back to article Wolfram Alpha - a new kind of Fail

Wolfram Alpha, the not-quite-search-engine from self appointed mathematical genius Stephen Wolfram, launched last Friday, and oh my, has it been a great weekend for software reviewers. I took some time to play around with Wolfram Alpha, and aside from being the best damn Wikipedia search engine since Powerset, the only …


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  1. James Hughes

    Tell you what..

    You stop using the contraction 'fail' and I'll consider fully reading your article.

    The word is 'failure'.

    Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar.

    As to WA itself - give it a chance. It's a first attempt, and is likely to get better. It's going to have a different audience to something like Google. Let's hope that audience is big enough to keep it going, because the world is desperately waiting for a better search engine, and they don't spring to life completely formed.

  2. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Wolfram Alpha - a new kind of Sail Internet Driver.

    I take it then, Ted, you are not yet a great fan of the program?

  3. Charles

    Wrong model

    You're using the wrong model to interact with Alpha. It's not Google, it's more like Gopher. Wolfram has managed to smash through the 1991 technology barrier!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Plagiarism? What plagiarism?

    WA doesn't tell you when it's quoting from Wikipedia (or where ever else it copied its results from). But don't you *dare* use WA results without full citation!


    Paris? Because she doesn't mind telling you where she got it.

  5. Pirate Dave Silver badge

    Polar Coordinate System

    Meh, maybe I'm being to hard on this new product, but it has nothing on "polar coordinate system" other than a related input to "Polar, Wisconsin". C'mon, polar coordinates are pretty handy in math, aren't they? How else are we supposed to remember how to calculate sine and cosine?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    google squared

    is google pulling wolfram's leg with this calculator?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @James Hughes

    "Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

    Oh my...

  8. Andrew
    Thumb Up


    This column always makes me feel better about myself. I did enjoy the illustrations. Windows Paint gives them a certain charm.

  9. Goat Jam


    Maybe Wolfram should have started the site as a perpetual beta.

    You know, sorta like what google does.

  10. jake Silver badge


    "a new kind of Sail Internet Driver."

    Uh ... I was at SAIL when the Internet was being born. None of the people mentioned or writing with regard to this article (including me and that lard-ass Wolfram) could hold a candle to anything useful that came out of SAIL. Was an interesting group of brilliant, eclectic folks. I'm lucky that I had the opportunity to know and work with them.

    The question remains, though ... does amanfromMars derive from SAIL? ;-)

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Is this article just trollbait?

    I'd hardly call crediting yourself with your own work "arrogant".

    This is so biased as to read as a personal attack on the poor guy. What have *you* done lately that was of any use to anybody else? Just because WA hasn't heard of a minor internet hack it must be terrible?

    I have to agree with the first comment from James Hughes. The "fail" is all yours.

  12. myxiplx
    Thumb Down

    I wish that fella *was* Ted

    ... at least then I'd know he's not going to be posting drivel to El Reg for too much longer.

    John Ozimek wrote a far better article yesterday explaining exactly why Wolfram Alpha is different, and how it needs a different approach to searching. Maybe you should speak to him Ted, to learn a bit about what you writing about before you start spouting off?

  13. Erik Aamot

    wondering too

    " ...why some fucking snippet of CSS won't fucking render in fucking Internet Explorer fucking 6."

    as in comment header lines overlaying other text that should appear below it ?

    "Ted" should display Ted Nugent .. 'nuff said ...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @ James Hughes & Wolfie

    JH wrote, "Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

    Perhaps the article writer can borrow your English books, but only after you've completed your English studies! It is "an attempt" not "a attempt". Pot and kettle come to mind!

    Gave Wolfie a go with a few different searches and it was completely useless. In last week's news there was "howls" of hype about Wolfie, but this week we can see it is more bark than bite! However, to be fair, I'll revisit it from time to time to reevaluate its effectiveness.

    Paris.... she wouldn't be such a tease and fail to deliver. Take note Wolfie.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Nothing semantic about it.

    I don't get why people try to tag this as something related to the semantic web. There's nothing semantic about it: no context association, no ontology, no reasoning, no real attempt to integrate data outside of very ridged domains of "curated data".

    So, if it's not a search engine (clearly), and it's not a semantic web attempt, then it's Mathematica with some big pre-defined datasets. Great for academics - not too useful for the general public. (And is it really useful to academics? Don't they already have access to mathematica / Matlab and large datasets specific to their fields?)

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @James & 'Fail'

    Tell you what, James, why not go and have a look around the world - in particular at the popular culture in today's media and language - and you'll see that 'Fail' is now a common verb usage to indicate failure. [citation needed - oh, yes, it's all at]

    The article seemed pretty spot-on to me.

  17. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Google Outer Limits

    " is google pulling wolfram's leg with this calculator?" ..... By Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 19th May 2009 05:11 GMT


    42 Squared give a Novel Answer from Google

  18. Geoff Johnson

    Re: google squared

    Try putting 0.1 into that.

  19. john loader

    Not that good on maths either

    I tried convert 52mpg to litres per 100km.

  20. Homer

    @ google squared

    try putting 42 into google's square thingy...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A major milestone for the internet

    It doesn't matter that it doesn't understand a lot of stuff, or that it may not have a viable business model, or that it may not be reliable or scale, or that it may be used far less frequently than Google. This is a major step forward, and someone has taken it.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    Was it really that hard?

  23. Anonymous Coward


    "For someone like me (and in the web market, there are a lot of people like me), Alpha is breaking ground in a New Kind of Uselessness."

    do you also write reviews of washing machines referring to their inability to toast bread as a weakness?

  24. fluffy

    Wolfram|Alpha just wants to understand

  25. Toastan Buttar
    Thumb Up

    It's a big wide web out there.

    Surely there's enough space for Google, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and yes, even 4chan to co-exist ! Amirite ?

  26. SuperTim
    Thumb Down

    Internet Community 1 - Stephen Wolfram 0

    Conversation in Wolfram HQ

    "Welcome to Wolfram HQ, We have a treat in store for you today, you can try our new search engine. It's called Wolfram Alpha."

    "OK, i want to know if Americans eat rabbit. My Wife is American and she eats rabbit"

    "No problem my young man, COMPUTER! Do Americans eat rabbit?"

    "Bzz Bzz Whhrrrrr.......Click......Americans simply do not eat rabbits"

    "There you go young man, your wife doesn't at all eat rabbit."

    "But I have cooked it myself, and she has eaten it"

    "Has She? Has She Really? I think you need to check your facts young man"

    "F*£& off you speccy tw*t."

  27. Chris Thomas

    Evaluation was probably all wrong

    I maybe got this all wrong, or all right. But I think the evaulation was probably all wrong. You have to take the way we link information together in order to create what we call intelligence.

    Your intelligence is mostly built upon experience of actual events, connections between related or unrelated data in order to create an approximation of the answer. Absolutely, in the case of mathematics and relatively, in the case of catching a ball.

    The problem with search engines and this will always be the case, is they are trying a top down approach. To just create an algorithm which approximates a complex action and display the results, so we build the computer to recognise the words we understand and give them meaning without the computer knowing why, then just tell it to return certain results when we accept certain input.

    This is a critical problem, because the computer will never truely understand what it is trying to acheive. So I believe what you might be seeing here, is not an attempt to create a google killer, but an attempt to model how to link information together at the most basic level, it's very primative, remember, because the top down approach gives you results like a fully grown adult *MIGHT* W|Alpha seems to be giving you answers you'd expect from a very basic intelligence.

    This might be the first steps at trying a bottom up approach, where you are not so interested AT THIS STAGE, in giving correct results, but building the model upon which to rebuild the system a stage higher on the intelligence scale.

    If this is true, then it's premature to judge the engine based on it's current level of intelligence (I use the term lightly) but might be better to see it as a primative experiment in driving the next level, if and once they start to get results from data associated together and they can obviously view the results and see whether the behaviour is correct or not, then we can start to see where they might go.

    However, the idea might be not to produce something that gives the correct results, remember, humans might actually know the correct result by performing an inverse search for the correct result, using the incorrect data. We know how NOT to catch a ball, surely there are 1 million ways to NOT catch it, therefore it limits down how to ACTUALLY catch it. we know that throwing our leg into the air, will not result in a catched ball. So perhaps teaching the computer to recognise a WRONG answer, is more useful than teaching one to catch a CORRECT answer.

    Just a few thoughts. Maybe we are looking at it in the wrong way, perhaps the idea is not to build a google clone, but to experiment and get free testing from the public about their ideas and how to create the next level.

    could be??

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Knowledge Engine

    Not really a search engine.. (or an encyclopedia either)

    Dont use it to define stuff use it to get results/data.

    Yes it lacks sources... to work well it needs a million times more, but the engine is quiet clever, I think when its Data Sources are improved all of your issues will evaporate.

    Just try asking it for decline of sparrows vs. decline of haddock! Fail. because of no Data not because it doesn't work.

    The problem I forsee is that a thousand times more datasources probably equals a Lot more standardisation work..

  29. Steve

    You can still have fun with it


    life, the universe, and everything

    and it indeed comes up with the answer "42"

    Stock symbols come back with all sorts of impressive-looking numbers and graphs, which I'm sure are very meaningful to people who, well, know what they mean.

  30. Critical
    Thumb Down


    Okay, so you wanted to write a sneering article - fine, that's obviously your genre. However, I'm not quite sure how/why you make the leap from a few biographical pieces of information about a writer being the same on both WA and Wikipedia to there having been uncredited copying.

    Did you expect WA to show the guy dying on a different day, after having worked as a goat farmer in Latvia for the last six years of his life?

    Beggars belief!

  31. Oliver Mayes

    Doesn't work for me

    I wasn't able to find anything that it did understand other than simple dates or names, but it still scores over Cuil by not serving me actual Nazi propaganda if I search for Pingu.

  32. jon fisher

    enough of the 4chan memes

    This is the reg isn't it?

  33. Eponymous Cowherd

    Crash and Burn

    Every time I try Wolfram Alpha with Firefox it crashes (Firefox, that is). Enter query, hit the "=" button, hourglass.............................................................

    All you can do then is hit the close [X].

    Several others reporting the same problem.

    FF 3.0.10 with Adblock Plus and NoScript.

  34. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Up


    Now, before the usual crowd wade in criticising Ted's use of profanity, I'd just like to say that in this usage: ".....why some fucking snippet of CSS won't fucking render in fucking Internet Explorer fucking 6.", it's entirely justified.

  35. Alasdair S


    I entered "meaning of life" and WA got the right answer faster than Deep Thought so I was impressed ;-)

    @amanfromMars - I got the impression it was Wolfram himself the author didn't like and this coloured his article.

    @James Hughes - Use of the word fail instead of failure always leads me to anticipate a snide diatribe. Obviously not the case here. Obviously.

  36. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Not that good with stocks either

    Or maybe it is.........

    tried to find out what it knew about Phorm (ptah!) but it insisted that I was trying to find out about Pharm, even when I put in the stock code for Phorm (ptui!) PHRM.L

    So definityly Fail(ure)

    Or even Phail(ure)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    At least it's got a sense of humour...

    Ask it:

    What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

  38. Matt W
    Thumb Down

    Not for the consumer

    It can tell me how far it is London to Sydney, but when you try "Cheapest fare London to Sydney" the result is "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input".

    I can see that mathematicians and some engineers may have a use for this, but the great steaming unwashed (such as myself) - No.

    Per James Hughes's comment, I can't see that the audience is big enough to make money.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re:google squared

    Thanks AC. First thing I entered was 42...

  40. Anonymous Coward

    @James Hughes

    You appear to have failed at Interwebtubes memes.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    what did you expect?

    after all, this isn't even the beta release of "wolfram" ... and in any case you really need to wait for the release candidate before you know it its any good

  42. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    After all the weekend hype about how Wolfram Alpha is the best thing since sliced-bread and will revolutionise the search arena I'm glad it's not just me who found it to be a crock of shit.

    I disagree with "a new kind of Fail"; no, it's fail I've seen many times before. Over-hyped and failing to deliver on expectations.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So the tech is a bit buggy, the dataset is limited and some of the logic is flawed but it's still early days.. I would imagine that with all the queries that have been sent to it in the last 24 hours the engineers have got a mountain of test data with which to build a big better system.

    It may fail but it just might work and eventually produce a tool worthy of a " I take that back" article.

  44. Dan

    google squared is rubbish too

    It can't even square i.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Like asking a Chess genius to service a car

    A programmer is not a Scientist, no idea why you thought a mathematical based website would be able to help you with programming, swing and a miss!

    Just looked at your other reg articles Ted, an awful lot of Fail and you titles, very critical of other peoples work aren't we, but I couldn't find any of yours. A google of you reveals "Ted Dziuba is a well-known blogger, mainly famous for his incredibly harsh blog" hmmm, be giving your "articles" a miss in future.

  46. Liam Pennington

    Fail, you are.

    I tried playing around with this yesterday, but felt so close to breaking something I had to leave the room.

    Put in "Preston", and yes, lots of info. Put in "Preston, MP" and you get nothing. Try my date of birth, and there comes half a page of info I could get from Wikipedia. Try the last UK general election, and again, the political confused the mathematical mind.

    Like a calculator, the programme only seems to work when users input what it expects to be input. But web searches are not so ordered and predictable.

    I suggest Wolfram Alpha goes back to, well, beta....

  47. Anonymous Coward

    Can someone explain why....

    you guys from the US including the author get grumpy when something may be a challenge to the great god that is google (G^3 for short).

    Come on, the US has things to be proud of other than google. Things like worst country leader ever (BushJr), Highest number of couontry leaders who can not keep it in their pants, etc

    And we must not forget moon landings, shuttle, etc

  48. Anonymous Coward

    @James Hughes


    "Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

    Fail. ;)

  49. Gary F

    I don't get it

    Maybe I'm too stupid to be appreciating Wolfram|Alpha, but its data sets are very limited if it's not population you're looking for. Even if you did want UK population data it doesn't have any figures more recent than 2004. The ONS published mid 2007 data for the entire UK a year ago so it's bizare that WA isn't using this more up to date data.

    I'm a programmer and I often need to use statistics (pop, geo, etc) on projects but have not found WA of any use whatsoever. It's a curiosity at best. Google is far better at finding statistics IMHO.

    But WA is an alpha so I think we should reserve final judgement until there's a final release. (Assuming they're not hoping to top Google and run with "Alpha" for a couple of years!

  50. Frank Bough
    Dead Vulture


    fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail fail

    see, I'm as witty as Ted now!

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Try Their search beta (which you have to sign in to use) has been around longer and is far better than wolfram alpha.

  52. Mr Larrington

    The wireless

    It was on the Today programme yesterday. The Learned Presenter asked it to compare and contrast the decline in the UK's sparrow population with the decline of haddock stocks in the North Sea.

    It couldn't.

    It's no use to me, then.

  53. David

    Well at least...

    ...typing Wolfram Alpha into Wolfram Alpha doesn't break the internet.

  54. Keith T
    Thumb Down

    Would you expect your Word Processor to be a Search Engine?

    Ignore the media reports and just read Wolfram Alpha's FAQ.

    It clearly states it is not a search engine.

    Don't expect it to work like a search engine. Don't expect it to search the web.

    Wolfram Alpha does mathematics, and it has a big database of constants and measurements. It uses those to do mathematics, calculations and graphs.

    It is like a computerized CRC Tables (the reference book we used as engineering students with tables of formulae and charts of constants).

    But the author is correct, Wolfram Alpha will only be of use to scientists, engineers, and university students.

    It is not the new Google, and the hype surrounding it was stupid.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    YOu lot all know...

    that its not a search engine right? in fact i don't see anywhere on teh page that says its a search engine. the media called it a search engine, not the guy who made it !

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Uh ... I was at SAIL when the Internet was being born. "

    Christ-sake, here he goes again

  57. Gav
    Thumb Down


    I don't follow. Reviewer enters search using search engine's name. Search engine entirely accurately returns information on itself, focused on only notable achievement so far; its launch. Reviewer criticizes search engine for self referential egoism.

    Reviewer's first search; entering own name.

    My conclusion; reviewer is idiot.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Now, if only?

    If only the reviewer had used MS Expression 3.3 (formerly Creature House Expression 3.3) available for free then the following would be doable (on Mac or PC)


  59. slack
    Paris Hilton

    Wolfram Alpha rocks

    Oh c,mon Ted! How many other tools can tell you the calorie content of a cubic light year of ice cream? You can even filter by flavour!

    (the answer is 1.36x10^54 btw, or 67 901 185 568 580 310 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000.0 % recommended daily amount. You are welcome)

    /Paris, because shaddup

  60. This post has been deleted by its author

  61. DZ-Jay


    My Encyclopaedia Britannica also states that Edward Elmer Smith was born in May 2, 1890; and died on August 31, 1965!

    It also includes many of the other known facts regarding his life! OMG!!! Encyclopaedia Britannica clearly plagiarized Wikipaedia!!!


  62. Filippo Silver badge


    WA feels like a bunch of specialized search engines thrown together. It can only find/calculate data that the authors specifically coded it to find/calculate. One of the examples is "flow around a cylinder": lo and behold, it gets you the math for air flow around a cylinder, and it's parameterized so you can enter different numbers and get the results. See them on a chart, too. However, if you search for "flow around a [anything but a cylinder]", the search fails.

    I get it, the engine is incomplete. But is it feasible to make an engine that can actually have a hope of answering an arbitrary question? I've spent an hour or so coming up with useful questions, and all I got was "don't know what to do with your input" over and over again. Yeah, the plotter is nice, but anyone who actually needs to plot mathemathical functions even after college already has software that does it.

  63. Jon Green
    Thumb Down

    Some quality journalism.


    "I've a great idea for an article. Do a few random searches, most that miss the point of the Wolfram service, then misinterpret the results, and write an article full of personal attacks on the firm's leader."

    I've seen better journalism in comics.

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Misses the point

    All the data seems to be in flat-file format. It lacks the relational database that would give the product distinctive value by enabling powerful and specific searches. There a very obvious ‘Entities’ but very little in the way of entity-to-entity relations, for example if there were entities like ‘Animal’ and ‘Region’ then there should be a many-to-many relation to show that an animal can be native to many regions and a region can host many animals. WA does have some of this kind of structure but far far too little - which is ironic because it is exactly this kind data structure that would give the product distinctive value and differentiate it. Someone somewhere wants to know which countries in western Africa have nut-eating tree-dwelling herbivores, or on how old was Marlon Brando on the date of the moon landing, or which chemotherapy agents are soluble in water, or which composers were alive on 1st Jan 1800. It currently takes multiple searches for each of these, but so it would with Google! A relational database would give WA power and distinctive value.

    It also lacks the formal syntax rules that would enable the above, including rules for nested searches which would add a new dimension to the product’s abilities. There is a lot useless ‘Q&A’stuff that would be best left to Google. Searches on ‘fastest land animal’ and ‘meaning of life’ produce cleverly contrived results but they are a waste of time for WA.

  65. Anonymous Coward

    The irony

    I used Google to find the Wolfram Alpha site..

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It can't square j either

    So no good to scientists or engineers

  67. david

    US Centric Geography

    Clacton = Clacton on sea

    Romford = Rumford Maine

    Dagenham = Davenham stock quotes

    Kingston-upon-Thames - don't know

  68. Eddie Edwards
    Dead Vulture

    Good God almighty

    Where do I start?

    Firstly, Wolfram wrote Mathematica. From scratch. Carmack wrote the DOOM engine based on a SIGGRAPH paper. Which one is a "genius" again?

    Secondly, square roots - integer operations are not faster than floating-point operations, there is no such integer technique (Newton's method works with reals), and none of this has anything to do with Carmack.

    Thirdly, having data which agrees with Wikipedia is not *quite* the same as plagiarism. Generally people get brought up for copying passages out of it verbatim, not for using it for research into dates and places, which is kind of its intended purpose.

    Finally, you want to use Google to search for web programming tips therefore Wolfram Alpha is fuck all use? Really? Well fuck me sideways. Stop the servers! They need to recode this so that monkeys can find a use for it.

    Whose idea was it to get a guy who's not fit to comment on a darts match writing articles about tech in the style of Axel Foley anyway?

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    This article is full of fail

    Nuff said.

  70. Kev K
    Thumb Up

    I love this column

    Always makes me smile even if I dont always agree with Ted

    More of this please :D

  71. The Gritter

    mismatch error

    Yes Ted, we get it - a fish doesn't know what to do with a bicycle. Perhaps someone with legs would have given a more balanced review.

    We need people to take risks to progress technology. Even if they fail, it has served progress.

  72. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Crash and Burn

    Me too...

    Before trying this I thought I'd give it a few days for the hype to die down and avoid bottlenecks but the suggestion of searching for ones own name got the better of me. I knew I wasn't going to find the real me, even though I don't have that common a name there are some impostors on facebook and bebo and a namesake who is a photographer in Otley, so I doubt it could be due to overloading their search engine with too much data to sift through.

    Given that this is more likely to appeal to geeks I would have thought they would have made an effort to make it compatible with the less mainstream browsers.

  73. DaveT

    Is there any formal documentation on the query syntax?

    For a product with a pipe in the name, it certainly seems difficult to feed data from one query directly into another - and I'd have thought this was the entire point of this application.

    For example, it can tell me the current value of gold per oz in several currencies (inlcuding Sterling). And it can tell me the number of ounces in a metric tonne. How then do I put both these steps into one query so I can get the price of gold in Sterling per metric tonne? Everything I've tried results in the now standard "We don't know what to do with your input" response. And the FAQs simple tell me that I'm probably asking it in the wrong way and the best thing to do is ask the community for help, when really some documentation on how to structure a query would be better.

  74. Colin MacLean

    Google squared

    After looking at the source, typing 'times', 'be there' or 'alpha' has amusing(ish) results...

  75. Ian

    For what it's worth Ted...

    ... it's fuck all use to me as a mathematician either.

    Whilst it does a lot of stuff Mathematica, Maple and Mathcad has always done it doesn't really seem to bring anything new to the table.

    I tried searching for things like "How many non-isomorphic trees are there with 6 vertices" and it just didn't even stand a chance. I tried some other questions it's supposedly designed to be able to answer such as "How many species of giraffe are there", it answered but basically just spammed me information about giraffes and hoped I'd be able to pull the answer from it. Even asking it the melting point of steel chucked up errors and gave me a figure for a single specific composition of steel.

    I compared everything I tried to Google and Google gave me answers every time, where Wolfram gave me answers, Google's were better and Google's answers were all within the first page, usually the very first search result.

    Wolfram Alpha truly is completely and utterly useless to arguably any profession apart form for handling explicit mathematical functions which again, are already better served by specific software.

    Some people have been asking it subjective questions which it explicitly states it can't answer and that's fair enough - you can't fault it for failing something it's known not to work for but try some non-subjective questions:

    "On what date was Adolf Hitler born?" FAIL.

    "What year are the next US presidential elections in" FAIL

    "How many species of Melocactus are there?" FAIL

    "On what date did the Falklands war commence?" FAIL

    It's meant to make knowledge computable but it doesn't, I can't possibly garner any useful information from it when it just fails. Information on Google may well be harder to parse, but at least it's there to parse, and hence computable, where data from Wolfram simply isn't computable because it can't provide it in any form, let alone a computable form.

  76. John Sanders


    I tried:





  77. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I like ted, and he's got a point

    What is WA for? There is a need for a Google2, particularly one that can distinguish between facts and rubbish. It's a sod to get two sets of data, format them to do some kind of comparison and then wing them up onscreen in some understandable format that gives you what you (or your boss) needs to see in a manner that clarifies an issue. Google might be great at tracking down a single snippet of data in all the barg that is the internet, but, I want a tool that gives me insight, not information. WA sounds great.

    So, I would have thought that WA would have excelled at the first thing I threw at it: "Interest rates in the uk vs general elections". I was hoping for an xy graph that showed time with general elections marked on the x axis and the BoE interest rate on the y. Surely that's a sitter for WA?

    It didn't know what I wanted. I tried variations on the syntax. Still no dice. I tried wolfing* the US data (noticing the US-centric note on the page). Nada.

    In the end I typed in "Interest rate" (or "general election", I can't remember) just to get the data so I'd draw the f*cking graph myself and it still gave me f*ckbuggernothing.

    Now I may be using it wrong, or I may be looking for non-loaded data, but the feedback I got from the engine didn't help me at all. I'm used to google, goddammit, and so is everybody else, so I think it's a WA problem, not mine.

    That is a fail, in my opinion, and Ted, I still salute you.

    *I'm copyrighting this now.

  78. Scott

    I asked first!

    Allowed that during final touch-up a "select" few might advance a question, I pondered what answer might prove to be most useful to myself and humanity. The question? Will I be the Village Idiot? The answer has not been forth coming, I suspected it brought the system down until I started getting emails detailing where to blog on about "it's" wonders. Oh well, it's off to the interview.

  79. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input

    It's a novel toy but not much more

    Way too many queries come back with "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input"

    If you're scottish try this

    (population of scotland divided by population of uk) multiplied by 100

    Then try the same for england vs uk

    (population of england divided by population of uk) multiplied by 100

    If you damage anything punching your PC then don't blame me!

    Paris, cause even she does better than scotland

    how old is paris hilton

  80. James Hughes


    But I am pretty sure my use of 'a' instead of 'an' was a typographical mistake, rather than a grammatical failure, although the end result is, of course, incorrect, as so many of you have pointed out. Thank you for your kind attention.

    Oh, and sorry about starting a sentence with 'But' in the previous line.

    I'm just so, so sorry.

    However, I most certainly am not sorry about the comment on the use of the word 'fail' - it may be in common usage around the 'web, but it still annoys me. Paedophiles (allegedly) are common on the web, it doesn't mean that they are a good thing.

  81. Anonymous Coward

    Serious question (haven't tried it on WA...)

    Is there a "twit filter" on El Reg - the sort of thing where I can nominate specified writers for the bit-bucket, and never have to see their drivel again?

  82. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Re: google squared is rubbish too

    "It can't even square i."

    Or 'j' (I checked, having used both i and j for sqrt(-1) in the past)

    Pity - I was quite looking forward to an afternoon of squaring ludicrous complex expressions. Marginally less painful than building DNS servers.

    Did anyone notice that Google Squared isn't flagged as beta? Shurely shome mishtake.

  83. David Hicks
    Thumb Down

    Can't get the bugger to draw me a fractal

    It doesn't seem to like whatever notation I throw at it, I can't get a mandelbrot or julia set, it just reformats the function.

    I suppose it's a touch processor intensive, but still...

  84. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


  85. John Smith Gold badge

    Ted -> EE Smith ? WTF

    This being a web application not even Theodore "ted" Nelson (the guy who coined the term hypertext). Doc Smith. I enjoyed the Lensmen a lot, but I never thought of EE Smith as "Ted".

    If you're talking semantic understanding this thing has a *long* way to go. Perhaps study of a another US AI project called "open mind," which get people to explain "common sense" ideas to a system might be worthwhile. But that's available under a GPL. Perhaps it handles complex queries in near natural language better and it likes sentences. A richer context allows it to narrow its focus and deliver a more useful answer.

    Does this thing learn so *it* gets better over time, rather than be updated by humans? If that were the case then the least impressive early results would quickly be outgrown as it bootstrapped itself upward. Some of the previous comments suggest that something is happening. If not, well it's not too impressive and likely not to get much better.

    On a personal note and its just my opinion but listing Wolfram as sole creator is at least a little unfair. Project Leader. Yes. Chief Architect, maybe. Sole implementor (given its built on Mathmatica which is hardly a one man band). I think not.

  86. Anonymous Coward

    Google Squared



    be there



  87. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @David Hicks

    Even paris could manage that!

  88. Hedley Phillips

    Enjoyed the article

    Thought it was funny.

  89. Chris Hunt
    Thumb Down

    Pretty Poor, El Reg.

    Look, just because Wolfram Alpha looks a bit like a search engine doesn't mean it actually IS one. Just read the FAQs: "Is Wolfram|Alpha a search engine? No." So comparing it to Google and finding it wanting is a pretty pointless exercise.

    I heard Wolfram interviewed on the radio yesterday and he was pretty clear that it wasn't intended to be a "Google killer", but a different kind of app for a different audience. It didn't seem to register much with the interviewer though. El Reg is supposed to be a specialist publication - you should be able to understand this concept.

    Still, in the spirit of this article, I've done a few test of my own on the usability of Wolfram|Alpha...

    How does it compare with my washing machine? EPIC FAIL! I've had my dirty clothes piled on a screenshot of WA for ages and they aren't even wet yet. C'mon Wolfram, get your finger out!

    Is that the kind of review you're looking for in El Reg these days?

  90. Anonymous Coward

    @Can't get the bugger to draw me a fractal

    Maybe its too complex.

  91. The Fuzzy Wotnot
    Thumb Down

    The hype is the real "fail"!

    It's not so much the product that's the problem, but the wild claims being made on it's behalf. As usual, a new idea comes along and those with very little idea, blow it out of all proportion by using phrases like "best thing since sliced bread" and "revolutionise" ( Yes with an S not a Z! ), next thing people expect the earth and get something a little more plain that simply cannot live up to the hype!

  92. Steven Jones

    What's going on

    What's this - a Register article mentioning Wikipedia other than just as a way of sneering at it. Whatever is going on?

  93. DZ-Jay

    Re: Is there any formal documentation on the query syntax?

    Did you try the query in the same way as you just wrote on your comment? It worked for me:

    "price of gold in Sterling per metric tonne":


  94. Richard

    Is this potty-mouth diatribe necessary?

    I'm not a prude, honestly I'm not, but come on Reg, this isn't necessary. After all, some geeky youngsters could well be amongst your readers and don't need this in a story (in a comment would be another matter).

  95. William Towle


    (Theodore) Logan, surely ... dude!

  96. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Parallel Trails..... with Python Tales for XSSFXXXX ..... and a Peculiarly British Eccentricity *.

    "The question remains, though ... does amanfromMars derive from SAIL? ;-)" ..... By jake Posted Tuesday 19th May 2009 05:37 GMT

    I do Believe IT is So, jake. More Robby Naish than Larry Ellison though ...... for the Personalised Immaculate Rush of Adrenaline .... with ITs QuITe Perfect EUPhoria.

    Welcome to the Semantic Web, jake. Hail Fellow, Well Met.

    " try putting 42 into google's square thingy..." .... By Homer Posted Tuesday 19th May 2009 06:57 GMT


    Is anyone putting 42 into a Search Engine in Receipt and Need of Therapy? :-)

    To Consider that it was a Deliberately Conscious Decision is QuITE Beautifully Confusing/Worrying** ....... and Inevitably Enlightening.

    *the Care and Maintenance of a Creative Madness in Obscure Genius.

    ** for our BiMultiPolar Readers/Wwwide Thinkers.

  97. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Another fail

    Try searching for integral ( 1/x)

    Took it 5 minutes to come back with nothing!

  98. Chris Lovell

    Hates the UK, apparently

    No matter what I try, I can't get any information on Yardley in Birmingham. Instead I've been given various statistics, directions, distances and graphics to do with a tiny community in Pennsylvania.

    Nice relevant info there then.

  99. Peyton


    To paraphrase: "It's not a search engine - leave WA alone."

    Directly from "Making the world's knowledge computable"

    Yes, so instead of a "search engine" it prefers to be called a "computational knowledge engine" - translated that's "whatever results you get, well then, that's what it does!" That alone is enough to warrant a bad review - though I think much of the point is missed, with some of the criticism directed at the hype rather than the product... And along those lines: Yes, when it says *people* involved and only has one name - that qualifies egocentric. Unless you're suggesting he coded the entire site, its backend, etc., etc., himself...

    I'm not even going to ask what rock the "Oh my I take umbrage at Ted's style" brigade crawled out from under today.

  100. barry

    Ted missed the point again!

    Amazing, absolutely astonishing, and i cant believe it!

    Yet again Ted "/b/ humour diluted to be SFW" Fail , misses the entire point of the subject he is tackling.

    Honestly, this guy is an idiot, with no sense of the bigger picture.

    "Oh its got a search box therefore its google".

    El Reg, stop polluting knowledgespace with his half-baked, uninformed written take on meme's that are so old everyone except you moved on.

    You seem to want to be Yahtzee for tech , there are a few issues with that:

    1: yahtzee has an informed opinion

    2: yahtzee knows his audience

    3: yahtzee is funny

    Oh, and he never resorts to personal namecalling. Do you understand that?

    He has suffuicient wit to make the mundane funny without personal attacks, i.e he has wit at all.

    Ted, you really need to look in the mirror, replace Wolfram with Ted in the above article and see what i mean.

  101. David Hicks
    Thumb Up

    @Anonymouos Coward

    Yeah, but try searching for mandelbrot set or julia set, or even try putting in the functional definitions. I even tried a mandelbrot formula I found on another wolfram site.

    A friend worked it out though -

    Not 100% intuitive I s'pose.

    In general I like the idea of this though. Anything that makes maths more accessible can only be a good thing.

  102. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    A title is required.

    Looking at the comments above about failed searches, it seems plenty of them are working now. Obviously it started off with little data to work with, but it's constantly expanding. UK geography isn't really up to scratch, but otherwise it looks promising for its intended purpose.

  103. Anonymous Coward

    @David Hicks

    I just searched for "fractal" and I got several options, one of which was this:

  104. FlatSpot
    Paris Hilton


    I reckon its pretty good actually, I found out that a favourite obsession for el reg has a middle name of Whitney.... though no prizes for guessing who :)

  105. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Ever since Ms.Bee used meme a short while ago everyone's using it and I doubt it can be coincidence. If El Reg is going to have an internet word of the year like you have done at least once before then I submit meme already and Ms.Bee as the most influential web persona.

  106. nicholas22


    I just find it funny that all these peoples' whose "time has been wasted with this article" and wanna "filter by author" actually find enough time to login and comment...

  107. Stephen Greenham


    The coolest thing I found it could do is calculate the mass of 1mol of herion in KG and then say how large a size cube that amount of heroin would be....

    I laughed...

  108. Guido Brunetti
    Paris Hilton

    "Ted" and "square root"

    Both items actually yield very impressive results! You just have to help WA a little bit with the context. Fortunately it makes it very easy to do so.

    1. Enter "Ted" and search.

    2. Click on "Use as a given name" instead.

    3. Be impressed

    4. Enter "square root" and search

    5. Click on "Use as referring to math instead".

    Paris, because even she would have noticed the quite obvious links.

  109. Mithvetr

    Nice balanced review, there...

    So let me get this right, Ted. A brand-new, specialised search facility is 'fail' because:

    a) it isn't very well-established and doesn't yet have an enormous dataset like Google does;

    b) it doesn't enable you to search for the latest goss on ur fave celeb innit like what Google does;

    c) it doesn't take a *three-letter input* (FFS) and return reams of data about Ted Dziuba;

    d) it doesn't serve as the universal, generic search engine that Google is?

    You're like the people who complained about McDonald's not selling salads. They missed the point in the same way you did. McDonald's don't force you into their restaurants to gorge on flab-patties and suck down litres of brightly-coloured fizzy chemicals. The choices are available, and it's your responsibility to make them.

    What you're doing in this article is basically sitting in a McDonald's restaurant stuffing yourself with Chicken McNuggets and Big Macs and complaining that you're not eating asparagus.

    I don't know who first started marketing WA as a 'Google killer', but as far as I can tell that's never what it was supposed to be. Google and WA are two different things.

    If you want an all-encompassing, omnipresent, pervasive, all-your-details-are-belong-to-us search engine you go to Google. If you want a more task-specific engine designed for a particular kind of enquiry then Wolfram Alpha might (not 'will': 'might') serve you pretty well. And if you have trouble deciding which you need, then Wolfram Alpha very obligingly includes a facility to run your search term through any of three popular search engines.

    Seriously, I can't see myself using WA every day, or even very often. It'll be of limited use to me, but I can already see that it will be of *some* use. Its capabilities will, I'm sure, improve as time goes on. Yes, it has glitches and oddities: I don't claim to know any more than anyone else why it picks that particular guy as the 'Ted' we're interested in - but click on 'as a given name' and you find a lot of information about the name 'Ted'; and that's the sort of thing it's obviously supposed to do. It's obvious that you have a personal issue with this Wolfram guy. And your comment about the average user and 140 characters suggests a fairly hefty case of inverse snobbery.

    Whether WA ultimately succeeds or fails it is an interesting innovation, and even if it dies a death as a standalone service a year down the line, I've no doubt that Google might like to assimilate what's left. You know, just to add that technological distinctiveness to its own.

    Honestly, I've got no axe to grind here, Ted. I don't know this Wolfram chap and I don't know you. But until you can get a grip on your personal feelings and show some professionalism then your assessments will be compromised.

    You said:

    "It's times like this where the internet's abundant anti-intellectualism actually does some good for the world. Cutting down Wolfram-sized ego is worth a thousand 4chans."

    No, it really isn't. We all know that no single information source should be relied upon, but in general anything that improves people's access to knowledge is a good thing. Denouncing it for the sake of your own personal dislike of one man is cutting off *everyone's* noses to spite *your* face.

  110. Chris Malme

    @AC "Google Squared"

    "is google pulling wolfram's leg with this calculator?"

    I hope it is a joke, as it definitely isn't a calculator. Try using it to square "123456789" - it gives a result 1 less than it should.

  111. fajensen

    Where's me Skynet??

    I was kinda hoping that Wolfram, being monied and the right kind of crazy, would succeed in building a strong AI, which would, working as designed, hack the military and nuke the shit out of everyone so I did not have to turn up for work on Monday.

    Damn - foiled again.

  112. QwertyManiac
    Thumb Down

    All sources are credited. Wiki too.

    I can't believe you missed it Ted, just at the bottom of the page is a link titled "Source information" that gives credits to each of the sources Wolfram|Alpha has borrowed from. In there, the Wikimedia Foundation's Wikipedia is clearly credited. So are the other books, etc.

  113. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Knowledge based computing

    The clue is in the name. This is not a static search engine, this is a search site you use to calculate answers or ask questions.

    Google is your string match type search engine. Wolfram is your scientific knowledge base.

  114. Gareth Gouldstone


    That should have been 'articles' . Oops!

  115. Gareth Gouldstone


    Fail, used instead of 'failure', is at least as disgusting as 'lappy' and 'mobe' and should be banned from all further article. Please!

  116. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From your previous article on here

    "the non-specialist press just love to tear apart new technologies the moment they fail to live up to claims they never made in the first place."


  117. Matthew Anderson


    Yes, you journalists hyped it up and when it did not meet your high expectations, brought it down again with a thump. Fairly typical stuff really.

    However I think you are rather missing the point. It has only been given certain datasets and has the capability of having unlimited datasets loaded. It is also very much in testing and is currently only open to gather data on how people want to use it so it can be further refined.

    If the future, and yes it is a model to be worked upon, it may be fed with datasets surrounding your chosen topic, fucking CSS and IE, Apache, PHP etc. Then I am sure you will be chomping at the bit to get your hands on computed solutions to your problems.

    Anyway - what the future holds is not here just yet but broaden your mind a bit lad.

  118. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Narrower and less accurate than Wikipedia

    I entered my home town, and a place where I used to work.

    It didn't understand (but Wikipedia has extensive articles

    on both places).

    So I had a look at the suggested examples. It suggested "Universities"

    as an example, so I tried "De Montfort University".

    It came up with some interesting statistics such as "year founded:

    1896", "Enrollment: 23,000", and "Tuition $3000 per year".

    But DMU was actually founded in 1969 (as Leicester Polytechnic),

    which became De Montfort University in 1992. Prior to 1969 there

    was a School of Art, dating back to 1870. The year 1896 does not

    appear to be a significant one in DMU's history (there is no mention

    of it on the DMU web site).

    What about the 23,000 enrollment? Well, the actual figure for 2006/7

    is 21,210 according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Finally, tuition fees are actually £3145 per year (which is about

    $4860 at current exchange rates).

    So, Wolfram|Alpha currently appears to have a narrower scope than

    Wikipedia and the information it does present appears to be of highly

    dubious accuracy. Unlike Wikipedia, which often gives links to the

    original sources, there are no links to the sources of the "information"

    presented by Wolfram|Alpha, so it is impossible to check the accuracy,

    apart from searching on other web sites.

    Google and, to a lesser extent, Wikipedia are "first port

    of call" because they provide links to primary (or at least,

    closer to primary) sources. Providing inaccurate information without

    an easy way to check it makes Wolfram|Alpha not just useless,

    but worse than useless.

  119. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well it is not an AI

    it is just a science and then really just maths, knowledge base.

    It will grow overtime I assume, but nothing really that great or earth shattering. And it is not even done that well for its primary purpose.

    Shame, had higher hopes, feel a little dashed, but as Wolfram Alpha would say in response to this (and many other statements and questions),

    this sentence is false

    Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

  120. Pierre

    Hey look!

    This website does stuff I can do on my computer, only not as well and not the way I want it done!

    Probably mildly useful to students who do not need or want a full-fledged... anything, but that's it. Now there is the "price of a squre light year of gold in Zimbabwean dollars" type of question, where W|A may be useful, but for anything serious you'd have to check the source data anyway so hardly a timesaver in real-world situations. A new toy for basement-dwelling bloggers who wish to appear as more educated than they are...

  121. Maverick


    > I reckon its pretty good actually

    > I found out that a favourite obsession for el reg has a middle name of Whitney.

    erm, no it isn't

    his middle name is Ray :)

  122. Vincent Ballard
    Thumb Down

    Euro sterling exchange

    I tried "euro sterling exchange rate", which I thought was reasonable. It didn't know what to do with that, but offered "euro sterling exchange" as a possibility. I thought it sounded plausible.

    Can anyone explain what the "input interpretation" it gives to "euro sterling exchange" means, let alone how it comes out as $1.859 trillion per year (US dollars)?

  123. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    soooooo many people missing the point of the site, what its trying to do , and missing the fact that its basically stage 1 of many many stages

  124. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It's an early version.

    Piss off Ted - or write a useful review. So who the hell cares about your ideas of "most users' first interactions". Did you really think that the site was meant for telling the world about your CV etc etc.

    Note to El Reg editors - please get more relevant or at least funny contributors.

    Paris - because at least she knows what she's about.

  125. Jake McGraw
    Thumb Down

    Fail and Miloooo

    There is no Walmart in Manhattan

  126. DZ-Jay

    Re: Narrower and less accurate than Wikipedia

    Check at the bottom of the results, there is a that says "Source Information" with a list of all sources. Some of them are hyperlinks to web pages, others are just bibliographic references.


  127. Anonymous Coward

    Fail and James Hughes

    >"You stop using the contraction 'fail' and I'll consider fully reading your article.

    > The word is 'failure'."

    That's a different word. Failure is a noun, fail is a verb, and in the context here the verb form is being nouned, on purpose, to distinguish it from failure in general, and refer specifically to internet- or web-related failing. It's a fairly recent usage, newly common in the past decade or thereabouts, so it may have passed you by if you don't keep up - or perhaps you're labouring under the delusion that the usage of langauge is somehow governed by eternal law and may never change?

    >" Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

    Instead of deriding a somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammer. Start with a dictionary. Open it at "neologism", and carry on from there.

  128. John Stirling

    @James Hughes

    Unfortunately whilst the gleeful leaping upon of a minor grammatical problem is not something to be congratulated, I'm afraid the subtext is correct.

    There is no definitive stuck in time proper English language. It continually evolves, somewhat faster than previously with the web putting lots of subcultures into contact with one another, and us (because of course we aren't a subculture, we're the mainstream). If 'fail' is a widely used phrase, then it is 'proper' English, because it is widely used. You may as well rail against 'web', as after all there are almost no arachnids involved, and very little silken thread.

    You have an absolute right to object to the use of any word, but can only expect criticism unless you are in the majority, in which case you are right, and the minority is wrong. If you understand the semantic meaning approximately equivalently to the person using it then it's a good word.

    You are also, by and by, clearly well ahead of Wolfram Alpha, which seems quite clever, but semantically retarded. Either early stage development, or autistic. Here's hoping the former

  129. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So what is the first search that Ted does? You know, Ted, the guy doing his best sarcastic best to deride the ego of Wolfram? Well, he searches on his own name.

    Really, you just can't make this stuff up!

  130. RW

    My small experience

    Just out of curiosity, I Wolfram-Alphaed "elliptic functions", not realizing that WA is heavily oriented toward mathematics. What I got back was fucking useless, a lot of mathematical who-struck-John, instead of a reasoned explanation of what elliptic functions are, what they can be used for, and so on.

    The only useful stuff was links to Wikipedia.

    Myself, I've taken a liking to IxQuick, a meta-search that claims to be less snoopy than Google.

    If anyone from Google is reading, a little news: violating people's privacy on the internet is EVIL. Go invent a new business model that doesn't depend on watching every move someone makes on the net.

    Tux, because ... well just because

  131. Jonny F
    Thumb Down

    Language! Falling standards at El Reg again

    Don't like Wolfram Alpha? Then don't use it.

    Got something interesting to say, some insight on this, then say it.

    Need to use potty mouth? Put it on your blog.

    El Reg, where's the quality control?

  132. Edward Lilley
    Dead Vulture

    The Problem Is

    John Ozimek's article (link in a previous comment) clearly outlines why articles about Wolfram Alpha like your own are utterly utterly retarded. I quote:

    "For if any one thing is certain, the non-specialist press just love to tear apart new technologies the moment they fail to live up to claims they never made in the first place."

  133. Snert Lee

    The /Real/ Fail...

    is, of course, the article. One doesn't really expect a close correspondence between any given rant and it's subject matter, but the disconnect in this case is just astonishing.

    Nothing sums it up as well as the square root graphic. The square root symbol has nothing to do with "square root"? Can't see the link just to the right that says "reffering to math?"

    Apparently the desire to rant was far, far greater than the rant worthiness of Wolfram|Alpha.

  134. Jodo Kast

    The word is FAIL as in you FAILED

    When you FAIL at something, that means you did not do what you intended to do.

    I would think that the trolls complaining about the word Fail should post a blog about it, and express their outrage there.

    Instead they troll the comments section. How about talking about Alpha instead of hijacking the thread? thanks in advance!

    BTW, welcome to the Internet. You seem new. Don't start flame wars. If you don't like this website, don't come here. Send criticism about their journalism to their e-mail address. Public drama won't help your case.

  135. Anonymous Coward

    Rating for article: Epsilon minus

    Phase 1: Alpha - early version testing

    Phase 2: Beta - close to final version testing

    Phase 3 : Gold - final production version for customer release

    It's a bit premature to declare Wolfram a fail as it's only in Alpha testing.

  136. DZ-Jay

    Re: Euro sterling exchange

    It seems interpret the amount of currency exchanged by the U.S., i.e. the total amount of euros exchanged to Sterling in a given year.

    Try the following, which gives the the conversion rate you are looking for, and compares it to other currencies too:


  137. Hombre sin nombre

    RE: Euro Sterling Exchange

    It appears to have given you the US GDP for 2008. If you just enter "Euro sterling" all the exchange rate data comes up.

  138. Camilla Smythe

    Re:Narrower and less accurate than Wikipedia

    "Waffle waffle waffle




    Providing inaccurate information without an easy way to check it makes Wolfram|Alpha not just useless, but worse than useless."

    So.... that thing that you can click on at the bottom that says "Source Information" and pops up a box containing information about where the information came from is ermmmmmmm Invisible?

    Perhaps I should re-assess/downgrade my expectations regarding 'easy'. Is someone breathing for you as well?

  139. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wolfram Alpha - not Burger King

    Sorry Ted -- it's Wolfram Alpha, not Burger King. You can't have it your way. You can't just enter anything you want and then demand specific results. The fact that you are able to figure out how to enter something that it doesn't understand is irrelevant. Most will be able to figure out how to enter something that it does understand, and for which it provides good results. Yeah, right -- it is only useful to a small audience of college professors and professional engineers - oh, and, uh, high school and college students, and, uh, anyone in industry.

    I think I figured out your problem. I am pretty sure you are just mad because this "Edward Elmer Smith" guy is a more famous "Ted" than you while simultaneously having a different name.

  140. Big Bear
    Paris Hilton


    100+ comments about a search engine and no one has told me if it any use for finding smut on the internet?

    What has this world come to??????

  141. Anonymous Coward

    But seriously folks...

    Yes maybe Ted did get a little carried away with his downer on Wolfram, but this thing does have some serious limitations and I don't immediately see how they can be overcome.

    Suppose you look up the mechanical properties of steel using Wolfram|Alpha (or Beta) for example. Do you then go ahead and design a steel bridge using those numbers? Or a nuclear power station? I certainly hope not.

    For many purposes, the answer you get has to be the answer you wanted with a pretty damn negligible chance of being wrong. That requirement is made all the stronger by the fact that this engine targets scientific, technical and financial people looking for hard facts and numbers, not the general public wanting opinion, gossip or shopping (or pr0n).

    So where in your professional life can you make use of facts and numbers that appear from who-knows-where by some magic process with no way of checking if they are correct or, indeed, even match the question you intended to ask? In my view you can't. Not unless you want your pants sued off you the first time you cock up, anyway.

    I'm not an engineer, but I wouldn't mind betting there are lots of different types of steel, and to get the correct figure you'd probably want to contact the producer and/or have the steel tested. The same goes for just about anything else numerical. You wouldn't (I hope) take Wolfram|Alpha's word on the population of Manchester if you were planning public services (you'd look at proper census data, I imagine). Nor would I (personally) make a stock trade and risk a mistake using Wolfram|Alpha when I can get the information I need from a stock broker.

    There are endless examples, but the key point is that a knowledge database has to provide some measure of guarantee about its answers so you know what it's safe to use it for. Currently, the answer is "not much, really" and I can't see how that fundamental problem can be overcome if it's to have the breadth of coverage thats envisaged. There is always going to be garbage in the system and since you have no way of knowing which bits of information might affect the answer, you always have to expect that the answer might be garbage.

  142. SadProfessor

    am I being really dumb...

    ...or is the quickest way to calculate the "inverse square root" function (call it Y) of some number X, whether X is integer or float, to use this rather complicated formula: Y=X*X ???

    At least, the last time I looked, the inverse of the square root of a number was, y'know, the square of that number.

    Mine's the one with the scientific calculator in the breast pocket

  143. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is the crappiest post ever

    Well, for a "software engg." as yourself, you should have seen the "data-centric" value behind Wolfram Alpha.

  144. drag

    Judging by the contempt and derision in these comments...



    Do NOT give those bastards one inch, they'll take and it use every bit of it they can to shove you up against the wall and take away your AWSOMENESS.

  145. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What does Barbie have to do with the end of World War II?

    I was rather surprised to see that the BBC news story "Fifty Years of Barbie" ( was listed as a reference for the query "world war 2 end":

  146. Lou

    re: Euro sterling exchange

    Tut Tut Vince - Less is more. Try and think a bit, no use trolling through all the google links when you can do it quickly - see below.

    - try entering this - "euro sterling" - VOILA!

    - or if you are too slow use this link -

    - or just "euro" - and it will give it to you in your local currency and secondly in a number of other currencies WOW!!! And all I did was go minimalistic.

    Problem is - everyone expect it to be a google-look-alike. Stop been a bunch of cliktards and read the introduction!

    And once again - where does the register gets these journalist wannabee's?

  147. Roger Heathcote

    Screw you Ted...

    "Cutting down Wolfram-sized ego is worth a thousand 4chans."

    Well if that takes a superior ego then you're in with a shot Ted. For example you bill yourself as a "software engineer" yet you say you struggle getting CSS to render properly - sounds like you're more of a web designer granting himself a rather grand title than a software engineer. If you're in a position to judge why don't you point out a few of your superior achievements? Are you maybe to modest and considered?

    This is third rate hackery of the worst kind, outwardly malicious and immature this belongs in the comments section of a Youtube video, not in a supposedly professional publication.

  148. Dan

    They must be using Pentiums!

    Searching for "Distance from the Earth to the moon in meters"

    Yielded this gem:

    Comparison as distance:

    ~~ 1.001 x mean Moon-Earth distance ( 3.844x10^8 m )

    Or, in other words, the distance from the Earth to the Moon, measured in meters, is roughly a tenth of a percent larger than the distance from the Earth to the Moon...


  149. jake Silver badge

    @og; @amfM

    og scrive: "Christ-sake, here he goes again"

    Issues, og? Spit 'em out. They don't belong to you.

    amfM sez: "I do Believe IT is So, jake. More Robby Naish than Larry Ellison though ...... for the Personalised Immaculate Rush of Adrenaline .... with ITs QuITe Perfect EUPhoria."

    Touche ... But I gotta ask, where would a Martian learn to sail? And does the fact that I learned to sail while at SAIL mean anything? (They say that if you can sail on SF Bay, you can sail anywhere ... I spent a LOT of time under the eye of the SaltPile & HMB-1).

    "Welcome to the Semantic Web, jake. Hail Fellow, Well Met."

    Semantics[1] ... it's always about semantics when communicating. Or making an attempt. Be well, amfM ... you're probably a better entity than I am :-)

    [1] Note to og: That's "semantics", not "Symantec's" ... two completely different thingies.

  150. Zygote
    Thumb Up

    Love it

    I found out the height of Mount Everest in CUBITS yesterday.

  151. This post has been deleted by its author

  152. Ian Cunningham

    Why the expletives?

    I am not sure what the point of the expletives is- unless it is to show that you are big boy who knows a naughty word?

  153. Mithvetr

    complaints about the journalism

    Jodo Kast said:

    << I would think that the trolls complaining about the word Fail should post a blog about it, and express their outrage there.

    Instead they troll the comments section. How about talking about Alpha instead of hijacking the thread? thanks in advance! >>

    Now there's an irritatingly smug little habit: "thanks in advance!" with that faux-cheery exclamation mark... Yuck.

    Despite being a total stickler when it comes to spelin and grandma an all dat stuf, I'm afraid I'd have to defend the use of the word 'fail' here. If anything it's irritating because it's so massively overused; but that's because it's an established usage, so we can't say that it's incorrect.

    But you missed the point, too: the comments pages are attached to articles so that people can comment on articles. While I agree that there are more relevant criticisms to be made than the language used in the article - for example Ted's glaring bias against Wolfram|Alpha because of his obvious dislike for its creator - the complaints about 'fail' are valid comments on the article that he posted, and are not therefore trolling.

    Besides, it's my personal view that the word 'troll' as used on net forums and newsgroups is now essentially meaningless, since its primary purpose is now to denote "someone who does not agree with me".

    << You seem new. Don't start flame wars. If you don't like this website, don't come here. Send criticism about their journalism to their e-mail address. Public drama won't help your case. >>

    You've started out here by saying someone seems new. Yet you yourself seem unaware that El Reg comments pages frequently contain complaints about the journalism, and that these comments have each been passed by a moderator. Since the moderators seem happy to allow such criticism (one of the things that must be said in the Reg's favour - even if the journalists themselves rarely venture to respond to the criticisms), it does kind of undermine your instructions here.

    Re AC @ 21:10:

    << ...this thing does have some serious limitations and I don't immediately see how they can be overcome. [snip] >>

    Now that was fair comment. I can't trust WA for practical purposes because the information it gives me might not be accurate. That would be a far more valid observation than "I don't like the guy who created it", which formed the bulk of Ted's diatribe. But there again, that observation, valid as it is, does seem to invite the reply, "welcome to the Internet". This is the misinformation superhighway, and everyone should know that you cannot fully trust any single online source (or indeed any single source full stop). But this is where we bear the responsibility to manage our own expectations: if we just sit back and expect Google, or Wikipedia, or WA or any other single source, to provide everything we need without us having to lift a finger, then we deserve to get stung.

  154. Ben
    Dead Vulture

    This article is the real fail

    So, Wolfram Alpha obviously isn't useful to everybody. In the same way as a thesaurus isn't the most useful thing in the world to a plumber.

    You show ignorance by dismissing it as being useful only to a few professors and cheating college students. You show contempt for intelligent people in mathematical and scientific disciplines who (with a tiny amount of persistence until Alpha improves a bit) will be able to find great uses for this tool, instead of typing in the first words that come to mind, screengrabbing the results and posting them on the web as evidence of "fail".

    You, sir, are the fail.

  155. VulcanV5
    Paris Hilton

    Time for promotion?

    As any fule know: bring too much baggage to a topic and the point will be obscured or missed altogether. In which case, Ted's way of doing things must cost him dearly when it comes to running a Google search, never mind a query in WA.

    Still and all, as I now know more about Ted than Mr Wolfram, the "review" must count as some kind of journalistic achievement. Time, then, for promotion, because Ted has proved himself worthy of a status somewhat higher than that of a mere contributor.

    The sooner that Twitter appoints an Editor, the better.

  156. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: complaints about the journalism

    >>Yet you yourself seem unaware that El Reg comments pages frequently contain complaints about the journalism, and that these comments have each been passed by a moderator. Since the moderators seem happy to allow such criticism (one of the things that must be said in the Reg's favour - even if the journalists themselves rarely venture to respond to the criticisms)

    Boy, you should see the stuff that we don't let through.

    I allow stuff through on Ted's stories because a) they're sort of meant to be provocative and divisive, and I figure he can take the mudslinging or even welcomes it, and b) it's amusing to see how skirt-clutchingly outraged people can get about the Language. Clearly there are other issues which provoke commentard ire, but see a).

    As you were.

  157. Vincent Ballard

    Responses to comments

    Snert Lee, I think the "fail" with the square root symbol was the way it doesn't fit in the box.

    Hombre sin nombre, I think you're in the right ball-park. That mysterious graphic could be trying to say that it's interpreting it as the annual export of goods and services of the US. If nothing else it's a good example of how you can use a graphic to communicate less clearly than with a handful of "of"s and "the"s.

  158. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Sarah Bee

    >>how skirt-clutchingly outraged

    I can actually picture them clutching at their skirts whilst typing with their remaining free hand

  159. Sean Hunter

    Ted, A new kind of douchebag

    What's the difference between computation and search? Clearly the author of this article doesn't know.

  160. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Steven vs Ted

    Mathematica, whether folk like it or not, is undoubtedly the respected leader in its field.

    On the other hand, Ted is... well, Ted. Great at attracting page views for adverts (150+ comments?). At least till the advertisers realise that Ted's kind of content isn't the kind of content they want to be paying to advertise near.

    Change the record, El Reg. It's not interesting or entertaining any more.

  161. nicholas22

    oh please...

    This article shows great insight, especially about Wolfram's ego thing.

    I mean would you call anything "<your surname>|Alpha" if you weren't a megalomaniacal egoist?

    Nice article Ted!

  162. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If you're going to ask daft questions like 'Ted' then you're not going to get sensible answers from any search engine.

    Having said that, you'll get a much better answer from (even if you're asking daft questions). Either try getting an account at their website or get their Firefox addon here:

    Asking it about Ted at least gives you options and explains why it's giving you the options - eg:

    Confirm translation

    When you said "ted", which of these did you mean?

    * Ted, the book by Tony DiTerlizzi

    * Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (born February 22, 1932), the senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, having served since November, 1962

    * "Ted", episode 11 of season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    * Ted ‘Eidār Dabóle, the place in Bakool, Somalia

    * Bruce Slesinger, better known by his stage name Ted, the second drummer for the Dead Kennedys, from July 1978 to February 1981

    I understood your query to mean: Please show me a profile of ted (an ambiguous term).

  163. Anonymous Coward


    ... of 'fail'. Besides, does it matter if Wolfram Alpha hasn't been built with a business model in mind? It's not Twitter or some other venture capital stuffed pig. Yes, it could be a hell of a lot better; in a year's time it probably will be. By then this brand of catchphrase comedy should be long dead.

  164. Anonymous Coward

    self appointed??

    Feynman called Wolfram's abilities as a mathematician "Astonishing". This is the scientific equivalent to Miles Davis calling you "cool". Self appointed? Hardly.

    Unless of course YOU were published in a physics journal at the age of 15, in which case attack away.

  165. Mithvetr

    @ nicholas22

    << This article shows great insight, especially about Wolfram's ego thing. >>

    It might well - and Wolfram might well be an egomaniac. From what little I've heard of him it seems to be a common complaint. But when all's said and done, that's not what's relevant here. Ted's article purported to be about WA. If he'd simply written an article on "Why I Don't Like Stephen Wolfram" then opinions about Wolfram's ego would be relevant. As an assessment of the WA technology, they're not. Does the technology work? If it does, say so. If it doesn't, tell us where and why it fails. "The man who wrote it is an egomaniac" tells us nothing of any use.

    << I mean would you call anything "<your surname>|Alpha" if you weren't a megalomaniacal egoist? >>

    Is it the 'Alpha' part you object to, or the fact that he's used his own name? If the latter, it's not exactly an unusual way of naming companies, as a look at Ford, Chevrolet, Lockheed, Armani, Rolls-Royce, Sainsburys and hundreds if not thousands of others throughout business history will show.

    And if the argument then is that, well, it's egotistical for *anyone* to do it, then see above.

  166. IR

    This is hilarious

    Hundreds of people complaining that Ted has missed the point about WA, unaware of the irony that they have missed the point of the article. Quite clearly (or at least in my case, how so many people missed the Paint-scrawled screenshots I don't know) he is playing the part of an idiot doing stupid things, for the amusement of the reader. The whole "ego" thing makes it even more obvious. It is a modern whimsy. It might not be the best out there, but it seems it is far too subtle for the common Reg reader. It seems that a few of you got it.

    Either that or it is really is a man's desperate attempt to find fault with a new internet device led him to write contradictory statements with bizarre evidence and piss-poor graphics done by a 4-year-old.

    I weep for the state of IT and how it relates to humour.

  167. Beloy


    Ted, it's easy - just ask Wolfram:

    "Are You A New Kind Of Fail?"


    Now serious:


    at MINI-NEWS.COM tomorrow!


    And yes, - it's for ultra short mobile space!

  168. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Case sensitive...

    I typed in "queensland" and got the "we don't know what to do with your input" response

    but when I typed in "Queensland", it understood what I wanted.

    So not only does the spelling have to be precise, but also the case.

  169. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it just me?

    I saw all these stories about alpha and wondered why Wolfram & Hart had suddenly established a web presence.

    I thought, that's all we need, more evil lawyers online.

  170. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As an engineer...

    ...I've run across a few instances where I need a way to let everyone know just how clever I am.

  171. mittfh


    life, the universe and everything

    ultimate answer

    ultimate question

    All give 42. Err...shouldn't "Ultimate Question" yield something to the effect of Earth being destroyed before it had finished calculating it?

  172. DutchOven
    Thumb Down


    "This guy either got too many wedgies or not enough wedgies as a child."

    He's not had enough of them as an adult if he thinks anyone is interested in this POS.

    After seeing articles about it all over the interwebs, I decided to give it a spin last week.

    I promised myself that I'd use it for an entire day. I did - I rarely got back any results though and the ones I did get back were usually not relevant at all. (Isn't it just as well that I had another window open for an oompa-loompa search, just in case?)

    If I was this guy, I'd give myself a B for publicity and an F for product usefulness.

    ...and no, he's never going to make any money from this guff, is he?

  173. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    DutchOven you must be an idiot! Why you forcing yourself to use this piece of crap?

    That's so funny!!! :D

  174. Bill Murty

    The sure sign of successful search engine ...

    ...will come when a journo types in his/her name and presumably sees a photograph of themself, accompanied by their date and place of birth and general words about how great they are?

    There was a reasonable article about WA on the register( the other day ted, you should read it, it answers many of the questions you ask.

  175. Mithvetr

    @ DutchOven

    << I promised myself that I'd use it for an entire day. I did - I rarely got back any results though and the ones I did get back were usually not relevant at all. >>

    At the risk of being repetitive here, it took you an entire DAY to work out that it's not a Google-style search engine? Did you actually read any of the articles you saw?

  176. Anonymous Coward

    Worse than Useless

    FFS old E.E. doesn't even have the nickname "Ted", but "doc".

    I thought I'd try out it's web and computer systems knowledge.


  177. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Well it is an Alpha

    I'm going to wait for the Beta

  178. chris


    and all Wolfram did was display it in graphical form

    no links

    no definition, actually bugger all.

    Which is a pity because the world grid of computers does know the universal theorem -it just isn't telling us yet.

  179. Tony Hoyle

    Failed the first test I tried

    September 1752 is special and should have 12 days missing from the middle.

    That means its day of week calculations will be wrong for the months surrounding it.

  180. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Harvey|Omega: a significant improvement?

    It would be curious to know if Dziuba is more impressed with this competitor to Wolfram|Alpha:

  181. Graham Perrin


    The noticeable presence of information from Wikipedia may be thanks to DBPedia.




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