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

The title of this post is what I see when I try to use Wolfram|Alpha. Repeatedly. Almost exclusively.

Q: How many calories in a latte? A: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

Q: What wavelength is ultraviolet radiation? A: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

Q;: calories burned swimming one mile A: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input. (Note, it can answer for running but not for swimming)

Q: net worth of Donald Trump A: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input. (It can tell me that Trump Tower is 1362 feet tall however)

Q: what percentage of queries to wolfram|alpha return answers? A: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.

I heard Rudy Rucker interview Wolfram about this project before it went live and I was excited about getting a chance to play with it. I’ve been subscribing to Rucker’s podcast feed for years, and it is usually radio interviews he has done or recordings of his readings. This was something different and interesting, and I was sold on Alpha.

Last Friday I checked in on the launch, watched the video and waited impatiently for my own chance to kick the tires. Now that I have, I’m stifling a yawn. This was the sales pitch:

“Wolfram|Alpha can pop out an answer to pretty much any kind of factual question that you might pose to a scientist, economist, banker, or other kind of expert.”

The reality:

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

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the questions I was asking the kind of things that any other kind of expert could answer? Some of them are simple matters of fact. This is not cherry picked, I have several dozen failed queries a lot like these. I’m still excited about what I was sold. Someone wake me when that thing is live.

Cyberpunk Rumblings

I’ve been thinking a lot about cyberpunk lately. No matter what its current fate in the literary fashion sweepstakes, I always had a great affinity for the genre and always will. No matter that its original young turks are now all too old and respectable to wield the crowbar with proper leverage. Sadly, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s the fate of all punks to mellow or die, and they tend to do some of each.

William Gibson will be in my little town tomorrow accepting an honorary doctorate. It makes sense as he was born in this town. I’ve heard smatterings of outrage because apparently he speaks unkindly of Conway SC. He’ll be getting a “Doctor of Humane Letters” which leaves me wondering of they’ve actually read his books. His work has many wonderful virtues but humane is not at the top of the list. They may not have the option to give a “Doctor of Inhumane Letters.” I have Spook Country but haven’t read it yet. I’ve fallen off the Gibson pace in recent years but I still count him as equal influence with JG Ballard and William S. Burroughs in shattering my patterns of thinking and leading me somewhere new.

Bruce Sterling posted a link to a bit wondering if “cyberpunk is dead.” He has some analysis that I love and find applicable in our ongoing food fights as to whether “podcasting is dead” or “vlogging is dead.”

Just for the record, nothing can be “dead” when people have to anxiously declare it “dead.” Once it’s REALLY dead, nobody publicly frets about its deadness. Broadway theater’s been dying for about a century, “belle lettres” has been dying for, gosh, maybe 250 years now. You have to get used to that.

Right on, brother Brucie! Rather than getting pissed off, I’ll just treat the declarations of things I care about as “dead” as a sign of their vitality. From henceforth, such things will be considered self-contradictory just by existing. That was easy. Staples easy button easy, in fact.

Rudy Rucker is so far from a young turk that he’s retired now, which gives him more free time to post weird shit on his blog and blow my mind. He seems like a true case of someone with no off switch. I’m still subscribed to his audio feed and get whatever he chooses to post on it.

And just now I noticed something in common with all three of these guys: all grew up in the south and no longer live there. Gibson: South Carolina and Virgina and now in Vancouver BC. Sterling: Texas and now in Beograde. Rucker: Kentucky and now in California. If only the south made more people weird like these guys, we’d really have something!

Rudy Rucker on Evangelism of Ideas

I read Rudy Rucker’s blog, listen to his podcast when it is published and have read his fiction for the last 20 odd years. One day I’d like to interview him as he is quite and interesting dude. As I get into really old Google Reader posts, I ran across this one from him a few weeks ago. He talks about how is odd ideas of how things might work are distressing to some but that he no longer cares much.

But at this point in my life, I no longer care very much if I can convince anyone or not. It’s like, at this point, my increasingly far-fetched ideas are art objects I’ve crafted, and it’s pointless to ask if they’re true. I’m fond of them, and I draw some comfort from them, and I like dramatizing them in SF novels — but I don’t want to put emotional energy into the task (which by now I know to be fruitless) of converting people.

As odd as it seems for having spent my weekend trying to convert people into using new media, I wasn’t really converting anyone. It was more a matter of putting specifics to desires that already existed. If people aren’t interested in podcasting or Twitter or blogging, I don’t really care anymore. I’m not interested in flipping anyone that doesn’t agree with me. I’ll just do what I do and if the value isn’t obvious enough to convince people it is worthwhile, I’ll press on without them.

That’s the power of new media. I don’t need anyone’s permission or sign-off or money to do my work. If it interests me and I want to do it, onwards. If you think it is stupid, don’t listen/watch/read. The world is a hard and cold place, and I’m done with those people who want to deny others moments of joy. Andrew Keens of the world, you are invited to kiss me ass. I need you even less than you need me. I’m here to do my work, to make myself happy. Anyone that wants to can come along.