The Hacker's Diet: Excel Computer Tools

The Hacker's Diet is accompanied by a variety of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (or “workbooks” in recent Microsoft-speak) which permit hands-on experimentation with the techniques presented in the book, forecasting diet plans, meal planning with automatic calorie counting, and a system for logging the progress of a diet and subsequent weight management which produces progress reports and charts.

You don't need a computer to use The Hacker's Diet; easy-to-work paper and pencil methods are presented in the book. But if you have a computer with Excel, the companion spreadsheets may save you time and provide more insight into the engineering underpinning of the methods described in the book, while producing an illustrated log of your progress.

Computer tools are also available for the handheld Palm Computing platform.


Due to reasons explained in the following section, Excel macros and spreadsheets of more than trivial complexity often “break” with each successive “upgrade” of Excel, requiring costly and time-consuming modifications. Even simple packages such as this one cannot dodge all the torpedoes emanating from Redmond, and consequently a a number of archives are available for downloading, each suitable for a different release of Excel. If an archive is not available for the release you're running, choose the next available earlier version. All the spreadsheets and macros are completely open to user examination and modification (they are “protected” to avoid inadvertent modification to internal formulŠ, but without a password, so you can unprotect them at will), so if you encounter problems you have the wherewithal to fix them yourself.

Each of the downloads listed below are about 250 Kb and are supplied as Zipped archives.

Downloads are available for:

This software is in the public domain and may be used in any manner without permission, restriction, attribution, or compensation, but is utterly unsupported; you're entirely on your own.

Why So Many Versions?

The Hacker's Diet spreadsheets were originally developed in 1990 with Excel 2.1 on Microsoft Windows 3.1. Some of the components in the package use Excel macros which are, for the most part, relatively simple and straightforward compared to those found in a typical corporate Excel application. Nonetheless, thanks to Microsoft's practice of “strategic incompatibility” and utter contempt for the investment made by their customers, these rudimentary macros have required specific modifications for every single new version of Excel in the decade since they were originally released, and things have gotten worse, not better, since Microsoft introduced the new Visual Basic programming language for Excel (itself a cesspool of release-to-release incompatibility), due to what appears to be a deliberate Microsoft strategy to destabilise the original macro language in order to force customers onto the new one (at a cost to Microsoft corporate clients I estimate on the order of a hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars).

The upshot of this is that while in a reasonable world spreadsheets and macros would be capital, created once and then used thereafter with no additional attention, in the world of Microsoft, software developed for their platforms is a “wasting asset” more like a stock option with an strike date about 18 months from the time it was developed. By then Billy Boy or one of his Kode Kiddies will have changed their mind about something (or simply introduced a gratuitous incompatibility, whether for strategic reasons, due to sloppiness or incompetence, or just for the Hell of it) which pulls the carpet out from under the application and its users when they “upgrade” to a more recent Microsoft release (which is increasingly involuntary as more and more new computers are sold pre-loaded with the latest releases of Microsoft operating systems and applications, offering the customer no option but to pay the “Microsoft Tax” bundled in the cost of the system).

Excel Multiple Document Open Bug

Update: A work-around for this bug was introduced in the Excel 2003 Spreadsheet release. If you're using that version of the macros, clicking on a yearly log spreadsheet should work fine.

A bug was introduced in Version 5.0 of Excel, which is present in all subsequent releases, which causes “File not found” errors when opening multiple documents linked to a macro sheet, even though all the linked documents are in the same directory (folder). The Hacker's Diet weight log spreadsheet consists of a log for the current year and a historical database of all log entries, both linked to a macro sheet which generates charts, performs analysis, and provides administrative functions. When you open the current year's log file, the macro sheet and historical database are supposed to be opened automatically (and were in all versions of Excel prior to 5.0). In 5.0 and later, if you launch the log file document from its icon in an Explorer window or even from the recent files menu in Excel, you'll get a “File not found” macro error claiming the history database cannot be found. This is courtesy of the Excel bug.

You can avoid the problem by always opening the weight log document from Excel's “File/Open” menu, navigating to the directory where it's kept, then selecting the current year's weight log. Opening the main document in this manner manages to pound into Excel's pointy little head the fact that the linked documents may be found in the same directory, and consequently everything will work as intended. This isn't as convenient as clicking the log document icon, but has the considerable merit of dodging the Excel bug.

Only the weight log speadsheet uses multiple linked documents; all of the other Excel computer tools may be opened by clicking their icons or from the recent files menu.

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by John Walker
August 3rd, 2006