Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Several On MS Software

excel-inline-bar-charts.jpgFirst, don’t miss the great series of posts on the “Excel 2007 Trust Center” [link to no longer works]. There’s some really good thought on security and usability in there. (While I’m at it, after two months of using ribbons, the idea of going back pains me. It really does. I had that “WTF did you do to my screen space?” reaction at first, now I love them.)

Next, check out “Lightweight Data Exploration in Excel” [link to no longer works] at the excellent Juice Analytics blog:

For instance, REPT(”X”,10) gives you “XXXXXXXXXX”. REPT can also repeat a phrase; REPT(”Oh my goodness! “,3) gives “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! ” (my daughter’s an Annie fan).

For in-cell bar charts, the trick is to repeat a single bar “|”. When formatted in 8 point Arial font, single bars look like bar graphs.


On a less complimentary note, see “Death By Powerpoint:”

The Iraq disaster did not happen because someone in the JTF-IV planning group or the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) couldn’t write a good PowerPoint presentation. The problem was that anyone used PowerPoint to plan a war.

Via Marty Lederman’s “The Evil That Is PowerPoint (or, How We Lost the War)), which concludes:

Exception that proves the rule: I must concede that Yochai Benkler’s PowerPoint presentation last year at the Yale Constitution-in-2020 Conference was really engaging and fun — informative, even. So there is hope.

This “evil” actually pre-dates the current Secretary of Defense, and it even pre-dates Powerpoint. The Army has long had a tradition of briefings in which foils replaced well-reasoned essays. For example, all of the work of John Boyd was done as sets of foils, which were available as scanned photocopies. Those were manually redone as powerpoint slides. The issue isn’t the tool, it’s the culture that expects a presentation can replace other forms of communication.

This is particularly disappointing in Boyd’s case, because I’m really interested in how to apply his work to information security, and all we have is sentence fragments. It’s tough to blame that on a tool which didn’t exist when he did his work.

Also, last week, Presentation Zen had a really good roundup on presentations, entitled “Is it Broken” [link to no longer works], which touches on a lot of these issues. Finally, I should mention, MS PR had a chance to look at this post, because, well, I’m discussing our software, and it seemed like the right plan.

[Update: For some reason this post has become a spam magnet; I’ve closed comments, but will happily take them for publication, via email.]

2 comments on "Several On MS Software"

  • Stiennon says:

    REPT is an awesome function. Thanks Adam. Although I find that Ariel does not creat nice bar graphs for me. Brittanic Bold works perfectly though!

  • albatross says:

    The problem isn’t doing a presentation, it’s imagining that seeing a presentation gives you more information or understanding than it really does. Presentations are great for what they’re good at, but that doesn’t include furnishing all the details of the analysis that went into some result, or all the steps of your proof, or whatever.

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