Archive for December, 2011

2011 looking back

Friday, 30th December, 2011

Not much to say really, if something exciting happened in the Excel/Office dev world in 2011 I missed it.

If anything, the biggest story is the deafening silence from MS and the Office team. Dunno if they just don’t have anything to say, have been cut back so much there is no one to liaise with the community, or if they are no longer encouraged to reach out, or maybe they just fell out with me. Or maybe I haven’t been scratching around the internet as much as previous years. Whatever, I can’t think of a significant Office related story from this past 12 months.

I s’pose Office 365 appeared, fairly recently – perhaps in 2011, and Mac Office 2011 got VBA back, Office 2010 seems to be gaining some traction, I have seen a few migration project roles advertised, often with Win 7 (seems unnecessarily risky/painful to do them together to me).

Most of the xll tools (certainly xll+ and ExcelDNA anyway) got updated to cope with 64bit Excel, a necessary but somewhat thankless task, I suspect. I haven’t seen any sign of Office 15 – rumours of a beta in Jan 2012 though.

One bit of mild excitement was the rates for Excel related contracting in the city, generally around 400, it dipped to 350 early in 2011, stormed up to 500 and then crashed back down to 300 by the autumn, with most places hacking 10-15% off ongoing contracts, or trying to. The economy is generally in the toilet.

In more general news, I managed to avoid buying a tablet (so far), I did buy a new netbook screen, and I think a new keyboard and battery are on the cards too. Bearing in mind that seems to be a dying form factor, not sure its worth the effort… I have followed the patent dance around tablets with amusement, or perhaps bemusement. The whole thing brings the whole patent system into disrepute IMO. I love that the Galaxy tab is now marketed as the tablet Apple tried to ban.

My crappy Motorola Droid got retired, I really wanted to shoot it to bits as punishment for being so rubbish but I haven’t had chance yet. I came close to getting an iPhone as a replacement.

I got a replacement Android phone, only to find it can’t connect to my home network because it doesn’t broadcast its SSID. Funny because Santa brought one of the kids an ipod Touch which instantly connected fuss free. Doubly funny because my Blackberry is also incapable of connecting to my wifi, shocking really, as supposed smart phones in 2011. It seems the Android crap connectivity is a known, long standing bug, but as its only medium priority it still hasn’t been addressed.

I just reviewed my 2011 predictions from Jan, a few seem to have worked out but many didn’t. IBM overtook MS in mkt cap (didn’t see that coming), but Google didn’t (but they are closing in). I was right that Office dev didn’t get sexy tho.

I’ll do some more finger in the air guessing for 2012 over the next few days, probably.

What were the most important news stories of 2011 for you?



Happy Christmas 2011

Saturday, 24th December, 2011

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year. I hope Santa brings you everything you asked for. (Any of you expecting coal this year??)

It looks like the weather might have played a cruel trick on us this year. This was the scene on Monday:

That has all gone now, now its just damp and grey. The kids are wondering if this will be the first non white Christmas they can remember.

I think we will be able to find some snow higher up though for anyone who gets snowsports related prezzies.

If any of you are stuck for ideas for a loved one – what about a magnificent ticket for our splendid Excel conference?

Blimey I have just realised I need to do a summary of 2011 post and 2012 projections one. Or not…

Have a good one



Excel Dev conf presenters

Friday, 23rd December, 2011

In the run up to the magnificent, exciting, exclusive, once in a lifetime Excel Developer conference, I thought it would be interesting to get to know the presenters a little more.

First up on the conf blog is Stephen Allen. Stephen will be taking us through some tools and techniques for reviewing real world spreadsheets. And dealing with the review findings.

If you haven’t booked yet you risk missing out on THE hottest event in the 2012 Excel calendar. The organisers are generously offering a full 50 quid early bird discount for those folks organised enough to book before Friday 6th Jan 2012. This isn’t just to punish those people who don’t know who they are or where they will be from one day to the next, it’s also so Mike knows how many custard creams to bring.

I can confirm that there will be a prize for whoever brings the nicest biscuits (hint: custard creams won’t win – even if they are the only entry).

Get over to Codematic now to book, then you can relax and just worry about the biscuits.



Academic and commercial spreadsheet errors

Thursday, 22nd December, 2011

[I just posted this on Eusprig – but I suspect it is too long to hold the interest in a list post]

I think there is a total chasm between
a. academic researchers whose main spreadsheet experience is the classic ‘student grades’ thing and
b. business spreadsheet jockeys who are in spreadsheets all day everyday.

group a think several hundred formulas is big, group b think several thousand is small.
group a think most commercial spreadsheets have material errors, group b rarely see any error effect.
a think b are over confident, b think a are inexperienced.

Within Eusprig I think we need to find a way to reconcile and explain these two completely opposed views of apparently the same thing. Otherwise neither side will ever gain any credibility from the other.

Personally I don’t believe many commercial spreadsheets have material errors, because most commercial spreadsheets are immaterial. They are a small piece of a bigger effort.

Yes I have seen spreadsheets wrong by millions, and 10+ % or whatever you want to call materiality. But did it change anything? no, not ever.

In a billion dollar, multi year, deal evaluation model, a multi million formula error can be dwarfed by inflation or interest rate assumptions. But whatever, if the price comes in at 1 billion and the client only wants to pay 900 million, then the whole analysis, errors and all, is largely irrelevant. Now the question is ‘are we prepared to take the risk that we can deliver this and survive for 900m?’ or slightly more cynically ‘will they ever tie cost overruns back to me and take back my bonus?’

In my experience spreadsheets are normally one of many inputs to important decisions, any inputs out of tune with the majority are either reviewed for credibility or rejected.

So I agree that most spreadsheets have defects, and I agree that very few lead to an erroneous outcome. And I agree that this is the Human element of spreadsheet interaction, ignored in much academic research. I also believe that the big issue is wasted time and effort, around ineffective spreadsheet use, not error impact.

Maybe we need some more holistic research that covers the whole person/spreadsheet system (in a commercial setting) rather than the spreadsheet in isolation.

I would highlight that in my experience when a spreadsheet changes hands (for holiday cover, job role change or whatever) there is a huge spike in wasted time and risk of nonsense outputs, and external support requests.

What’s is your experience? have you also found that the complete information system that includes these potentially erroneous spreadsheets is usually somewhat self healing? (and self learning – ‘x in reporting is useless, I now ignore everything they send me’)


Conference Bookings Update

Wednesday, 21st December, 2011

We have some…

A big thank you to those people who have already booked for the Excel Developer conference in January.

I have tidied up the bookings page so its slightly less cowboyish here.

And I have updated the Excel dev conf blog site, to reflect the Jan 2012 event rather than the Jun 2008 one ;-).

The sooner people book, the sooner we can decide if we need the Albert hall or a telephone box (both available at Skills Matter). And more importantly the sooner we can sort out the pub lunch. (and the curry).

And of course we are offering a 50 quid discount for people booking before 6th Jan to help you to help us. 200 now, 250 for johnny come latelies in Jan.

The ouline plan is:

  • Drinks Tue evening somewhere near the venue
  • Conf all day Wednesday
  • Drinks and curry, (or some other native British cuisine) Wed evening

If you have suggestions for pubs or can remember the best of the ones we visited last time then leave a comment.




Tuesday, 20th December, 2011

This morning smurf junior called out in some distress:
“arrgh, I think I’ve got that Ikea”
After a quick look around I confirmed that we were not overrun by moderately stylish, but somewhat flimsy self built homeware.
Turns out he had a tummy upset that resulted in something that rather amusingly just about ryhmes with Ikea.



The tar pit

Friday, 16th December, 2011

My hero Mr Fred Brooks wrote about a tar pit. He was referring to projects that just seem to slow down and deliver less and less as if drowning in treacle (and not nice smelling treacle).

But it occurred to me recently that companies get to the same situation, (maybe I have been doing too much fractals recently?)

Small companies with simple chains of command can move quickly. Big companies with complex chains of command, endless meetings, gate reviews, go/no goes etc can’t. At all.

It dawned on me one of my (many ;-)) pet hates is fake bosses. If your boss can’t answer and take responsibility for 80% or so of normal work questions then they are not a real boss. Can I take the day off on Friday? – ‘I’ll check’, Can we use a database for this database, instead of Excel – ‘Let me get back to you,’,

They are the tar slowing the org down. At first I thought they were the grease keeping the working parts of the org working in harmony together, but no, they are the gloop slowing all progress.

I’m fascinated by corporate culture development, I mainly work in big companies and it’s interesting to see how things vary, and what works and what does not. I am always amazed how much professional management is still based on Taylorism. Taylor made huge contributions to industrial management over a hundred years ago, not sure how well his approaches translate to software developers. Well I am sure actually, but as a technical specialist rather than a toy manager its rarely my place to point out.

Do any of you work in a large company that you feel is well managed? (no names, just a yes/no and maybe a why)



The moment of truth

Tuesday, 13th December, 2011

Laydeees and Gintelmen….

Drum roll please…….

The…January…2012…Excel…Developer…Conference…Booking…and …payment…page…is…online.

finally. phew.

I know I promised to get it up earlier, but hey, I’m a busy boy…

I was away all last week in busy meetings and drinkings with limited internet access and typing ability.

please don’t all book at once and kill the intarwebs.




Monday, 12th December, 2011

On reviewing a colleagues’ code recently I suggested he might want to change the name of his SortAndDelete sub to something that more accurately described what it did.

My proposal was FuckEverythingRightUp!

His response? That was meant to be a one time use system, the user had reloaded it with data of a very different structure.

My reply? if it was one time use then he should have run it and given the user the results only. Sods Law dictates that everything you give to your users(/customers) will be brutally abused and destroyed with no mercy.

He then pointed out he was trying to fix something I wrote a while ago that was initially quick and dirty fix, but was at that moment just dirty, and broken.

I asked what the comments said (comments are vital to quality code). He confirmed there was a

‘// sm 2010 quick and dirty bodge

comment, which I believe is better than a get out of gaol (jail) free card.

He also pointed out another of my comments from a while ago on a different system, he was now handholding:

‘// sm 2009 please god don’t let this bag of shite still be live in 2011.

Like I said comments are vital to back covering.

What’s the funniest, most inappropriate comment you have seen/written?

(I’m not sure if I should mention the dictionary object one of my colleagues used, using correct reddick tlp:

Dim dicHead as Scripting.Dictionary)



Not an MVP

Tuesday, 6th December, 2011

Just a quick clarification – as people are starting to congratulate me on my MVP-ness.

I am not an MVP.

It seems some of the info about our upcoming Excel developer conference (you are coming right?) mistakely assumed I was an MVP. which I am not.

Many of the other speakers at our Excel Developer conference in January in London UK are though, in Excel and VSTO.

Get ready with your credit card for when I finally organise the booking and payment processing….