Monthly Archives: February 2018

Google Sheets Kung Fu: Ten tips for writing functionality quickly

At a retreat I attended last month, one of the speakers illustrated his point that people have different skills by explaining that some people have a fascination with spreadsheet manipulation. The way he said it, he sounded baffled, but when I heard it, I knew he was describing people like me.

My preferred system is Google Sheets for its easy collaboration and anywhere-access. Last spring, in “Like Magic”: Five Google Spreadsheet Hacks to Save You Time and Money, I shared some of its features that I’ve learned about over the years which expand the scope and power of what you can do with spreadsheets. In this post, I’d like to address the complimentary question of efficiency: How do you build and write spreadsheet functionality quickly?¬†After all, we’re using spreadsheets in the first place in part in order to speed things up relative to doing them by hand. But if designing the spreadsheet takes a long time, we’re at best cutting into those future time savings and at worst losing time in the whole endeavor.

So here are some tips for speeding up your own spreadsheet capabilities.

Read more of this post

Why the World Always Seems to be Getting Worse

“It’s the end of the House System at Caltech,” many Caltech alumni proclaimed upon hearing the administration unveil its plans for the newly constructed Bechtel House yesterday evening. The first major addition to Caltech housing in over 20 years, Bechtel will allow every undergraduate who wants to live on campus to do so. No longer will upperclassmen be subjected to the same harrowing process of roompick lotteries, uncertain whether they’ll be able to stay in their beloved House or move off-campus.

If you’ve spent any time dealing with the Caltech administration, though, you know there has to be a catch somewhere. Fortunately, the admins didn’t decide to go with one of their original plans, to make the new dorm all-freshman housing. Instead, they decided to make it a more free-for-all living arrangement, where clusters of friends can join and create their own culture without the social pressure of being another House (or two).

Working through the consequences, then, the procedure of matching freshmen to houses, currently a weeklong process known as Rotation and occurring right after students arrive at school, would inevitably have to be reformed. The main source of the drama lies in their solution: Houses will no longer have the ability to rank prefrosh; placement will instead only depend on the preferences of the incoming prefrosh (that’s Caltech lingo for matriculating freshmen).

There are unfortunately also serious concerns with the way this decision was reached that call into question the integrity of the administration. Sadly, this is not the first time they’ve acted unilaterally and in bad faith, despite giving all pretenses of working with student committees. Since they hold all of the power, it also won’t be the last.

That said, I’ve also been struck by the reaction of my fellow alumni to the content of the changes themselves. As one of my Caltech friends messaged me, “Sam, the world¬†is ending. It’s all over. Run for the hills!” (emphasis his, punctuation mine) And yet, I’m also not surprised: This is exactly the same way that the Caltech Alumni Facebook group has reacted to, well, pretty much everything.

Read more of this post