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VisiCalc’s Dan Bricklin at Apple WWDC 2011

apple The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is running this week in San Francisco. On the WWDC website, you can only see the schedule if you log in, so I don’t know how much time is devoted to spreadsheets at the conference. My guess – not much.

However, Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc, was at WWDC, and was interviewed by The Mac Observer.

DB: Yep. I wrote the original prototype in BASIC on the Apple II. And I also wrote a little bit of the actual code. Bob Frankston wrote the bulk of it back in 1979. That was indeed the first killer app for the PC world. The personal computing world.”

These days, Dan Bricklin is creating apps for the iPhone and iPad.

“If Apple would let us, but Apple doesn’t like us to do things like that, we could probably build an [Intel] 8080 emulator for iOS and run the old IBM PC things like VisiCalc on the iPhone.”

Dan Bricklin Interview Part 1

Dan Bricklin Interview Part 2


Excel at the London 2012 Olympics

image Yes, an Excel spreadsheet can do all kinds of magical things, and you can push it well beyond its expected limits. But, you also have to know when to quit pushing.

In an article in today’s Register, the author, Kelly Fiveash, has uncovered a job advertisement for someone to manage the London 2012 Olympics “Cultural Olympiad” events. And the database they’re using is Excel.

The majority of the Team & Database Administrators work will be to work with the Senior Operations Manager, and Business Manager, in management of the central cultural events database (held in excel).

That can’t be good! You can read Kelly’s article here:

Entire London 2012 Olympics’ cultural events database held on Excel


Perfect Unions With Excel Wedding Plans

image When my son got married, we did some of the wedding planning in Excel, and it helped things go smoothly. We even used the seating plan workbook on my Contextures website, that helps you figure out where to put that annoying uncle at dinner time.

Today I saw this post – My Big Fat Excel Wedding – that reminded me how well weddings and spreadsheets go together. It’s a short article, and a good read (except for the mention of Word).

My favourite quote from the article is:

there is no more satisfying feeling than scrolling through a perfectly formatted spreadsheet, all the cells filled with consistently capitalized data, sorted alphabetically or, depending on the circumstances, numerically.

I love spreadsheets like Lady Gaga hates pants.

If you’re planning a wedding, or if you just love Excel, it’s worth reading.


First Demo of VisiCalc

Thirty-two years ago today, on May 12, 1979, Dan Bricklin demonstrated the new spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, at the 4th West Coast Computer Faire, in San Francisco.

On his Benlo Park website, Peter Jennings describes the event:

We rented a special room to secretly demonstrate VisiCalc to key industry luminaries. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Adam Osborne, Ted Nelson, Vern Raburn, Ben Rosen, Portia Isaacson, Chuck Peddle and many others were treated to early demonstrations by Dan Bricklin, Dan Fylstra or myself. After each demonstration we tried to pick their brains for marketing advice. The key question was what should we charge. The range of suggestions was $25 to $400 a copy, with most of the suggestions at the low end of the range.

On his website, there’s a photo of Dan Bricklin demonstrating the new spreadsheet program, on May 12th 1979.



Track Goals and Activities in Excel

David Seah produces a compact calendar each year, in Excel format, that you can download from his website. It’s a vertical format, with a row for each week, and the month start dates highlighted.


He also posts a monthly review of his goals and activites, under the heading of Groundhog Day Resolution Review. In his April review, he includes a downloadable Excel file, in which he tracks his goals and results.


If you’re looking for ideas on how to track your own work, download David’s workbook, for some inspiration.



Spreadsheet Analysis: Value of a Bull

image There’s a lot of bull in business, but if you’re actually buying a bull, this Value of a Bull spreadsheet should help with your decisions.

Just like any other big purchase, apparently there are many things to consider when buying a bull. For example:

  • How much is too much to pay for a bull?
  • Is a cheap bull always the best buy?

I don’t have any personal experience in bull buying, but Dr. Brett Barham, from University of Arkansas appears to know the subject very well.

You can download his Value of a Bull spreadsheet in either Excel format or Open Office format. There’s also a video that explains how to use the spreadsheet, with advice on decision making.

Unfortunately, someone has formatted the spreadsheet with white font and a black background, instead of the easy to read format that is shown in the video. There are module sheets in the workbook, and they trigger a macro warning, but you don’t need to enable macros to use the workbook.



Spreadsheet Food: Afraid to Write in Cookbooks

image My cookbooks are full of comments. When I try a recipe, the cookbook gets marked with a date and rating, so I’ll remember what worked, and what didn’t.

Sometimes the ingredient list is marked up too, if I substitute ingredients, or add things that aren’t in the list.

Apparently some people don’t like to write in their cookbooks though. In the Get Organized Now! blog, there are instructions for using a spreadsheet to keep track of favourite recipes, and comments on using them.

If that’s how you like to work, you can find the article here:

Keeping Track of Cookbook Recipes


Spreadsheet Food: Diners, Drive-ins and Drives

If you’re a fan of the Diners, Drive-ins and Dives tv show, you’ll enjoy this blog:

And to make it even better, there are spreadsheets too! Look in the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll see links to Google spreadsheets — one for the locations, and another for recipes. There’s also a list of Flavortown Menus — click on one of those to see a filtered list of recipes.

Have fun, and use those recipes at your own risk!

Would Wii Kinect With Spreadsheets That Move?

When you play games on a Wii, your body movements trigger emotions, which make the experience more entertaining, according to scientists who are studying the effects these games have. Could you create a spreadsheet that works on a game console, to make that experience more enjoyable too?

In the article,  How Wii and Kinect Hack Into Your Emotions, NYU scientist, Katherine Isbister, says “There’s no reason why dealing with a spreadsheet or sorting e-mail couldn’t be as wonderful as tai chi.”

What a great idea! Swing your arm to change a pivot table layout. Kick your left foot to delete a column. A right jab could insert a new sheet. Bow your head to save the file.

I’ll let you know when the prototype is ready. In the meantime, I’ll be in the basement, getting inspiration by playing Sports Champions on my new PS3 Move console.



Spreadsheet Art: Agnes Martin Finds the Beauty in a Grid

agnesmartinUntil today, I’d never heard of an artist named Agnes Martin. In a post on the All My Eyes blog, Life Imitates Art?, Martin’s work was compared to a spreadsheet, so I Googled to learn more about her, and see her work.

To my surprise, she’s a Canadian artist, born in Saskatchewan in 1912, and raised in Vancouver. Later, Martin moved to the USA and became a citizen there, eventually settling in New Mexico.

Her art is described in The Washington Post as a, "tight, orderly form of geometric abstraction, ingeniously arranging subtly shaded oil and acrylic paints on large, six-foot-square canvases."

This quote, from Agnes Martin: Writings/Schriften, made me think of an Excel worksheet, and perhaps this is the reason that the cells aren’t square:

My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square; they are rectangles, a little bit off the square, making a sort of contradiction, a dissonance, though I didn’t set out to do it that way. When I cover the square surface with rectangles, it lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.

One of her paintings, Starlight, sold in 2008 for over $500K, so it’s not just spreadsheet users who appreciate the beauty in a grid.

Agnes Martin Interview

You can see more of Agnes Martin’s work in this video interview.