advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

technology  research  practice

All Our Technology Tips

Conditional Formatting is a largely underused and undervalued feature in Excel. Very often I see people re-sort the entire spreadsheet or use the search feature to find specific values. These can be easily done instead with Conditional Formatting.


Instead of re-sorting your spreadsheet, try selecting the data cells you wish to rank, then click “Conditional Formatting” on the command ribbon and select “Data Bars”. Hover your mouse over the fills and watch the data bars appearing on your spreadsheet where you can easily locate the high and low values.


Colour Scales

If you keep track of workflow, transactions, cashflow, etc., this trick is great for getting a quick visual of your busy/normal/slow periods. Highlight your data cells, click “Conditional Formatting” and select “Color Scales”.


Top/Bottom Values

The “Top/Bottom Rules” allow you to quickly identify the top and bottom values, top and bottom percentages, above-average and below-average values.


This is just the beginning of all the cool things you can do with Conditional Formatting.

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]



Passwords are a necessary evil if you use a computer and the Internet for almost anything these days. A typical user has to remember 19 passwords on average, and a whopping 80% of us use the same password for multiple online accounts. Password-cracking technology has changed over the years and the definition of a “strong password” evolves over time. Some years ago, a strong password required about 8 characters, with mixed cases, at least one number and one special character, and could not contain words found in the dictionary – something like this: j6tLwFJ!.

Here’s the good news. Security experts are now saying that a very long password, even if it is made up of words found in the dictionary, is more secure than a short, complex password.

In an offline attack scenario (100 billion guesses per second) it will take only three days to crack j6tLwFJ! but 203 billion years to crack Pop!GoesTheWeasel. Which of these two passwords would you rather memorize? This is not to say we should use passwordpassword as a password. The calculation above is based on the time required to mathematically run through the permutations of the characters used. In practice, no hacker will attempt to break a password this way. Hacking programs will first try the most popular words used as a password, such as password, iloveyou, monkey, football, baseball, dragon, abc123, 12345 (up to 9), qwerty, letmein, superman, batman, and common names such as Michael, Thomas, Jennifer, Jordan, and Charlie.

My favourite way to pick a password is to use the first character of each word in a sentence of about 14 words and add a special character or two:

MhgfpiMM90Y!49 = My holy grail fountain pen is MontBlanc Meisterstuck 90 Years 149

The time required to crack this password in an offline attack scenario is two billion years.

If you are not sure whether your password is strong enough, there are online password strength checkers you can use. Here are a few examples:

So now you have a super secure password. You have a perfect sentence that you can remember well and you can fit in numbers and special characters nicely. It is tempting to reuse this on all your online accounts.  You may argue that you only go to reputable websites of big companies. It should be safe, shouldn’t it? Remember the Heartbleed bug in 2014? This bug exploits the OpenSSL cryptography library which is used by two-thirds of the websites on the Internet. The compromised or vulnerable websites include Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon Web Services, Tumblr, Google, Yahoo, Etsy, GoDaddy, Flickr, Netflix, SoundCloud, YouTube, and Dropbox. Still not convinced? Have a look at this interactive infographic.

Even if you have a very good memory, remembering 19 sentences (and which one is for which online account) is still quite challenging. This is where password managers come in handy. For a nominal annual fee, password managers keep track of all your passwords in encrypted format so you need to remember just one master password to unlock your password manager. Most of them allow you to sync across multiple devices so you will always have access. You can also use a password manager to generate strong, difficult-to-break passwords.

You might ask whether password managers are safe. After all, two well-known password managers, Dashlane and LastPass, were both affected by the Heartbleed bug. Password managers keep track of all your passwords and “safe notes” such as credit cards and bank accounts. You have a lot riding on the password manager’s integrity as a strong gatekeeper. There have been debates and studies detailing web flaws, authorization flaws, user interface flaws, and, last but not least, the bookmarklet flaw. There is a calculated risk in everything, and security is often a trade-off with convenience. Password managers automatically fill in your user name and password for you to save you the trouble of manually entering a random string of characters, and it turns out that this is something not easy to do securely. That said, it is still better to use difficult-to-guess passwords and password managers than using an easy-to-guess password over multiple websites, and until wearable authentication technology matures, this is as painless as it gets.

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


Have you ever had to create a simple interactive presentation in a hurry and PowerPoint seems too daunting when you are in crunch mode? Give Microsoft Sway a try. In a few easy steps, you can create an online interactive presentation that you can make public, keep private, or share with people who are given a link. Best of all, Sway is free, and you can’t argue with free.

Sway and PowerPoint are both Microsoft products. While PowerPoint gives you full control of animation, sound, layout, design and branding, Sway is for you to whip up a presentation (even if you only have your cellphone or tablet available) when the ominous deadline is staring at you and you are willing to give up some design control.

Once you log in to Sway, creating a presentation takes just a few steps. First you select a theme, then a navigation style (horizontal or vertical, for now). After this, you just add heading, text, and insert photos or videos directly from OneDrive, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Internet, or upload from your computer. Here is a quick presentation I made in under 15 minutes. It doesn’t give you a lot of creative freedom, but it gets the work done.

Start using Sway here, or check out this official video by Microsoft on YouTube.sway

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]



If you have signed up for online accounts, newsletters, or even just to download a white paper that you want to read, you will know that a valid email address is usually required. As you are filling in the online sign-up form, a little voice inside your head may be telling you that you will be getting a whole new pile of daily notifications and junk mail cluttering up your inbox. Is there a way to deal with this? You bet.

If you have a Gmail account, Google allows you to create an infinite number of variations with your Gmail address that is still linked to your original address. You can add anything preceded by a + sign between your name and the @ sign and Gmail will consider this the same address. For example, if your Gmail address is, you can use:

How can you take advantage of this? You can sign up for an account at Pinterest, for example, using and set up filtering rules within your Gmail account to route all emails to this address to a low-priority mailbox and mark them as read, or even to the trash folder or spam mail folder. Then your inbox will not be cluttered with notification emails.

The other variation of your Gmail address is to add periods to the address. For example: is the same as

If nothing else, it certainly makes your email address easier to read.

If you have another email address, send a test email to your Gmail account using these variations to see how it works!

[This tip originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]


Many of us have sent angry or nasty comments in a Gmail email, only to regret it moments after hitting Send – or you remember that you didn’t attach the attachment you referenced in the email (hate with that happens!). If you have ever found yourself in either of these situations, rejoice, because Gmail’s Undo Send feature will help prevent them from happening again. GmailIcon
This handy feature delays the sending of your messages by 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds, thereby giving you a small window during which you can hit an “undo” button to prevent your message from going out.
To enable Undo Send, go into your Gmail Settings and hit the Labs tab. Scroll down and enable Undo Send, then hit the Save button (and while you are in there, you can peruse some of the other cool features that the people at Google Labs have created). Next, go to the General tab and set your “cancellation period” in the Undo Send section. Hit the Save button and exit Settings.
Better to never say anything snarky in an email message, but nice to have Undo Send if you are having a bad day.


iPads and iPhones have a Shift key, which is handy when you need to type a capital letter.ipad But what if you want to type something in all caps? Pressing Shift for each letter is a pain. No worries though, a simple double-tap on either Shift key will lock them down so you will get all caps as you type. Just tap either Shift key again to turn all caps off.


When adding a picture or clipart to your PowerPoint or Word document, you may run into a situation where you don’t want its background to appear. This happens most frequently to me when I place a logo or symbol onto a PowerPoint slide and its background is a different colour than the background of the slide.
There is no need for a fancy photo editing tool like Photoshop. In Word, PowerPoint and Excel 2010 and later versions you can use the Background Removal tool to easily remove a background from a picture. (Older versions of Office may have the more simplified option of selecting Format – Background – No Fill.) This is how the Background Removal tool works:
First, click on the picture that you want to remove the background from. Next, under Picture Tools, on the Format tab, click Background Removal. backremoveDrag the handles on the marquee lines so they contain just the portion of the picture that you wish to keep. The program will try to intuitively remove areas around the selected portion of your picture.
You can them manually customize what goes or stays by using Mark Areas to Keep or Mark Areas to Remove (click on one or the other and click on elements of your picture), or by drawing lines with your mouse to indicate the buttonsapproximate area you’re interested in keeping or removing. Use Delete Mark to get rid of any drawn indicator lines you decide against or Discard All Changes to start over. When you have removed all the parts you don’t want, click Keep Changes to return to your document and see the results. If you don’t like the result, remember that Undo (Ctrl+Z) will undo your changes.
Tip: Expand your image before starting the Removal Tool to make it easier to see what you are selecting. This is especially helpful if your image has tiny details.


On a PC it is easy to grab an image of what is on your computer screen (aka a “screenshot”), just hit the dedicated PrintScreen key on your keyboard (sometimes abbreviated as Print Scrn, Prnt Scrn, Prt Scn, Prt Scr, Prt Sc or Pr Sc). Doing this places an image of your screen PrtScninto the Clipboard. Pressing the Alt key with PrintScreen will put an image of just the active Window into the Clipboard. You can then paste (as in cut or copy and paste) that image into a document just as you would anything that is stored in the clipboard (Press Ctrl+V or the Paste icon on your toolbar).
More recent versions of Windows include the Snipping Tool – a handy utility for grabbing an image of a portion of your desktop. I have moved the Snipping Tool to my Start menu as I use it almost daily.
There is no dedicated PrintScreen key on a Mac keyboard. However, you can grab a screenshot of the entire screen on a Mac by if you hold down the Command and Shift keys and press the number 3. To take a screenshot of part of your screen, drag a box around it, then hold down the Command and Shift keys and press the number 3. Doing this creates a PNG image file on your desktop that contains your screenshot.
While there are fancier third party programs that let you capture things in more and different ways, the built-in screen capture functionality on PCs and Macs will often meet your needs.


By default, Microsoft Excel gives your worksheets the rather bland names Sheet1, Sheet2, Sheet3 and so on. These default names do nothing to help you remember what is in each worksheet, especially if you come back to work on a workbook many days, weeks or months later.excel

There are a number of helpful things you can do to tweak and change worksheet tabs in ways that will help you find and remember what you have in a workbook. They include:

  • Giving the tab a new name that describes the contents: To do this, double-click on a tab; or right-click on it and select rename.
  • Reorder your worksheet tabs to make it easier to jump between related tabs: Just drag and drop individual tabs to change tab order. The little black triangle shows where a tab you are dragging will be dropped when you release it.
  • You can also change the colour of a tab as well as insert, delete, move, copy or even hide a worksheet by right-click on tab, and selecting the option you want.

Remember these tricks next time you what to make your Excel workbooks more user friendly.


Most of us spend many hours a day browsing the Web. If you are reading an article, or scanning through a long page, it is a pain to reach for the mouse and use the scroll bars, and hitting the down cursor key will only move you one line at a time. Not very fast or efficient.

There is an easier way – pressing the spacebar once will jump you down one screen. This works in all PC and Mac browsers regardless of how big your font size is. Hitting the spacebar once will magically jump you to a full fresh page of text. It doesn’t matter what magnification you are viewing the page at – it just works.

And if you want to go in the other direction – pressing Shift+Spacebar and you will jump up one screen at a time.

Happy surfing everyone.