Author Archives: stern

The Wolfram Language is Here?

Stephen Wolfram released a formal introduction to The Wolfram Language two days ago but I am watching it only now.

 

 

The demonstration answers a question I had had since first hearing about this language — How is it different from Mathematica? The answer seems to be that this is the Mathematica programming language, IDE, and APIs, but conceptually separated from the Mathematica environment and given its own name. Thus, those of use who used to say we “programmed in Mathematica” will now say we “program in the Wolfram Language,” and the code we create in Mathematica can also be run in other environments (in web browsers, on embedded devices, etc.).

It’s nice to hear Wolfram credit this as a learning language; many people regard Mathematica as complex and obscure, but the reality is that for anybody who can handle leaving the world of imperative and object-oriented programming, it is extremely easy to learn, and to use and it’s extremely flexible. Separating the language from Mathematica may encourage novices to try it.

Wolfram doesn’t announce a release date in the video but I suspect it will be simultaneous with the release of Mathematica 10, which may be very soon.

MTA BusTime is a great thing

Usually, in New York, if you want to get someplace more than a few blocks away, you take the subway, or if you need to go crosstown, you brace for misery and take the bus. Busses are typically more pleasant than subways, but they are often slow and come unpredictably. I’d be delighted to take my boys to school on the M60 every morning, but busses can come 20 minutes apart. Of course, when you do get one, two others will often follow close on its heels.

The MTA has finally launched, city-wide, an online service that tells you when busses are coming. It’s called BusTime.

bustime logo

 

As is standard practice for the MTA, they have made the BusTime data feeds publicly available, so that people can integrate them into iPhone apps and the other services. The bus app that I use, unfortunately, seems to have done this incorrectly.

NYC Bus logo

 

It clearly believes it has the correct data but the results it produces are nonsense. A friend at the MTA guesses that it is reporting the busses as scheduled, rather than the their actual locations. The easiest solution is to tap into the MTA’s data feeds at their own mobile website. For example, the URL to check the busses in front of my son’s school is http://bustime.mta.info/m/?q=403119 and it produces results like this:

bus time

 

Totally accurate, and hugely useful as we decide whether to take the bus or the subway each day.

Rando is a newish “anti-social” photo sharing app, available for iOS and Android. You snap a picture (it’s automatically cropped to a round shape), and Rando sends it to somebody far away. You never learn who they are, though Rando will later tell you where in the world they live. (Brazil and Russia are common destinations). The recipient of your photo is similarly told where you are, but nothing else, and has no way to contact you (though they can rate your photo, and some people have been posting “randos” of their e-mail address as a way of establishing contact with strangers.

I found the service charming for a while. The serendipity of it, slices of life from half a world away.

But pretty soon a problem emerged. I would send photos like these:

Broadway and 110th

Broadway and 110th

Boys' Gate, Central Park

Boys’ Gate, Central Park

Citibikes

Citibikes

Battery Place Statue of Liberty

Battery Place Statue of Liberty

 

and I’d get back photos like these:

Fluorescent light, Santa Barbara

Fluorescent light, Santa Barbara

Fluorescent light, South Korea, near the DMZ

Fluorescent light, South Korea, near the DMZ

Shoes, Curitiba Brazil

Blurry shoes, Curitiba Brazil

Who knows? Central U.K.

Who knows? Central U.K.

It’s easier to take a lousy picture than a good one, and absent any kind of reputation system, Rando has no way to encourage people to send anything interesting. The result is a lot of blurry photos of people’s feet and of fluorescent lights.