May 22nd, 2009 | Written by: lauren
If you haven’t checked out Wolfram|Alpha yet, find some time to drop by and experiment. The “computational knowledge engine” launched Monday.
The new search engine “aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people- spanning all professions and education levels.”
And they have kicked off to a great start. I don’t know about you, but I am a hardcore nerd. I collect knowledge and books like others collect DVDs, baseball cards and vintage LPs. (Ok, I collect DVDs too…)
I am an avid Google fan and love the ease with which I can retrieve the littlest bit of info rather quickly. In fact, I was just marveling that there is no need for a bulky dictionary/thesaurus set on my desk. But there are items of information that are difficult to find using the usual methods in search engines like Google.
Wolfram Alpha has created an entirely new web resource that truly will be useful to people of all ages, professions and education levels.
How? Wolfram Alpha is built on a database of over 10 terabytes, including over 10 trillion pieces of data. Completely unlike Google, Wolfram Alpha is built on science, numbers and other computational data- not crawling the web. What is returned is factual, empirical data. From elementary schoolchildren to Construction Workers to the Patent Office, Wolfram Alpha presents useful, easy to understand information.
And it’s built on 50,000 types of models and algorithms, including Wolfram’s Mathematica, a computational software program used in engineering, science and mathematics that took 20 years to develop. On top of that, Wolfram Alpha uses a natural language search algorithm, and has the “linguistic capabilities” for over 1,000 domains- So ask away. (The search algorithm still needs a bit of improvement, but it’s a fledgling – Give it time to learn the language!)
So I experimented. And I enjoyed it. There are many ways to use this modern encyclopedia:
Search for Date:
Plug in any day, (I used my birthday,) and Wolfram Alpha will return where that date falls on other calendars, the time difference from the current date, where the date fell in that year, observances and notable events. You’ll even get the time of the sunrise and sunset, that date’s Zodiac sign and the phase of the moon.
Get facts about cities and towns across the globe, including population (my hometown only has 1818 residents?!) and current weather conditions. You’ll also see that location on a map, the approximate elevation and nearby larger cities.
Whether you need a tip calculator or need to calculate the distance from the Sun to Polaris, Wolfram Alpha will most likely be the best resource. Mathematical searches return graphs, figures and charts such as rational approximation, percent increase, plots, roots and more. It even breaks down currency into the smallest possible bill/coin combination. Forget the scientific calculator. (But don’t let the kids get lazy on elementary math!)
What’s in a Name?
Find out US statistics about a first name, like the fraction of people with that name, number per year, and estimates on how many people alive today share the name. It even includes line graphs depicting name popularity over time, and the estimated age distribution. This is just plain fun stuff to know.
Want to know the frequency of a note? What notes are in a scale or chord? From music theory to the performer and release date of a song, it’s all in Wolfram Alpha’s database. I have always wondered when there would be a music database similar to IMDB. This is the closest I have seen.
Other Database Queries:
Instead of overwhelming you with more screenshots, I will note a few more of the excellent features of Wolfram Alpha.
Stock Market Info:
Type in 2 company names or stock symbols for extensive fundamental and financial computations including graphs, current prices, recent returns and relative price history. Even projections and a performance comparison!
You can find information about a particular satellite; Compare satellites, get properties or do calculations using those properties. These searches bring up some fascinating graphs.
More fun than art class- Find a swatch of your favorite color, get the breakdown of numbers that represent the color (i.e. its hexadecimal or 24-bit RGB.) You’ll even get complementary colors and a color triad from its palette. But beyond that you can add two or more colors together, find “color temperature” and wavelength.
There is so much to explore at Wolfram Alpha- and it’s wonderful for students of all ages.
Using new search technology can often strike controversy- and Wolfram Alpha is getting a bit of negative press for its young algorithms, but mostly for trying to compete with Google; but it’s absolutely necessary to realize that they can’t compete- they’re completely different!
Google gives us an index of locations where our information might be found. Wolfram Alpha finds the information. Liken it to browsing your closet for the right shoes, versus the closet placing the shoes that match your outfit right into your hands.
But until that happens, you could just find the right color palette on Wolfram Alpha!
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