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Top 3 Beginner Excel Mistakes to Avoid

When beginning to use Microsoft Excel, there are several key mistakes that all students should avoid in order to be successful for the long term of a project.  Depending on your industry and specific Excel needs, this list of pitfalls can certainly become a long one. I’ve narrowed down the top 3 mistakes that all beginning Excel users should avoid.   You didn’t set your workbook up for success When you start a Microsoft Excel workbook, you need to do a little bit of project planning. Ask yourself some key questions and you will be able to use the built-in features of Excel much easier.  Questions you should ask include: How much data do I expect to include in this project over the long term? If you know how much data to expect, in terms of columns and rows, it will drastically change how you may organize the workbooks to begin with. For example, if you have data based on a date, you might want to create separate worksheets for each month (12) and an annual summary worksheet for a total of 13 worksheets.  Using this method, your data will remain smaller in size, more manageable and your risk of human error will be much lower. How can I organize the data into the smallest meaningful values? For every field of your data, you should ‘normalize’ the information. Normalized means that your data is in the smallest meaningful values.  A classic example of normalization is how you are going to capture ‘Name’ data on a contact list.  If you accept both First and Last Name into one field called ‘Name’, then how will you sort by Last name in the future?  It will be very difficult.  However, if you break this into two distinct fields, First Name and Last Name, then you have the data normalized and setup for success. Is this workbook pertaining to one subject? If you’re creating workbooks on different subjects, then you should use separate worksheets or workbooks to keep the information organized. One of the worst mistakes in Excel is to try and combine a lot of unrelated data into one worksheet or workbook.  Using Excel formulas and references you can easily tie data together across worksheets, so you should use the tools given to you for better organization of the data. You are not using Excel references properly An Excel reference is simply a way to refer to a cell, worksheet, or workbook by location instead of using constant values. By using references properly, your spreadsheets stay dynamic and, most importantly, accurate.The most common mistake when using references is to not utilize ‘absolute’ references.  By default, all cell references in Excel use a type of reference called a ‘relative’ reference.  This is important to understand because, when a cell reference is relative, the cell reference will change automatically when you copy/paste.An ‘absolute’ reference means that you always point to the same cell no matter what, so copy/paste will not affect the references used.  This a key component of Excel spreadsheet building and you must understand how to utilize effectively to be successful in Excel. You are individually formatting cells When you have your spreadsheet data ready, you should then begin to format it appropriately. However, you don’t need to continually make the same formatting choices over and over.   When you format one cell or range of cells, you can copy that formatting using a tool called the ‘format painter’.  This is essentially a tool to copy/paste the formatting only.  Format painter is a huge time saver.An even more effective formatting technique is to utilize the...

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Digital Trends: Embrace the Cloud

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/27/12] The more we embrace technology and how it can improve our professional lives, the more information we begin to accumulate over time at our business. At some point, the use and sharing of this information can become cumbersome for a business to control, and, therefore, looking to a cloud solution becomes a viable option. The cloud concept comes from a metaphor for the Internet as a whole, but as private servers (or clouds) have become more readily accessible to the public, the cloud term has taken over in popularity. Cloud computing is based upon the idea that by using shared services and resources, information can be more centrally located and utilized. Typically, cloud solutions are more versatile in how they are executed or used by a business. There is usually no software to download, but rather a server to connect to and store your information. Furthermore, a friendly user interface provides easy ways to manage your server and the data within. “Cloud computing will continue to change the way we do business,” said Mark Seager, vice president of Technology EMEA at Informatica, in a recent interview with the Computer Business Review. “The year ahead will see an upturn in cloud adoption, driven by the need for organizations to be more agile, as well as the need to cut costs,” Seager said. “With existing IT frameworks often made up of data silos, cloud technology can help create a dynamic architecture to accommodate any data, in any location. Businesses who want to respond and act faster in today’s economic climate have to look to the cloud if they haven’t already. After all, the challenge for cloud adoption until now has been inertia, and many businesses have therefore not gained the benefits cloud computing can offer. Organizations need to be aggressive but smart as they make the move to the cloud.” The benefits of moving into a cloud system are immeasurable and are changing the way all types of businesses operate. In the coming weeks, I will be discussing some of the benefits of some of the newer cloud services and how it can benefit your business, too. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Update Your Technical Skills With Government Funding

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/20/12] No matter what side of the political spectrum you sit on, when you become unemployed in today’s economy, you may need to start leaning on the federal and state government for more help. Specifically, if your technical skills are out of date with the modern trends, you may need to look for programs that will help you get up to speed. The Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, is a federally funded plan that grants money to help those who are collecting unemployment or have been displaced from their gainful careers for specific economic reasons. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the WIA was created “to consolidate, coordinate and improve employment, training, literacy and vocational rehabilitation programs in the United States.” The WIA has many eligibility guidelines, and some of them might change depending on the state and county in which you live. Information for Colorado and Wyoming residents can be found online. Once approved through the appropriate WIA program, you will have access to funding for technical education and training. In addition, there are numerous WIA workshops, seminars and partnerships that will help you get back into the workforce. Through the WIA funding, you can add to those computer skills that you either missed the first time around in school or were never introduced to in the first place. If you want to move into a new, modern career field such as web design or graphic design, you might be eligible for training funding for these new career moves, as well. Every county and state handles their appropriation of the funding dollars differently, so it is best to check with your county’s workforce center to get started. From there, you might be able to add digital skills to your resume and get on your way to a new job today. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Let Database Help You Store All That Data

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/13/12] Living in the information age, the amount of data that can come your way in a single day can be overwhelming at times. With so many ways to digitally track your customers’ habits, your company’s finances and social interaction, an eventual need grows to analyze the data more thoroughly. Today, a database is a great way to store large amounts of data. It provides a lot of flexibility in the design and implementation. All databases break down to the table level where data is stored in fields in cells, with a declared data type for each value in the cell. A collection of fields makes up a record, or sometimes thought of as a row in the database table. The relationships between different tables create what’s referred to as a relational database and allows users to pull related information from smaller, manageable tables. These relationships are built on common fields, called primary and foreign keys, and are essential to the updating and cascade features of a database. This is in sharp contrast to many spreadsheets businesses use, which can become massive in size and hard to analyze at times. Spreadsheets are great for organizing data in columns and rows, performing calculations, and some charting and graphic features. However, databases are much more powerful for large amounts of related data because of the ability to easily query the stored data. A query is simply a stored question and allows a user to ask questions of the data, incorporate search criteria and produce a recordset that can then power additional queries. Queries are so powerful that they can add, delete, update or manipulate existing data. And the best part is they can be saved for later use, which eliminates the need to build the same query multiple times. Some common database programs in use today are Microsoft Access, MySQL or Oracle. They all have their advantages but it often comes down to the amount of data and number of users you will have using the database at one time. Lastly, most websites today are powered by some kind of database. That is how there can be so much information available on a website and accessed in such a short amount of time. The biggest sites in the world are backed by powerful databases, which allow for large online stores and easy navigation through different categories of the site. So, if you decide the current way you are organizing or storing your data is inefficient, then you are ready to make the move to a database and open a whole new world of data storage and mining. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@ fcdigitalworkshop.com. Want to learn more about database management? Register for one our Microsoft Access© classes...

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A Simple Mail Merge Can Save You Time

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/6/12] If you have a list of contacts on your computer and are ready to start mailing to a large group of them, then you can put down your pen and let your computer do all the dirty work. With two of the most popular Microsoft programs, Word and Excel, you can quickly and easily create a mail merge system for your contacts. A mail merge is the combination of a data source and a word processing document to produce mailing labels, envelopes, form letters and more. It is an extremely powerful tool that most administrative professionals use to save tons of manual labor time. The way a mail merge works is that you must begin with some kind of data source. This can come in many forms including a table from a database, a list of your Outlook contacts, a CSV file or even a simple Excel spreadsheet. Since most contact applications can export to a spreadsheet format, Excel can be used in a variety of scenarios for your business. Once you have a data source prepared properly, you can open Microsoft Word and begin the mail merge process. This begins with either a blank document or you can even use a pre-existing document. Envelopes and mailing labels come in standard sizes, and Microsoft has these already built into the program, too. By inserting placeholder fields into the mail merge document, you are allowing the program to replace the placeholders with actual values from your data source. This will repeat for every record in your data source. In a form letter example, you also have the option to customize individual letters, just in case you want to send a more personalized message to an individual client. When it is time to print the mail merge document, you simply finalize your merge and advance to print the entire batch. A mail merge is an amazing tool for simple administrative tasks, and the reach of how it might save you time is limitless. So, the next time you need to send those holiday cards to a huge list, check out a mail merge and save yourself some precious time. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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