Wolfram Alpha – a computational knowledge engine

wolframLogoPicWolfram Alpha is a search engine with a difference. The beginning of a journey towards the creation of a search tool that will provide definitive answers to factual queries. Producing clear, accurate data for researchers at all levels and competencies.

As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains.

You can see a full explanation of the Wolfram goals on their About Us pages – the project is built on the twenty years of research in the field by Wolfram Research.

Try the site with a couple of simple examples to see it in action and to appreciate the potential for reliable fact based research.

Add your date of birth to the engine. How many days have you been alive? When did the sun set on that day? How is your birth date expressed by the various calendars around the world?

Add two companies to the engine. Microsoft and Apple for example. Get a computed comparison which expresses their company size, profit to earnings ratio, number of employees and similar data.


Image: Section of sample search results from Wolfram Alpha

You can drill down into the data for even more detail, or save your search in pdf format. There are some bandwidth restrictions at the moment whilst the service is in alpha.

In search engine terms ‘watch this space’ is an understatement.

You can visit the Third Sector Web home page here.

Qt – a small, well formed browser

QtwebrowserPicThe new version of the Q t web browser has a executable footprint of only 4MB, with support for Japanese. Korean and Chinese languages added to its features, along with the ability to disable Flash and Quicktime etc., if required.

Being so small it will run from a CD or a USB memory stick, which is very useful for mobile workers who use remote machines but do not want to interact with existing settings.

Users can turn on private browsing and instigate a full reset after using the browser too. The customisable interface allows users to see how programs and web sites look under different versions of Windows and Unix.

Users can also undock the navigation and bookmark bars, putting them on your desktop if you wish. See the Q t web browser screen shot pages for illustrations.

Small, light and fast – Q t is also Open Source software, based upon Nokia’s Qt framework and Apple’s Webkit rendering engine.

To install and run Q t on a CD or USB use the ‘stand-alone executable’ from the Q t download page.

You can see the Third Sector Web home page here.

What the future holds…the bigger picture

storagedevicepicThe Edge Foundation holds an annual intellectual fest to draw from contributors ideas and visions for the future of science and technology.

You can see this years review here – World Question Centre: What will Change Everything.

The first concept we were struck by was that of the Malthusian Information Famine, a premise put forward by Charles Seife, Professor of Journalism at NYU.

His argument is that digital media, its availability and pervasiveness, has begun to change humanity and its relationship with information. For centuries we have laboured under a lack of information to stimulate true human potential. Within a generation or two we will now move to a state where we have a deluge.

A consequence of this, Seife argues, is that ‘noise will drown out signal’.

With over one hundred million blogs, including the one you are reading, and some several hundred million emails, much of which may be spam, as ‘…information grows exponentially…useful information grows only linearly’.

We will eventually, according to Seife, be engulfed by our own ‘mental refuse’.

A couple of comments. First, this mental ‘waste mountain’ can be seen as a luxurious by-product of technology rich, industrialised societies.

For those of us deep in web and communication technology, so cheaply delivered, this may be true, but the old technology divide’ has yet to be crossed by the bulk of human society.

(We have written before on the importance of One Laptop per Child and the need for its success as a program, to stimulate the very electronic potential described by Professor Seife).

Second, the potential to harness so much information perversely brings back the old argument about the difference between information and knowledge.

The current debate in Europe about ‘super databases’ and the ‘total knowledge’ of a society and its members held by an all-knowing government are also exposed as specious by the Malthusian Information Famine.

To capture all information is not the same as turning it into useful knowledge. In the very vastness of the snared data may lie our own protection.

When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it – this is knowledge. (Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), The Confucian Analects)

You can see the Wikipedia page for Thomas Malthus here.

This post was created by Tim Smith – a partner at SmithMartin LLP.

Storage device image by craigPJ.

You can find the Third Sector Web home page here.

New Year – new resolution – new email backup

Clip2Our New year resolution is to keep our physical and cyber space desktops a bit tidier.

Pretty easy to implement in our various physical locations, but requiring a little more effort in e-space.

We use Mozilla Thunderbird as our default email client. We like it for its safe ease of use, ability to intuitively create folders and drag emails off the various servers across our partnership, so that our team members can consolidate their communication.

So far so good. We have recently implemented an email archive solution, to complement Thunderbird. Allowing individuals from their home offices, for example, a crucial back up of multiple emails from different sources, all into one folder or burned to a single dvd.

Partners chose Mailstore for use on their personal computers. A simple, easy to understand interface, which will back up and relocate not only Thunderbird folders, but also Microsoft Outlook, Express and Exchange, as well as Google Mail, IMAP and Pop 3 mailboxes and even Windows Live Mail.

We like it. You can find the freeware personal edition here.

You select the target folder to save to and declare the attachments you would also like archived, .pdf, .doc etc. Then back up.

Mailstore also offer business wide archival solutions on their website.

You can find the Third Sector Web home page here.

The stuff we really like – tools and tweaks tested by time

gearsPicWe are always (they’re banging on again at Thirdsectorweb….) shouting about Open Source software in the office. We like it because it fits with a collaborative, best value, developing reflective practice business model that we are always trying to get behind in the partnership. Not everything we use is Open Source, but here are some tools that have impacted on our work.

Everybody blogs lists these days..after a quick intellectual whip round the office, here’s ours.

Open Office – the production suite and office saviour in software form. Yes we know it’s a chunky download and sometimes takes forever to load, but the effective integration of the suite, the ability to crop, cut and paste and alter stuff across the piece leaves other office bundles behind. Great extensions for increasing functionality too. Get the latest version today.

Thunderbird – we haven’t got a laptop without it. With different email addresses across domains for our business offerings, as a distributed remote partnership we reckon we would be lost without it. Lets us sort incoming mail easily, offers immediate access to bulk password management and is generally our email client of choice. Check it out, we know you’ll like it.

BlogDesk – if you post to a weblog this is a very small footprint, lightweight addition to your blogging toolkit. We like the way it spellchecks your potential post, has simple and clear post layout tools and scarpers through the managed upload process. The only minor criticism, some people felt, was that adding tags to posts can be a bit cumbersome.

Paint.NET – a really useful image manipulation, resizer and text overlay machine. (Haven’t seen it described that way before, but that’s how we use it). Think image, think Paint.NET.

Flock – lost in a sea of rss feeds and image stock sites, then Flock is our browser of choice for image and web development information sources. Its newsfeed capability works well, you can find and review images and keep in touch with your social networks all at the same time. You can also export your favourites easily and quickly to a desktop file. In our traffic heavy web zone – we thought this was a killer function. (…and you can post to your blog from the browser too).

Pixie – for colour blind web designers. I am shocked but can say no more.


Songbird – everyone needs a bit of music at the desk to close out the white noise of web chatter sometime. Haven’t taken this new version for a full run yet, but the alpha versions onward were a great looking alternative to other more invasive tune types. Vers. 1.0.0 now available as a XP/Vista download.


What are your favourites?

You can visit the Third Sector Web home page here.