Monday, 22 June 2015

eWorkBook Challenge: spreadsheets and other calculation workbooks

Over past few years noticed several challenges such as a photo a day, a sketch a day, and 500 words a day, some of these challenges are based on a year, others over shorter periods such as a month or week.  A quick search of the internet didn't reveal any similar challenges for spreadsheets or other calculation workbooks such as MathCAD, in the main the challenges are to create an electronic workbook [eWorkBook] for a specific purpose, or otherwise use spreadsheets to track progress with other challenges: such as  tracking progress  writing a 50,000 word novel in a month at an average rate of 1667 words/day. It would therefore seem there is no existing challenge for creating a collection of spreadsheets.

May be such challenge isn't considered appropriate, or it is just too complicated for an individual to pursue. Most people don't have a need for a large variety of spreadsheets, they just produce multiple spreadsheets based on one single template. Those people working in technical fields probably already have the eWorkbooks they need for their work, whilst others create new eWorkbooks everyday in the course of their daily work. However it is also clear that people are looking for technical spreadsheets to carry out various engineering calculations. So there are people who can use eWorkbooks but not build them, or otherwise don't want to put the effort in at the time they need them.

By now I would expect that most graduates from formal educational programmes would have a toolbox of eWorkBooks for the types of tasks they will commonly encounter. Though unfortunately a lot of those they create as a formal part of their courses are probably created in software the likes of MathCAD and/or MatLAB: the problem with such is that such software is expensive and not all that readily available in organisations. Spreadsheets however are a lot more readily available, and therefore the better choice for building a toolbox of calculation tools.

The challenge isn't intended to be a competition with winners and losers, there are no prizes. The challenge is a personal goal, that anyone can take up, the prize if any is a useful personal collection of calculation tools. If wish to share such tools then I recommend up loading them to ExcelCalcs. The challenge can be spread over any time frame, suggestions are:
  1. One eWorkBook a Month (12 for a year)
  2. One eWorkBook a Week (52 for a year)
  3. One eWorkBook a Day (365 for a year)
Which provides the opportunity to spread the challenge over a period of 3 years, the first year starting with one spreadsheet a month, then slowly building up to one spreadsheet a day for the third year.

I have already uploaded 37 unique files to my ExcelCalcs profile, so that represents enough spreadsheets to cover one workbook a month. Given that some of these are zip files, with at least one containing more than 40 workbooks, that also means enough workbooks to cover one workbook a week. Searching my archive hard-drive I find over 70,000 workbooks of various formats (As Easy As, QPro DOS, QPro Windows, MS Excel), many of those are duplicates or minor variations on a theme. My main toolbox already holds over 700 MS Excel spreadsheets. So producing some 365 eWorkBooks doesn't seem an impossible challenge: though creating something unique from scratch each and every day could be challenging. However the challenge doesn't have to be about creating from scratch, for me the challenge would be cleaning up the existing spreadsheets and reformatting so that they are suitable for release for others to use.

eWorkBooks, spreadsheets or otherwise can be classified into the following types:

TYPE 1: Reference Library
These eWorkBooks are databases or tables of data which are largely constant, and used as lookup values for calculations. They include such things as materials libraries, properties of chemical elements and such things. {MS Access or other DBMS potentially the better tool for this}

TYPE 2: Data Collection
These are eWorkBooks that are used to collect variable data, and create data tables and simple lists. Examples would include book lists and price lists. {MS Access or other DBMS potentially the better tool for this.}

TYPE 3: Tabulated Calculations
Tables of independent parameters and calculated dependent variables, with or without charts or graphs illustrating such relationships. {MS Access or other DBMS potentially the better tool for this.}

TYPE 4: Text Book Formula Sheets
These are the type of eWorkBooks typically uploaded to ExcelCalcs and complying with their recommended template making use of XLC. Such worksheets typically restricted to a single A4 page, have a sketch to illustrate the parameters of the mathematical model, show the algebraic formula, show the numbers substituted in the formula and then show the numerical result. These are primarily for the purpose of studying and understanding the formula.

TYPE 5: Calculated Reports
These are full technical reports, at least as far as the calculations go. Simply combining a series of Type-4 spreadsheets would not be appropriate for such reports. Such approach would generate a large amount of paper if so printed, or waste of hard-disk space if printed to pdf files, and most importantly a waste of time to read. Such calculated reports should be kept compact and concise, details of calculations are hidden behind the scenes, the reports display input parameters, and calculated results, but not necessarily the process of transformation from input to result. The user of such reports is expected to make independent checks on the results using other tools.

TYPE 6: Calculators and Dashboards
These can be simple or complex, either way no printed report is generated. These obtain input parameters and calculate results, how such transformation takes place is not shown. The purpose of such tools is rapid decision making. Such tools are likely used by persons checking Type-5 workbooks.

TYPE 7: Applications
These eWorkBooks can make little to extensive use of visual basic for applications (vba) and custom dialogue forms. The main features are that the workbook has the simple interface of Type-6 calculators, but can produce the reports of Type-5, or otherwise more detailed trace similar to Type-4, as well as produce tabulated reports based on variations in magnitude of input parameters similar to Type-3. Also likely to include data collection (Type-2), and rely on information extracted from libraries (Type-1).

TYPE 8: Function Libraries
Libraries of additional functions., which extend or otherwise simplify the calculation capabilities of the primary workbook application (eg, MS Excel).

TYPE 9: Utility Library/Add-In
Extends the features of the primary application (eg.MS Excel), but not the calculation capability. (eg. XLC).

TYPE:10: Other
Those types pf spreadsheets not mentioned elsewhere.

A spreadsheet to plan and track spreadsheet creation can be downloaded here.


  1. [22/06/2015] Original
  2. [23/04/2016] Change download links to MiScion Pty Ltd Web Store.