Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life is a Spreadsheet Lost

Last night I decided it was time to prepare my Arkansas state income tax return. I finished the Federal taxes a couple of weeks ago, and decided to take a break from it. But April 17 is fast approaching, so I knew I had to get back at it.
Rather than purchasing a tax preparation program, I just do it myself. Several years ago I laid my calculator aside in favor of spreadsheets. From my work as an engineer I've learned how to put a spreadsheet together, even add some bells and whistles. Each year I add a little more to it, such as linking a cell to another point on the spreadsheet where the number in that cell was needed. This year I even added the line descriptions to the Federal forms. Every form and schedule I needed for the FedTax is included as a tab on the spreadsheet.

Last night I decided to add tabs for my state taxes, something I haven't done before. One thing I did was to learn how to use the Excel =round(num,num) function to round off all numbers to even dollars. The Feds let you carry cents everywhere; Arkansas doesn't let you. That actually turned out to be easy. So I built my tab for AR1000F, the basic form for full year residents. I added a formula for line numbers, added descriptions, grayed-out cells I wouldn't be using, changed the background color on cells where I would enter a number and cells where I had to put a link.

Each time I copied a second cell this annoying sidebar came up, displaying the last umpteen items added to the clipboard. I don't know why that comes up. It doesn't on my Excel at work, but it does at home. I assume there's a way to turn that off, but I haven't investigated it yet. When it popped up, I clicked it off. Two more pastes and it popped up again and I clicked it off again.

On and on it went, this popping up and clicking off. Through from AR1000ADJ and AR3, and back to form AR1000F again. I should just learn to let the sidebar stay up there, as it's off to the right, and shouldn't bother me. But it does bother me. I want to control the look of the screen, and that pop-up has to go.

I finished the spreadsheet and had my calculated taxes and refund, all using formulas in the right place. I saw, however, that I would probably save money by calculating income and taxes according to an allowable alternative for married couples. So I added a column for the alternate calculations, entered formulas or copied them as appropriate. The sidebar popped up and I clicked it off.

I was down to the next to the last cell. I copied the needed formula into the cell, and up popped sidebar. I clicked her down (it has to be feminine; how else can you explain all the trouble it caused), but instead of clicking on the little x for Sidebar I clicked on the little x for closing the spreadsheet. When the window popped up about saving or losing your work, I guess I didn't read it. I clicked "ok" or something, and poof, the spreadsheet was gone. And with it 75 minutes of work, because I hadn't once saved during this time.

I was crushed. I went upstairs, fixed a cup of coffee, then returned to The Dungeon. I couldn't face the spreadsheet, so did some other things for a while. Finally I went back to it and started over. I got about 1/4 done, then quit for the night. Tonight, perhaps after the movies, I'll finish it.

Life seems to me like that spreadsheet. We learn. We grow. We try new things. We append them to old things. It all works like clockwork—or a flawless spreadsheet—and you have a slightly different life. Until it all gets wrecked, often a result of something we did. The rebuilding of whatever it was you were working on might take less time than the first time, but will never result in the same satisfaction. It isn't better the second time around.

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