Yes, it is once again the time of the year when the mathematically inclined gather together to celebrate Pi Day…
…and, in the process, swap trivia of note on everyone’s (including Wolfram|Alpha’s) favorite number.
There have been no shortage of blog posts already written on the subject; see, for example, last year’s “Pi Day in Wolfram|Alpha” (or the Wolfram Blog Pi Day posts from 2008 or 2010). As already hinted at in last year’s blog, one would expect the pi to be ubiquitous in a computational knowledge engine—and so it is. Therefore, at the risk of beating a proven transcendental constant to death, this year we offer a few (well, OK: more than a few) additional pi-related esoterica courtesy of Wolfram|Alpha.
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!
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.
Just in time to tackle a common New Year’s resolution, we released “New Physical Activity Data in Wolfram|Alpha”.
After reading “Computing Valentine’s Day with Wolfram|Alpha”, there was little doubt that we speak math, the universal language of love.
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”.
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.
Where did the time go? In May we celebrated Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday with the post “Wolfram|Alpha: The First Year”.
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.
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.
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 »
Deck your mobile device with expert-level facts and knowledge this holiday season for just $0.99! Wolfram|Alpha apps for iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Android devices are on sale through January 5, 2011.
If you’re an iPhone, iPod, or iPad user, you can download or “gift” this app through iTunes to the student, professional, or anyone else on your holiday shopping list. Android users can download the app onto their devices directly from Android Market.
Download your Wolfram|Alpha mobile app for just $0.99 to discover new facts, gain insight, and compute almost anything while on the go.
Contestants in Wolfram|Alpha’s Deck the Halls with Facts & Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away have been busy submitting their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts, assembling their free Wolfram|Alpha Spikey paper sculpture kits, and snapping photos for the vote-off. Now you get to decide who will win!
Now through January 3, 2011, you can vote once per day for your favorite entry. Your votes will help the 500 contestants win great gifts, such as Mathematica Professional (value: $2495), an iPad, Wolfram mobile apps, and much more! Oh, and you could be one of the random lucky voters to win one of the newly inked Wolfram|Alpha Spikey T-shirts—not available anywhere else—in our daily drawings!
Contestants, here are a few helpful tips to help your entry climb the charts. First, be sure to vote every day! Then use the built-in sharing tools to ask your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites to vote for your entry once per day, every day! Be sure to let them know how they can win, too!
If you are a contestant who’s still waiting for your Spikey to arrive, no worries; you can upload your Spikey photo to the gallery anytime through January 3, 2011.
Winners will be announced here and on the website on January 5, 2011. Now jump over to the gallery to vote for your favorite entry!
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:
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:
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 »
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!
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:
- There are 10.3 trillion stars for each human on the planet »
- $3.95 was the price of Apple’s stock on the day Mark Zuckerberg
was born »
- Calories in 1 short ton of fruitcake = 2.9×10^6 »
- Riding a sleigh around the Earth in a single day would require the sleigh to travel at 1,037 miles per hour »
- “Snowmen” has a Scrabble score of 12. FTW! »
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
In my blog post last month, I wrote about Valentine’s Day in Wolfram|Alpha. Strangely, we received a number of comments indicating that the computational power of Wolfram|Alpha was not always sufficient to melt the hearts of some non-mathematically inclined sweethearts of the world. But not to fear; I have decided to persist undeterred in spite of that disappointing and surprising news, now that we’re on the verge of another holiday (and a more inherently mathematical one).
The holiday in question is Pi Day. As with a large number of other holidays, simply typing its name (in this case, “pi day”) into Wolfram|Alpha gives you basic calendrical information about it:
Now, because Wolfram|Alpha users are both intelligent and discriminating, all of you have I’m sure already noticed that when the digits in the date 3/14 (March 14 in the United States style for dates—a bit more about this later) are run together with a decimal place between, the result is 3.14. And that that decimal expansion is connected with a certain famous mathematical constant given by the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. And that little fact explains why Pi Day is celebrated on the 14th of each March. More »
Valentine’s Day is special to sweethearts around the world. While Wolfram|Alpha can’t come close to replacing a thoughtful card or gourmet box of chocolates, there are a surprisingly large number of things related to Valentine’s Day (and in particular, to its central icon) that Wolfram|Alpha can compute.
Let’s start with the holiday itself. Just typing in “valentine’s day” gives the expected calendrical information, from which we learn that Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year. For the procrastinators among us, we can also find out how many days we have remaining to acquire an appropriate token of affection for our loved one (or by how many days we’ve already blown our chance). Wolfram|Alpha also shows various other useful data, including the interesting fact that Valentine’s Day coincides with Chinese New Year this year.
While Wolfram|Alpha can’t (yet) tell you how many calories are in your box of holiday chocolates or package of Valentine’s Day Sweethearts candy, there are plenty of computational objects related to that most-famous Valentine’s Day icon—the heart—that it can tell you something interesting and/or useful about. For instance, do you know the average weight of a human heart? The typical resting heart rate? The Unicode point for the heart symbol character? Or perhaps you’ve forgotten the ASCII keystrokes needed to insert a love emoticon at the end of an email to your Sweet Baboo?
On the mathematical side, typing in “heart curve” gives you a number of mathematical curves resembling the heart shape. The default (and probably most famous) of these is the cardioid, whose name after all means “heart-shaped” in Latin (and about which we all have fond memories dating back to our introductory calculus courses):
A curve more closely resembling the conventional schematic (if not physiological) heart shape is the so-called “first heart curve“, which is an algebraic curve described by a beautifully simple sextic Cartesian equation:
If you don’t care for any of the heart curves Wolfram|Alpha knows about (or even if you do), you’re also of course also free to experiment with your own. For example, a particularly attractive curve can be obtained using the relatively simple input “polar plot 2 – 2 sin t + sin t sqrt (abs(cos t))/(sin t + 1.4)“. More »
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 »