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Wolfram Alpha alternatives?

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Mar. 26th, 2014 | 03:11 pm

As useful as Wolfram Alpha is for mathematical legwork, I really wish there were alternatives. It's nice that it can tell me that the integral of x^2/(x^2+4) is x-2arctan(x/2), but it'd be nicer still to know just how it computed that so that I could perhaps learn something myself (I'm not very good at integrating). Oh, sure, it'll tell me if I get a Pro subscription for 7 USD/month, but do I really want that just for just one result every now and then?

Worse, anytime I'm using Wolfram Alpha, as a subscriber or not, I'm giving the company data about what I'm calculating (granted, as long as it's just random integrals etc., that's probably no big deal). And then there's Wolfram's claims that the company owns the copyright to the results the site produces, which is as troubling as it is outlandish (there is no "creative spark", after all; the site merely processes data that YOU provide according to a set of – admittedly complex, and secret and closely-guarded – rules).

So are there alternatives? Maxima is a free (as in beer/freedom) CAS that, despite its rustic interface, seems capable enough, certainly capable of computing such integrals as the above, but it doesn't seem to be able to do step-by-step solutions. (I'm not even gonna complain about the Windows build lagging three versions behind right now.)

Other good resources (how-tos, tutorials etc.) on integration would also be appreciated, but since I'm interested in more than just symbolic integration, a general tool that provides step-by-step solutions without Wolfram Alpha's drawbacks would really be nice.

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Comments {6}

ungulata

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from: ungulata
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
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You may have missed a check box? I wasn't logged in and I could see this. (It has [FRIENDS ONLY] in the subject line.)

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Heh, yeah, just realized that, too. When I started writing this, I thought it'd be a friends-only post (hence the subject saying as much), but then I realized that there was no real reason for not making it public and that doing so might actually get more suggestions. (Oh, who am I kidding, there won't be any either way.)

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ungulata

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from: ungulata
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 10:29 pm (UTC)
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*reads* Um, sorry I can't be of help here. I never managed to understand the math behind limits, thus I had to resort to rote memorization to get through derivation and integration. Oh I know it has to do with the sum of infinite parts, but it's all black box hocus pocus for all that I know of the underlying math.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 10:37 pm (UTC)
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No worries. I've already looked at a few books (notably Bronstein's "Symbolic Integration") and gotten a better understanding of the whole process; from a very high level, it seems to be "calculating antiderivatives is hard even when it's possible, so check an integral table to see if someone else already did it. If not, it's probably too hard for you to figure out, too". :P

"Integral table" here may refer to printed books as much as computer algebra systems and similar tools, of course — which likely make extended use of built-in tables as well.

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scritchwuff

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from: scritchwuff
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 08:37 pm (UTC)
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Though I haven't played with it yet, I think you can get a full release of Mathematica for free on the Raspberry Pi.
http://www.wolfram.com/raspberry-pi/
It might not be the fastest in the world on the Pi, but for study/exploration, I'd guess it would be usable.
Back 10 years ago when I was briefly unemployed, I was brushing up on my math and used Maxima quite a bit to check my answers, especially with things like integration. Don't know how much further it's gotten since then, but I remember the text based input language being rather cryptic.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Mar. 26th, 2014 08:45 pm (UTC)
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That's cool, thanks for the tip!

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