Expectations surpassed

I needed to do some serious driving recently.

Some idiot had driven my scooby into the ground so it was in the garage for some serious (expensive) repairs. (Did you know new front brake calipers for Imprezas cost either an internal organ, a relative or a first born child?). I’ll look after it a bit better from now on.

So anyway, all that was left was the clunky old van. The fabled Dagenham Dustbin – my 10+ year old long wheelbase tranny van.

I was a bit apprehensive of driving it 1,000 miles, as it is usually just used for local runs to do with my joinery/house renovation work. Anyway, needs must so I set off. Of course the van has one critical advantage over a car:


Load capacity

Not many cars can carry a decent motorbike for a summer of fun in the sun.

Of course it never missed a beat, trundled along at 60-70, rattling like a rattly thing. The biggest drama was when my ipod ran out a batteries 6 hours from home. Luckily the next fuel stop sold cig lighter to USB converters so I was soon back up. two musical highlights were the Levellers and the Stranglers, I’d forgotten how good they both are.

I see a lot of similarities with my van and Excel/VBA – neither is sexy, neither would be first choice for many jobs, but critically both over deliver and surpass expectations.

When I had to process a few thousand files recently, I did it in Excel/VBA. Yes I could have chosen any of a bunch of different technologies, but Excel/VBA is tried and tested, easily adapted, source code is hard to lose (and easy to find with Google), fast enough etc etc.

Still now after all these years working with Excel/VBA I still find things that impress me, that turn out better than I have a right to expect.

I see a shift away from Excel/VBA in my future, I hope whatever techs I end up working with instead are as flexible.

Does Excel/VBA still impress you? or are you over it?

What other techs do you think match or surpass it?



ps – post rate should go up now as I have finished my overseas activities for the time being.


11 Responses to “Expectations surpassed”

  1. Jayson Says:

    I’m finding that (in my circle) most people haven’t been introduced to the wonders of Excel/VBA development. I find myself branching out to other technologies to make sure that I am offering the best solution for clients, but often times the best bet is still Excel/VBA solutions. Added bonus, people expect other technologies to be able to do impressive things, but when done with Excel/VBA, you become a magician!


    Every freaking day !! It just gets things done !! I guess that’s why some people want to kill it, eh? Makes too much sense.


  3. Mike Alexander Says:

    I’m most impressed how easily VBA knowledge can be picked picked up and applied even by the most novice users.

    I’ve always thought that Microsoft’s strength came from making technology accessible to non-technical people. VBA came out of that spirit.

    I fear that Microsoft has been moving away from this philosophy. As far as I see it, most of the new stuff coming out of Microsoft inherently (or explictly) excludes the every-day Joe.

    VBA is the lasting proof that at one time, Microsoft did have a desire to empower average users.


    “VBA is the lasting proof that at one time, Microsoft did have a desire to empower average users.”

    You mean “Users” not “Developers”. You also mean “Power Users”.

    Everything now is for “Developers” and Spreadsheet designers aren’t “Developers” as far as MS is concerned, therefore are irrelevant and therefore have no value.


  5. Bob Phillips Says:


    I think that you reasoning is hugely optimisitic.

    I don’t believe that MS ‘… did have a desire to empower average users.’, or rather that they believe they did and still do, but not by providing an extensible platform (which Excel and VBA most definiteliy is). Many of the tricks we have exploited in Excel, and the usage of VBA was never a deliberate part of that process. If that were the case, how do you explain ridiculous products such as Word and Powerpoint (some good points, but totally lost in direction IMO).

    MS believe that providing shiny buttons, lots of colours, loads of gizmos, and so on is how to empower users. I don’t believe that the majority of MS have no idea of the sort of things we get up to, and worst of all, they seem to have no desire/imperative to fix the many things that are broken or badly implemented, have been for years.

  6. Simon Says:

    great comment Mike
    I agree with you. I think they once wanted to empower users, now they want to wow kids with huge flashing buttons.

    I often wonder if they are bowing to pressure from IT departments to dumb down Office ‘for security reasons'(that would be job security for IT devs)

    I think you have a point too Bob – some of the best features seem to be happy coincidences rather than by design. There are some folks in MS who know how we push their products, but they don’t seem to get enough say.

  7. Harlan Grove Says:

    Let me amplify Dick’s point.

    ALL useful functionality in Excel was either introduced or was in design before Excel had supplanted 123 as the most used spreadsheet.

    Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s innovation served the goal of selling more SKUs/gaining more market share. Innovation, at least the useful variety, is no longer needed for these goals, so MSFT no longer wastes money on them.

    The coincidental fact that the innovations of the late 1980s and early 1990s provided extremely useful end-user development systems was beside the point as far as MSFT was/is concerned, and that’s why they neither pay attention to nor really care about what’s possible with Excel/VBA. The power and flexibility of Excel/VBA is utterly irrelevant to MSFT’s real goals, and one thing I have to say for MSFT is that they are very, very focused on their actual goals and very, very good at ignoring irrelevances no matter how loud and insistent pesky outsiders are.

  8. Bob Phillips Says:


    I think it is more than just happy coincidence, at least in a philosophical sense. I think that the early designers and builders of Excel were just trying to emulate another famous spreadsheet as Harlan says, but for some reason (probably marketing pressure to get the product out) the product was released with a lot of little cracks etc. Some of those cracks have enabled Excel developers to exploit, witness some of the amzing stuff Stephen Bullen did early on, and Jon Peltier and Andy Pope are still doing with charts. But some of those cracks are things that don;\’t work/don\’t work well and should have been improved upon by now (I will leave Harlan to list them, I know he has a pet peeve on that :)).

    Now, MS seem to be trying to build a \’professional\’ product, which means that they cannot afford to have those cracks, so they tighten up. But because they don\’t understand (always reminds me of our government when they talk about technology, markets, and so on, you know they just don\’t get it but they talk as if they are hip to the moment), they implement it crudely and thereby remove the flexibility. Of course, over time, I think new cracks will appear, and you never know, even you might get to love the Ribbon.

  9. Simon Says:

    “and you never know, even you might get to love the Ribbon.”

    arf arf!

    after 6 months full time use I still think its the biggest fuck up I have ever seen, in any walk of life.

  10. Harlan Grove Says:

    Thanks for the invitation, Bob.

    The only truly unfathomable flaw in Excel is its MOD worksheet function. It works with only a tiny fraction of the range of double precision values. It chokes on MOD(2^29,3). It’s obvious Excel doesn’t use the hardware FPU’s remainder instructions (FPREM or FPREM1). The only remotely rational reason I can think of for this is that MOD’s implementation came straight from MultiPlan, and MultiPlan’s implementation came straight from MSFT’s BASICA, which IIRC used it’s own nonstandard floating point format so needed it’s own software-based arithmetic operator implementations. Wouldn’t surprise me if that code had been written by Bill Gates himself, and if so, that no one since has had the guts/spine/balls to discard it and replace it with something better.

    Slightly less mysterious and annoying is the continuing absence, 17 years after the release of Excel 5, of a worksheet function taking a single range argument that would return the name of the worksheet containing the referenced range. That is, the equivalent of 123’s @CELL(“Sheetname”,cell_reference). Or something as breathtakingly obvious as the Excel function call CELL(“Filename”,cell_reference) NOT returning an error in files that haven’t yet been saved. Open Office Calc handles this by returning zero chars between single quote delimiters as the filename portion of the fully qualified workbook/worksheet name.

    Then there’s Excel’s continuing inability in various menu/ribbon operations to accept references to ranges outside the active worksheet but still in the same workbook, though (if anyone cares) 123 since Release 3.0 in 1989 has been able to use ranges in different workbooks as Data Query input, criteria and output ranges. When it comes to 3D functionality, Excel is STILL a mid-1980s spreadsheet.

  11. Marcus from London Says:

    “how easily VBA knowledge can be picked up and applied even by the most novice users”

    Well, yes and no. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. I’m sure we’ve all seen solutions inappropriately implemented because even Excel had a better way of doing something. (My favourite is looping through a range of cells – selecting each in turn – to replace one string with another should it exist).

    The other consequence is that expectations of what it takes to implement something ‘properly’ become distorted. The number of times I’ve heard “that’s shouldn’t take you long, should it?”.

    But as mentioned previously, I rarely see Excel/VBA used in isolation. Most of my work involves blending Excel/VBA with other technologies – typically relational or multidimensional databases and other office apps.

    Cheers – Marcus

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