How I Use Excel

I use Excel spreadsheets to organize my projects.

Often my first sheet is a list of files useful for the project.  It is usually generated by taking a directory listing of the document directory.  And that makes it usually alphabetical.  Then I’d make a column of links to those files so I can just click on them to open them.  Then I’d make another column to give a summary of what is in the file (as in schematics or tables or pretty worthless for anything technical).  Being an alphabetical list, I’d copy that sheet to another and organize it into hardware and software and promotional files.  I make a COPY because “Never crunch original data” (ever!)

A listing of PDFs in the Sigma9 directory

But I also use the VBA function to crunch data ( not the original data.)  I take tables from documents and convert them to different number bases, and fill in missing values (by saying this value is not defined.)  Or I make a compiler to create binary code from assembly language.

I also may generated diagrams.  I use arrays of tiny circles or line segments to draw Kaleidoscopes or Spirographs or printed circuit boards.

KaliedoscopeDECtape panelLogo HandshakeRendered Logo handshake

I sometimes print out template sheets so I can record labels for connector pins, or connections between pins on a backplane.  This one is for the game of Clue.

Clue Detective Sheet
Detective Pad for the game of Clue

Or visualize data in a giant oscilloscope:


Robotis Mini

For crunching numbers, or processing files, Excel is my goto program.

Microsoft Software I Have Loved

With Microsoft’s 45th birthday coming up, I thought it’d be appropriate to reflect on the Microsoft tools I use regularly in my day-to-day work at the museum. Well, maybe not day-to-day: some days I’m out there probing hardware or installing an operating system on a PDP-8 and on those days most software I’m using either predates Microsoft or isn’t software at all.

But on those days when I’m working on my emulation-project-du-jour or any of a handful of tools in use around the museum, I’m sitting at my desk staring at the latest incarnation of Visual Studio. My first introduction to it was in 1999 in one of my comp. sci classes in college (our curriculum was fairly evenly split between programming on Windows and Solaris systems) and I ended up using it in my classes on graphics and multimedia where I learned to use OpenGL and DirectX, as well as for a course where I needed to do some development for Windows CE (on the original Compaq iPAQ — remember those?)

Visual Studio 2017, editing Darkstar

Microsoft has always treated its developers well and Visual Studio has always been an extremely polished piece of software. It has an excellent debugger and decent integration with a variety of source control systems. I’m a big fan of C# for most of my projects, hence ContrAlto, Darkstar, and sImlac being written in it.

And heck, since I’m feeling nostalgic, allow me to wax rhapsodic about Microsoft QuickBASIC. As a kid I graduated from BASICA to QBasic and abandoned line numbers in favor of structured (or at least slightly-more-structured) programming. QB.EXE was my IDE of choice for many years, until I graduated to Borland Turbo C++ 3.0 for DOS. (Hot take: C++ was, in many ways, a step down from QuickBASIC.) And I will not hear a bad word spoken about GORILLA.BAS, perhaps the finest piece of software Microsoft ever wrote (runner up: NIBBLES.BAS):