Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I <3 Spreadsheets.
I'm no expert, but give me a grid of programmable cells and some stuff to compare over a time-line and I'm having fun! I just spent the last hour putting together tables to help my girlfriend figure out how to best allocate her resources towards her credit card debt, now that a couple of her cards have arbitrarily jacked up their rates. Oh what a difference a couple of percent can make!
With the help of my handy-dandy spreadsheet we have determined that if she cuts her payment on the lower interest debt down to minimum payment + interest and reallocates those funds to her other card she will save over $150 in interest charges. Add a few bucks to that and make a couple of slightly bigger payments out of savings for a few months and the avoided interest charges jump over $300 pretty quick. $300 of magic mystery money the credit card companies charge for the privilege of owing them money.
Now I'm no Microsoft shill. I appreciate the ease of use of most of their end-user products, since my usual day to day tasks include troubleshooting the problems other people run into while using those products. So when I want to get something done quick, without too much fuss, I boot up Office and just go.
That said, I try to support Open Source Software whenever and wherever I can. I advocate the use of free, community supported tools for all those niches where the tools provide solid performance: Firefox, Audacity, LAME, Gimp, among others... And also I may need to rethink that recommendation. I used Calc for my tables today, because I have been too lazy to dig up the Microsoft Office key I was given for attending one of the launch seminars for the 2007 product line. Open Office is a 60 meg install and pretty much a no-brainer.
Ok, so I'm putting together a table and it's time to start doing some summing of paid interest. I lay out the tables and formulas so that it calculates for a 24 month period. Extending into negatives once the balance has been paid off. Quick and dirty. So I try to put a sum at the bottom of the column and throw a conditional in there to weed out any potential negative values.
Ok, I know it's supposed to be pretty close to Excel, but maybe they've changed something. I pull up the formula list... Sumif(range, condition, optional range) Gotcha. Ok, type '=SUMIF(B9:B31, >0)'
Error... huh... ok. Pull up the Formula Builder. It's all there except... Ah! It wants me to use a semi-colon between parameters! Ok.
So I started trying everything I could think of. Defining the range for the conditional. Placing the conditional statement in a cell and referencing it. The text prompts for the formula vaguely pointed to something like that. Quote: Criteria (required), The cell range in which the search criteria are given.
After about 10 minutes of hacking away at this I resorted to google and found this:
Really? You're kidding. Quotes Greater Than Close Quotes Ampersand Zero? I mean, the programmer in me knows that it makes sense... but at least HINT at this type of structure in your Function Wizard! Don't call it a 'wizard' and then give me no method for building a conditional statement without using code to build the string! THIS, THIS right here is why OOo will not gain greater acceptance. I know how to use cells. I know how to break my logic down into structures, but unless I know that I have to indicate a text format for the logic statement before the 'formula wizard' can process the parameter I'll waste a lot of potentially productive time trying to find the trick to getting this Excel replacement to understand a simple value comparison.
Anyway, small gripe I have. Lots of screen space. Empty areas... use it! The wizard takes up a good third of my screen to populate with 3 boxes. Give me the man-page for the current formula in a little scrolling box!
Oh well.
It's getting late.

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