. Try “1010 am radio”, and Wolfram|Alpha will give you the information for the station broadcasting on that frequency closest to you. If it’s a long road trip, you might find a couple stations broadcasting on the same frequency along the way. All the stations broadcasting on 1010 kilohertz are shown, along with their locations and distances from you. More »

October 6, 2010– 85

It’s here! You can now download the all new Wolfram|Alpha App for Android on the T-Mobile Channel or Android Market for $1.99 (US).

The Wolfram|Alpha App for Android has landed

Get answers from Wolfram|Alpha’s massive knowledge base in an instant by downloading the app for the all new T-Mobile® G2™ with Google™. Combining the power of the T-Mobile® G2™ with Google™  on the blazing fast 4G speeds of T-Mobile’s network with the power of Wolfram|Alpha creates an extraordinary experience for knowledge on the go.

The app puts Wolfram|Alpha’s growing repository of curated data, including over ten trillion data elements, and its library of tens of thousands of sophisticated computational models in the palm of your hand.

Android’s native voice-input capability lets you speak your queries to Wolfram|Alpha and get your answers hands-free.

The Wolfram|Alpha App for Android voice input feature

The app’s specialized keyboards make mathematical expressions look and feel natural, enhancing usability and understanding. The keyboard comes in handy for everything from solving quadratic equations while on the bus to balancing chemical equations in the lab. More »

October 4, 2010– 5

Based on the vast number of queries we have been receiving from users all around the world, we thought it would be very interesting to draw some inferences from it. We started with “Human Body Measurements”, one of the many topic areas in Wolfram|Alpha. We thought it would be a safe assumption to make that in more cases than not, when users query for data based on weight or height values, they are most likely looking for data about themselves (narcissism, thy name is Homo sapiens). Based on this assumption, we plotted all of the height and weight inputs and ended up with the following distribution:

weightvsheightnonmetric

We can see from this that the average Wolfram|Alpha user is an individual who weighs about 154 pounds and is between 5′ 9″ and 5′ 11″ tall. This translates to a BMI of between 21.5-22.7 for men or women. From these results, we see that the average user falls within normal distribution.

Let us see how this hypothetical Wolfram|Alpha user compares with the average American male or female:

Male weight distribution

Female weight distribution

Similarly, we can compare user heights with the height distribution of the general population in America: More »

September 30, 2010– 29

In 1977, famed computer scientist Donald Knuth decided he didn’t like the typesetting of the second edition of The Art of Computer Programming. Rather than unhappily accept the results of photographic typesetting techniques, Knuth invented his own digital typesetting solution, TeX, which would eventually become the standard typesetting system for mathematical and academic content. Wikipedia displays math content using a variant of TeX, and research papers from a large range of fields are very commonly submitted in TeX format.

Our team recently added the ability to understand TeX notation and convert it to the Mathematica form used by the powerful Wolfram|Alpha engine. We’ve received many requests for this functionality from people who use Wolfram|Alpha for advanced math and physics. It’s often easy and natural to write mathematics using TeX, whereas it can otherwise be quite difficult to express clearly in plaintext notation.

int sin{x^2}+sqrt{x} dx

The beauty of this new capability is that one can now see, compute, and understand typeset mathematics all through the union of TeX notation and Wolfram|Alpha computation. Complicated expressions are now easily represented using the elegance of TeX: More »

September 28, 2010– 8

Renowned physicist Enrico Fermi’s name is synonymous with a type of estimation problem often illustrated by the classic question, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” Finding a “Fermi estimate” of this number would typically involve multiplying a series of rough estimates, such as the population of Chicago, an approximate number of households owning pianos, the frequency with which a typical piano might be tuned, and so on. It’s unlikely that anyone would arrive at a precise, correct answer through this method, but a Fermi estimate should at least be able to generate an answer that is approximately the right order of magnitude.

A Fermi estimate usually seeks to measure a quantity that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to actually measure. “Piano tuners in Chicago” may have fallen into that category several decades ago, but as Wolfram|Alpha can now demonstrate, things have changed:

Wolfram|Alpha's results for "How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?"

We recently overhauled our data on jobs and salaries in the United States, adding Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on more than 800 detailed occupations at the national, state, and metropolitan area levels. Which means Wolfram|Alpha can’t quite get you to an exact measurement of the number of piano tuners in Chicago (and presumably, many of them must at least dabble in other instruments), but it can come surprisingly close.

Wolfram|Alpha can also compute a number of interesting statistics that aren’t obvious from the source data, such as the fact that Chicago has quite a high density of musical instrument tuners and repairers—roughly 2.3 times the national average workforce fraction for this occupation—and that their median wage is roughly 1.3 times the national average. And it can also provide helpful context for any occupation, computing employment and wage information for related jobs and sub-specialties, according to BLS classifications.

You can also perform all kinds of interesting comparisons, of course: try asking Wolfram|Alpha to “compare producers and actors employment in California”, for example, or “garbage collectors vs waiters salaries in New York City”. Or if you’re contemplating a cross-country move, you might be interested to see a comparison between “computer programmers salaries in Seattle vs Philadelphia”.

And if you need to access salary and job-related data often, you can create your own Wolfram|Alpha Widgets tailored for specific jobs and regions. You can easily customize widgets, like the one below, and embed them in your website and share with your social networks.

September 24, 2010– 14

Secrets can be so hard to keep—especially when your loyal users are anxiously awaiting news of a new app for a certain mobile platform! Today we’re excited to share with you that the Wolfram|Alpha App for Android will be available on October 6, 2010. We’re also pleased to announce that we’re teaming up with T-Mobile to launch the Wolfram|Alpha App for Android for the new T-Mobile® G2™ with Google™!

The Wolfram|Alpha App for Android delivers the full power of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine, providing you with a massive knowledge base of factual information in the palm of your hand. With the T-Mobile G2, the Wolfram|Alpha app takes advantage of the blazing fast 4G speeds of T-Mobile’s network to get you answers in an instant. Combining the power of the G2 with the power of Wolfram|Alpha creates an extraordinary experience for knowledge on the go.

The computational power of Wolfram|Alpha is coming to Android

Using Android’s native voice input capability, you can speak your queries to Wolfram|Alpha and get your answers hands-free. The app integrates Wolfram|Alpha’s growing repository of curated data, including over ten trillion data elements, and its library of tens of thousands of sophisticated computational models, to deliver knowledge quickly and seamlessly, on demand, anywhere. It also leverages the advanced screen capabilities of Android 2.2, providing sharp, high-resolution results. More »

September 24, 2010– 4

We recently hosted the inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 in Washington, DC. The summit brought together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.

The summit officially opened with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. In his talk, Stephen discussed the complex nature of gathering systematic knowledge and data, explained how Mathematica helps with the challenges of making all data computable, and hinted at some new technologies you can expect from us in the near future. You can read more in the transcript of Stephen’s talk below.
More »

September 22, 2010– 4

Every day the Sun crosses the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west, but in detail its path is different every time. If it is winter, or if you live in the north, the Sun is lower and stays closer to the southern horizon. While the time of year and the location have similar effects, they act independently on the overall path. The Sun’s path is unique for your place and time.

You can see the sunpath today at your location; the default is the perspective of looking toward the southern horizon.

The path of the Sun for Champaign, Illinois on September 22, 2010

The autumnal equinox is tonight (in North America), but in Pyramid Point (a place close to the equator in the Pacific), the equinox will occur Thursday, close to noon, when the Sun will be almost overhead. More »

September 21, 2010– 6

I spent a decade of my life writing A New Kind of Science. Most of that time was devoted to discovering the science in the book. But another part was spent figuring out how to present the science in the best possible way—using words and pictures.

It took a lot of technology to do that presentation. On the software side, the biggest part was using Mathematica to create elaborate algorithmic diagrams—thousands of them. But then came the question of how to actually deliver everything. And back in 2002 when A New Kind of Science was published, the only real possibility was to print a book on paper, using the very best printing technology of the time.

The actual print production process was quite an adventure—going right to the edge of what was possible. But in the end we got many compliments on the object we produced. And from that time to this, that 5.5 lb (2.5 kg) lump of paper has been the definitive representation of my decade-plus of intellectual work.

But today I’m excited to be able to say that there’s something new and in some ways even better: a full version on the iPad.

NKS book and its iPad version
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September 17, 2010– 5

Recently, as students head back to school, we’ve written quite a bit about Wolfram|Alpha’s mathematics capabilities. But those of you who don’t have quite as much interest in, say, transfinite cardinal arithmetic, can rest assured that we haven’t stopped adding more general pop culture data to the system.

One of our latest features is detailed U.S. box office data, with information on total, weekend, and in many cases even daily receipts for motion pictures. So if you want to see how a recently released film is doing in theaters, just ask about its box office totals. For example, try “eat pray love box office“. Or maybe you’d like to look back and compare some of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Try “box office for iron man 2, toy story 3, inception” for a quick comparison; to make it even easier to compare several films released on different dates, click the “Show by weeks since release” button to align the movies’ start dates. In this case, it’s easy to see that although Iron Man 2 had the strongest opening of the three, its revenue also fell off more steeply in the following weeks.

Box office for iron man 2, toy story 3, and inception

You’re not limited to films released this summer, of course—if you’re a fan of director Christopher Nolan’s work, you might like to see how well Inception compares to his previous directorial effort, The Dark Knight. Or maybe you’d like to compare two other cinematic heavy-hitters to see which one held the #1 box office rank longer. More »

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September 15, 2010– 1

If you’re keeping a close eye on the U.S. economy—and who isn’t, these days?—you probably noticed yesterday’s news that retail sales increased in August for the second month in a row. But you may not have noticed that Wolfram|Alpha is now picking up these Department of Commerce reports as soon as they are released, and allows you to explore and compute U.S. retail sales data so you can better understand these trends.

Try simply asking Wolfram|Alpha about “U.S. retail sales” and you’ll see the latest monthly figure, along with automatic computations of that number as a per capita value and as a fraction of total U.S. GDP, as well as the annual growth rate for overall retail sales. To filter out the seasonal variation in many sales categories, you can also ask for “seasonally adjusted retail sales“—which more clearly shows the retail sector’s dramatic plunge in late 2008.
Adjusted U.S. retail sales as of August 2010

You can also explore trends in individual retail categories (click “More” in the “Retail sales categories” pod for a detailed list), such as clothing stores or electronic shopping and mail order houses.

Or you can mash up this retail sales data with other economic data in Wolfram|Alpha. Try comparing retail sales at building-supply dealers with housing starts, for example, or retail sales at jewelry stores compared with civilian unemployment. (Note that advance figures for August aren’t available for all individual retail categories, so Wolfram|Alpha will default to the latest available values.) More »

September 15, 2010– 0

Our first Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinars were met with so much interest and enthusiasm that we’re announcing three more opportunities for you to participate!

Sign up today for one of our Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinars and discover powerful new ways to advance learning in your classroom. The hour-long webinar gives you an overview and demonstration of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine, including the recently launched Widget Builder (beta).

Administrators, parents, and students will also benefit from these webinars.

To register for a webinar, please click one of the three sessions listed below. Registration is free and takes just a few minutes. A copy of the presentation will also be made available to those who attend.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 9am Pacific Time

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 2pm Pacific Time

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5pm Pacific Time

We look forward to having you and your colleagues join us for an upcoming webinar!

September 10, 2010– 2

The inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 has officially drawn to a close. We’d like to thank the presenters and participants for contributing to the success of this year’s conference.

We look forward to sharing more photos and summaries with you next week. In the meantime, we invite you to visit our earlier post, “A Look Inside the Wolfram Data Summit 2010,” and catch up on interesting insights and commentary shared by participants on the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit.

September 10, 2010– 11

The concept of infinity has been fraught with paradox since antiquity. For this reason, Aristotle sought to banish it from his physics, claiming that there were no actual infinities in nature—only potential infinities. Over a millennium later, medieval scholars offered the following example when asked why infinity was forbidden.

Two concentric circles

Imagine two concentric circles. Each circle contains infinitely many points along its circumference, but since the outer circle has a greater circumference, it has more points than the inner circle. Now take any point A on the outer circle, and draw a line from A to the circle’s center. This line must intersect some point B on the circumference of the inner circle. Hence, for every point A on the outer circle, there is a corresponding point B on the inner circle, and vice versa. Therefore, both circles must have the same number of points, despite the fact that the outer circle appears to have more points than the inner circle. More »

September 9, 2010– 3

The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 opened this morning in Washington, DC. The inaugural event brings together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.

The invitation-only conference includes participants from organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau, NASA, NPR, the United Nations, OpenStreetMap, Thomson Reuters, comScore, and many others.

The summit officially opened this morning with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. Topics being presented and discussed at the summit include data curation methods, automated data collection, data linguistics, crowdsourcing, the democratization of data, and more.

Stephen Wolfram delivers the keynote address at the Wolfram Data Summit 2010

Stephen Wolfram delivers the keynote address at the Wolfram Data Summit 2010

Participants at the Wolfram Data Summit 2010 discuss concepts for the future

Participants view a history of systematic data and the development of computable knowledge

Presentations at the Wolfram Data Summit 2010

The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 will continue through Friday, September 10. We invite you to follow the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit to participate in the conversation and to get interesting insights and commentary from Wolfram Data Summit participants.

September 2, 2010– 7

A new school year is here, and many students are diving into new levels of math. Fortunately, this year, you have Wolfram|Alpha to help you work through math problems and understand new concepts. Wolfram|Alpha contains information from the most basic math problems to advanced and even research-level mathematics. If you are not yet aware of Wolfram|Alpha’s math capabilities, you are about to have a “wow” moment. For the Wolfram|Alpha veterans, we have added many math features since the end of the last school year. In this post, we’re highlighting some existing Wolfram|Alpha math essentials, such as adding fractions, solving equations, statistics, and examples from new topics areas like cusps and corners, stationary points, asymptotes, and geometry.

You can access the computational power of Wolfram|Alpha through the free website, via Wolfram|Alpha Widgets, with the Wolfram|Alpha App for iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad! Even better, the Wolfram|Alpha Apps for iPhone, and iPod touch, and the iPad are now on sale in the App Store for $0.99 though September 12.

If you need to brush up on adding fractions, solving equations, or finding a derivative, Wolfram|Alpha is the place to go. Wolfram|Alpha not only has the ability to find the solutions to these math problems, but also to show one way of reaching the solution with the “Show Steps” button. Check out the post “Step-by-Step Math” for more on this feature.

Using Wolfram|Alpha to solve for 3x2+7x-10

You can find this widget, and many others, in the Wolfram|Alpha Widget Gallery. Customize or build your own to help you work through common math problems. Then add these widgets to your website or blog, and share them with friends on Facebook and other social networks.

Of course, Wolfram|Alpha also covers statistics and probability. For example, Wolfram|Alpha can compute coin tossing probabilities such as “probability of 21 coin tosses“, and provides information on normal distribution: More »

September 1, 2010– 2

We’re continually looking for new ways to make accessing and sharing knowledge from Wolfram|Alpha simpler. As a result, we’ve introduced a new tool that allows you to share and bookmark knowledge directly from any Wolfram|Alpha results page.

With the new “Bookmark & Share” features, you can easily post Wolfram|Alpha results to Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. Hover over the more icon ( + ) to share via email, bit.ly, Tumblr, and dozens of other social networking and sharing sites.

Results for weather in London on the day David Beckham was born

We look forward to sharing more tools and site enhancements with you in the near future. And as always, we love hearing ideas on how we can continue to make Wolfram|Alpha a fun experience for you!

August 31, 2010– 13

We’re pleased to announce a series of free, live Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinars that give K–12 educators and administrators an overview of the utility and features of Wolfram|Alpha in education. Educators are showing interest in and enthusiasm for Wolfram|Alpha, and we look forward to helping them incorporate it into their classrooms.

The webinars will be presented by Holland Lincoln, Manager of Education and Business Development, and will feature a live Q&A.

To register for a Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinar, please click one of the four sessions listed below. Each session is limited to 100 participants. Sign up today to secure your space!

Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 2pm Central Time

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 6pm Central Time

Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 3pm Central Time

Monday, September 13, 2010 at 3pm Central Time

Once your registration is complete, you’ll receive a confirmation email containing a webinar login link. The webinars will be delivered via Adobe Acrobat Connect. Use any one of the supported web browsers on your computer with Flash Player installed.

We look forward to having you and your colleagues join us for an upcoming Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinar!

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August 27, 2010– 9

The Wolfram|Alpha App for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad is now on sale for back-to-school! Now through September 12, you can download the Wolfram|Alpha app from the App Store for only $0.99.

The Wolfram|Alpha app gives you answers and access to expert-level knowledge whenever and wherever you need it—whether balancing chemical equations in the lab, studying finance on the bus, or calculating the number of calories in your breakfast as you’re hustling down the quad.

Calculating nutrition information with the Wolfram|Alpha App for iPhone and iPod touch Converting currency with the specialized keyboard on the Wolfram|Alpha App

The Wolfram|Alpha app is designed for both the iPhone and iPad, and has been specially tuned for multi-tasking under iOS 4 and for the iPhone 4′s Retina display. You only have to buy it once, leaving more change in your pocket! And with the app’s four specialized keyboards, you just might find yourself leaving your calculator at home.

Balancing chemical equations with the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPad

Be sure to visit this blog throughout the semester to learn about new data and features available in Wolfram|Alpha. And we’d love for you to share how you’re using Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram|Alpha App for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad in the comments below.

August 25, 2010– 3

Wolfram|Alpha widget “builders” have been busy creating and sharing their innovative Wolfram|Alpha-powered mini apps on their sites and with their social networks. We’re thrilled by your excitement and widget-building efforts.

The Wolfram|Alpha Widgets home page with the new featured widgets

Beginning today, we’re shining a light on some of the most popular widgets in the gallery, one of which will be designated as the featured widget on the home page. Not only can you use any of these featured widgets on the Wolfram|Alpha Widgets site, but it’s easy to embed any of these widgets on your site, too!

This week’s featured widget on the home page is a quick calorie calculator that lets you calculate the number of calories burned when running, walking, biking, swimming, and cross-country skiing. You can even personalize your results by taking into account factors such as sex, age, distance, and speed.
More »

August 20, 2010– 6

This week BBC News ran a story on how taxi drivers in Japan are hearing the unexpected sounds of cooing babies on their CB radios. The cause: U.S.-purchased baby monitors from nearby U.S. military bases that are interfering with communication frequencies. Why would this happen? It’s likely that the baby monitors were manufactured to work on region two communication frequencies, and while being used in Japan, they’re interfering with communication frequencies allocated to region one.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) divides the world into three regions. Each region has its own frequency-band allocations; that is, in each region, each frequency band is allocated to a specific use. Sometimes a local authority like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States regulates the use of frequency bands.

Say you want to find out how a specific frequency like 2GHz is allocated. Type “frequency allocation 2GHz” into Wolfram|Alpha.

Frequency allocations for 2GHz
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August 19, 2010– 3

The Wolfram|Alpha Blog is not only your official news source for new data and features, but it’s also a great place to read how others are using Wolfram|Alpha in everyday life, for education and on the job. This week, a tweet linking to @drwetzel‘s latest blog post “How to Integrate Wolfram Alpha into Science and Math Classes” caught our attention. With a new school year upon us, we wanted to share his examples for using Wolfram|Alpha through the website, widgets, and mobile apps with educators who are looking for ways to incorporate Wolfram|Alpha into their math and science classes.

From the Teach Science and Math blog:

How to Integrate Wolfram Alpha into Science and Math Classes

“What is Wolfram Alpha? It is a supercomputing brain. It provides calculates [sic] and provides comprehensive answers to most any science or math question. Unlike other search sources, you and your students can ask questions in plain language or various forms of abbreviated notation.

Contrary to popular belief, Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine. Unlike popular search engines, which simply retrieve documents based on keyword searches, Wolfram computes answers based on known models of human knowledge. It provides answers which are complete with data and algorithms, representing real-world knowledge.

Teaching Strategies: Researching Facts and Information

Science and math teaching strategies with Wolfram begin with allowing students to search for information about specific facts and information. The following examples provide support for stimulating critical thinking using a digital lens.”

Click here to continue reading this post on the Teach Science and Math blog.

If you’re new to Wolfram|Alpha, we invite you to visit the Wolfram|Alpha for Educators site to browse our video gallery, download lesson plans, and more. Are you already using Wolfram|Alpha in your classroom? Share your story in the comment box below and you could be featured in an upcoming post on how educators are using Wolfram|Alpha as a learning tool in a variety of subjects.

August 13, 2010– 2

When we introduced the beta versions of Wolfram|Alpha Widgets and Widget Builder just a few short weeks ago, we asked, “So, what will you widget?” The answer we got was “A lot of creative, outside-the-box widgets!”

We fully expected to be blown away by all of the innovative and fun ways users would harness the power of Wolfram|Alpha on their blogs, websites, and on their social media networks. Wolfram|Alpha users have already customized and built over 1300 widgets with the easy-to-use drag-and-drop Widget Builder. You can browse them all in the Widget Gallery. If you haven’t created your first widget yet, take a quick tour or check out the demo video to see how simple it is to build your own free, custom Wolfram|Alpha-powered mini-app.

Not only have users been excited about customizing and building widgets, but they’ve been sharing them too! We’ve stumbled upon an impressive number of widgets on Twitter and Facebook. And widgets have been embedded in over 500 websites and blogs to date. We thought you’d enjoy seeing some of the handy widgets users are creating and sharing on a variety of websites and blogging platforms.

@ThinktankPlanet tweeted us a link to their custom astronomy widget on the Thinktank Birmingham science museum’s website. If you want to find the location of an astronomical object in the sky for a given city, time, and date, give this widget a try. You may also want to see how this custom widget appears on the website.

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August 9, 2010– 1

On August 2, The New York Times reported that the (near) final estimate for the total amount of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling accident is approximately 4.9 million barrels. It would be nice to understand what this number means in the context of the commodity markets where oil is traded. It would also be nice to better understand what this oil spill did to BP stockholders.

Wolfram|Alpha can help answer these questions. For example, someone might wonder what all this oil would be worth on the oil market. The input “price of 4.9 million barrels of oil” tells us that the value of this oil on the oil futures market is around $398.8 million (at the time this was written). That’s a lot of money just floating around the Gulf! But to be fair, much of it was cleaned up. Wolfram|Alpha also shows a graph of how the value of this oil has fluctuated over time as well as the latest quote of a barrel of oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Price of 4.9 million barrels of oil

Someone might wonder whether the amount of spilled oil was enough to affect the price of oil in the U.S. The input “oil futures open interest” gives us the number of oil futures contracts currently in existence for the front-month contract.

As the graph illustrates, open interest starts out strong every month (as the front-month contract rolls forward to the next month). As the contract approaches expiration, some people close out their positions while others roll their positions forward into a future month’s contract. The best measure of open interest would be the higher numbers shown immediately after the front-month rolls forward (especially since other contract months aren’t accounted for here).
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August 5, 2010– 7

Here at Wolfram|Alpha we’re always asking questions and seeking answers in an effort to make all of the world’s knowledge computable and understandable by everyone (big or small).

We’ve put together a short list of common questions asked by preschool- and kindergarten-aged children that can be answered with Wolfram|Alpha. We hope these examples inspire your child to dream up more!

Is the Moon bigger than the Earth? Ask Wolfram|Alpha to compare “size of earth, size of moon”, and you’ll discover numerical and graphic size comparisons showing that the Earth is indeed larger than the Moon.

size of earth, size of moon

Chances are your little artists will discover the answer to this question on their own, but they can try asking Wolfram|Alpha what color they get when they “mix red and blue”?

Mixing the colors red and blue

Whether it’s because they’re excited about the party or just turning a year older, the birthday countdown is always on! Simply ask Wolfram|Alpha about the date of the child’s upcoming birthday, such as “October 8 2010”, to learn the number of days, weeks, or months until the big day.
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August 2, 2010– 3

As you go about your day, especially during the hot summer season, you probably don’t think much about the Sun other than that it makes you want to go for a quick dip in the swimming pool to cool off. After all, the Sun rises and sets every day (for those of us outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles), and people just take it for granted without much thought.

The Sun is far more dynamic than you might think, although thankfully we don’t usually feel direct effects of its activity from Earth’s surface. The atmosphere and magnetic field of the Earth provide a nice buffer zone that protects us.

Every 11 years, the Sun completes a cycle that is fairly regular. During solar maximum, the number of sunspots is higher than usual, and during solar minimum (which we are just coming out of), it is relatively spot free.

The Sun is still coming out of solar minimum, but activity is slowly returning. At about 8:55 UTC on August 1, a measurable solar flare triggered an event known as a coronal mass ejection (CME). This is where the “atmosphere” of the Sun sends out a burst of energized plasma. In this case, nearly the entire Earth-facing side of the Sun was involved, so effects on the Earth are more likely. Here’s the X-ray signature of the solar flare that triggered the CME:

The X-ray signature of the solar flare that triggered the CME
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July 30, 2010– 2

Wolfram|Alpha has a massive database of measurements that can help you solve everything from complex scientific conversions to common everyday questions. And because of the ever-connected world we live in today, we often come into contact with systems of measurement that may be unfamiliar to us.

Wolfram|Alpha.com has always been a great source for quick and easy unit conversions. But now, thanks to the newly announced Wolfram|Alpha Widgets and Widget Builder, you can create and share these Wolfram|Alpha-powered mini-apps on your blogs and with your social networks. Below is a sampling of the handy widgets that users have created in recent days—for everything from kitchen conversions to shoe sizes.

Give yourself, and perhaps readers of your cooking blog, a helping hand in the kitchen with this easy-as-pie kitchen conversion widget. This particular widget was designed to convert American units of measure. However, you can customize your own widget for other systems of measurement in just a few easy steps with the drag-and-drop Widget Builder.

Have you ever found yourself needing to convert currency when budgeting for an upcoming international trip? This simple widget allows you to convert currencies and take into account possible fees and commissions you may incur when buying or selling moneys.

Do you need a fast way to compute the distance between two physical locations in your preferred units of measurement?

Wondering whether you just awoke a friend several time zones away with a text message? Wolfram|Alpha can also perform a variety of time conversions. With this widget you can simply enter the location, such as “Dubai”, and Wolfram|Alpha will display the time difference between Dubai and your location in several different ways along with other details about the current time in Dubai.


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July 29, 2010– 3

Wolfram|Alpha launched with an extensive database of United States economic data, derived from the Federal Reserve Bank’s FRED database. Over the past year, we’ve continued to improve our handling of this data in a variety of ways—teaching Wolfram|Alpha to return more related statistics along with any specific result, improving our linguistic abilities so we can answer more complex questions, and increasing the frequency with which we update this data. Wolfram|Alpha is now refreshing its collection of FRED-derived data on a daily basis, so you can always access the latest available data on the national economy.

We’ve also begun to expand our coverage of economic data for smaller geographic areas in the United States, starting with state-level statistics. This means Wolfram|Alpha users can now query for the latest available information on a variety of economic topics, including gross state product, unemployment, health insurance coverage, and housing-related data.

As always, one of the strengths of Wolfram|Alpha is that it allows you to compare and analyze different pieces of data—and with this data set, you can quickly uncover strong correlations between various economic properties. It’s easy to see that the house price index tends to move together with employment and state tax collections. You can also use Wolfram|Alpha to run simple calculations of productivity in U.S. states, or to find out a given state’s share of the national economy or workforce.

To make it even easier to explore this data, you can also use the new Wolfram|Alpha Widget Builder to create simple tools for analyzing and comparing the economic properties of states. To get you started, here’s a small selection of widgets focused on US state economies—ranging from the serious to the slightly silly. Try them out:

Feel free to customize and share these on Twitter or Facebook, in your blog, or anywhere else—and let us know in the comments if you create any useful new widgets of your own.

July 27, 2010– 16

The beta version of Wolfram|Alpha Widgets is here! What are Wolfram|Alpha Widgets? They’re free, Wolfram|Alpha-powered mini apps that are easy to make, customize, and share on your blog, website, and social networks. And they’re the next step toward our goal of making the vast knowledge and computational power of Wolfram|Alpha available to everyone, everywhere.

Widgets are a new and personal way to experience Wolfram|Alpha. Want to have an Wolfram|Alpha-powered app on your blog that calculates the adult height and weight of a child based on his or her current stats? Or how about an app that compares the financial data of two public companies? Want to create a customized nutritional label for any recipe you have? Calculate integrals on the fly? Or locate an object in the sky? The possibilities are limitless. For more examples of widgets, see the hundreds already in the Widget Gallery. You can freely take any of these widgets and put them on your own site as is or customize them any way you wish.

Don’t see an existing widget for your area of interest? Using the new drag-and drop Widget Builder, you can create your own widget using anything in Wolfram|Alpha’s vast knowledge base in just a few easy steps. Once you’ve built and customized your widget, it will automatically be added to the widget gallery where you can share it with others.

We fully expect to be blown away by all of the cool and innovative ways you harness the power of Wolfram|Alpha widgets. Here are just a few ways we want to help you share your use of widgets with the world!

  • Once you’ve published your widget in the widget gallery, share the link with your social networks and ask to have your widget rated. Your widget will be rocking the ratings charts in no time.
  • Show how you’re using widgets on your blog by sharing a link to your blog on Twitter. Be sure to include the hashtag #WolframAlphaWidget. Oh, and be sure to follow @Wolfram_Alpha!

We’ll select the most interesting uses of widgets and highlight them on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, in the Wolfram|Alpha Community, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

So, what will you widget? Click here to get started.

July 23, 2010– 6

Runners and cyclists can now get personalized physical activity and fitness results from Wolfram|Alpha. Our team has added enhanced activity formulas to provide specific results that account for the individual differences among all types of runners and cyclists. Whether preparing for a race or monitoring regular routines, athletes and enthusiasts alike can now calculate actual performance results and compute performance predictions and the impact of exercise on personal physical fitness.

You can calculate your own results in Wolfram|Alpha by using a natural language input such as “cycling 72.13 miles for 240 minutes” or you can type in “cycling” to explore all of the formula’s options. For example, a cyclist who is preparing for, or who has just completed, a race can calculate a variety of user-specific metabolic properties, like the amount of fat and the number of calories burned, by taking into account factors such as age, gender, height, weight, incline, resting heart rate, and wind speed and direction. Below are sample results from Wolfram|Alpha when calculating the speed a 25-year-old male cyclist needs to maintain to complete a race in 240 minutes:

Calculating the speed a 25-year-old male cyclist needs to maintain to complete a race in 240 minutes

To complement the results of Wolfram|Alpha’s calculations, cyclists can compare their speed or pace with world record times by clicking the “Show comparisons” link.

Runners can input similar information and calculate calories and fat burned; oxygen consumed; heart rate; equivalent activities; conversions for speed, pace, distance, and time; and performance predictions. For this example, we convinced a member of our team to share his post-race results from the 2009 Chicago Marathon: More »

July 20, 2010– 5

At the recent London Computational Knowledge Summit, Wolfram|Alpha content manager C. Alan Joyce gave attendees an insider’s look into Wolfram|Alpha. He shared how Wolfram|Alpha’s teams of Mathematica programmers, knowledge-domain experts, and data and linguistics curators have been able to transform raw data from public and private sources into “computable knowledge” that can be accessed and manipulated through natural-language input. Click the image below to view the video of his presentation:

Computational Knowledge in Practice: Inside the Wolfram|Alpha Project

Video by River Valley Technologies

Data acquisition, data curation, linguistics curation, and dynamic visualization are four of Wolfram|Alpha’s key focus areas. Which of those is most fascinating to you?

July 15, 2010– 9

A new medical diagnosis or drug treatment can often leave us with more questions than answers. A few weeks ago we introduced a disease dataset within Wolfram|Alpha that can be helpful for those wondering how their condition and treatment plans compare to those of other patients. Most notably, this dataset includes the fraction of patients within the United States that have been diagnosed with a medical condition in a given year. For each condition, Wolfram|Alpha has various levels of information, including commonly reported symptoms, co-occurring diseases, and lab tests used for diagnosis. Beyond this, Wolfram|Alpha also has carefully curated data on drug treatments. For example:

The data displayed from these inputs gives classes of drugs prescribed or administered to patients during health care provider visits. Wolfram|Alpha ranks the drug classes by the number of patients to whom they were administered. For example, “hypertension drug treatment”, initially shows us that, of all the patients diagnosed with hypertension, 25% were prescribed angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, 22% HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, 21% cardioselective beta blockers, 19% antihypertensive combinations, and 16% calcium channel blocking agents. (That’s over 100% total because some patients are prescribed more than one medication.)

Drugs prescribed to treat hypertension

Looking above the ranked drug table we can see that there are a handful of useful options. Click “Show drugs”, and the table opens up and displays a ranked table of brand-name drugs prescribed within each class. From this table, you can see interesting differences in drug-prescribing patterns between the sexes. For example, the angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor Lisinopril is more commonly prescribed to male hypertension patients than females, but looking further down the list, we can see that female patients are more commonly prescribed Enalapril than are males.

Common brand-name drugs used to treat hypertension

Wolfram|Alpha can also can also provide generic options for prescription drug treatments. More »

July 13, 2010– 4

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic physical activity each week. Recommendations for children age 6 to 17 are even higher: at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous activity each day.

Yet according to the CDC, only one-third of American adults regularly engage in some kind of physical activity, and the prevalence of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past three decades—to nearly 20% among children age 6 to 19. The warm and sunny days of summer provide an excellent opportunity to try new outdoor activities, or spend more time engaged in old favorites. Wolfram|Alpha can perform useful computations for many popular summer water sports, including fishing, water skiing, and sailing. By adding time and/or body weight to these inputs, you can tailor the calculations to your own physical measurements and activity schedule:

For queries about activities such as swimming and rowing, you can now incorporate other variables about speed and pace, along with age and physical measurements:

In addition to basic information about calories and fat burned, the amount of oxygen consumed, and the metabolic equivalents required for the activity, Wolfram|Alpha also computes estimates of working heart rate and heart rate reserve.

Below the “Heart rate pod”, Wolfram|Alpha generates an “Equivalent activities” pod that displays the amount of time it would take to expend the same amount of energy performing other activities. Within the “Speed” and “Pace” pods that follow, you can click “Show comparisons” to see how your predicted performance measures up against various world records. Below the “Pace” pod, there are “Distance” and “Time” pods followed by the “Performance prediction” pod. Using Riegel’s endurance model, this pod displays the predicted time, speed, and pace over standard swimming race distances. More »

July 9, 2010– 7

This Sunday, July 11, is World Population Day—an event established in 1989 by the United Nations to raise awareness of global population issues. This year, the emphasis is on the 2010 World Population and Housing Census Programme and the importance of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data in a way that supports good health and social policy development.

In the past few months, we’ve added a variety of international data sets to Wolfram|Alpha, such as data on food consumption and worldwide health indicators. But Wolfram|Alpha launched with an enormous collection of global socioeconomic data, much of it from the UN and other authoritative repositories of international statistics, and we’ve continued to expand and curate that collection.

As we’ve said before, we’re committed to “democratizing data”—to making it easier for everyone to access and understand the wealth of important data produced by a multitude of sources. For good examples of our own ability to analyze and disseminate relevant socioeconomic data, try some of the following queries pertaining to topics from past and present World Population Days:

We’ll soon be introducing some new functionality that will give “power users” the ability to do more advanced analysis and comparison of properties between groups of countries, and in other knowledge domains. And as always, if you’d like to see additional data in Wolfram|Alpha, please send us your suggestions.

PS: If you’re interested in the absolute latest information on world population, try asking Wolfram|Alpha for the current world population. Reload that page in your browser a few times and see how fast that number is going up!

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July 6, 2010– 6

As a scientist and a technology CEO, Stephen Wolfram often thinks about the future—both near-term and long-term.  On June 12 he gave an unusual keynote talk at the 2010 H+ Summit @ Harvard, titled “Computation and the Future of the Human Condition”.

Check out the transcript to find Stephen’s latest thoughts on our future…

July 2, 2010– 7

Sunday is the United States’ Independence Day, and one of the hottest days of the year in this part of the country. Many Americans will celebrate the day with outdoor activities such as barbecues, parades, and fireworks. Chances are that after all the corn on the cob and fun in the sun, they’ll be looking to celebrate with some air conditioning, too! All that cooling will require a few degree days!

What’s a degree day? A degree day quantifies the amount of heating or cooling required to heat or cool an inside space.

Suppose you want to maintain an inside temperature of 65°F. This 65°F is called the base temperature. (65°F might sound cool, but this artificially low number is used because the actual temperature in the building will be raised by bodies and other inside sources of heat.) If the weather forecast for Champaign is as hot as expected for U.S. Independence Day—definitely above 65°F—then you’ll need to cool the building. The amount of cooling required is the difference between the base temperature and the outdoor temperature, multiplied by the time over which the temperature is different. If it is cooler outside than 65°F then you’ll need to heat the building, again by an amount equal to the product of the temperature difference and the time.

To make sense out of that, just type “degree days” into Wolfram|Alpha.

Degree days formula in Wolfram|Alpha

The temperature history pod contains a plot of the temperature over the time period of the calculation—one month back by default. If you are used to using Wolfram|Alpha to check the weather this plot should look familiar, but with some differences. The horizontal red line across the plot is the base temperature. The part of the plot that is above the red line is shaded in blue. That’s because when the temperature is above the base temperature, you have to cool the building. The number of cooling degree days is the area of the blue region. Similarly, the number of heating degree days is the area of the red region, which extends from the red baseline down to temperatures below the base temperature. More »

June 30, 2010– 6

In any news report about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a lot of statistics get thrown around—mainly about the rate at which oil has been spewing out of a pipe on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Recent estimates put the flow up to 60,000 barrels per day, but it’s hard for most of us to comprehend exactly what that number means. Wolfram|Alpha has always been able to provide some useful comparisons for any quantity you care to input, and can easily tell you that 60,000 barrels of oil is roughly equivalent to 3.8 times the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

With the recent addition of data on production and consumption of energy resources in every country, Wolfram|Alpha can also give you a more precise socioeconomic context for numbers like this. Try “60000 barrels per day / US crude oil production”, for example, and you’ll learn that the daily output of the leak is a little less than 1.2% of total crude oil production per day for the United States.

60000 barrels of oil divided by the United States' daily oil production

You can also get a better sense of global production or consumption of petroleum products, as well as information on coal and natural gas.

Because each of these energy resources is measured in different units, it can be difficult to understand exactly how they compare to one another—so Wolfram|Alpha can also compute the energy equivalents of each resource, measured in quadrillions of BTUs. For example, you can compare the United States consumption of energy from coal, natural gas, and petroleum on a single scale to better visualize the relative importance of each resource. More »

June 29, 2010– 7

How many people are diagnosed with diabetes in a given year? Is hypertension more common in men than in women? What drugs are most commonly prescribed for anemia?

In order to address questions like these and many more, Wolfram|Alpha has now assimilated data from two different surveys conducted by the CDC: the national ambulatory medical care survey (NAMCS) and its hospital-focused counterpart, the national hospital ambulatory medical care survey (NHAMCS). Together, these surveys provide information on common reasons why people visit the doctor’s office, drug treatments that are highly correlated with a particular disease, and which diseases are most commonly diagnosed within specific races, ethnicities, and genders.

Through Wolfram|Alpha, you can investigate data on thousands of diseases and medical conditions, such as these:

Instead of looking at all the information at once, you can also try more targeted inputs, such as “fraction of US population affected by lung cancer”:

Fraction of the United States population affected by lung cancer

From this output, we can see that approximately .21% of all U.S. patients are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. More »

June 23, 2010– 9

Today (June 23, 2010) would have been Alan Turing‘s 98th birthday—if he had not died in 1954, at the age of 41.

I never met Alan Turing; he died five years before I was born. But somehow I feel I know him well—not least because many of my own intellectual interests have had an almost eerie parallel with his.

And by a strange coincidence, Mathematica‘s “birthday” (June 23, 1988) is aligned with Turing’s—so that today is also the celebration of Mathematica‘s 22nd birthday.

I think I first heard about Alan Turing when I was about eleven years old, right around the time I saw my first computer. Through a friend of my parents, I had gotten to know a rather eccentric old classics professor, who, knowing my interest in science, mentioned to me this “bright young chap named Turing” whom he had known during the Second World War.

One of the classics professor’s eccentricities was that whenever the word “ultra” came up in a Latin text, he would repeat it over and over again, and make comments about remembering it. At the time, I didn’t think much of it—though I did remember it. Only years later did I realize that “Ultra” was the codename for the British cryptanalysis effort at Bletchley Park during the war. In a very British way, the classics professor wanted to tell me something about it, without breaking any secrets. And presumably it was at Bletchley Park that he had met Alan Turing.

A few years later, I heard scattered mentions of Alan Turing in various British academic circles. I heard that he had done mysterious but important work in breaking German codes during the war. And I heard it claimed that after the war, he had been killed by British Intelligence. At the time, at least some of the British wartime cryptography effort was still secret, including Turing’s role in it. I wondered why. So I asked around, and started hearing that perhaps Turing had invented codes that were still being used.

I’m not sure where I next encountered Alan Turing. Probably it was when I decided to learn all I could about computer science—and saw all sorts of mentions of “Turing machines”. But I have a distinct memory from around 1979 of going to the library, and finding a little book about Alan Turing written by his mother, Sara Turing.

And gradually I built up quite a picture of Alan Turing and his work. And over the 30 years that have followed, I have kept on running into Alan Turing, often in unexpected places. More »

June 21, 2010– 20

One thing that is full of confusion is figuring out relationships. It can also be full of surprises, like the fact that Wolfram|Alpha can do it for you. If you follow this blog, you already know that Wolfram|Alpha can figure out and calculate lots of different things, including the moon and planets, and you are about to discover what it can tell you about your relationships.

Or at least relationships between your relatives. For instance, my cousin just had a son”.

Wolfram|Alpha genealogy chart for "cousin's son"

We get a family tree, and it tells us that my relationship to my cousin’s son is that he is my first cousin once removed. Confusion resolved.

Like many other Wolfram|Alpha outputs, we get more than we may have expected. A few genealogical properties are related to historical laws, and a few are biological. The plots for sharing a Mendelian trait are given at the bottom after clicking More. This helps me understand how much I may have in common with my new first cousin once removed.

A dominant trait only requires one allele, while a recessive trait requires two. The other piece of information needed to say how likely it is to share a trait is how common it is in the general population. It is possible to share a trait accidentally, and for recessive traits one needs to get the other allele from the other parent. For my cousin’s son, not surprisingly, we see that the probability of sharing a genetic trait in common doesn’t seem to depend much on whether it is dominant or recessive. We are too distantly related to have much in common, and the probability of a shared trait between us depends primarily on the chance coming from the frequency in the general population.

It turns out that most traits are not simple like this, and involve more than one gene and so on, but this gives a general sense of how much we may have in common.

You probably know people who get confused about second cousins and so on, but there is also another category for relationship confusion. More »

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June 16, 2010– 6

“It’s a quick and easy Saturday afternoon project!” We’ve all stood in the middle of our favorite home improvement store reciting that same line. Ty Pennington, Mike Holmes, Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor—they know how to make the most elaborate home improvement projects look as simple as tightening a bolt. Often the challenging part of the project is picking the perfect color of paint, or deciding between hardwood and tile flooring. But just as soon as those decisions are settled we’re faced with deciding how many feet of flooring to purchase for the kitchen or how many gallons of coral paint are needed for the north wall of the living room. But you don’t have to let a little bit of tricky math cut into your project time. Wolfram|Alpha has a number of math tools that come in handy for many common home improvement projects.

You can make quick computations and conversions from Wolfram|Alpha’s website or from the Wolfram|Alpha app for iPhone or iPad while standing in the flooring department. Wondering how many 8 x 8 square inch tiles you’ll need to cover a 12 x 14 square foot kitchen? Compute it with Wolfram|Alpha by entering “(12*14) square feet / (8*8) square inches”:

Computing the number of 8 x 8 square inch tiles you'll need to cover a 12 x 14 square foot kitchen

Need to know how many square feet you can cover with vinyl flooring that’s sold by the square yard? Tap into Wolfram|Alpha’s large collection of units to convert 60 square yards to square feet.

Converting 60 square yards to square feet

Thinking about livening up the living room with a splash of color? Query the name of your favorite hue and Wolfram|Alpha will give you a color swatch, properties, and a breakdown of related colors

Properties of the color coral in Wolfram|Alpha

Wondering how many gallons of paint you’d need per coat on a wall that’s 90 square feet? More »

June 15, 2010– 5

Wolfram|Alpha computes things. While the use of computations to predict the outcomes of scientific experiments, natural processes, and mathematical operations is by no means new (it has become a ubiquitous tool over the last few hundred years), the ease of use and accessibility of a large, powerful, and ever-expanding collection of such computations provided by Wolfram|Alpha is.

Virtually all known processes occur in such a way that certain functionals that describe them become extremal. Typically this happens with the action for time dependent processes and quantities such as the free energy for static configurations. The equations describing the extremality condition of a functional are frequently low-order ordinary and/or partial differential equations and their solutions. For example, for a pendulum: Frechet derivative of Integrate[x'[t]^2/2 – Cos[x[t]], {t, -inf, inf}] wrt x[tau]. Unfortunately, if one uses a sufficiently realistic physical model that incorporates all potentially relevant variables (including things like friction, temperature dependence, deformation, and so forth), the resulting equations typically become complicated—so much so that in most cases, no exact closed-form solution can be found, meaning the equations must be solved using numerical techniques. A simple example is provided by free fall from large heights:

Calculating free fall in Wolfram|Alpha

On the other hand, some systems, such as the force of a simple spring, can be described by formulas involving simple low-order polynomial or rational relations between the relevant problem variables (in this case, Hooke’s law, F = k x):

Hooke's law

Over the last 200+ years, mathematicians and physicists have found a large, fascinating, and insightful world of phenomena that can be described exactly using these so-called special functions (also commonly known as “the special functions of mathematical physics”), the class of functions that describe phenomena between being difficult and complicated. It includes a few hundred members, and can be viewed as an extension of the so-called elementary functions such as exp(z), log(z), the trigonometric functions, their inverses, and related functions.

Special functions turn up in diverse areas ranging from the spherical pendulum in mechanics to inequivalent representations in quantum field theory, and most of them are solutions of first- or second-order ordinary differential equations. Textbooks often contain simple formulas that correspond to a simplified version of a general physical system—sometimes even without explicitly stating the implicit simplifying assumptions! However, it is often possible to give a more precise and correct result in terms of special functions. For instance, many physics textbooks offer a simple formula for the inductance of a circular coil with a small radius:

Formula for inductance of a circular coil with a small radius

While Wolfram|Alpha knows (and allows you to compute with) this simple formula, it also knows the correct general result. In fact, if you just ask Wolfram|Alpha for inductance circular coil, you will be simultaneously presented with two calculators: the one you know from your electromagnetics textbook (small-radius approximation) and the fully correct one. And not only can you compute the results both ways (and see that the results do differ slightly for the chosen parameters, but that the difference can get arbitrarily large), you can also click on the second “Show formula” link (near the bottom of the page on the right side) to see the exact result—which, as can be seen, contains two sorts of special functions, denoted E(m) and K(m) and known as elliptic integrals: More »

June 7, 2010– 10

The creation of large data repositories has been a key historical indicator of social and intellectual development—and indeed perhaps one of the defining characteristics of the whole progress of civilization.

And through our work on Wolfram|Alpha—with its insatiable appetite for systematic data—we have gained a uniquely broad view of the many great data repositories that exist in the world today.

Some of these repositories are maintained by national or international agencies, some by companies and other organizations, and some by individuals. A few of the repositories are quite new, but many date back 40 or more years, and some well over a century. But there is one thing in common across essentially every great data repository: a core of diligent and committed people who have carefully shepherded its development.

Curiously, though, few of these people have ever met their counterparts in other domains of data. And in our work on Wolfram|Alpha we are almost certainly the first group ever to have had the pleasure of getting to know such a broad range of leaders of great data repositories.

And one of the things that we have discovered is that there is much in common in both the methods used and the issues faced by these data repositories. So as part of our contribution to the worldwide data community we have decided to sponsor a data summit to bring together for the first time the leaders of today’s great data repositories.

The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 will be held in Washington, DC on September 9–10.

More »

June 3, 2010– 2

Since Wolfram|Alpha launched in 2009, we’ve had numerous requests to add data on climate. As part of our one-year anniversary release, we recently added a vast set of historical climate data, drawing on studies from across the globe, which can be easily analyzed and correlated in Wolfram|Alpha.

You can now query for and compare the raw data from different climate model reconstructions and studies, as reported in peer-reviewed journals and by government agencies, many of them covering more than a thousand years of history. The full set of reconstructions was chosen from as broad a collection of sources as possible, from well-known records such as ice cores and tree rings, to corals, speleothems, and glacier lengths—and even some truly unusual ones, like grape harvest dates.

Or are you more interested in global greenhouse gas concentrations?

If you’re interested in exploring this vast area of climatology yourself, you can start by looking at a detailed summary of the most prominent models in literature: simply ask Wolfram|Alpha about “global climate”, which will bring up a selection of data sets that have figured prominently in the news over the past few years.

Global climate studies in Wolfram|Alpha

Wolfram|Alpha can also compute a more local analysis of recorded temperature variations. For example, you can compare the temperature variations recorded in specific parts of the globe, like the Northern Hemisphere. Or you can ask about studies conducted in specific countries, like the United Kingdom or Japan. More »

June 1, 2010– 11

We’re in the midst of major enhancements to military data in Wolfram|Alpha, with newly added information on army, navy, and air force personnel for over 150 countries as well as statistics on many armaments, including stockpiles of nuclear warheads.

Let’s start with the big numbers. Type “army size of all countries” and you’ll see China, India, and the Korean Peninsula topping the list. China’s army alone includes 1.4 million soldiers and dwarfs the population of many smaller countries. The size of its combined army, navy, and air force is nearly equal to the entire population of Macedonia.

The size of China's combined army, navy, and air force is nearly equal to the entire population of Macedonia.

There’s an abundance of data on armaments, around the world as well, including estimates on nuclear stockpiles of the nine countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons; according to the latest available estimates, Russia has the largest stockpile with 13,000 warheads. Also new in Wolfram|Alpha are figures on conventional weapons, including aircraft carriers, battle tanks, and fighter jets. Try comparing countries’ armaments, such as “tanks USA vs Russia”, or asking about the number of submarines in the NATO alliance. More »

May 27, 2010– 8

On May 22, 2010, Martin Gardner died, unexpectedly, at age 95. The previous sentence contains a paradox* explained within his book The Unexpected Hanging and Other Mathematical Diversions, one of 15 books known collectively as “the Canon,” comprising hundreds of the Mathematical Games columns Martin wrote for Scientific American between 1956 to 1981.

My fifth-grade science class had old copies of Scientific American available, and I read a few of those columns. From him I learned that math can be fascinating, perhaps one of the great lessons I’ve learned in life. I found out that the library had more issues, and whole books by Martin. I tracked down more of his columns on microfiche.

After reading all those columns, school-level math was easy. Years later, I tried to follow in Martin’s footsteps by putting recreational mathematics online. For example, I contributed a diagram of pentagon tiling to a very early version of MathWorld. “Tiling with Convex Polygons” was one of Martin’s columns, in his book Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments; today, you can explore these objects in Wolfram|Alpha.

Pentagon tiling in Wolfram|Alpha

Martin’s works influenced generations of mathematicians, and many of the topics he discussed can be found here at Wolfram|Alpha. For a Lewis Carroll expert like Martin, a snark was “something hard to find”, as in Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” (for which Martin compiled a companion volume, The Annotated Snark). So he used the word “snark” to describe a graph with three edges attached to each node, but which could not be 3-colored without any clashes at a node. More »

May 26, 2010– 0

Wolfram|Alpha’s coverage of the universe continues to grow. We have now added a large collection of observed supernovae in the universe to our ever-expanding compendium of astronomical knowledge.

What exactly is a supernova? It’s a catastrophic event in the life of a star.

The full details are very complex, but basically supernovae are the visible signs of the deaths of stars more massive than the Sun. As with all other stars, massive stars spend most of their lives fusing hydrogen gas into helium in their cores. This results in a buildup of “ash” (end product of fusion reactions) in the core that eventually chokes off the hydrogen fuel from the hottest area of the core. With no new fuel, there is less energy being produced to counter the gravity trying to squeeze the star’s huge mass more tightly together. The result is that the star’s core begins to collapse as gravity overtakes the outward pressure. This results in heating the core—eventually enough that the ash can begin fusing into heavier molecules, initially carbon and oxygen. The cycle repeats, each time beginning and ending with different products and creating the next fuel source. Eventually, the core contains iron. Iron cannot liberate energy from fusion, so at this point, energy generation in the core suddenly stops, and the full mass of the star comes crashing down and a shock wave rips the star apart. This explosion is called a Type II supernova and results in the formation of a neutron star (or more rarely a black hole). More »

May 24, 2010– 4

We recently added data on health indicators for more than 200 countries and territories. We now have World Health Organization data on health care workers, immunizations, water and sanitation, preventive care, tobacco use, weight, and more.

Data is also now available on specific types of health care personnel, such as physicians, nurses, and dentists, and Wolfram|Alpha can also compute per capita figures for each type of health professional. Check out the figures on midwives in South Africa or dentists in Iceland—or for a particularly interesting view, try asking about doctors per capita in all countries.

Other intriguing indicators include figures on hospital beds, drinking water and sanitation, tobacco use, weight and obesity, and reproduction and contraception.

Data on underweight children in Africa

Some data, such as for infant immunizations (including DTP, MCV, hepatitis B, and Hib), spans several years—which allows you to see dramatic increases in immunizations in many developing countries, as well as surprising declines in some first-world nations. More »

May 20, 2010– 4

Sitting in your office watching and cursing the rainy outdoors, have you ever wondered what the weather beyond our protective atmosphere is like?

Yes, there is weather even in the empty space above Earth’s atmosphere. Space weather typically refers to phenomena resulting from solar activity. It’s also one of the latest content additions to Wolfram|Alpha. Space weather includes things like sunspots, solar X-rays, and solar wind, as well as their effects on the Earth itself (e.g. aurorae, radio communication blackouts, and in extreme cases power outages).

The Sun has an 11-year cycle. Every 11 years, the number of sunspots rises to a peak and then falls to a minimum. Sunspots result from areas of strong magnetic fields on the Sun that cool the surrounding gas and makes the gas appear darker. When these tangled magnetic fields reconnect, the plasma carried along with it can be flung with huge amounts of energy away from the Sun. If it is directed toward Earth, we may observe a number of effects. Depending on how the magnetic field is oriented, it may bounce off the Earth’s magnetic field with no effect. If oriented the other way, the plasma funnels down the Earth’s magnetic field lines until it encounters the atmosphere, causing it to glow. This glowing is known as the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and the aurora australis in the southern hemisphere.

The sunspot cycle likely plays a role in Earth’s global climate. The exact nature of its effect is still a hot area of active research. More sunspots mean more energy is likely to be absorbed by the Earth from the Sun. Fewer sunspots mean less energy and potentially a cooler climate. Between 1645 and 1715, sunspots on the Sun nearly vanished. During the same period, called the Maunder minimum, Europe experienced colder-than-average temperatures, contributing to what some have called “the little ice age”. Data for sunspots goes back much further than most other space weather data. Most other phenomena could not be measured until the advent of artificial satellites, and many much more recently than that.

In 1859, the first and most powerful solar flare ever observed occurred, known as the Carrington event. Within a couple of days of the flare, the Earth’s magnetic field oscillated wildly from the magnetized plasma thrown toward us. The magnetic field lines of the Earth bounced back and forth across telegraph wires, causing massive failures and even melted wires from the induced currents. An event of that strength today would cause untold havoc, as we are far more dependent on telecommunications via both satellites and land-based wires. More »

May 18, 2010– 27

Years ago I wondered if it would ever be possible to systematically make human knowledge computable. And today, one year after the official launch of Wolfram|Alpha, I think I can say for sure: it is possible.

It takes a stack of technology and ideas that I’ve been assembling for nearly 30 years. And in many ways it’s a profoundly difficult project. But this year has shown that it is possible.

Wolfram|Alpha is of course a very long-term undertaking. But much has been built, the direction is set, and things are moving with accelerating speed.

Over the past year, we’ve roughly doubled the amount that Wolfram|Alpha knows. We’ve doubled the number of domains it handles, and the number of algorithms it can use. And we’ve actually much more than doubled the amount of raw data in it.

Things seem to be scaling better and better. The more we put into Wolfram|Alpha, the easier it becomes to add still more. We’ve honed both our automated and human processes, progressively building on what Wolfram|Alpha already does.

When we launched Wolfram|Alpha a year ago, about 2/3 of all queries generated a response. Now over 90% do.

So, what are some of the things we’ve learned over the past year? More »

May 13, 2010– 6

CNN recently ran the story “Can We Compute an Answer to Every Question?” highlighting Stephen Wolfram’s TED2010 talk. The story also featured an excerpt from Stephen’s “The Story of the Making of Wolfram|Alpha” presentation from the 50 Years of Public Computing at the University of Illinois conference, which was streamed lived here on the blog. As we move closer to Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday, we thought you might enjoy hear the story of the making of Wolfram|Alpha from its creator, Stephen Wolfram.

In this video, Stephen is joined by Jean Buck, Wolfram|Alpha’s Director of Computable Data, and by Theodore Gray, Co-Founder of Wolfram Research.

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Near the end of his talk, Stephen mentions that he’ll be attending the evening reception via an Anybots telepresence robot. Here is a snapshot of Stephen greeting guests at the reception.

Stephen Wolfram greets a reception guest via an Anybot telepresence robot

Photo by Peter Asaro

A transcript and images from Stephen’s talk are on his website.

May 7, 2010– 6

Hello, fellow readers of the Wolfram|Alpha Blog—my name’s Justin. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years I’ve found my own way of getting things done in regards to homework and studying routines. But this semester I realized there were tools available that would make studying and completing assignments easier and help me understand better. One tool that has become increasingly valuable in my routine and those of other students on my campus is Wolfram|Alpha. Recently, I was invited to share how Wolfram|Alpha is being used by students like myself.

Being a marketing major, I had to take some finance and accounting courses, but I was a bit rusty with the required formulas and the overall understanding of the cash flow concepts, such as future cash flows and the net present values of a future investment. A friend recommended I check out Wolfram|Alpha’s finance tools, and they’ve became indispensable in my group’s casework for the semester. Each proposed future investment we were met with, we would go directly to Wolfram|Alpha to compute the cash flows. We even went as far to show screenshots, such as the one below, of inputs and outputs in our final case presentation last week.

Net present value calculation in Wolfram|Alpha

I’ve met other students on my campus who have found Wolfram|Alpha to be helpful in their courses. A few months ago while studying in the library, I walked by a table of freshman students all using Wolfram|Alpha on their laptops. I decided to stop and chat with them because I knew one of the girls. They explained how they were using Wolfram|Alpha to model functions and check portions of their math homework. All three girls are enrolled in Calculus III, and not exactly overjoyed about the fact of future— and most likely harder—math classes. More »

May 6, 2010– 2

If you’re a regular reader of Boing Boing you might have seen this beautiful homemade Turing machine that tinkerer Mike Davey put together (it’s definitely worth watching the video). For those who don’t know, Turing machines are theoretical idealizations of computers. While not intended to be practical, they do allow mathematicians to construct rigorous proofs about what can be computed and what cannot. And now, you can experiment with them directly on Wolfram|Alpha!

To begin with, let’s ask Wolfram|Alpha to simulate the program that Mike Davey used in his video, a binary counter. Using Stephen Wolfram‘s notation, this one is 2-state 3-color machine number 1317953. It “counts” in binary, and marks each successive integer when the machine’s head returns to the initial position. We can more easily see how it computes the sequence 1,2,3,4,5… by only showing the steps when it returns to the center column.

Turing machine 1317953 center-compressed

Next we can try a Turing machine at random from the infinite “universe” of possible machines. Let’s say we find this particular Turing machine, and want to see how it behaves on different input tapes. We can try a tape filled with random colors, or a finite tape that wraps around, or a tape with an infinite pattern on it, or even a combination of the above. We can also try a random Turing machine that operates with many colors, such as “random 7-color Turing machine”. More »

May 4, 2010– 9

As we all know by now, Wolfram|Alpha is a computational knowledge engine. That means not only should it be able to do computations on a wide variety of topics, but also that it needs detailed knowledge of the names and salient properties of a wide variety of entities that are commonly encountered in human inquiry and discourse.

This is obvious in the case of classes of objects that fit neatly into curated data collections, such as mathematical surfaces (e.g., Möbius strip), countries of the world (e.g., New Zealand), chemicals (e.g., caffeine), and so forth.

What is perhaps slightly less obvious is just how much knowledge needs to be encoded to have a reasonable “understanding” of almost any named result in math and the sciences. For example, most people (including non-mathematicians) have heard of Fermat’s last theorem and therefore would rightly expect Wolfram|Alpha to be able to say something sensible about it.  And as one of my other hats involves writing the online encyclopedia of math known as MathWorld, which is hosted and sponsored by Wolfram Research, putting this information into Wolfram|Alpha naturally fell to me. So, for the past several months, I have been attempting to gradually build up Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base on named results in math and physics.

The screenshot below shows what Wolfram|Alpha now returns for Fermat’s last theorem:

Fermet's last theorem in Wolfram|Alpha

As you can see, Wolfram|Alpha begins by giving you the standard name for the result in question, followed by a clearly worded (or at least as clearly worded as could be managed in the marginal space available ;) ) plain English statement of the result. Next, at least in cases where it is possible to do so, a mathematically precise “formal statement” of the result is given. This is followed by any common alternate names the result might have, a listing of historical information, and finally an enumeration of prizes associated with it (where relevant). More »

April 29, 2010– 5

Have you ever wondered why you often see this example of the International Space Station (ISS) in promotion pieces for Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram|Alpha App? Aside from the example being visually interesting, the results highlight Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to make complex real-time computations.

The orbital position and path of the International Space Station

Wolfram|Alpha provides some great real-time computations in many, many areas, including satellites.  So what is a satellite? There are many definitions, but here we use the term to describe any artificial object in orbit around Earth that has an official North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) number. This means NORAD tracks it and has assigned an official catalog number to it. The code behind Wolfram|Alpha’s dynamic satellite computations is rather complex. More »

April 28, 2010– 30

We can hardly believe it, but one year ago today the Wolfram|Alpha Blog said  hello to the blogosphere! Since that day we have published 176 posts covering everything from the launch of Wolfram|Alpha to new data and features developed by members of the Wolfram|Alpha Team, and guest posts by fans of Wolfram|Alpha who are introducing the computational knowledge engine into facets of everyday life.

We’d like to thank the authors and commenters who have made this blog the success that it is today. We’d like to invite you and all of our other 3.9 million unique readers back for another amazing year of coverage from the front lines of Wolfram|Alpha. And if you have not done so already, please subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed. We hope you’ll celebrate with us by taking a look back through the archives. Please use the comments section below to share links to your favorite posts and suggest future topics.

Happy birthday, Wolfram|Alpha Blog!

April 27, 2010– 9

We use this blog as a vehicle to highlight many of our big ideas and discoveries. Today we’re pleased to share with you Stephen Wolfram‘s talk from the 2010 TED Conference in Long Beach, California, where he talked about the tools and methods he’s spent the last 30 years developing in his quest to explore computational knowledge.

TED, an organization devoted to bringing together the technology, entertainment, and design industries’ most innovative thinkers to present “Ideas Worth Sharing”, recently shared Stephen’s ideas with the world as a “TED Talk of the Day”. In the signature 18-minute video, Stephen discusses how his lifelong scientific pursuits led to the development of Mathematica, A New Kind of Science, and the computational knowledge engine Wolfram|Alpha. He continues, asking new questions and proposing a fourth project—discovering our physical universe through our computational universe.

“Will we find the whole of physics? I don’t know for sure. But I think at this point it’s sort of almost embarrassing not to at least try.” —Stephen Wolfram

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Click to view the transcript and slides from Stephen’s talk.

April 23, 2010– 6

There’s no better time than the rainy spring season to bring friends and family together for a game night. If you happen to find yourself at a table full of ruthless Scrabble players, you might find your new best friend in Wolfram|Alpha.

The Scrabble functionality in Wolfram|Alpha has useful tools, such as a points calculator and a dictionary word verifier. Wolfram|Alpha can also suggest other possible words to be used. Currently, Wolfram|Alpha supports the American English, International English, and French versions of Scrabble. Each of these versions has their own scoring system. Wolfram|Alpha’s GeoIP capabilities will return results based on the default version for the user’s location. However, you can specify a version in your input, like “International English Scrabble umbrella”.

Here are a few examples:

You can find the results for words such as umbrella by entering “Scrabble umbrella” into Wolfram|Alpha:

Wolfram|Alpha calculates the score for the Scrabble word "umbrella"

The results pods tells us that the score is 12 and that this word is in the regional Scrabble dictionary (American in this case). It also gives other words that can be made with these letters, listed in score order. More »

April 21, 2010– 8

Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re busy curating new data and knowledge from around the world. And as new data rolls in, we’re exploring how it might connect and provide insights to existing datasets. Since the launch of Wolfram|Alpha you’ve been able to explore a number of properties for cities, such as population, geographic properties, location and map coordinates, current local time and weather, economic properties, crime rates, and more. Now, thanks to a recent coupling between people and city data, Wolfram|Alpha can not only tell you that Memphis, Tennessee is the Home of the Blues, but it can also tell you that it’s the birth and/or death place of notable people such as the King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley and civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

Notable people connected to Memphis, Tennessee by birth or death

At the present time Wolfram|Alpha contains deaths and births for some 38,000 notable people from around the world in places such as Cape Town, South Africa and Oxford, United Kingdom. Are you wondering where all of the data for notable people in Beijing, China and some other cities is hiding? Given the busy nature of birth and death data, we’re reaching out to Wolfram|Alpha volunteers who are contributing to the project with information from their parts of the world. Did you notice missing data on notable people from your area? You can help add data to Wolfram|Alpha by signing up to become a volunteer. Check out this recent blog post profiling the work of a few dedicated Wolfram|Alpha volunteers.

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April 19, 2010– 0

By the time a new feature or data set is released for public consumption in Wolfram|Alpha, it has already been through a long process of analysis, curation, and design… but even after all of that, we still have our share of “D’oh!” moments at the eleventh hour.

Our latest forehead-smacker was pointed out to us just as we were about to announce the release of historical Academy Awards data. Fortunately, Wolfram|Alpha is flexible enough that we were able to implement a quick, partial fix before this year’s Oscars ceremony—but we also had to go back and do some more substantial work so this data is presented with absolute clarity.

So what was the problem? We had taken for granted the idea that when users typed in “2010 Academy Awards”, they’d expect to see people who won Oscars at this year’s ceremony… and then we just counted backward from there, to the first Oscars ceremony in 1929. But as it was pointed out, if you ask “who won the Oscar for best supporting actor in 2005”, you might want to know about films released in 2005, not films honored at the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony. So now when you ask for information about Oscars we assume you mean the year of the award ceremony, but for most years you can also click on a single link in the assumption pod to interpret your input as referring to year of film release instead.

We’ve also cleaned up the presentation of some quirks in Oscar history, including the unique case of the Academy Awards in 1930—when there were actually two ceremonies in a single year, one for films released in 1928–29, and one for films released in 1929–30:

Oscar for Best Actor in 1930

For other early Academy Awards, we still assume that input refers to the year of the ceremony, but we’ve added a footnote that provides more details about releases date for the films honored in that year. And we’ve added a few other little features, like the ability to handle queries like “best actor at the 42nd Academy Awards”, or to ask about specific dates of Academy Awards ceremonies. More »

April 16, 2010– 2

Wolfram|Alpha couldn’t do your taxes for you this year, but we did just wrap up a quick project to add some interesting historical tax statistics. Now that all of our U.S. users have filed their taxes (we hope), they can explore IRS data about individual income taxes, broken down by adjusted gross income (AGI), from 1996 to 2007—the latest year for which the IRS has released statistics broken down by AGI. Users can also investigate less-detailed data about sources of individual taxable income from 1916 to 2007.

The basic input for this new dataset is simply an income, such as “AGI $35000”—type it in, and Wolfram|Alpha matches that input to a specific AGI bracket (in this case, $30,000–$40,000) and calculates a broad range of statistics.

First, the average effective federal tax rate, which is calculated by dividing total tax receipts in this bracket by total adjusted gross income:

Average effective tax rate for AGI $30,000–$40,000

Next, the average tax paid in the input’s bracket—which in this case dropped by nearly 50% over the decade covered by this dataset. You’ll also note that nearly a quarter of all tax returns in this AGI bracket had no tax due:

Average tax paid

Third, average exemptions and deductions for all taxpayers in the input’s bracket. In this case, those increased by nearly $4,000 over this period, and in 2007 accounted for an average of 48% of AGI:

Average exemptions and deductions

For some particularly interesting numbers, try asking about high income brackets (average tax on AGI $400k, average exemptions and deductions on $5 million) and very low brackets (average tax on AGI $500). More »

April 14, 2010– 0

Wolfram|Alpha‘s mission to make all of the world’s systematic knowledge computable is an ambitious project.

Even though it isn’t quite one year old, Wolfram|Alpha is actually just the latest in a long line of public computing efforts from Wolfram Research, and the culmination of a lifetime of work by our founder, Stephen Wolfram.

Tune in here on Thursday, April 15, at 3:15pm U.S. central time for a live broadcast from the conference 50 Years of Public Computing at the University of Illinois, where Stephen will be speaking about the scientific pursuits that led him to create Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha.

The university and the Champaign-Urbana community have been the site of many firsts in computing technology; the area has also been the home of Wolfram Research since it was established in 1987, and is the current headquarters of Wolfram|Alpha. After the talk, Stephen will be joined by Wolfram Research co-founder Theodore Gray and Wolfram|Alpha’s Director of Computable Data Initiatives Jean Buck for a live Q&A session.

We hope you’ll join us here to see the live broadcast at 3:15pm U.S. CDT.

April 12, 2010– 1

Do you want to find out how advances in computational technology are unlocking knowledge assets and shaping the future?

That is the focus of the London Computational Knowledge Summit, being held at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London, United Kingdom, on Wednesday, June 9, 2010.

We are bringing people together to discuss how the Wolfram|Alpha approach can unlock knowledge assets and generate new opportunities for the democratization of information.

The London Computational Knowledge Summit—June 9, 2010

Check out the summit website for further information and to register to join us!

Don’t forget to encourage your colleagues and contacts to attend.

April 8, 2010– 3

Are you an educator looking for new ways to grab your students’ attention and liven up your daily lessons? Visit the new Wolfram|Alpha for Educators site, where you’ll find examples, lesson plans, and even videos on how you can incorporate the technology of Wolfram|Alpha into your classroom.

Peruse the video gallery to get a quick introduction to Wolfram|Alpha, and hear from educators and students who are using it in lectures, activities, and research projects. From there take a peek at one of the many lesson plans, in subject areas such as science, mathematics, and social studies. Once you get the hang of it, you can even submit your own lesson plans to share with other educators.

This site also points to many other Wolfram educational resources, including the Wolfram Demonstrations Project and MathWorld. We have even set up an Education group on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site so that you can connect with other educators.

So the next time you want to do something new and different in your classroom, check out Wolfram|Alpha for Educators to spark your imagination.

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March 31, 2010– 94

At Wolfram|Alpha, our mission is to make all the world’s systematic knowledge available, accessible, and computable.

The number-one priority of our new Managing Director, Barak Berkowitz, is to get Wolfram|Alpha in the hands of everyone. It’s all about ubiquity. This is an exciting time.

To date, we’ve focused on improving the Wolfram|Alpha experience, refining the processes we use to incorporate new information into the system, experimenting with Wolfram|Alpha on mobile devices, and solidifying programmatic access through the API.

As we approach the anniversary of the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, we’ll be moving into Wolfram|Alpha’s next phase, centered on growth—increasing the exposure and use of Wolfram|Alpha both by individuals seeking knowledge and by developers building computational knowledge into their applications in interesting ways. We want Wolfram|Alpha to become ubiquitous.

The first step in this process is to improve Wolfram|Alpha’s accessibility on smartphones and other mobile devices that are increasingly an integral part of one’s online experience. Today we’re launching the mobile Wolfram|Alpha website, http://m.wolframalpha.com. The new mobile website is a big step forward from the landing page it replaces, having been engineered from the ground up for the new generation of touch-screen smartphones while enabling access to Wolfram|Alpha from earlier handheld devices that have difficulty with the main website.

In addition to the mobile website, we’ve changed the price of the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch to $1.99, down from $49.99.

Many, if not most, of our mobile customers tell us that the app is their preferred way of using Wolfram|Alpha. However, if you happen to be one of the few early adopters who aren’t happy with the app, you can request a refund.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will make a series of announcements that continue the push toward our ultimate goal—putting Wolfram|Alpha everywhere. As we enter the age of ubiquity for Wolfram|Alpha, we look forward to seeing and hearing how you make use of computational knowledge in your life.

March 31, 2010– 2

The Wolfram|Alpha Community Forum has moved to the Wolfram Community. Sign up today for interesting discussions about Wolfram|Alpha and more!

The Wolfram|Alpha Community is the hub for conversation about using Wolfram|Alpha in areas such as education, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, and a wide variety of other subjects. You can also share your thoughts with other users and the Wolfram|Alpha Team in the Ideas & Suggestions, Bugs, and How-To forums.

Today we’re releasing the first issue of the Wolfram|Alpha Community Newsletter to keep you connected and up to speed with the latest news and discussions surrounding the world’s first computational knowledge engine.

The Wolfram|Alpha Community Newsletter

If you’re already a member of the Wolfram|Alpha Community, you can look forward to receiving a weekly digest highlighting the hottest member-generated topics, news updates from the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, the Community’s top contributors and newest members, and much more. We would like to thank the active members who have made the Community what it is today, and invite you to join it if you haven’t already done so!

March 29, 2010– 5

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,” said Luciano Pavarotti. Let’s stop whatever we’re doing now to devote our attention to data on eating, as a kind of food for thought.

Wolfram|Alpha now has food supply estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, covering more than fifty foods spanning over forty years for countries all over the world. Let’s visit three countries to see what we can find.

First stop, the Caribbean. Type in “cuba wheat” and you’ll see a dramatic downturn in the early 1990s, following the demise of the Soviet Union (Cuba’s most important trading partner).
Food consumption data for Cuba

Now let’s go over to the Korean peninsula. Let’s check out South Korea’s coffee versus tea consumption.You’ll see that coffee intake has increased by several factors since 1970, as the country has become increasingly westernized, while tea consumption has gone up just a little:
Comparing per capita coffee and tea consumption in South Korea

Final stop, North America. In contrast to South Korea, we can see a slow decline in per capita coffee consumption in the United States; according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), increased availability of carbonated soft drinks may be one cause of the downturn. More »

March 26, 2010– 5

Exciting new math features have arrived in Wolfram|Alpha! Our programmers have spent the past two months developing new capabilities in optimization, probability, number theory, and a host of other mathematical disciplines. Searching for elusive extrema? Look no further! Just feed your function(s) into Wolfram|Alpha and ask for their maxima, minima, or both. You can find global maxima and minima, optimize a function subject to constraints, or simply hunt for local extrema.

We’ve also added support for a wide variety of combinatorics and probability queries. Counting combinations and generating binomial coefficients has been simplified with syntax like 30 choose 18. Want to spend less time crunching numbers and more time practicing your poker face? You can ask directly for the probability of a full house or other common hands, as well as the probabilities of various outcomes when you play Powerball, roll two 12-sided dice, or repeat any sequence of trials with a 20% chance 4 times.

The pursuit of primes has never been so simple. Imagine yourself walking the streets of an infinite city in search of “prime real estate.” You can find the nearest one simply by requesting (for example) the prime closest to 100854; alternatively, you could scope out the entire neighborhood by asking Wolfram|Alpha to list primes between 100,000 and 101,000. Would you prefer the greatest prime number with 10 digits, or will you be satisfied with any random prime between 100,000,000 and 200,000,000? The aspiring real estate agent—er, number theoretician—can also tinker with quantities like the sum of the first hundred primes or the product of primes between 900 and 1000. If your explorations take you to the realm of the composites (the addresses of houses with “sub-prime” mortgages, perhaps), you can identify numbers with shared factors by querying Wolfram|Alpha for, say, multiples of 5, 17, 21.

Other additions have brought everything from Archimedes’ axiom to semiaxes and square pyramid syntax into our body of computable knowledge and functions. Wolfram|Alpha grows daily, so stay tuned to this blog for further updates. Better yet, apply to become a Wolfram|Alpha tester for privileged access to the newest features before they go public!

March 23, 2010– 6

A movement is underway in the United States to reintroduce schools and families to freshly prepared meals. Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the “Let’s Move” campaign, an effort to raise awareness of and access to fresh food in schools and in our communities. The goal of the campaign is to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation. This Friday, Chef Jamie Oliver’s new television show Food Revolution will take us inside a few of America’s school cafeterias and classrooms in an effort to fulfill his wish to teach every child about food.

Wolfram|Alpha is already being used as a learning tool in schools to tackle subject areas such as math, science, social studies, and more. But did you know that Wolfram|Alpha contains a number of tools to help schools and families successfully start their own nutrition and wellness revolutions?

Imagine if students had the opportunity to compare the nutritional values of lunch options and make informed decisions before ever hitting the cafeteria. For example, students can go online to Wolfram|Alpha and compare grilled chicken breast to a corn dog. Wolfram|Alpha provides them with a nutrition label for each item, and shows a side-by-side comparison of nutritional values such as fats, proteins, and vitamins in each food option. Click the image below to see the full results.

Comparing the nutrition values of a chicken breast and a corn dog in Wolfram|Alpha

More »

March 19, 2010– 6

Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, is currently blogging for The New York Times about issues “from the basics of math to the baffling”. It’s been a fascinating series, starting with preschool math and progressing through subtraction, division, complex numbers, and more. As Wolfram|Alpha is such a powerful tool for working with mathematical concepts, we thought it’d be fun to show how to use it to explore some of the topics in Strogatz’s blog.

First up is Strogatz’s post on “Finding Your Roots”. For a brief introduction to Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to find roots, try “root of 4x+2”.
Wolfram|Alpha solves "root of 4x+2"

Here we found the one and only root of 4x+2, but what if there is more than one root? Not a problem for Wolfram|Alpha—try “4x^2 + 3x – 4”. More »

March 17, 2010– 6

Today when you hear about global warming, the first thing that comes to mind is probably carbon dioxide; however, there are many greenhouse gases that may contribute to this phenomenon. Wolfram|Alpha now provides information on the relative global warming effects of about 30 common pollutants in the atmosphere using the global warming potential (GWP) index.

The GWP index estimates how much a certain chemical will add to global warming compared to the same mass of carbon dioxide over a certain time span. The data Wolfram|Alpha uses is from the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Let’s take a look at some of this data by asking Wolfram|Alpha about the “gwp of methane”. Here you are able to see three different time horizons for methane: 20 years, 100 years, and 500 years. These different time horizons allow you to see the short-term and long-term contributions that methane will make to global warming in the atmosphere. You may also notice that as the time horizon gets larger, the GWP actually decreases—which seems counterintuitive, but makes sense as soon as you see that methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. This is a fairly short lifetime, so methane’s effect on global warming declines as the time horizon increases. A simple click on the “Show comparisons” button pulls up a comparison of methane’s GWP to those of other greenhouse gases. You can also adjust the time horizons to see how methane compares to other greenhouse gases in the short and long term.

Wolfram|Alpha's results for the global warming potientals of methane

GWP values can also be compared for multiple greenhouse gases. For example, an input of “gwp of methane and carbon tetrachloride” provides a comparison of the two gases. The first pod displays the time horizons of both chemicals so you are able to see that carbon tetrachloride contributes much more to global warming than does methane. Moving down to the next pod, it may become more obvious why carbon tetrachloride contributes more: it has an atmospheric lifetime of 26 years, more than twice as long as methane’s.

Wolfram|Alpha compares the global warming potientals of methane and carbon tetrachloride

We are currently working to add a greater variety of climate change and global warming data to Wolfram|Alpha. We encourage you to submit feedback on this feature, as well as any suggestions or ideas you may have.

March 15, 2010– 3

Wolfram|Alpha's "Best of Show" and "Technical Achievement" awards from the SXSW Interactive Web Awards

It’s said that everything big happens in Texas! And on Sunday night, Wolfram|Alpha won big at the 13th Annual SXSW Web Interactive Awards in Austin, Texas. Our first win of the night was in the Technical Achievement category, which is awarded to “sites that are re-inventing and re-defining the technical parameters of our online experience”. We were pleasantly surprised to also receive the Best of Show award.

We are grateful for the support shown by our users and members of the technology community this past year, and we can’t wait to share all of the big things Wolfram|Alpha has in store!

March 12, 2010– 7

In my blog post last month, I wrote about Valentine’s Day in Wolfram|Alpha. Strangely, we received a number of comments indicating that the computational power of Wolfram|Alpha was not always sufficient to melt the hearts of some non-mathematically inclined sweethearts of the world. But not to fear; I have decided to persist undeterred in spite of that disappointing and surprising news, now that we’re on the verge of another holiday (and a more inherently mathematical one).

The holiday in question is Pi Day. As with a large number of other holidays, simply typing its name (in this case, “pi day”) into Wolfram|Alpha gives you basic calendrical information about it:

Wolfram|Alpha's results for "pi day"

Now, because Wolfram|Alpha users are both intelligent and discriminating, all of you have I’m sure already noticed that when the digits in the date 3/14 (March 14 in the United States style for dates—a bit more about this later) are run together with a decimal place between, the result is 3.14. And that that decimal expansion is connected with a certain famous mathematical constant given by the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. And that little fact explains why Pi Day is celebrated on the 14th of each March. More »

March 11, 2010– 4

Since Wolfram|Alpha‘s launch in May 2009, one of its most talked-about features has been its ability to compute specific answers to questions about math, chemistry, economics, demographics, and much more. But as its knowledge base continues to grow, it’s also able to highlight interesting and useful connections between data sets, and to reveal information that you might not think to ask for on your own.

One of the coolest examples of this is our recently enhanced relocation calculator. For several months, we’ve been able to answer simple questions about the relative cost of living in various United States cities and metropolitan areas. If you told Wolfram|Alpha that you were relocating from Seattle to Miami with a salary of $35000, you’d get a comparison of the relative cost of groceries, housing, and other expenses in each city, plus an estimate of the salary required to maintain a comparable standard of living in your destination city. On its own, this is a useful little calculator—but it’s also something that dozens of other websites could do.

But because Wolfram|Alpha knows tons of other details about any given city, our relocation calculator can now do things that no other site can. In addition to salary and cost-of-living comparisons, you now get comparisons of each city’s population, median home sale prices, unemployment rates, crime rates, sales taxes, traffic congestion, and climate—a useful sampling of current and historical comparative data for anyone contemplating a move.

Wolfram|Alpha's results comparing relocating from Seattle to Miami with a salary of $35,000

We’ll highlight similar enhancements as they are released. And as always, we welcome your suggestions for new data, or new ways of looking at existing data, in any domain covered by Wolfram|Alpha.

March 10, 2010– 8

We’ve been working diligently for several years to build a vast repository of genetic data into Wolfram|Alpha. At launch time, we had the entire human genome and all known human genes. Now, Wolfram|Alpha has genetic data for 11 different species, from humans and mice to fruit flies and worms. And we’re working hard to get more species in all the time.

These days we’re hearing more and more about how particular genes work, what their functions are, and what happens if a gene becomes mutated and stops functioning correctly. And with the personal genomics movement in full swing, we can even get portions of our own genomes sequenced, with a report detailing for us which gene variants we have and whether any put us at known high risk for diseases like breast cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease.

Well, Wolfram|Alpha makes it really easy to get in-depth information about a gene that interests you.

Take for example the gene SATB1, which recent studies have shown is an important factor in breast cancer growth. Wolfram|Alpha gives you a number of results about this gene. The first information is the standard and alternate names the gene goes by, which are important if you want to look it up in the literature:

Wolfram|Alpha's results for the gene SATB1

After that, Wolfram|Alpha tells us that this gene is on chromosome 3, locus p23, on the minus strand, starting at around 18 megabases along the chromosome. There is then a snippet of the gene’s actual DNA sequence, and we learn that the gene is about 90 kilobases (90,000 base pairs) long, with a picture showing which other genes are close by on the chromosome (in this case, PP1P and KCNH8):

More of Wolfram|Alpha's data for the gene SATB1

More »

March 5, 2010– 1

With the 2010 Academy Awards coming up this Sunday, we’re happy to announce that Wolfram|Alpha is now able to answer questions about every Oscar nomination and award since the first ceremony in 1929. You might be surprised by some of the things you see in the earliest lists: yes, acting awards were bestowed for multiple performances in a given year; the Academy made a distinction between movies that were merely “unique and artistic” and those that were truly “outstanding”; and like the current Golden Globes (we’ll tackle them soon), separate awards were given for dramatic and comedic films.

Academy Award data for 1929

You can dive into this data in practically any way you want. Curious about a particular film? Try “Academy Award nominations for Forrest Gump“. Or maybe you’re curious about the past performance of a perennial front-row Oscar celebrity?

Academy Awards for Jack Nicholson

Ask about a specific award, like “best actor oscars“, and you’ll get a historical list of all winners for that category. But ask about “best actor in 2004“, and Wolfram|Alpha will serve up a detailed cross-section of data relevant to that award—the winner, other nominees, and other Oscar nominations and awards for both the winner and the film he appeared in. More »

March 3, 2010– 3

Catch Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research’s Director of Strategic Development, this Friday, March 5, from noon–1pm CET, live from CeBIT in Hannover, Germany. Conrad is participating in the “Webciety—Connecting Work & Life” panel discussion with featured guests Anand Agarawala (bumptop.com), Peter Berger (Suite101.com), Kevin Eyres (LinkedIn), and Ralf Gerbershagen (Motorola GmbH). The panel will discuss the impact that Web 2.0 and social networks have had on everyday life.

If you’re unable to attend CeBIT, the digital industry’s largest trade show, you can watch the live broadcast of the panel discussion.

March 1, 2010– 0

Saturday’s massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile has captured the attention and concern of the world community. The area continues to be plagued by dozens of smaller quakes including at least nine of magnitude 6.0 or higher.

Below is a timeline of earthquake activity in Chile over the last 72 hours. Wolfram|Alpha‘s earthquake data is updated every six minutes with information reported by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS reports activity within 30 minutes of most seismic events worldwide.

In addition to the map and timeline, the output shows the top three earthquakes (ranked in decreasing order of magnitude) within the past 72 hours, and clicking the “More” button will pull up information on the lower-magnitude shocks. Furthermore, you can see exact coordinates by clicking the “Show coordinates” button.

If you’re monitoring quake activity in Chile or other parts of the world, you will find Wolfram|Alpha useful for exploring a single event or series of events by time, location, and magnitude.

(The image below reflects activity within the 72 hours before this post was written; click the image for current information and further exploration.)
Earthquake activity in Chile from the last 72 hours

February 26, 2010– 11

We’ve added a new feature that will come in handy for adding information from Wolfram|Alpha into your next blog post or presentation: you can now easily save results pods from Wolfram|Alpha as GIF images.

Here’s a quick walk-through to get you started. First, enter a query into Wolfram|Alpha, such as “1 cup of oatmeal + ½ cup of milk + 1 tsp of sugar“. You can then save results by right-clicking on the pod you want, then clicking on the “Generate image of output” icon that appears in the lower right corner of the popup pod.

Saving an image from Wolfram|Alpha

Below is an example of a resulting image: More »

February 22, 2010– 2

Happy birthday, George Washington! In case you’d forgotten, President’s Day in the United States isn’t actually celebrated on George Washington’s birthday: since 1971, it has fallen on the 3rd Monday in February, which means it’s always at least one day short of the first president’s actual birthday, February 22.

As you might imagine for a man referred to as “the father of the country,” the name “Washington” has taken on a life of its own—and as such, it provides a good opportunity to see how Wolfram|Alpha deals with cases where a single word can be interpreted in many different ways.

Type “Washington” on its own, and you’ll learn that the word could refer to a city, a U.S. state, a surname, a specific person, or a given name. For users in the United States, Wolfram|Alpha will assume you’re talking about the nation’s capital, and then give a list of alternate cities ranked by a combination of population, distance from your current location, and general popularity. But if you’re in the United Kingdom, the default assumption will be a place closer to home:

Results for "Washington" in Wolfram|Alpha from the United Kingdom

When you ask more-specific questions about “Washington”, Wolfram|Alpha is usually able to make even-more-intelligent assumptions about which Washington you really want know about. Ask for “distance from seattle to washington” and you’ll get the great-circle distance between two cities. Try to “compare virginia and washington“, and you’ll get a stat-by-stat comparison of the two U.S. states. Ask Wolfram|Alpha “when was Washington born?” and the result is the first U.S. president’s birthday; try “washingtons in 1900” and you’ll discover that about 28 U.S. residents were given that first name that year, or ask about “washington as a last name” and Wolfram|Alpha will reveal that more than 160,000 people had that last name in the 2000 U.S. Census. More »

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February 19, 2010– 0

Crossword puzzle enthusiasts from all over will gather in Brooklyn, New York this weekend for the 33rd Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) hosted by New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz.

In 2009, some 700 puzzle solvers competed in the seven-round tournament in the hopes that their speed and accuracy would land them a spot in their division’s final round. This year, all eyes are on the ACPT’s youngest and five-time reigning champion, Tyler Hinman.

Whether you’re a champion-caliber puzzle solver, or you just enjoy the challenge of the New York Times puzzle on a Sunday afternoon, a solving aid can sometimes come in handy. One place you may not have thought to look is Wolfram|Alpha. It contains a number of word-puzzle tools that help you find words that match a pattern, words with specific endings or beginnings, word definitions, and more.

The excitement leading up the ACPT reminded us of the post below from our blog archives, which demonstrates how you can use Wolfram|Alpha to help solve most common crossword puzzles.

Wolfram|Alpha S_LV_S Crossword Puzzles

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.

Click here to continue reading this entry…

So whether you’re solving crosswords this weekend at ACPT or from your couch—good luck! And if you find yourself puzzled, be sure check in with Wolfram|Alpha for a little help!

February 15, 2010– 0

In celebration of YouTube‘s fifth birthday, we thought it would be fun to highlight a few of our favorite Wolfram|Alpha videos available through the popular broadcasting site.

On Wolfram|Alpha’s YouTube Channel you can catch behind-the-scenes footage of some of the work that went into creating the computational knowledge engine, take a virtual tour of one of the system’s supercomputers, and much more.

Here are a few of our favorite Wolfram|Alpha videos to get you started.

Rack ‘n’ Roll

Here’s our system administration team hard at work on one of the many pre-launch projects:

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Wolfram|Alpha Launch: Introduction

In this introductory video, Wolfram|Alpha’s creator, Stephen Wolfram, welcomes viewers to the live launch event on May 15, 2009. You can view 11 additional videos from the Wolfram|Alpha Launch playlist, too.

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A Moment with the Wolfram|Alpha Developers

This video is the first from the series A Moment with the Wolfram|Alpha Developers“. In this series, some of the developers describe their roles and share their thoughts about the Wolfram|Alpha project.

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Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day: Teaching 4th Grade Students Using Wolfram|Alpha

Educators and students will appreciate the collection of videos from our first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, including interviews and demonstrations by educators and administrators who are using Wolfram|Alpha in their schools. In this clip, Shannon Smith, a fourth grade teacher, shares how she integrates Wolfram|Alpha into all of the subject areas that she teaches, from spelling and language to geography, science, and math.

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Wolfram|Alpha Explores the Science of Punkin’Chuckin’

See the Wolfram pumpkin fly at the first annual 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. You can also check out our blog post to learn more about punkin’ chuckin’.

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We hope you enjoyed these and our other Wolfram|Alpha videos available on YouTube, and we invite you to subscribe to the Wolfram|Alpha channel so you’ll be notified when new ones are posted. What things would you like to see us cover in upcoming videos?

February 12, 2010– 6

Valentine’s Day is special to sweethearts around the world. While Wolfram|Alpha can’t come close to replacing a thoughtful card or gourmet box of chocolates, there are a surprisingly large number of things related to Valentine’s Day (and in particular, to its central icon) that Wolfram|Alpha can compute.

Let’s start with the holiday itself. Just typing in “valentine’s day” gives the expected calendrical information, from which we learn that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year. For the procrastinators among us, we can also find out how many days we have remaining to acquire an appropriate token of affection for our loved one (or by how many days we’ve already blown our chance). Wolfram|Alpha also shows various other useful data, including the interesting fact that Valentine’s Day coincides with Chinese New Year this year.

While Wolfram|Alpha can’t (yet) tell you how many calories are in your box of holiday chocolates or package of Valentine’s Day Sweethearts candy, there are plenty of computational objects related to that most-famous Valentine’s Day icon—the heart—that it can tell you something interesting and/or useful about. For instance, do you know the average weight of a human heart? The typical resting heart rate? The Unicode point for the heart symbol character? Or perhaps you’ve forgotten the ASCII keystrokes needed to insert a love emoticon at the end of an email to your Sweet Baboo?

On the mathematical side, typing in “heart curve” gives you a number of mathematical curves resembling the heart shape. The default (and probably most famous) of these is the cardioid, whose name after all means “heart-shaped” in Latin (and about which we all have fond memories dating back to our introductory calculus courses):

The heart curve in Wolfram|Alpha

A curve more closely resembling the conventional schematic (if not physiological) heart shape is the so-called “first heart curve“, which is an algebraic curve described by a beautifully simple sextic Cartesian equation:

The first heart curve in Wolfram|Alpha

If you don’t care for any of the heart curves Wolfram|Alpha knows about (or even if you do), you’re also of course also free to experiment with your own. For example, a particularly attractive curve can be obtained using the relatively simple input “polar plot 2 – 2 sin t + sin t sqrt (abs(cos t))/(sin t + 1.4)“. More »

February 11, 2010– 2

One of the most rewarding aspects of working on Wolfram|Alpha is the support from everybody who wants to participate in our mission to make all systematic knowledge computable by everyone. Some help by submitting ideas for data sets or usability, or by reporting bugs; others are helping us achieve this goal as Wolfram|Alpha volunteer data curators. We’d like to take this opportunity to recognize a few of our volunteers and share highlights of the program.

Data curators are charged with identifying and collecting data for a specific subject area or region, and preparing the data to be incorporated into Wolfram|Alpha. There are many advantages to being a volunteer for Wolfram|Alpha compared to other online databases. First, because Wolfram|Alpha is in the early stages of its growth, there are plenty of opportunities to contribute to areas of most interest to you. Second, the data that volunteers curate is reviewed and verified with a member of the Wolfram|Alpha development team, so you don’t have to worry about your contribution being erased or altered by another user on the web. In addition, all volunteers receive a complimentary Mathematica license for the duration of their involvement.

Today we have a global network of over 240 volunteer data curators from over 50 countries, including Mexico, Colombia, Australia, France, Greece, United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia, India, Egypt, and the United States. We’d like to introduce a few volunteers and share why they became involved in the project and what they hope to achieve.

volunteer-seth-1 volunteer-saleh-11 rohansehgal1521


Seth Greenblatt

Seth, a United States native residing in Austin, Texas, recently retired after 30 years of work in mathematics, physics, computer science, and statistics. Throughout his career he has contributed to an impressive number of projects in fields ranging from epidemiology to meteorology, social network analysis, and many more.

He became a Wolfram|Alpha Volunteer Data Curator shortly after the site’s launch in May 2009. Seth claims he got involved because of “ulterior motives,” stating, “The old saying says, ‘You learn something new every day.’ Through my work on the project, I wanted to see if I can learn two new things.”

This international traveler and avid reader says the amount of time he allocates to the project varies from week to week depending on what life brings. Thus far Seth has contributed to the project by gathering country data for New Zealand, and publication and distribution data for books. We asked Seth about the challenges he has encountered as a curator and he said, “One challenge that anyone working with ‘real world’ data has to deal with is the quality, currency, and availability of data. In this type of work, when I find a reliable, up-to-date, comprehensive source of information, I feel like a miner, after digging through tons of granite, finally encountering a vein of pure gold. I pick out every bit of useful information I can, then continue on through the granite. By the time I go from raw data, organize it into understandable information to submit for inclusion into the knowledge base, it has to be correct. If there is a choice between including data that could well be incorrect and leaving that data out, it should be left out until better data can be found.”


Saleh Penhos

Saleh Penhos runs a knit clothing factory that produces graphic T-shirts in Mexico City, Mexico. He is also a self-professed fan of computers. Saleh says his computer skills are mostly self-taught but that he did study computer systems engineering in college.

Saleh became a volunteer after learning about Wolfram|Alpha’s mission. He says that he immediately fell in love with the project and saw volunteering as an opportunity to contribute to the data community. Thus far, Saleh has experienced no challenges. In fact, he says he enjoys searching for reliable information, and as a bonus he is exposed to new fields of knowledge. He currently spends about seven hours a week curating Mexico’s country and geographic data in addition to translating some information to the Spanish language.


Rohan Sehgal

Rohan Sehgal is a native of India, currently studying in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Rohan’s goal of becoming a computer engineer led him to Wolfram|Alpha when he began using the site for help with differential and integral calculus. He said the benefits he received from Wolfram|Alpha led him to want to contribute to its growth.

We recently checked up with Rohan to find out what he was working on, and he said, “Currently I’m participating in a project for finding information on fictional characters in movies, serials, and books. But I have curated data involving languages, units of measurement, and facts and figures on countries as well. Being a curator takes anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour’s work a week. Wolfram|Alpha is extremely supportive and has not only provided me with assistance at nearly all points of time, but also with the software to work on the same platform as them. All in all it has been a wonderful experience.” More »

February 10, 2010– 2

[Editor's Note: This blog entry is a guest post from Laura Ketcham, a 7th grade technology instructor and coordinator at the Aventura City of Excellence School (ACES) in Aventura, Florida. If you are interested in sharing how you've incorporated Wolfram|Alpha into your everyday life inside or outside the classroom, please contact our blog team at press@wolframalpha.com.]

I read the buzz about Wolfram|Alpha in an article in PC World this past summer. It was billed as a “computational” search engine with the advantage that the results of the computed search appear on one results page, not just in a list of links you need to search through to find the information. I quickly realized that Wolfram|Alpha is an innovative tool that I could definitely incorporate in the classroom! I am a 7th grade technology instructor and coordinator at the Aventura City of Excellence School (ACES) in Aventura, Florida. My students often use the web to find information for a variety of classroom activities, as well as for research in other classes. The students follow a process in which they evaluate websites to determine whether they contain reliable information that can be included for assignments; it’s one of the major topics I cover in the year-long technology course. Wolfram|Alpha provided me with a “cool tool” to introduce to the students that they knew could be trusted as reliable source. They can use Wolfram|Alpha in a variety of ways to “calculate” factual information.

What I really found helpful about Wolfram|Alpha was the Examples page. This provided me with a springboard to computing data in Wolfram|Alpha and with a quick way to evaluate its usefulness as a tool in the classroom. This is definitely a great place for teachers, of any grade, to get started!

I introduced Wolfram|Alpha to my students during a six-week project where the students infused Web 2.0 technology to build a website about South Florida oceans and beaches. They used Wolfram|Alpha to learn about a variety of topics that they had to include in their sites. Several examples are the taxonomy of a variety of plants and animals that call South Florida beaches home and the GPS/satellite technology being used to track a loggerhead sea turtle that the class adopted. More »

February 5, 2010– 16

Version 1.1 of the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone & iPod is now available in the App Store. The new version includes a number of new features that continue to improve the app’s unique mobile Wolfram|Alpha experience. Perhaps its most iconic feature, the specialized keyboards that greet you when you first open the Wolfram|Alpha App, have been painstakingly constructed to ease the burden of entering queries, whether you’re converting from pounds Pounds key to euros Euro key or computing a numerical value for the Weierstrass p-function Weierstrass p-function. Our goal in creating these keyboards was to form families of characters that naturally occur together both in common use and in traditional mathematical applications. We also wanted mathematical expressions to look and feel natural to enhance usability and understanding. Version 1.1 has four specialized keyboards: the default keyboard, the “math” keyboard accessed by the right-shift key Integral Infinity key , the “Greek” keyboard accessed by one press of the left-shift key Right-shift key on the math keyboard, and the “symbol” keyboard accessed by a second press of the left-shift key.

The default keyboard in the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch The math keyboard in the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch The Greek keyboard in the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch The symbol keyboard in the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch

To determine the optimal keyboard layout, we scoured Wolfram|Alpha’s server logs for the most commonly entered phrases that have characters with meaning in Wolfram|Alpha. Given that Wolfram|Alpha is built on Mathematica, one of its core strengths is advanced mathematics. True to form most of the commonly typed characters are related to math. For example, you would generally type the word “integrate” to compute an integral on the Wolfram|Alpha website. In the Wolfram|Alpha App you could simply type the Integral key key on the math keyboard. The same is true for other symbols common in math, such as Theta key and Pi key. Specifying geometric shapes, such as a triangle, is straightforward as well.

Entering an integral into the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch Using Greek characters in the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone and iPod touch More »

February 3, 2010– 10

When Wolfram|Alpha was introduced, Stephen Wolfram blogged about it being the first “killer app” that resulted from his work on A New Kind of Science (NKS). We can now use this application of NKS to further our exploration and study within the NKS field. For example, one class of systems discussed in NKS is that of substitution systems. Now that a host of string substitution systems have been integrated into Wolfram|Alpha, we can explore a variety of these systems—not just the ones that are well known.

A string substitution system is composed of two parts: a string and a set of rules. The string looks like a series of numbers, say “0″ and “1”. The rules describe what happens to each number in the string; for example,  “1” -> “0” and “0” -> “10”. Under our rules, our example string, “1”, transforms to “0”. In true NKS fashion, repeated iteration of these simple rules can give interesting behavior. Our example, which seems deceptively simple, can model the Fibonacci numbers. We simply document the length of the string each time we apply the rules to find that the series of lengths obtained at the end of each substitution corresponds to the Fibonacci series: {1, 1, 2, 3, 5…}. We see this in the following result:

Fabonacci-related sequence

Similarly, there is a string substitution system that models the Cantor set. The rules that define this substitution system are 1->101 and 0->000: More »

February 2, 2010– 3

If all you know about Groundhog Day is what you learned from watching the Bill Murray movie, well… you’re actually quite well informed. The good people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania really do gather at Gobbler’s Knob each February 2 to find out whether a 20-pound groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow, thus foretelling six more weeks of winter—or not, foretelling an early spring.

In more than 120 years of predictions, there have only been 15 occasions on which Phil hasn’t seen his shadow. The National Climatic Data Center has estimated Phil’s accuracy rate at around 39%, but true Phil fans (or skeptics) can do their own analysis of Phil’s track record with Wolfram|Alpha.

Let’s take 1950, for example: according to Punxsutawney’s “Inner Circle,” Phil did not see his shadow that year. Ask about “punxsutawney, pennsylvannia weather feb. 2 1950,” and you discover that practically the entire day was overcast and foggy: not good conditions for a giant rodent to see his shadow. But an early spring? Check the results for “punxsutawney, pennsylvannia weather february 1950” and it’s hard to overlook the plunging temperatures and snowfall in the latter part of the month. Sorry, Phil. More »

January 27, 2010– 10

Since Wolfram|Alpha first launched, we’ve received countless queries about Olympic Games and medalists. The countdown has begun to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, February 12–28, and we are pleased to announce that we’ve added comprehensive Olympic data to Wolfram|Alpha. It can now answer dozens of different types of queries about every medalist and event from past Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

Let’s start with something basic: “Olympic medalists from France”.  The results lead off with a summary and plots of medals won by French medalists in each Olympic Games—all the way back to the first modern games in 1896. The last pod lets you dig further into the data, showing complete, detailed results by sport and event.

Data for Olympic medalists from France

More »

January 25, 2010– 3

New curated data flows into Wolfram|Alpha every day. One addition that we haven’t highlighted before is crime data from the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics, including historical information on crimes and crime rates for all 50 states and thousands of individual cities.

A simple query for “U.S. Crime” will return the nation’s overall crime rate (the number of crimes per 100,000 people) and details on individual categories of violent and property crimes.
Wolfram|Alpha computes U.S. crime data

But Wolfram|Alpha’s true strength shows when you perform more-advanced comparisons and computations. For example, try comparing the crime statistics for two cities, such as “Crime Seattle vs. New York”; you can see clearly that although crime rates have fallen gradually over the last fifteen years, Seattle’s crime rate has maintained a level around 2.5 times that of New York City. More »

January 22, 2010– 11

Is it cheating to use Wolfram|Alpha for math homework? That was the presentation topic of Conrad Wolfram, Wolfram Research’s Director of Strategic Development, at the TEDx Brussels conference at the European Parliament. Conrad shares his viewpoint in this thought-provoking (and often entertaining) video.

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January 20, 2010– 2

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we’re well into the doldrums of winter. The cold, wind, rain, sleet, and snow keep many of us cooped up during the winter months. It’s about this time that cabin fever sets in and that big pile of fresh powder on the ground starts looking more and more like a winter playground. But before you head outside for a little bit of outdoor fun or a quick trip across town during these blustery winter months, it’s important to prepare for outdoor temperatures to avoid potentially serious physical effects from cold, such as frostbite.

Frostbite is a condition where tissue such as skin is damaged, and in some cases destroyed, due to exposure to extreme cold. Wolfram|Alpha has a tool that allows you to quickly compute how long your skin can be exposed to such weather conditions before becoming susceptible to frostbite.

A simply query of the term “frostbite” in Wolfram|Alpha will bring up the calculator featured below. You can update the default values for temperature and wind speed with the ones for your area. (Did you know you can simply enter “weather” into Wolfram|Alpha to get your local weather information?)

In this example, Wolfram|Alpha calculates that at a temperature of 7 °F coupled with a wind speed of 40 mph, frostbite can occur within 24 minutes.

Wolfram|Alpha calculates the risk of frostbite

More »

January 14, 2010– 30

Need a tutor for solving equations? Solving equations is just one of hundreds of mathematical tasks that can be done using Wolfram|Alpha. Wolfram|Alpha can solve equations from middle school level all the way through college level and beyond. So next time you are stumped on an equation, consult Wolfram|Alpha for a little help.

Let’s start with the simpler stuff. Wolfram|Alpha can easily solve linear and quadratic equations, and even allows you to view a step-by-step solution of each problem.

Wolfram|Alpha solves 2x+1=3 for x

What if the roots of the equation are complex? No worries; Wolfram|Alpha has no trouble solving equations over the complex plane.

Wolfram|Alpha solves 3x^2+x+1=0 for x

Wolfram|Alpha can also solve cubic and quartic equations in terms of radicals.

Wolfram|Alpha solves Wolfram|Alpha solves x^3-3x^2-3x+11=0 for x

Of course, some solutions are too large or cannot be represented in terms of radicals; Wolfram|Alpha will then return numerical solutions with a “More digits” button. More »

January 12, 2010– 7

We’ve blogged about Wolfram|Alpha’s name data before—but as we stroll into the 2010 movie-awards season here in the United States, we wanted to remind you about this particular tool and to point out a few interesting movie-related queries.

Marlon Brando’s breakthrough film role was 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which was followed quickly by major roles in Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1952), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954), which brought him his first Academy Award. It’s hard to attribute the growing popularity of the name “Marlon” in the early 1950s to anything but his growing star power—the name just cracked the top 1000 U.S. names in 1950, but rose to #344 in 1955. His award-winning performance in 1972’s The Godfather prompted an ever bigger jump: “Marlon” became the 218th most popular name in the U.S. that year.

Fraction of U.S. newborns named "Marlon" each year

The name “Dustin” didn’t register among the top 1000 U.S. names at all until 1968—one year after Dustin Hoffman’s appearance in The Graduate—when it entered at #368. The name grew steadily in popularity through the early 1980s, hovering around #42 from 1981 through 1986. Film buffs may wonder whether the legendary box-office flop Ishtar (1987) had anything to do with the subsequent decline in the popularity of “Dustin”—even though Mr. Hoffman brought home an Academy Award for Rain Man in 1988.

Fraction of U.S. newborns named "Dustin" each year

Even science-fiction fans might be surprised by this one: in 1999, the year that The Matrix was released, the female name “Trinity” made a startling jump in the ranks to #209, from #525 the previous year; and even though that movie’s sequels (both released in 2003) were somewhat less well received, the name stayed popular—climbing all the way to #48 in 2004. More »

January 8, 2010– 13

During the holidays we posted “New Features in Wolfram|Alpha: Year-End Update” highlighting some of the most notable datasets and enhancements added to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch this past May. We are thrilled by the questions and feedback many of you posted in the comments section. Your feedback is incredibly valuable to the development of Wolfram|Alpha. Many of the additions presented in the post were the result of previous suggestions from Wolfram|Alpha users.

We hope to continue this dialogue as we update Wolfram|Alpha’s ever-growing knowledge base in 2010. You wrote 170-plus comments to the “Year-End Update” post, and we’ve sent questions from those comments to Wolfram|Alpha’s developers and domain experts for answers. We’ll be reporting their responses in a series of blog posts.

So without further ado…


Zach
Q: Wonderful to hear about, yet my regular challenge raises its head again. I type in “plasma physics” and get a definition—but nothing more. I type in “plasma temperatures”, “gas plasma”, “ionized gas” and get nothing. I applaud the notion of making sure Wolfram|Alpha has information relevant to the public interest (ecology, environment, employment, salaries, cost of living, and all that), but you’re missing an entire branch of physics and an entire state of matter. I’d love to compute, for example, the temperature of a certain firework as it explodes, and then relate that to whether the chemicals within have been heated to plasma or are simply burning brightly, and which additives burn the longest (and thus have more chance of landing on the audience while still hot). Pure exploration of data based on something cool and pretty.

On the other hand, the more you add, the more holes you’ll find as people search and then become frustrated when specific things they want aren’t available. Please keep tracking your “cannot find” results!

A: Although we haven’t yet covered every possible domain of knowledge, that’s certainly our goal—and feedback like yours is definitely considered and added to our “to-do” list. Each time a query produces one of those “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input” messages, it shows up in our logs. Sometimes we have the data, but need to tweak Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic code so it recognizes more types of questions. If we don’t have the data, someone looks closely at your question and at sources that might be able to answer such questions, and more often than not those sources are incorporated into our planning. Many of the features mentioned in our year-end review were direct responses to user requests, and many more are in the works.


Jim Clough
Q: I have just downloaded W/A for iPhone, but haven’t had much chance to try it yet. Two questions:

1. My first query to W/A, about Olympic marathon winners, failed “Could not connect to a W/A server” or something like that. I thought the point of the downloaded version was to free you from wi fi restrictions.
2. Given the ever changing nature of knowledge and your impressive programme of developments, can iPhone customers expect updates in the future?

A: As we’ve noted before, the iPhone and iPod touch are terrific platforms, but they simply aren’t powerful enough to solve many queries in a reasonable amount of time, if at all; the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone does require an internet connection. Users of the app will therefore benefit from all the same data and algorithm updates that are added weekly to the main Wolfram|Alpha website, as well as ongoing bug fixes and enhancements to the app itself. More »

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January 7, 2010– 8

Four hundred years ago, on January 7, 1610, Galileo pointed his telescope at the planet Jupiter and discovered that it had its own moons. This discovery changed our perspective on the universe.

Prior to Galileo’s discovery, the Earth-centric Ptolemaic system was the standard view of the cosmos where Earth was the center–heaven was above and Earth was below. Copernicus had proposed a heliocentric model, but it was a mental exercise meant to simplify the complicated Ptolemaic system. Galileo’s discovery was the first one that showed evidence that something was orbiting a body other than Earth. If Jupiter had things in orbit around it, why couldn’t other bodies?

At the time telescopes were cutting-edge, and only a few people had them. What Galileo did was an instructive example on how to combine technology and curiosity.

Today you can recreate the moment with today’s technology by typing “Jupiter” into Wolfram|Alpha.

Among the pods about Jupiter, there is a graphic showing the current configuration of the so-called “Galilean moons”, the ones Galileo saw 400 years ago: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Type “Galilean moons” to find out more about them. Or for historical curiosity, try “January 7, 1610” and find out more about that day.

You can even virtually recreate Galileo’s observations for yourself. Here’s how he depicted what he saw 400 years ago on the night of January 7:

jupiter-1

And here is what he saw a few days later:

jupiter-2

In Galileo’s diagrams, the circle represents Jupiter, and the asterisks represent the moons he observed. He didn’t know they were moons until the second observation, when they had changed position. More »

January 6, 2010– 16

When Wolfram|Alpha launched, we were able to estimate physiological energy expenditures for very basic exercise queries involving walking and running. But now we can answer much more detailed questions about a broader assortment of physical activities. For example, this query will compute the energy burned by running a specific distance in a given time:

Wolfram|Alpha calculates activity data for a 6mph, 40 minute run for a male, age 14.

You can also specify a running speed over a given distance: More »