Problems and Solutions

Each of the conversion methods offered to this point has its drawbacks. One obvious area for error is the universal use of a calculator in the conversions. When doing so, the remainder in a division problem is shown as a decimal value rather than a fractional value. In the above example, dividing 2135 by 16 results in a displayed answer of 133.4375. OK – the 133 part is easy, but how about the .4375 part? That value must itself be converted to its fraction-of-sixteen form before then converting that to hex. See how errors can occur? The third line of the example above gives us a displayed answer of 0.5. Again, the 0 part is obvious, as the instructions tell us to look for a zero quotient. The .5 part can be easily misunderstood to be a remainder of 5 rather than the correct remainder of 8.

The other conversion methods require the user to have web access, or to have a table or chart available, or to follow complex and confusing mathematical steps. Needless to say, all of these conditions are less than desirable. So … is there a better way? You bet – I’ve saved the best for last.

Just about anyone who has a modern PC running a current version of Windows has a built-in number system convertor that will instantly convert between decimal, binary, octal, and hex, all at the click of a button. This amazing tool is the Windows Calculator, and this capability is available when the calculator is displayed in its Scientific Calculator mode.

Launch your calculator – Start / Run / CALC or Start / Programs / Accessories / Calculator will do the trick … providing that the calculator applet was installed with Windows. If not, don’t worry – it can easily be added through the Windows Control Panel. Once the calculator is running, click View / Scientific to put the calculator into Scientific Mode. You should then see a display similar to Figure 2 below.

Figure 2 – Windows Calculator in Scientific Mode

To use this marvel, first verify that the radio button for the number type you will input is selected. In Figure 2, the calculator is set for a decimal input. Type in the input value and click the radio button for the desired output format. The display will now show that equivalent for the original input value.

Note also that the calculator keypad will change to accurately reflect the number system in use. Figures 3 through 5 show the calculator in each of its other number system configurations. Each of these figures shows the calculator displaying the same value in its equivalent form for the number system in use by the calculator. As a point of interest, the value displayed is the decimal value 2135 that we worked with earlier.

Figure 3 – Scientific calculator in hex configuration – note the A-F keys
Figure 4 – Scientific calculator in octal configuration – only eight glyph keys work
Figure 5 – Scientific calculator in binary mode

In Conclusion

It is highly unlikely that the ability to convert hex values will change your life at all. On the other hand, it may just come in handy some day. The truth of the matter is that this is just one of those esoteric topics that compu-geeks are conversant with, but that few others worry about. If reading this helps to increase your understanding of the modern PC and its systems, the article will have served its purpose.


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