Meet the Excel warriors saving the world from spreadsheet disaster

David Lyford-Smith is an expert at solving spreadsheet mysteries. Once, in a previous job, he was sent a payroll form to look over for a new starter. It had the number 40,335 in a random box, and payroll wasn’t clear why it was there. “So they assumed it was a joining bonus for the employee and drew up a draft pay slip with a £40,335 bonus,” he says. But, when it comes to spreadsheets, assumptions can be costly.

How Google Meet Weathered the Work-From-Home Explosion

SAMANTHA SCHAEVITZ WAS in the home stretch of a fellowship at Huridocs, a human rights nonprofit, when she got the call. Schaevitz works on site reliability engineering at Google; they’re the ones who keep steady the ship when things get choppy. And by February of this year, as large portions of Asia shut down in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Google Meet found itself taking on water. They needed Schaevitz back at work.

How to Make Government Trustworthy Again

ON JANUARY 20, both the United States and South Korea confirmed their first cases of Covid-19; Taiwan reported its first case the next day, and Singapore followed two days later. Epidemic parity began and ended there. By the end of March, those three Asian countries had largely contained at least the first wave of their outbreaks—and, not only that, had done so at relatively minimal cost to their citizens’ routine way of life. The same could scarcely be said of the US. The story behind this divergence was obvious: The governments of South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore were prepared to test, to trace, and to isolate, and ours was not. Such a vast discrepancy in basic preparedness was, however, almost incomprehensible to many American observers—it seemed impossible to imagine that it could be that simple. The astounding national variance had to be explained by some hidden variable.

Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost

ONE DAY IN October 2015, a forest surveyor working in an area of dense woodland near Mount Redington in Maine came across a collapsed tent hidden in the undergrowth. He noticed a backpack, some clothes, a sleeping bag, and inside the sleeping bag what he assumed was a human skull. He took a photograph, then hurried out of the woods and called his boss. The news soon reached Kevin Adam, the search and rescue coordinator for the Maine Warden Service, who immediately guessed what the surveyor had found. He wrote later, “From what I could see of the location on the map and what I saw in the picture, I was almost certain it would be Gerry Largay.”