The VisiCalc book. (Apple edition)_(book reviews) Dale Archibald.
The VisiCalc Book (Apple Edition) by Donald H. Beil, Reston Publishing Co., Reston, VA. 301 pages. $14.95. 1982. (Atari and IBM PC versions to follow.)
When this book arrived in the mail, may first inclination was to scream, shout, and throw a temper tantrum. So I did.
I wanted to write such a tome myself last year, and even talked to a publisher about it. Alas, nothing has come of my idea to date.
Donald Beil's book isn't what I was and am thinking of, I'm pleased to say, but it appears to be an awfully good tutorial for the many people who use this popular program.
It is clear, well-illustrated, and well-indexed, with a bibliography. As such, it should prove useful to beginners as well as experienced VisiCalc users as well.
Beil is an associate professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology. He has obviously tried to think as a user would, rather than as a scholar. For example, he emphasizes making backups of everything you do, including having trained people who can use the system if the usual person isn't available.
Chapter 8 is titled Recognizing, Preventing, and Correcting Errors. In it, Beil shows some common errors, with examples. He talks about how data entry activity on the spreadsheet is the most common source of errors. He explains some simple checks that can be used to detect errors.
Much of the book is devoted to the idea of templates. That is, using a preformated design that may be upgraded for each period the operator desires. This could include such things as a daily production report, a weekly test results printout, a monthly sales report, a quarterly marketing review, or a yearly report. Each of these need be designed onto VisiCalc templates only once, then upgraded as necessary.
As an example, let's set one up for weekly salaries of the staff.
It might allow data entry for only the hours worked. Through
careful planning, it would deduct the correct amount of taxes, social security, insurance, etc., automatically and provide a listing of what each employee should be paid. This template could be saved as "Weekly Salary."
Every Friday, when it is time to write the paychecks, the checkwriter simply loads "Weekly Salary" into memory, types in the hours worked from time cards or whatever, presses the manual calculation! key, and prints out the report from which the checks will be written. Then he can SAVE the updated report to disk as "Weekly Salary Wk. 23" or whatever is appropriate.
The following week, once again "Weekly Salary" is plugged in and used. It can easily be changed and updated as personnel come and go, and taxes and other expenses change. Beil shows how such documents can be laid out in such a way as to minimize data entry errors. He even lists 21 template guidelines that should prove invaluable to anyone who wants to use this easy way out.
Another chapter is on Documentation. He illustrates how easy--and wise--it is to provide internal documentation on the spreadsheet itself.
One shortcoming of the book is its lack of support sources. That is, it doesn't talk about such items as VersaCalc, or any of the other programs that will support it. It simply notes that such things are available. It also passes over the Data Interchange Format (DIF) with just two brief mentions. This needs much more exploration.
Beil's book appears well worth the money, however, for anyone who is using VisiCalc. As for me, I'm going to go out and look for a publisher for my VisiCalc book.
Review Grade: B