THE WOLFRAM WEB

WolframAlpha.com is getting a huge amount of buzz as a Google killer application, but that’s not really what it’s about. Don’t go there for all your searches. Go there for quick facts and amazing calculations.

The best way to use it is to start with their own examples and then tweak them. Type “Chicago weather when Pat Sajak was born.” Sajak is the host of the popular TV game show “Wheel of Fortune,” and Wolfram Alpha can tell you that it was 60 degrees on October 26th, 1946 when he was born on the south side of Chicago. Too trivial? How about comparing your cholesterol levels to people your age who smoke?

More WolframAlpha examples:

  • Type in “ISS” for the International Space Station and you’ll find out where it is right now.
  • Type in “$17 an hour” and you’ll find out how much you would make in a typical working year.
  • Type “6000 words” and find out how long it would take to type it, read it, or speak it. (Talking as fast as an auctioneer would take 24 minutes; you or I would take around 40 minutes.)
  • Type in a city name and get quick facts about the weather, what’s nearby, etc.
  • Solve crossword puzzles by putting in any letters you have so far. It will give you words that fit.
  • Type in “33 grams of gold” to find out how big that would be and how much it would be worth.

Bob’s complaint about WolframAlpha is they don’t tell you the source of their data. They have a ten terabyte database, which is huge, but tiny compared to what’s on the web.

At the end of May, Google is coming out with their own version of structured searches similar to what you see in WolframAlpha. (It’s not a response; it was in the works for a long time.) It’s called “Google Squared.” Type in “laptop,” for example, and you will see thumbnail images of laptops on the left-hand side of the screen. In a column to the right you might see links to reviews and in more columns, price info, specifications, etc. As you hover the mouse pointer over any information, you can see the source of the data.

Unlike WolframAlpha, Google Squared won’t offer sophisticated mathematical calculations, but it sounds very user friendly.

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