June 17, 2009|
My daughter's math class needed to find examples of periodic behavior and estimate a sine curve to fit the data, both manually and by using a TI-83 calculator. Obvious examples of periodic behavior are average city monthly temperatures and low/high tides. My daughter wanted something a bit more unusual; her teacher suggested looking at data for live births by month in the U.S. prior to the introduction of contraceptives.
So off to Google we went. She typed in "live births by month in the U.S., 1954" and got this search result page. We clicked on several of the links, ending up at this page about the US census. Data is yearly, we needed monthly. But there is a URL at the bottom of the page that we followed to the Center for Disease Control. And with a few more clicks, we found what we were looking for, Yearly Vital Statistics Reports.
We downloaded various PDFs, found the monthly numbers, and my daughter used Excel to plot the graphs, fiddled with the constants to come up with a good approximation, and used her calculator to get the best sine curve fit possible. About an hour and a half in work.
While she was finishing up, an advertisement for Bing was running on the TV. So I gave it a try, and typed in exactly the same thing:"live births by month in the U.S., 1954." I didn't know what to expect, but here's the page, and look at the fourth result. Bing-o! Not only the data, but various graphs and explanations for the seasonal variation in live births. All in two clicks.
This is only one anecdote. I don't know yet if Bing is a decision engine, but in this case it was a powerful discovery engine that beat Google hands-down.