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Archive for March, 2009

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Excel 2007 Problem: Solved!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I’ve been using MSOffice 2007 for a few weeks now, and while I’m generally pleased with the enhancements it brings, there was one bug in MSExcel that was driving me crazy.

When I opened an Excel file (.xls, .xlsx, .xlsm), Excel would launch, but the file wouldn’t appear. Instead, I’d see just an empty MDI frame (the Excel title bar and menus, but without any spreadsheet on the screen). I quickly discovered, through trial and error, that I could get the spreadsheet to open by choosing “Open” from the Office icon menu, and then clicking “Cancel” when the Open dialog box came up. This was, however, equal parts weird and annoying, and could not be the best answer to the problem.

Today, I got around to Googling it. As I suspected, others have had the same problem, and have suggested several possible solutions. One was to disable one or more suspicious add-ins, but I had none of the supposed culprits on my machine. The idea did get me thinking, though – the add-ins I did have (both of which were self-made), were in Excel 2003 format (.xla). Excel 2007 creates add-in files with a .xlam extension. Also, I’ve had several minor problems with Excel 2007/Excel 2003 compatibility issues in the past. Maybe the .xla format is the problem?

That solution turned out to be the right one. It also explains why others may find that disabling a certain add-in made the problem go away. Therefore, I’m pretty sure I’ve identified the problem.

So, to make the problem go away, you need to convert your .xla add-ins to .xlam. Here are the detailed instructions:

There you go – problem solved (hopefully). If you have any questions, comments, updates, or corrections, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Another Mind-bending, Useless Statement about Time

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

We’ve all heard or seen statements like this, typically around New Year’s Eve, when the almighty “they” decide we need a leap second:

One second used to be defined as 1/86,400 the length of a day. However, Earth’s rotation isn’t perfectly reliable. Tidal friction from the sun and moon slows our planet and increases the length of a day by 3 milli­seconds per century.

Here’s the mind-bending part:

This means that in the time of the dinosaurs, the day was just 23 hours long.

I never thought about it that way…

(Source)

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 4 Comments »

The Three Bubbles

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Jeff Porten posted a very cool graph, in that it provides a nice perspective on how the market has performed in the last ten years, relative to the sixty years before that. This illuminating tidbit finally kicked my butt into gear and got me to draw (and post) the graph I’ve been visualizing in my head for months now:

The blue line represents the NASDAQ composite from 1993-2003 (Source)
The red line represents average home prices in the US from 1999-2008 (Source)
The green line represents crude oil prices 2006-2008 (Source)

I’ve used different scales for each line so that the peaks are roughly even, in order to illustrate my point, which is this: we’ve had three economic bubbles in the last ten years; they are getting closer together, and they’re completing faster each time. Before we rush ahead with new laws and government regulations, we need to answer several very difficult questions:

These are not easy questions to answer. Most policies that accomplish one will not accomplish the others (in various combinations). Also, when we’re in the tail-end of a bubble, the bubbles seem like horrible things that we’d like to avoid in the future. When we’re in the beginning of one, though, we call it “unparalleled economic growth,” and it’s generally seen as a good thing (in particular, the kind of good thing that wins elections).

I don’t necessarily have answers to these questions, but at least Jeff and I are now tied at one cool stock market graph apiece. And that’s gotta count for something…

Doesn’t it?

Categories: Money Talk | 8 Comments »

Plane Food – Anything but Plain

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

It’s been a while since I travelled for work, but the occasion has arisen once again, compelling me to use my employer’s online travel service. In doing so, I took note of the food choices available to me on my (Continental Airlines) flight:

- standard- vegetarian lacto-ovo
- vegetarian- low protein
- asian vegetarian- low sodium
- raw vegetarian- gluten free
- fruit plate- high fiber
- seafood- diabetic
- kosher- non-lactose
- muslim- low purin
- oriental asian- child
- hindu- bland
- low fat cholesterol- low calorie

Maybe these choices are available on Expedia as well (that’s the service I typically use to book personal travel). If they are, I hadn’t noticed them until now.

In any case, questions abound: Am I the only one who remembers when airline meals were offered as regular, vegetarian or (maybe) kosher? And what if I’m a lactose intolerant Hindu who wants a vegetarian meal that’s low in sodium, cholesterol and protein? Can we do combinations here? Doesn’t that come to billions of potential meals? What in blazes is “purin?” And does anyone intentionally order a “bland” meal, or is that just a complaint lodged after the fact?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Categories: The World Wide Weird | 3 Comments »

Personalizing the Banker’s Fate: Jake DeSantis Resigns from AIG

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Jake DeSantis, an executive vice-president in AIG’s Financial Products Unit, has resigned from the company. Rather than giving back his retention bonus (as requested by CEO Ed Liddy and many members of Congress), he has decided to donate all of the after-tax proceeds to charities that will help those disadvantaged by the Current Financial Crisis(TM). He also sent his resignation letter to the New York Times, who printed it in their Op-Ed section.

Here’s a pull quote:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage.

After 12 months of hard work dismantling the company — during which A.I.G. reassured us many times we would be rewarded in March 2009 — we in the financial products unit have been betrayed by A.I.G. and are being unfairly persecuted by elected officials. In response to this, I will now leave the company and donate my entire post-tax retention payment to those suffering from the global economic downturn. My intent is to keep none of the money myself.

I think the letter is excellent. It highlights, in a way no outsider could, how cavalier the court of public opinion has been in painting all bank and financial services employees with the same brush, and how these retention packages were seen by those within the company. Reading it, I hope some will begin to see this money as a prudent investment in the future of a company, and an unfortunate public relations disaster, which has little or nothing to do with the vast problems we seek to solve.

If you’re all interested in what I wrote here, here, or most especially here, I strongly implore you to click through and read the whole thing.

Categories: Money Talk | 12 Comments »

Obama Places His Bets…

Friday, March 20th, 2009

This post isn’t about what you think it’s about.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Barack Obama’s hand-written NCAA March Maddess bracket:


(Click to enlarge)

Last night, Jay Leno wondered aloud if he picked schools that were located in swing states (more on that later, if I get a chance…)

(Hat tip to Jeff Kohl for the pic)

Categories: Sports Talk | No Comments »

AIG – One more thing…

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It’s being reported today that seventy-three of the roughly four hundred AIG employees that received retention bonuses received bonuses of more than $1 million. It’s also being reported that eleven of them (including one who received $4.6 million) have already left AIG, and received the bonus anyway.

In my previous post, I attempted to explain that retention bonuses are not new, nor are they sinister plots to distribute taxpayer money to rich executives. Especially when a company is going through tough times, retention bonuses can be absolutely critical to retaining the most critical people so that the company can flourish again when the crisis is over. I roundly criticized our leaders (including the President) for misleading the American people into believing that this wasn’t the case.

I stand by that criticism. However, if AIG’s retention contracts were written such that bonuses (especially substantial ones) are still paid even after an employee leaves, then we’re talking about extremely poorly written contracts.  Also, if you believe that almost 20% of your division’s staff requires $1 million to remain with the firm, then you haven’t done nearly enough to incent them in other ways.

UPDATE:  Yes, I know – an update to an update, but these things evolve rather quickly.  Anyway, it was pointed out to me by those who know better that the eleven people who left probably stayed until the day they were required to stay to get their retention bonuses, and then left for the job they had lined up as “retention day” neared.  Payout of the bonus itself could we weeks or months later, which would create the situation described above – a person who’s already left the company receiving a retention bonus.  If that’s the case, then the retention bonus did exactly what it was supposed to do – keep the employee in the firm until a predetermined date.  The bit about 20% of the staff receiving $1 million or more for retention is still a valid criticism, though…

Previous statements made on this matter by our leaders and by the media leave me with little confidence that we’re getting all the facts straight, but if the above is true, I say that AIG fire those responsible for creating these contracts. Not because AIG has received government bailout funds, or because it feels good to punish rich people when times are bad, but because they did a lousy job structuring their retention contracts. Even in a good market, the above terms do the company no good and don’t achieve the retention incentive that they set out to achieve in the first place.

By the way, while I have your attention (if I still have it…), I’d also like to emphasize two things from my previous post that I fear weren’t clear enough:

Categories: Money Talk, News and/or Media, Political Rantings | 1 Comment »

What Happened? The AIG Bonus Kerfuffle

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

[The third in a series of "What Happened" posts that endeavor to explain the causes and impacts of the Current Financial Crisis(TM) - the first two parts are available here and here.]

Today’s discussion is inspired by AIG’s payment of retention bonuses last Sunday, March 12, 2009, and the stinging reaction it engendered from Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Ben Bernanke and others. As before, those who are bored by such things should move along quickly and quietly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Money Talk, Political Rantings | 10 Comments »

Life Finds a Way

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

An interesting juxtaposition of news articles over at The Speculist:

At this point, just about everyone knows that President Obama lifted the Stem Cell research ban imposed by George W. Bush at the beginning of his presidency. Less reported, though equally exciting is this story about a breakthrough in the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iSPC’s), which are stem cells derived from somatic cells in adults.

Stem cells derived from adults are attractive for several reasons: they’re far easier to collect, they avoid the moral objections held by some about embryonic stem cells, and perhaps most importantly, they represent stem cells that exactly match the genes of the person in need of treatment.

So, good news all around. But here’s the part that really bends the mind:

What role did [George W. Bush's] restrictions play in inducing some researchers to begin working on iPSCs? Seeing as the work described [in the linked article] comes from Canada and the UK, it would be difficult to draw a direct line. But it would be, to say the very least, ironic if the much-hated stem cell research funding ban actually played a positive role in moving us towards a better solution.

This is another case of unintended consequences from government incentive programs. Those who oppose embryonic stem-cell research were generally seeking a ban on the this type of research altogether. The lack of funding in that area, though, has led (some) scientists to focus on ways to achieve the same results a different way. Would we have seen the benefits of stem-cell research sooner without the ban? Perhaps. But would anyone have ever focused on adult stem-cells if the ban hadn’t existed?

Categories: The Future is Now | 9 Comments »

Geek Humor

Friday, March 13th, 2009

xkcd.com is always funny, but this one really made me laugh out loud:

(hat tip: Bill Napier)

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging | 1 Comment »

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