CATEGORY: People & History
July 17, 2014– 0

Although I was born several years after the first Apollo Moon landing, the excitement surrounding the Apollo Moon landings and the space exploration enthusiasm it fostered drastically affected my childhood and shaped the direction my later life would follow. The space race, arguably peaking with the Apollo Moon landings, generated a funding explosion for science education that allowed many planetariums to be built and a phase of education encouragement that affected many of my generation. If we could land on the Moon, imagine what else we might achieve if we worked hard enough.

On July 20, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. This landing began a sequence of Moon landings that ended with Apollo 17. We can leverage Wolfram|Alpha and the recently released Mathematica 10 to help us celebrate and continue exploring (data, in this case). The available data includes dates, crew information, and landing coordinates.

Let’s explore the crew information first. As with many famous people, Wolfram|Alpha gives a fair amount of information like birth dates and locations, pictures, time lines, height information, and familial information. More »

July 3, 2014– 2

July 4 is a big day in American history. Not just because it’s Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but also because it’s the anniversary of several other historically important moments. More »

June 13, 2014– 3

In the United States and many other countries around the world, Father’s Day—the day we celebrate fatherhood and the important male figures in our lives—is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. This year, Father’s Day falls on June 15. More »

June 9, 2014– 0

To borrow a phrase from Donald himself: “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” The famous anthropomorphized duck created by Walt Disney Productions is celebrating a birthday today. At 80 years old, he’s outlived the oldest known domestic duck by 55 years!

Anas platrhynchos domestica More »

May 22, 2014– 1

Saturday, May 24, is the 170th anniversary of the day inventor Samuel Morse sent a very famous telegraphic message to Alfred Vail using Morse code. More »

April 23, 2014– 1

There are plenty of old writers, poets, and playwrights whose works have stood the test of time—pieces that literary gurus still analyze and quote, and call “classics.” But few have remained so prominent that they have been a common household name for over 400 years. More »

April 15, 2014– 0

Today is the birthday of two famous physicists, though that is not how they are commonly remembered. More »

April 1, 2014– 5

Hello, hello. Test, test… Success! It’s alive, it’s alive! (It being me, of course.) More »

March 3, 2014– 0

If you’re any kind of a movie fan, there’s a good chance that you spent last night watching Ellen DeGeneres and the 86th Academy Awards. If you still can’t get enough Oscars trivia, join us on Wolfram|Alpha to take a look through some of our Academy Awards data. More »

February 7, 2014– 0

The 2014 Winter Olympics have begun! It’s time for the biennial celebration of stellar athletes and national pride. What events are you looking forward to this year? Personally, I am a huge fan of watching the bobsleigh courses. More »

October 28, 2013– 0

Theodore Roosevelt was born 155 years ago yesterday. Roosevelt led an exciting life—he commanded the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, gave a 90-minute speech after being shot, and, oh yes, served as president from 1901 to 1909. As you might expect, Wolfram|Alpha contains quite a lot of data on the life of this impressive figure. More »

September 26, 2013– 0

To celebrate the start of the school year last month, Wolfram|Alpha launched the Set the Curve Contest, where we gave fans a chance to prove they were the nerdiest Wolfram|Alpha user by sharing their word clouds from Facebook Personal Analytics. Our winner would be immortalized in Wolfram|Alpha with the chance to choose a person or figure to be portrayed as our next mathematical curve. More »

July 22, 2013– 0

As we congratulate Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (AKA, Kate Middleton) on the birth of their first son, we thought it’d be fun to explore some royal names, among other data, on Wolfram|Alpha, and see what impact the royal baby could end up having on the American side of the pond. More »

June 10, 2013– 2

In my last blog post, I discussed how to construct closed-form trigonometric formulas for sketches of people’s faces. Using similar techniques, Wolfram|Alpha has recently added a collection of hundreds of such closed-form curves for faces, shapes, animals, logos, and signatures. More »

May 17, 2013– 4

Here at Wolfram Research and at Wolfram|Alpha we love mathematics and computations. Our favorite topics are algorithms, followed by formulas and equations. More »

February 28, 2013– 0

Today is National Tooth Fairy Day, a day where we can be reminded to take good care of our teeth, and in the event we’re young and some fall out, to put them under our pillows for magic money. I once heard that the source of this magic money is from some sort of self-described guardian, but I’ve never actually met him or her. More »

January 23, 2013– 19

Today we’re excited to announce the first upgrade to Wolfram|Alpha’s Personal Analytics for Facebook. There’s much more to analyze, see, and do—here’s a quick look! More »

January 8, 2013– 9

When I was younger, I held the naive and incorrect view that mathematics was divorced from the arts. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of not only how mathematics is the foundation for any of the hard sciences, but also how it is intrinsically linked to essentially any form of creativity. Certainly users of our Wolfram Music Theory Course Assistant could have told me that, but I’m not just referring to music. In truth, I’m not even trying to make some highbrow appeal to abstract art, either, although I happen to rather like that sort of thing. What I’m trying to say is that mathematical equations can make pretty pictures.

butterfly curve More »

December 10, 2012– 0

The Nobel Prizes, named for chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and activist for humankind’s advancement, were handed out in Stockholm today. Wolfram|Alpha can tell us that the winners include Brian Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

nobel prize 2012 More »

December 6, 2012– 5

So, you forgot your anniversary was coming up, and now you have to decide what you’re going to get your loved one. Wolfram|Alpha can now help point you in the right direction. The stereotypical anniversary gift for a man to give his wife is often thought to be jewelry, but you would be surprised to know that many traditional and modern wedding gifts have nothing to do with jewelry.

wedding anniversary gifts More »

November 7, 2012– 0

The US elections are over, and with a few exceptions, we can now answer the question “What happened?” We know who won the 2012 presidential election, we know there was an upset in the Massachusetts senate race, and we know that Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives. So now, whatever race you’re most concerned about, the big question is, “Why did it happen?” More »

May 13, 2011– 31

Blog anniversary

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!

April 27, 2011– 4

Wolfram|Alpha is a powerful tool for finding information about the universe at large, but sometimes we are interested in a much smaller universe: our families. Genealogical research is an increasingly popular hobby, and one which Wolfram|Alpha can make easier using features across several of its subject areas.

We blogged last year about how Wolfram|Alpha can map family relations, which can certainly be more helpful the further your genealogical research takes you from the trunk of your family tree. Recently, another researcher (and previously unknown relative) contacted me. This new connection sent me straight to Wolfram|Alpha to determine our relationship. Her great grandfather was my great grandfather’s brother and, thanks to Wolfram|Alpha, I learned that she is my third cousin.

Great granddaughter of my great great uncle
More »

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April 18, 2011– 5

By popular demand, Wolfram|Alpha recently expanded population data for most of the world’s countries, based in part on statistics from the United Nations Population Division. Populations are shaped by factors such as disease, war, genocide, and famine as well as more benign phenomena such as immigration. One of the more common user requests in this area has been to support queries like “China population distribution”, which now returns an age pyramid and detailed table of population by age and sex:

China population distribution

You can also query for specific age groups, as indicated on the pyramid, or just query for a single age, and Wolfram|Alpha will return data for the appropriate five-year age “bin”:
More »

October 28, 2010– 10

We humans often notice the passage of time by observing our watches; the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars across the sky; or by the records left by our ancestors in diaries or other historical records—but these are just fleeting moments in the eyes of geological time. We are used to thinking about recorded history. But recorded history is just a blink when compared to the length of time called pre-history. Recorded history only goes back a few thousand years. The Earth is far older.

It’s hard for humans to grasp just how long the Earth has been here. Using a variety of methods, geologists have been able to put together many pieces of a very complicated puzzle. After all, how do you assemble a puzzle when you’re not sure what the finished picture should look like? From studying processes that are happening today, such as geological composition, rates of deposition, weathering, climatology, biology, and Earth’s magnetic field, geologists can extend these processes back to ancient times and learn what the Earth was like billions of years ago. When combined with data points such as those found in the fossil record, these extrapolations can be constrained, and the picture starts to emerge from the puzzle. More »

July 9, 2010– 7

This Sunday, July 11, is World Population Day—an event established in 1989 by the United Nations to raise awareness of global population issues. This year, the emphasis is on the 2010 World Population and Housing Census Programme and the importance of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating data in a way that supports good health and social policy development.

In the past few months, we’ve added a variety of international data sets to Wolfram|Alpha, such as data on food consumption and worldwide health indicators. But Wolfram|Alpha launched with an enormous collection of global socioeconomic data, much of it from the UN and other authoritative repositories of international statistics, and we’ve continued to expand and curate that collection.

As we’ve said before, we’re committed to “democratizing data”—to making it easier for everyone to access and understand the wealth of important data produced by a multitude of sources. For good examples of our own ability to analyze and disseminate relevant socioeconomic data, try some of the following queries pertaining to topics from past and present World Population Days:

We’ll soon be introducing some new functionality that will give “power users” the ability to do more advanced analysis and comparison of properties between groups of countries, and in other knowledge domains. And as always, if you’d like to see additional data in Wolfram|Alpha, please send us your suggestions.

PS: If you’re interested in the absolute latest information on world population, try asking Wolfram|Alpha for the current world population. Reload that page in your browser a few times and see how fast that number is going up!

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July 6, 2010– 6

As a scientist and a technology CEO, Stephen Wolfram often thinks about the future—both near-term and long-term.  On June 12 he gave an unusual keynote talk at the 2010 H+ Summit @ Harvard, titled “Computation and the Future of the Human Condition”.

Check out the transcript to find Stephen’s latest thoughts on our future…

June 23, 2010– 9

Today (June 23, 2010) would have been Alan Turing‘s 98th 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 22nd 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 »

June 21, 2010– 20

One thing that is full of confusion is figuring out relationships. It can also be full of surprises, like the fact that Wolfram|Alpha can do it for you. If you follow this blog, you already know that Wolfram|Alpha can figure out and calculate lots of different things, including the moon and planets, and you are about to discover what it can tell you about your relationships.

Or at least relationships between your relatives. For instance, my cousin just had a son”.

Wolfram|Alpha genealogy chart for "cousin's son"

We get a family tree, and it tells us that my relationship to my cousin’s son is that he is my first cousin once removed. Confusion resolved.

Like many other Wolfram|Alpha outputs, we get more than we may have expected. A few genealogical properties are related to historical laws, and a few are biological. The plots for sharing a Mendelian trait are given at the bottom after clicking More. This helps me understand how much I may have in common with my new first cousin once removed.

A dominant trait only requires one allele, while a recessive trait requires two. The other piece of information needed to say how likely it is to share a trait is how common it is in the general population. It is possible to share a trait accidentally, and for recessive traits one needs to get the other allele from the other parent. For my cousin’s son, not surprisingly, we see that the probability of sharing a genetic trait in common doesn’t seem to depend much on whether it is dominant or recessive. We are too distantly related to have much in common, and the probability of a shared trait between us depends primarily on the chance coming from the frequency in the general population.

It turns out that most traits are not simple like this, and involve more than one gene and so on, but this gives a general sense of how much we may have in common.

You probably know people who get confused about second cousins and so on, but there is also another category for relationship confusion. More »

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May 27, 2010– 8

On May 22, 2010, Martin Gardner died, unexpectedly, at age 95. The previous sentence contains a paradox* explained within his book The Unexpected Hanging and Other Mathematical Diversions, one of 15 books known collectively as “the Canon,” comprising hundreds of the Mathematical Games columns Martin wrote for Scientific American between 1956 to 1981.

My fifth-grade science class had old copies of Scientific American available, and I read a few of those columns. From him I learned that math can be fascinating, perhaps one of the great lessons I’ve learned in life. I found out that the library had more issues, and whole books by Martin. I tracked down more of his columns on microfiche.

After reading all those columns, school-level math was easy. Years later, I tried to follow in Martin’s footsteps by putting recreational mathematics online. For example, I contributed a diagram of pentagon tiling to a very early version of MathWorld. “Tiling with Convex Polygons” was one of Martin’s columns, in his book Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments; today, you can explore these objects in Wolfram|Alpha.

Pentagon tiling in Wolfram|Alpha

Martin’s works influenced generations of mathematicians, and many of the topics he discussed can be found here at Wolfram|Alpha. For a Lewis Carroll expert like Martin, a snark was “something hard to find”, as in Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark” (for which Martin compiled a companion volume, The Annotated Snark). So he used the word “snark” to describe a graph with three edges attached to each node, but which could not be 3-colored without any clashes at a node. More »

April 27, 2010– 9

We use this blog as a vehicle to highlight many of our big ideas and discoveries. Today we’re pleased to share with you Stephen Wolfram‘s talk from the 2010 TED Conference in Long Beach, California, where he talked about the tools and methods he’s spent the last 30 years developing in his quest to explore computational knowledge.

TED, an organization devoted to bringing together the technology, entertainment, and design industries’ most innovative thinkers to present “Ideas Worth Sharing”, recently shared Stephen’s ideas with the world as a “TED Talk of the Day”. In the signature 18-minute video, Stephen discusses how his lifelong scientific pursuits led to the development of Mathematica, A New Kind of Science, and the computational knowledge engine Wolfram|Alpha. He continues, asking new questions and proposing a fourth project—discovering our physical universe through our computational universe.

“Will we find the whole of physics? I don’t know for sure. But I think at this point it’s sort of almost embarrassing not to at least try.” —Stephen Wolfram

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Click to view the transcript and slides from Stephen’s talk.

April 21, 2010– 8

Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re busy curating new data and knowledge from around the world. And as new data rolls in, we’re exploring how it might connect and provide insights to existing datasets. Since the launch of Wolfram|Alpha you’ve been able to explore a number of properties for cities, such as population, geographic properties, location and map coordinates, current local time and weather, economic properties, crime rates, and more. Now, thanks to a recent coupling between people and city data, Wolfram|Alpha can not only tell you that Memphis, Tennessee is the Home of the Blues, but it can also tell you that it’s the birth and/or death place of notable people such as the King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley and civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

Notable people connected to Memphis, Tennessee by birth or death

At the present time Wolfram|Alpha contains deaths and births for some 38,000 notable people from around the world in places such as Cape Town, South Africa and Oxford, United Kingdom. Are you wondering where all of the data for notable people in Beijing, China and some other cities is hiding? Given the busy nature of birth and death data, we’re reaching out to Wolfram|Alpha volunteers who are contributing to the project with information from their parts of the world. Did you notice missing data on notable people from your area? You can help add data to Wolfram|Alpha by signing up to become a volunteer. Check out this recent blog post profiling the work of a few dedicated Wolfram|Alpha volunteers.

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April 16, 2010– 2

Wolfram|Alpha couldn’t do your taxes for you this year, but we did just wrap up a quick project to add some interesting historical tax statistics. Now that all of our U.S. users have filed their taxes (we hope), they can explore IRS data about individual income taxes, broken down by adjusted gross income (AGI), from 1996 to 2007—the latest year for which the IRS has released statistics broken down by AGI. Users can also investigate less-detailed data about sources of individual taxable income from 1916 to 2007.

The basic input for this new dataset is simply an income, such as “AGI $35000”—type it in, and Wolfram|Alpha matches that input to a specific AGI bracket (in this case, $30,000–$40,000) and calculates a broad range of statistics.

First, the average effective federal tax rate, which is calculated by dividing total tax receipts in this bracket by total adjusted gross income:

Average effective tax rate for AGI $30,000–$40,000

Next, the average tax paid in the input’s bracket—which in this case dropped by nearly 50% over the decade covered by this dataset. You’ll also note that nearly a quarter of all tax returns in this AGI bracket had no tax due:

Average tax paid

Third, average exemptions and deductions for all taxpayers in the input’s bracket. In this case, those increased by nearly $4,000 over this period, and in 2007 accounted for an average of 48% of AGI:

Average exemptions and deductions

For some particularly interesting numbers, try asking about high income brackets (average tax on AGI $400k, average exemptions and deductions on $5 million) and very low brackets (average tax on AGI $500). More »

March 10, 2010– 8

We’ve been working diligently for several years to build a vast repository of genetic data into Wolfram|Alpha. At launch time, we had the entire human genome and all known human genes. Now, Wolfram|Alpha has genetic data for 11 different species, from humans and mice to fruit flies and worms. And we’re working hard to get more species in all the time.

These days we’re hearing more and more about how particular genes work, what their functions are, and what happens if a gene becomes mutated and stops functioning correctly. And with the personal genomics movement in full swing, we can even get portions of our own genomes sequenced, with a report detailing for us which gene variants we have and whether any put us at known high risk for diseases like breast cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease.

Well, Wolfram|Alpha makes it really easy to get in-depth information about a gene that interests you.

Take for example the gene SATB1, which recent studies have shown is an important factor in breast cancer growth. Wolfram|Alpha gives you a number of results about this gene. The first information is the standard and alternate names the gene goes by, which are important if you want to look it up in the literature:

Wolfram|Alpha's results for the gene SATB1

After that, Wolfram|Alpha tells us that this gene is on chromosome 3, locus p23, on the minus strand, starting at around 18 megabases along the chromosome. There is then a snippet of the gene’s actual DNA sequence, and we learn that the gene is about 90 kilobases (90,000 base pairs) long, with a picture showing which other genes are close by on the chromosome (in this case, PP1P and KCNH8):

More of Wolfram|Alpha's data for the gene SATB1

More »

March 5, 2010– 1

With the 2010 Academy Awards coming up this Sunday, we’re happy to announce that Wolfram|Alpha is now able to answer questions about every Oscar nomination and award since the first ceremony in 1929. You might be surprised by some of the things you see in the earliest lists: yes, acting awards were bestowed for multiple performances in a given year; the Academy made a distinction between movies that were merely “unique and artistic” and those that were truly “outstanding”; and like the current Golden Globes (we’ll tackle them soon), separate awards were given for dramatic and comedic films.

Academy Award data for 1929

You can dive into this data in practically any way you want. Curious about a particular film? Try “Academy Award nominations for Forrest Gump“. Or maybe you’re curious about the past performance of a perennial front-row Oscar celebrity?

Academy Awards for Jack Nicholson

Ask about a specific award, like “best actor oscars“, and you’ll get a historical list of all winners for that category. But ask about “best actor in 2004“, and Wolfram|Alpha will serve up a detailed cross-section of data relevant to that award—the winner, other nominees, and other Oscar nominations and awards for both the winner and the film he appeared in. More »

February 22, 2010– 2

Happy birthday, George Washington! In case you’d forgotten, President’s Day in the United States isn’t actually celebrated on George Washington’s birthday: since 1971, it has fallen on the 3rd Monday in February, which means it’s always at least one day short of the first president’s actual birthday, February 22.

As you might imagine for a man referred to as “the father of the country,” the name “Washington” has taken on a life of its own—and as such, it provides a good opportunity to see how Wolfram|Alpha deals with cases where a single word can be interpreted in many different ways.

Type “Washington” on its own, and you’ll learn that the word could refer to a city, a U.S. state, a surname, a specific person, or a given name. For users in the United States, Wolfram|Alpha will assume you’re talking about the nation’s capital, and then give a list of alternate cities ranked by a combination of population, distance from your current location, and general popularity. But if you’re in the United Kingdom, the default assumption will be a place closer to home:

Results for "Washington" in Wolfram|Alpha from the United Kingdom

When you ask more-specific questions about “Washington”, Wolfram|Alpha is usually able to make even-more-intelligent assumptions about which Washington you really want know about. Ask for “distance from seattle to washington” and you’ll get the great-circle distance between two cities. Try to “compare virginia and washington“, and you’ll get a stat-by-stat comparison of the two U.S. states. Ask Wolfram|Alpha “when was Washington born?” and the result is the first U.S. president’s birthday; try “washingtons in 1900” and you’ll discover that about 28 U.S. residents were given that first name that year, or ask about “washington as a last name” and Wolfram|Alpha will reveal that more than 160,000 people had that last name in the 2000 U.S. Census. More »

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February 11, 2010– 2

One of the most rewarding aspects of working on Wolfram|Alpha is the support from everybody who wants to participate in our mission to make all systematic knowledge computable by everyone. Some help by submitting ideas for data sets or usability, or by reporting bugs; others are helping us achieve this goal as Wolfram|Alpha volunteer data curators. We’d like to take this opportunity to recognize a few of our volunteers and share highlights of the program.

Data curators are charged with identifying and collecting data for a specific subject area or region, and preparing the data to be incorporated into Wolfram|Alpha. There are many advantages to being a volunteer for Wolfram|Alpha compared to other online databases. First, because Wolfram|Alpha is in the early stages of its growth, there are plenty of opportunities to contribute to areas of most interest to you. Second, the data that volunteers curate is reviewed and verified with a member of the Wolfram|Alpha development team, so you don’t have to worry about your contribution being erased or altered by another user on the web. In addition, all volunteers receive a complimentary Mathematica license for the duration of their involvement.

Today we have a global network of over 240 volunteer data curators from over 50 countries, including Mexico, Colombia, Australia, France, Greece, United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia, India, Egypt, and the United States. We’d like to introduce a few volunteers and share why they became involved in the project and what they hope to achieve.

volunteer-seth-1 volunteer-saleh-11 rohansehgal1521


Seth Greenblatt

Seth, a United States native residing in Austin, Texas, recently retired after 30 years of work in mathematics, physics, computer science, and statistics. Throughout his career he has contributed to an impressive number of projects in fields ranging from epidemiology to meteorology, social network analysis, and many more.

He became a Wolfram|Alpha Volunteer Data Curator shortly after the site’s launch in May 2009. Seth claims he got involved because of “ulterior motives,” stating, “The old saying says, ‘You learn something new every day.’ Through my work on the project, I wanted to see if I can learn two new things.”

This international traveler and avid reader says the amount of time he allocates to the project varies from week to week depending on what life brings. Thus far Seth has contributed to the project by gathering country data for New Zealand, and publication and distribution data for books. We asked Seth about the challenges he has encountered as a curator and he said, “One challenge that anyone working with ‘real world’ data has to deal with is the quality, currency, and availability of data. In this type of work, when I find a reliable, up-to-date, comprehensive source of information, I feel like a miner, after digging through tons of granite, finally encountering a vein of pure gold. I pick out every bit of useful information I can, then continue on through the granite. By the time I go from raw data, organize it into understandable information to submit for inclusion into the knowledge base, it has to be correct. If there is a choice between including data that could well be incorrect and leaving that data out, it should be left out until better data can be found.”


Saleh Penhos

Saleh Penhos runs a knit clothing factory that produces graphic T-shirts in Mexico City, Mexico. He is also a self-professed fan of computers. Saleh says his computer skills are mostly self-taught but that he did study computer systems engineering in college.

Saleh became a volunteer after learning about Wolfram|Alpha’s mission. He says that he immediately fell in love with the project and saw volunteering as an opportunity to contribute to the data community. Thus far, Saleh has experienced no challenges. In fact, he says he enjoys searching for reliable information, and as a bonus he is exposed to new fields of knowledge. He currently spends about seven hours a week curating Mexico’s country and geographic data in addition to translating some information to the Spanish language.


Rohan Sehgal

Rohan Sehgal is a native of India, currently studying in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Rohan’s goal of becoming a computer engineer led him to Wolfram|Alpha when he began using the site for help with differential and integral calculus. He said the benefits he received from Wolfram|Alpha led him to want to contribute to its growth.

We recently checked up with Rohan to find out what he was working on, and he said, “Currently I’m participating in a project for finding information on fictional characters in movies, serials, and books. But I have curated data involving languages, units of measurement, and facts and figures on countries as well. Being a curator takes anywhere between fifteen minutes to an hour’s work a week. Wolfram|Alpha is extremely supportive and has not only provided me with assistance at nearly all points of time, but also with the software to work on the same platform as them. All in all it has been a wonderful experience.” More »

January 25, 2010– 3

New curated data flows into Wolfram|Alpha every day. One addition that we haven’t highlighted before is crime data from the U.S. Department of Justice Statistics, including historical information on crimes and crime rates for all 50 states and thousands of individual cities.

A simple query for “U.S. Crime” will return the nation’s overall crime rate (the number of crimes per 100,000 people) and details on individual categories of violent and property crimes.
Wolfram|Alpha computes U.S. crime data

But Wolfram|Alpha’s true strength shows when you perform more-advanced comparisons and computations. For example, try comparing the crime statistics for two cities, such as “Crime Seattle vs. New York”; you can see clearly that although crime rates have fallen gradually over the last fifteen years, Seattle’s crime rate has maintained a level around 2.5 times that of New York City. More »

January 7, 2010– 8

Four hundred years ago, on January 7, 1610, Galileo pointed his telescope at the planet Jupiter and discovered that it had its own moons. This discovery changed our perspective on the universe.

Prior to Galileo’s discovery, the Earth-centric Ptolemaic system was the standard view of the cosmos where Earth was the center–heaven was above and Earth was below. Copernicus had proposed a heliocentric model, but it was a mental exercise meant to simplify the complicated Ptolemaic system. Galileo’s discovery was the first one that showed evidence that something was orbiting a body other than Earth. If Jupiter had things in orbit around it, why couldn’t other bodies?

At the time telescopes were cutting-edge, and only a few people had them. What Galileo did was an instructive example on how to combine technology and curiosity.

Today you can recreate the moment with today’s technology by typing “Jupiter” into Wolfram|Alpha.

Among the pods about Jupiter, there is a graphic showing the current configuration of the so-called “Galilean moons”, the ones Galileo saw 400 years ago: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Type “Galilean moons” to find out more about them. Or for historical curiosity, try “January 7, 1610” and find out more about that day.

You can even virtually recreate Galileo’s observations for yourself. Here’s how he depicted what he saw 400 years ago on the night of January 7:

jupiter-1

And here is what he saw a few days later:

jupiter-2

In Galileo’s diagrams, the circle represents Jupiter, and the asterisks represent the moons he observed. He didn’t know they were moons until the second observation, when they had changed position. More »

September 23, 2009– 11

Stephen Wolfram shared his thoughts and answered many of your questions about Wolfram|Alpha, Mathematica, and his scientific research in his live webcast on Thursday, September 17.

In case you missed it, you can check out a recording of the September 17, 2009 webcast and Stephen’s June 4, 2009 webcast on our new streaming server.

Thanks for participating and submitting great questions. We look forward to sharing more with you in future web events.

September 17, 2009– 25

Thank you for participating. A recording of today’s webcast will be available soon on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog.

September 16, 2009– 86

Whether it’s Wolfram|Alpha, Mathematica, or A New Kind of Science, Stephen Wolfram is a man of big ideas. And this Thursday, September 17, at 2pm U.S. CDT, he will be sharing some of his thoughts, and taking your questions during a live webcast on justin.tv.

If you have a question you’d like to ask Stephen, please send it as a comment to this blog post or tweet to @Wolfram_Alpha. We’ll also be taking questions live on the justin.tv chat during the webcast.

Thanks again for all of your interest and support. We look forward to sharing this live webcast with you.

September 10, 2009– 3

So you have more Facebook friends than anyone else on campus, the quad is a place where everyone knows your name, and you just happened to ace your business and marketing courses—it sounds like you are the perfect fit for a Wolfram|Alpha marketing internship. We’ve launched this challenging new internship program for talented and ambitious students just like you. It’s an opportunity for you to engage in immediate, real-world marketing experiences, testing out cutting-edge and traditional strategies and methods.

The semester-long internship program will be conducted on college campuses across the United States. The program integrates academic theory and scenario-based practice that puts you in the position of making mid-level business decisions, analyzing marketing campaign results, and reflecting on your campaigns. (Your professors will love this!) More »

August 26, 2009– 7

In an earlier post, we had some fun with Wolfram|Alpha’s popular collection of  name data and its ability to compare given names’ popularity and demonstrate historical naming trends. Wolfram|Alpha can also compute statistics for surnames, rank them in order of commonality, and provide the approximate number of people living in the United States with any last name.

The data Wolfram|Alpha uses to compute surname statistics is largely drawn from name results from the U.S. Census. The United States is sometimes referred to as a “melting pot” because of the number of people who move to it from all corners of the world, bringing and melding their native cultures. Because of this, surnames found in the U.S. have origins from all over the world.

In this example below, we compare a set of random surnames. Take a guess at the most common surname in the U.S. Yes, it’s Smith. According to Wolfram|Alpha there are approximately 2.376 million Smiths living in the U.S.—that’s almost the population of Nevada.

Wolfram|Alpha ranks the surnames Smith, Nguyen, Gonzales, Lee by

More »

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July 8, 2009– 6

When it comes to astronomy data in Wolfram|Alpha, the sky is no limit! Hear what the developer working on Wolfram|Alpha’s astronomy features has to say about his role and the future of the project.

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More interviews with Wolfram|Alpha team members are available here.

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July 6, 2009– 11

If you’re as excited about Wolfram|Alpha as we are, and want to help out, consider becoming a volunteer curator. Our volunteer curators are passionate, enthusiastic people who are committed to gathering and checking data. We realize there is a lot of diverse knowledge across the world, and we want to give you the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project.

Currently we are working with volunteer curators from all over the world on geographical data, but we are open to volunteers with different interests or areas of expertise as well. If you’ve got knowledge or insight into a specific area, we want to hear from you.

Our ongoing volunteer curators receive a complimentary, temporary Mathematica license, with the potential to extend the license for long-term curation. You don’t need to know Mathematica to become a volunteer curator, but you will have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the program if you so choose. Volunteers check data, add data, and help us find new ways in which someone might search for data on Wolfram|Alpha.

There is a wide range of time available for volunteers per week, so whether you’d like to help a little or a lot, we would love to have you as a volunteer contributing to the advancement of Wolfram|Alpha.

If you are interested in become a volunteer curator, fill out our form here. If you have questions about the process, email volunteer@wolframalpha.com. We will respond to you as soon as possible and work with you to determine your area(s) of expertise and where you might fit in.

June 29, 2009– 29

Stephen Wolfram recently received an award for his contributions to computer science. The following is a slightly edited transcript of the speech he gave on that occasion. (The audio version of the original speech is here.)

I want to talk about a big topic here today: the quest for computable knowledge. It’s a topic that spans a lot of history, and that I’ve personally spent a long time working on. I want to talk about the history. I want to talk about my own efforts in this direction. And I want to talk about what I think the future holds. More »

June 14, 2009– 18

One of the most popular Wolfram|Alpha features is the name directory. Whether you’re researching your own name or brainstorming baby names, the Wolfram|Alpha given name directory is a fun tool you can use to compare name popularity and statistics.

You can learn a lot about popular culture and history by tracking the popularity of given names. One historical example is the name Roosevelt, which celebrated two bursts of popularity, during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Name Trends

Roosevelt name trends

To view a pop culture example, enter the names Farrah, Mallory, and Britney into Wolfram|Alpha. The charted results show how these names peaked at different times. Note that Farrah’s spike in the late 1970s occurs at the time of Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels fame, Mallory’s spike in popularity appears when Family Ties debuted in 1982, and Britney’s second spike coincides with Spears’ first album release in 1999. The data often has larger implications than just name popularity; think of it as a visual representation of a generation’s cultural influences.

Pop Culture Female Names

Female name trends from pop culture

The Wolfram|Alpha name database currently contains U.S. name data dating back to 1880, with international data to follow in the coming months. So whether you’re a parent seeking more information on baby names or are curious to find out more information on your own name, Wolfram|Alpha has the power to compute insightful results.

June 7, 2009– 18

Members of the Wolfram|Alpha development team give insight on what goes into building a system like Wolfram|Alpha and how exciting it is to be a part of the project.

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See Part 1 here.

June 6, 2009– 9

You see the work of the Wolfram|Alpha developers every time you query.

We thought you would enjoy hearing some of them describe their roles and share their thoughts about the Wolfram|Alpha project.

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June 2, 2009– 274

Our team is hard at work going through the tens of thousands of comments, suggestions, and questions coming in about Wolfram|Alpha.

We thought you’d enjoy hearing Stephen Wolfram respond to some of this feedback directly.

This Thursday, June 4, at 4 pm US CDT, we invite you to join us for a live webcast as Stephen answers some of the questions you’ve sent in. He’ll discuss the problems, the fixes, the future, and more.

If you have a question you’d like Stephen to answer, post it as a comment to this blog post.

We’ll also be taking questions live on the justin.tv chat during the webcast.

Thanks again for all of your interest and support. We look forward to sharing this live webcast with you.

The Wolfram|Alpha Community Forum has moved to the Wolfram Community. Sign up today for interesting discussions about Wolfram|Alpha and more!

Today we are officially launching Wolfram|Alpha to the world at large. It has been a very successful weekend of testing and learning. We’re flattered by the positive reception thus far, and we are dedicated to furthering the project with the help of you, our community of users.

To that end we are officially launching the Wolfram|Alpha Community, which allows you to submit questions, ideas, and favorite inputs.

We already have a few static forms to contribute things such as facts, figures, and structured data or algorithms, methods, and models. The Community serves to supplement these types of feedback with a more free-form discussion among all Wolfram|Alpha users.

In the Community, you can vote for items that you feel deserve further attention. We support threaded commenting, unique user profiles, and social sharing via email, Twitter, and Facebook. The Community also allows you to “save” items of interest so that you can track their progress over time.

This crowd-sourced model will help our team here gain a better understanding of what features, improvements, and possibilities the Community thinks are most interesting and worthwhile.

There has been a tremendous amount of useful feedback thus far, and much of that information is being used to make immediate improvements in near real time.

But it is also our hope that the Wolfram|Alpha Community will help make the feedback process more direct and have more impact. The Community will provide us with a mechanism to report back to you with changes, new results and capabilities, and overall improvements, thereby closing the loop and making the entire system more transparent.

Of course, we won’t be able to respond to every submission. But we’ll do our very best to respond to all relevant and substantive items. Additionally, it is our hope that members of the Community will likewise take the time to assist their peers, pointing them in the right direction and offering valuable advice and context.

Thanks again for all of your support and please join us in the Community!

Building the ultimate computational knowledge engine is a highly ambitious and long-term project. The Wolfram|Alpha that you will get to start exploring next week is really just the beginning. Still, there are a lot of ways that you might use Wolfram|Alpha.

In this screencast, Stephen Wolfram gives a quick introduction and demo of today’s Wolfram|Alpha.

Take a peek at our system administration team hard at work on one of the
many pre-launch projects.

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