Web site at your service to perform calculations

Whatever you might need to calculate — from refinancing your mortgage to figuring out how long your savings will last during retirement — it will likely help you to find Hugh Chou, system and network administrator at the University, on the Internet.

That’s because Chou has a whopping 45 different calculators on his Web site, hughchou.org/calc.

Hugh Chou
While desk and hand-held calculators certainly have their place, the Web site of Hugh Chou, system and network administrator at the University, has 45 different calculators designed to compute figures from estate taxes to how much money a person would save by quitting smoking. — Photo by David Kilper

All of the calculators are Chou’s inventions, either drawn up from scratch or developed in response to existing Internet calculators.

Folks who come to his site have suggested some calculator ideas to Chou, such as one that shows how much a person saves by giving up daily smoking. Others, such as the one that determines how much you save by brown-bagging lunch, are spinoffs of yet other creations.

Chou started making his Internet calculators in 1995 when the University’s Institute of Biomedical Computing wanted to test its new Web site and he was asked to provide content. But he left the University to work in industry in 1997 and moved the site to interest.com.

Then last year, upon returning to the University and its earth and planetary sciences department in Arts & Sciences, he launched hughchou.org. He kept adding one calculator after another until the total reached the current 45.

Chou is an inveterate calculating person.

“I am always calculating things,” he says. “In my previous job, I liked to calculate how much salary was lost in boring budget-planning or ‘goals’ meetings. Fifteen people at an average of $20 per hour, plus 50 percent for overhead and benefits for two hours. Or, I’d calculate things like the total length of the hair of meeting participants.”

The calculator descriptions are marked by Chou’s effervescent personality. For example, of his Roth IRA Conversion Calculator, he writes: “My version, and I don’t even sell my own mutual funds!”

The Wealth Calculator uses formulas and discussion from Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko’s best seller, The Millionaire Next Door, to see how comparatively wealthy we actually are.

Another calculator — What’s a Million? — allows a user to set a goal of owning a million dollars and then calculates not only how long it will take to achieve the goal, but what the real-dollar value of that million will be with inflation factored in.

There is beauty in simplicity, too. Chou has a calculator that does monthly compounding on a fixed rate and also factors in contributions. The Retirement Payout Calculator shows the fixed payout of an annuity “in a perfect world,” Chou writes.

“It takes anywhere from a few hours to many days to develop a calculator,” Chou says. “And a number of them are subject to changes along the way. People will point out that some aspect or another is not quite right, and so I’ll tweak them here and there.”

He estimates that he gets three or four suggestions a week, and he might actually do one or two of them. He also gets roughly a half-dozen messages weekly from Internet fans thanking him for his service. He tries to answer every e-mail but admits he can’t always keep up.

Chou takes donations for helping folks with special calculating requests in cyberspace. He then gives the donations to various favorite charities, including Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House and the Christian Children’s Fund.