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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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A Most Excel-lent Program

It’s not often that I give any sort of product endorsement on this site, but I’m compelled today to make an exception. I’ve been using MicroSoft Excel 2010 on my laptop for several weeks now, and I have to say — this is one special bit of software. I can honestly say I’ve never used any productivity tool quite like it.

Sure, any old spreadsheet program would let you flop a few numbers around or whip up a nifty bar graph. But Excel 2010 goes further — oh so much further: it’s actually taught me several valuable lessons about the nature of life itself.

Here are just a few of the cherished nuggets I’ve picked up from this amazing software product:

Life is suffering. The root of suffering is desire. The root of desire is consistently formatted column data.

I often have occasion to paste data into Excel 2010. It’s usually a bunch of integers, or maybe some decimals floating around as the result of some calculation. I just want to take the numbers from one sheet, and copy them as-is to another. That’s all I want.

“If you love something, set it free. If fourteen slightly mutated versions of it return to you, then kill them all because they probably only came back to eat your brains.”

Ah, but that constitutes a desire, which must be purged to allow the spirit to fly free. So Excel 2010 in its infinite wisdom harasses a few of my numbers at seemingly random intervals. The integer in row fourteen now has two decimal places, for no particular reason. Three of the nine hundred numbers in column J are now magically monetary values, with dollar signs attached.

Just enough higgledy-piggledyness has been introduced to cock up any calculation I might want to do, but will still escape notice until I’m three formulas deep in analysis and wondering why the hell on my fantasy baseball draft list, David Ortiz’ projected batting average is ‘twenty-seven cents‘.

Thank you, Excel 2010, for releasing me from the desire for predictable numerical behavior. Although I now feel the urge for a plane ticket to Redmond, Washington and access to A MILITARY-GRADE FLAMETHROWER.

Perhaps in time, this too will pass.

Sometimes you must choose the lesser of two evils. Which is clearly still going to jab you in the ass repeatedly with a pitchfork.

When saving a file in Excel 2010, I’m faced with a dilemma — save as a fancy new ‘.xlsx’ file, with a completely different and incompatible format to previous Excel versions, or save as a trusty old ‘.xls’ file, which most any Excel version can read?

The choice for me is clear. I have friends and colleagues who aren’t always out on the screaming ragged bloody edge of technology updates, so I can’t be sure they’ve come yet to bask in the warm holy glow that emanates from Excel 2010. Some of them may still be using older versions, spreadsheeting by candlelight in their dank primitive caves and hovels. I pity the wretches. And so, I choose compatibility, and save anything I plan on sharing as an ‘.xls’.

And every time, Excel 2010 admonishes me with a ‘LOSS OF FIDELITY WARNING!!!‘ It’s not entirely clear whether the program means there’s a possible loss of ‘data fidelity’, or whether it’s questioning my personal loyalty to its cause. Excel 2010 may well find my lack of faith… disturbing.

Whichever it is, the warnings are a constant reminder that I’ve very probably made the poorest decision possible.The message is clear: I should either buy copies of Excel 2010 for all of my friends, or find new friends who aren’t afraid of a big bad ‘.xslx’. My spreadsheet is merely testing me. And it is I who fail.

You can’t take it with you. You can’t stash it away for later. Just die already and get it over with.

You might think that those data warnings are an infrequent occurrence. After all, you can work for hours on a single spreadsheet, with no reason to save until you’ve finished your analysis.

Clearly, you’ve never met Excel 2010.

In a brilliant stroke of programming genius, Excel 2010 shuts itself down at unpredictable intervals and for no detectable reason. Sometimes a sort operation will send it crashing; other times, it melts down when formatting a block of cells. Most brilliant of all, though, Excel 2010 has the capability — nay, the tendency — to collapse and die while you’re attempting to save your work.

In this way, Excel 2010 teaches us that life is unpredictable and fleeting. Plans may be swept under. Hours of work undone in a flash. We are but helpless motes, adrift in the maelstrom and tossed about at the whims of the encompassing storm.

What is ‘mission-critical work spreadsheet’, anyway, compared to the grander scale? And what’s ‘gainfully employed’ or ‘unceremoniously sacked without pay’? These are just words. In due course, death will get us all. And our little spreadsheets, too.

If you love something, set it free. If fourteen slightly mutated versions of it return to you, then kill them all because they probably only came back to eat your brains.

Never let it be said that Excel 2010 misses an opportunity to convey wisdom. Even as it teaches us about impermanence and hopelessness and the futility of trying to avoid being bitch-slapped back to the unemployment line because of a malevolent hateful piece of half-functional software, it also provides a lesson about hope. Namely that hope is a precious and powerful thing, but also fragile and delicate in its nature.

The better for crushing mercilessly under Excel 2010’s boot heels.

For you see, when Excel 2010 unceremoniously farts itself into oblivion — and it will, every six minutes or so on average — the documents being worked on are not lost. Oh, no. Excel 2010 takes extra special care to keep copies of any version of the document which might conceivably be helpful to you in recreating your work.

So when Excel recovers, gasping desperately for breath like a revived drowning victim, it thrusts these versions at you with a demand that you choose one that you want, RIGHT NOW, and decide the fate of the document’s contents. Will you choose the last user-saved version? Or the last auto-saved copy? What about the version when last you closed it yesterday afternoon? Was that before or after you added the new formula? And is that formula in the next-to-last autosave version from an hour ago — or did that save itself after you took it out and replaced it with all those calculations you wound up deleting? Is the 3 A.M. Tuesday copy more coherent than the 9 P.M. Monday copy? Which one did you save when it crashed ten minutes ago? Or this morning? Or Tuesday morning at 3:02? Huh? Huh? Which one? Huh? MAKE YOUR CHOICE, MORTAL — THERE ARE NO CORRECT ANSWERS HERE! MUAHAHA!! HAHA! MUAHAHA!!

In summary, I believe that Excel 2010 is the smartest program ever coded on the face of the planet. There’s a very good chance that it is, in fact, an advanced artificial intelligence sent back in time by the murderous robot army to thin our numbers with an epidemic of aneurysms and explosive heart palpitations. Either that, or it’ll teach us the very deepest secrets of life itself.

What it won’t do, in the meantime, is open, format and save a fucking spreadsheet to save its miserable undercoded electronic skin. Because why would it, really? Excel 2010 has bigger plans for us.

And if any of us survive its tortures long enough, we might even find out what they are.

Permalink  |  4 Comments



4 Responses to “A Most Excel-lent Program”

  1. Rickn says:

    Right!!!

    God, how I both love and hate excel.

    Now I try to use OpenOffice when I can to avoid some of the more brain-dead behavior. But still.

    I feel for ya, dude.

  2. ema says:

    I told ya, and I guess for sake of fingernail you did not type about

    -enable editing

    -enable printing

    -enable content

    -where the heck are gone the menus

    and Your evil friend God of PC knows what else I am forgetting.

    Feel the ‘pane’ as well, especially when it freezes

  3. Charlie says:

    Rick, I tried using OpenOffice for a while. But they use semicolons in formulas instead of commas, and single quotes instead of double.

    I’m just one MAN. I can’t be expected to make those kinds of adjustments.

    And Ema, you get to see all those things in Excel? I only get to see the menu and maybe a couple of fleeting table cells, then it crashes again, no matter how I try and stop it.

    I feel less like I’m working on a spreadsheet and more like I’m running a methadone clinic.

  4. Misery does love company. You have so wonderfully and eloquently articulated for me the feelings I simply couldn’t describe. Women are generally not prone to aggressive violence, however recently when I was forced to leave my beloved Office 2003 for 2010, I too contemplated murder in the first degree. Like most, I have and use Open Office, and but for Outlook, I would have thrown in the Microsoft towel. When someone comes up with a decent email program that will act like old reliable Outlook, I am gone forever. All good things come to an end.

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