ARCHIVE: April 2010
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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