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Using Units in a Spreadsheet

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000099451D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Mar-14
Document File: 2 page(s) / 90K

Publishing Venue

IBM

Related People

Hibberd, LR: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

This article deals with the problem of specifying unit-based values in a spreadsheet. It does not deal with the benefits of adding units to the data values and treating the two as a combined entity, which is dealt with in [*].

This text was extracted from an ASCII text file.
This is the abbreviated version, containing approximately 52% of the total text.

Using Units in a Spreadsheet

       This article deals with the problem of specifying
unit-based values in a spreadsheet.  It does not deal with the
benefits of adding units to the data values and treating the two as a
combined entity, which is dealt with in [*].

      Spreadsheets of today only allow untyped values, and the
interpretation of these values are left unstated, except if the user
enters them in adjoining fields as text strings. If the notion of
typed data is to be added to the spreadsheet, it will be essential
that the units can be as easily specified as the data values.  Among
the reasons for the popularity of the spreadsheet programs is their
intuitive mode of operation:  the results of a change are displayed
immediately. Specification of units must be equally easy and
intuitive, if they are to catch on.

      For constant data values, the solution is to allow the units to
be specified next to the data itself (e.g., "25 mph" or "2 hours").
This is what a user would intuitively expect, and it requires no
extra steps to complete other that the extra typing involved.  Since
this is exactly the way units of measurement are normally given in
written text, no learning is needed to be able to employ them.

      For formulas, the resulting unit is derived directly from the
referenced cells.  Given that the two values above are stored in
cells A1 and A2, the formula to calculate the distance travelled
would be:  "A1*A2", and the result displayed would be:  "50 miles".
Note that the formula is the same that would be used for untyped
values, and that the resulting unit is determined automatically.
Again, no specific learning curve is needed to start using "typed"
data.

      A spreadsheet supporting units must out of necessity also
support conversions between commensurate units.  If the resulting
unit is not what is needed, it can be changed by adding the needed
unit to the formula. If we wanted the above result in kilometers
instead of miles, all that would be needed would be to change the
formula to:  "A1*A2 kilometers", and we would get "80 kilometers"
displayed instead.

      Changing the unit of measurement obviously requires that the
two units are commensurate; if not, an error should be reported.
Thus, if we tried to convert the distance calculated above to gallons
by specifying the formula as "A1*A2 gallons", an error ind...