Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Excel Blues... by a Word Fan

Some months ago, while working on a training project, I received an Excel sheet from our client and was asked to add in some information to the sheet based on my recent work. It was a pretty regular sheet with columns extending indefinitely to the right so you had to scroll sideways to get to the ones that resided over in the eastern hemisphere. The trouble with me is that when I scroll to the right, I forget what was on the left. So then I scroll back to the left. But then what about that stuff over on the right? So then I scroll... never mind. You get the point. In all of that scrolling back and forth, I reach a point when I want to tear my hair out. Strand by strand. Why can't people just use Word? And why did there ever have to be such a thing as a sideways scroll?

I wonder if this happens to any of you too. When I open an Excel sheet that has more columns than I can see at one glance without scrolling all over the place, I start to freak out. I feel disconnected from all the information. Like my eyes need to be at too many places at once. The elasticity of my comprehension abilities is severely tested. So is my patience.

I like to be able to see all the columns of a table on ONE page, just like I would if they were printed in a book. Now's about the time that the Excel experts would give me a pitiful stare, with that look of "thou shalt never see the light" written all over their wide eyes. Sympathy. That's what I usually get from Excel whiz kids. And that's what I used to get from the Math geniuses in high school Math class when our teacher assumed that the speed of a train as it passed another was 'X,' and the speed of the other train that was passed was 'Y.' I, however, hearing the word 'train,' began to think of what the x and y trains might have looked like. "Were they like luxury 'palace on wheels' kind of trains? Or just regular, ordinary sleeper coaches? Ah! when will I next be on a train? We should go somewhere for a holiday."

"Sai Ganesh - can you tell us what the length of the second train is?"

Know that feeling of coming crashing down to earth? Yup. I felt it. I stood up to answer, totally blank. If I could, I would have said "I couldn't give a rat's a%$ what the length of the train is! Heck, that's not even a real train. Can we draw two trains instead? That'll make them more real for me. Please?"

I consider it God's benign grace that I scored over 80% in high school Math.

Back to the point on Excel sheets. Interestingly, I had just about made up my mind to write this post about my distaste for Excel, when I was assigned a task at work to scan through a humungous Excel sheet and gather data from it. Okay. So the Universe has a sense of humor. I laughed with, did the whole data gathering thing, and now I'm back to the post.

I've met some people who swear by Excel. They create Excel sheets at the drop of a hat. Hat drops - Excel sheet created. No seriously. Left to their devices, they would write an entire book in Excel, and make you scroll down to the depths of the netherworld to get to Chapter 6. Excel lovers. Take them to a courtroom to testify and you can begin proceedings by having them place their hand solemnly on... well... an Excel sheet. Soft or hard copy, either will do.

It's another matter that printing these things out is a feat in itself. To be attempted at the risk of glaring at a bunch of columns chopped across pages, with no header in sight. A blood bath unleashed upon what seemed like a decently constructed table on my computer screen like five seconds ago. As I stare at the printer helplessly, it spits out one last page that finally has the table header on it. Only the header.

Printers sometimes have a dark sense of humour.

When I was working on the sheet I referred to at the beginning, the one that my client sent me and asked me to add onto, I did what few would have dared to do. I converted the Excel sheet into a Word document. Beautified it too, with soothing header colors. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I could finally READ what was in there. Thrilled with myself, much to the annoyance of my supervisor, I sent the Word document back to the client. When she reviewed it, she didn't have much to say except "It all looks great. I just can't imagine why you converted this into Word. Please put it back in Excel."

I meekly obeyed. I was fighting a lost cause.

In the corporate world, there's no escaping these nasty sheets. No matter how much you try and run away from them, they catch up with you. A lot like your sins, or bad karma.

To me, the Excel sheet is a symbol of a boxed world. Where everyone and everything has to be "formatted" and somehow "fit in." Well, perhaps that's stretching it. They're more like jails, where words are held captive. Rows and columns of prison cells. The words all screaming out to be rescued from their hell holes.

The Excel formatting experts will tell you to hit the Wrap Text button to stop the words from spilling over onto the next cell. What they really want to say is, "If 'em words try to peep out of 'em cells, wrap 'em into submission."

But today I say, let 'em words out of 'em cages, for God's sakes! Let them reclaim their space and take up as many lines as they want. Let them roam free on plain backgrounds and feel the exhileration of flowing over and beyond, onto the next page. Woohoo! see them go. Atta word. You were born to rejoice in Word, however did you stray into Excel?


Swapna Maini said...

Aaaaah finallly a post about the infamous excel terrors!!!
I could actually FEEL the frustration of the poor little words trapped in the ex-cell cages!!! My trick to make working on these boring grids (that look like a digital version of the drab class 1 math note books) a wee bit more tolerable is to colour them all the pretty colours of the rainbow... that makes them look more a little less morose!!
I'm so glad that someone finally decided to write on this subject... I'm so sure that there are sooo many people out there who plough through excel sheet after excel sheet, day after day, and hate every minute of it!!! Here's what I have to say to them- QUIT!!!! They're not worth it!!! You deserve better!!!!

Beth Chapman said...

Ahh Sai, you have captured my world. I spend almost 8 hours out of my 10 hour day in Excel H#@@. I come home seeing little squares with no room to write, be a poet or express your heart. Well done in your success. Don't lose heart and absolutely don't linger there long, your writing is needed.

PS-I never cared what time the train arrived, it wasn't the one I wanted!

Mousumi Ghosh said...

"The trouble with me is that when I scroll to the right, I forget what was on the left. So then I scroll back to the left. But then what about that stuff over on the right?"

Oh boy, and I thought I was the only one having trouble working with excel sheets.

Saraswati said...

Awesome dude! Sooo funny! So skillfully written! Way to go! :)

Kavita Mcalister said...

Sai, this is so funny! :) You have captured the feeling of helplessness with Excel so beautifully. I agree with you completely! Loved your blog, especially the bit about the trains...:-) that was so sweeet!

簡單生活 said...

how do u do?

Sai said...

Thank you all for your comments! I'm thrilled that there are so many of us who feel the same way about this. Ah! so there is hope, after all. :-)

Nimisha said...

:-) Nice funny read...and I agree to most of it :-)

JACQUI said...

I know exactly what you mean about the left / right thing. Unless I can see a clear line connecting two things, I get very confused. There is a thing called 'freeze pane' I think, that holds columns steady so you can get one bit of information next to the other but ask an expert, how to do it. Great post Sai.

Krishna Sangeeth said...

First of all, i loved this blog and thought that the post was totally funny.

But i do think that excel is super useful. word is not a definite substitute for excel. I do know that there was a much difficult time before where all the details where put into that big ledger book and calculation was like going to plan for shiv rathri.

If you find excel still boring, there are some easter eggs present in excel. they have kept some cool stuff hidden


i hope this will make u feel a little more comfortable with excel

Sai said...

Thank you Nimisha, Jacqui, and Krishna Sangeeth for your comments! Jacqui and Krishna Sangeeth - appreciate the Excel tips. :-)