Some soon to be updated documentation for napkin math


I had an old machine give out on me earlier this week.  The memory on it had started giving parity errors, and the hard drive finally went out completely - fdisk simply would not even run any more.  This particular machine had been the machine I use to write automation scripts, so I had to recreate all those files on a new machine.  Moving to a newer machine had been on my to do list for awhile, so of all the time for a machine to die, this was as good as a time as any.


As I'm getting my new machine set up, I tried running the napkin math automation scripts as a test to ensure the new machine was working properly.  I checked the online help at just to be complete while the script was running and noticed OneNote has a little more functionality built into it than the help file documents.


For instance, x and X are treated as valid multiplication operators.  So 5x3.2=  resolves to 16.  Nice - our napkin math feature is designed to be lightweight, and for students in lower level math classes, x is the operator used most.  Seems easy and discoverable.


There are a couple of other operators supported which "feel" well used enough - the ! (factorial) and mod (modulus) functions.  ! is the standard operation which multiplies all positive integers less than the number together, so 5! = 5x4x3x2x1 = 120.  The mod function gives the remainder of a division operation: 14mod4=2, since 2 is the remainder when 14 is divided by 4.  Pretty standard stuff.


Lastly, there are 2 constants supported by OneNote: pi and phi.  Pi=3.141592653589793 and phi=1.618033988749895.   Phi is the "golden mean," computed by (1+sqrt(5))/2.   While maybe not the most standard constant to have, it may be useful to have around.


And here is the final part that surprised me the most.  The Greek letters for pi and pi are supported as constants in both lower case and capital forms.  Try it out:


π=should give 3.141592653589793

Π=should give 3.141592653589793

φ=should give 1.618033988749895

Φ=should give 1.618033988749895


(Use character map to insert the symbols if you want). 


The next thing I did? 1xpi=...


Since I am a tester, I wanted to file a bug against our documentation for omitting this functionality.  I got in touch with the writer, gave him the details and the web page will get updated.  I don't know how long this will take - the documentation will need to be translated into all the supported languages, the web pages created, tested and finally deployed.   In the meantime, I thought this would be kind of interesting.


I'll also update the automation script one more time to cover these items.  This will fall into bucket 1 from our list of automation work to complete.  Remember when I said my machine picked a good time to die?  I got a bug out of it, and it can't get much better than that for testers.


Questions, comments, concerns and criticisms always welcome,


Comments (6)
  1. Ted says:


    I hope that as a tester, your statement that you "noticed OneNote has a little more functionality built into it than the help file documents" resulted in you filing a bug report to the folks who write the documentation.  As a user, documentation that does not match the product always feels poor, and this is true whether the product does more or less than the documentation purports.

    Note that napkin math is a clear example of OneNote being able to do more than the documentation purports.  An example of OneNote doing less can be seen by this phrase from the "Tips for searching notes" help topic:  "With the exception of AND, OR, and NEAR, search is not case sensitive."  The topic documents the use of OR in the previous paragraph, but AND and NEAR have no explicit documentation.  Nonetheless, because AND is a well known search term and even though AND is the default conjunction between terms, OneNote also supports AND and documents it as reserved search term.  NEAR is also a well-known search term that was formerly supported by many cool search engines, but it seemed to fade after Google came on the scene and did not support it.  However, NEAR appears in a lot of Microsoft search documentation, although I have yet to see a Microsoft search feature that actually supports NEAR.  OneNote treats NEAR the same as the lower case "near" – in other words, it does not treat it as a search term and instead searches for the word "near".  This is definitely less functionality than I expect from the documentation and is clearly a bug.  The knee-jerk reaction is to file a bug to remove the word NEAR from the documentation; however, it would be better to fix OneNote to properly provide the NEAR function in search.

    Last, I hope you’ll file a bug that the constant E is necessary for two reasons:  It is more important in general use than PHI, and also it is important for symmetry with the log/ln operators – it does not appear easy to get an antilog in OneNote without knowing the constant for E in your head.


  2. Ted says:

    "I hope" should have read "I hoped".  Sorry for the typo.  My unhappiness isn’t that you didn’t file a bug for the lack of this documentation, it was that there are so many examples of little omissions like this.

  3. JohnGuin says:

    Well, the reason I did not file a bug is that I did not have access to the database the web team uses.  Since I was able to get in touch with him via email and able to get the problem fixed, I did not see a need to "formally" log a bug in a database.  It was "logged" via email and fixed, so I feel comfortable with doing the right thing for this particular issue.

    And I’m still checking the page to get a feel for how long it takes to update this information for all the languages we support.


  4. In addition to being a great place to store all of your notes and other content, OneNote also serves

  5. In February 2008 I mentioned some extra functionality built into our "napkin math" system. I sent the

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