Birth of the Spreadsheet

Many years ago at the dawn of the microcomputer age my school sent a party of sixth formers to the University of Canterbury for an open day. The one thing I can still remember is the computing department.

Here we were shown all the latest hardware before seeing the business end of the system, the terminals.

For the next hour a post-grad student showed us the latest game, the awesome “Star Trek”. We spent time being shown how to get around the universe in double quick time, and how to
eliminate as many Klingons as possible. Since then the game has evolved into what we now know as the spreadsheet.

The Universe has grown from a small 8*8 grid to something like 256*8000, but the objective remains the same. Just hop to a solar system (cell) have a look around, eliminate any nasty
Klingons (formulas that don’t work), refuel (press “recalculate”) and move somewhere else. The “End” key is just another way of entering hyperspace and moving instantly to another galaxy
without messing about with all the arrow keys.

But remember the ultimate terror of the universe, the dreaded “circular formula”. It’s just like the Klingon universe, you know it’s there somewhere, it has to be destroyed, but all
the wisdom of Spock isn’t going to tell you where to look.

Just try running Lotus 123 under PC Ditto on your Atari and you will hear a strange noise. Listen carefully and you will find it’s Scotty whispering “you can’t push her any faster Jim”.

Of course everyone knows that the Atari pointer was inspired by a computer designer working late at night who happened to stare thoughtfully at a plan of Starship Enterprise hung on the wall.

Those of you that remember the old version of Star Trek will be pleased to know that it has turned up in the cover disk of the May 1990 issue of ST User.