Prezi

I’m often asked my opinion about Prezi as an alternative to PowerPoint. My answer – meh.

I can’t even get worked up enough about it to dislike it. Except now, after having seen a number of Prezi presentations I do have a Pavlovian nausea response to Prezi’s default swooping motion animations.

From my point of view; watching a naive user (my son) using Prezi for the first time really exposes all its’ faults. The intense focus on the visual. There is apparently no way of storyboarding a presentation in a text only view. This makes presentations that tend to not have logical flow. It is also difficult repurpose content from Prezi. At least without moving to the paid subscription model.

And while Prezi does have attractive templates, it squanders its’ most obvious asset – motion transitions; by not guiding users on how to use them effectively. Its’ other obvious positive features, shared collaboration and its online workspace/storage are also available in other products like Google Slides.

I might look to Prezi for visual inspiration, but if I had real work to do I’d chose a different presentation package.

 

Button Bar Chart

Simple or Complicated?

Simple or complicated? It’s been my observation that anyone can make a subject sound complicated – but it takes real understanding of a topic to simplify it in a way that is meaningful.

This is why, when I saw this sample slide below from designer Julie Terberg, I sat up and paid attention. Here is a wonderful example of a chart that is simple in a beautiful and useful way. Immediately, you can see that an audience would find this chart easy to read and understand

Button Bar Chart by Julie Terberg
Julie Terberg’s Button Bar Chart from her #SlideADayProject project

I paid even more attention when I saw the way that Neil Malek put together an Excel version of the chart. Neil introduces a clever technique using shapes in data labels.  Here is the YouTube video:

Unfortunately, Neil’s clever technique is only available in Office 2016. I wanted to build the chart in Office 2010, for the benefit of my clients still using 2010.

Button Bar Chart Slide example
Button Bar Chart Slide, in PowerPoint 2010

I think that in the end, I succeeded. If you are interested in building this chart, and like me you are restricted to Office 2010, then I have a few pointers for you.

Button Bar Chart Pointers

  • Data Labels in 2010 can not use shapes. Instead, I tweaked the Shadow setting for the label, by setting the colour to match the fill on the label and the size to 150%. I left all other settings to zero. Shaping the label this way means that you can never achieve the circle that Julie used in her example. Instead, the best you can do is a lozenge shape. You can modify this when you change the font size in the label.
  • But once you’ve used the Shadow to enlarge your button, you can’t use it to shadow the data label. I solved this problem with an old fashioned solution. I made two charts (a 2016 and a 2017 chart). The two charts are grouped together.  Each chart has a data label for the year and a data label for the shadow. In the example below those labels are using the 1 values. The column labelled 2016 value is the length of the bar.
Where the data for the chart comes from
Button Bar Chart Data layout
  • The Shadow column must proceed the 2016 column or your shadow will wind up on top of the 2016 label. Also format your labels in that order as well, or the shadow will temporarily be on top of the 2016 label.
  • Format your shadow and label to the same font size.
  • The Chart Element selector on the Format Tab of the Chart Tools ribbon is your friend. Its’ really the only reasonable way to select the shadow data labels once they are under the visible label.
  • Link the label text to the cell in in Excel by using the formula bar and typing in the linking formula to the cell. This allows you to update the chart, by changing the text in the cell. A bit finicky to set up; but it will save a ton of time in the long run.
  • The best way to take this chart into PowerPoint is by copying/pasting the chart – as an image. Which means that you’ll need to presize the chart in Excel, so that text is not distorted by resizing once it is pasted into PowerPoint. Again, its a bit finicky – but worth it.
  • In PowerPoint, I created a layout, with text placeholders on the left and bottom of the slide.

    Layout has placeholders
    Layout has text placeholders on left and bottom of slide

All in all, a pretty reasonable version of Julie’s stellar design.

If you want to follow Julie Terberg and Neil Malek on Twitter, you’ll find them here.

A donation to the Youth Benefit Golf Tournament

As you can see from the elegant cat supervising the work, the gift bags for the Youth Benefit Golf Tournament have arrived!  The proceeds of this Best Ball Tournament will go directly the Medicine Hat Youth Action Society & Redcliff Youth Centre.  Both organizations provide a safe, substance free environment for local youth; with free educational and recreational programming.

Shortcut Key bag with contents
A Bag, a quiz, some tips and a prize

Each bag has is covered in the entire alphabet of shortcut key combinations (around 55) for Microsoft Word.  You can test your knowledge! Some of my favorite Word shortcuts are on the attached card. Plus, I’ve tucked in a little bit of WebGenii swag into the bag as well.

The tricky part of designing this bag is that there are so many keyboard shortcuts for Word. So, I decided to limit myself to only the letter shortcuts.

For the list of my favorite shortcuts on the card I made sure only to pick my non-letter favorites. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite here too!

Close up of Quiz & Tip card
Close up of Quiz & Tip card

Clearly, keeping our box loving friend out of the boxes was an incentive to quick work; because the bags have all been stuffed and prepared for drop-off at the Redcliff Youth Centre.

Packed boxes with Shortcut key bag
Box with Shortcut key bag

I hope that you or your company have signed up for the  Youth Benefit Golf Tournament. Its going to be a great time for a worthwhile local cause.

 

Excel – Total at the Top

It’s that time of year again. Tax time. Now that I’ve made you sad, lets check out a formula which is very useful when adding up long columns of numbers (deductions anyone?)

Column of numbers, with accompanying total
Put the sum of the column at the TOP of the page, making it easy to find

When you have long columns of numbers of irregular length, it is often easier to have the totals display at the TOP of the page. That way, you don’t have to scroll all over the place to find them. The other advantage of this formula is that you can use it to keep an eye on your total as it accumulates, since you don’t have to know how many rows long the column will be.

The formula here is =SUM(OFFSET(A1,1,0,COUNT($A:$A),1))

Where the OFFSET & COUNT functions are used to create the range that will be summed.

The syntax for OFFSET
OFFSET(reference, rows, cols, [height], [width])
OFFSET(A1,1,0,COUNT($A:$A),1)

  • A1 is the reference cell,
  • Rows – the range begins 1 row down from A1,
  • Cols – the range begins in the same column 0,
  • Height – the number of rows to be included are counted using the COUNT function, COUNT($A:$A) counts the cells in Column A with numbers in them
  • Width – is set to 1 column (column A) wide

I have to say there is something very satisfying about seeing that total increase as each number is entered in the column.

featured image by
Antoine Dautry

Generating Random Numbers and Letters

Need to generate a random number? Excel has two formula variations that can do that for you.

The first is RAND, it generates a random value between 0 and 1. But if you need larger values, try RANDBETWEEN.

RANDBETWEEN generates random numbers between a bottom and top value that you specify.

Lastly, if you need to generate a random letter value – try this formula: =CHAR(RANDBETWEEN(65,90))

In this formula the CHAR function returns the character symbol specified by a number. Letters A-Z are between 65 and 90.

 

 

Flash Fill

Flash Fill is a new tool introduced in Excel 2013. Its a simple tool to handle a frequent problem. You have a small set of data and you need to break it apart into separate columns or join separate columns of data together.

Previously, I would have handled it with a series of text functions in Excel (LEFT, RIGHT, MID) combined with FIND and LEN if the data was complex enough. But if the data set is small, writing a formula sometimes seems like an overly complicated answer to a simple problem (why not just retype?).

Now Flash Fill is stepping in to help you handle this problem. If you give it a series of data (column orientation only) and an example of the pattern you want to extract, it will extract the data for you.

Flash Fill in action
Flash Fill captures the first names only from the adjacent column

You can see once the second name is typed in the column adjacent to the list of full names, Flash Fill is able to see the pattern and offer all the first names in the list. Pressing enter autocompletes the action and the names are filled in. To do this, there can not be more than two blank columns between the source data and the resulting column. You can use the Ctrl + e shortcut to start flash fill.

Flash Fill Icon
Note the Flash Fill Icon displaying after the Ctrl + e shortcut was used.

You can click the Flash Fill icon to display the menu, accepting the suggestions will have all the names autocomplete.

The Flash Fill menu will display if the icon is clicked
The Flash Fill Menu

Here is an even trickier scenario, in the list above some names have two middle initials. Using the “default” flash fill means only the second initial will display in those names. However if I return to any of the names on the list (with two initials) and correct the example to two initials, all of the two initials examples will be extracted.

Two initials with Flash fill
Flash Fill double initial example

I find that seriously impressive.

I can split data in a cell into multiple columns and I can also use Flash Fill to join multiple columns of data together.

Flash Fill concatenation
Joining separate columns using Flash Fill

The same technique used above. Note that I’ve been able to add commas and periods to the text as well.

Formatting via Flash Fill
Using Flash Fill to apply formatting

In the same way, I can use Flash Fill to apply formatting, in this case putting a space between the first and second part of a postal code. You can also use it to format telephone numbers and date information.

PowerPoint – Organizing your colours

I find it useful when creating a presentation that has a custom colour palette to create a custom layout like the one below:

Slide Master containing information about the Colour Palette used in presentation
Colour Palette Assignment Slide Layout – accessible via Master view, or by selecting the layout

You’ll note that the RGB values for the colours are listed, and this is because prior to PowerPoint 2013, the eyedropper tool was not available. I also find it tremendously helpful to note what I use each colour for, so that when I open this file in a couple of years from now there will be a little less detective work.

My Tech Travel Kit

I was listening to the “Gadgets” section of the 20 Minute Delay podcast and it inspired me to share my tech travel kit.

First up is the bag I carry it all in, the Maxpedition Fatty Pocket Organizer

Photo of Maxpedition Fatty Pocket Organizer
Maxpedition Fatty Pocket Organizer

Other sizes are available, but this works for me. It allows me to organize the myriad pieces of cords and kit that are a part of modern life.  Here is an interior view –

Inside the Maxpedition Fatty Organizer
Maxpedition Fatty – Interior view

Next up is a Powerseed portable charger that will charge phone and tablet. One of the nice features of this model is the light. In a pinch it acts as a flashlight, and it certainly has saved me from fumbling around in an overly darkened hotel room a time or two.

Powerseed Charger photo
Powerseed Charger

This model doesn’t appear to be available anymore, but I like being able to charge multiple devices and as I said the light has been unexpectedly helpful.

Powerseed - view of ports and light photo
Powerseed – view of ports and light

Next is a nifty Bluetooth wireless speaker. The Anker SoundCore nano.  Having a speaker on hand allows me to leave the TV off, and listen to my music of choice.

Photo - Anker SoundCore Nano
Anker SoundCore Nano

This has an amazing sound to size ratio. Its volume will fill a hotel room and is very light.
Also from Anker is this 4 port USB charger.

Photo Anker Charging Block
Anker Charging Block

It saves time and weight and made a noticeable difference when I started packing only this instead of all the different phone/tablet charging blocks. The newer version has foldaway prongs.

Lastly is this small extension cord.

Photo Travel extension cord
Travel extension cord

I don’t know how many hotel rooms I’ve been in with inadequate or inaccessible wall plugs. This one came from our local Princess Auto and in addition to having yet more USB ports, I like how it’s designed to plug into itself. This makes it much easier to pack, since it’s the one item that doesn’t fit into the tech bag. BTW,  Princess Auto is often a great source for discount tech type gadgets.

 

Pictures and Transparency

In my last post, I mentioned I was working on a Jeopardy game in PowerPoint. In this game I want to present a series of visual clues before the answer is revealed. The audience is presented with the foreign cover for a popular book and has to guess the name of the book.

Book cover transition from greek to english cover version
Can you guess the book, by seeing its foreign (Greek) version cover?

I want to slowly reveal the English book cover, by gradually making the foreign cover more transparent. With this particular cover, I also wanted to crop the foreign cover image to reveal additional clues. Each clue will be revealed by a click of the mouse.

Hmm is this a problem? I can not control image transparency in PowerPoint, there is no option for this in the Picture Tools menu.

Nope, no problem at all. You can control image transparency by:

  1. Create a shape the same dimensions as your picture.
  2. Remove the outline for the shape.
  3. Change the fill option to Picture or Texture Fill and insert the picture file.
  4. Transparency will now be available

Its’ interesting that placing a picture inside a shape allows you to manipulate that picture as if it was a shape. This concept allows me to play with things like irregularly shaped (non-rectangular) images as well.