Whose spreadsheet is this, anyway? Maybe it's a known feature of the human trajectory toward codgerhood, but I just don't enjoy a challenge as much as I used to. The idea of solving impossible problems no longer thrills me to the point of obsession, which is generally the point at which I stop drooling on my pants and start focusing. No challenge, no obsession. No obsession, no focus. No focus . . . well, let's just say I go through a lot of trousers.

In an effort to rekindle the flame, I decided to modify a spreadsheet used for employee scheduling in a small business. It works perfectly well in its intended capacity, and it isn't like anyone asked me to fool with it. But there it was just the same, and one thing led to another, and by the time I came to my sensesin a relative way, that isI had already saved my changes and it was too late.

The thing is, none of the numbers that indicate what time of day each employee is expected to clock in and out are really times, at least not in any way a spreadsheet might understand. They're numberslike 9 - 5 or 10 - 6:30but they're formatted as text, not time of day. This is fine for human eyes and minds; we immediately grasp the intended meaning in the context of work hours. But in the simple-minded world inhabited by computers, there is no context until one has been deliberately fed to the application responsible for the particular task at hand. Especially if that application happens to be a spreadsheet, any context is purposely absent. This, of course, is exactly what makes spreadsheets useful in such a spectacular variety of circumstances, but if you want to crunch time-related numbers, you have to feed time-related numbers to your spreadsheet in the first place.

For those of you who wonder what, after all, might be keeping me from just formatting those text-bearing cells as time quantities and being done with it, I would simply indicate that (1) this is not my spreadsheet, (2) the spreadsheet's actual owner has no stated desire for that sort of capability, (3) the spreadsheet's actual owner might wonder why I'm messing with his stuff, (4) the spreadsheet's actual owner probably wants to enter his employees' shifts that way, otherwise he wouldn't, and (5) this is not my spreadsheet.

Still, I'm only human, and have, now, only limited patience with these sorts of things, as I said. The problems that lurk in improving things that don't require itor that didn't ask to be improvedare exactly the kinds of challenges I hate don't need anymore. But in my heart I know I won't really be able to avoid this crap writing a script to parse every cell in that spreadsheet, searching for the telltale signs of a text-formatted time quantity so the characters on either side of the colon if it even exists dammit can be extracted, processed, and then reintroduced I'm melting to the cells from whence they came.

After that, it should be a simple matter to tally those hours.


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