Wolfram Alpha - Fantastic, Worth the Learning Curve

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Wolfram Alpha - Fantastic, Worth the Learning Curve

Wolfram|Alpha recently launched it's public alpha service. To call it a search engine would be an understatement. It's more of a search/research tool that returns results in report like formats and which can also compute and corelate that data against other similar data stored in its vast databases of systematic and historical data. Wolfram|Alpha's self stated long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.

Essentially, Wolfram|Alpha constantly mines and stores almost any type of data in computable formats and then presents a set of views on that data which can be freely accessed using its website www.wolframalpha.com and predefined search formats. Wolfram|Alpha employs researchers to continually input data from accepted data sources (i.e. national, legal, economic, and scientific archives) and to define the report-like templates that are used to return its search results.

Enter any date into Wolfram|Alpha (say American Independence Day July 4, 1776) and you'll get the date listed in several formats, the time difference between that date and today, the week and day number of that date for the entered year, a list of observances for that day, notable events for that day, and the sunrise, sunset, daylight duration, and moon phase for the entered date. This data is presented in a report-like format and is grouped into logical groupings. Many of these groupings can be expanded to show even more detail related to that group. For example, where the sunrise, sunset, and moon phase are listed, you can click a "more" link to also display the astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight begin and end times.

In another example you can enter "gdp france / usa" and the GDP for France and USA will be returned and corelated both as a data table and a on a chart back through 1970.

These are simple examples, there are some mind blowing examples which have the potential to revolutionize the way we do research and the way students learn and conduct homework. For example, you can enter a series of numbers and Wolfram|Alpha will compute potential formulas for the pattern of numbers. I entered 1,3,6,10,15" and Wolfram|Alphra retered possible generating functions, closed form formulas, possible continuations, the mean, median, and standard deviation, a pie chart, and a difference chart.

The only thing that may intimidate some users is its learning curve. Until you view the topical examples, view the additional visual gallery of examples, watch the overview video, and practice using the tool (a lot to ask for some) - you really can't and won't realize this resource's full potential. As a result, incorporating it as as a tool you use regularly may take some time.

IMHO - the learning curve is ENTIRELY worth it. This is by far one of the most creative and potentially useful search / research resources in recent memory and I highly recommend watching the overview video at a minimum.