Wolfram|Alpha and Literature

May 30, 2009 by

On 18 May 2009, a new Internet service called Wolfram|Alpha was unleashed to the world.  It’s a “computational knowledge engine”, but looks similar enough like a search engine to confuse a whole lot of Internet users still expecting conventional Google-like responses to queries. 

Contrary to first impressions, it is *not* a search engine, but a rather interesting experiment.  I’ll let the site itself describe their intentions:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything.

After playing with it awhile, you’ll immediately notice that Wolfram|Alpha (which is incidentally named after its creator Stephen Wolfram, a British physicist, mathematician and MacArthur Fellow) plays in a different space than Google.  Let’s just say you wouldn’t use it to look for the best restaurants in town.

But what has it got to do with books?  Out of curiosity I started to put in literature related searches in Wolfram|Alpha, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

Searching for a book title returns a brief summary in a tabular format (click on the image(s) to see the full-sized screenshots):


In fact, a generic search term like ‘literature’ would give you some ideas:


I also tried to compare authors:

You can clearly see the lifetime overlaps, which you can potentially use to deduce further information about the respective authors work (i.e. would it be possible that one could have influenced the other, etc).

I also tried a branch of literary theory:

They couldn’t give an answer, as you can see, but I had a chance to leave a message!  So I did:

I’m very interested in using Wolfram|Alpha to explore Literary Criticism and Theory and how everything may relate to one another – perhaps in terms of influence or commonalities.

Wolfram|Alpha reminds me of Freakonomics – where data and statistics from a particular subject, when cross-referenced with social/cultural data can yield incredibly interesting and unexpected results.  For other subject matters Wolfram|Alpha is capable of getting mathematical data from different sources, collate them and present them in a graphical manner (charts and graphs generated on the fly).  It’s clearly not there yet where literature is concerned, but who knows what else it can find in the future, as users get used to its search string idiosyncrasies. 

You could also try it with different search terms – and let us know what nuggets of information you may have found from using it in the comments.

read more

Bookbabble Episode 35: Deconstructing The Dan Brown Code

May 27, 2009 by

Bookbabble Episode 35: Deconstructing the Dan Brown Code
Recorded 24 May 2009
Babblers: Bjorn, Gem, Renee, Donny with guest Lone Christensen


The babblers are once again graced by yet another guest, and this time, Lone Christensen from Copenhagen joins the madness!  In this episode, the babblers talk about Dan Brown – if you ever was uncertain where we stood with him, well, let’s just say this episode clears things up.  In conjunction with the release of the new Angels & Demons movie, the babblers say why Dan Brown is such a polarizing figure, why he generates so much attention, what he’s good at and what he isn’t.  The the books (book?) he used as research, the trial, the works.  Also, Bookbabble-approved Dan Brown alternatives.  Plus, Irene postulates that with enough alcohol, anyone can get through a bad book, and Lone singles out a couple of people you’d want to pay attention to in the movie.


Show Length: 86:24 mins


Note: The babblers make clear of their love and affection for Mr Brown in language that perhaps younger audiences won’t really appreciate.




Download the show here.

read more

Episode Error

May 27, 2009 by

Wow, that sounds like something bad really went down the toilet, doesn’t it? 🙂 Sorry, I attempted to upload the latest show we did where we talked about Dan Brown, but apparently doing so at almost 2:30 in the morning is bad for distinguishing between the numbers 34 and 35.  Which was precisely what happened – I uploaded Episode 34 *yet again*.

I’ve deleted the wrongly uploaded episode, and will try to upload it later today.

Sorry about that, folks!

read more

Related Posts

Bookbabble Episode 34: Hard Times for Literature in Schools

May 22, 2009 by

Bookbabble Episode 34: Hard Times for Literature in Schools
Recorded 17 May 2009
Bjorn, Gem, Renee, Donny with guest Emma Sutcliffe


The babblers are joined by a guest today, the affable Emma Sutcliffe from Blackburn, England, as they talk about literature that is part of the school syllabus.  What’s being taught in schools in the babblers’ countries, whether it needs to be changed and why.  Plus, Emma spills on the book that scarred her during her schooling years.

Show Length: 86:24 mins



Download the show here.

read more

Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes – Official Trailer

May 19, 2009 by

It has been too long, I must admit.  I apologize for that, and I shall make amends.  Starting with this piece of news that got me all sweaty-browed with anticipation: Sherlock Holmes is almost upon us.  The soon-to-be-released showpiece directed by Guy Ritchie stars Robert Downey Jr as the titular character, and Jude Law as Dr Watson.

When the news broke that this film was being made, I was ecstatic, then cautious.  Bob and Jude are hardly the Holmes and Watson of my memories.  However, as Hollywood is wont to do, what we know and love is ‘rebooted’, and made accessible to a more modern audience.

The bad news is the film isn’t out yet for me to pan or praise. The good news is the trailer is, indeed, out.

I’m undecided yet whether I like my Sherlock Holmes so James Bond-ish.

read more