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February 18, 2000

Auditor Penny was a pleasantly officious woman who walked in my front door almost on time this morning, headed directly for the card table where I had set up the documents she wanted to look at, and spent the next half hour complaining about:

  • her laptop (the plug-in keypad wasn't working right)
  • her job (when she makes a mistake the folks in the home office don't notice, even if something is wildly and obviously out of whack)
  • her health (she got something in her eye and used up half a box of my tissues)
  • her son (he wouldn't learn math in school but now he's a cop and all he has to know is how to read a radar gun)

It was a diverting half hour, one that I'd put way too much time and effort into preparing for. I had planned all day yesterday to do a thorough cleanup of the whole house, but by the time I'd let the day slip away and realized it was one in the morning, all I had the energy left for was a superficial dusting of the exposed surfaces and a quick run of my decrepit vacuum (it has no belt) over the area between the front door and the card table setup. Didn't clean the kitchen or the bathroom. Didn't do windows, for approximately the one-thousandth consecutive day.

One thing I did, though, was carry exactly thirteen file boxes from the living room to the spare room. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been space for the card table and Penny would have had to work outside in the yard. How would that have looked if it had rained? I couldn't take that chance, so now I can't enter my back room unless I retrieve all those boxes. But it seems so much roomier without them that it almost makes me forget why I wanted to move. I could live in this much space. I could invite a family of nomads to camp out on my living room floor.

The one advantage of having all those flat file boxes out here is that their tops make a nice, broad work area for collating and organizing papers. And, of course, I would again have access to the other files that are now blocked off in the back room, behind the barricade. I think I'll see how long I can stand not being able to get into that room.

Instead of moving boxes and furniture around today, I spent my time on the Big Project that eats away at my soul this time of year. I have to get a notebook full of last year's records ready to go to the accountant, for taxes and financial statements. There are check records, payroll records, general expense records, job cost reports, revenue reports, and all of the backup needed for each of these.

It usually takes me until mid March to get it all done, but I was informed today that I might have no more than another week to finish, because of a new venture we're trying to finance. This venture needs up-to-date financial records because it will require a substantial loan and a large bond, both of which are much more than anything we ordinarily qualify for. It's something that will give the Company a steady source of income for the long-range future, which is a dream situation for a contractor who struggles from one job to the next, always wondering where the next check is coming from.

So I spent more time than usual today pounding the keyboard and working magic in Excel. Yes, I got the stiff neck and sore wrists and backache that go with extended time on the computer. At one point I'd finished a worksheet that by itself had taken three hours of tweaking, when I had an epiphany. A better way to do it. A truer picture of our position. But I'd have to start over, almost from the beginning. I couldn't let it go, though, and I'm satisfied it was time well spent. And it brought the Big Project a giant step closer to completion.

Between the late night and the hectic day, I wasn't up for my usual Friday night movie. In a way it was a relief to let myself off the hook like that. I could do some reading, listen to music, watch a little TV. I'm a master at relaxing, except when there's something to do. I can't let go of a project when I'm in the middle of it, which is the reason I kept working well past the usual time this afternoon.

Once upon a time I did that a lot. When I was teaching myself Lotus 1-2-3 in 1986, I would stay up late almost every night creating custom formulas and writing elaborate macros, until I could make the program sing. I never took a class in any spreadsheet program until I took advanced Excel a couple of years ago.

But back in those early days I got a physical thrill from making the old Compaq portable (that I took home from work every night) do complex calculations and come up with exactly the tables and charts I was looking for. The macros took forever to work, which is one reason I got so little sleep in those days. I'd hit Alt+some key, and sit back and wait for things to happen, watching every step as if it were my own child, taking on the world.

At times everything would seem to stop, but this was back in the days of DOS, when we knew nothing of system crashes for no good reason. No mouse, everything was done on the keyboard. It was the eighties equivalent of churning your own butter, or homemade ice cream.

Now, I'm in awe of what I can make Excel do, but most of it was wired in up in Redmond, before the program ever found its way to my machine. It's easier, and it gives me time for other things, such as writing this page. But it's not as much fun. It's less an adventure and more a job.

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