Wolfram Alpha: a huge step forward, except for work moral

As much as I am a Free Software supporter, I cannot help but be happy when I see a really really awesome piece of software – even if it is proprietary, closed source and all the otherbadness that goes around… And such a piece of jaw-droppingly cool awesomeness is Wolfram Alpha, the Google of science.

Much has been said of Wolfram Alpha that needs not be repeated. Basically, it’s an extended calculating machine. But it also does dates in history, stock rates, conversion of natural constants, etc. And, even greater, it understands to some extend a normal daily-life language. No rigid syntax necessary. Take a look here:

Wolfra Alpha understands words. Not every time - but then it gives you hints as to what confuses it, and you can restate your question.

Wolfra Alpha understands words. Not every time - but then it gives you hints as to what confuses it, and you can restate your question.

I played around  with it while working on some astrophysics exercises – at first just to convert some natural constants. Then as a simple pocket calculator. And  then I tried simply typing in the entire problem – with obscure units and everything – and tell it in which units I wanted the output, and voilá:

Wolfram Alpha solving a problem stated as a mixture of numbers, words and units. Note how neatly it tells you its interpretation of the question before actually solving it.

Wolfram Alpha solving a problem stated as a mixture of numbers, words and units. Note how neatly it tells you its interpretation of the question before actually solving it.

The original question stated here was:

32*G/(5*c^5)*4/25*(1.4*sun mass)^2*(10 km)^2*(1 mm)^2*((2*pi)/(5 milliseconds))^6 in ergs per second

A mish-mash of words, unit conversions and number crunching. Solved elegantly by listing its assumptions and interpretations and since solving the problem and then giving some alternative units and additional information! Too bad this is not Free Software – but yours truly is one little awestruck and impressed guy!

Just to clear my conscience: the rest of  the exercise was solved using the Maxima Texmacs interface. And as soon as I get the time, I’ll have a look at the awesome new Sage software package. It needs some polish, it doesn’t get anywhere near Wolfram Alpha when it comes to that – but it seems very, very promising indeed.

PS: what is the average flight velocity of an unladen swallow?

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My new blog – this one in english

I created this blog because I realized I’ve done an increasing number of posts in english on my otherwise danophone other blog, and this was becoming increasingly confusing. Oh, and because I thought it was a cool title for a blog that needed to be used. This will, hopefully, become a place for writings about physics, astronomy and politics and personal stuff.

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Troubling on so many levels

…that Google’s allegedly context-aware advertising service on Gmail gives me the Advertising text:

Vakre Thai jenterhttp://www.ThaiLoveLinks.comThailandske jenter + norske menn. Se profiler og bli kontaktet-GRATIS
right above an e-mail conversation with my wife. The norwegian text means “Beautiful Thai girls – http://www.ThaiLoveLinks.com – Thailandish girls + norwegian men. See profiles and get contacted – FREE”.
D’uh! I’m a dane – and a married one, for that – living in Sweden! Don’t really know whether to laugh or cry, you know?
Apart from the obvious stupidity of it, the indirect endorsement of  such obviously racist sites, which also seem like an open invitation for white-washing of human trafficking, doesn’t exactly add to my respect for Google.
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International Negro Day

March 8th - "Women Appreciation Day"? No thanks...

March 8th – founded as the International Day of Women’s Struggle for equality and suffrage, has in many countries become an international women’s day, celebrating “womanhood” and showing society’s appreciation of women. In some countries, it has even degenerated to a “national day of beauty and motherhood”.

Now, in a couple of weeks, the considerably less known International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed, on March 21st. Imagine that day turned into an “International Negros’ Day”, celebrating “blackness”. Shops advertising negro-stuff, maybe little thank-you-for-being-such-a-fine-negro cards for the negro at the office. Sentimental speeches commemorating the Negro population’s great achievements and contributions to society.

Imagine this in some countries taken the step further, turned into a National Day of Hard Work and Jazz Music.

This is exactly why we cannot quietly let March 8th turn into an International Women’s Day or Day of Beauty and Motherhood.

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Humbler than thou!

The guys over at Cosmic Variance always have something interesting to present. This time, Sean has  for some obscure reason been surfing on the Passion For Christ Movement website. What he did there I do not know, but what he found there was golden – in its oewn sad, pathetic way. Passion For Christ Movement proudly presents: the Look-Ma-I-Quit-Masturbating collection!

You lived a life of sin and pride and vanity, you found Jesus and you overcame it. Why stop there? What would be more natural than loudly advertising your new-won humility with a snazzy t-shirt?

Say it loud: Im humble and Im proud!

Say it loud: I'm humble and I'm proud!

When you graduate from High School, you proudly show it by wearing funny hats and stuff. When you – seemingly at a young age – have graduated from the Tough But Loving School Of The Lord, why not show it off in a street-wise fashion? Nothing says “now officially flawless” like this:

I gave self-deception up for lent!

I gave up self-deceit for lent!

A bold statement indeed. My primary conundrum right now is — should I go for ex-rebel or ex-atheist? Tough one. But I can say for sure that this one is not likely any time soon.

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Farewell to a giant

Utah Philips on stage.He’d sure have hated to have those words stuck to him. Giant, legend, a truly great person. And really, it is wrong to heroize people like that. But oddly, his insistence on humility, respect and honesty was exactly what made these descriptive words fit very well on him. Sorry, dude, but you were my hero, like it or not.

Bruce “Utah” Philips was a folk singer, storyteller and -collector, bum, hobo, contract worker, labor organizer and jester. And first of all, he was a bridge builder: bridging the gaps between past and future, between the generations, between people. He saw himself as a voice for the dead and forgotten that still had a helluva lot to teach us people of today and tomorrow. A voice that can be heard in an intense and entertaining way on the album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere that he made in collaboration with the folk singer Ani DiFranco.

He built bridges, but he knew his enemies. He’d never build bridges between the oppressors and the oppressed, he’d never excuse cold hearted waste of human life. Harshly, and with a great sense of satire and knowledge of people, he attacked warmongers, inhuman labor conditions, racist politicians and any kind of forced authority.

He loved offbeat characters, hard-workers and honesty as much as he hated bigotry, hypocricy and cold-heartedness. He was a warm and sometimes goofy jester and an etching satiricist, he liked to use new and funny words but still put things in a plain language that everyone could understand. What he said wasn’t your generic banalities though; he told jokes and workplace anecdotes side by side with gripping stories from his time as a soldier in chorea, awesome descriptions of great personalities he’d met and pasionate appeals for solidarity, humanity and peace.

Utah told us of the stories that Hollywood wants you to forget. Of the draft dodgers, the striking workers who had to struggle not only with poverty, but also ruthless bosses paying armed gangs to break the will of the unions. For the people who worked hard to tow the United States in the direction of a human society, where not only the abstract freedoms, but also food, good health and a place to live were human rights that were not discussed. Forces that built America and that are neglected, forgotten and belittled in the official, corporate image of America today.

It is all very well summed up in this quote, taken from here:

“Kids don’t have a little brother working in the coal mine, they don’t have a little sister coughing her lungs out in the looms of the big mill towns of the Northeast. Why? Because we organized; we broke the back of the sweatshops in this country; we have child labor laws. Those were not benevolent gifts from enlightened management. They were fought for, they were bled for, they were died for by working people, by people like us. Kids ought to know that. That’s why I sing these songs. That’s why I tell these stories, dammit. No root, no fruit!”

Utah died in his sleep this friday. His heart that had been giving him trouble for 15 years finally stopped beating. A huge personality has jumped his last freight train. I hope I can honor his spirit a bit by telling of him with an echo of the passion with which he told us about Joe Hill, Mother Jones, Amon Henacy, Frying Pan Jack and countless other people who made up the Other America.

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