I read a lot of techie articles, newsfeeds and blogs to research this column. I explore the latest technologies so that I can keep my readers informed. When I began this column I promised to give you just enough information to serve your needs without a lot of jargon, acronyms and other complications. Let me also add, I try to wait until you are ready (and the market is ready) before I mention or recommend a new technology.
This week’s column is for those that may want to step beyond the usual browser and search engine wars into an expanded type of Internet tool. Kick it up a notch? Browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox which control most of the browser market use search engines (like Google or Bing) that primarily hunt and fetch anything available on the Web that matches your key word(s). And they do a wonderful job in a very short time; even to the point of identifying more info than you can possibly sift through.
But what if you want the answer to a question that can be computed or a comparison between two or more bodies of data? This is where “Wolfram Alpha” might fit in. They call themselves a “computational knowledge engine”: they do not search the Web, but instead rely on their own database of facts and acquired knowledge. The service was first introduced in May of this year and is a work in progress as they develop a larger data base and more computational methods. Without trying to explain further what Wolfram Alpha (WA) is, let’s look at some examples of what it can do. By the way, their Web is www.wolframalpha.com.
They’re great with numerical computations, just type in any computation you can think of using fractions, exponents, geometric functions, whatever and it will spit out the answer. I tried this one that I needed for a recipe: “half of 5/8 cup”. I got the multiplied answer as 0.3125 cups, but I also got these conversions that were easier for me to measure, 2.5 fl. Oz. or 5 tbsp.
When I typed in “Albany Macon” it assumed I meant the two towns in Georgia since my PC is in Georgia and it gave me some stats about the two cities and the travel distance between them. It also allowed me to choose Albany, N.Y., or Macon, Miss., and other possibilities for comparison. Try this with some international cities to get the full extent of the WA database.
Try typing in two stock names and you’ll get comparative data and trend lines for this year’s prices. You can either type the company name or the stock symbol (like MSFT for Microsoft) if you know it.
Here’s one query that didn’t turn out so well. I typed in Georgia vs. Auburn and found out that Auburn is a city in Alabama, Pop. 56,088 and Georgia is a state in the Southeast, Pop. 9.7 million. Guess WA doesn’t know much about the SEC yet.