What we've been reading: Spreadsheets, Starship Troopers, B.S. and startups

What we've been reading
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Okay, I'll admit it: we've started doing 'What we've been reading' for very selfish reasons.

The aim of this new weekly roundup is to share cool things we've come across each week. But really, we're just hoping the AccountingWEB community will get involved and share some cool content with us.

So what have you been reading this week? And what do you think of our articles? The title is a bit of misnomer: it can be anything. Podcasts, books, movies and, yes, articles. In this spirit, we will be adding one random person from outside AccountingWEB to the roundup. First up is Kat Haylock, the community editor of UK Business Forums. 

Tom - Quartz obsession: Spreadsheets

As the son of an accountant, my early life was dominated by the unblinking green eye of Microsoft Excel, which was used for tasks as diverse as calculating pocket money and collating cricket statistics. Even after my education conclusively proved that writing was the only thing I could do to a half-decent standard, my knowledge of basic functions such as VLOOKUP bought me time to jazz up my CV while supposedly working on a number of data manipulation-style temp jobs.

So when Quartz, one of my favourite morning reads, focussed their ‘obsession’ series on the humble spreadsheet it qualified as a must-read in my (work) book. The piece is by no means an in-depth analysis, but rather a whistle-stop tour of Excel’s highlights and lowlights, with a few fun facts thrown in. For example, genomics research is riddled with errors because spreadsheet applications converted some gene symbols to dates and numbers—like turning the gene MARCH1 into “03/01/2016.” Yikes.

Hope you enjoy this Excel-lent article…

Francois - Watch Starship Troopers now: it’s reality, not sci-fi

It never ceases to amaze how stories take on new meanings and allusions with time. When Paul Verhoeven released Starship Troopers in 1997, it seemed out of place. As Tom Usher points out, '97 was an unusually peaceful prelude to our post-9/11 state of perma-war.

Now, 20 years later, Verhoeven's cult film, all muscles and bullet casings, has taken on a prescient sheen.

As with RoboCop, Verhoeven's other nightmarish satire, the acting isn't the best, but that's sort of the point. The film deliberately dials our societal tendencies to 11. And while you laugh at its stylistic quirks, you can't help but notice the only real difference Starship Troopers and our world in 2017 are the aliens. 

Richard - From inboxing to thought showers: How business bullshit took over

Many AccountingWEB readers may already be familiar with the corporate claptrap vocabulary discussed in this article. From “deep dive” to “reaching out” this business speak has spewed into our work life after years of employees jockeying to show off their expertise. 

In fact, dear readers, some of these expressions or the culture of pointless meetings may have even infiltrated your hallowed walls.

If you’ve found yourself rolling your eyes at these phrases or spending far too long on endless emails before getting to your “real job”, this Guardian long read article should be required reading.

You can chart the beginnings of this gobbledygook back to the realm of mysticism, or so say the employees of Pacific Bell in the early 80s. Responding to the threat of competition, the telephone company’s management team brought in an organisational development specialist who designed a new training programme based on the ideas of the 20th-century Russian mystic George Gurdjieff. 

But the side effects of these new concepts, a former middle manager says, was that nobody outside the company knew what the employees were saying. Sound familiar?

Rather than just accept, the author André Spicer argues that we should challenge this empty management speak. “We can stop ourselves from being one more conduit in its circulation. Instead of just rolling our eyes and checking our emails, we should demand something more meaningful.”

Valme - The tail end

As the slogan of Wait but why says, "the blog is updated every… well, sometimes". Although we can't expect much regularity (in fact, the last post was written months ago) most of the posts are closer to a short book than a regular length article, so they are well worth the wait. 

Its author, Tim Urban has become one of the internet’s most popular writers and a staple on the TED stage. His posts, full of stick-figure illustrations, range from topics such as procrastination to the universe or artificial intelligence, including series about the future of space exploration after multiple interviews with Elon Musk, who back in 2005 asked him if he would be willing to write about his companies.

The tail end is not one of those lengthy posts about science or technology. In fact, is one of the shortest ones that you will find on Wait but why. This one tells a (sad) story about time. And it is applicable to all of us, although those who live further away from their loved ones might find it more disturbing. The idea is simple: have you ever wondered how many more times in your life you will be able to do certain things or see certain people? In most cases, the answer is not as many as you think. 

Kat - Just Hit Record, Startup

As an authentic millennial, I listen to a lot of podcasts: some are funny, some insightful and some just pass the time on the commute. Gimlet’s Startup came about in 2014, when founder Alex Blumberg decided to document his efforts to build a podcasting company – by making a podcast. Meta, I know.
Fast forward three years and Gimlet is hugely successful, with around seven million monthly downloads. It’s the success that anyone with an interest in podcasts would hope to emulate – and one guy is trying. Just Hit Record follows Skyler Gronholz, a 31-year-old ex-heroin addict recently released from prison. Like Blumberg, he’s in the early days of starting up his own podcast, recording his day-to-day activity: driving to work, chatting with his parents. Unlike Blumberg, he’s relying on his podcast as a means of salvation.
As Gronholz puts it: "If I screw up, this could lead me to relapse. And if I relapse, all bets are off. I’m going to make some drastic mistake and go to prison. I need to know that whoever’s listening cares about whether or not I choose to go right or choose to go left. I need to know that my life has purpose and value."


About Francois Badenhorst


I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter. 


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04th Dec 2017 11:30

Re: Tom - Quartz obsession: Spreadsheets

I enjoyed this, and even more so as I drank my tea from the very same mug as was referred to in the article. I <3 Spreadsheets. Or else I am a big saddo as my offspring would say about me.

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13th Dec 2017 13:08

Great list, I'd like to add a de-mystifying article I read about Bitcoin/crypto-currency/blockchain the other day, illuminating!


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