Wolfram|Alpha Releases Educators’ Version

Wow, I’m talking about Wolfram|Alpha a lot lately, aren’t I? Sorry, I gots a bit more to say. The site announced last week that there’s a new site developed for educators. The new site’s at http://www.wolframalpha.com/educators/.

What’s here? There are some videos showing how W|A is used in the classroom (from fourth graders to college students) as well as examples of how to search Wolfram|Alpha for any number of concepts and a bunch of lesson plans covering science, social studies, and math (of course.) The lessons plans are PDFs — I downloaded the one for creative writing and learned that W|A works with queries like random name and random city and random food. After some more messing around I found out random disease works and freaked myself out a bit, so here I am back at the review. But these lessons plans may teach you about some new W|A commands that you hadn’t known about.

Wolfram|Alpha also has an education portal (lots of different resources, all broken out by grade), a math resource with thousands of entries, and an education forum that looks semi-busy.

Obviously when you think W|A and education you’re going to think about math, but I was surprised at the amount of science and especially social studies resources available. Teachers, take a look!

Four Sites for Groovy Number Stats

I was reading in Phil Bradley’s blog yesterday about a site I hadn’t heard about called NumberQuotes. You go to the site and enter in a number, and NumberQuotes pulls data containing that number from around the Web. The idea is you have comparison data or a fun factoid that you can put in your presentation, blog post, etc.

So for example I might enter 339. I’d get quotes like this: “339 male giraffes stacked on top of each other would be as high as 6.04 Eiffel Towers” or “339: The population of Hydaburg city, Alaska, USA in 2008” or “339 dollars would buy a taco for everyone living in Kane village, Illinois (population 427)” (them are some cheap tacos.) There were also some stats in there about Alexa ranks. As Phil notes, the aren’t a wide number of statistics here, but the ones that are available are interesting. But as soon as I saw them, I thought, there’s got to be more….

W|A: I don’t know about you, but as soon as I think numbers I think Wolfram|Alpha. So I went over there and typed 339. I didn’t get a bunch of statistics but I did get the Roman numerals, binary form, Unicode, and prime factorization among other things. So if you want something a little more highbrow than how many CDs stack to the level of a can of hair spray, you can always slide this into your conversation: “Hey, speaking of wombat stalking, did you know that 339 has the representation 339 = 2^8+83?”

Mighty Number: Until today I didn’t know about Mighty Number, which bills itself as a search engine for numbers. Enter a number and you’ll get some facts. There’s some overlap with W|A here, but you’ll also get the number in several different languages, the hexadecimal, the octal, and the square root.

Specialty Google Search: Wolfram|Alpha and Mighty Number supply facts about numbers, but they’re pretty dry facts, so maybe you want to get some more stats along the line of NumberQuotes. Google to the rescue, only you want to do a fairly specific query so you don’t end up with spam, forum discussions, etc. So when you’re in Google try this search: “there are xx” (site:gov | site:edu)” where xx is the number you want. So doing a search for “there are 339” (site:gov | site:edu) I discovered the following:

— There are 339 endowed Stanford Graduate Fellowships;
— There are 339 households in Hulmeville, Pennsylvania;
— There were 339 plastics facilities in the state of Connecticut as of October 2002;
— There were 339 nuclear power plants in 30 countries outside the US as of 1997.

When I tested this search on Google I found it was a little harder to get the stats, but you got a wider range of number factoids than you do on NumberQuotes. So do W|A and Mighty Number for the dry number facts, and then NumberQuotes for the interesting stats, and then Google for the additional, more wide-ranging, interesting stats.

Wolfram|Alpha Does (More) Math

The name doesn’t lend itself well to conversion to a verb, but I’ll say it anyway: I’ve been Wolfram|Alphing a lot lately. I’ve even added W|A to my bookmarks toolbar in Firefox.

Hey, it’s a great almanac, does conversions, easily calculates nutritional information for me… and as W|A announced Friday, it’s added some math functions.

I’m not as mathy as I’d like so bear with me. I can’t test features that W|A describes like this: “Our programmers have spent the past two months developing new capabilities in optimization, probability, number theory, and a host of other mathematical disciplines. Searching for elusive extrema? Look no further! Just feed your function(s) into Wolfram|Alpha and ask for their maxima, minima, or both. You can find global maxima and minima, optimize a function subject to constraints, or simply hunt for local extrema.”

That’s Greek to me, unfortunately. Hopefully it means more to you. However I can talk about the new probability features. You can now do queries like three of a kind and straight flush and get details on probability from W|A. In the case of straight flush, for example, you get an illustration of the hand, an explanation, probability for five-card and seven-card hands, and comparisons among other five-card poker hands.

Note that WA can calculate probabilities but doesn’t seem to understand poker slang. It understood straight but not straight to ace; searching for two pair with ace kicker got no results. However you can do searches for specific hands; a search for king of clubs, king of spades, four of hearts, four of clubs, ace of diamonds showed images of the cards, the probability for drawing these values in hands of five to ten cards, blackjack value (or values in this case; there were two possible values because of the ace) and the possibility of busting on this hand in blackjack (which were all 100% of course.)

You can also, among other things, get probabilities for dice throws by searching for “x y-sided dice”. W|A does not care if the dice can actually exist; doing a search for seven 6000000000-sided dice will get you an expected result and some examples of die faces. If you do something more reasonable, like seven five-sided dice, you’ll also get a graph of probabilities and the possibilities for different combinations (all faces show, all faces different, two of a kind, three of a kind, etc.)

If you’re not into probabilities you might find the primes interesting. W|A now lets you find prime numbers with simple queries like primes between 1 and 50. In this case it listed the 15 primes between 1 and 50. If you want to get fancy you can do something like sum of primes between 1 and 50 (W|A said 328). Other fun queries: prime closest to 990 or random prime between 1 and 100.

Check out the W|A blog post for more details. Just more interesting ways to play with Wolfram|Alpha. Happy wolframing!

What are the Odds? Hold on, Lemme Check

Ever wonder what the odds are that a person in Tennesee works in the food industry? How about the odds for graduating high school, or having an industrial accident at work, or being overweight? Earlier this month Kurani launched The Book of Odds at www.bookofodds.com. The site does just like it sounds — it gives you odds.

You can do a simple keyword search here looking for odds or just looking for everything. Everything finds things like articles, which were interesting enough that I didn’t mind them being included in my search (and they weren’t so numerous that you lost all the odds information.) I did a search for coffee. I got 158 results! Results include category divisions over to the left as well as breakdowns for age, income, gender, etc. To the right you’ll see odds. I saw odds like “1 in 2.08 The odds a person 18 or older will drink regular coffee in a day are 1 in 2.08 (US, 1/2007).” and “1 in 66.67 The odds a boy 6 – 11 drinks coffee at least once a day are 1 in 66.67 (US, 4/1987 – 8/1988).”

Click on the odds for an item and you’ll get a visual representing the odds as well as a space for comments, who found that particular set of odds interesting, etc. (I didn’t see any comments in any of the odds I looked at.) Coolest on the details page, though, is the list of odds that are close or exactly the same as the one you’re looking at. So I know that the odds of an adolescent girl 12 – 19 drinking coffee at least once a day are exactly the same as the odds that an Asian female 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree and no higher has an income of $30,000 – $32,499. (They’re both 1 in 20.)

Now if you’re a librarian you’re probably asking the same question I asked when I started browsing the site: where is this data coming from? The detail page also has a button marked “Sources & Definitions”. Click it and you’ll get information on the source, rounding information, and even an appropriate way to cite the data presented.

Most of the stats I came across were demographic but they were still fun. If you register and create an account (it’s free) you can start your own book of odds, which allows you to track odds, send odds information to a friend, etc. Worth a visit. Oh, and before you leave the Book of Odds site be sure to visit the “About Us” page. I got a big laugh out of “Book of Odds is not a search-engine, decision-engine, knowledge-engine, or any other kind of engine…so please don’t compare us to Google(tm). We did consider the term “probability engine” for about 25 seconds, before coming to our senses.”

Google Answering Math Questions in Google Suggest

Is this new and I just missed it? Google has had, for quite a while ago, the ability to answer math questions. It’s handy when you need to do some quick division and subtraction (though if you want to do algebra, it’s best to wander over to Wolfram|Alpha.)

I use the Firefox query box to do math searches fairly frequently, getting the answer when the Google search result page loads. But I noticed this evening that I’m not having to do that anymore. Now I’m getting my math results as a Google suggestion!

Take a look at this screenshot, showing a division problem and the answer in Google Suggestions.

Google Suggestions solving math problems

So now I don’t have to go to the search results page to get my answer. Considering how much I use Google as a calculator, getting the answer instantly instead of having to load a results page is going to save me much time.

I haven’t read any discussion about this, and I don’t know if this is something I’ve just missed, but man I like it. It’s going to come in really useful.