CATEGORY: Culture & Media
September 19, 2014– 0

Ever wondered what someone with an IQ higher than Einstein’s and a penchant for hacking into NASA might be capable of? If so, you’re in luck. CBS will air the pilot for its brand new series Scorpion, and Wolfram|Alpha will be live-tweeting it this Monday, September 22, at 9/8c. This highly anticipated premiere, starring Elyes Gabel and Katharine McPhee, kicks off a thrilling action drama about a group of super-geniuses brought together by Walter O’Brien to act as the last line of defense in a series of complex threats arising in the modern world. The Scorpion team are taking the next step in proving that the contemporary superhero’s best accessory isn’t a cape, but a laptop. More »

September 2, 2014– 1

This year, Wolfram is excited to be sponsoring the tenth anniversary of the annual Pygmalion Music Festival, which takes place in our hometown of Champaign–Urbana. If you aren’t familiar with Pygmalion, it’s a music festival held locally that brings together incredible musical artists, authors, and vendors in one amazing weekend. Of course, the music is always the focus, and to really get behind that, we’ve got a great way to interact with fans of both math and music.

We’re bringing back our Alpha Albums contest with new song lyrics (collected in collaboration with LyricFind) from some of the bands that will be featured at this year’s festival! What that means is that we take albums from the artists, enter a word cloud query request in Wolfram|Alpha for that album, and post the generated image in a tweet. From there, all you loyal fans will have one hour to submit your guesses via Twitter in an @-reply; at the end of the submission period, we will choose a random winner from the correct entries. More »

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 »

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 »

March 11, 2014– 4

Ever since we added Pokémon data to Wolfram|Alpha last fall, it’s been interesting to see the recurring traffic spikes as word spreads and the linkbacks on the interwebs continue to grow. You also wanted to know who are the most-searched Pokémon, so we thought we’d share an update on what our site data says so far. 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 14, 2014– 0

Happy Valentine’s Day from Wolfram|Alpha!

A user recently told us a rather unique love story: He used Wolfram|Alpha to look up the exact time of sunset for his location, so that the ambiance would be just right for when he proposed to his now wife. More »

December 23, 2013– 0

Soft snow, fuzzy sweaters, cozy nights by the fireplace… Winter is my favorite season! And with the excitement of the holidays approaching, it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. Whether you look forward to the delicious food, the great company, or all the holiday traditions, this time of year is worth the bitter cold that comes with it. (Well, for the Northern Hemisphere, at least!) More »

December 18, 2013– 1

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 More »

December 9, 2013– 0

If you’re a big music fan (and who isn’t?), you’ve probably been carrying around a lot of the lyrics to your favorite songs and albums in your head. It’s unlikely that you get the chance to show off that expertise very often, though–but now’s your chance! Cash in your music knowledge for cool Wolfram prizes in the Alpha Albums contest. More »

November 25, 2013– 1

The holiday season is upon us again, and that means one thing: more turkey, please. Last year we introduced a tool for calculating how long you should cook a turkey. This year we’ve expanded our selection of useful tools to help you plan your turkey-related needs for the holidays. More »

November 20, 2013– 0

Was that painted by Monet or Manet? There are some people in the world who just know these things. Those walking, talking encyclopedias of artistic knowledge who can rattle off movements and time periods like I rattle off Maxwell’s equations and characters from Breaking Bad. My old college roommate, for example, was one of those brainy people. She could determine a Degas painting simply from the brush strokes. Meanwhile, I can barely remember what my own handwriting looks like. More »

October 31, 2013– 1

I was a raging sugar-holic as a kid. (Let’s face it, who wasn’t?) So, naturally, Halloween was a glorious, much-anticipated, high-energy free-for-all. My brother and I used to return from trick-or-treating dragging heavy pumpkin buckets and overstuffed pillowcases behind us—the candy wrappers would make that crinkle-squish sound as we dumped out our riches to sort, trade, construct giant candy pyramids… and then devour. More »

October 10, 2013– 20

Psst! Wolfram|Alpha has updated its Pokémon data to include Generation VI. Check it out here.

It’s not all abstract algebra and organic chemistry here at Wolfram HQ. From time to time, we like to take a piece of pop culture and put our own spin on the subject. We’ve seen from our server logs that our Pokémon plane curves are pretty popular. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, the latest installments in the long-running video game series, will be released on October 12. Given those two facts, we thought it was a good time to add data about Pokémon to Wolfram|Alpha. More »

September 19, 2013– 4

Recently the author of xkcd, Randall Munroe, was asked the question of how long it would be necessary for someone to fall in order to jump out of an airplane, fill a large balloon with helium while falling, and land safely. Randall unfortunately ran into some difficulties with completing his calculation, including getting his IP address banned by Wolfram|Alpha. (No worries: we received his request and have already fixed that.) More »

August 16, 2013– 4

Spoiler Alert
Like many people, I went to see the movie Elysium last weekend. The movie’s premise is that the wealthy members of society have relocated to an orbital space station, named Elysium, that circles the Earth while the rest of humanity is stuck on a seemingly dying world.

Focusing on the science of the movie, what can Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha tell us about the space station and some of the other events portrayed? More »

August 12, 2013– 19

We here at Wolfram are, by and large, a bunch of nerds. This shouldn’t be that surprising, especially after looking at the people and fictional characters we’ve turned into mathematical curves on Wolfram|Alpha. Our curves of internet memes, cartoon and video game characters, celebrities, and mathematical formulas have been incredibly popular. As many of our fellow nerds get ready to go back to school, we’re celebrating nerddom and showing our appreciation for Wolfram’s users—by letting one of you decide the next curve to be featured in Wolfram|Alpha. 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 »

February 14, 2013– 3

Years ago when I was young,
there was something I wanted to know:
“Could math ever be super popular,
or has it begun to plateau?”

Although being “smart” and quite “witty,”
I never could figure math out.
Its numbers were letters, its letters were prime,
I wanted to stand up and shout. 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 18, 2012– 2

My family lives all over, with varying worldviews and equally varied career choices, from video game producers to truck drivers. So certainly reconnecting with family, both nuclear and extended, can be a daunting holiday experience. But don’t fret—Wolfram|Alpha is here to sort you out with the perfect ice breakers.

Suppose your brother is a truck driver who plans to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Raleigh, North Carolina, citing dissatisfaction with his wages and the cost of fuel, and how they juxtapose to the cost of living in Raleigh. You could first show how many truck drivers are in North Carolina and Utah, and from there ask the question “What is the average wage for truck drivers in North Carolina and Utah?

We can see that truck drivers do earn more money in Utah than in North Carolina, and the price of diesel is, at the time of this writing, pretty much the same—only a few cents difference. But moving to another part of the country is a huge decision, and even if one can earn a few thousand dollars more, is it worth it? We could compare the cost of utilities in Salt Lake City and Raleigh or, more generally, the cost of living in Salt Lake City and Raleigh. More »

November 16, 2012– 0

Since President Reagan declared it in 1987, every third week in November in the United States is celebrated as Geography Awareness Week. Related to that, one of my favorite novels—Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy—is coming to cinemas today. Thanks to Wolfram|Alpha, I’ll be able to discuss these two seemingly unrelated things with you. My nerdy dream has finally come true.

If you’re unfamiliar with Anna Karenina, I won’t spoil the content, but suffice it to say that Anna is a Russian socialite and aristocrat whose lover, Count Alexei Vronsky, due to various reasons best discovered on your own, takes her across Europe, later returning to Russia. There’s a lot of discussion about ethics and morality, with some deeply flawed characters making interesting if non-ideal decisions, to say the least. What matters for this blog post, though, is that Anna visits a bunch of places. And she’s from Russia, which is huge. It’s about the size of Pluto. More »

October 2, 2012– 2

Last weekend, Looper came out in theaters, bringing time travel back to the big screen. But there are lot of questions that can be asked about the science of the world it portrays. We will visit some minor spoilers along the way, so you may want to wait to read this post until you see the movie. In addition to time travel, Looper depicts widespread solar power and almost ubiquitous telekinesis. What can Wolfram|Alpha tell us about this and other aspects of the film? More »

September 7, 2012– 1

Most of the new features we announce on this blog are large-scale projects where we add a huge chunk of data to Wolfram|Alpha all at once. But there are always dozens of background projects going on at any given time—including a seemingly never-ending effort to expand our database of information on private companies.

More »

July 23, 2012– 4

Wolfram|Alpha’s goal is to cover all things computational, from mathematics and the sciences to movies and sports. But the set of all things computable encompasses areas outside of the real world as well. With the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation coming up, we can now compute the relationship between warp factors and the speed of light. More »

February 23, 2012– 1

The 2012 Academy Awards will be broadcast this Sunday, and once again Wolfram|Alpha can help you settle all sorts of Oscar-related arguments, generate some cool trivia questions for your Oscar-night party, and do a few fun new tricks you probably didn’t know about.

Consider the list of 2012 best picture nominations, for example. Even among the front-runners for this year’s statuette, there’s a pretty big spread in general popularity and box office performance. How big? Ask Wolfram|Alpha to compare box office for Moneyball, Hugo, The Artist, and The Help, and you can see that The Help has earned more than twice as much as Moneyball and more than 6 times as much as The Artist (which has 10 nominations this year, versus 4 for The Help). More »

February 13, 2012– 5

(Update: You can now find this data in the Wolfram Dog Breeds Reference App for iOS.)

Since prehistoric times, mankind has kept certain animals nearby for companionship, assistance in hunting tasks, and defense. Dogs are probably the most well-known examples of companion animals. This habit has continued to modern times and has resulted in a high number of dog breeds created for a variety of purposes. One modern convention is the concept of dog competitions. With the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show beginning today (more on this below), we thought this would be a good time to highlight some of the information Wolfram|Alpha has to offer concerning dog breeds:

List of dog breeds More »

December 15, 2011– 13

Just in time for the holidays, we’re introducing a new functionality that provides consumers with a unique approach to shopping. By leveraging data from Best Buy’s public APIs, Wolfram|Alpha users will now be able to browse more than 35,000 appliances and consumer electronics products. Wolfram|Alpha’s intuitive natural-language interface helps you hone in on the precise products you need, while its powerful data visualization capabilities give you an innovative overview of any shopping category.

We’ve taken the strengths we’ve developed in math, science, and socioeconomic data and created something equally unique and useful for online shoppers. Type in the name of a product category—”dishwashers” or “tablet computers,” for example—and Wolfram|Alpha generates a comprehensive, custom analysis. What are the typical dimensions and other physical characteristics of other products in this class? How common is a given product feature? Wolfram|Alpha helps you to answer these questions.

Type in a specific product name or model number—say, “Samsung GT-P3113TSYXAR”—and Wolfram|Alpha will highlight that product’s rank within the entire product category. From a glance at the plots below, you can see that this tablet falls pretty squarely in the middle of the pack with regard to price and generally on the low-end to average range for a variety of physical and performance attributes.

Samsung GT-P3113TSYXAR More »

September 1, 2011– 3

While mathematics and music are inextricably linked, music is often regarded as magical. It transcends emotion and nature in a way that is often hard, if not impossible, to properly explain. For example, many people are deeply affected by the emotional power of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but may not fully understand why. Perhaps great composers simply intuit mathematical connections to music.

But even music has plenty of structures that are clearly identifiable and thus computable. At Wolfram|Alpha, we are working hard to identify these underlying structures and are coming up with exciting ways to bring them to life.

Take a musical scale as an example. While we are used to arpeggios and melodic figures fluttering through familiar musical pieces, it is helpful to see that at its core, a scale has an intrinsic structure. Each pitch relates to the next by a certain measurable difference. Further, each of the pitches, which we perceive generally as high or low in a pitch space, has a specific frequency. More »

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August 4, 2011– 9

Planning a trip can be exhausting, but we believe that everything becomes easier with a little data! Today we released the Wolfram Travel Assistant App, another in our line of Wolfram|Alpha-powered iOS apps. Whether you need help during trip planning or while currently on a vacation, this app is a great addition to your itinerary!

Wolfram Travel Assistant App
More »

July 8, 2011– 7

For thousands of years, people have been making music: banging, blowing, bowing, and strumming away as soloists or in groups. With music being an integral part of culture, it is not hard to imagine that the invention and evolution of various musical instruments is a key indicator of human ingenuity. Each instrument is unique, its physical and sonic characteristics often emblematic of the culture from which it emanates.

Wolfram|Alpha now provides a significant amount of information about a myriad of musical instruments. Ask Wolfram|Alpha about any set of instruments to get a side-by-side comparison of parameters and characteristics.

Comparing alto sax and clarinet

For many instruments, you will notice two pods for range: “Written range” and “Sounding range”. This is because in standard music notation, some instruments are written differently than they sound; these are called transposing instruments. In many ways, it is a terribly confusing notion. A score displays a certain pitch, but the pitch the instrument produces may be higher or lower. Wolfram|Alpha illustrates this difference by displaying the pitch range (along with the corresponding frequencies and keys on a piano keyboard) for how the instrument is written as well as how it sounds. For example, the flute is a non-transposing instrument and is “written as sounds”. However, its close cousin, the alto flute, sounds a perfect fourth lower than written. Still unclear? Click the “play alto flute range notes” in the written range and sounding range pods to hear the difference. Or, you can ask Wolfram|Alpha to give you the interval between the bottom note of the written range and the corresponding sounding note by querying “interval of C4 and G3“.

Interval of music notes c4 and g3

More »

March 14, 2011– 7

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

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 »

February 14, 2011– 8

On Valentine’s Day, love can be found everywhere, from the corner flower shop to the interwebs. We poured our heart out to Wolfram|Alpha and found that everyone’s favorite computational knowledge engine is no stranger to love…

What is love?

Love according to Wolfram|Alpha

I love you

How nice. Be assured the feeling is mutual.

Are you in love?

Yes. I love the Internet.

But what do men want?

Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

Am I pretty?

All people who allow me to compute for them are beautiful to me.

Will you be my Valentine?

Sure, if you'll be mine!

Fifth heart curve

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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February 2, 2011– 4

We’ve been having so much fun over the past few months hunting for fun facts in Wolfram|Alpha that we thought it was time to give @WolframFunFacts its very own space in the Twitterverse.

Meet Fun Facts Spikey

Meet Fun Facts Spikey

For those of you who are new to Wolfram Fun Facts, they are unique facts computed from Wolfram|Alpha’s trillions of pieces of data. All of this knowledge is built upon a computational engine that allows us to mash up topic areas such as people, finance, dates, and more to do impressive, if not outrageous, computations.

Here are just a few fun fact samples we’ve discovered in Wolfram|Alpha:

We’ll be sharing all of the fun facts that we, and you, discover every day. Follow @WolframFunFacts and tweet us your favorite #funfact!

January 11, 2011– 2

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!

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 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 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 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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November 22, 2010– 1

This Thursday, we’ll celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday here in the United States. The first U.S. National Thanksgiving was celebrated on November 26, 1789. The holiday was originally established to show gratitude for a plentiful harvest and to give thanks for relationships with family and friends. A customary U.S. Thanksgiving celebration is centered on sharing a great feast that includes turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and more with loved ones. (Of course, in recent years, we’ve also tossed in football and holiday shopping.)

A cornucopia is a traditional centerpiece that symbolizes abundance and is often found on a Thanksgiving meal table. Wolfram|Alpha is a cornucopia of sorts—a horn filled with many trillions of pieces of data that produce an abundance of facts. In the spirit of the holiday, we though we’d share some fun Thanksgiving-themed facts we discovered from Wolfram|Alpha.

waturkey

Fact: A typical turkey bats its wings 3 times per second.

Fact: If you’re in Champaign, Illinois, set your alarm to 6:51am on Thanksgiving Day if you’re planning to rise with the sun to start cooking your holiday bird. Click here for sunrise information for your location.

Fact: The chill point of cranberries is 2 degrees Celsius.

Fact: There are 5.8 grams of fiber in one serving of cornbread stuffing.

Fact: The first known English use of the word “cornucopia” was in 1508.

Fact: Need to burn off holiday calories? Six hours of Black Friday shopping will burn 1050 calories, or you can knock off 457 calories by staying in and watching football.

Dig into Wolfram|Alpha to find interesting facts of your own. (You might need them in the near future—hint, hint.) Here at Wolfram|Alpha, we’re thankful for all of our dedicated blog readers and Wolfram|Alpha users.

November 4, 2010– 4

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?

October 26, 2010– 3

Halloween week is full of spooky tricks and tasty treats. And between the office parties and the loads of edible loot reaped by the little ghosts and goblins, monitoring consumption of all those treats can be both tricky and scary!

But have no fear, we built this handy Wolfram|Alpha Widget that lets you check out nutrition information for common Halloween candies. We’ve pre-selected treats such as Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers, Butterfingers, and others from Wolfram|Alpha’s large nutrition database.

Simply select your treat from the drop-down menu and enter the number of servings you plan to enjoy. Wolfram|Alpha will then compute a custom nutrition label providing details on calories, fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, and nutrients.

Keep this widget handy throughout the week by embedding it on your blog or website. To explore more nutrition-related widgets, visit the Widget Gallery or build your own widget to explore your favorite candies (or food selections more rich in nutrients).

What’s your favorite Halloween treat?

September 17, 2010– 5

Recently, as students head back to school, we’ve written quite a bit about Wolfram|Alpha’s mathematics capabilities. But those of you who don’t have quite as much interest in, say, transfinite cardinal arithmetic, can rest assured that we haven’t stopped adding more general pop culture data to the system.

One of our latest features is detailed U.S. box office data, with information on total, weekend, and in many cases even daily receipts for motion pictures. So if you want to see how a recently released film is doing in theaters, just ask about its box office totals. For example, try “eat pray love box office“. Or maybe you’d like to look back and compare some of the summer’s biggest blockbusters. Try “box office for iron man 2, toy story 3, inception” for a quick comparison; to make it even easier to compare several films released on different dates, click the “Show by weeks since release” button to align the movies’ start dates. In this case, it’s easy to see that although Iron Man 2 had the strongest opening of the three, its revenue also fell off more steeply in the following weeks.

Box office for iron man 2, toy story 3, and inception

You’re not limited to films released this summer, of course—if you’re a fan of director Christopher Nolan’s work, you might like to see how well Inception compares to his previous directorial effort, The Dark Knight. Or maybe you’d like to compare two other cinematic heavy-hitters to see which one held the #1 box office rank longer. More »

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September 15, 2010– 1

If you’re keeping a close eye on the U.S. economy—and who isn’t, these days?—you probably noticed yesterday’s news that retail sales increased in August for the second month in a row. But you may not have noticed that Wolfram|Alpha is now picking up these Department of Commerce reports as soon as they are released, and allows you to explore and compute U.S. retail sales data so you can better understand these trends.

Try simply asking Wolfram|Alpha about “U.S. retail sales” and you’ll see the latest monthly figure, along with automatic computations of that number as a per capita value and as a fraction of total U.S. GDP, as well as the annual growth rate for overall retail sales. To filter out the seasonal variation in many sales categories, you can also ask for “seasonally adjusted retail sales“—which more clearly shows the retail sector’s dramatic plunge in late 2008.
Adjusted U.S. retail sales as of August 2010

You can also explore trends in individual retail categories (click “More” in the “Retail sales categories” pod for a detailed list), such as clothing stores or electronic shopping and mail order houses.

Or you can mash up this retail sales data with other economic data in Wolfram|Alpha. Try comparing retail sales at building-supply dealers with housing starts, for example, or retail sales at jewelry stores compared with civilian unemployment. (Note that advance figures for August aren’t available for all individual retail categories, so Wolfram|Alpha will default to the latest available values.) More »

April 19, 2010– 0

By the time a new feature or data set is released for public consumption in Wolfram|Alpha, it has already been through a long process of analysis, curation, and design… but even after all of that, we still have our share of “D’oh!” moments at the eleventh hour.

Our latest forehead-smacker was pointed out to us just as we were about to announce the release of historical Academy Awards data. Fortunately, Wolfram|Alpha is flexible enough that we were able to implement a quick, partial fix before this year’s Oscars ceremony—but we also had to go back and do some more substantial work so this data is presented with absolute clarity.

So what was the problem? We had taken for granted the idea that when users typed in “2010 Academy Awards”, they’d expect to see people who won Oscars at this year’s ceremony… and then we just counted backward from there, to the first Oscars ceremony in 1929. But as it was pointed out, if you ask “who won the Oscar for best supporting actor in 2005”, you might want to know about films released in 2005, not films honored at the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony. So now when you ask for information about Oscars we assume you mean the year of the award ceremony, but for most years you can also click on a single link in the assumption pod to interpret your input as referring to year of film release instead.

We’ve also cleaned up the presentation of some quirks in Oscar history, including the unique case of the Academy Awards in 1930—when there were actually two ceremonies in a single year, one for films released in 1928–29, and one for films released in 1929–30:

Oscar for Best Actor in 1930

For other early Academy Awards, we still assume that input refers to the year of the ceremony, but we’ve added a footnote that provides more details about releases date for the films honored in that year. And we’ve added a few other little features, like the ability to handle queries like “best actor at the 42nd Academy Awards”, or to ask about specific dates of Academy Awards ceremonies. More »

March 12, 2010– 7

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:

Wolfram|Alpha's results for "pi day"

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 »

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 12, 2010– 6

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):

The heart curve in Wolfram|Alpha

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:

The first heart curve in Wolfram|Alpha

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 »

February 2, 2010– 3

If all you know about Groundhog Day is what you learned from watching the Bill Murray movie, well… you’re actually quite well informed. The good people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania really do gather at Gobbler’s Knob each February 2 to find out whether a 20-pound groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow, thus foretelling six more weeks of winter—or not, foretelling an early spring.

In more than 120 years of predictions, there have only been 15 occasions on which Phil hasn’t seen his shadow. The National Climatic Data Center has estimated Phil’s accuracy rate at around 39%, but true Phil fans (or skeptics) can do their own analysis of Phil’s track record with Wolfram|Alpha.

Let’s take 1950, for example: according to Punxsutawney’s “Inner Circle,” Phil did not see his shadow that year. Ask about “punxsutawney, pennsylvannia weather feb. 2 1950,” and you discover that practically the entire day was overcast and foggy: not good conditions for a giant rodent to see his shadow. But an early spring? Check the results for “punxsutawney, pennsylvannia weather february 1950” and it’s hard to overlook the plunging temperatures and snowfall in the latter part of the month. Sorry, Phil. More »

January 12, 2010– 7

We’ve blogged about Wolfram|Alpha’s name data before—but as we stroll into the 2010 movie-awards season here in the United States, we wanted to remind you about this particular tool and to point out a few interesting movie-related queries.

Marlon Brando’s breakthrough film role was 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which was followed quickly by major roles in Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1952), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954), which brought him his first Academy Award. It’s hard to attribute the growing popularity of the name “Marlon” in the early 1950s to anything but his growing star power—the name just cracked the top 1000 U.S. names in 1950, but rose to #344 in 1955. His award-winning performance in 1972’s The Godfather prompted an ever bigger jump: “Marlon” became the 218th most popular name in the U.S. that year.

Fraction of U.S. newborns named "Marlon" each year

The name “Dustin” didn’t register among the top 1000 U.S. names at all until 1968—one year after Dustin Hoffman’s appearance in The Graduate—when it entered at #368. The name grew steadily in popularity through the early 1980s, hovering around #42 from 1981 through 1986. Film buffs may wonder whether the legendary box-office flop Ishtar (1987) had anything to do with the subsequent decline in the popularity of “Dustin”—even though Mr. Hoffman brought home an Academy Award for Rain Man in 1988.

Fraction of U.S. newborns named "Dustin" each year

Even science-fiction fans might be surprised by this one: in 1999, the year that The Matrix was released, the female name “Trinity” made a startling jump in the ranks to #209, from #525 the previous year; and even though that movie’s sequels (both released in 2003) were somewhat less well received, the name stayed popular—climbing all the way to #48 in 2004. 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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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.