[personal profile] matthewdaly
I'm probably not the first person to say this, but I haven't heard it said yet: Wolfram|Alpha rocks in stereo.

My first exposure to it was this evening, when my brother told me that he wants to program an object to move around "in a figure 8 pattern (well, a figure 8 on it's side)" but doesn't know the math behind it. My copy of Schaum's Mathematical Handbook seems to have wandered off, so I turned to Google, which offered no response to "lemenscate". No huge surprise, since I pulled that word out of the back corner of my mind and for all I know I made it up. So I eventually hit on a search for "infinity symbol" and Wiki tells me that the correct word is actually "lemniscate". A properly-spelled Google search works out, but this time a short Wiki trail from the top result fails me and I actually need MathWorld's site (and paging two screens down) to get the parametric equation I was looking for. Total time elapsed to get the answer I wanted: maybe five minutes. Bad Google-Fu, no biscuit!

With WA, http://www44.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=lemenscate. Not only does it instantly strike gold with the misspelled word, but it turns that gold into ... um ... some sort of valuable gold thing. I suppose it's no surprise that Wolfram is going to have math subjects covered well, but it's still quite impressive. Once their engines start being able to parse searches related to the softer sciences, it's sure to be quite a tool.

(And, just in case some wouldn't know how Google-Fu would lead me to the subject line, please for you to clap hands and cheering for The Ministry of Unknown Science.)
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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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