November 8, 2005
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.
Jef Raskin, in The Humane Interface, defends the practice of keeping a pocket calculator next to your PC:
It's true. Many of us keep a calculator beside our computers. Why do you need this simple-minded device when you have a whole computer in front of you? You need it because you have to go through contortions worthy of a circus sideshow in order to do simple arithmetic with the computer. There you are, tapping away at your word processor when you want to do a division: 375 packages of Phumuxx cost $248.93; what is the price for one package? On my computer, I have to open up a calculator window. To do this, I move my hand from the keyboard to the mouse, which I use to do a click-and-drag to open the calculator. Transferring my hands back to the keyboard, I type in the numbers I need or tediously cut and paste them from my document. Then I have to press a few more keys and finally copy the results into my document. Sometimes, the calendar window opens right on top of the very numbers I need, just to add insult to injury. In that case, I must use the mouse to move the calculator window out of the way before proceeding. It is much faster to grab a pocket calculator.
So what's wrong with good old calc.exe? Raskin ran a little experiment:
Using an experienced computer and calculator operator as my test subject, with his word processing program open before him, I measured the total time it took for him to pick up a calculator, turn it on, do a simple addition, and return his hands to the keyboard to resume typing. It took about 7 seconds. I then measured the time it took for him to use the built-in calculator. He had to move the cursor to the menu bar at the top of the screen, find the calculator program, open the calculator, enter the sum, and then click back in the word processor so he could resume typing. This took about 16 seconds.
I'm not sure why Raskin is so hell-bent on using the mouse to launch the calculator.
Even on the Mac (where I assume this test was performed), there have to be keyboard shortcuts. On Windows, we'd need the following keystrokes to find the sum of 13 and 14 and paste the result in our word processor:
+R to show the Run dialog
type calc, then press Enter to launch the calculator
type 14+13= to perform the calculation
ctrl+c to copy the result
alt+f4 or alt+tab to switch back
ctrl+v to paste in the result
It's certainly possible to perform calculations without ever moving your hand from the keyboard. Many keyboards now have calculator buttons which would reduce the number of keypresses even further. I guarantee I could beat that 7 second time quoted for the physical calculator. But it's not exactly simple, is it?
Instead of keyboard acrobatics, Raskin proposes a simpler "do it anywhere" facility. Something built into the OS that obviates the need to spawn a seperate window for these kinds of helper functions:
Here's another facility that should be generally available: anywhere a number can be entered, you should be able to enter an arithmetic expression that evaluates to the number. Commands such as ..
.. should be available at all times. It is eminently doable.
- Check the spelling of the current selection
- Treat the current selection as an arithmetic expression and evaluate it
- Transmit the current selection as an e-mail
- Transmit the current selection as a fax
- Let's see what's at this URL on the web
- Execute the current selection as a Java (or whatever) program
I agree that the OS should be providing this kind of non-modal (non-window, even) functionality. The run menu is a (very) limited form of this, while SlickRun and ActiveWords go even further.
Users with calculator mousepads are no laughing matter. Whenever I see users like this, I'm reminded of how far we have to go in GUI design when the simple act of adding numbers together is so complicated.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
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 "http://www.google.com/search?hl=enq=%sbtnG=Google+Search" assigned to the letter "g".
I just go to my browser (always open), and hit:
* g [space] 248.93 / 375 [enter]
I personally think that the one extra click (on the browser) and three keypresses (CTRL-L, g and [space]) 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.
Cygwin being my replacement for cmd.exe, I just go to console and type:
$ bc -l
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.
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:
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 :-)
Does this display better :
When on Mac - mouse to the lower left, dashboard appears with calculator sitting here and waiting :)
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".
calc.exe is the worst piece of ConfuseWare ever.
For those not able to find sqrt or log: Have you tried scientific mode? (View Scientific)
Interesting piece of trivia: in scientific mode, order of operator application is obeyed. Not so in Standard mode (or as the developers apparently assumed: "dumb user mode").
calc.exe, scientific mode:
7 + 3 * 5 = 22
calc.exe, standard mode:
7 + 3 * 50 = 50
I wonder whoever made the conscious design decision to implement it this way.
In any case, I prefer PowerCalc (from the Windows XP PowerToys): it shows a history and a command-line. I never understood what the obsession was anyway with recreating a physical calculator on a computer, down to the GUI buttons. We are using a computer with a keyboard -- a superior input device!
I have calc.exe assigned to a key on a standard Windows keyboard (no extra keys for music). This even without having to sacrifice a hotkey in some application.
The Scroll key remains widely unsused these days. Actually I don't know any application making use of it. I've used a keyboard remapper (a href="http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/)"http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/)/a to assign calc.exe to the otherwise orphaned Scroll key.
ADDED A CALCULATOR, a separate module outside the mainline logic which could be invoked when an arithmetic computation was detected.
Ah, that's great. A calculator mode to fool humans into thinking they aren't talking with a giant calculator..
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.
Yeah, I don't see any way to do it. The help file makes no mention of accelerators for SQRT, SIN, etc and the calculator buttons can't receive focus either (!)
Hmm. Wait a second. Hitting "p" enters PI.. hitting "l" appears to perform a LOG function. Well, there are no VISIBLE keyboard accelerators, and no documentation, but keyboard keys do.. stuff.. in CALC.
Try this: Open the Calc.exe property page, and click into the 'Shortcut key' field. Assign a shortcut (I use Ctrl-F10).
Now, whenever you need a calculator, hit the shortcut key. I find it faster than lokking for the four-function wonder thats at the bottom of one of the piles on my desk.
Ok, second scenario (first was when my hand is on the mouse):
When on Mac - hit F12, dashboard appears with calculator sitting here and waiting :)
On the ladder idea: Anyone know if the selection context menu is extensible?
On windows, if you select anything on any program, the context menu shows: undo, copy, cut, paste, delete, select all, right to left reading order, show unicode control characters, insert unicode control characters.
There MUST be a way to insert commands on this menu! And then we could insert a "perform calculation" one.. or "google", or whatever.
If you know email me!
The reason why calc.exe obeys order of operations in scientific mode but not in standard mode is because that's how scientific and standard calculators work in the real world.
Go to any store and find a calculator that doesn't say "scientific calculator" (hint - the only "special" operators it will have are percent and square root, and it will be really cheap) and try it out - no order of operations obeyed. None that I've seen anyway.
OK So you figured out a way to get back all the time you wasted trying to figure out how to save that time in the first place
If you use calc often, you could have it as a shortcut icon on your menu bar. Just click once and it opens.....
OK... the PowerToy Calculator is freaking AWESOME. The default 'view' it uses kinda sucks though...
I like to do the following:
View / History View (enabled)
View / Show Samples (unchecked)
and then make the window somewhat smaller.
Now you have a very decent and powerful calculator.
The other features it has are neat... but from a usability point of view... they are a bit of a pain to use (the advanced view is horid... and the app really should keep a seperate window size for that view... as well.. its pretty much a 'seperate' application.
I thought this would be useful to those in a work environment that prevents calc from saving your settings to default to the scientific mode.
Save the code lines below as a *.vbs script then set up a shortcut to it as desired, with hotkeys, etc.
'----Copy/Paste to file called "CalcSci.vbs"---
' Must have ".vbs" ending to run as VBScript
'CalcSci.vbs by Matt Larkowski
'This will open calc and immediately setup the scientific mode with digit grouping
set WshShell = CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
WshShell.Run("%SystemRoot%\system32\calc.exe") 'path to Calc.exe, works for C:\Windows or C:\WinNt installs
WScript.Sleep(100) 'wait a bit, if we don't, sendkeys may affect other windows besides calc
WshShell.SendKeys("%") 'Send the Alt Key to open menu bar
WshShell.SendKeys("v") 'send V to choose View menu
WshShell.SendKeys("s") 'send S for Scientific calculator mode
WScript.Sleep(100) 'wait a bit
WshShell.SendKeys("%") 'send Alt key to do another menu item
WshShell.SendKeys("v") 'send V to go to View menu
WshShell.SendKeys("i") 'send I to enable dIgit grouping
Anybody know how to do scientific notation on calc.exe?
Windows calc.exe keyboard shortcuts...
. or ,
vertical bar (|)
My Calculator launching work flow on Mac is CMD+SPACE to launch Quicksilver, then press "C", then ENTER. What's great is that ALL my apps (and files/folders) work this way. Quicksilver is smart enough to know that "c" or "ca" or "calc" == "Calculator.app" but "cal" == "iCal.
WindowsKey+R is just terrible because you have to know the full name of your app. I've heard (I think on codinghorror) that they've made launching apps better in Vista via incremental searching, but I don't have experience with Vista.
Granted, Quicksilver is not built into OSX, but Spotlight is almost as smart, just not as usable and application focused.
Unfortunately, the built in Windows calculator sucks. It uses postfix notation for functions (like sin, cos, log, etc.), doesn't support useful functions like cartesian/polar conversion, combinations permutations (nCr, nPr on my real calculator), fractions etc., doesn't understand standard mathematical operations like multiplication: "5(8+2)" doesn't get the right result - instead, it returns "10". Also, no expression editing or graphing.
Also, I can't find the random number generator, and the statistics mode seems to be missing. Overall, calc.exe doesn't leave a good impression.
Oh, I found the stastics mode. I don't like it! :)
anyone ever use an Apricot PC - one of the pre - "IBM-comaptible" machines made by a UK company in the mid-80s ?
The model I used (here are some pictures from someone else's site http://www.actapricot.org/machines/apricot_this_is_my_pc.html) - it an lcd screen in the keyboard and you could use the number pad to perform calcs on it, then - this is the cool bit - you pressed another key and the contents of the lcd display got pasted into wherever the cursor was. Never seen that feature since !
OS X Leopard has integrated the calculator into spotlight. Just shortcut cmd-space and the spotlight opens in the corner. Type in your equation and it gives you the answer right there in spotlight. No switching programs or anything. Very handy!