Friday, May 1, 2020

Using a spreadsheet

I heard a college placement official say that being able to use a spreadsheet was the most important skill to have.  That is probably an exaggeration but it can be quite valuable.  I find that maintaining bank accounts takes little effort and involves very few arithmetic errors when I use a spreadsheet.  

The original spreadsheet was Visicalc.

A Google search turned up the comment that the invention of the Visicalc spreadsheet by a pair of accounting students is credited by many as the turning point for small, portable computers.  Before Visicalc, home computers were a hobby toy but with the spreadsheet software, small businesses everywhere wanted one.  When I got Appleworks as a Father's Day present in 1984, the three pronged package included a spreadsheet. 

I didn't understand how it worked at first.  I knew that it had to do with numbers and calculation but it took me a while to get the idea.  At first, I put in some numbers:

4 + 5 = 

and waited for the amazing answer to appear.  Nothing happened.  I discovered that I had to select an empty cell on the sheet and put in a command.  I could type =4+5 and the sheet did supply the answer of 9.  But better still I could write the command to add the cell with the 4 to the cell with the 5 and put the answer over here.  

Not too amazing but way better when I realized that I could change the four to 365,118 and the five to 987 and the cell that had shown "9" now immediately showed 366105.  An adding machine.  Better still the command could be quite a long expression to add, subtract, multiply or divide from all over the sheet and produce the answer.

I use a spreadsheet arranged like my checkbook.  The formula for a cell says to subtract today's check from my account balance, add any deposit and show the result.  That command can be quickly and easily copied down to be applied to the next line and the next.  

The Microsoft spreadsheet "Excel" has many features.  Anyone who gives himself a Gmail address has immediate free access to Google Docs (word processor), Google Sheets (a spreadsheet) and several other tools.  What used to be "Open Office", a free set of tools, is now Apache Open Office but is still a free set of tools.  YouTube, the video sharing enterprise, available on any connected device, includes many videos on spreadsheets and their use.

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