My Giant Calculator

Have you ever noticed how many people keep a physical calculator next to their computer? The irony is almost palpable. My favorite is the calculator mousepad.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

you know, a good idea would be to put a calculator button or hot key in Word…Excel… hell, make it office. Does one already exist?

I don’t know about the whole OS though. I personally use SlickRun, and wouldn’t mind seeing something like that baked into the OS.

Then again, you can only do so much hand holding. After a while the user has to want to learn to do something. Even though I have SlickRun, I still use the Windows+R, “calc” keystrokes when I use the calculator because that’s what I think of first. For people that still use a calculator, that’s just what they think of first.

In the end sometimes it’s just easier to use a simple device like the calculator.

Google: the only calculator you’ll ever need.

I have assigned a shortcut key to IE, so it’s as simple as pressing “Ctrl + Alt + I” and entering an expression.

Word actually has a built-in calculation feature. You can enter a mathematical expression in a document and select it; when you run the Calculate command, it echoes the result in Word’s status bar and copies it to the Clipboard… very handy for quickly totting up a few figures. I came across it in some ancient version of Word (version 4 for the Mac, IIRC) but somewhere along the line, it disappeared from the default menus. It’s still available in Tools, Customize. You can assign a keyboard shortcut to it too which is very handy.

Just use Google and a keyword shortcut.

For example, I have assigned to the letter g.

I just go to my browser (always open), and hit:

  • ctrl-l

  • g space 248.93 / 375 enter


I personally think that the one extra click (on the browser) and three keypresses are more efficient than going back and forth between the computer and another device.

I can even copy-and-paste the result, instead of typing what I see on the calculator – a step that can introduce errors.

Oh yeah, and it’ll even do unit (or currency!) conversions:

Cygwin being my replacement for cmd.exe, I just go to console and type:

$ bc -l
bc 1.06
Copyright 1991-1994, 1997, 1998, 2000 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
For details type `warranty'.
248.93 / 375

Total time: 5 seconds at most.

However, you’re right. There are often times where your console window isn’t open, where your OS is doing some heavy paging etc.

calc.exe doesnt support (or at least I don’t know how and I’m too lazy to rtfm) typing in functions such as sqrt or log. Sometimes you need to quickly look up a decimal value of FAFFC etc…

Here’s my favorite “external calculator” story.

In the late 60s Terry Winograd wrote SHRDLU, a landmark program which attempted to “converse” with a human user, via teletype, in such a way as to fool the human that they really were talking with another human. An early attempt to pass the Turing test, if you will, and at all accounts an amazingly successful one, especially considering the day.

Well it turned out SHRDLU, while great at parsing English queries and composing appropriate replies, was lousy at - math. A simple question like “what is 3 times 5” would expose the program (it would reply things like “what do you think 3 times 5 should be?”)

So Winograd ADDED A CALCULATOR, a separate module outside the mainline logic which could be invoked when an arithmetic computation was detected.

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I’ve always had an idiom that says the closer you are to a calculator your ability to do simple math decreases. I swear I can’t multiple any double-digit values together if I can see a calculator.

I use the calculator all the time using the Windows key + R, calc method and it seems pretty swift to me and there are a ton of other great ways to get to it like people noted.

  • those over-sized keyboards with the “e-mail” and “calc” hotkeys
  • set up a short-cut hotkey
  • use SlickRun as you mentioned which rocks
  • type it into google like others noted

I hate a cluttered desk and so my calc is hiding in a drawer, total time for me to use a physical calcuator? Probably at least 30 seconds just to find the damn thing.

I often use a “real” calculator because enjoy the “physical” aspect of it, that being to stretch and grab the calculator, wipe the dust off of it, and poke the buttons. (My exercise for the day!) This is helpful in the same way that people say “look away from the monitor every so often” to give your eyes a break.

Another reason I use an actual calculator is that it gets me singing some Kraftwerk:

I’m the operator with my pocket calculator.

I am adding and subtracting.
I’m controlling and composing.

By pressing down a special key,
it plays a little melody!

I do wonder though why people reach for a calculator when using Excel. Every cell is a calculator far more powerful than either Calc or a hand-held jobby. Ditto if one is working with an Immediate Window in reach.

My previous supervisor would clatter away on a desktop calculator with paper tape and all, then type the result into a cell. For some though, I suppose a comforting habit often overrides translating a job into a more powerful medium.

I use python in interactive mode to do simple calculations. You can run simple commands like 1+2 , or even assign intermediate results to variable names: subtotal = 100 + 110 + 120 total = subtotal1 + subtotal2 It feels faster and makes you feel more in control since you’re in an interactive programming environment.

I’ll give you three reasons why I use a calculator over a calc.exe or another program:

  1. R
  2. P
  3. N

Ever since engineering school, I’ve been using HP’s RPN (reverse Polish notation) calculators and am useless on a normal one. Until calc.exe supports RPN, I’ll keep my HP close by…

When on Mac - mouse to the lower left,

You’ve already lost at that point: you’ve taken your hands off the keyboard. Unless you mouse a lot while word processing…

I’ll jump to the defense of trusty old calc.exe (even though it’s crappy, we know it’s on every Windows box we touch). It definately has shortcut keys for every function; if you want to learn the shortcut key you can actually right-click the button and select ‘What is this?’ from the pop-up menu, which is weird from an UI design point of view. But once you knows it’s more or less OK.

The help file does mention this. It also lists every shortcut available.

Also, a sqrt function isn’t really lacking because there is x^y, so you can do 9^0.5 to obtain 3.

As Shawn mentioned pretty much any modern keyboard has a calculator hotkey that you can route to any calculator program you like, so the real issue is to get people using better keyboards…

Faster then Windows+R / calc / Enter ? Good ol’ Winkey of course !
Windows+F11 brings me calc up in no time compared to getting rid of all the mess on my mouse pad :slight_smile:

When on Mac - mouse to the lower left, dashboard appears with calculator sitting here and waiting :slight_smile:

A better test may be to give the subject a task that requires an occaisional calculation. A keyboard ninja may be able to add numbers faster, but he’s also wasting a ton of mental energy conjuring up that calculator app.

If you have a Mac, then you have Dashboard (if you really need a calc) although if you activate dashboard, you are no longer seeing your desktop… if you have to operate on a long series of numbers, dashboard won’t help.

Another option is to use LaunchBar or even Spotlight to “open” the calculator. But unless you have a “FAST” computer with 1Gb+ RAM, you’re gonna have to wait “2 or 3 secs” waiting for the thing to happen. (with luck).

Or, you can add the calc to the StartupItems, and use Expos to see it… but again, having a pocket calc outside the computer gives you the ability to type stuff without wasting pixels…

Rearranging stuff so you can see BOTH the calc and the numbers isn’t fair, because it takes “time” and we’re trying to reduce “time”.