ARCHIVE: April 2012
April 26, 2012– 1

For the past few years, Wolfram Research has supported Bike to Work Day by handing out fruit, water, snacks, and other items to bikers at a station right outside our headquarters in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. This year we decided to include some data about biking to work alongside the granola bars and bananas.

If you live in a bike-friendly area, you can save quite a bit of money each year by occasionally biking to work. Using the widget below, you can enter your daily commute in miles, how many days of the week for how many weeks of the year you expect to bike to work, and the MPG of your car and your city to determine how much money you can save.

More »

April 25, 2012– 3

It sounds like the setup for a stereotypical horror movie, but it’s a true story: a lone traveler—the founder of a major software company and the creator of an innovative computational knowledge engine—driving on a dark and unfamiliar road. A rental car running low on gas. It’s the 21st century, of course, so he’s got GPS—but the last few gas stations it directed him to were shuttered for the night. Should he take his chances with the next station recommended by the GPS? Should he pull over on a spooky, moonless country road and try to call other stations in the desperate hope that someone answers his call?

Well, maybe. Or he could just ask the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone or Android App “Where’s the nearest open gas station?

Where's the nearest open gas station? More »

April 19, 2012– 4

Who says data doesn’t have a lighter side to it?

Here at Wolfram|Alpha we are constantly adding data from the critical domains of science and socioeconomics and making all of it computable in order to provide new insights as well as novel ways of looking at the world we live in.

But once in a while we like to throw in something fun and exciting, and one such new area that we have added is detailed information on over 150 types of keyboards from all over the world. Ever wondered how many keys are on the third row of a US keyboard or what fingers you would use when typing the first six words of the Gettysburg Address, “Four score and seven years ago”, on your keyboard?

"Four score and seven years ago" on my keyboard More »

April 17, 2012– 11

Today marks an important milestone for Wolfram|Alpha, and for computational knowledge in general: for the first time, Wolfram|Alpha is now on average giving complete, successful responses to more than 90% of the queries entered on its website (and with “nearby” interpretations included, the fraction is closer to 95%).

I consider this an impressive achievement—the hard-won result of many years of progressively filling out the knowledge and linguistic capabilities of the system.

The picture below shows how the fraction of successful queries (in green) has increased relative to unsuccessful ones (red) since Wolfram|Alpha was launched in 2009. And from the log scale in the right-hand panel, we can see that there’s been a roughly exponential decrease in the failure rate, with a half-life of around 18 months. It seems to be a kind of Moore’s law for computational knowledge: the net effect of innumerable individual engineering achievements and new ideas is to give exponential improvement.

Wolfram|Alpha query success rate More »

April 10, 2012– 30

For hundreds of years, scholars have carefully studied the plays of Shakespeare, breaking down the language and carefully dissecting every act and scene. We thought it would be interesting to see what sorts of computational insights Wolfram|Alpha could provide, so we uploaded the complete catalog of Shakespeare’s plays into our database. This allows our users to examine Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, and the rest of the Bard’s plays in an entirely new way. More »

April 4, 2012– 9

One of the features of calculus is the ability to determine the arc length or surface area of a curve or surface. An arc length is the length of the curve if it were “rectified,” or pulled out into a straight line. You can also think of it as the distance you would travel if you went from one point to another along a curve, rather than directly along a straight line between the points.

To see why this is useful, think of how much cable you would need to hang a suspension bridge. The shape in which a cable hangs by itself is called a “catenary,” but with a flat weight like a roadway hanging from it, it takes the shape of a more familiar curve: a parabola.

Golden Gate Bridge More »