Home On The Range

Sometimes, when you’re teaching, its’ not about the complexity of the subject. Sometimes its a very simple piece of information that students get the most “mileage” out of.

When I’m teaching students MS Excel, the simplest thing that I teach them about is Named Ranges. Its the  simplest thing to talk about, but the uses for ranges go on and on.

Above you see a standard Excel spreadsheet. Adding a range name or two (or ten) can help make it much easier to work with.

A range name can refer to a single cell or a group of cells, here I’ve selected the cell containing the total for the six month period (H11).

Click into the Cell address box (circled in red) and type in the desired name. There are some simple rules about naming ranges; the name can’t start with a number, can’t look like a cell reference (imagine how confusing that would be) and can’t use spaces and special characters (notice I’ve used an underscore to separate words). But after that it is up to you, to make your range name meaningful.

If you are going to add a range name to a group of cells, select them and type the name into the cell address box. The most frequent mistake students make at this point, is that they forget to press the Enter key to confirm the range name.

Now, how do you use these range names?

Second, you can replace cell references in a formula with range names. Does =SUM(January) seem easier to read and understand than =SUM(B2:B10)? Then a formula that uses range names will make your spreadsheets easier to read.

Third, you can use range names in conjunction with all sorts of other Excel tools. As an example, try using range names with the Data Validation tool.

In the sample above, a range name provides the source list for a drop-down list.

Resulting in this drop-down list. The list will update as the list of animals changes on Sheet1.

This is a more elegant solution for using drop-down lists, since it means your source lists can be kept on another sheet, and not clutter up the working area. This is something that is impossible to do, without using a range name.

So faster navigation, easy to read formulas and access to more powerful features in Excel. What’s not to love about range names?

A suggestion for improvement

One of my great interests is in the interactions between Seniors and technology. As a rule; seniors are not well served by technology, they are a forgotten group. And yet, I believe that tech has a great potential to help in so many ways. In particular, adaptive technologies can do so much to help people with their daily lives, and those technologies can move out to the wider population.

It’s revealing when you find an app or function that would be perfect, if only the designers had kept seniors in mind. Because it shows how much we all don’t want to face growing old and the inevitable changes that time brings.

The app I’m thinking about today, is Day One. Day One has been a well reviewed diary/journal app on iOS for a few years. Yet it misses a really basic feature because its’ designers can’t envision anyone other than their intended audience using their product.

I found Day One for one of my senior clients. One of the things you might have heard about getting older is that sometimes you are a little forgetful. Oh, and you also might have some medical issues. Which might result in more than a few doctors office visits. Which would mean that a nice journaling app could prove useful. Especially one that could support multiple tags on a single entry. Which would mean that you could filter your entries by the name of your specialists, or medications, or illness or test results. It would be excellent if you could export information from the app (Day One allows for PDF exports of entries) and add photographs. So far, so fantastic; Day One does all these things and has beautiful clean interface.

What it doesn’t do, is take advantage of iOS’s accessibility features.

While you can change the size of the typeface in your entries. Day One ignores any preference you have set for Larger Text, Bold Text or Increased Contrast. Which means that people with vision issues are going to struggle with using Day One, if they don’t give up on it altogether.

What I would love to see in this app is a high contrast setting; that would allow the tag icons to resize, adjust the labels and menu items to a typeface that is bolder/larger and that would allow the user to select a high contrast colour scheme.

I also want to see Apple lay down the law with developers and require them to respect user accessibility settings. Designers should look at designing for accessibility as a challenge that will improve the functionality of their apps for everyone. We don’t always interact with our devices under the best visibility circumstances. We may not be facing (yet) the vision problems caused by illness, but we are all going to get older.

Do you have an app that is useful for seniors? Tell me about it.

Well, this is weird …

I’ve had some oddball posts recently on my Twitter account. But I really have to step back for a moment and explain how they got there. I use IFTT to add pins I make to my Pinterest boards to my Twitter account. I enjoy looking at fantastic Steampunk art and costuming and hope that other Twitter users share my enthusiasm.

I noticed a couple of months ago, that items I had not pinned were being posted under my #SteampunkFun hashtag. I kept an eye out for it happening again and it did. What I believe is happening, is that Pinterest is  jumbling up their RSS feeds. In this case, someone else’s humour pins are being attributed to my Steampunk board. But only for short periods of time. But during that time period I suddenly tweet jokes labelled #SteampunkFun – it certainly looks weird.

But what if I’ve been hacked? Wouldn’t I feel silly if I had done nothing to protect myself. This is where a Password Manager comes in handy. I recommend using password managers all the time. There are a number of popular ones out on the market. I use one called PWSafe2 (Apple). I chose PWSafe because I could use it on my Windows, Apple and Android devices. And also because it was developed by Bruce Schneier. PWSafe has a lot of nice features; including the ability generate complex passwords and a notes area.

I use the notes area to write down the lies I tell when asked for security questions. You know, the ones that ask you where you where born or what your mother’s maiden name was. Since this is all public information, I figure a lie is actually more secure than the truth. The problem is remembering what the lie is. Fortunately, the notes section is very helpful with this.

But the feature I made use of this time was the search feature. You see; if I’d been hacked, the problem would be determining which of my many many accounts had been compromised. So I used the search feature to see if I had reused my Pinterest username, email or password on any other accounts. This allowed me to target the most likely accounts and update their information. And because I have everything recorded in PWSafe, updating my accounts was no big deal.

So a password manager not only helps record your passwords and account information, but it can help you quickly change and update your accounts .