Thursday, August 23, 2007

eschew obfuscation

Teaching students to communicate with concise clarity is a doomed trade.

I stayed up till 1:30 last night designing an Excel project for my AP Stats class. The fact is, histograms are not within the realm of possibilities for Microsoft Excel. You can make a bar chart with--I checked on this--two clicks of the mouse. Excel allows people to make a wide variety of graphs very easily. I have come to believe that this is a misinformation campaign by our future emperor, Bill "A-nation-of-stupid-people-could-be-very-lucrative" Gates. The fact is, Excel's user-friendliness only extends to those users whose graphical intentions are purely aesthetic.

To make a histogram in Excel, you actually have to install an 'Add-In' called 'Analysis ToolPak' in order to obtain a tool called 'Data Analysis'. Now one might think that a spreadsheet would come standard with 'Data Analysis', but then one would be wrong. One would also think that any major corporation with the arrogance to introduce gangster words like 'ToolPak' would have the wherewithal to include those words in the spelling dictionary so that Word doesn't do the red underline thing when you try to explain the whole convoluted process to other people. But no.

In the end, the histogram option (the word 'option' is a euphemism for 'terrifying ordeal') is really no more than a clumsily adapted bar chart, the histogram's less mathematical and more easily perverted cousin. All visual evidence of this fact seems to be removable except that the x-axis labels always appear in the middle of each bar, as they would on a bar chart.

I find all of this very ironic. To me, a histogram seems fairly basic as far as graphs go, and fairly feasible as far as Microsoft programmers go.

If I had a nickel for every meaningless graph that has been dragged onto a power-point slide this year... I would build one long staircase just going up and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere, just for show.


  1. download openoffice

    then go here:

    that will give you histograms, etc. searching will give you all kinds of graphing add-ins for OpenOffice, which is free.

  2. what's a histogram? (i DID look it up!)
    hugs, mom