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Soulver Takes the Problem Out of Problem Solving

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jan 22, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Soulver is a number-crunching app by Acqualia, is available at the Mac App Store for US$19.99.

Soulver Takes the Problem Out of Problem Solving

Soulver crunches all kinds of numbers.
It's nigh impossible to avoid numbers in our daily lives. Whether it's preparing a household budget, doing a tax return, calculating travel expenses or divvying up a dinner tab, dealing with digits is inescapable.

Necessity, however, doesn't make numbers any more interesting to many of us, especially those of us more comfortable with words. Numbers and words need not be mutually exclusive, though, and when they're not, they can be a lot more engaging.

Proof of that can be found in Soulver, a neat program that allows you to use numbers and perform calculations in a more natural way, with both figures and words. When a waiter hands you and your three friends a check for $62.50 for lunch, you think what do we each owe, with tip, if we split the tab equally; not ($62.50/4)+(4*($62.50*.20)).

Smart Parsing

When you launch Soulver, a two-panel display appears. In the left panel, you type your words and numbers. In the right panel, the results from what you typed in the left panel appear. So if you type 2+2 in the left panel, 4 will appear in the right one.

If the answer in the right column is in a unit -- dollars or degrees, for instance -- Soulver will show a pop up box with additional information. For example, beside an answer such as $4.71 will appear that sum converted into other currencies: Australian dollars, Euros and so forth.

What's nice about Soulver is it allows you to use words to add details to your calculations. You can write something like bus fare is $1.17 x 3 trips + one trip at $.57 and your answer, $4.08, will dynamically appear in the right panel.

Soulver, as you can see, is smart enough to parse the words and numbers in a statement and extract what it needs to make a calculation.

Another useful feature of the program is that it will keep a running total of the answers to the statements you enter into the left panel. That's fine if all the results from your statements are in a single unit -- dollars, for instance -- but not so fine if your statements contain a mixture of units like currency, volume and time.

In addition, you can copy lists of items from other applications -- an invoice, perhaps -- paste them into Soulver, and it will total the items for you.

Easy Percentages

Soulver also lets you do some nifty tricks with percentages.

You can do simple percentage calculations such as 3.23% of 2257 (answer: 72.9011).

Typically, you'll see advertisements for 20 percent, 15 percent or such off an item. Soulver simplifies that calculation with a statement like 20% off $39.95 (answer: $31.96).

Even when you buy goods online now, you frequently have to pay taxes. With Soulver you can define a label -- such as tax -- and use it in your calculations. So after defining your tax label -- tax=3.85% -- you can calculate the tithe on a product with a statement like $122.34 + tax (answer: $127.05).

Mark ups and mark downs can also be simply calculated. If you're selling an item for $200 and you want to mark it down 10 percent, for instance, you can do so with 10% on what is $200 (answer: $181.82) or if you want to mark it up: 10% off $200 (answer: $222.22)

Splitting the Tab

Tying together a series of statements is easy with Soulver, too. You can click on a total in the right panel and drag it into another statement in the left one. When you do that, the total becomes a dynamic token so any changes you make in a statement will be automatically applied to your series of statements.

For example, the result from the statement "lunch with Bob, Ted, Alice $62.50," which is $62.50, can be dragged to a second statement that divides the tab evenly -- $62.50 per 4 people -- which displays a result of $15.63

Then you can add a gratuity statement -- tip=20% -- then drag $15.63 to a new line and with the statement "$15.63 + tip" arrive at your final result: $18.75.

Now when you change any of the factors in the series of statements, all the statements will be adjusted to accommodate that change. So if you change $62.50 to $65.50, for example, your per person share will change to $16.38 and your total to $19.95.

Soulver allows you to save a set of statements and reuse them, which would be useful for our split-the-tab example. You can also export your work in the software in formats like HTML and CSV.

Conversions Galore

Since I'm always trying to convert units of something into units of something else, I found Soulver's conversion features very useful.

Converting currencies is as simple as typing a statement like "$100 USD in Euros." You can also mix and match currencies in a statement. "300 Japanese yen + 50 Euros in USD," for example, would yield 71.19 USD. Since exchange rates are always fluctuating, though, currency conversions in Soulver are more approximate than precise.

A wide array of units are addressed by the program in categories such as time, mass, volume, length, area, speed, frequency, pressure, energy, power and computer storage.

Soulver has some specialty functions, too. You can store stock symbols in it so when you type a statement like "10 AAPL," it will give you the worth of those stock shares. It also supports higher math functions and will convert numbers into binary and hex -- a useful tool for programmers.

As unbelievable as it may seem to many people, Soulver makes numbers fun to work with. That's because it lets you focus on problem-solving and leaves the chore of calculation to your computer.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.

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