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Why is there no divide or multiplication sign on the calculator?

That's what my IT literate girlfriend said today.

Made me realise just how easy it is to mess up interface design. I've used calc.exe for 10 years and never noticed that the divide and multiplication signs used programmer icons and not universal icons.
Grown fat with decadence Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
What sign did you think they should use?  'x'?

I think it's appropriate for the platform it's running on.
AllanL5
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Well, the letters and numbers look like those in books so I think it would be appropriate for the symbols to look like those in books, too.  APL did have proper mathematical symbols, the */ symbols are just an ASCII ersatz for the real thing.
Chris Nahr
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Odd, both calculator programs I have access to have a proper divide symbol (a horizontal line with one dot above the line and one dot below), and one of the programs has a proper multiply symbol (or a reasonable approximation using an 'x'). What calculator program are you using?

As for the response saying that 'x' is replaced by '*' in algebra and above: in my experience the multiply symbol either disappeared entirely (x*y was written xy) or was replaced with a small dot (which I can't reproduce on the computer, and would be confusing on a calculator keypad, since it would look like the decimal point). I've only seen the asterisk as a multiplication symbol in computer sceince/programming classes.
Jeffrey Dutky Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Instead of changing user design, I would offer that your girlfriend needs to go back to school starting from the 9th grade.

I don't mean to be harsh on the "uninformed" but at some point users need to take responsibility for learning new things....it's not all about bad user interface design.

There needs to be a balance between user design and user RESPONSIBILITY for learning the fundamental way the world today works.

I mean, why create command buttons on a damn form when the user should just be able to "hover" over the button to initiate it? Why do users have to extend the extra effort of left-clicking?

See how stupid that sounds? At what point are users required to take responsibility for learning and growing as technologically advanced people?

You can only stupefy user interfaces down so far before you get to a point where users want you to literally read their minds into developing a user interface that does everything.....

For me, I don't subscribe to enabling user laziness.
Brice Richard Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Does anyone use the Obelus ( line with 2 dots ) except in elementary school? I think it only became popular then in the 70s-80s with the first pocket calculators.
My HP calculator uses it for divide and X for multiply, it has little italic x and y or complicated fucnctions.
Martin Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Brice, please don't volunteer to write the user interface of anything I'm going to be using.

Seriously I agree with OPs girlfriend. I think the thing is that Windows Calculator was originally written for computer geeks (who were the only people using Windows then) who understood * and / and sqrt. There is absolutely no reason why the buttons shouldn't have 'divide' and 'multiply' symbols on them. With good design, 'multiply' looks nothing like 'x', and physical calculators manage to have both symbols without confusing the user.

It's just gook origins plus back compatibility.
DJ Clayworth
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Err, that's 'geek origins'.
DJ Clayworth
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
"your girlfriend needs to go back to school starting from the 9th grade"

So what you're saying is that if you wrote a UI for a tool to do simple math, you would target it only at people with high school math? Can I hire you for my marketing dept?
DJ Clayworth
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
People have been using it for over 10 years without any problems and I don't believe there would be any significant improvement in the usability if those the division and multiplications symbols were replaced now.

Get over the small insignificant details and quit nitpicking.
Daemon Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
<<<So what you're saying is that if you wrote a UI for a tool to do simple math, you would target it only at people with high school math?>>>

No, the calculator symbol issue is a legitimate argument for providing symbols on buttons that make sense.

I'm looking at the larger picture for user interfaces.

Users are lazy as hell and don't want to take the time to learn new things. It is to this point that I directed my comments, not whether or not a symbol representing multiplication is presented as a * or x.

I know how to design powerful UIs but I don't enable stupidity for users. I recognize the importance of simplicity in UI development and I've read plenty of books on the topic.

However, if, beyond the point of simplicity in UIs the user still doesn't get it then those are the people to whom my comments are directed.
Brice Richard Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Weird. 

And to think my numeric keypad on my keyboard has + - * and /  instead of + - (divide) (multiply). 

Almost like the Windows calculator buttons match the keyboard shortcut keys you would use to do the calculations without using the mouse.
Dan Fleet Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
I agree in principle, however:

1)  The / was frequently used as a division symbol before computers.  In fact the % is based on the /  The % is composed of two circles that represent numbers and a line that represents /.  Likewise the regular division symbol is composed of two dots with a line in the middle.  It is pretty much the same thing except that the line is horizonal instead of diagonal.  The whole point is that a line dividing (omg, that must be the origin) two numbers is the division symbol.

So if you have one number above another then the symbol should be a horizontal line.  If the numbers are side by side logically the symbol should be a vertical line.  However we use that for OR so we use a diagonal line for division.  Also I would assume that the use of the diagonal line naturally evolved in people's writings.  I can imagine a scribe trying to put all of the numbers on one line and so he would tilt the line a little.

2)  The multiplication signs used in print are not very good and needed replacing.  The cross is too easy to confuse with the letter x.  The dot is too easy to confuse with the period.  Use of the asterix for multiplication should be taught instead of x.
Tom C
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Anyone here bother to look at the corresponding keys on their keyboard's number pad?
Chris Altmann
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Nope.
Dan Fleet Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
I have lost my old APL keyboard, so I must use ascii.
Mikkin
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
"I don't enable stupidity for users" - Brice

Interesting niche to write software for, that "smart user" niche (by which, of course, you mean "users that think like Brice").  Kind of a small market there, since users tend to be smart at their problem domain, not at the skill of computer use.

I think I'll stick with writing software for the full market, including the 98% of users that just want to do their job, not learn about computers.  Writing for just the other 2% doesn't sound like a sustainable model.
Skorj
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Brice, first read everything that Jerry Weinberg has ever written. Jerry has had just a little something to say about end users and techies who believe that they are demi-Gods.

Then lock yourself in an onion cellar for 10 years as penance for your statements.
Bored Bystander Send private email
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
I understand the OP's complaint, but I do think the ÷ and × are archaic and on their way to obsoletion, the × in particular. I still like the √, though.
Meghraj Reddy
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
And to be clear, I would prefer that we kept the old ones, but it seems that most people using computers expect / and *, which is a shame.
Meghraj Reddy
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
You're always going to be faced with users who, when asked to "Press Any Key", look for the "Any" key. They're not stupid, they're just new to the computer way of doing things.

We should try to hold their hands within reason (tooltips, perhaps, in this calculator case), but educate them at the same time, so that they are forced to learn and then use the correct conventions. Otherwise we're doing them a disservice.

But not to the extremes of some OSS though...
Control Alt Delete
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
 
 
Jeffrey: The built-in Windows calculator (in Vista anyway) and the optional Microsoft Calculator Plus both show */ instead of the mathematical symbols.  Which calculator program are YOU using?

"And to think my numeric keypad on my keyboard has + - * and /  instead of + - (divide) (multiply)."

And to think that mine doesn't.  That's a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, i.e. a fairly recent model, and the numeric keypad has the mathematical symbols for division and multiplication, not */.  So Microsoft's calculators actually don't match Microsoft's keyboards.
Chris Nahr
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
"Users are lazy as hell and don't want to take the time to learn new things."

Good luck with that attitude. Have you considered that users have better things to do with their time?
John Topley Send private email
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
I think the reason it uses * and /  instead of the standard symbols is because it matches the extended QUERTY keboard used by computers - not calculators which have a different set of input keys and perform an entirely different function.
AndyW
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
I used to teach "Basic Computers" as a high school night class. The way we learn now is not by memorizing facts but how to run through a differnet maze every time we want cheese.

I have them remember (mostly senior citizens) that they have mastered the ATM and the microwave (hopefully) to get a reward at the end of the task and that they can master basic computer operations.
SheRa Send private email
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
All the apps that come with Windows --- Calc, Notepad, WMP, Explorer, IE --- are adequate and nothing more. Presumably this is intentional, probably because of Microsoft's fear of being considered anti-competitive. There are plenty of third parties selling alternatives.

Calc really is ugly though.
Some Random Bloke
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
"And to think that mine doesn't."

That's refreshing actually.

Honestly, the reason why we use these / and * symbols (although I argue they are perfectly reasonable alternatives, and in the case of '*', better than, the mathematical symbols) is because keyboards lack them, in general.

It seems the real question is why did keyboards for computer systems not just naturally include fairly standardized mathematical symbols as part of their evolution?  Obviously this lack influenced programming language syntax.
Dan Fleet Send private email
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 
"It seems the real question is why did keyboards for computer systems not just naturally include fairly standardized mathematical symbols as part of their evolution?  Obviously this lack influenced programming language syntax."

Very limited size character set.  It made a significant difference with printing speed.  Some languages were defined to work with small character sets (64 or fewer characters).  Then, what gets used is what people are used to.

Sincerely,

Gene Wirchenko
Gene Wirchenko Send private email
Thursday, June 14, 2007
 
 

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