12/7/11

10 Fun and Interesting Things to do with Wolfram Alpha

As much fun as I have talking shop about Thomson Reuters or LexisNexis on the blog… I also like to have some geeky fun with online resources like WolframAlpha. Today, I thought I'd walk through ten cool searches (some of them may actually be useful, too… but mostly they are just for fun.

Flights Overhead

1. Flights Overhead
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When I lived in Oklahoma (one of those states that probably all of you have flown over), the sky was filled with the vapor trails of airplanes going from one part of the country to another. Now that I'm in Houston, usually the planes are heading for InterContinental or Hobby airports… or so I thought. By using WolframAlpha's "Flights Overhead" search, it turns out there are actually quite of few planes that are simply continuing their journey to points outside of Houston. Plus, it turns out there are a lot of private chartered flights as well. WolframAlpha takes information compiled from the Federal Aviation Administration and calculates your current location (you can add your zip code to the search if it cannot locate where you are at the moment), then it gives you back a chart of the flights that should be visible from your location, the airline, altitude and distance. You can even click on the specific flight and find out where it originated, and its destination.


2. Create a Password
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Need to create a good password, but you've run out of ways to spell your dog's name? Use WolframAlpha to create one for you. If you type in "password" into the textbox and let WolframAlpha do the hard work for you. You can set the number of characters of the password by adding "## character" to the computation. It also allows you to select if certain types of characters are optional/required/disallowed by clicking on the specific password link.


3. Create a QR Code
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QR codes are all the rage… just ask any law librarian that's been to a conference in the past year! Need to make one in a hurry? Go to WolframAlpha and type in "QR Code" and the text you want converted to the fabulous QR code. The one on the right is a link right back to this blog (so, don't worry about being directed to another site!)


4. Create a Barcode
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More of a traditionalist? Think that QR Codes are a fad and not going to last much longer?  Then what you're looking for is a barcode generator. Don't worry, WolframAlpha is ready for you. Instead of entering QR Code, enter "barcode ______' So, for all of those barcodes that have fallen off your library books, go to WolframAlpha and print them back out.


5. Get an Analyst Rating on Stocks
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Analyst ratings on public companies are available on WolframAlpha and easy to access by entering "Analyst Ratings [Ticker], [Another Ticker]".
You can compare multiple public companies at one time and have ratings graphed out for you. So, if you want to see if you should hold on to your NYT stock or buy more BP stock, then you can get the analysis comparisons easily through this computation.


6. Population Comparison
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Although population isn't the only form of comparing two cities, it is clear from this chart that Houston is 75% better larger than Dallas according to the 2010 census estimates. Of course, the Dallas folks might think this is not a fair comparison. However, even in comparing temperatures last year between Dallas and Houston, Houston is one to two degrees better warmer than Dallas! (Wait… is that a good or bad thing??)


7. Median Wage Between Two States
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Deciding after law school which state you want to practice in? You can enter something like "median wage of Ohio lawyers vs. Texas Lawyers" in the computation box of WolframAlpha and come back with the stats to show you which state bar exam you should start studying. Choosing between Texas and Ohio? According to the 2008 estimates, you've got nearly 17,000 reasons to choose Texas. (That doesn't even count the "no income tax" reasons.) Of course, the 2008 stats probably don't count all the layoffs either… You can also compare other professions such as Librarians.


8.  Know How Far Away You Are From Uranus (snicker...)
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Kidding aside… need to help your kid with their Astronomy home work, but you don't want to knock the dust off you old set of encyclopedias? You can enter "distance Earth, Uranus" and get the stats in a flash. You can add in additional planets if you need to answer that question, too. You don't have to leave Earth to get good information either. Want to compare the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans? Simply type in "Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean" and get details on both in a handy side-by-side comparison chart.


9. Just How Distant a Relative Is Your Cousin??
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So you're at a funeral and you run into your "cousin" who happens to be your Grandmother's Sister's Daughter's Son… just what exactly does that make him?? Grab your iPad (what?? I think it's okay to bring an iPad to a funeral… your great-grand aunt isn't going to mind) and open your WolframAlpha App you bought for $2.99 and find out that he's your second cousin.


10. Know How Much Tuition is Going To Cost
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Your son or daughter has done well on their SAT scores, and despite you telling them to go into a profession like engineering or accounting, they've decided to major in History with a minor in Poly Sci and need you to help with tuition.
They want to go to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, of Texas, and you need to quickly decide which one you can send them to without wiping out your retirement savings account. Type in "tuition Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and University of Texas" in WolframAlpha and get a quick comparison of the four schools. Texas it is!! (Of course, if you're really frugal, add in University of Oklahoma and you'll save twice as much over Texas.)


11. Random Fun
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As if the ten computations I just listed weren't random enough… If you want to test out some other types of searches you can do on WolframAlpha, click on the "random" link or the examples link to see more details on the type of computations that WolframAlpha can do. Remember, this isn't a search engine like Google, so some of the data may be a bit dated, and their are limits to things it can do. However, it can be a lot of fun, and very interesting to walk through some of the examples to see just how powerful the WolframAlpha Computation  Knowledge Engine can be. If you find something really cool, share it with us by putting it in the comments section below.


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