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Comment Wrong tool (Score 4, Informative) 144

This is good of course, however, whenever I see a spreadsheet program used for any serious computation, I cringe. There are far better tools out there if you require real number crunching. Think Python + Panda for instance, or R, or Matlab if you are really into commercial programs, otherwise a nice interactive web page will usually do the trick. For accounting use a real accounting program, there are plenty out there. Spreadsheet programs are the lowest common denominator that allow the sharing of table-like information, but almost universally they are the wrong tool for the job. Just in the last week, I have seen spreadsheets used for a program logic workflow, a timetable, a university course schedule, to compute an FFT, to exchange student marks, to discuss a budget (with lots of deletions and remarks), and even for a presentation. In each and every case a more suitable, open-source, freely available, multi-platform application exists.

Of course this is software that people know, so usually we have to deal with it. As a rule I accept to work with other people's spreadsheets, but I usually refuse to create one ex-nihilo, unless there is a compelling reason to. For instance I teach a course on optimisation, and I do show how the solver in Excel / {Libre,Open}Office works. I have also on occasion shown people how to use a pivot table (never use those if you can help it).

The most severe problem I see with spreadsheet is that they have their use but they are fragile. It is too easy to load an extensive table into them and inadvertently modify just one cell, potentially undoing a lot of work. This is easy to detect if your spreadsheet is small, but if it span multiple tabs and an ungodly number of rows, you will not detect your error. Of course the format of these spreadsheet is obscure, and version control is typically not supported.

Personally the worst I have seen was one spreadsheet used for the accounting of 90+ separate research projects, spanning 30,000 cells. The accountant in charge of it was the person most attentive to detail I have ever seen. She was careful and the only person using it, which made her indispensable. We put in place a year-long plan for her retirement, involving scrapping her spreadsheet, entirely replacing it with a direct interface with SAP via a php-based web page. It was many months in the making, of course this was not a trivial project but we've pulled it off. In the process we discovered a huge number of accounting errors thanks to it, typically invoices that were never billed, to the tunes of nearly one million dollars. It took us several months to correct them.

The morals of this is never, ever use spreadsheets program for non-trivial work.

Comment Uber is illegal in France (Score 5, Informative) 334

Uber operates outside the bounds of the law in France. This is well documented. There are two sets of law that they do not obey. The first is one regulating car drivers that are not taxis. It is legal in France to operate a car service to drive people from A to B but you need to abide by some restrictions. The car cannot be hailed, only booked. The driver must have some qualification, etc. Uber does not abide by these laws. The second set of law protects the consumer. In particular, data must be viewable and deletable by the consumer, and they cannot be retained indefinitely. Again Uber does not follow the law.

Recently the french equivalent to state department pointed out to Uber that they needed to change some things, so what did they do? They opened service in 5 new cities with no change. This was seen as provocation, and so obviously the top executives were brought in for questioning. The french cannot state on the one hand that something is illegal and on the other let it happen. They had to act.

Now maybe the law needs to change, this is an important debate. In the meantime in a law-based country the law needs to be upheld.

Comment Re:A Bad Day for Elon Musk Fanbois (Score 5, Informative) 316

This is rewriting history. In december 2008 SpaceX was at the end of its tether. Musk himself wrote that they had virtually no money left in the bank when they finally got the NASA contract in the nick of time. So it was rather a close thing:

In the meantime, at SpaceX, Musk and top executives had spent most of December in a state of fear, but on Dec. 23, 2008, SpaceX received a wonderful shock. The company won a $1.6 billion contract for 12 NASA resupply flights to the space station. Then the Tesla deal ended up closing successfully, on Christmas Eve, hours before Tesla would have gone bankrupt. Musk had just a few hundred thousand dollars left and could not have made payroll the next day.

Balls of steel but also tremendous luck.

Comment Re:So, the other side? (Score 1) 422

No you don't. Employees do have more protections than in the USA, but severance payout is dependent on how long the employee has been with the company, if they were at fault or not, in which way the severance is handled (carefully and legally vs arrogantly and carelessly) and so on. There does exist a court where employment disputes are settled and employees do not typically win, by a long shot.

It's not hard to admit errors that are [only] cosmetically wrong. -- J.K. Galbraith