How can you improve on perfection?  You can’t, really.

So when you find something you prefer more than the old perfect software, what happened?  Could your tastes have changed?  Or is it the case that the old “perfect” wasn’t as good as you thought?

With Microsoft’s new graphing calculator, it’s definitely Door B.

I had written about Microsoft calculators almost a year ago.

And it’s not so much the state of the art has improved, but rather that MS decided to give away the Version 4 software, instead of charging twenty bucks like they did for the prior version.  You know, I don’t mind re-defining perfect for this thing.

Download it (probably the x86 flavor, unless you know for sure that you are running 64-bit Windows), install it, go through the DirectX install, and run it.  And up pops a — calculator!

But it’s so much more.  It’s a graphing calculator, meaning it can draw pictures of equations.  It has a triangle solver, which could be even handier around the house than in school.  And it even understands what you’re typing and formats it for you!

When I put in x^2+y^2=1, it gets translated (correctly) as x² + y² = 1.  And then it offers to show the solution steps, shows two different solutions, and offers to plot the solution in 2D and in 3D.  This is obviously not my father’s calculator.

(cool old calculator from Curtis Gaylord Perry)

Anyway, let’s see what this show-off can do on that 2D and 3D stuff.

3D is prettier.  And it’s just a pipe.  Hmmmmm – wonder what would happen if we tossed Z² into that equation – bet it would be a sphere.

And ain’t it purty!  That’s one of the nice things about this tool – not that you can draw nice graphs, but it encourages exploration.

I didn’t take geometry in the 8th grade with the other kids.  I got tossed in to 9th grade algebra, which I enjoyed, but I miss understanding geometry intuitively.  Pythagorean triangles I can do, but sine this and tangent that – not so much.  But again, this tool comes through.  A simple 3, 4, 5 triangle turns into a playground.  From the home page, go to the Triangle Solver

drop in your numbers, hit Calculate, and you get a pretty picture.

“Shazam” doesn’t really come close to describing how this hits me.  It’s an incredibly useful tool for around the house, to modeling almost anything you can slap a number on.  From arc-cosecants to permutations and combinations, it’s all here, and it’s all easy to use.  Bravo, Microsoft!