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WolframAlpha - The Search Engine on Steroids

Updated on August 4, 2009
WolframAlpha Home Page
WolframAlpha Home Page

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Get ready to process web information in a whole new way. WolframAlpha is the Computational Knowledge Engine that makes Google look like a box of note cards dumped on a coffee table.

Here's WolframAlpha in a nutshell; ask it a technical question and get a thoughtful answer culled from authoritative sources across the Internet.

WolframAlpha prefers meatier subjects. If you don't know the symbology, just verbalize. Feed it an interesting math problem and stand back.

From high school algebra, we learned that it's impossible to take the square root of a negative number. Try it on your pocket calculator. The Microsoft Windows calculator won't even try; it responds with the message "Invalid input for function".

Mathematically, the square root of -1 is defined as "i". Mathematicians came up with this solution for the problem of square roots of negative numbers. The symbol "i" stands for "imaginary" and represents a quantity that can't be stated numerically.

By definition, i * i = -1. The "i" has no numeric representation; it just exists as a placeholder the square root of negative 1.

For example, the square root of -9 is defined as "3i".

WolframAlpha deals with the square root of -1
WolframAlpha deals with the square root of -1
Google doesn't do too badly with this one either.
Google doesn't do too badly with this one either.

Are you interested in population data? Boom. Done.

WolframAlpha profiles the population of Ohio
WolframAlpha profiles the population of Ohio

Instant Research. Wolfram Alpha quantifies the tallest person in the world.The beauty part is that no more clicking is necessary, no need for "drilling down" or browsing innumerable web links in order to find your results.

WolframAlpha locates the tallest man in the world
WolframAlpha locates the tallest man in the world

Source and links are important. WolframAlpha provides those as well.There's a tiny link at the bottom of the search results window.

WolframAlpha displays sources and links to them
WolframAlpha displays sources and links to them

WolframAlpha might not be the best tool for pop culture research. We tried searching on "Manny Ramirez" (quotes included) and while we did get accurate results, they probably aren't what most people would find useful.

WolframAlpha searches for "Manny Ramirez" and provides results that are correct but not probably not in line with expectations
WolframAlpha searches for "Manny Ramirez" and provides results that are correct but not probably not in line with expectations

We know Manny was recently suspended from baseball, so we gave WolframAlpha a little more help. The results actually degraded. Instead of census information, we got nothing.

WolframAlpha is asked to search for "Manny Ramirez" suspensions
WolframAlpha is asked to search for "Manny Ramirez" suspensions

Other stuff to try

y = x^2 + 2*x + 1 (a quadratic equation)

(3*x^.5) + (4*x^.5)

1/4 + 1/3

CO2 (Carbon Dioxide)

(1 TB) / (1 DVD)
                           [The number of DVDs to backup a 1 terabyte hard drive]

Caveats

Use a very modern browser. Internet Explorer 6 can't deal with WolframAlpha. IE 7 or better is recommended. The most current version of Firefox appears to function properly as first glance, but some powerful features of the site are non-functional.

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