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Reply #35: "That says it all. Why not take up the challenge? ..." (A Reply from TIA) [View All]

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tiptoe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-06-08 12:00 AM
Response to Reply #34
35. "That says it all. Why not take up the challenge? ..." (A Reply from TIA)
Edited on Wed Aug-06-08 12:07 AM by tiptoe

Comments and Criticisms

The author has had over 30 years experience in quantitative application program design and developmentfrom defense/aerospace IBM mainframes to Wall Street PCs. He converted main frame applications for investment banks on Wall Street from FORTRAN to Lotus 1-2-3 in the early eighties and then to Excel in the mid-nineties. He developed and marketed spreadsheet based corporate financial models to some of the largest U.S. consumer product manufacturers and foreign banks. As a programming consultant, he developed Excel VBA applications for dozens of the world's largest international banking institutions and corporations. He knows very well what Excel is capable of.

Critics created an Excel straw man which reveals limited knowledge of programming in general and spreadsheets in particular. They appear to have an agenda to retain voting machines which can be rigged internally and/or by humans after the fact. The post suggests an Open Source system developed by professional programmers for use in all state precincts not a set of individual spreadsheets written by non-professionals. A robust Excel VBA application could be developed in a matter of weeks.

In response to a challenge to corrupt the spreadsheet, one critic, a database proponent, said: "No thanks". That says it all. Why not take up the challenge? And not one word about the Access software for voting machines which has been proved vulnerable to hackers time and again.

It is patently false to claim that spreadsheets are not up to the task (due to security issues) and that a database system is the only feasible programming solution. Virtually all banking institutions use Excel in conjunction with securities databases for data retrieval, input and analysis. Criticism of spreadsheets is reminiscent of that leveled at Lotus 1-2-3 and PCs in general by MIS Luddites in the early eighties. Corporate gatekeepers feared that mainframes were being made obsolete by the new machines. They called them toys. Some toys. Spreadsheets have long been used for securities data retrieval and analysis by all U.S. corporations from Wall Street Investment Banks, consumer goods manufacturers, consulting and accounting firms et al.

Have critics ever written a commercial Excel-based application? One can only assume from the comments that they haven't. Then why dont they create an equivalent program using their favorite database? That should be a piece of cake for them. The sample spreadsheet took all of 20 minutes to write and proved that counting votes is not rocket science.

Critics fail to suggest a new system design to help eliminate election fraud. What hardware would they use? What software? Would they keep DREs and Optiscans? Should precinct records should be available online for individual retrieval? If yes, how would they go about it? If not, why not? Diebold used Microsoft Access software. How did that go?

The Coopers & Lybrand "study" cited in the article is highly critical of spreadsheets. The study was probably done twenty years ago: "Coopers and Lybrand in London cited research showing that over ninety percent of all spreadsheets with more than 150 rows contained at least one significant formula mistake". But there is little doubt that C&L still uses Excel.

This statement is a complete falsehood which exposes the author's naivete: Spreadsheets are often temporary pieces of work. Generally, they are used to meet a particular need and then discarded, or used very little. This means that the full rigors of software engineering are often absent from their development. The ease with which an inexperienced user can produce plausible output also tends to militate against the adoption of a more rigorous approach Ray Panko of the University of Hawaii has collected information from both field audits and laboratory experiments in spreadsheet development indicate that spreadsheet errors are fairly common.

Is the author stating that spreadsheets are inherently error-prone? That is preposterous. Were the "errors" cited the result of sloppy coding by individuals who were office workers as opposed to professional programmers? Were they the result of data entry errors? This statement shows the writers ignorance, inverted logic and misplaced sarcasm: "In another study, subjects were shown large and small, wellformatted and poorlyformatted spreadsheets. Which combination inspired the most user confidence? You guessed it: large, wellformatted ones. Call it the Information Age Effect; with all that rigorous data so beautifully laid out under program control, how can anything possibly be wrong"? What the author doesn't realize is that a well-formatted spreadsheet, just like easy to read programming code, is a key element of good program design. Mistakes are more likely to occur when a program or spreadsheet is convoluted and complex. This applies to all current programming environments: C++, Visual Basic, Java, etc, as well as the original mainframe procedural language compilers (FORTRAN, PL/I, COBOL).

The author's objections to Excel are the equivalent of GOP/media talking pointsjust like WMD and terror alerts. No substance. He cites these Excel "disadvantages": Repeated Data; Data Entry; Data Validation & Checking; Data sharing/ Collaboration; Search and Retrieval; Error Debugging; Upper row limit (65000 for Excel); Easy data duplication; Formula errors. But he does not support the statements.

He has no clue about Excel's powerful facilities and is obviously unaware of these relevant features (see Excel Help for examples and documentation):

  • Object-oriented programming: Excel Object Model, Visual Basic, interface to programming languages such as C++.
  • Databases: Data objects (DAO, ADO); Jet SQL
  • Security: virus protection, digital signatures and certificates; workbook, worksheet and cell protection
  • Web interface: files, hyperlinks, archiving, web servers
  • Debugging tools: available for the programmer to check VBA code, data and formulas.

Every programming language requires that the programmer step through the code. Excel is no different. Formula and programming errors are caused by programmers during development. These errors are not unique to spreadsheets; they are unique to humans. Sixty-five thousand rows are more than enough to handle the largest precinct in the U.S.  Excel critics are unfamiliar with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). Have they had hands-on commercial and/or scientific programming experience in mission-critical applications?

How would critics insure the integrity of the vote? Anyone who has done any reading on the election fraud would agree that there no way to PROVE that votes are counted correctly. Here's a brief summary of why all voting methods can be rigged:

DRE touch screens: Insecure
Many hardware/software loopholes for vote-switching have been exposed

Optical scanners: Vulnerable
No chain of custody; limited or no recount allowed

Levers: Unverifiable
Vote totals reversing at 99, zero votes for Obama in Harlem

Punched cards:
Pre-election under-votes; post-election over-votes
  • In Florida 2000, 110,000 double and triple-punched over-votes, 75,000 under-votes; Dan Rather produced an explosive documentary on how faulty paper was used in 2000 to limit the vote count in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County.
Central tabulators: Invisible
Who controls the count controls the votes. Stalin would be proud.

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