Wolfram Alpha's public launch is due in a couple weeks, but I've been putting a preview version of the Wolfram Research site through its paces. Overall, I see it as a cross between a graphing calculator, a reference library, and a search engine. Even though it's limited in some ways and it can be finicky about formatting queries in the correct syntax, the service is fun to explore. Wolfram has licensed some of the data from private sources, so not all of what it can show and process is the sort of thing you'll find online through your average Google search.
Vanity searches take on a different meaning with Alpha. Instead of finding out how influential you are on the Web, you find out whether your parents were following the herd or bucking the trend when they named you all those years ago. Michelle and Jennifer were popular names in the 1970s. The Emma trend looks to have peaked in 2004, but Sophia is still on the rise.
At first I wondered if Wolfram Alpha had some poorly scrubbed data or the Red Sox had a couple hard years in the last few decades. Then, after finding the New York Mets had the same chart, I figured it was time to consult a human to figure out what happened in 1981 and 1994. The answer: labor strikes. Alpha doesn't have the full array of baseball statistics that obsessive fans crave, but it's got a good start. This chart shows hits, RBIs, strikeouts, and other details. It's hard to dig into the data at this stage, though, for example picking a specific range of years. You can compare multiple teams, but some of the data in the chart falls by the wayside.
Wolfram Alpha will show plenty of financial data that's easy to find on sites such as Yahoo Finance, but it goes a few steps beyond, too. For example, it shows how closely the stocks of NetApp and EMC track each other.
If you're a 45-year-old male in the United States, there are good odds you'll make it past age 50 but not good odds you'll make it past 100. Alpha can calculate life expectancy statistics for you on the fly.
Wolfram Alpha will show you lots of data beyond just the regular current temperature and forecasts. Here you can see a chart of the temperature in Tokyo in 2008 along with other details. Unlike ordinary Web sites, it'll also tell you humidity and various other details.
The GeoEye-1 satellite whizzes in low-Earth orbit, but when will it be taking photos over you? Alpha will show you on a map, in this case a 3D view of the globe that shows the satellite above Antarctica. It'll also tell you the satellite's 16,812-mph average velocity, its 428.4-mile altitude, and 98-minute orbital period.
It looks like more boys than girls took the SAT in 2006, but the girls' bell curve was a bit on the brighter side. (The height of the curve shows how many people took the test, but the farther to the right the peak occurs, the higher the group scored collectively.)
Eicosapentaenoic acid, aka C20-H30-O2, is described in Wolfram Alpha. Here's an excerpt of what it shows about the molecule, including a 3D model that, alas, you can't rotate. Alpha also shows density, boiling point, vapor pressure, refractive index, Beilstein number, and any number of other details.
Searching for the text string "AGAGCTAGCTAGCT" shows the dozens of places that sequence of base pairs shows up in the human genome. You can also check what's nearby on the chromosome by ambling a specific number of base pairs one way or the other along the double helix. I was also curious about the sequence GATTACA, which is of course the name of a movie in which genetic destiny plays a starring role. Unfortunately, the query timed out after about 5 seconds. That limit probably does keep people with seriously strenuous computing chores from hogging Alpha.
Are you overweight, as judged by the body mass index? Alpha does this math for you as well--though plenty of other sites on the Internet would, too. But Alpha will also throw in real-world data about the actual height and weight distribution of people in the United States so you can see how you measure up to your peers.