The dark tale of Excel in a foreign land

In this world of Macintosh computers and Google docs, I often forget the days of yore when I spent my time on a PC laptop, writing Powerpoint presentations, reading Word documents and compiling Excel spreadsheets. Naturally, Windows was the my stomping ground (fortunately this was pre-Vista). Last night, I was thrown back into this world of chaos and uncertainty, and dear reader, it was a painful and bewildering experience.

I had been asked to make some small changes to an Excel spreadsheet belonging to my Dad. A year or so ago, this would have taken about 15 minutes. Last night, it took over an hour and involved 4 laptops, 2 Internet connections and a USB stick. “How can this be?” I hear you cry in cunning, mock-suprise. Well, brave reader, allow me to explain:

I arrived home and pulled out my work MacBook, opened up the Excel trial and found that it had expired. No problem, I thought, and rooted around for my old PC laptop, eventually finding it in a box under three other boxes. In this effort too, I was frustrated, as the handy company password policy meant that I’d changed my password four or so times since I last switched the machine on, and even with Herculean efforts in the memory department, failed to get past the Norton logon screen.

At this point, it occurred to me that my aging and beautiful titanium 12″ G4 PowerBook (yes retro-fans, POWERBook) probably carried an Excel license. Booting up, my suspicions were confirmed; I moved onto the next hurdle – downloading the spreadsheet from GMail. You see, as regulars of my Twitter stream will be aware, I am having some not insignificant problems with BT Broadband at the moment. However, living on the skirts of the City of London, one would imagine that pervasive and oft-free wifi would be the order of the day. As it turns out, getting even one bar of an unlocked network is harder than holding onto an East London eel fresh from the estuary. Despite this difficulty, I did manage to secure a local copy of the file before technology FAIL species 3 set in – laptop power problems.

I recently replaced the PowerBook’s battery (via a very polite and punctual Hong Kong company) after the laptop’s battery life had deflated to below the 30 minute mark. In quite astonishing style, just as my spreadsheet download finished, the laptop promptly stopped accepting charge from the mains, and displayed a whopping 12 minutes of battery life remaining. In panic, I shut the lid and sent the laptop to sleep while I tried to work out my next move.

At this juncture my flatmate Ben arrived home and, on hearing of my plight, suggested I use his MacBook and shiny Excel licence. I opened up my PowerBook to copy the spreadsheet across, and without a shred of surprise, found the battery become exhausted as I was about to make the critical move. Back to square 1.

Carrying Ben’s laptop around in search of useful wifi signal, the task demanded that I walk outside my flat (in dressing-gown) and over to the very edge of an inner balcony in order to pick up a reliable enough signal on a key-free wifi network. Downloading afresh, and feeling very pleased with myself, I hot-footed back to the flat to make the edit.

The final FAIL, taking me up to 1am this morning, reared its elegant and monstrous head when saving from Excel. The Mac Finder absolutely refused to display the file I was saving. At this point, I became blind and my memory has been wiped by fundamental genetic forces designed to allow humans to continue living after emotional or physical distress. See “Childbirth“.

I have just sent my Dad the offending spreadsheet, which I carried to work with me this morning on a USB stick. I did not mention the pain it has caused me. I do not want his sympathy.


One Comment

  1. Posted September 12, 2008 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Erm… google docs now supports conditional formatting. No excel woes. Yay!