ARCHIVE: September 2010
September 30, 2010–

In 1977, famed computer scientist Donald Knuth decided he didn’t like the typesetting of the second edition of The Art of Computer Programming. Rather than unhappily accept the results of photographic typesetting techniques, Knuth invented his own digital typesetting solution, TeX, which would eventually become the standard typesetting system for mathematical and academic content. Wikipedia displays math content using a variant of TeX, and research papers from a large range of fields are very commonly submitted in TeX format.

Our team recently added the ability to understand TeX notation and convert it to the Mathematica form used by the powerful Wolfram|Alpha engine. We’ve received many requests for this functionality from people who use Wolfram|Alpha for advanced math and physics. It’s often easy and natural to write mathematics using TeX, whereas it can otherwise be quite difficult to express clearly in plaintext notation.

The beauty of this new capability is that one can now see, compute, and understand typeset mathematics all through the union of TeX notation and Wolfram|Alpha computation. Complicated expressions are now easily represented using the elegance of TeX: More »

September 28, 2010–

Renowned physicist Enrico Fermi’s name is synonymous with a type of estimation problem often illustrated by the classic question, “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” Finding a “Fermi estimate” of this number would typically involve multiplying a series of rough estimates, such as the population of Chicago, an approximate number of households owning pianos, the frequency with which a typical piano might be tuned, and so on. It’s unlikely that anyone would arrive at a precise, correct answer through this method, but a Fermi estimate should at least be able to generate an answer that is approximately the right order of magnitude.

A Fermi estimate usually seeks to measure a quantity that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to actually measure. “Piano tuners in Chicago” may have fallen into that category several decades ago, but as Wolfram|Alpha can now demonstrate, things have changed:

We recently overhauled our data on jobs and salaries in the United States, adding Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on more than 800 detailed occupations at the national, state, and metropolitan area levels. Which means Wolfram|Alpha can’t quite get you to an exact measurement of the number of piano tuners in Chicago (and presumably, many of them must at least dabble in other instruments), but it can come surprisingly close.

Wolfram|Alpha can also compute a number of interesting statistics that aren’t obvious from the source data, such as the fact that Chicago has quite a high density of musical instrument tuners and repairers—roughly 2.3 times the national average workforce fraction for this occupation—and that their median wage is roughly 1.3 times the national average. And it can also provide helpful context for any occupation, computing employment and wage information for related jobs and sub-specialties, according to BLS classifications.

You can also perform all kinds of interesting comparisons, of course: try asking Wolfram|Alpha to “compare producers and actors employment in California”, for example, or “garbage collectors vs waiters salaries in New York City”. Or if you’re contemplating a cross-country move, you might be interested to see a comparison between “computer programmers salaries in Seattle vs Philadelphia”.

And if you need to access salary and job-related data often, you can create your own Wolfram|Alpha Widgets tailored for specific jobs and regions. You can easily customize widgets, like the one below, and embed them in your website and share with your social networks.

September 24, 2010–

Secrets can be so hard to keep—especially when your loyal users are anxiously awaiting news of a new app for a certain mobile platform! Today we’re excited to share with you that the Wolfram|Alpha App for Android will be available on October 6, 2010. We’re also pleased to announce that we’re teaming up with T-Mobile to launch the Wolfram|Alpha App for Android for the new T-Mobile® G2™ with Google™!

The Wolfram|Alpha App for Android delivers the full power of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine, providing you with a massive knowledge base of factual information in the palm of your hand. With the T-Mobile G2, the Wolfram|Alpha app takes advantage of the blazing fast 4G speeds of T-Mobile’s network to get you answers in an instant. Combining the power of the G2 with the power of Wolfram|Alpha creates an extraordinary experience for knowledge on the go.

Using Android’s native voice input capability, you can speak your queries to Wolfram|Alpha and get your answers hands-free. The app integrates Wolfram|Alpha’s growing repository of curated data, including over ten trillion data elements, and its library of tens of thousands of sophisticated computational models, to deliver knowledge quickly and seamlessly, on demand, anywhere. It also leverages the advanced screen capabilities of Android 2.2, providing sharp, high-resolution results. More »

September 24, 2010–

We recently hosted the inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 in Washington, DC. The summit brought together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.

The summit officially opened with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. In his talk, Stephen discussed the complex nature of gathering systematic knowledge and data, explained how Mathematica helps with the challenges of making all data computable, and hinted at some new technologies you can expect from us in the near future. You can read more in the transcript of Stephen’s talk below.
More »

September 22, 2010–

Every day the Sun crosses the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west, but in detail its path is different every time. If it is winter, or if you live in the north, the Sun is lower and stays closer to the southern horizon. While the time of year and the location have similar effects, they act independently on the overall path. The Sun’s path is unique for your place and time.

You can see the sunpath today at your location; the default is the perspective of looking toward the southern horizon.

The autumnal equinox is tonight (in North America), but in Pyramid Point (a place close to the equator in the Pacific), the equinox will occur Thursday, close to noon, when the Sun will be almost overhead. More »

September 21, 2010–

I spent a decade of my life writing A New Kind of Science. Most of that time was devoted to discovering the science in the book. But another part was spent figuring out how to present the science in the best possible way—using words and pictures.

It took a lot of technology to do that presentation. On the software side, the biggest part was using Mathematica to create elaborate algorithmic diagrams—thousands of them. But then came the question of how to actually deliver everything. And back in 2002 when A New Kind of Science was published, the only real possibility was to print a book on paper, using the very best printing technology of the time.

The actual print production process was quite an adventure—going right to the edge of what was possible. But in the end we got many compliments on the object we produced. And from that time to this, that 5.5 lb (2.5 kg) lump of paper has been the definitive representation of my decade-plus of intellectual work.

But today I’m excited to be able to say that there’s something new and in some ways even better: a full version on the iPad.

September 17, 2010–

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.

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–

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.

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 »

September 15, 2010– Comments Off on Announcing More Wolfram|Alpha Webinars Comments Off on Announcing More Wolfram|Alpha Webinars

Our first Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinars were met with so much interest and enthusiasm that we’re announcing three more opportunities for you to participate!

Sign up today for one of our Wolfram|Alpha Back-to-School Webinars and discover powerful new ways to advance learning in your classroom. The hour-long webinar gives you an overview and demonstration of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine, including the recently launched Widget Builder (beta).

Administrators, parents, and students will also benefit from these webinars.

To register for a webinar, please click one of the three sessions listed below. Registration is free and takes just a few minutes. A copy of the presentation will also be made available to those who attend.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 9am Pacific Time

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 2pm Pacific Time

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 5pm Pacific Time

September 10, 2010–

The inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 has officially drawn to a close. We’d like to thank the presenters and participants for contributing to the success of this year’s conference.

We look forward to sharing more photos and summaries with you next week. In the meantime, we invite you to visit our earlier post, “A Look Inside the Wolfram Data Summit 2010,” and catch up on interesting insights and commentary shared by participants on the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit.

September 10, 2010–

The concept of infinity has been fraught with paradox since antiquity. For this reason, Aristotle sought to banish it from his physics, claiming that there were no actual infinities in nature—only potential infinities. Over a millennium later, medieval scholars offered the following example when asked why infinity was forbidden.

Imagine two concentric circles. Each circle contains infinitely many points along its circumference, but since the outer circle has a greater circumference, it has more points than the inner circle. Now take any point A on the outer circle, and draw a line from A to the circle’s center. This line must intersect some point B on the circumference of the inner circle. Hence, for every point A on the outer circle, there is a corresponding point B on the inner circle, and vice versa. Therefore, both circles must have the same number of points, despite the fact that the outer circle appears to have more points than the inner circle. More »

September 9, 2010–

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

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

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

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

September 2, 2010–

A new school year is here, and many students are diving into new levels of math. Fortunately, this year, you have Wolfram|Alpha to help you work through math problems and understand new concepts. Wolfram|Alpha contains information from the most basic math problems to advanced and even research-level mathematics. If you are not yet aware of Wolfram|Alpha’s math capabilities, you are about to have a “wow” moment. For the Wolfram|Alpha veterans, we have added many math features since the end of the last school year. In this post, we’re highlighting some existing Wolfram|Alpha math essentials, such as adding fractions, solving equations, statistics, and examples from new topics areas like cusps and corners, stationary points, asymptotes, and geometry.

You can access the computational power of Wolfram|Alpha through the free website, via Wolfram|Alpha Widgets, with the Wolfram|Alpha App for iPhone, iPod touch, and the iPad! Even better, the Wolfram|Alpha Apps for iPhone, and iPod touch, and the iPad are now on sale in the App Store for \$0.99 though September 12.

If you need to brush up on adding fractions, solving equations, or finding a derivative, Wolfram|Alpha is the place to go. Wolfram|Alpha not only has the ability to find the solutions to these math problems, but also to show one way of reaching the solution with the “Show Steps” button. Check out the post “Step-by-Step Math” for more on this feature.

You can find this widget, and many others, in the Wolfram|Alpha Widget Gallery. Customize or build your own to help you work through common math problems. Then add these widgets to your website or blog, and share them with friends on Facebook and other social networks.

Of course, Wolfram|Alpha also covers statistics and probability. For example, Wolfram|Alpha can compute coin tossing probabilities such as “probability of 21 coin tosses“, and provides information on normal distribution: More »

September 1, 2010–

We’re continually looking for new ways to make accessing and sharing knowledge from Wolfram|Alpha simpler. As a result, we’ve introduced a new tool that allows you to share and bookmark knowledge directly from any Wolfram|Alpha results page.

With the new “Bookmark & Share” features, you can easily post Wolfram|Alpha results to Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. Hover over the more icon ( + ) to share via email, bit.ly, Tumblr, and dozens of other social networking and sharing sites.

We look forward to sharing more tools and site enhancements with you in the near future. And as always, we love hearing ideas on how we can continue to make Wolfram|Alpha a fun experience for you!