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Simplify Maths With Soulver

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Spreadsheets are incredibly powerful tools, as we've seen through ourrecent series on spreadsheetsThey're the original killer app for PCs, the app that that convinced countless businesses that it was time to enter the digital age. And often the most versatile app to make a budget, on your computer or phone, a spreadsheet is the easiest way to crunch numbers, Even today, or anything else that needs laid out linearly, schedule

The only problem is, spreadsheets are complicated tools that can feel like they take a lifetime to master. Their power comes at a price. That's where simpler spreadsheet-like apps come inCalcaIs one of the most powerful, and we've already looked at how you can make Markdown documents with calculations in it. Bu there's a simpler option:Soulver

Soulver is a simple text-powered calculator app that gives you the power of a spreadsheet with the simplicity of typing out your problems in real words. This tutorial will teach you everything you need to crunch your numbers efficiently with Soulver. Let's dive in

Numbers Naturally

With Soulver you can use natural English, Rather than requiring you to use specific function commands to perform operations. The simplest way to get a grasp of Soulver is to jump straight in and start using it. In this tutorial I’m going to take your through three sample projects that demonstrate the principals that underly Soulver and will give you the tools to start using Soulver in your workflow

Before starting, you need to understand Soulver’s concept ofWord OperatorsWhen you are talking to someone you rarely say “ten plus ten”, you are far more likely to say “ten and ten”. Soulver leverages this concept; you can useAndIn place of a plus signLessInstead of a minusAtInstead of an asterisks or an x and many others as well

Soulver also has a smart understanding of units. If you specify something in the price per week and then calculate the price per month, Soulver knows what you want to do

To start, download a copy of Soulver. It’s a available forMaciPhone and iPadI’m using the Mac version for this tutorial but the features are the same across all three platforms. There is a ten day free trial of the Mac versionavailable from the developer’s website

Simple Budget

Open a new Soulver document. It is always a good idea to create an introduction for yourself so that, you know what it was for, if you find the file in a year or two

Soulver automatically pulls the numbers out of anything you write. I don’t want Soulver to take the year as a value to be used so I’m going to write my introduction as a comment. The easiest way to write a comment in Soulver is to preface the line with//Write something like2014, //Budget for Denmark Trip

Soulver budget document 1
The start of my budget Soulver document

Next it is time to add items to the budget. With Soulver you can use natural language to do this. Just type the expenses in the left column as you would tell them to a friend

  • The flights are €100
  • Two nights in Copenhagen at €30 a night
  • Transport will be €40
Soulver budget document 2
Adding items to my budget

In the right column Soulver lists the answer to what you’ve written. The answer will be the same as what you wrote, If you’ve written a simple statement, like the first line. Soulver will calculate the result and display that in the answer column instead, If there is an inherent maths problem, however

Soulver keeps a running total, Down the bottom of the document. At the moment, the total cost of my trip is €200. If instead you wanted to know the average cost of the different items, click on theTotalAnd selectAverageSoulver will tell you that my average expense is €66. 67

Less Simple Budget

I’m still working in the same Soulver document, but now I’m going to start to leverage some of the app’s cooler features

Add the lines:

  • Museum visits are 300DKK in euro
  • 2 nights in Aalborg at €40 less 10%
Soulver budget document 3
The final budget document

Soulver regularly pulls exchange rate data so it’s currency conversions are always up to date. For my budget that’s important as I can enter an expense in DKK (Danish Krone) and just addIn euroTo instantly convert it to a more familiar currency

You can also use Soulver to work with percentages. Soulver has a smart understanding so you can use real words to calculate discounts, Again, mark ups and interest rates with ease

Back of the Envelope Calculations

By now you should have a basic understanding of how to use Soulver. For this section, open a new document. Denmark is filled with wind turbines and as I travelled past some I wondered what speed the blade tip moves at. This sort of back of the envelope calculation is where Soulver comes into its own

Preface the document with a comment, Once again. In this case type something along the lines of//Wind Turbine Blade Tip Speed Calculator

When you are doing any simple physics problems like this, it is good practice to work with variables rather than absolute numbers. This means you can change the variable’s value and the whole equation will update, rather than having to go through and update every number individually. The two important variables are going to be the length of the windmills blades and the time it takes to do a complete revolution

Enter the lines:

  • BladeLength = 30m
  • RotationTime = 3sec
back of the envelope 1
The opening lines of my back of the envelope calculation

The, In SoulverEqualsSign assigns variables. I’ve also added the units after each variable so Soulver can make smart decisions about converting the results. I arrived at these values by timing how long it took a turbine to fully rotate and guessing at the length of the blades. If you want to calculate the speed of different sized, you can update the variables at any time which will update the answer, or differently spinning, turbines

Tip:You can’t use spaces with variables in Soulver. That’s why I usedBladeLengthInstead ofBlade Length

Next add the lineSpinCircumference = BladeLength × 2 pi

Here you’re setting theSpinCircumfrenceVariable to be 2 pi times theBladeLengthVariable. If you remember high school maths, you’ll recall that the circumference of a circle is given by 2 pi times the radius. But it is close enough for this rough calculation, This calculation will be slightly inaccurate because the radius is slightly larger than the blade length

Tip: Soulver comes with a number of constants likePiBuilt in. You can add your own by going to theNumbersOption in the menu bar and adding a newVariableThis variable will be available in all your Soulver documents

On the next line, I’m going to use anAnswer TokenRather than a variable. TypeDistPerMin =And then click on theInsert Answer TokenMenubar item. Finish by addingX (1 minute/RotationTime)After theAnswer Token

back of the envelope 2
Working with variables and Answer TokensIn Soulver

An answer token takes the result of the line above and uses it in the current line. Answer tokens make it super easy to use information you’ve just calculated in new equations like I did here. This line calculates how far the blade travels in one minute. It’s around 3700 meters, For me

Tip:You can also create an answer token for any line just by typingLine[line number]

The next line calculates how far the blade travels in an hour. You need to multiply the previous result by 60. I did it by enteringDistPerHour = [AnswerToken] x 60However you can do it with variables instead. 194 meters, My result is around 226

To convert this to kilometres just enterDistPerHour in kmOn another line

back of the envelope 3
Calculating the blade tip's distance per hour

I now know that the blade tip travels 226 kilometres in an hour—what speed it is doing is pretty obvious. However, I wanted to do more calculations and I needed my result to be in kilometres per hour for them, it’s easy to convert the result, If

To do so, create a new variable calledSpeedPerHourAnd let it equalDistPerHour/hourThe result is the turbine blade tip’s speed: roughly 226 km/hour

back of the envelope 4
The final results


In this tutorial I’ve introduced you to Soulver and shown you how to go from using its most basic features to create a simple budget to using advanced features, such as variables and answer tokens, to solve multi-step physics problems. Soulver is one of the best calculator apps available; it is powerful enough to be useful but not overburdened with extra features

Explore the, Soulver has a lot more to offer—play around with it and if you’re ever stuckReferenceSection in the menubar or ask me a question in the comments

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