Your Input Does Matter (MS Excel)

At my previous job as an IT Trainer, there were days when not a lot was going on. I would use this slow time to wander the halls, mainly to remind people that I was there. Software training is one of those things that most people feel they don’t have time to attend or don’t need. However, if they saw me out and about, they felt comfortable asking about something they had been having problems with. That is what happened when Darlene saw me.

Darlene had just started her new job as admin support in the department. She was still getting to know many of the documents that she had to work with.

“How weird to see you at this very moment,” said Darlene as I walked up to the service counter.

“What’s going on?” I responded.

“I need to update the “motorpool” spreadsheet and the formulas aren’t working,” she said as her eyes never left the monitor.

I came around the counter and she got up from her chair so I could take a seat. I clicked into various cells and then informed Darlene “the formulas are not working because there are no formulas.”

Darlene looked at me with a bit of confusion.

To clarify, I said “whoever created this spreadsheet did not setup formulas, they simply did the calculations manually and entered the result into the spreadsheet.”

“Wow,” was her response.

Wow, indeed. One of the main reasons for using Excel is to collect data. Many people keep lists in Excel. Even if you are not sure how you want to use this data or list in the future, setup your spreadsheet the right way. You will realize over time what data you want to extract. You can’t measure what you don’t track.

Take a look at this spreadsheet above. This is the “motorpool” spreadsheet that Darlene had inherited. It is for tracking what technician has checked out a car, what unit they are assigned to and how long the car is out.

What’s wrong with this?

Notice Column C (Usage), that the technician last name, hours checked out, and total hours are all in this column. Four pieces of data in one column. Notice also, that Column D and E are simply repeating the data in B and C, except it is the evening unit.

Starting in Row 15, is the Average Usage Per Unit. All of these totals are manually inputted. Not a single formula in this spreadsheet. The way this spreadsheet was structured,  Darlene could not pull any useful data out of it.

We revamped the data. Each piece of information had its own column. We separated out the time the vehicle was checked out and checked back in. This allowed us to set up a formula in Column G to automatically calculate the total hours the vehicle was out.

With the spreadsheet reworked, Darlene could now easily filter the data. If she wanted to look at only the Day shift, then she could filter out the evening shift.

No more manual calculations.

How you setup your spreadsheet really does matter.

Are you new to Excel? Want to learn how to use functions?

“Yeah, like right now,” you say?!

I’ve got a playlist (tutorial) for you on my YouTube channel.

I start from the absolute beginning and work with simply formulas, then move on to some basic, but common functions. I end with a slightly more advanced function. I’m certain that by the end of this 4 video series, you will have confidence in your new Excel abilities.

Go ahead, watch the videos now:

Beginner Formulas & Functions Video Series

Practice makes perfect? Or does it?

When I ask my students or audience what level they think they are with an application (Word, for example), they will often tell me they are expert. They have been writing papers in Word for several years, after all.

But just having done something for “X” years doesn’t automatically make you good at it.

You are simply good at what you have been doing, which might be simply typing papers. But that is only a small fraction of what Word is capable of. So, these students are nowhere near “expert.”

When you do one thing over and over, you can become very good at it. Just because you have gained a small amount of knowledge in an area, does not make you an expert.

Have you heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their skills.

Only after continuing to explore a topic do people often realize how extensive it is and how much they still have to master.

We have all heard “practice makes perfect.” If what you mean by practice is simply repeating the same performance over and over, you are not advancing your knowledge of the program as a whole. You also have to deliberately find and fill in the gaps in your knowledge and skill.

Here’s an example: A co-worker was complaining of the time it took to retype a document. She said the numbering was off and not aligned correctly on several pages. No matter what she did, she could not fix it.

I was curious, so I asked to see the original document. Everything she said was true, but by showing the ruler, I was able to quickly align the numbers from page to page. Also, just by right clicking on a number that was off and setting the number value, I quickly corrected the numbers.

She had been using Word for years, but did not know of these two features.

One of the reasons I love teaching is when I hear “I never knew that feature was there?” or “That will make things so much easier.”

Continue working on those documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Just know that you might not be tapping into all that those applications have to offer.

I hope that I can help with that.

Watch my videos and download the resources.

We never stop learning.

Did the ribbon unexpectedly disappear on you? (Microsoft Word)

Or maybe you just see the tabs.

Would you rather the tabs and commands always be visible.

You have three options on how to display the ribbon:

Auto-hide Ribbon

Show Tabs

Show Tabs and Commands

In the upper right corner of the screen, you will see the Ribbon Display Options icon.

Ribbon Display Options Icon

It all comes down to personal preference and how you want your display to look.

If you want more work space for your document, you might want to Auto-hide Ribbon.

When you have the Ribbon hidden, you will need to click at the top of the screen to display the ribbon.

Or perhaps you want to see the tabs only, then you can Show Tabs.

In this view, you will need to click on a tab to display the commands.

If you want both the tabs and commands to always display, then Show Tabs and Commands.

You can also collapse or minimize the ribbon with collapse the ribbon icon.

You will find this icon on the right side of the Ribbon.

If you want to show commands again, with the commands showing, click on the pin it icon, located on the right side of the Ribbon.

Pin-it icon

The keyboard shortcut to minimize the ribbon is Ctrl + F1. Use this shortcut to toggle on or off.

You can also double-click on any of the Tabs.

The Ribbon Display Options is the same for Excel and PowerPoint.

So now, if suddenly all commands disappeared or you want to purposefully make them disappear, you now know what to do.

If you want to watch the video, check it out on my YouTube Channel – Disappearing Ribbon Video

Studying for My HAM Technician Class License

Getting out of my comfort zone. A reminder on what it feels like to learn.

Sometimes we plan on digging deep, other times it catches us by surprise. That was the case recently when I decided to get a HAM radio license. The entry level exam is the Technician Class License. I had an opportunity to attend a free training, but it was two all-day Saturday classes. I just couldn’t give up my Saturdays. I was told I would need to study at least 12 hours.

Ok, easy, and do I really need 12 hours of study? I didn’t keep track of all my study time, but all said and done, I estimate I devoted about 8-10 hours of study.

The first thing I did was check out the ARRL Ham Radio License Manual from the library. I thought I would just use that to study from.

The test covers the basic things you need to know as a licensed of Amateur Radio operator – FCC Rules; station license responsibilities; control operator duties; operating practices; radio and electronic fundamentals; station setup and operation; communications modes and methods; special operations; Emergency and Public Service Communications; radio waves, propagation and antennas; electrical and RF Safety.

What! I don’t know any of that stuff. After skimming through the chapters, I knew it would be in my best interest to purchase the book.

After getting the book, the first thing I did was schedule an exam in two weeks’ time. By setting a deadline that was not too far in the future, I was committed to learning the material. It gave me a target to strive for.

I did not set aside specific times for studying, I just knew that over the next two weeks, my free time would be devoted to studying. There were days I spent 2 hours studying, other days 20-40 minutes. I did have one day that I blocked off a 4-hour time period.

The idea is to spread the study out consistently over multiple days to increase memory retention.

The next thing I did was look at all the resources I had to study. There was the book, but also several sites offered online practice tests, flashcards and of course, YouTube.
I signed up for a site with online test prep and picked a YouTube video I thought would work for me.
The goal here was to use multiple modes of learning.

Engaging your mind in multiple ways helps solidify memory formation.

My official study started with just reading/skimming through the entire book. Then I attempted several of the test questions at the back of the book.
I watched an entire 45-minute YouTube video that basically just covered the questions and answers from the book. Then I moved to the online practice test.
What did I discover after a couple of study sessions? I knew nothing. None of the material could I even begin to associate with anything I already knew. It was completely new information to me.
This was going to be a little harder than I thought. I had a small panic feeling – “how will I do this in two weeks’ time?”

I was out of my comfort zone.

We are good at things inside of the comfort zone. Doing the things that we already do well makes us feel good, confident and competent. But there is no growth in the comfort zone! 

Learning happens once you step out of the comfort zone and into this place where you start to feel uncomfortable. A place where you are doing something different. This is the learning zone.

Alert: Learning doesn’t happen in the comfort zone and it should be difficult.
“desirable difficulty”

Understanding this can make the learning process easier to deal with.

I started again. I read a chapter, but not the entire chapter word for word. The way the book is set up, is that at the beginning of each section, there is a list of test questions. I read the test question, found the answer and highlighted it.

I did this for every chapter.

I did the online practice test over and over. In the beginning, I barely got any questions right.

I reviewed the test questions at the back of the book.

I watched the YouTube video while I was on my exercise bike.

I reviewed the sections I had highlighted in the book and then would try to put it in my own words.

I wrote out what I did not understand and put it in words that made sense to me.

I learned the math.

When doing math, if you’ll be using a calculator on test day, use the same one during your study sessions. Write out the formulas, and steps to achieve the solution.

I came up with little tricks to help me memorize.

For example:

T6A04 – What electrical component stores energy in an electric field?  Answer:  Capacitor

This was how I remembered – Hmm, you would wear a Cap(acitor) in a field.


T5C02 – What is the basic unit of capacitance? Answer: Farad

Again, you might wear a cap in a field. Farad and field start with F.

See where I am going? A little word association. Whatever you can do to help you memorize.

I studied in multiple locations: the kitchen table, the home office, on the front porch, at the coffee shop, on the exercise bike. You multiply the number of perceptions connected to a memory by varying where you study.

Mixing up study locations can boost retention.

I finally started getting more questions right on the online practice tests. In the back of the book, I was getting right answers multiple times in a row.

I still did not feel 100% confident and more than once, I actually thought of postponing the test.

Here’s the thing though, it is a multiple-choice exam of 35 questions. You only have to get 26 questions right.

Yes, that means you can miss nine questions. That’s a lot. No one knows or cares how many you get right. You don’t need a perfect score.

Deep down, we want to learn, to grow, to improve. It’s not always easy. Immerse yourself in learning, have patience, and enjoy the process. Embrace the challenge, relish the difficult task and get out of your comfort zone. It might be difficult, but it will definitely be worth it!

Can’t wait to hear you out there – KE0ZXF

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

            -Arthur Ashe

What to do during self-quarantine?

During this time that it is advised you self-quarantine, what are you suppose to do with yourself?

You can search the internet and find many suggestions.

Here are a few that I like:

  • Learn something new (sign up for my free class – Excel Basics: Learn While Creating a Personal Budget)
    • Something new I just did – I got my HAM radio license. That required much studying for me. But it felt so good to stretch those mental muscles with completely new knowledge.
  • Complete a puzzle
  • Watch all the really long movies you’ve avoided until now.
  • Write actual letters to family and friends
  • Organize your Tupperware
  • Take time to reflect
  • Read an awesome book
  • Work – ugh

Hope to see you in class!

Be well and take care of one another.

How to Draw a Fox in Microsoft Word

Yes, you read that correctly. How to draw a fox in Microsoft Word. I know, Word is a serious program, a word processing application used for creating documents.

But let’s face it, Word is also used for creating the office flyer about the the upcoming birthday celebration or the St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

Of course, it is also used for creating a newsletter or a company brochure. For any of these projects, you have plenty of images available from different resources. But knowing how to work with shapes and manipulate those shapes is a great skill to have.

Maybe you don’t really need to draw a fox. You could find an image of a fox on-line. Easy peasy – all done. Well, drawing the fox is simply a fun way to practice – practice arranging, rotating and grouping the shapes to create something. And… you are creating something that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues.

Watch the video, practice with the fox and let me know what you think.

Click the link to watch the video: How to Draw a Fox in Microsoft Word

Fox created with various shapes in MS Word

Does Grammar Matter?

With an increase in growth of social media, there is an increased need for good writing skills. Blogs and other “media” require both useful content and good writing to attract and keep readers.

The fundamentals of good writing are simple: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. By mastering the rules and conventions, you will make your writing easier to understand and more enjoyable to your readers.

It doesn’t matter if your promoting your personal brand or your business brand — grammar, spelling and punctuation represents you in the world. It sends the reader a message about your knowledge and attention to detail. It’s a signal that says, I do good work. You are making the right choice in hiring me/buying from me/retaining my services.

On the flip-side, poor grammar makes you look careless. People are going to make judgments on your competence and intelligence based on your grammar, whether they realize it or not.

Back on 12/8/18, I posted a blog “Expect and Except the Challenge – No Excuses.”

A little over a year later, I realized that should have been “Accept” the challenge. I guess, luckily, no one reads my blog. I do hope that changes, so I better start paying attention to my own writing.

Microsoft Word Has a Calculator?

Word has a handy calculator built right into the program. Nothing fancy, just a simple calculator which lets you perform any basic arithmetical operation anywhere within Word.

Windows does have a more advanced calculator built in, but it’s kinda cool having a calculator right there in Word at all times.

Where is this calculator?

You actually need to add it to the Quick Access toolbar:

1. Right-click the Quick Access toolbar and select Customize Quick Access Toolbar from the pop-up menu.

2. Make sure For All Documents is selected in the Customize Quick Access Toolbar drop-down box.

3. In the Choose Commands From drop-down box, select Commands Not in The Ribbon.

4. Locate Calculate in the list and double-click it to add it to the list of Quick Access commands, then click OK.

What the calculator does

The calculator handles addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, percentages, exponentiation and roots.

  • Addition: +
  • Subtraction: – or you place the number to be subtracted in parentheses,
  • Multiplication: *
  • Division: /
  • Percentages: %
  • Exponentiation and roots: ^

If you were to type the numbers

2 + 2

Select the numbers and click the Calculator button. The result (4) is displayed in Word’s status bar.

The result is also stored on the clipboard, so you can paste it into your Word document or into another program.

You do not need to use an equal sign.

If you omit the operator, the calculator assumes you want to add the numbers.

If you were to type: 123 456 78.9 without an operator, the result (657.9) is displayed in Word’s status bar.

Calculate anywhere

The calculator works anywhere. You can even use the calculator on the following sentence:

At the meeting there were 5 realtors, 2 health experts and 1 MS Word nerd.

Select the sentence and click the Calculator button. The total number at the meeting will be calculated. Something to keep in mind though – if your text includes any special characters, you might get a wrong calculation.

You can also use the Calculator in tables to total up numbers in columns, rows or the whole table. In a table, you still need to use parentheses around a number or a minus sign to denote a negative number.

Something to take note of is that although it is possible to select numbers in non-adjacent cells in a table by holding down the Ctrl key, the calculator will not give you a correct total. Your selection must contain contiguous cells, rows or columns.

Order of Operators

The calculator uses operator precedence and parentheses to determine the order of calculations in more complex expressions.

For example:


gives you the answer 18, while:


produces the result 66.

If you don’t include parentheses in an expression, Word performs operations in this order:

  1. percentage
  2. power and root
  3. multiplication and division
  4. addition and subtraction.

And there you have it, Word’s calculator.

Download the pdf here: MSWordCalculator

Fear of taking an online class

I have been teaching an online class for a couple of years now at a local community college. I have my students introduce themselves on our discussion board and I always have several students who are new to an online class. Of course, they express fears and concern.

There are usually a combination of fears: the class will be too difficult, you don’t believe you will be able to work independently because of limitations on time or poor time management skills, and it is very common to be concerned that online study will be an isolating experience and that you will have no one to turn to when you are having difficulties. There is a perception that online classes mean no teachers or instructors will be available to help when you need it the most.

While these are all valid concerns, there are a few things you can do to be successful. Over the past several semesters, I think it comes down to three key things: take responsibility, time management and communicate.


Online classes take a certain amount of responsibility. You need to make a schedule for yourself. Don’t think you can just do everything the day before it’s due, because it’s impossible. It’s a good idea to sit down and set aside certain times when you’ll do certain assignments.

Also take the responsibility to read what the instructor has posted. I often post hints to assignments, answers to commonly asked questions and other various announcements.

Time Management

The flexibility to create your own schedule is often one of the biggest appeals of taking online classes. But that freedom can also be detrimental if you do not have solid time management skills. It can be easy to let assignments slide and miss due dates because of the flexibility that come with online courses.

It’s important to stay organized and follow a schedule because it’s difficult to catch up once you fall behind.


You are not on your own. Your instructor or teacher is there to help. But you have to communicate with that person. Whatever the method is for you to contact your instructor or teacher, use it! Never feel like you are being the needy student and you don’t want to bother the instructor. Every instructor wants you to succeed.

You can search online for how to be successful in an online class. All the information you will find is valid. However, from my experience, it really does come down to those three things.

Take that online class, you will succeed.