For Love of Spreadsheets!
It is amazing the things that we can do with these often underutilized little tools.
When I interview office personnel they almost always tell me that they are very proficient with spreadsheets, yet a few questions later they reveal that they barely know what a spreadsheet is, much less a small fraction of the amazing things that these tools can do.
I know a lot after playing with these things for nearly thirty years, yet sometimes I feel like I only know how to use a fraction of the components available for me here.
Way back when…
When I started college they did not have spreadsheets as we know them, of course we did not have PC’s either. But when we did get PC’s or as they were referred to then IBM’s or IBM clones, I was the first person in my circle of friends who went out and emptied his savings on one.
The first program to master was DOS, and after a couple of late nights during Christmas break, I was mastering WordStar as well, and a little basic programing for the things that I did not have software for.
Then one of my professors introduced me to Lotus 123, a very expensive program that did amazing things, of course I could not afford this top of the line pioneer of spreadsheets, but my professor was kind enough to make a copy of the many floppy disks needed to operate the program. (Shortly after graduation I did go out and purhase my own spreadsheet)
This was in my 5th or 6th year of college when I had already completed my Forestry degree and was working on my Communications/PR degree when college was more about writing and less about the serious calculations involved in a scientific degree like Forestry.
While learning the capabilities of this spreadsheet, it became clear that I had discovered this a few years too late, it could have saved me hundreds of hours and several calculator keypads during some of my forestry classes.
We had one particular class where the answer to one question involved nearly 10 hours of punching numbers into a calculator, hoping not to make any mistakes. Generally these were best done with a friend, comparing the final result, if they were the same then a celebration was in order, but if they differed then one or both of us made a mistake somewhere and we both had to start over until the results came out the same.
These assignments in this class could have been done in a small fraction of the time with a spreadsheet, just think about how much time could have been saved. Unfortunately spreadsheets were new at this time and I doubt that this professor even knew about them or their magical powers.
Over the years in running a Forestry Consulting business, I cannot begin to count the number of ways that a good knowledge of spreadsheets has saved me.
It is also impressive when I get together with other foresters at meetings and we discuss as much or more about our computers than we do about trees.
Databases, spreadsheets, and Geographical Information Systems are some of the hot topics. Sometimes sharing what we have discovered, sometimes asking for advice from others who have discovered how to get past a difficult problem.
Clearly these woodsy people have a good dose of computer geek buried in their DNA.
It is also not uncommon for me or one of my competitors to pick up the phone and ask or share advice on how to improve on our skills and calculations on one of these fine tools.
The big spreadsheet issues this week at Woodland Management Service involve forest inventory data tabulation and manipulation by Nick and the other Foresters.
The office people and I are doing some tweaking of the DNR’s MFL database so that we can print postcards and manipulation of USFS Forest Inventory data for a series of blogs that I am writing about the forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
And of course dozens of other little tasks in between the big projects.
So tell me, how are spreadsheets making your life easier?