STUMP » Articles » Sunday Silliness: Soda Tax, Sierpinski Spreadsheet, and Swinish Puns » 27 August 2017, 20:24

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Sunday Silliness: Soda Tax, Sierpinski Spreadsheet, and Swinish Puns  


27 August 2017, 20:24

I’ll actually be doing this in reverse order.


Stephan Pastis is the cartoonist for Pearls Before Swine, and he has a bad pun habit, in all meanings of the term.

Today’s strip underwhelmed me:

An earlier strip, though:

Not sure when that was from — Pastis sometimes runs old strips on his facebook page or twitter feed.


I am a member of the European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group or EuSpRIG. We love collecting horror stories of billions of dollars lost (or euros, I suppose) on bad spreadsheets. We also love collecting shit like this:

If you think that is cool, you are an idiot.

I have written about the hideousness of megaformulas before in actuarial publications, and here is the particular quote I like:

Warnelid [EuSpRIG member] commented he found the above monstrosity [not what’s above, but about as bad] in a spreadsheet to support a bid for a $2 billion project.

If that sort of money is on the line, would it kill you to expand the calculation over several columns?

Sometimes we try to do the calculation all in one leap to make the visual presentation of the final numbers prettier. What I usually do, if I need to use the spreadsheet to make presentation tables, is hide the calculation steps in other sheets. I think it’s better to have presentation sheets that merely reference the results from other pages. That way I can play separately with calculation and the display.

If I have the two concerns combined in the same place, I can end up with spaghetti logic formulas as my model develops while I try to maintain a particular look. Computer memory is cheap—use the extra file space.

I went looking in the guy’s blog and I found all sorts of bad ideas there, in terms of doing stuff that has no business being in a spreadsheet.

So I decided to make something actually simple, but really shouldn’t be done in Excel: the Sierpinski triangle (a fractal.)

I actually tried to fill the whole sheet, but Excel crashed because I used too much memory. Anyway, there is one unique formula in the entire sheet, and I extended it only to 1024 rows (to prevent the crashing thing.) I used conditional formatting and zooming out to get it to look like this:

That’s mainly the first 512 rows, plus some extra.

I’ve made a variant of this a a shawl before (in crochet). I don’t have any good pics of the shawls I’ve made, but the pattern is here. It’s potentially infinite, if yarn weren’t finite.

Sierpinski spreadsheet is here.


Not doing a full update. The saga is not yet over, but why wait to post what my searches have dredged up?

Opposition to Cook County soda tax almost universal

Almost no one likes Cook County’s tax on sweetened drinks.

Polls have shown that shoppers hate it. Store owners say they loathe it. And lawmakers in Springfield want to roll it back.

Opponents of Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax say people are turning against it because it is both bad policy and bad politics.

Rob Karr with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association says the growing opposition from every corner shows just how unpopular the tax is.

“I mean, 87 percent of likely voters in Cook County are aware of the tax and oppose it,” Karr noted. “Anytime you get 87 percent of citizens agreeing on anything, you know you have a real problem.”

Karr said lawmakers also fear they could be dragged down by the tax’s unpopularity.

There are already plans in Springfield to limit or roll back the tax. State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Chicago, has two plans.

Two plans! He must be serious!

Others notice that juice is higher calorie than soda:

Illinois corn farmers keeping a close eye on Cook County soda tax:

Illinois corn farmers are keeping a close eye on Cook County’s new sweetened beverage tax.

High fructose corn syrup is an ingredient in many drinks now tagged with an additional penny-per-ounce tax in the county home to Chicago. Tricia Braid, communications director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association, says even a small change in demand makes a difference.

“Illinois corn farmers are entering into their fourth or fifth year of prices being below the cost of production,” Baird said. “So any market impact means something at the farm level.”

A recent analysis of beverage sales at 21 stores in Cook County by the “Can The Tax” coalition shows a drop in beverage sales between 6 percent and 39 percent in the first week the tax went into effect.

“Any time we’re limiting demand, that has a negative impact at the farm level,” Baird said. “So that’s why we don’t want to dismiss any of these market changes, because it’s a relatively small portion of our overall market. Every small portion adds up to an important piece.”

Nationally, about 6 percent of corn is used for sweeteners or corn syrup. The Illinois Corn Growers Association did not take an official position on the Cook County tax, but Baird says they would oppose expanding the penny-per-ounce increase statewide.

“It is our belief that consumers should have choice in the marketplace and that taxing specific choices is not an appropriate way to influence consumption,” Baird said.

Interesting. I prefer cane sugar soda over corn syrup soda (though I barely drink either), but when the corn syrup purveyors say “Hey guys, you’re killing us”, you’d think the professional politicians would listen.

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