Andree Éléonore June 4, 2021 Spreadsheet
Given this data set imagine trying to find out which Fridays you were busy at an appointment at noon while your partner was also busy at an appointment at noon and the descriptions of both of your appointments contained the phrase down town. If you are not familiar with relational databases and SQL it might surprise you to know that the question can be answered by a single simple SQL query. The database and SQL don‘t have it all their own way however. Spreadsheets come in to their own for tasks that benefit from a visual representation. Traditionally databases do not provide a visual way to browse the data in tables without explicitly requesting data.
I don‘t think so. My husband and I weren‘t a great married couple but we were excellent business partners. We almost never, actually maybe NEVER, fought about money. We agreed on how to raise our kids and were always honest about our finances. He made a lot of money and I had some money of my own from my grandmother and would inherit when my parents died. I knew that we would be able to sort through these things better on our own. Most significantly, he LOVED to make spreadsheets and certainly would not be willing to pay someone else make one for him. I did some research on the internet to see what our options would be. I knew we couldn‘t do it ourselves but that we would need some assistance because our finances were complicated. I learned about divorce mediators, professionals who work with couples at an hourly fee to help them navigate the process. It sounded like it would work for us so we agreed to find one. And we did. Well, I did.
Lester P. Goodbinder had suffered another agonizing week in Pittsburgh. The semi-annual audit he conducted at the Bourgeois Ball Bearing Factory stretched into five 14-hour days examining electronic spreadsheets on an archaic computer system installed in the early ‘80s. The equipment churned so abysmally he cleverly joked to himself it was powered by lazy hamsters on treadmills. Not only that, the accounting software loaded on the system was an early version of ”Abacus,” and only slightly faster than a key-punch adding machine but considerably slower than a hand-held calculator.
Whilst Excel cannot clean or structure all of your data for you it does come with some useful functionality for manipulating and analysing clean and structured data sets. This in-built functionality includes pivot tables, sorting and filtering. Filtering alone is a powerful tool and can help to quickly isolate data based on specified criteria. But what happens if your data is clean but not very structured (a common problem). For instance what if you, a client or your team is using colours, fonts or some kind of formatting to classify data in an Excel spreadsheet. In short, you wont be able to filter the data, because Excel‘s in-built filtering logic requires rules based on numbers, dates and text only. It will not perform filtering based on formats. In addition Excel filtering only applies down rows. It will not perform filtering across columns.
Spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel are well suited to tasks involving the manipulation of small amounts of related data. Working out a budget, producing visual reports, organizing lists and calculations that involve many variables are all tasks well suited to a spreadsheet. There are some data related tasks however that spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel are not suited for. Tasks involving the processing and combination of large sets of data for example are generally not well suited to spreadsheets. There is another technology with a long history and theoretical background that specializes in these sorts of tasks. That technology is relational databases. The most common way people insert data into and extract data from relational databases is via the language of Structured Query Language.
So why does data that inevitably finds its way into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet often suffer from the problems outlined above. The reasons are many. If the data is imported, it may have been sourced from a combination of other spreadsheets, databases, systems, reports, word documents, emails or web pages. If the data has been entered manually it may have been poorly done so by an inexperienced computer users such as administrative or junior staff with a lack of understanding for data structures. Excel is easy to use and widely accessible, so an inexperienced colleague can quite easily update your spreadsheet with a false sense of confidence and inadvertently enter new data incorrectly. And finally, unlike a fully functional software system, data entry in Excel generally has no automatic validating rules, unless carefully setup by the spreadsheet‘s creator.
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