ARCHIVE: November 2010
November 30, 2010–

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.

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–

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.

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–

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:

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–

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:

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–

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.

(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–

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–

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:

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 »