Just Counting
a tool ecosystem for personal numeric information

Alan Dix

Cardiff Metropolitan University, Wales, UK
Computational Foundry, Swansea University, Wales, UK

Paper presented at 17th International Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces (AVI 2024), Arenzano (Genoa), Italy. June 3rd -7th 2024

Download full paper form ACM Digital Library DOI:10.1145/3656650.3656658

Numbers are part of day-to-day life from household budgeting to making sense of global warming and planning academic projects. But, for many, dealing with numeric information is daunting with multiple step changes in complexity moving from, say simple calculations to spreadsheet use, as well as difficulties managing different sources of complex information. In this paper we present an ecosystem of interconnected prototype tools that explore this space, including TSoW interpreting unfamiliar orders of magnitude; calQ a four-function calculator that shifts seamlessly to micro-spreadsheet; WS2 embedding spreadsheet-like features in web pages; and myData collating and connecting the diverse data sources. Collectively, these tools offer an envisionment to prompt discussion both of the way end-users can more easily deal with numeric information and of the background technical infrastructure necessary for this to happen.



Short video demonstrating calQ, WS2 and TSoW.


  1. 60 Minutes Australia. 2019. Scandal wasting millions of litres of water during Australia’s worst drought. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgF4W_oDrLA
  2. Barbara Rita Barricelli, Fabio Cassano, Daniela Fogli, and Antonio Piccinno. 2019. End-user development, end-user programming and end-user software engineering: A systematic mapping study. Journal of Systems and Software 149 (2019), 101–137.
  3. BBC Bitesize. 2024. Tropical storm case study - Hurricane Ida. Accessed 5/1/2024. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zpxgk7h/revision/6
  4. Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker. 2016. The science of managing our digital stuff. Mit Press.
  5. Alan F Blackwell, Carol Britton, Anna Cox, Thomas RG Green, Corin Gurr, Gada Kadoda, Maria S Kutar, Martin Loomes, Chrystopher L Nehaniv, Marian Petre, et al. 2001. Cognitive dimensions of notations: Design tools for cognitive technol- ogy. In Cognitive Technology: Instruments of Mind: 4th International Conference, CT 2001 Coventry, UK, August 6–9, 2001 Proceedings. Springer, 325–341.
  6. Alan Dix. 2012. Asynchronous active values for client-side interactive service coordination. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 26–33. DOI:10.1145/2254556.2254565
  7. Alan Dix. 2016. The Leaves are Golden–putting the periphery at the centre of information design. Keynote at HCI2016 https://www.alandix.com/academic/talks/HCI2016-the-leaves-are-golden/
  8. Alan Dix. 2021. Qualitative–Quantitative Reasoning: thinking informally about formal things. In Theoretical Aspects of Computing–ICTAC 2021: 18th International Colloquium (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (Virtual Event, ), September 8–10, 2021). Springer, LNCS 13490, 18–35. https://alandix.com/academic/papers/ICTCS-QQ-2021/
  9. Alan Dix, Tiziana Catarci, Benjamin Habegger, Yannis loannidis, Azrina Kamarud- din, Akrivi Katifori, Giorgos Lepouras, Antonella Poggi, and Devina Ramduny- Ellis. 2006. Intelligent context-sensitive interactions on desktop and the web. In Proceedings of the international workshop in conjunction with AVI 2006 on Context in advanced interfaces. 23–27. https://www.alandix.com/academic/papers/avi2006-context/
  10. Alan Dix and Damon Oram. 2008. Query-through-drilldown: data-oriented extensional queries. In Proceedings of the Working Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces (AVI ’08) (Napoli, Italy). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 251–259. DOI:10.1145/1385569.1385610
  11. Jack Flynn. 2023. Wordpress Market Share + Statistics [2023]: How Many Websites Use Wordpress? Zippia, dated Feb. 6, 2023. https://www.zippia.com/advice/ wordpress- market- share- statistics/
  12. David M Frohlich. 1993. The history and future of direct manipulation. Behaviour & Information Technology 12, 6 (1993), 315–329.
  13. Thomas RG Green. 1989. Cognitive dimensions of notations. In People and computers V (Proceedings of British HCI 1989), Alistair Sutcliffe and Linda Macaulay (Eds.). Cambrdge University Press, 443–460.
  14. Warren Harrison. 2006. Eating your own dog food. IEEE Software 23, 3 (2006), 5–7.
  15. Hilary Hutchinson, Wendy Mackay, Bo Westerlund, Benjamin B. Bederson, Al- lison Druin, Catherine Plaisant, Michel Beaudouin-Lafon, Stéphane Conversy, Helen Evans, Heiko Hansen, Nicolas Roussel, and Björn Eiderbäck. 2003. Technol- ogy Probes: Inspiring Design for and with Families. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA) (CHI ’03). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 17–24. DOI:10.1145/642611.642616
  16. Isle of Wight Council. 2012. The Island’s Environment and High- ways – Isle of Wight Facts and Figures 2011/12. Report. https://www.iow.gov.uk/azservices/documents/2552-The-Islands-Environment-and-Highways-2011-12-v.2-April-2012-Done.pdf
  17. William P Jones and Jaime Teevan. 2007. Personal information management. University of Washington Press.
  18. Alan C. Kay. 1984. Computer Software. Scientific American 251, 3 (sept 1984), 52–59. Also published as Viewpoints Research Institute Technical Report TR- 1984-001. http://www.vpri.org:80/html/writings.php (web archive)
  19. Donald Ervin Knuth. 1984. Literate programming. The computer journal 27, 2 (1984), 97–111.
  20. Adrienne Murray. 2022. Climate change: Greenland’s culture shifts as Arctic heats up. BBC News, 12 October 2022. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-63135211
  21. Miguel A Nacenta and Gonzalo Gabriel Méndez. 2017. ivolver: A visual language for constructing visualizations from in-the-wild data. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Conference on Interactive Surfaces and Spaces. 438–441.
  22. National Numeracy. 2021. Counting on the recovery: The role for numeracy skills in ‘levelling up’ the UK. https://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk/news/counting-on-the-recovery
  23. Obsidian. 2024. About Obsidian: Manifesto. Retrieved 19/2/124 from https//obsidian.md/about
  24. Seymour Papert. 1980. Mindstorms; children, computers and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Book. Republished 1993, 2020.
  25. Amit P Sheth and James A Larson. 1990. Federated database systems for managing distributed, heterogeneous, and autonomous databases. ACM Computing Surveys (CSUR) 22, 3 (1990), 183–236.
  26. Ben Shneiderman. 1983. Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages. Computer 16, 08 (1983), 57–69.
  27. David Canfield Smith, Charles Irby, Ralph Kimball, and Eric Harslem. 1982. The Star user interface: An overview. In Proceedings of the June 7-10, 1982, national computer conference. 515–528.
  28. The Editors of Encyclopaedia. 2023. Elba. Britannica, last updated by Amy Tikkanen, 9th October 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Elba-island-Italy
  29. Harold Thimbleby. 1984. Generative user engineering principles for user interface design. In Proceedings of INTERACT ’84. North-Holland, 661–666.
  30. Harold Thimbleby. 1985. User interface design: Generative user engineering 532 principles. In Fundamentals of human–computer interaction. Elsevier, 165–180.
  31. UNESCO. 2004/2019. Ilulissat Icefjord. Retrieved 8/1/2024 from https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1149/
  32. Bret Victor. 2011. Explorable Explanations. Worrydream, dated March 10, 2011. http://worrydream.com/ExplorableExplanations/
  33. Bret Victor. 2011. Kill Math. Worrydream, dated April 11, 2011. http://worrydream.com/KillMath/
  34. Bret Victor. 2011. Up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction. Worrydream, dated October 2011. http://worrydream.com/LadderOfAbstraction/
  35. Sally Weale. 2015. Numeracy crisis threatens to hold back UK in global data race. The Guardian 25 Jun 2015 (2015). https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/25/numeracy-crisis-threatens-uk-global-data-revolution

See Also

  • Kim, Y. S., Hullman, J., & Agrawala, M. (2016, May). Generating personalized spatial analogies for distances and areas. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 38-48).
  • Chevalier, F., Vuillemot, R., & Gali, G. (2013). Using concrete scales: A practical framework for effective visual depiction of complex measures. IEEE transactions on visualization and computer graphics, 19(12), 2426-2435.





Alan Dix 2/4/2024