Spreadsheets are probably very popular in the business world but not in science. Astronomers love to write their own little programs or scripts to perform the calculations they need, be it for a sophisticated simulation code or for daily data analysis tasks. The point is that spreadsheets are not really a convenient way of analysing data and perform calculations if not for smallish data samples and basic computations. So why am I writing about spreadsheets then ? Well, because I would never thought they could make my life so much easier…

A part of my job consist in taking care of the data reduction and quality control monitoring for the obsevations obtained with WFCAM at the UK InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT), Hawaii. Most of the observations are taken for the UKIRT InfraRed Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) which represent the state-of-the-art for the field or, “the next generation near-infrared sky survey, the successor to 2MASS“, as it describes itself. I will probably come back to this project in other posts, so let’s leave the details for another time (just have a look to the linked web sites if you are really curious).
Usually we get the data on LTO tapes via FedEx every other week or so. First task for me is to make sure we are getting the data for all the nights we are supposed to. Next steps consist in validate, process and perform some quality control validation on each single night. The whole thing has been running quite smoothly for a couple of years now and we’ve dealt with a few tens of Terabytes of data.
To keep things running I need to interact quite frequently with Brad, the guy that is taking care of the tapes on the other side of the world. I need to know from him for which nights I should expect data, when the tapes were shipped and which detectors they contain for each night. You can easily get fed up pretty soon by managing all this via email, and that’s probably not surprising either. A few weeks ago, Brad came up with a very smart idea: he prepared a Google spreadsheet to keep track of all the relevant information and “invited” me to collaborate on that document. In this way the spreadsheet is visible from my Google docs home, I can see when was the last time Brad made some changes and check them out. I prepared another spreadsheet to keep track of what I am finding on the tapes and to mark nights for which I did not receive all the data and, of course, I enabled the collaboration for Brad. In this way we can keep ourselved both updated on the status of the data transfers in a clean, effective and spam-free way.
Thanks Google!