An anywhere-calculator

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Morten Just

Once you see it, you can't unsee it. When it comes to certain functions, computers are just really flat typewriters, no smarter than a baby blue Brother Deluxe.

You see it when you're writing about that time you bought an overpriced water melon in Thailand, and need to tell the reader how many dollars 700 baht.

You see it when you write a recipe, an expense report, splitting bills.

You switch between the text editor and the calculator, in no way faster than reaching for a calculator on your desk.

Could there be a better way? One in which you spend the least amount of energy possible in order to get your result, right in the context of where you're writing?

The overly eager waiter

You'd type 3+5 and the system would immediately replace that with 8, with an option to undo, like a spell check. That felt intrusive, like an overly eager waiter at a restaurant, who instantly serves you a Tiramisu because his spy gear picked up the word in a conversation with your date. What would a better waiter do? They'd stick around, respect your privacy and control, but also make sure to never get too far away from your table, close enough to be able to magically pop up exactly when you need it.

How it went

Here's the prototype I ended up playing with. It hooks straight into macOS and floats a super tiny window right above the text selection block.

Or a simpler example:

The response to that tweet did show that there was something there, but unlike Rotato, I didn't get DMs demanding that I take their money immediately. Maybe it was just an interesting idea at best. Switching to a calculator (or using Spotlight) isn't 10 times worse.

One of the reactions hinted at where I had gotten the inspiration. The idea, like many of the greatest yet-to-be-build ideas, was from the early days of computing  in the 1970s.

And there it is, right in the book, with screenshots and everything.

From The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin

It came back

A year later I saw this tweet from the Crafts team. Imagine this little idea, being born in Raskin's head in the late seventies, then just trying to find a way to exist for decades. In 2019 it tried me, that didn't work. Then it found Craft in 2020.

And it turns out they had seen my tweet, and that tweet worked as a small vote for getting the feature out there.

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