Wolfram|Alpha’s Best Blog Posts of 2013
Even our biggest Wolfram|Alpha fans may have missed some of the stories we’ve shared this year—but here’s your chance to catch up! Without further ado, our 10 most popular Wolfram|Alpha Blog posts from 2013:
Our announcement that we were turning Wolfram|Alpha into a handwritten service, with results written on the fly by a massive team of experts, made some waves—until people noticed that we chose to break this news on April 1.
You can still add the format to your regular results by including “handwritten style” in the query.
In November, our founder Stephen Wolfram dropped some hints about the work we’ve been doing with the Wolfram Language:
[...] we’re also integrating right into the language all the knowledge and data and algorithms that are built into Wolfram|Alpha. So in a sense inside the Wolfram Language we have a whole computable model of the world. And it becomes trivial to write a program that makes use of the latest stock price, computes the next high tide, generates a street map, shows an image of a type of airplane, or a zillion other things.
We’re also getting the free-form natural language of Wolfram|Alpha. So when we want to specify a date, or a place, or a song, we can do it just using natural language. And we can even start to build up programs with nothing more than natural language.
We’re already rolling out the Wolfram Language on platforms such as the Raspberry Pi, with many more uses to come.
We’re all big fans of the xkcd webcomic, so when the creator, Randall Munroe, had some issues submitting too many queries to Wolfram|Alpha, we wanted to help however we could. As part of this, we did some more research on the question that caused him some grief—finding out how long it would take after jumping out of an airplane to inflate a large balloon with helium and land safely.
According to Wolfram|Alpha (and Mathematica), the answer appears to be 22 seconds, during which you’d fall about 2,000 feet:
This fall, we launched Wolfram Problem Generator, a tool that lets students and teachers create problems at all levels of math for homework, practice, and studying.
We’ve been used to solving people’s problems for quite a while, so it’s been an interesting change to create problems for once. Based on the feedback we’ve been receiving, though, the Problem Generator’s been proving quite useful—and we’re continuing to work on adding more features and fields of study.
This spring, Richard Clark took us on a charming tour of some of Wolfram|Alpha’s image-processing features, such as how the world looks through the eyes of a dog, or what Lady Gaga might look like in a comic book:
Oleg Marichev used Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha to shed light on a mathematical mystery created in the last months of the life of one of history’s most brilliant mathematicians, Srinivasa Ramanujan:
He claimed to have solutions for a particular function, but only had time to write down a few before moving on to other areas of mathematics. He wrote the following incomplete equation with 14 others, only 3 of them solved.
As we will show below, a solution exists as elegant as other values found by Ramanujan himself.
As Marichev notes, Wolfram|Alpha’s abilities in continued fractions are closely related to the mathematical advances made by Ramanujan a century ago.
Our mathematical curves of notable individuals and fictional characters (as we’ll see below) have been incredibly popular, so we gave one fan the chance to pick a curve of their choice to be featured in Wolfram|Alpha. We asked users to submit their nerdiest word clouds using our Facebook Personal Analytics tool (more on that below, too).
After much deliberation, we awarded prizes to two runners-up—as well as the grand-prize winner, Richard Johnstone, now immortalized within Wolfram|Alpha:
If you’ve used our Facebook Personal Analytics tool to examine your life on Facebook, you may have volunteered to submit some of your (anonymized) data to Wolfram|Alpha for research purposes. Thanks to these kind Data Donors, we’ve been able to release some extremely interesting findings about the global community of Facebook users.
For example, how do the demographics of your Facebook friends change as you get older?
What states and countries have the most (or least) friends?
Just how do men and women talk differently?
Though it was just a preliminary study, “Data Science of the Facebook World” revealed some fascinating social and cultural patterns in today’s world—and hinted at the power of large-scale computation in the world of tomorrow. (For more info on Facebook Personal Analytics, read John Burnham’s related blog post from January, which was quite popular in its own right.)
Never underestimate the beauty of mathematics. Richard Clark describes some of Wolfram|Alpha’s first “character curves”, each of which is produced by an elaborate parametric equation:
In addition to the curves mentioned here (and the Richard Johnstone curve we listed earlier), Wolfram|Alpha now produces mathematical representations of characters from presidents to rappers to internet memes to, *ahem*, the subject of the year’s #1 most popular post…
We’ll just leave this here:
As Michael Feltes noted, “In many ways, Pokémon are an ideal subject for a computable knowledge engine. They have a set of well-defined characteristics with lots of numbers to which we can apply our analytic capabilities. Heck, Pokémon come complete with their own unique identifiers from the game’s internal database, the Pokémon Index, or Pokédex.”
Whether you’re interested in learning about their stats, their physical characteristics, or just what that one you’ve never caught actually looks like, you’ll probably find the Pokémon data you’re looking for in Wolfram|Alpha.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look back on some of the year’s biggest Wolfram|Alpha stories. Feel free to post in the comments if you have a favorite story that we didn’t share—or if you have an idea for us to write a blog post on in the future. We’re already looking forward to 2014!