The precursors of what we’re trying to do with computable data in Wolfram|Alpha in many ways stretch back to the very dawn of human history—and in fact their development has been fascinatingly tied to the whole progress of civilization.

Last year we invited the leaders of today’s great data repositories to our Wolfram Data Summit—and as a conversation piece we assembled a timeline of the historical development of systematic data and computable knowledge.

This year, as we approach the Wolfram Data Summit 2011, we’ve taken the comments and suggestions we got, and we’re making available a five-feet-long (1.5 meters) printed poster of the timeline—as well as having the basic content on the web.

The story the timeline tells is a fascinating one: of how, in a multitude of steps, our civilization has systematized more and more areas of knowledge—collected the data associated with them, and gradually made them amenable to automation. More »

Another year has flown by here at Wolfram|Alpha, and the gears are really turning! New data and features are flowing at a rapid rate. To celebrate, Wolfram|Alpha’s creator, Stephen Wolfram, will share what we’ve been working on and take your questions in a live Q&A.

Please join us on Facebook or Wolfram|Alpha’s Livestream on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, at 10am PDT/12pm CDT/1pm EDT/6pm BST.

If you have a question you’d like to ask, please send it as a comment to this blog post or tweet to @Wolfram_Alpha and include the hashtag #WAChat. We’ll also be taking questions live on Facebook and Livestream chat during the webcast.

We’re looking forward to chatting with you on May 18!

Yes, it is once again the time of the year when the mathematically inclined gather together to celebrate Pi Day…

…and, in the process, swap trivia of note on everyone’s (including Wolfram|Alpha’s) favorite number.

There have been no shortage of blog posts already written on the subject; see, for example, last year’s “Pi Day in Wolfram|Alpha” (or the Wolfram Blog Pi Day posts from 2008 or 2010). As already hinted at in last year’s blog, one would expect the pi to be ubiquitous in a computational knowledge engine—and so it is. Therefore, at the risk of beating a proven transcendental constant to death, this year we offer a few (well, OK: more than a few) additional pi-related esoterica courtesy of Wolfram|Alpha.

More »

One of the most common queries on Wolfram|Alpha is a user entering his or her date of birth to see how many years, months, and days old he or she is today.

Since this feature first became popular, we added more birthday-specific features for this query type. By adding “birthday” to your query, you’ll get even more detailed information, such as a birthday countdown, a notable dates pod, and astrological birth information.

For example, submit a query such as “birthday March 29, 1990” to see how many days there are until your next birthday (time to start planning, March 29ers!) and how long it’s been since your last birthday.

Today we’re officially wrapping up Wolfram|Alpha’s Deck the Halls with Facts & Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away by re-opening the gallery and announcing the winners! In early December we launched the contest as a way to say thank you for making 2010 a great year for Wolfram|Alpha, and to give some fun Wolfram swag to members of our community.

To start, we gifted Wolfram|Alpha Spikey paper sculpture kits to the first 500 people to enter the contest by submitting their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts. We enjoyed reading all of the clever fun facts contestants uncovered in Wolfram|Alpha. Nyth discovered that eating a serving of bacon a day for one year will result in the consumption of 2.5lbs of fat. Sri found that the average life expectancy of a tortoise is 137 years. You can dive into Wolfram|Alpha to discover a countless number of fun facts.

Contestants had the opportunity to enter photos of their Wolfram|Alpha Spikeys, along with their fun facts, in a vote-off for a chance to win prizes such as *Mathematica* Professional, an iPad, Wolfram mobile apps, and T-shirts. The votes have been tallied and the winners have been announced on the Holiday Gift-Away site. Congratulations to all of the winners.

Online voting contests have their share of challenges. During the vote-off we discovered a few vulnerabilities in the voting system. We put additional measures in place to help secure voting, and we promptly identified and removed votes that fell outside of the contest’s rules. Once voting closed, we conducted a second round of auditing. It was very important to us that we reviewed the data and confirmed the correct winners.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts and Spikey photos and supported their favorite entries in the vote-off!

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.

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.

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!

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?

The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 opened this morning in Washington, DC. The inaugural event brings together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.

The invitation-only conference includes participants from organizations such as the U.S. Census Bureau, NASA, NPR, the United Nations, OpenStreetMap, Thomson Reuters, comScore, and many others.

The summit officially opened this morning with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. Topics being presented and discussed at the summit include data curation methods, automated data collection, data linguistics, crowdsourcing, the democratization of data, and more.

The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 will continue through Friday, September 10. We invite you to follow the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit to participate in the conversation and to get interesting insights and commentary from Wolfram Data Summit participants.

Sunday is the United States’ Independence Day, and one of the hottest days of the year in this part of the country. Many Americans will celebrate the day with outdoor activities such as barbecues, parades, and fireworks. Chances are that after all the corn on the cob and fun in the sun, they’ll be looking to celebrate with some air conditioning, too! All that cooling will require a few *degree days*!

What’s a degree day? A degree day quantifies the amount of heating or cooling required to heat or cool an inside space.

Suppose you want to maintain an inside temperature of 65°F. This 65°F is called the base temperature. (65°F might sound cool, but this artificially low number is used because the actual temperature in the building will be raised by bodies and other inside sources of heat.) If the weather forecast for Champaign is as hot as expected for U.S. Independence Day—definitely above 65°F—then you’ll need to cool the building. The amount of cooling required is the difference between the base temperature and the outdoor temperature, multiplied by the time over which the temperature is different. If it is cooler outside than 65°F then you’ll need to heat the building, again by an amount equal to the product of the temperature difference and the time.

To make sense out of that, just type “degree days” into Wolfram|Alpha.

The temperature history pod contains a plot of the temperature over the time period of the calculation—one month back by default. If you are used to using Wolfram|Alpha to check the weather this plot should look familiar, but with some differences. The horizontal red line across the plot is the base temperature. The part of the plot that is above the red line is shaded in blue. That’s because when the temperature is above the base temperature, you have to cool the building. The number of cooling degree days is the area of the blue region. Similarly, the number of heating degree days is the area of the red region, which extends from the red baseline down to temperatures below the base temperature. More »

Today (June 23, 2010) would have been Alan Turing‘s 98^{th} birthday—if he had not died in 1954, at the age of 41.

I never met Alan Turing; he died five years before I was born. But somehow I feel I know him well—not least because many of my own intellectual interests have had an almost eerie parallel with his.

And by a strange coincidence, *Mathematica*‘s “birthday” (June 23, 1988) is aligned with Turing’s—so that today is also the celebration of *Mathematica*‘s 22^{nd} birthday.

I think I first heard about Alan Turing when I was about eleven years old, right around the time I saw my first computer. Through a friend of my parents, I had gotten to know a rather eccentric old classics professor, who, knowing my interest in science, mentioned to me this “bright young chap named Turing” whom he had known during the Second World War.

One of the classics professor’s eccentricities was that whenever the word “ultra” came up in a Latin text, he would repeat it over and over again, and make comments about remembering it. At the time, I didn’t think much of it—though I did remember it. Only years later did I realize that “Ultra” was the codename for the British cryptanalysis effort at Bletchley Park during the war. In a very British way, the classics professor wanted to tell me something about it, without breaking any secrets. And presumably it was at Bletchley Park that he had met Alan Turing.

A few years later, I heard scattered mentions of Alan Turing in various British academic circles. I heard that he had done mysterious but important work in breaking German codes during the war. And I heard it claimed that after the war, he had been killed by British Intelligence. At the time, at least some of the British wartime cryptography effort was still secret, including Turing’s role in it. I wondered why. So I asked around, and started hearing that perhaps Turing had invented codes that were still being used.

I’m not sure where I next encountered Alan Turing. Probably it was when I decided to learn all I could about computer science—and saw all sorts of mentions of “Turing machines”. But I have a distinct memory from around 1979 of going to the library, and finding a little book about Alan Turing written by his mother, Sara Turing.

And gradually I built up quite a picture of Alan Turing and his work. And over the 30 years that have followed, I have kept on running into Alan Turing, often in unexpected places. More »

Years ago I wondered if it would ever be possible to systematically make human knowledge computable. And today, one year after the official launch of Wolfram|Alpha, I think I can say for sure: it *is* possible.

It takes a stack of technology and ideas that I’ve been assembling for nearly 30 years. And in many ways it’s a profoundly difficult project. But this year has shown that it *is* possible.

Wolfram|Alpha is of course a very long-term undertaking. But much has been built, the direction is set, and things are moving with accelerating speed.

Over the past year, we’ve roughly doubled the amount that Wolfram|Alpha knows. We’ve doubled the number of domains it handles, and the number of algorithms it can use. And we’ve actually much more than doubled the amount of raw data in it.

Things seem to be scaling better and better. The more we put into Wolfram|Alpha, the easier it becomes to add still more. We’ve honed both our automated and human processes, progressively building on what Wolfram|Alpha already does.

When we launched Wolfram|Alpha a year ago, about 2/3 of all queries generated a response. Now over 90% do.

So, what are some of the things we’ve learned over the past year? More »

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!

In my blog post last month, I wrote about Valentine’s Day in Wolfram|Alpha. Strangely, we received a number of comments indicating that the computational power of Wolfram|Alpha was not always sufficient to melt the hearts of some non-mathematically inclined sweethearts of the world. But not to fear; I have decided to persist undeterred in spite of that disappointing and surprising news, now that we’re on the verge of another holiday (and a more inherently mathematical one).

The holiday in question is Pi Day. As with a large number of other holidays, simply typing its name (in this case, “pi day”) into Wolfram|Alpha gives you basic calendrical information about it:

Now, because Wolfram|Alpha users are both intelligent and discriminating, all of you have I’m sure already noticed that when the digits in the date 3/14 (March 14 in the United States style for dates—a bit more about this later) are run together with a decimal place between, the result is 3.14. And that that decimal expansion is connected with a certain famous mathematical constant given by the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. And that little fact explains why Pi Day is celebrated on the 14th of each March. More »

Valentine’s Day is special to sweethearts around the world. While Wolfram|Alpha can’t come close to replacing a thoughtful card or gourmet box of chocolates, there are a surprisingly large number of things related to Valentine’s Day (and in particular, to its central icon) that Wolfram|Alpha can compute.

Let’s start with the holiday itself. Just typing in “valentine’s day” gives the expected calendrical information, from which we learn that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year. For the procrastinators among us, we can also find out how many days we have remaining to acquire an appropriate token of affection for our loved one (or by how many days we’ve already blown our chance). Wolfram|Alpha also shows various other useful data, including the interesting fact that Valentine’s Day coincides with Chinese New Year this year.

While Wolfram|Alpha can’t (yet) tell you how many calories are in your box of holiday chocolates or package of Valentine’s Day Sweethearts candy, there are plenty of computational objects related to that most-famous Valentine’s Day icon—the heart—that it can tell you something interesting and/or useful about. For instance, do you know the average weight of a human heart? The typical resting heart rate? The Unicode point for the heart symbol character? Or perhaps you’ve forgotten the ASCII keystrokes needed to insert a love emoticon at the end of an email to your Sweet Baboo?

On the mathematical side, typing in “heart curve” gives you a number of mathematical curves resembling the heart shape. The default (and probably most famous) of these is the cardioid, whose name after all means “heart-shaped” in Latin (and about which we all have fond memories dating back to our introductory calculus courses):

A curve more closely resembling the conventional schematic (if not physiological) heart shape is the so-called “first heart curve“, which is an algebraic curve described by a beautifully simple sextic Cartesian equation:

If you don’t care for any of the heart curves Wolfram|Alpha knows about (or even if you do), you’re also of course also free to experiment with your own. For example, a particularly attractive curve can be obtained using the relatively simple input “polar plot 2 – 2 sin t + sin t sqrt (abs(cos t))/(sin t + 1.4)“. More »

We’re really catching the holiday spirit here at Wolfram|Alpha.

We recently announced our special holiday sale for the Wolfram|Alpha app. Now we are launching our first-ever Wolfram|Alpha “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” contest.

Here’s how it works.

From tomorrow, Tuesday, December 22, through Saturday, January 2, we’ll use Twitter to give away a gift a day. Be the first to retweet our “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” tweet and you get the prize! You can double your chances to win by following and playing along with Wolfram Research.

Start following us today so you don’t miss your chance to win with our Wolfram|Alpha “Holiday Tweet-a-Day” contest.

We hope you had a chance to tune into the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day. We are still delighted by all of the excitement!

The 14-hour webcast was jam-packed with insightful demonstrations, thought-provoking interviews, interesting Q&A with the Wolfram|Alpha scholars, and much, much more. We’ve started uploading video highlights in case you missed parts or want to see them again.

Our host, Eric Hansen, kicked off the event with an interview with Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram.

Famous physicist and author Brian Greene joined us to talk about why this is such an exciting time for science and technology. More »

It’s been an exciting afternoon here at the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day—and the day is just getting started. We will be broadcasting live from the Homework Day website until 2am U.S. CDT. Our host, University of Illinois and University of Syracuse Adjunct Professor Eric Hansen, kicked the show off with a live interview with Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram.

Shannon Smith and her mother Nancy Brachbill, the teachers behind Recess TEC, joined us for live demonstrations and interviews about how they are using Wolfram|Alpha in their 4th- and 5th-grade classrooms. Learn more about Nancy and Shannon in our earlier blog post.

We’ve also had the opportunity to interact with students, educators, and parents at the Dell-sponsored Internet Cafe:

The first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day is here! We’re so pleased that you’ve stopped by to join us. This groundbreaking live marathon event runs from noon until 2am U.S. CDT, and is being broadcast live on the Homework Day website. Please visit the site to see the event, browse the program highlights, send your questions to be answered by members of the Wolfram|Alpha team, and even submit your homework examples to be showcased live on the air.

You can stay connected with us all day via the Homework Day chat, here on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, and through Facebook and Twitter (be sure to include #homeworkday in your tweets).

We’re just hours away from the start of the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, and we thought we’d give you a sneak peak of the Dell-sponsored Homework Day Cafe. This groundbreaking, marathon webcast will be broadcast live from the Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day website beginning at noon U.S. CDT, on October 21. Visit the site now to submit your questions and homework examples!

Program highlights for the first-ever Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, which begins at noon U.S. CDT on Wednesday, October 21, 2009, are now on the Homework Day website. We’re very excited by the amount of enthusiasm that students, parents, and educators are generating about this groundbreaking live web event, which aims to solve your toughest assignments and explore the power of using Wolfram|Alpha for school, college, and beyond.

You’re invited to tune in to the event at any time throughout the day. Here are just a few of the highlights we have planned for you:

- A special Homework Day welcome from Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram

- Live interviews, demonstrations, and vibrant panel discussions with educators

- A thought-provoking in-depth conversation with an internationally known actor and education advocate

- Live Q&A with members of the Wolfram|Alpha team tackling your toughest questions

- A fun science experiment from our very own mad scientist Theodore Gray

You can see more of our program highlights on the Homework Day website. While you’re there, find out how you can contribute your questions and examples today!

Join us on Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at noon CDT, for the start of Wolfram|Alpha Homework Day, a groundbreaking marathon live interactive web event that brings together students, parents, and educators from across the United States to solve their toughest assignments and explore the power of using Wolfram|Alpha for school, college, and beyond.

The multi-hour event will be broadcast live on our new Homework Day website. You can interact with Wolfram|Alpha team members and other Homework Day participants via Homework Day chat, Facebook, and Twitter.

More »