A Spreadsheet As Empty As Their Brain

, , , , | Working | June 18, 2017

(A colleague contacts me on Instant Messenger to ask about project progress. I need some background so I ask him for the project spreadsheet.)

Colleague: “It’s on [sharelink].”

(I try it out and I don’t have access to that sharelink. So I ask him to email it to me.)

Colleague: “Can’t email it to you; it’s too big.”

(Our mailboxes are limited to handling files of 5 megabytes. That is a h*** of a large spreadsheet if it’s bigger than 5 megabytes, considering the project has barely started.)

Colleague: “Okay, I’ve got access to that sharelink for you.”

(I access it, and see indeed, the file is 9 megabytes big. I can’t open it in situ, so I download it and open it locally. I find that it has one active sheet that consists of 75 lines of actual data, and another 1.7 million blank lines (blank, that is, apart from fancy formatting.)

Me: “Why is this file 9 megabytes big? Why has it got 1.7 million blank lines in it? The f*** are we wasting so much computer space? This is ridiculous.”

Colleague: “Well, if you’re so stupid as to be confused by a simple thing as spreadsheet structure, maybe you need to go on a training course to teach you how to use computers. I have a meeting to go to now. Once you have sorted yourself out and learned how we do things round here, I will contact you again.”

Me: “No worries.”

(I let him get on with it. He never got back in touch with me to ask my advice, which was all well and good, as I was able to spend the rest of the day, uninterrupted, fulfilling my role as technical design authority and performing a code quality review of his (not particularly high quality) code.)

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  • Clint

    Hidden cells/rows/columns, maybe? Would formatting take up that much disk space on empty cells?

    • Miria Jiyuu

      Yep, an empty cell is smaller in size than a filled one, but it still has to store that the empty cell exists. You get 1.7 million and it will add up.

      • Kumajiro

        Amd that’s just 1.7 million lines of empty cells. The lines could be upwards of twenty cells wide (at least the place I worked for last year had some like that, for custom orders and such), bringing you to close to 34 million empty cells.

        • Lord Circe

          The largest sheet I’ve worked with used 102 columns, and had 800,000+ rows, just on the first sheet. It was a listing of demographics information for some national database or another.

  • Vercalos

    Don’t you just love it when idiots call you stupid?

    • Difdi

      It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Incompetent people lack the capacity to judge competence, so they have nothing to counter-balance their ego. As a result, they think they are beyond awesome, and anything they don’t understand (due to being incompetent) gets dismissed as stupidity.

      • EJ Nauls-Poland

        That explains why my dumb*ss of a sister thought everything else was stupid growing up.

        • Christine Wood

          Oh my gosh, you had a sister like that too? Mine thinks she’s a cultured intellectual and used to force me into arguments to practice “debating”. It always ended with me getting insulted. The irony is that she got a 4 year degree from a notable university in Communications. And she is still horrible at debating.

          • EJ Nauls-Poland

            Mine wasn’t anything like that, but anything she didn’t understand was either “dumb” or “stupid” in her eyes.

        • AKchic

          I feel you there. My sister still believes that burping is an acceptable way to signal that one is available and ready to breed. I blame my mother and her then-husband for that one. They thought it adorable when a blonde-haired, blue-eyed tiny 4 year old belched louder than a 300lb man in a restaurant. It was “charming” and “cute”. Well, now she’s in her 30’s, with four children of her own and a terrible husband (we’ll not speak of *that* one), and her own failings a mile long. Yet I’m the bad sister for not wanting to speak to her. No, I’m the sane one for not wanting to be subjected to drama daily, and for having healthy boundaries.

      • Chess Red Eagle

        So that’s what Donald Trump has. Good to have an actual name to put to it.

  • Lord Circe

    Oh yeah, I’ve dealt with that before. “I’ll just ‘preformat’ every row in the document to save time. Huh, why did the file get so big?” People who do this show they really don’t know how spreadsheets work.

    • Xenobio

      How does one even DO that? Even if you Ctrl+A in a blank spreadsheet surely it doesn’t automatically do the maximum possible number of lines?

      • Lord Circe

        If you select columns as a whole to do your formatting, or if you Select+Ctrl+Down your way to the bottom of the sheet. Gets you all the cells, then a simple format makes them get recorded, even though they are empty.

        • Heather Davenport

          I have databases in excel with 30 sheets, almost all of which have formatting that was applied to whole columns, and which include several macros and a lot of conditional formatting (also applied to whole columns) and even those ones are only 3-4 MB. And they only consider actually active lines active. What do you have to do to to make it 9 MB with just a bit of data? o.O

  • Fluffy the Clown

    guessing this was late 80’s early 90’s

    • David Bourke

      Did they have instant messaging, email, and the web to share links on in the 80s?

      • Jonathon Side

        I don’t believe so… I was still using dial up and bulletin board systems until at least ’95.

      • Pogla

        IM – not really. Email, yep. Web… well not the ‘world wide web’, and sending a 9 meg file would have taken hours.

      • Nic

        Only if they were part of a government or university research establishment!

    • Matt Westwood

      No, this was last year or the year before. I know this, because it was my submission. Can’t remember who the guy on the other end was, but I have a feeling he’s out of the picture now.

      • Fyva Prold

        Wait, that was your spreadshit?

    • Pogla

      What gives you that impression? You could get 20mb hard drives at the time, but they were fekkin’ expensive. Most computers would have had 10 at the most.

    • DB

      9mb file limits are probably right for about any enterprise.

      If you don’t limit mail messages, you’ll get goobers in Marketing mailing powerpoint presentations to the rest of their group, sales people forwarding around huge pictures (and ending with a graphic-intensive sig), and other crap, when they should be using a network-mapped drive or something.

      Gotta expect your cow orkers to display 0 clue when it goes to not turning your mail server into mush.

      • Ronald M Bisnett

        We have one department that sends out an email on the first of every month with a newsletter and calendar of events. Typically runs around 5mb with those two attachments. And then you get the ‘Photos From X Event’ emails. I have one in my inbox right now, a mass email, from someone thanking us for supporting her son’s softball team. One poorly focused team photo, a 14mb .png attachment. *facepalm* Another email is from our annual awards dinner. It’s the slideshow from the dinner, honoring our service recipients (5, 10, 15, 20… years) and it’s 12mb. And the sender sent it twice. And the sender is usually the loudest voice in discouraging rampant use of Reply All, go figure.

        Come on, asteroid.

  • Souless night

    My god that is beyond stupid…

  • Holly

    1,700,000 blank lines? WTH? How does one create so many? Don’t you have to select stuff in a spreadsheet in order to format it in any special way?

    • Deadpool


      • Holly

        Yeah, I guess… A pretty dumb move on an empty Excel document, though. I wonder if there is technically a limit on the number of lines in one.

        • buricco

          I’m guessing it’s 16777216…

      • Cathrope

        Now we know what really happened on Mars.

  • Fyva Prold

    Colleague: “Well, if you’re so stupid as to be confused by a simple thing as spreadsheet structure, maybe you need to go on a training course to teach you how to use computers. I have a meeting to go to now. Once you have sorted yourself out and learned how we do things round here, I will contact you again.”

    Bob: “Boy, that’s just a straightshooter with upper management written all over him.”

    • Don Roles

      Nice Office Space reference!

  • “Me: “Why is this file 9 megabytes big? Why has it got 1.7 million blank lines in it? The f*** are we wasting so much computer space? This is ridiculous.””

    Was this in the 90s? Because 9MB is virtually nothing and isn’t worth complaining about.

    • Timothy Phipps

      I”m guessing 9 MB x however many files he’s put up

      • Sounded like it was a single file.

        • Timothy Phipps

          considering their job and however long they’ve worked there, trust me, there are other files that are probably that big

    • My office’s email attacment limits are 10 MB (because we don’t want the e-mail servers filled up with big files) and 9 MB is really hefty for an Excel file. So yeah, it matters even in 2017.

      • Wait, what? 10 MB? That’s a pretty low limit…

        • Kai

          It’s intentionally low so that you only send text or small images. Anything large would be on a file server or other network share. Having email servers fill up with file attachments tends to suck. In terms of data though, 10 MB is an enormous amount; you could store the complete works of Shakespeare twice, uncompressed. Most user documents will not be Shakespeare.

          Also note that if you consider the limit in terms of the amount of clip art that can be attached to any given document, it’s clearly far too high.

    • Nic

      9MB on its own is nothing, but if this guy’s worked on multiple files and has done the same thing to all of them – and if there are any other employees with the same problem – it’s going to mount up into a lot more wasted space.

  • Kelli

    For a spreadsheet with only 75 lines of actual data, that’s pretty big.

  • Denton Young

    I assume OP told Idiot’s boss it was time to find a new programmer. One who knew how to NOT waste 9MB per spreadsheet with useless blank data.