CATEGORY: Words & Linguistics
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 »

January 29, 2014– 0

Whether you’re trying to find the perfect word in Scrabble or study the languages of the world, Wolfram|Alpha has always provided computational insights into how we communicate. Now we’re taking that a step further—with data from the American Community Survey, we can take a closer look at where different languages are spoken in the United States. 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 18, 2013– 3

I’ll admit that I am an awful singer, who also happens to sing a lot. But, oddly enough, there aren’t many songs that I know all the words to by heart. When I sing along to one of my favorite songs, I tend to fill in the blanks with plenty of hmms, hums, and other nonsensical gibberish. The end result can be both hilarious and excruciating to hear. More »

September 30, 2013– 2

A lot of cool things happened this summer on Wolfram|Alpha and the Wolfram|Alpha Blog. And just wait—we have even better stuff planned for the coming months! But in case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of some of our best posts from this summer. 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 3, 2013– 3

Even if you’re a pretty big word nut, you may not think of Wolfram|Alpha as your go-to source for learning more about the English lexicon. You might be surprised, then, by the discoveries and computations that you can make with Wolfram|Alpha’s word data. More »

February 27, 2013– 2

Superlatives, like hyperbole, are my favorite thing. So it is with the greatest excitement that I am devoting this blog post to superlatives and range searching, as Wolfram|Alpha has again expanded its functionality in these areas.

I once heard from an actor pretending to be a scientist that the denser an element is, the better that element is for fighting terrible monsters. I cannot speak on the accuracy of that statement, as I am not an actor pretending to be a scientist, but if you wanted to apply superlatives to chemistry, Wolfram|Alpha can do that. 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 »

June 12, 2012– 4

Wolfram|Alpha is different from most of the tools out there on the web that you might use to get answers. Rather than inundate you with lists of links to web pages that may or may not be useful, Wolfram|Alpha works to understand your query.

What really sets these different approaches apart is how they deal with complexity in queries. Whether there are many concurrent factors to your question or you have a unique math computation with an answer that simply does not exist on some web page, Wolfram|Alpha is your best bet for a web service that actually understands what you are asking.

One of the ways that complexity can appear in queries is in depth, when there are multiple steps to a question. To understand what we mean by “depth,” think of the beautiful Matryoshka dolls that all fit inside of each other.

To answer a query like “elevation of Steven Spielberg’s birthplace“, the first step is to recognize that “Steven Spielberg” and “birthplace” can be combined to form a location.

(elevation) of ((Steven Spielberg’s) (birthplace))

More »

April 19, 2012– 4

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

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

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

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

April 17, 2012– 11

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

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

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

Wolfram|Alpha query success rate More »

April 10, 2012– 30

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

October 28, 2011– 1

With Halloween around the corner, everyone’s thinking about costumes, trick-or-treating, and jack-o’-lantern carving and figuring out what to do with a 1,818 pound pumpkin. While the latter might only be true for the owners of this year’s largest pumpkin, Wolfram|Alpha has something for everyone this Halloween. The nearly one-ton squash belongs to a farmer from Quebec, Canada. Besides carving it into a giant jack-o’-lantern, the next best thing to do with that much pumpkin is make enough pumpkin pie for a small town. A common recipe for a pumpkin pie calls for two cups of pumpkin. Using Wolfram|Alpha, we find that 1,818 pounds of pumpkin will allow us to make 3,550 pumpkin pies.

Hopefully you are in a giving mood, so you can cut each pie into eight slices to come up with just enough to share with the entire town of Allen Park, Michigan. With 28,210 people in Allen Park and 28,400 slices of pie, you’re still left with 190 slices to put in the freezer for later. More »

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.

October 15, 2010– 4

When we talk on this blog about “making knowledge computable”, the knowledge in question is often mathematical or statistical in nature. But that’s not the only knowledge Wolfram|Alpha can compute. We’ve always had a solid backbone of dictionary-style information about words, but we’ve been steadily adding new features to that traditional output. Some of it should be quite useful, some of it is just for fun, and much of it takes advantage of Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to mash up algorithms and data from a wide variety of knowledge domains.

To celebrate National Dictionary Day (October 16)—which honors Noah Webster, often regarded as “the father of the modern dictionary”—you might like to take advantage of this classic word widget, which provides quick access to some of the more traditional areas of Wolfram|Alpha’s lexicographical data: definitions, pronunciations, synonyms, and more for most English words.

Or grab the next widget if you want to play around with a few of the “fun” features we’ve added, including the ability to compute anagrams and convert words to telephone keypad digits. More »

August 20, 2010– 6

This week BBC News ran a story on how taxi drivers in Japan are hearing the unexpected sounds of cooing babies on their CB radios. The cause: U.S.-purchased baby monitors from nearby U.S. military bases that are interfering with communication frequencies. Why would this happen? It’s likely that the baby monitors were manufactured to work on region two communication frequencies, and while being used in Japan, they’re interfering with communication frequencies allocated to region one.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) divides the world into three regions. Each region has its own frequency-band allocations; that is, in each region, each frequency band is allocated to a specific use. Sometimes a local authority like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States regulates the use of frequency bands.

Say you want to find out how a specific frequency like 2GHz is allocated. Type “frequency allocation 2GHz” into Wolfram|Alpha.

Frequency allocations for 2GHz
More »

August 5, 2010– 7

Here at Wolfram|Alpha we’re always asking questions and seeking answers in an effort to make all of the world’s knowledge computable and understandable by everyone (big or small).

We’ve put together a short list of common questions asked by preschool- and kindergarten-aged children that can be answered with Wolfram|Alpha. We hope these examples inspire your child to dream up more!

Is the Moon bigger than the Earth? Ask Wolfram|Alpha to compare “size of earth, size of moon”, and you’ll discover numerical and graphic size comparisons showing that the Earth is indeed larger than the Moon.

size of earth, size of moon

Chances are your little artists will discover the answer to this question on their own, but they can try asking Wolfram|Alpha what color they get when they “mix red and blue”?

Mixing the colors red and blue

Whether it’s because they’re excited about the party or just turning a year older, the birthday countdown is always on! Simply ask Wolfram|Alpha about the date of the child’s upcoming birthday, such as “October 8 2010”, to learn the number of days, weeks, or months until the big day.
More »

May 7, 2010– 6

Hello, fellow readers of the Wolfram|Alpha Blog—my name’s Justin. In just a few short weeks, I’ll be graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years I’ve found my own way of getting things done in regards to homework and studying routines. But this semester I realized there were tools available that would make studying and completing assignments easier and help me understand better. One tool that has become increasingly valuable in my routine and those of other students on my campus is Wolfram|Alpha. Recently, I was invited to share how Wolfram|Alpha is being used by students like myself.

Being a marketing major, I had to take some finance and accounting courses, but I was a bit rusty with the required formulas and the overall understanding of the cash flow concepts, such as future cash flows and the net present values of a future investment. A friend recommended I check out Wolfram|Alpha’s finance tools, and they’ve became indispensable in my group’s casework for the semester. Each proposed future investment we were met with, we would go directly to Wolfram|Alpha to compute the cash flows. We even went as far to show screenshots, such as the one below, of inputs and outputs in our final case presentation last week.

Net present value calculation in Wolfram|Alpha

I’ve met other students on my campus who have found Wolfram|Alpha to be helpful in their courses. A few months ago while studying in the library, I walked by a table of freshman students all using Wolfram|Alpha on their laptops. I decided to stop and chat with them because I knew one of the girls. They explained how they were using Wolfram|Alpha to model functions and check portions of their math homework. All three girls are enrolled in Calculus III, and not exactly overjoyed about the fact of future— and most likely harder—math classes. More »

April 23, 2010– 5

There’s no better time than the rainy spring season to bring friends and family together for a game night. If you happen to find yourself at a table full of ruthless Scrabble players, you might find your new best friend in Wolfram|Alpha.

The Scrabble functionality in Wolfram|Alpha has useful tools, such as a points calculator and a dictionary word verifier. Wolfram|Alpha can also suggest other possible words to be used. Currently, Wolfram|Alpha supports the American English, International English, and French versions of Scrabble. Each of these versions has their own scoring system. Wolfram|Alpha’s GeoIP capabilities will return results based on the default version for the user’s location. However, you can specify a version in your input, like “International English Scrabble umbrella”.

Here are a few examples:

You can find the results for words such as umbrella by entering “Scrabble umbrella” into Wolfram|Alpha:

Wolfram|Alpha calculates the score for the Scrabble word "umbrella"

The results pods tells us that the score is 12 and that this word is in the regional Scrabble dictionary (American in this case). It also gives other words that can be made with these letters, listed in score order. More »

January 8, 2010– 13

During the holidays we posted “New Features in Wolfram|Alpha: Year-End Update” highlighting some of the most notable datasets and enhancements added to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch this past May. We are thrilled by the questions and feedback many of you posted in the comments section. Your feedback is incredibly valuable to the development of Wolfram|Alpha. Many of the additions presented in the post were the result of previous suggestions from Wolfram|Alpha users.

We hope to continue this dialogue as we update Wolfram|Alpha’s ever-growing knowledge base in 2010. You wrote 170-plus comments to the “Year-End Update” post, and we’ve sent questions from those comments to Wolfram|Alpha’s developers and domain experts for answers. We’ll be reporting their responses in a series of blog posts.

So without further ado…


Zach
Q: Wonderful to hear about, yet my regular challenge raises its head again. I type in “plasma physics” and get a definition—but nothing more. I type in “plasma temperatures”, “gas plasma”, “ionized gas” and get nothing. I applaud the notion of making sure Wolfram|Alpha has information relevant to the public interest (ecology, environment, employment, salaries, cost of living, and all that), but you’re missing an entire branch of physics and an entire state of matter. I’d love to compute, for example, the temperature of a certain firework as it explodes, and then relate that to whether the chemicals within have been heated to plasma or are simply burning brightly, and which additives burn the longest (and thus have more chance of landing on the audience while still hot). Pure exploration of data based on something cool and pretty.

On the other hand, the more you add, the more holes you’ll find as people search and then become frustrated when specific things they want aren’t available. Please keep tracking your “cannot find” results!

A: Although we haven’t yet covered every possible domain of knowledge, that’s certainly our goal—and feedback like yours is definitely considered and added to our “to-do” list. Each time a query produces one of those “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input” messages, it shows up in our logs. Sometimes we have the data, but need to tweak Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic code so it recognizes more types of questions. If we don’t have the data, someone looks closely at your question and at sources that might be able to answer such questions, and more often than not those sources are incorporated into our planning. Many of the features mentioned in our year-end review were direct responses to user requests, and many more are in the works.


Jim Clough
Q: I have just downloaded W/A for iPhone, but haven’t had much chance to try it yet. Two questions:

1. My first query to W/A, about Olympic marathon winners, failed “Could not connect to a W/A server” or something like that. I thought the point of the downloaded version was to free you from wi fi restrictions.
2. Given the ever changing nature of knowledge and your impressive programme of developments, can iPhone customers expect updates in the future?

A: As we’ve noted before, the iPhone and iPod touch are terrific platforms, but they simply aren’t powerful enough to solve many queries in a reasonable amount of time, if at all; the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone does require an internet connection. Users of the app will therefore benefit from all the same data and algorithm updates that are added weekly to the main Wolfram|Alpha website, as well as ongoing bug fixes and enhancements to the app itself. More »

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December 29, 2009– 3

Prior to releasing Wolfram|Alpha into the world this past May, we launched the Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Since our welcome message on April 28, we’ve made 133 additional posts covering Wolfram|Alpha news, team member introductions, and “how-to’s” in a wide variety of areas, including finance, nutrition, chemistry, astronomy, math, travel, and even solving crossword puzzles.

As 2009 draws to a close we thought we’d reach into the archives to share with you some of this year’s most popular blog posts.

April

Rack ’n’ Roll

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

May

The Secret Behind the Computational Engine in Wolfram|Alpha

Although it’s tempting to think of Wolfram|Alpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story. The thing that truly sets Wolfram|Alpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.

Why does computation matter? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers. Continue reading…

Live, from Champaign!

Wolfram|Alpha just went live for the very first time, running all clusters.

This first run at testing Wolfram|Alpha in the real world is off to an auspicious start, although not surprisingly, we’re still working on some kinks, especially around logging.

While we’re still in the early stages of this long-term project, it is really gratifying to finally have the opportunity to invite you to participate in this project with us. Continue reading…

June

Wolfram|Alpha Q&A Webcast

Stephen Wolfram shared the latest news and updates about Wolfram|Alpha and answered several users’ questions in a live webcast yesterday.

If you missed it, you can watch the recording here. Continue reading… More »

October 21, 2009– 0

If you’re writing an essay for history or a speech for debate class, Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource. It has an enormous words and linguistics database that you can use for such things as word definitions, and word origins, synonyms, and hyphenation. Wolfram|Alpha can even compute the number of pages a given text might produce based on the number of words it contains, such as “500 words in French”. Wolfram|Alpha also has the ability to compute details such how long it should take you to type, read, and deliver that 500-word speech you’ve been preparing.

Type “word contest”, and Wolfram|Alpha will retrieve the word data for the English word “contest”. The results tell you many definitions of the word, that its first known recorded use was in 1603, that it rhymes with “conquest”, and a wealth of other data on just that word. More »

July 29, 2009– 14

Wolfram|Alpha is a great resource for writers. It has an enormous words and linguistics database that writers can use for such things as word definitions, origins, synonyms, hyphenation, and Soundex lookups.

Type “word contest”, and Wolfram|Alpha will retrieve the word data for the English word “contest”. The results tell you many definitions of the word, that its first known recorded use was in 1603, that it rhymes with “conquest”, and a wealth of other data on just that word.

More »

July 24, 2009– 7

Many of our world’s advancements can be attributed to the evolution of communication mediums and styles. Today we can tweet a message in 140 characters or less around the world in a matter of seconds. But long before the days of the radio, telephone, the fax machine, and email there was the original text message—Morse code. And Wolfram|Alpha can translate a string of characters to and from Morse code.

Morse code was introduced to the world over 160 years ago, when Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail invented a telegraph that when triggered by electrical pulses made indentions in a paper tape with a stylus. They also developed a code of short dots and long dashes to represent letters, numbers, and special characters, allowing messages to be sent via those indentions. The sounds produced when the telegraph processed the electrical pulses became so familiar that adept users could translate the code by sounds, and the code would eventually be adapted for broadcast across the radio airwaves. This system would go on to become a major form of international communication, especially for those working and traveling in the air or out at sea.

Translating "Wolfram Alpha" into Morse code
More »

July 17, 2009– 7

Wolfram|Alpha introduces many new methods for understanding linguistic inputs. Those methods allow you and others around the world to ask it questions in natural ways. In this video, a developer working on Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistics shares a bit about her role in building and improving the system’s understanding to help you get the answers you’re looking for.

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Get the latest Flash Player.

You can watch more interviews with Wolfram|Alpha team members here.

June 12, 2009– 6

We’ve updated another entry thanks to feedback sent to Wolfram|Alpha. We’ve now changed linguistic priority settings so that “blog” is no longer interpreted as the math expression b log(x) by default.

Blog used to default to b log(x) More »

June 8, 2009– 32

There’s new data flowing into Wolfram|Alpha every second. And we’re always working very hard to develop the core code and data for the system. In fact, internally, we have a complete new version of the system that’s built every day. But before we release this version for general use, we do extensive validation and testing.

In addition to real-time data updates, we’ve made a few changes to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch three weeks ago. But today, as one step in our ongoing, long-term development process, we’ve just made live the first broad updates to the core code and data of Wolfram|Alpha. More »

June 4, 2009– 43

Today if you give input to Wolfram|Alpha in a language other than English, you’ll most likely see something like:

Wolfram|Alpha does not yet understand...

But in making Wolfram|Alpha accessible to as many people around the world as possible, our goal is eventually to have it understand every one of these languages.

A certain amount of Wolfram|Alpha input is actually quite language independent—because it’s really in math, or chemistry, or some other international notation, or because it’s asking about something (like a place) that’s always referred to by the same name.

But inevitably many inputs do depend on human language—and in fact even now about 5% of all inputs that are given try to use a language other than English.

Wolfram|Alpha knows quite a bit about the general properties of essentially every language (Spanish, Swahili, ….) But it doesn’t yet know how to interpret input in any language other than English. More »

May 24, 2009– 41

(Comments to a blog post this morning on Gizmodo.)

Type in the word “dumb” to Wolfram|Alpha and you’ll get all sorts of interesting information. Like that “dumb” was first recorded in use in 1323—686 years ago. More »