It's tax time again. The time when we once again vow that this
year, we'll keep track of tax related items as they come up so
that we don't once again end up sorting piles of receipts from
a paper bag.
Yeah, right. That's going to happen.
Actually, on the business side of things, I do things that way:
everything goes into QuickBooks and taxes are a snap. On the
personal side.. well, it's good intentions and not much else.
So every year around February or March we start gathering up
the relevant checks and receipts and sorting them into piles.. big,
This past year was worse than usual. We sold our home, bought
a modular home (big sales tax receipt), sold some stocks, had a lot of medical
expenses, gave a car and a lot of other stuff away to charities..
so of course we got started with the tax work early.
Early. You know, two days before the taxes are due. That's
early, isn't it?
First order of business was that we needed a calculator
to add up these receipts. We have a calculator, right? Sure
we do, probably have bunches of them. No problem..
I mentioned that we moved, didn't I? Did I mention that
an awful lot of our stuff is still in boxes, piles of
boxes cluttering our living room and filling our garage?
A few years from now, when we unpack the last of those boxes,
I bet we'll find a calculator.. probably lots of calculators. Big ones,
little ones, solar powered, battery powered, plug-ins.. but right now: no calculators
can be found.
Let's not be silly. There are hundreds of software calculators.
We can do this right on our computers. Most of our machines
even have calculators already. My Linux box has one, so does the Mac
and of course Windows does too.
"But they don't have tapes", my wife complained. Hmmm.. that's
true, but I don't think any of the still packed calculators
we own have tapes either. She had a simple answer for that:
"I need a tape."
So that's that, isn't it? I hopped in the car, went to BJ's,
and bought a heavy duty Sharp calculator with tape for $40.00.
Personally, I would have used something like
(link dead, sorry)
tApCalc (Linux), where I could save the tape, edit it, annotate it.. but
"I need a tape" is a cogent and irrefutable argument. Or at
least it is when your wife says it is.
I brought the calculator home, installed the paper tape roll,
plugged it in, and turned it on. It seemed to work, so I turned
it over to the person with the fast and accurate fingers and
went back to whatever I had been doing before "we" reaized we
needed a calculator.
It was hardly a minute later when she called to me. "It doesn't
work". I went to investigate.
"See - it just keeps adding. I can't start over."
Son of a gun. It did just keep adding. I shut it off and turned
it back on.
The display read 7.
Of course the display said 15.
The display read 0
Huh? What do you mean 20? I hit GT again, and again the display read 0.
I hit it twice, then hit 4 and "+" again.
I pulled out the instructions. There was a section about a "Constant Add
Mode" switch. It's for multiplication: "The calculator will
will automatically remember the first number entered (the multiplicand)".
We played with that. No change.
Old timers with better memories already know the answer to this
operational problem. My wife and I are old enough to know it too,
but we had both forgotten, and it was only when I accidentally
hit the "*" key that we both remembered and realized that on most old desktop
calculators, "*" was total and clear.
As explained at
http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/monroe2880.html, that usage
goes back to early days:
The 'diamond' key recalls the current accumulated total (akin to
a "MR" key) , and the "*" key recalls the total and clears the
accumulator (like pressing "MR" followed by "MC" on a calculator
But why? I searched the web but couldn't find any reason
for that choice. Possibly CDC Fortran's use of asterisk as a delimiter
doesn't seem likely, but it's the best I could find.
And why a diamond symbol for sub-totals? I couldn't find any
ideas about that either. I doubt these were chosen arbitrarily;
there had to be some precedence of usage in a similar manner. But
I sure don't know what it was.
Well, we got the taxes done. There was a brief moment of panic
where we thought we had forgotten to enter a pile of miscellaneous
income, but that was a false alarm. We may have missed a few
legitimate deductions here and there, but that's OK. The IRS
doesn't come looking for you when you pay more than you should
have. We E-File, of course, using the latest technology to
send the end results of all those old paper tape totals.
Any links or even guesses to the origins of "asterisk" and "diamond"
in calculator keyboards will be appeciated. It's just idle
curiousity, but I would like to know.
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