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Tape Adding Machines - Bad Habit, Addiction Or Comfy Loafers?

Aug 18, 2007
The next time you're in an office where personal computers are used, look on the desks. Chances are pretty good that you will see a mechanical tape adding machine sitting next to many of the computers. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Why are such antiquated pieces of equipment, that do little more than simple arithmetic, sitting next to very powerful, perhaps very expensive computing devices?

In my opinion, the advantages of a full featured adding machine program should convince most people that mechanical adding machines are expensive dinosaurs that have long outlived their usefulness for personal computer users. To illustrate, here are a few of the advantages a person realizes from using a well written electronic paper tape (etape) program instead of a mechanical adding machine.

* An etape is editable. With a mechanical machine, an error on a printed tape often means re-running the entire tape. Etape entries can be changed, inserted and removed.

* Etapes can be saved to disc and reopened. There is no need to commit an electronic tape to paper unless needed. And etapes on disc can be shared with anyone in the world who has an email address.

* Etapes saved to disc are encrypted to prevent "back door" viewing and changes.

* Electronic tapes that must be stored to satisfy statutory requirements can be saved on media, such as CDs, that will ensure the integrity of the stored etapes almost indefinitely. In additon, multiple backup copies of stored etapes can easily be created. With backup copies stored off-site, the expense of fireproof storage can be avoided. (While the life expectancy for data stored on CDs is not yet known, I imagine an electronic tape saved on a CD may last longer than a tape printed on paper.)

* Editable notes can be added to each entry and subtotal on an etape. Each etape can also have a caption. Etapes saved on disc can be searched based on file names, captions and/or etape notes.

* Entire etapes and single etape values can be copied and then pasted into any other program that supports the clipboard. This means an electronic adding machine program works with just about all office and finance software.

* With a Master/Derived Value feature, a person can re-use multi-sectioned etapes for often performed calculations. To re-do a calculation, the re-usable etape is opened from disc and key values are changed. Linked subtotals cascade to following etape sections automatically so that all sections of the etape are correctly recalculated.

* An optional subtotal column on an etape displays the current running subtotal throughout the entire etape.

* An unlimited number of memories can be created in a well written adding machine program. Switching between memories at any time is a matter of a few mouse clicks.

* Adding sales tax calculations to an etape can be done by pressing one button.

* A Biz Wizard feature simplifies the calculations of annuities, loans and depreciation. The results of these types of calculations, including entire loan amortization schedules, can be placed on an etape with one mouse click.

With these, and several other advantages of electronic adding machine etapes, why have mechanical tape adding machines managed to avoid the same fate of paper and pencil spreadsheets? In my opinion, habit is a large factor. People have been using adding machines for a long time; long before the advent of personal computers. Whenever an arithmetic calculation needs to be done, muscle memory kicks in subconsciously. The arm extends past the keyboard and the fingers begin to punch very familiar buttons.

I imagine there is also a certain amount of addiction to the whir and clickity-clackity sounds of a paper tape being printed. When I asked one person why she still used a mechanical paper tape machine she said, "I like the sound it makes." There is also the intimidation many people still feel with personal computers. A mechanical adding machine, compared to software, may feel like a pair of well broken in loafers.

Be it habit, addiction or a comfort factor, mechanical adding machines have managed to survive technological advances despite the fact that they deprive people of valuable functionality and incur unnecessary costs. A well written electronic adding machine, which can sound just like a mechanical machine, pays for itself quickly with reduced office supply expenses and fewer purchases of replacement equipment. It is no longer necessary to buy cases of adding machine tape or boxes of ribbon cartridges. And, since software doesn't wear out, the expense of replacing worn out and broken adding machines is eliminated. Not buying paper tape and ribbons in cardboard packaging also means less pressure on our forests. And not throwing out broken machines and exhausted print cartridges means fewer non-degradable plastics going into our landfills.

Using etapes, in my opinion, is a win-win-win situation for personal computer users, the bottom line and the environment.
About the Author
George Gilbert writes software for personal computers. One of his most popular titles is myOwn10-Key. All of the features described in this article are available on this award winning electronic adding machine. Click here to learn more about myOwn10-Key.
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