Have you ever wanted to know not only what the solution to a question is but also why it is that solution? This problem will pop up from time to time in everyday life whether you’re at work, school, meetings, or just feeling curious. Luckily, there is a program that can answer (provided you ask correctly) nearly any question that you can give it. It is called WolframAlpha and it is branded as a “computation knowledge engine”. A means to provide the full knowledge of collective humanity at the cost of a few keystrokes.
When I first heard about this site (Fall 2010) I could not believe the talk. I was in a Calculus class with a terrible teacher; the kind who sit behind a podium and merely read you the textbook for an hour. We were discussing the behavior of Limits at Infinity and all was not well with my learning of the topic. I struggled to wade through the -then new- language of a Calculus curriculum and still could not seem to grasp the concept until….
When you pull up the site for use you will basically see a semi austere search engine interface. This was a bit un-nerving at first as it gives no boundary to what needs to be typed into the text box to get a desired result. And I thought “How the hell do you input Calculus data and get a sensible result?”, I was at a loss. I then simply (and quite intuitively) typed into the dialog box the relevant information as best as could logically deduce, pressed enter and waited for an error to be replied but that was not to be. I had asked the interface to show me the answer to a limit problem and it had quite easily returned a sensible and correct result WITH the steps and thoughts required to solve the problem! I was truly impressed to say the least.
So I asked it some other questions;
- What aircraft are overhead? It gave me a factual answer of which aircraft (Carriers and flights!!) that were passing overhead of my computer’s IP location at that time.
- How far am I(Ocala, FL) from the Statute of Liberty? Answer: 916.1 miles, 1174 Kilometers, 796.1 Nautical miles, as a sound wave: 1 hour and 12 minutes, etc.
- How many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie pop? Answer: 3481 (according to The Univ. of Cambridge)
These are simply amazing results for a knowledge engine. For fun, ask “what is the secret to life?” and you’ll receive an answer or type “hello” to the SE, and you’ll receive an intelligible response. My point is that to become familiar with this tool and make wide-spread use of this technology could have a great and positive impact on the ease and quickness of how information comes to light.
Since that day when I first discovered the value that this site presents to life, I have tried to evangelize its worth to anyone that will listen. Unfortunately, many of you do not. If you one day find yourself just wasting time one day droning at Facebook, twitter, or some blowhard’s blog then you have time to test drive this site. I promise it will be worth your while and may even come in handy more than a few times (especially you college / high school students).
I will leave you with a thought that I had about my time in the Marine Corps in reference to this subject. When you are asked a questioned by a superior ranked Marine during an inspection, casually, or during a technical evaluation and you do not know the answer to said question. The correct reply is acknowledge your short coming and a EXPEDITIOUSLY seek that correct answer. with WolframAlpha its as good as done.