ARCHIVE: February 2010
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 »

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]

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– 14

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 »