ARCHIVE: December 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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