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Microsoft's OOXML Formulas Could Be Dangerous

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the who-approved-this-stuff dept.

Microsoft 360

hill101 writes "According to Rob Weir's blog, Microsoft's 325-page OOXML specification for spreadsheet formulas is deeply flawed. From basic trigonometric functions that forget to specify units, to statistical functions, to critical financial functions — the specification does not contain correct formulas that could possibly be implemented in an interoperable way. Quoting Mr. Weir: 'It has incorrect formulas that, if implemented according to the standard, may cause loss of life, property, and capital... Shame on all those who praised and continue to praise the OOXML formula specification without actually reading it.'"

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Amuritans! You get the leaders you desserve! (-1, Offtopic)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | more than 7 years ago | (#19822981)

A Republican senator has apologised for "a very serious sin in my past" after his phone number was linked to an alleged Washington prostitution ring.

David Vitter [senate.gov] 's voting record would make it very worthwhile to find out just what that sin WAS, and if his constituents will also forgive him:

  1. Voted NO on disallowing an oil leasing program in Alaska's AMWR. (Nov 2005)
  2. Voted NO on $3.1B for emergency oil assistance for hurricane-hit areas. (Oct 2005)
  3. Voted NO on reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (instead of 5%). (Jun 2005)
  4. Voted NO on banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Mar 2005)
  5. Voted YES on passage of the Bush Administration national energy policy. (Jun 2004)
  6. Voted YES on implementing Bush-Cheney national energy policy. (Nov 2003)
  7. Voted NO on raising CAFE standards; incentives for
      alternative fuels. (Aug 2001)
  8. Voted NO on prohibiting oil drilling & development in ANWR. (Aug 2001)
  9. Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)
  10. Voted NO on $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. (Mar 2005)
  11. Voted YES on making it a crime to harm a fetus during another crime. (Feb 2004)
  12. Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother's life. (Oct 2003)
  13. Voted YES on funding for health providers who don't provide abortion info. (Sep 2002)
  14. Voted YES on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad. (May 2001)
  15. Voted YES on federal crime to harm fetus while committing other crimes. (Apr 2001)
  16. Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions. (Apr 2000)
  17. Voted YES on barring transporting minors to get an abortion. (Jun 1999)
  18. Rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. (Dec 2003)
  19. Discontinue affirmative action programs. (Nov 2002)
  20. Voted YES on recommending Constitutional ban on flag desecration. (Jun 2006)
  21. Voted YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. (Jun 2006)
  22. Voted YES on Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Sep 2004)
  23. Voted YES on constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration. (Jun 2003)
  24. Voted YES on banning gay adoptions in DC. (Jul 1999)
  25. Supports anti-flag desecration amendment. (Mar 2001)
  26. Rated 7% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record. (Dec 2002)

Confused? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823039)

The subject of this rant is an appology by the Senator. If he didn't appologize you'd be complaining about the *lack* of apology.

Maybe it's the fact that he's a republican? Funny, I thought liberals were in favor of legalized prostitution.

Really confused???

Re:Confused? (2, Funny)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823083)

Microsoft to prostitution in ten posts, is that a record?

Re:Confused? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823287)

I thought liberals were in favor of legalized prostitution.

Even if they are, I don't think anyone can be in favour of a politician being a total fucking hypocrite, can they?

EULA? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19822983)

if implemented according to the standard, may cause loss of life, property, and capital...

Didn't you read your Office EULA?

Microsoft specifically disclaims any damage relating to loss of life, property, or capital.

Re:EULA? (2, Interesting)

setagllib (753300) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823119)

Precisely because it's so likely with Microsoft products. If they didn't disclaim it they'd be in serious trouble. Disclaiming doesn't make it a non-issue though.

Re:EULA? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823351)

All (OK, almost all) EULAs do this. Nothing special about Microsoft here. If I could get a piece of software that said, "We claim all responsibility for all kinds of damage caused by flaws in our product," that'd be too good to be true.

Re:EULA? (1)

setagllib (753300) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823369)

Like you said, 'almost' all. Many markets actually hold their suppliers to certain standards. I'm pretty sure NASA's software developers are held accountable, not that it has counts for much, what with their repeated incompetence. Still, I'm sure butts were liberally kicked.

Re:EULA? (2, Interesting)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823465)

Well, here in Quebec at least, such provisions are illegal and software manufacturers can and have been held responsible for the reliability and functionality of their products.

EULA applies to a "standard"? (1)

pedestrian crossing (802349) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823571)

I don't think that you can apply a EULA to a standard. The product (MS-Office) yes, but the standard (OOXML) no.

Re:EULA applies to a "standard"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823633)

I declare murder as a standard. Therefore I can commit murder.

Um, no.

Please No! (2, Funny)

mhannibal (1121487) | more than 7 years ago | (#19822993)

Commenting without reading the background information?! Good god - not on /. Please say it ain't so!!

Re:Please No! (1)

mhannibal (1121487) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823185)

What the h*

This isn't Offtopic! It might be Redundant though...

Re:Please No! (1)

FST777 (913657) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823275)

Some mods don't even read the summary, let alone TFA. I feel your pain.

Impartial reviews (5, Funny)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 7 years ago | (#19822999)

Shame on all those who praised and continue to praise the OOXML formula specification without actually reading it.
To the contrary, they have all carefully read the checks they received.

Re:Impartial reviews (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823411)

not to be a spelling nazi, but the words you're after is cheques. im sure it was an honest mistake

Re:Impartial reviews (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823537)

In American English, it is "checks". You fail it...

Re:Impartial reviews (5, Funny)

VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823573)

Not to be a grammar Nazi, but

1. "not" should be capitalized;
2. "nazi", as a proper noun, should be capitalized;
3. "words" should be singular, as you are referring to one single word, "check";
4. "im" should be capitalized and spelled with an apostrophe;
5. there should be a period after "mistake"; and
6. "cheque" is, if not only the British spelling, interchangeable with "check" -- in an international forum such as the Internet, both are acceptable.

Please surrender your club card at the next meeting. Have a nice day.

Ok, but... (1, Insightful)

hummassa (157160) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823559)

TFA is not really impartial. Let's quote some:

First, let's take the trigonometric functions, SIN (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.287), COS (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.50) and TAN (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.313). Hard to mess these up right? Well, what if you fail to state whether their arguments are angle expressed as radians or degrees? Whoops.
Hmmm.
Someone failed the math class where they explained that an angle is a "dimensionless derived unit" [wikipedia.org] . Explaining, short version for the clicky-impaired: angles are the ratio between two measurements of length -- the length of an arc and the radius of said arc.
It got off to a bad start. For the rest of it, it moans about bad revision and wrong formulas, with some reason, but without a lot of substance.
I am pro-ODF, but this article is worthless.

Re:Ok, but... (4, Insightful)

jkrise (535370) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823649)

Someone failed the math class where they explained that an angle is a "dimensionless derived unit" . Explaining, short version for the clicky-impaired: angles are the ratio between two measurements of length -- the length of an arc and the radius of said arc.
It got off to a bad start.
Technically that may be correct, but in reality, it is very common and practical to express angles in degrees. So, sin(30) = 0.5 and tan(90) = 1. Memorising the values of sin, cos and tan for 0, 30, 45, 60 and 90 degrees is a de-facto requirement to solve trig. problems in high school. Does Microsoft expect students to relearn all these convenient derievd units in radians, and go mad?

A document standard is a practical necessity to express everyday ideas in a readable format. Not to be technically accurate and practically useless. Try typing HCl + NaOH --> NaCl + H2O in Office, and watch yourself breaking the monitor.

Guess what? (3, Informative)

sid0 (1062444) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823739)

Type in =SIN(30 degrees) if you want degrees. I'm sorry, Excel doesn't pander to high school students. In the real world, when the sine of an angle is mentioned, it is SUPPOSED to be radians. Every programming language I know accepts arguments for trig functions as radians.

The article, or at least this part, is FUD.

Re:Ok, but... (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823687)

A little experiment for you:
Take a scientific calculator
input the expression "cos (2*PI)" (or the nearest equivalent syntax). Now press Exe, or =, or the equivalent. Which result did you get, 0.99399 or 1?

Now, let's try again. This time, try "sin (PI/2)": is the result 0.0274 or 1?

Now, having ascertained that dimensionless units, derived from something else or not, can indeed vary, and that your affirmations were meaningless, you can take your arrogance and shove it.

Re:Ok, but... (3, Insightful)

itlurksbeneath (952654) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823689)

Dimensionless or not, in the real world (i.e. not in math class - and you really have to pick one way in math class, too), you have to pick one system of representing it and use that to send to your functions (see sin() [die.net] as an example).

That Wikipedia page you referred to us using the derived unit of "radians". There are a couple of different ways to represent that number - degrees, radians, grads. Hell, anybody that's ever used a calculator knows you have to use just one of those systems for your particular calculator.

Nice try, but do a little more research before posting and blasting somebody's article with illogical arguments.

Re:Ok, but... (1)

ericrost (1049312) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823701)

Yes and that "dimensionless derived unit" that is the ratio between an arc and the radius of the arc is a radian. Another commonly used expression of angle is the degree.

In most proper mathematical contexts, angles SHOULD be expressed in radians, but in a standard where there are multiple ways of expressing a value, the assumed units need to be specified. (See NASA misses mars because of cm vs inches)

Re:Ok, but... (1)

diskis (221264) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823715)

You fail math. Angles are indeed dimensionless. But someone says an angle is 90, it can be interpreted in two ways.
The regular 90 degree right angle. Or a bit over 14 complete revolutions + some odd degrees, if we were talking about radians.

So? (3, Insightful)

ColaMan (37550) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823003)

.....if implemented according to the standard, may cause loss of life, property, and capital..

Pffft....as if this has ever been much concern to software manufacturers before.

Every EULA has boilerplate text denying all responsibility , and you'd be mad to trust any results from software implicitly. Double check it yourself , even if it's just a few corner cases.

Re:So? (4, Insightful)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823159)

A user NOT trusting his tools is a very strange thing. If it were some sort of software engineer doubting software tools, that's one thing and it's somewhat expected. But in general:

* We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label
* We trust all of our doctor's opinions whether or not a second opinion is recommended
* We trust our math applications to do math properly
* We trust our spell checkers to check properly

In general, we trust the things we by to work as expected... as advertised. (No, I haven't seen Excel advertised to be accurate, but in a math application, it's implied by its very existence) So to say that you should re-check the results by hand is not just ridiculous, it would never happen.

I remember when the Pentium processor first came out and there was this math error in there somewhere. It was a BIG deal.

But before passing too much judgment on this too quickly, a little verification of the bugs might be helpful and let's mark our calendars to see how fast Microsoft fixes the problem... oh wait, the problem is said to be in the file specification? What does that mean if they update the format specification with regards to their ISO certification?

Re:So? (1)

ColaMan (37550) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823195)

All your trust examples are good... to a point.

For me , it'd probably be when the personal financial loss involved gets over $1000 or so, then the trust in what is essentially a black box starts to go down.

I worked for a time in a lab reporting on coal samples. Penalties for incorrect spec coal can easily end up being half a million bucks for one shipment. My spreadsheets were a small step in the chain of reporting and they took a lot of tedious calculations out of the loop, but I made damn sure they were correct - with test cases of previous data - before letting them loose.

Re:So? (1)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823283)

* We trust our spell checkers to check properly

I don't. I could list lots of dubious or wrong words I've found as "suggested" by various spell checkers, and as many errors they just ignore. Not to mention the problem of the wrong, but correctly spelled, word (horde/hoard, strait/straight, there/their, lose/loose....)

Re:So? (-1, Offtopic)

tsa (15680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823393)

I never use spel checkers. Its just not worth the trouble. I made two errors in the last sentence I wrote on purpose, as an example to show that you have to proofread no matter what.

Implied warranty - fit for the purpose (5, Interesting)

QuestorTapes (663783) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823331)

> ...in general:
>
> * We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label
> * We trust all of our doctor's opinions whether or not a second opinion is recommended
> * We trust our math applications to do math properly
> * We trust our spell checkers to check properly
>
> In general, we trust the things we by to work as expected... as advertised.

http://www.oandp.com/edge/issues/articles/2006-08_ 06.asp [oandp.com]

http://www.brajeshwar.com/finance/insurance/Liabil ity-Insurance.html [brajeshwar.com]

These links refer to the concept you're talking about. The second refers to the UK Consumer Protection Act, but the concept is general and fairly well accepted. From the first link:

"...any product that is sold comes with an implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose; and, just by selling a product, a seller is implicitly promising that: (1) the product is merchantable, i.e., fit for the ordinary purposes for which such products are to be used, provided that the seller is in the business of selling products of that kind; and (2) the product is fit for a particular purpose, provided that the seller, at the time of sale, knew the particular purpose for which the product was required, and the buyer relied upon the seller's skill or judgment in selecting a suitable product for that purpose."

This hasn't been successfully applied to software cases like this, but the issue hasn't be ruled out either. But it's hardly a stretch to expect that software such as a spreadsheet comes with an implied warranty that ordinary financial and statistical calculations are properly performed.

Re:So? (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823349)

* We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label
* We trust all of our doctor's opinions whether or not a second opinion is recommended
* We trust our math applications to do math properly
* We trust our spell checkers to check properly

I don't know how many think like I do, but I generally take everything with a grain of salt. I have never trusted 100% any doctor opinion. If there is something I may say that I trust completely, this is probably rigourous mathematical proofs. Everything else is not to be trusted completely. But it also depends on what definition you put on the word trust.



A socket may not be of the correct size: The assembly line might have malfunctioned at some point, or a worker might have been sleepy during work. Doctors may act unprofessionally and medicine does not know everything. Maths apps may hide bugs in their source code. And I won't comment on the spell checker example, as I completely distrust all automated spell checkers under the sun, especially the one bundled in Word.


Re:So? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823565)

Which of the three passages below is the authentic excerpt from Wikipedia?

  1. {This page is currently protected from editing until disputes have been resolved.}

    [Image:KarlMarx.jpg]
    United States President Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States during the Revolutionary War, and a well-known Libertarian.[1] Though some historians see Objectivist tendencies in his greatness.[2][3] Many of his most generous qualities can be traced back to the philosophy of Ayn Rand.[4]

    Lincoln is now known to have suffered a mild form of Autism known as Asperger's Syndrome.[5][6][7]

    Assassinated at 54 by a vandal known as Jon Harvey Booth,[8] or some say by political crony Edwin Stanton, Lincoln would have been 187 years old today (as of 2005)[original research?] had he not been assassinated in the prime of his life at the age of 45 by unemployed actor Juliette Lewis Botch.[9]

  2. Conan Christopher O'Brien, 44, is the comedian and the host of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. He is Scottish, as were his parents, as well as his three brothers and two siblings. He has no relation to CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien.

    O'Brien, who is 43, is commonly thought by television audiences to be of diminutive stature, though some journalists and alternative biographers dispute this claim.

    As of 2007, O'Brien has been confirmed dead of tuberculosis. His hair color was red. He was 45.

  3. The Pokédex (Pokemon Zukan[?], lit. "Pokémon Encyclopedia") is an electronic device designed to catalogue and provide information regarding the various species of Pokémon featured in the Pokémon video game and anime series. The name Pokédex is a neologism including Pokémon (which itself is a portmanteau of pocket and monster) and index. The Japanese name is simply "Pokémon Encyclopedia" in Japanese.

    In the video games, whenever a Pokémon is first captured, its data will be added to a player's Pokédex. In the anime the Pokédex is a comprehensive electronic reference encyclopedia, usually referred to in order to deliver exposition. There are four differently numbered Pokédex modes to date: the Kanto Pokedex, introduced in Pokémon Red and Blue; the Johto Pokédex, introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver; the Hoenn Pokédex, introduced in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and expanded upon in Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen; and the Sinnoh Pokédex, introduced in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

Re:So? (2, Insightful)

tsa (15680) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823375)

In general:

* We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label


OK, I'm with you here.

* We trust all of our doctor's opinions whether or not a second opinion is recommended

I guess you have a good health and don't see doctors often, or you would never say this.

* We trust our math applications to do math properly

Really? I live in a scientific environment and I've never seen a colleague who put his/her full trust in a mathematical program.

* We trust our spell checkers to check properly

You're joking, right?

I myself never trust anything fully, especially if it's capable of doing more than one specific thing. Even if it doesn't have design flaws, it can break or be used in a way it wasn't meant to be used for.

Re:So? (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823477)

You do ? I sure don't trust hand-tools to be exactly the size claimed. They're probably reasonably close, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find say some tool that is really a 2-inch tool relabeled and sold as a 5cm one, despite it really being 5.08cm

I do, generally, trust my doctor. But not blindly. If I for whatever reason think that something he says sounds dubious, and it is important, I can and *will* get a second opinion, regardless of if he recomends that or not.

I sure as *hell* don't trust general applications (like Excel) to do math correctly. Oh, they're probably sort of close most of the time, but -correct- ? I doubt it. I'm personally aware of atleast something like half a dozen smaller errors, and doubtlessly there's more. (for example: the rounding of financial numbers in the Norwegian version of Excel are not according to how the law says you *have* to do that, so anyone using it for accounting or for calculating invoices would be screwed)

I trust dedicated math-programs (like Maple and Matlab) somewhat more, beacuse they've been closely scrutinized over years by users who deeply care about getting the details rigth, nevertheless I'm certain they have bugs too.

And spell-checkers ? You got to be kidding me. They get *most* *grave* errors, but they don't even come anywhere half-close to being 100% correct. And there's large classes of errors where they help not at all. Like if you mis-spell head as "heed" they won't trigger because "heed" is a valid word. (but wrong)

Re:So? (1)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823587)

I sure don't trust hand-tools to be exactly the size claimed. They're probably reasonably close, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find say some tool that is really a 2-inch tool relabeled and sold as a 5cm one, despite it really being 5.08cm
That's why when going to the hardware store to by a 2-inch tool, I pull out my super duper ultra calibrated caliper to ensure that it is exactly 2 inches! I do this because it is really easy to slide an exactly 2 inch wrench onto an exactly 2 inch bolt.

Re:So? (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823507)

We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label

If the wrench is mislabeled or out of spec, the worst that happens is it doesn't fit right. Attempting to use a wrench that doesn't fit right will, at worst, damage the nut or bold. Since you're using the tool to begin with, you should have the mechanical aptitude necessary to say "hey, this doesn't fit right..." - which is exactly the opposite of "trusting" the tool. (The decision to use it anyway is up to the individual)

We trust all of our doctor's opinions whether or not a second opinion is recommended

A doctor is a LICENSED professional who is HELD ACCOUNTABLE for his mistakes. How many consumer-level software applications are certified and insured against malfunction?

We trust our math applications to do math properly

You shouldn't. Not that the two previous examples are in the same category as this one, though. If you explicitly trust whatever data the computer spits out for anything but the most trivial of tasks then you have absolutely no business using one. At the very least you should be running subconscious "sanity checks" to see if the results even make sense. ("2 + 2 = 247.13 huh? Okie dokie!")

We trust our spell checkers to check properly

It is still up to you to proofread it and make sure the spellings chosen are still the correct word. Again, if you explicitly trust whatever data the computer spits out for anything but the most trivial of tasks then you have absolutely no business using one. E-mail to a friend is one thing, but if simple language mistakes show up on your resume I don't think I'd put you at the top of the list.

=Smidge=

Trust your tools, but only so far. (1)

nikolajsheller (553835) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823627)

As a developer I occasionally find myself questioning my tools.
A compiler/linker may contain errors, the IDE may do funny things etc.
Admittedly most of the time it's because I've missed something somewhere, but there have been occasions where the tools have been at fault.
The software is ultimately written by humans and will as such necessarily contain errors, and should therefore not be implicitly trusted.

Concerning the Pentium bug: there are plenty of bugs in processors. Ask NASA. They refuse to use anything but old, thoroughly tested hardware that won't suddenly show unexpected behavior, ruining an expensive mission. The shuttles stopped using magnetic core memory in 1990. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle [wikipedia.org]

-Nikolaj

Re:So? (2, Insightful)

ericrost (1049312) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823731)

"* We trust all hand tools like wrenches and sockets to be exactly the size on the label"

Well, technically we trust our hand tools to conform to the nominal size specifications that go along with the size on the label and thus interface correctly with any connector that also conforms to that nominal size specification.

A 3/8" wrench is not 3/8" EXACTLY, it is some close approximation of 3/8" toleranced such that a correctly toleranced bolt that is a close approximation of 3/8" is guaranteed to be smaller (in the case of a hex head bolt).

Just your friendly neighborhood mechanical engineer. :)

Re:So? (2, Funny)

spottedkangaroo (451692) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823435)

Every EULA has boilerplate text denying all responsibility

I can't believe this is still happening... Imagine, for example, that your kitchen range or your kitchen table or your window AC unit came with such a document?

Re:So? (1)

IDontAgreeWithYou (829067) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823619)

Well, it's a little different with software. The manufacturer of a range, table or AC unit know exactly what you are going to do with it and can assure its safety if used as intended. Microsoft, on the other hand, can't know exactly what the output of an Excel spreadsheet will be used for. As an extreme and unlikely example, imagine an engineer using Excel to calculate stress in a new building. Maybe the result from his spreadsheet is not quite accurate enough and the building falls. It's up to the user to know the limitations of the software.

Let me be... (0)

cosmocain (1060326) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823029)

...the first to say:

Nothing newto see here, please move along.

Just another product that's supposed to mature after extensive paying-user-beta-testing.

And hey - see: This ist just the OPEN specification which is used to implement OOXML-support in third-party software. This does not in any way mean that MS itself implemented OOXML that way... hinthinthint...

I WISH it was that "good"... :-( (2, Informative)

BerntB (584621) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823079)

Just another product that's supposed to mature after extensive paying-user-beta-testing.

I wish it was that "good". :-(

The OOXML spec seems to be a dump of the MS Office data formats, so it should already be decades old. But sure, let us not assume malice when stupidity will suffice as explanation. I mean, we don't speak about condemned criminal here, do we? Oh, wait...

nCr mapped to AveDev?!! (1)

sashang (608223) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823041)

That's crazy. According to the article someone implemented nCk as some sort of average deviation? wtf?

Re:nCr mapped to AveDev?!! (1)

Zelos (1050172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823131)

Probably another misprint. The copy of the 2007 documentation I have has loads of them: tables printed off the edge of the page, incorrect examples etc. It looks like a document prepared carelessly in a hurry.

Re:nCr mapped to AveDev?!! (1)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823323)

It's a simple misprint. Some incredible number of CS text books get qsort, and even binary search wrong. We all get over it, because we know our domain.

We know our domain so well in fact, that we don't really need to be told that trig functions obviously work in radians.

People converting between cups and mL? Is anyone going to care if different tools use different definitions of a cup? Oh no! Our recipe's are going to be out by a little bit! If it matters that it be accurate, why is it being specified in cups anyway?

Typical Microsoft... (4, Insightful)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823051)

... put out garbage into the marketplace, and then wait for the customers to do the quality assurance work that Microsoft should have done.

The trouble is that the politicians standardizing on this spec will look only at its length and declare it to be good. Maybe Microsoft made the specification long with that intent in mind.

Meaningless statement (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823057)

Shame on all those who praised and continue to praise the OOXML formula specification without actually reading it.

What percentage of those who praise ODF specifications actually read it? Or any other specification? I would imagine it is a small percentage.

Surprised? (3, Insightful)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823065)

I doubt anyone is surprised. How can you possibly fast track a 325 page document, giving the public only a time amount of time to check it, then expect it to be perfect.

Man, I really really get annoyed at Microsoft.

Congress as role-model? (5, Funny)

JonTurner (178845) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823099)

>>How can you possibly fast track a 325 page document, giving the public only a time amount of time to check it, then expect it to be perfect.

Damned if we know.
Signed,
The US Congress

Re:Congress as role-model? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823469)

Brilliant. Sad but true.

Re:Surprised? (1)

TheSciBoy (1050166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823329)

It's a 6000 page specification. The 325 pages concerned are only the specifications for the formulas.

As per usual though, Microsoft has proven that greasing enough palms will get even an international standard approved without much review. Something the medical industry has known for years.

To quote someone (Denis Leary?): "They drove a dump truck of money up to my house, man. I'm not made of stone!"

Re:Surprised? (1)

ejdmoo (193585) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823357)

It's Krusty.

Hopefully the spec will be fixed. A spec is even more easily fixed than software!

Re:Surprised? (1)

PhilHibbs (4537) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823391)

Unfortunately the spec was written to match Excel, so MS won't change the definition of Pica that Excel uses, or add calendrical localisation that Excel does not support, etc. so some things (like specifying that SIN uses radians) can be fixed but not so others.

Proof that open formats are a good idea? (5, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823085)

I don't know about you, but I view this as being a very GOOD thing.

Because the format was an "open" standard, the serious flaws present in the format were quickly and correctly identified by third parties outside of Microsoft.

If it had been a trade secret, it could have been bundled into a product, and assumed to be reliable by its users. Instead, it's been exposed for what it is.

If anything, this proves that open formats are a good idea.

And proof that single-ownership is bad (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823135)

Now that MS are the only ones who are allowed to change the standard, we must

a) wait until MS change the standard
b) then progress it through the "approvals" procedure
c) find out again if there are any problems (and go back to a)
d) implement these changes

And when it comes to WordSpacingLikeWord95 or whatever, how has this being "open" helped? People have asked what it means and been told nothing useful.

Oh, and doesn't this show that if MS had opened up the standard for perusal BEFORE filing it (like ODF did), wouldn't we have avoided this problem?

Re:And proof that single-ownership is bad (1)

ray-auch (454705) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823755)

Oh, and doesn't this show that if MS had opened up the standard for perusal BEFORE filing it (like ODF did), wouldn't we have avoided this problem?


Well, we could look at ODF to see. Take one problem, from the article:

First, let's take the trigonometric functions, SIN (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.287), COS (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.50) and TAN (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.313). Hard to mess these up right? Well, what if you fail to state whether their arguments are angle expressed as radians or degrees? Whoops


So where is this specified in ODF then ?

Oh, it isn't. Hence the existence of OpenFormula (and maybe other projects) to fix the deficiency.

So, did ODF avoided this problem ? No - ODF still got right through to approval whilst still having this exact same problem as OOXML.

AFAICS, two ODF1.1 compliant spreadsheets could implement Sin() differently (eg. degrees vs. radians) and still be completely compliant with the standard.

"Whoops".

Re:Proof that open formats are a good idea? (4, Interesting)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823139)

MS pretty much seems to have cut-n-pasted their MSOffice help files and decided to call that a 'standard'. Only thing good about it, is that it will make ISO be so much less willing to ratify their standard. If you look at their CEILING definition, as linked in the article's comments, it is so unprofessionally written you'd wonder at the size of EMCA's checks.

Not a good thing, because it is not a free format. (2, Insightful)

master_p (608214) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823203)

It may be open, but it is not free, i.e. the required changes can not be done by third parties or by a committee and then used by Microsoft. Microsoft wouldn't do anything that would hurt its embrace and extend business model, and OOXML follows that logic as well(it's so huge and flawed that no one dares using it).

Re:Proof that open formats are a good idea? (1, Interesting)

jkrise (535370) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823483)

If it had been a trade secret, it could have been bundled into a product, and assumed to be reliable by its users. Instead, it's been exposed for what it is.
Exactly! Imagine a Hospital implementing OOXML for it's entire IT needs, and a prescription reads: 1 tbsp Terramycin, twice daily. If a patient sues the hospital for wrong dosage, lots of red faces will be guaranteed.

FTA:

The CONVERT function (Part 4, Section 3.17.7.48) converts from one unit to another. Some conversions explicitly allowed include liquid measure conversions such as from liters to cups or tablespoons. But whose cup and whose tablespoon? Traditional liquid measures vary from country to country. In the US, a cup is 8oz, except for FDA labeling purposes when a cup is 240ml. But in Australia a cup is 250ml and in the UK it is 285ml. Similarly a tablespoon has various definitions. OOXML is silent on what assumptions an application should make. I guess I won't be using OOXML to store my recipes, and certainly not to calculate medical doses!

Re:Proof that open formats are a good idea? (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823561)

w.r.t. "convert," this is why doctors don't say "take a cup of $BLAH" they use measurements like mL/cc, mG, etc.

Take 1/72nd of a cup of morphine!!!! STAT!!!

That's where we have to wait what ISO does (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823685)

Assuming Rob Weir is right, I certainly hope that ISO insists on fixing OOXML, and rejects it as ISO standard if it is not fixed.

But that remains to be seem, maybe Microsoft has enough clout to get it approved anyway. It seems that ECMA did not care much about quality when accepting OOXML, lets hope ISO does better.

Re:Proof that open formats are a good idea? (1, Insightful)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823741)

Sorry, but this is FUD of the worst kind and it is very unfortunate that it comes from IBM and the free software community. Every standard has omissions, most even glaring faults. You could find similar problems in virtually all specs. I'm to lazy to provide examples, but you can dig up lots of problems with even a venerable and industry proven spec like C89/90 too. So the spec doesn't specify whether trigonometry functions accept radians or degrees? That is what is called a "bug." Most likely, the OOXML spec will be revised to include those details. What makes or breaks the spec is whether it will be updated to fix its problems. In the meantime, you do what every other spec implementor since the time of dawn has done, rely on the reference implementation. Does MS Excel use radians or degrees? There is the answer.

A buggy spec is better than no spec at all, and ODF has no information whatsoever about its formula functions. Harping down on OOXML when ODF completely omits so much information is pretty laughable. If you want to push for ODF then please don't use fallacious arguments.

Just want to point out... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823105)

The trig functions take arguements in radians, and the arctrig functions return radians. This doesn't ever need to be said - it's goddamn assumed by anyone who knows what they are doing. Unless degrees are specifically mentioned, you always assume it's radians. ALWAYS. I might as well complain that when I press the pi button on my calculator it outputs a number but doesnt specify whether it's in base10 or something else...

If someone thinks that these functions even MIGHT work with degrees, than they should NOT be implementing them for anything that might cause the "loss of life, property, and capital". Leave the important stuff like that to professionals.

Re:Just want to point out... (1)

pytheron (443963) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823273)

This doesn't ever need to be said - it's goddamn assumed by anyone who knows what they are doing
And it is also assumed that that that the end implementation made the same assumption as you. These assumptions start to rely on one another and stack up quick !
To quote :- "and what do they say about assumption being the brother of all fuckups ?"

Re:Just want to point out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823313)

I might as well complain that when I press the pi button on my calculator it outputs a number but doesnt specify whether it's in base10 or something else...

I would hope it is in whatever base the calculator currently is using, and NOT in base 10 (unless of course base 10 is currently used).

In other words, it's not specified what base pi is in because pi doesn't care about base. It's just another number.

Re:Just want to point out... (1)

Xab (1117489) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823317)

Hi, while I get your point, I would like to state that we are talking here about a normative context (ISO) where such assumptions, even the more common sense-driven, are not welcome, to say the least.
It is the aim of a standard to be as precise and ambiguity-free as possible and certainly mentioning units is no big effort nor big cost.
You mention professionals at the end of your comment. Such properly-assuming individuals actually also care to have good standards.
Xavier

Re:Just want to point out... (3, Insightful)

Xiaran (836924) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823319)

The problem is that we are talking about a proposed international standard and you are using the phrase "it's goddamn assumed by anyone...". There should ideally be *no* assumptions in a stadard... it needs to be as clear and accurate as humanly possible. Remember that once a standard is published it is translated into many laguages and possibly implemented in different cultures as mentioned in TFA. What you assume to be obvious may or may not be obvious to others.

Re:Just want to point out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823389)

I agree the standard should be precise.

I was more pointing out the stupidity of the whole "loss of life, property, and capital" FUD in the article. Anyone implementing these functions in a situation where life, property or capital is at stake will already know to use radians. If they don't, then they are likely unqualified to do what they are doing, and no amount of precision in the standard will help them.

Re:Just want to point out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823719)

My friend you are utterly wrong. You are greatly overestimating the human nature. I have personally be present in various situations where idiots with too much power have made mistakes, and later blamed people below themselves in the power chain.
Excel has a godlike reputation with people in power. They use it religiously (and trust it with the lives of others). You cannot begin to comprehend how many people have been affected by Excel's capriciousness. "Surely people will not use something unreliable in situations like these" is naiveness in its extreme.
The real world does not work in an ideal way, you know.

Rotation of print sample (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823651)

Why is it "rotate 90degrees clockwise" then? Why not "pi/2"?

"Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

It's been 48 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment"

Calculator in Windows 2000 does not... (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823749)

By default, the calculator in Windows 2000 uses degrees. Enter "30", press "sin" and you get 0.5. To be fair, at least it displays the argument format via a set of radio buttons (where it can be altered as well).
From this, I infer that it is not always assumed at Microsoft that trig functions take arguments in radians. So if the same corporation presents a "standards" document where the argument format is undefined, I'd also ask for clarification ;-)

Let's not get ahead of ourselves... (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823165)

It has incorrect formulas that, if implemented according to the standard, may cause loss of life, property, and capital
Surely this is a Bad Thing, but if you're put in the situation where you're trusted with peoples' lives, you shouldn't let them depend on a single spreadsheet anyways.

Capital and property I can see, but until stories start popping up about people dying because of spreadsheet errors, let's tone down the hyperbole, alright?

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves... (1)

TheReaperD (937405) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823215)

Well, not quite REAL deaths, but still 80,000 dead...

[quote]
The error that the CDC has "admitted" is a calculation error in the spreadsheet that was used to come up with the 400,000 obesity death estimate. They referenced the wrong cell in the spreadheet. When this mechanical error was fixed, the death estimate dropped by 80,000.
[/quote]

Original article: http://www.ucsf.edu/its/listserv/stanglantz-l/0351 .html [ucsf.edu]

Re:Let's not get ahead of ourselves... (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823517)

you own some property which is rented by someone else. Next January a spreadsheet error causes you to lose that property (don't ask how). The new owner of the property kicks your tenants out. They no longer have anywhere to live and die of exposure the next night.

You run a charity which provides food to homeless people. A spreadsheet error makes you believe that your budget is only 10% of what it was last year. You drastically cut back your work. Someone dies of starvation.

Life can still be lost indirectly through loss of property or capital, not just if you're using a spreadsheet to calculate the safe loading weight of a rollercoaster.

Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (2, Insightful)

WalterGR (106787) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823167)

Who is the author, Rob Weir?

I work for IBM, as a performance architect, as well as on various ODF technical topics. (source [robweir.com] )

So a guy working on a different document format, for a company who competes with Microsoft, has unkind words? Color me shocked.

OOXML defines spreadsheet formulas, and ODF doesn't. The Microsoft boosters have been parroting the party line for quite some time.

Uh... ODF doesn't define spreadsheet formats. There's no standard for spreadsheets in ODF. How is that "parroting the party line?"

Re:Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (5, Insightful)

january05 (1126057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823181)

ODF will define spreadsheet formulas, in the next version. And come on, the "IBM conspiracy" take from MS is really lame since OOXML is the one with proprietary patented extensions. I'll take any open standards company I can get, personally.

Re:Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (1)

january05 (1126057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823199)

Further, MS didn't accept significant changes when they pushed it through ECMA. Now that they're *Fast-tracking* it through ISO, how exactly how are they going to make changes to the hundreds of contradictions already found when they haven't already changed anything? The vote is set for August, I believe.

Re:Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (3, Interesting)

topham (32406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823271)

Parroting the party line is promoting the fact that it has formulas as showing it is superior to ODF when the formula specification is next to useless because it wasn't reviewed properly.
If you read the article it isn't a cople of minor mistakes which can be corrected; it's a number of mistakes which have already made it past a review stage.

Re:Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (1)

Bert64 (520050) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823385)

ODF references an external spec for formulas, IE the "OpenFormula" spec, which is also available from oasis-open.org
Just like it references some other open specs for other parts, it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel.

Re:Yeah, I'm sure this guy is objective (2, Insightful)

jkrise (535370) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823733)

So a guy working on a different document format, for a company who competes with Microsoft, has unkind words? Color me shocked.
A competitor has a vested interest in exposing short-comings of his competition. So an IBM employee is the best critic of a competing Microsoft product. Why is this hard to understand? Why not criticise the views expressed, rather than the person he is OR his employers?

As for spreadsheet formats not being defined in ODF - it isn't a big deal, and the alliance seem to be working on the issue, in any case. A wrong formula is infinitely worse than No Formula.

I wonder what your vested interest is... your lack of a meaningful response and indulging in mud-slinging appears very deceptive, and your motives - suspect.

Surely we all saw this coming (2, Interesting)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823173)

While I think that the "loss of life, etc." part is a bit overboard, since nobody builds a mission-critical system on top of Excel (or do they...), I do think that the criticism is appropriate.

Anybody keeping a comprehensive and up-to-date list (or list of lists) of specific things that are wrong with OOXML? I see a bunch of scattered ones here and there. Of course, I've also wished there were a comprehensive list of specific "bad" things that MS has done; it would make demonstration of their unscrupulousness that much easier.

Re:Surely we all saw this coming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823241)

If you'd look around, you would find that people DO build "mission critical" stuff on top of Excel. I don't know if people have actually gotten killed because of Excel, but there are many cases where companies and people have lost a lot of money over Excel. Most of the time it's dumb user using wrong tool to do wrong things, and failing at it, so MS is pretty much immune.

Smart people don't use it for anything critical, but world is full of dumb people. MS is happy to provide them the tools to do dumb things, as that is proven to generate tons of revenue for them.

Re:Surely we all saw this coming (2, Informative)

RuBLed (995686) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823347)

My dear friend, I am quite sure that at the very least, you are not a reader of http://worsethanfailure.com/ [worsethanfailure.com] There's still hope and time for those who are yet to be welcomed to the fold. My friend, read and be enlightened...

Re:Surely we all saw this coming (4, Informative)

simong (32944) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823359)

Depends what you call mission critical. Excel was used in voting systems in the Scottish and local elections in the UK this year, and Diebold's GEMS system uses Access as a database. High tech indeed.

ODF doesn't even have a formula standard. (1)

eggz128 (447435) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823201)

Yet, at any rate. IIRC it's a work in progress.

http://wiki.oasis-open.org/office/About_OpenFormul a [oasis-open.org]

Deeply Flawed Spreadsheet Formulas? (2, Funny)

phalse phace (454635) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823247)

Billg: "That's the dumbest fucking idea I've heard since I've been at Microsoft."

Heh... (1)

nowhere.elysium (924845) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823263)

This almost reads like an old-school Mac evangelist taking FUD to the next level, doesn't it?*

"...if implemented according to the standard, may cause loss of life, property, and capital..."
OMGZ0RZ!!one!!eleventy!ROFL! MiCr0$0fT W1Ll PwN j00!

Seriously though: If this OOXML system has so many holes in it, why haven't they just adapted the already-written Excel software that they have? Microsoft doesn't have the best track record when it comes to writing new stuff: if anything, they're famous for keeping legacy code, no? I'm just wondering why this isn't the procedure they're applying here, is all.

*Disclaimer: I am not anti-Mac - I work as a Mac sysadmin. Just couldn't think of a better analogy.

Re:Heh... (1)

Aim Here (765712) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823675)

"Seriously though: If this OOXML system has so many holes in it, why haven't they just adapted the already-written Excel software that they have?"

Err, what makes you think the OOXML spec isn't just a backhand way of "documenting" whatever Microsoft Office does anyways? Some of the tags are dead giveaways: "autoSpaceLikeWord95", "useWord97LineBreakRules", "useWord2002TableStyleRules".

The spec often refers to what various versions of Office do, without stating what that is. Probably much the same way that when reading Word 95 documents, Word 2008 will no doubt just ask some legacy DLL that the installer threw into c:\windows\system32...

I never understand why people complain so much (3, Insightful)

pembo13 (770295) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823267)

Let MS do exactly what they want, they seem quite successful at it, if it bites them in the butt, so be it. I would just like our own software freedoms to be preserved. I have no intention on producing anything with their format, I'm sure I'll eventually have to read it, but the chances that the receiver of a document is liable for inaccurate content within that document seems very low.

What is the motivation, since I'm sure there must be a good one, to do this free work for MS?

The Dead (1)

antonyb (913324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823341)

According to Rob Weir's blog, Microsoft's 325-page OOXML specification for spreadsheet formulas is deeply flawed.
So that's what the boys from the Grateful Dead are up to these days.... ant.

Microsoft can't code (4, Interesting)

BillGatesLoveChild (1046184) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823429)

> From basic trigonometric functions that forget to specify units

Amazing. That's the sort of mistake you'd expect from a First Year Computer Science Major, but not from a Second Year. This isn't the first time Microsoft have done this. Even for the Windows API, the code trumped the documentation. The best way to find out what a feature did was to write test programs to poke at it. Heck. Until recently DirectX needed three pages of goobleydo-gook to start up. These people just don't get APIs, period.

In Microsoft Visual Studio when you press F1 Help it comes up with a list that includes "How to Write Good Code". Yes, by Microsoft. Even in the early hours of the morning, it gets a smirk if not a gufaw or a laugh. Microsoft are not good programmers. Haven't been for a long time. Anyone worth their salt will launch a Start Up, or at least join a company offering reasonable growth and prospects. Microsoft is like a Pyramid Scheme. The people that joined at the start did very well. As for the people that joined late... not a chance. Which makes you wonder about the ones that joined anyway. Read the Book "Microserfs".

> Ecma

Why didn't Ecma pick it up? These Standard Bodies are in-name only. When a "Member" wants to push something through, it gets pushed through. Then the Member's sales reps can go to the Government body and say "Look! We have an Ecma approved Standard" and t he Government worker ticks the "Uses Industry Standards" box on the tender.

One of the funnier "standards" was a simulation standard called HLA. It was approved before anyone had built a proof of concept. People bet their careers on it and the whole government was ordered to embrace it. The only problem: When they finally built it, it didn't work. *OUCH!*

TFA money quote (1)

12WTF$ (979066) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823443)

Microsoft seems especially proud of their work in this area, delusions of adequacy which seem unwarranted.

no units ... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823549)

From basic trigonometric functions that forget to specify units/i?

Trignometric functions are unitless to begin with. They are ratios.

Article on BBC (2, Informative)

H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823621)

The BBC have published an article by FSFE [bbc.co.uk] also explaining the general problems of MS's non-open OOXML format (and proprietary formats in general).

News?? (0, Redundant)

kauttapiste (633236) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823643)

Uh, oh. Microsoft's specification is flawed? To whom good sir is this news?

Slashdot's slogan "News for nerds" would imply that anything posted on Slashdot is 'news', which usually is characterised by 'information'. Shannon's information theory dictates that in order for something to contain information, the probability of you not knowing the value of the message being passed is high. The probability of MS's specification being flawed and dangerous: approaching 1. Ergo, this is not news!

Oh and don't get me even started on the "Stuff that matters" part here..

Shame?! (5, Insightful)

krygny (473134) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823645)

"Shame on all those who praised and continue to praise the OOXML formula specification without actually reading it."

Reminds me of something I once heard a congressman rationalize in reference to a bill he just voted for containing several lame provisions (many with which he did not even agree): "Do you have any idea what reading a bill like that would entail?" I do. It would entail you doing your fucking job.

This from MS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19823707)

A warning from the guys who brought us Executable Code via Outlook Express and infected web pages via ActiveX controls?

Talk about hypocrisy . . .

This is to be expected... (3, Interesting)

rsmoody (791160) | more than 7 years ago | (#19823751)

After all, they did not BUY this from someone else. They came up with it on their own. We all know, Microsoft's best products were purchased from someone else. Excel for example.
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