Spreadsheet Errors Deep and Shallow

Spreadsheets are almost certainly the most common form of end user programming. And they are both cool (enabling amazing systems to be built by all sorts of people) and dreadful (those systems are even more buggy than we fear). There’s lots of cool research on them…even inside Microsoft!

But I’ll tell you right now that the thing that fucking kills me with Excel for Mac is that scrolling is just the worse. It’s slow, buggy, and just plain hard to use. I switched to Numbers for dealing with a spreadsheet of less than 10 columns and less than 200 rows just because the scrolling was KILLING ME LOUDLY…

…of course, Numbers doesn’t let you delete specific cells…only whole rows why for the love of every sort of sanity on this good green earth WHY?!?!?

It just boggles me that these simple things are so broken. For generations of versions.


April Fools!

A PhD student that I let hang out in the group office next to mine likes to play pranks hence the ballon related one that greeted me this morning:

How they have the time to work on their PhD escapes me.

I, of course, launched a counterprank by emailing them that it was a fire safety issue and that there were escalating consequences. That was working until one of my PhD students pointed out that I had done that trick on them. The original prankster was only half fooled. Boo!

So I ran the same prank on the snitch only adding a forged email from Health and Safety for added verisimilitude. Worked a treat!

We are Very Serious People at the University of Manchester.

Apple Store Suckery

Zoe’s phone died. It was doing the wonky battery thing. This was one of the recalled iPhone 6Ss. Last year I had the battery replaced under the program. It didn’t quite fix the problem but did seriously mitigate it.

Ok but now it won’t charge. As the Apple Store guy pointed out…it rattled.

Yikes! I guess they did a crap job last year.

Nope! It was a knock off battery poorly installed.

Now of course they didn’t “accuse us” of anything…they just thought that they fixed it properly and sometime in the past year, probably the past month, someone meddled with it and so no fix for us.

This phone has literally never been out of our possession. We had no motive to have any other repair or battery repair…we thought it was still under warranty!

And don’t fucking tell me that you aren’t accusing me because you did it by implication. That just sucks. Just say we can’t comment on the mechanism but since we can’t prove it’s their fault we’re shit out of luck.

Of course this doesn’t just mean they won’t repair it for free, it means they won’t repair it.

There was an iSmash in the mall that repaired it in under 15 minutes while we watched. Apple drove us to what they forbade.

We’ve dumped serious cash into that store. I don’t have a good feeling about them.

A Sense of Proportion

Just wanted to pull up this comment about Louis CK’s return from non-exile. The impetus is this tweet:

My snark:

I too am concerned about released felons who find reintegrating into society enormously challenging (from mental health issues, to getting a job and voting, etc.) Registered sex offenders, while often—but not always—monstrous often find it literally impossible to live in a given area because the imposed restrictions they face make it so there’s literally no place where they can legally stand. This is super tricky when we’re talking about the monstrous ones, since they did do, after all, horrible things. On the other hand, when we release them there should be some way to function in the world. This is before we get to the incident of unjust convictions, etc.

Figuring out a path that is safe for society and allows reintegration is challenging. Redemption is even trickier though there’s amazing work by the restorative justice folks that’s worth exploring.

Wait, Black is talking about how to let rich white guys get the lucrative spotlight again?

Never mind.

Seriously folks, esp people with a significant platform, before defending some rich asshole, please spend a few minutes thinking about whether there’s some actual problem you could talk about.

With respect to the #metooed, how about thinking about the lives they’ve blighted? That’s a good first place to direct your attention.

Update: Hana Michaels wrote an excellent article about this seamlessly blending her personal experience with broader analysis. Read it.

Some Annoyances

Welp, I lost my UK passport on my last trip. I finally faced that fact and cancelled it. Now I’m going through the pain of renewing it. This means I won’t be able to the US next week because everything sucks. Apparently you can’t do online or super expedited passport renewal for lost ones, only “one week” fast track. There’s no reason at all given. It makes zero sense. In spite of them making much of giving me a reference number for my cancelation, none of the 3 or so distinct application processes ask for it.

And the web site. Ugh. I’ll just detail the final annoyance which was  the payments form:
Without spaces?!?!? Duuuuudes! It probably took more effort to write “(without spaces) “than to strip the fucking spaces.

(If you ignore that as one is prone to do then it tells you that there was an “error in processing your payment” thank you very much. At least it doesn’t dump everything you’ve filled in to that point like other bits of the site.)

Making Barcharts in Python is Way Too Hard

Use mathplotlib! Ignoring all the articles talking about what a pita it is!

It didn’t install. I think it might already be installed. But this sucks.

Ignore all the libraries that generate JavaScript thingies. Or require GNUPlot or similar.

That leaves Pygal or Leather. They both generate SVG. Which LaTeX and many Markdown2PDF tools don’t like. But Pygal will generate PNG!!! Yay!

Which needs you to install cairosvg. Ok.

I get this to work! Yay! No way my users want to do this so it’s off to pyinstaller. Which horks on Pygal AND needs special handling in virtual environments which I am using because it’s supposed to be virtuous.

But now I have a single file executable!! I’m the man!

Which doesn’t work on Sean’s or Uli’s machine for random reasons. I figure out that pillow 5.0.1 won’t work on Sean’s machine because it’s MacOS 10.11 which the pillow folks borked because Apple. So I downgrade pillow which makes my program not crash on Sean’s machines but now the graphs are randomly borked.

Sean tries to run the script directly but his Python is funny. It doesn’t work for Uli at all because who knows? (She has MacOS 10.13.) Oh, and sometimes dragging something from one Dropbox folder to another on her machine is interpreted as “replace that file with a same named file filled with random HTML”.

So I give up, get the data, and generate the report on my own damn machine. Which reveals some bugs. Which I fix.

I then decided fuck this shit and went to a movie.

Python might have batteries included but they will shock you and leak acid into your tea.

Universities Are Not Well Run

I read the news today, oh boy:

Students planning legal action against University of Manchester for lost teaching time during strikes

It’s understood that during talks between the student union and Manchester University, one suggestion has been that graduation fees – of £35 – could be waived in compensation for lost teaching time.

Remember that the people who were on strike are getting their pay docked. That is, the university feels that if we do not supply what they are paying us for then we don’t get paid on a pro rata and proportionate basis.y rough and low bally estimate is that students pay £50/day.

Now, to be fair, it’s complex. We didn’t shut down the whole university. But even then, it’s a bad look.

And nominal fee isn’t the whole story…it’s what’s been agreed upon for that fee.

Given that this whole thing was utterly unnecessary because the precipitating event was absurd, evil, and based on lies by the universities, they should step up.

But perhaps they are hard up?

Latest figures show increases in universities’ income, surpluses and reserves

UK universities’ income increased by £915m (2.7%) between 2015/16 and 2016/17, according to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). During that time they made a surplus of £2.3bn and now have total reserves of £44.27bn.

The data also revealed an increase in capital expenditure, but that the proportion of money spent on staff had not improved. Compared to seven years ago, the percentage of expenditure spent on staff has fallen by 3.35%, but the percentage spent on capital expenditure has shot up by 34.9% over that period.

UCU said the figures made a mockery of universities’ claims that staff were a top priority. Staff in universities have seen their pay fall by around 20% since 2009,

So no. They just don’t care about spending money on staff.

I know that in some circles having shrinking staff salaries in a labor intensive industry would be thought to be good management. But those circles suck. They don’t care about the labour force.

And then there’s this lovely bit:

On Wednesday 25 April Senate endorsed the Faculty Leadership Team’s recommendation regarding a change to the School structure in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Senate endorsed the proposal to reduce the number of Schools, from nine to two and name the new Schools the School of Engineering and the School of Natural Sciences.  In addition, the paper submitted to Senate included the following recommendations which did not require formal endorsement:

• the retention of the current School disciplines in ‘Departments’

• the formation of a Faculty Teaching College and a Faculty Research College.

Yes, a reshuffle that essentially is one part renaming and one part adding an extra level of management is a bold response to the many challenges we face! This makes me really confident that our senior leadership team is trying to acquire managerial cred for their next job…er…solve the tough problems…er…help US solve the tough problems of teaching and research in these troubled times.