Numbers: Never in Excel Formulas

It is a really, really good idea to avoid putting numbers in Excel formulas. Why? Because numbers have a tendency to change, especially numbers like prices and dates, and most especially, tax rates.

If we have numbers in an Excel formula, and those number inevitably change, then we have to change the formula. And because it is not easy to see formulas, we might not even know we have to change it. Also, changing a complex formula is not easy.

For example, let’s say we have a formula that calculates the sales tax on an item if there is no tax exemption or out-of-state purchase:

= IF(OR(B5=”EX”,B5=”OU”),0,0.0635)

You know that it is only a matter of time before our benevolent but basically bankrupt state government will increase the tax rate, which means we have to hunt down the formula and change it.

What should we do instead? Set up a cell  to contain the sales tax rate and then put the address of the cell in the formula. The sales tax rate is then prominently visible and easily changed.

Of course, some number rarely change and are perfectly suitable in a formula. You can place a sizable bet that there will always be 12 months in the year, 24 hours in a day, and 0 chance of getting a free lunch.

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The One-Hour Website Course

Have you ever wanted to create a simple website, but were not sure how to do it? I am presenting a short course on how to create a good website in the shortest amount of time possible.

In this hands-on course, you will learn how to get a site up quickly, how to refine it with the right design, how to add new content quickly, and how to format pictures for the best impact. We will also discuss how to get your new site noticed by Google.

We’ll be using WordPress, the fastest and least expensive way to get a professional looking website up and running. No programming language is involved. Join thousands of photographers, bloggers and small businesses creating new WordPress sites each

The course is at Norwalk Community College, Tuesday evenings, October 6 and 13, from 6 to 9 pm. As of this moment, there are still a few seats left.

Contact: or call (203) 857-7080.

If you are interested in this course, but cannot make it for these sessions, please contact me and let me know.

If you would like to get more information on the course, click here to go to the course website, which of course is hosted on WordPress.

— Rich Malloy

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Hey, Microsoft, Fix the Damn Reply-All Button! … It’s Easy!

No Reply AllSorry for the angry title, but this little quirk in the Outlook email program really irks me. And it seems to me that Microsoft can eliminate this problem so easily. But even if Microsoft does nothing, there is a simple solution that we users can apply.

First, however, let’s look at the problem: One of my jobs is to work as a part-time professor in our local state college system. Frequently some state official will send out an email with about a thousand professor email addresses in the To: or CC: box. (We’ll talk about this mistake later.) And then invariably one of us thousand professors will reply to the message by hitting – you guessed it – the Reply All button. Then, two or three other professors will feel obligated to notify the offender of the problem by pressing – you guessed it again – the Reply All button. Now of course I could just ignore these worthless replies in my mailbox. But I really can’t. There is a good chance that someone is going to be called an idiot, and I just have to watch.

OK, I didn’t lose that much time, but add up the potential time wasted by the other 999 professors. And figure that this happens several times a year, and not just in the college system of one state, but in practically every business and organization in the world. The potential time wasted is enormous. And, it is so easy to fix the problem.

Attention, Microsoft: Here’s the Fix

Unless I am very mistaken, Microsoft can very easily fix the problem. All that is needed is some minor tweaking of the programming code in Outlook. Here’s how it should work:

The user presses the Reply All button. Then, instead of just copying all the addresses from the To: and CC: boxes of the original message to the reply, it counts them first. Now, if the number of addresses is greater than X, then a dialog box appears asking, “Are you sure you want to send a message to [number of addresses] people?” If the user clicks the No button, then the Reply All becomes a simple Reply. And if the user clicks Yes, well, it stays as a Reply All, and, well, you think of a good punishment.

The question is, how large should X be? In other words, what is the largest size of a group for which Reply All’s are considered appropriate and unchallenged. Indeed, the reason that the Reply All button even exists is that it is a very useful tool – for small groups. How big does a group have to be before the Reply All becomes a problem rather than a solution?
Fortune magazine once suggested that the ideal size of a team is 4.6. We can of course round that up and add a fudge factor. The maximum size could be 7 or 10 or an even dozen, but certainly no higher. The exact number does not matter, as long as some number is set.

So, Microsoft, in the next update of Outlook, please, please, put some kind of warning on the Reply All button.

BCC: An Interim Solution for the Rest of Us

Of course, perhaps the reason that Microsoft has not fixed the Reply All button is that they never see the problem to begin with. The folks at Microsoft are obviously very intelligent, and are surely smart enough to follow this simple law of email addressing:

Thou shalt put long lists of addresses ONLY in the BCC: box,
NOT the To: or CC: boxes.

So, when CEO Satya Nadella sends out a note to, say, 20,000 employees in Redmond, WA about the availability of GMO-free brownies in the cafeteria, he puts all the addresses in the BCC: box and puts only his own address in the To: box.

Following this simple law not only protects the privacy of all of your addressees, but also defangs the Reply All button.

Which, by the way, suggests another fix for Outlook: Maybe when the user presses Send, the program counts up the number of addressees in the To: and CC: boxes, and if the number is too large, it suggests using the BCC: box. Hmmm.

How about it, Microsoft?

— Rich Malloy

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First Word Problems: The Easy Way to Fix Line Spacing in Word

FirstWordProblemsLogo-smWhen a new user starts up Microsoft Word, one of the first comments is: “Why is there so much space between the lines?” The next comment of course is: “How can I get rid of it?”

There are simple answers to both questions. In fact, there are a number of answers. But here I will give you the easiest.

First of all, let’s note that there are actually two kinds of spacing between lines in Microsoft Word. There is regular old line spacing between each of the lines. And there is also paragraph spacing between each paragraph. It is often hard to see where each of the paragraphs are, so it is often hard to distinguish paragraph spacing from line spacing.

The Easy Solution: No Spacing

I see you looking at your watch. You just want to get a document printed and do not want to hear a dissertation on spacing from someone who sounds like a space cadet.

So, here is the easy solution: Just get rid of all line spacing. Now if you want to have extra space between paragraphs, just press the Return key again, as if you were using an old typewriter.

Here’s how to do it: Select all of your document by holding the Control key and pressing the A key. Then, in the Home ribbon, click the Style called No Spacing.

MS Word Choose No Spacing

That’s it.

Of course, if you prefer not to use the keyboard shortcut to select all of your document, you can use the mouse. On the right side of the Home ribbon, click Select and then choose Select All

MS Word Select All






— Rich Malloy

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How to Post Panoramic Pictures

Panoramic Posts banner
It took a while, but I finally started using the Panoramic Picture feature on my iPhone 6. Why didn’t I use it before? Two reasons. First, I admit it — I forgot it was there. Second, well, what do you do with a panoramic picture after you take it? Printing it out on a giant piece of paper is ridiculous. There are not many places on the Web where you can post it. And sending a 10+MB picture to someone by email will probably clog up their inbox.

Finally I did find a nice place to post panoramic pix. It is a great little Web site with a truly wonderful design. It’s beautiful. And if I sound a little biased here, it’s because I created this site. And, you can create one too.

Let me repeat that in case you are multitasking. You can post these panoramic pictures on your own site. That’s right — your very own site — and it’s easy. And free!

But it does involve a little work. Here is a step-by-step procedure on how to do it. For this example, we will use a panoramic picture created on an Apple iPhone 6 and we will post it on a site using a PC. I haven’t tested the procedure on Android phones or other sites such as, but the procedure should not be markedly different or more difficult. With enough incentive, you might possibly be able to do the whole procedure on a smartphone. But I like the easy way, and that is on a PC.

[If you want to see what a panoramic picture looks like on a WordPress site, check out my personal blog at]

  1. First, transfer the panoramic picture from your smartphone to your computer:
    1. There are several ways to do this; Pick your favorite
    2. I usually just email the photo to myself
  2. Next, create a WordPress site — hey, it’s not that hard:
    1. Go to
    2. Click the button: Create Website
    3. Click the button: Select Free
    4. Pick a Theme. The “Cubic” theme is good for photos and looks good on smartphones.
    5. Choose a web address for your site, e.g., “
    6. Click the button: Create My Site
    7. Enter your email address and then make up a username and password
    8. Log into your email account and verify your account
    9. Congratulations! You have a personal website.
  3. Now, let’s put your name on the front door:
    1. Click the button: Customize Your SiteWordpress - Thanks for signing up2
    2. On the left, click the option for Site Title, Tagline, and LogoWordpress - Customizing a site2
    3. Edit the Site Title and Tagline, e.g., “Rich’s Panoramic Pix” and “Panoramic pictures taken by Rich Malloy”Wordpress - Site Title, Tagline2
    4. Click the button at the top: Save & Publish
    5. Click the X at the upper left to close the Customize panel
    6. Congratulations — You now have a personalized personal website site!
  4. With the website up and running, let’s post our first picture:
    1. In the upper left of the WordPress screen, double-click the button: My Sites
    2. If you do not see your new site, click the link: Switch Site and choose your site
    3. A “Stats” page will appear; In the future you can use this to see how many people visited your site.
    4. On the left panel, by the option Blog Posts, click the button: AddWordpress Stats page2
    5. In the Title box at the upper right, type a suitable title: Panoramic Picture of XXX
    6. In the large text box at the right, type some text explaining your picture: This panoramic picture was taken at XXX. Click it twice to zoom in. Use arrow keys to scroll.Wordpress Post Title and Text2
    7. Press the Enter key on the your keyboard to move to a blank line below the text
    8. Click the button: Add Media
    9. If needed, click the tab: Upload FilesWordpress Insert Media2
    10. Click the button: Select FilesWordpress Select Files button2
    11. Browse to the folder containing your panoramic picture and select the picture.
    12. Set the size to Large (this determines the size of the preview image)
    13. Click the button: Insert into postWordpress Media Size
    14. Click the button: PublishWordpress Ready to Publish2
    15. In the upper left, click the button: My Sites
    16. Click the option: View Site
    17. Your picture has now been posted on the Web
  5. And finally, get the link for your picture so that you can send it to friends:
    1. If not already there, go to your site, e.g.,
    2. Click the square of the blog post with the desired picture
    3. Click the address bar at the top of the browser window to select the web addressWordpress Copy Webpage Address2
    4. Select the whole address, if it is not already selected
    5. Copy the address by pressing the keys Ctrl + C (or Command + C on Mac)
    6. Paste the link into an email message, tweet, or Facebook post.
    7. Be sure to tell people they have to click the picture to zoom in and to use arrow keys to scroll around it.

If you post a nice panoramic picture, feel free to send me a link. And if you find other places to post these amazing pictures, please let me know.

— Rich Malloy, Aug. 2015

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Excel’s Most Amazing Feature

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 5.31.12 PMOne of the most tedious things to do in Excel is to separate full names into first and last names. You might have to do this, for example, if you want to alphabetize a list of people by last name. Yes, you can create a formula that will parse out the last name, but that is beyond the skill level of many Excel users. And even if you know the formula, recreating it time after time is almost as tedious as manually typing in the last names.

Well, the good folks at Microsoft have come up with a great way to solve this. Instead of using the computer as a fancy typewriter/adding machine, they have actually asked it to spend a few clock cycles thinking of what the user might want. Imagine that! And in this case, Excel does a great job of guessing what you need.

The feature is called Flash Fill, and I could describe it here, but you really have to see it to appreciate it. Fortunately, Microsoft has prepared a very nice video detailing this feature along with an older tool called AutoFill. I recommend both of these tools as real timesavers.

Microsoft’s video on Excel’s AutoFill and Flash Fill feature

Flash Fill video image

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The Survivor: The iPod Shuffle

How to Use the Perfect Podcast Player

iPod Shuffle IMG_2694-2 - 297pxWill the tiny iPod Shuffle go the way of the iPod Classic? The iPods as a group have been victimized by ever dwindling sales over the past few years. But Apple just this month (July 2015) trotted out a new set of Shuffles, now including the same colors on the current iPhones. Let’s hope the changes are limited to the outside color. The internal design, as I will prove shortly, is perfect as is.

I am pretty attached to my tiny green iPod Shuffle. And much of the time, it is literally attached to me, thanks to its aluminum clip. In fact, of the several Apple devices I own, my little Shuffle is the most used. When I am home and not using my computers or watching TV, the Shuffle is clipped to my pants pocket, loaded with almost 2GB of podcasts. It is also a must-have companion when I am out getting some exercise. While doing mundane tasks such as cooking or cleaning, I can listen to the latest tech news and analysis from Leo Laporte, security tips from Steve Gibson, entrepreneurial advice from Andrew Warner, investment opinions from Motley Fool, and countless other amazing – and free – information sources. And even though its green color has now been discontinued, this postage-stamp-size device continues to do a better job with podcasts than my iPhone 6.

Full text.

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Improve the Sound of iPhone Calls

iPhone FaceTime button 200pctThe old joke is that the iPhone is a great device — but not a great phone. This has been a real problem for me. Ever since the my iPhone 3G, an iPhone has been my main business phone. Callers sound pretty good on my end of the conversation, but on those rare occasions when I hear a message I have left on a customer’s voice mail, I cringe. It’s not just hearing one’s one voice — it is the terrible way that the iPhone and cell system transmits voice calls.

I have tried several ways to fix this. A headset with microphone sounded even worse. Skype calls worked well, but the phone number was different and confused my clients. I even tried my old wired phone in my office, which sounds great, but that cruel device forced me to (shudder) dial the phone numbers! Oh, the humanity!

Thanks to an item at by Adam Mills, I learned of a hidden feature of the newer iPhones that greatly improves the sound of outbound calls. It turns out that FaceTime Audio bypasses the cellular system and send calls over WiFi to the Internet. The only difference to the caller is that you sound much better.

What really irks me is that this solution has been staring me in the face for the past year or two, and I didn’t realize it. If you have FaceTime turned on, your Contacts will show a blue phone icon near the phone number. Of course, if you tap the phone number, you make a normal cell call. But, if you are WiFi range, and you tap the blue telephone symbol, you will make a FaceTime Audio call with much improved voice quality.

Now, it sure is nice to discover a new feature of my smartphone that makes it even better. But, it is a bit depressing to realize that the dumbest feature of my smartphone is the person using it.

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How to Bolster LastPass

LastPass Logo 2As most LastPass users have learned, on June 15, 2015, LastPass posted a notice on its website saying, “our team discovered and blocked suspicious activity on our network.” The company goes on to say that it found no evidence that any encrypted user vault data was taken. But it does recommend that users change their passwords and use multifactor authentication. Also, if anyone is dumb enough to use their LastPass master password as a password on other accounts, they should change their password immediately.

For anyone not familiar with LastPass, this is a password manager program that stores all of your passwords in a secure vault on the Internet. The vault is protected by a password known only to you.

Is LastPass still secure? I can only go by what security experts say. And my favorite expert, Steve Gibson, says he still trusts it. That is good enough for me.

But, that said, I did change my password and set up multifactor authentication.

Multifactor authentication simply means that you use two or more techniques to prove that you are really you. Usually this involves a password and a cellphone. I set up LastPass to use the Google Authenticator app on my iPhone. Now when I access my LastPass vault from a new computer, I need to enter my master password and then enter a code that appears in the Authenticator app on my phone. A little more inconvenient, yes, but my password vault is very valuable to me, and I want to protect it as much as possible.

Changing the password on LastPass is straightforward, but adding multifactor authentication was a bit tricky. In the near future I will provide a guide on how to do this.

There was a time not long ago when a password manager was simply a convenience. Now, when people have several dozen passwords to keep track of, and each must be long, random, and different, a password manager has become a necessity. If you are feeling a bit uneasy about LastPass, be sure to use one of the other highly rated password managers: 1Password or Dashlane.

— Rich Malloy

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LastPass: Good Passwords Made Easy

Originally posted Jun 17, 2013. Updated Jun 29, 2015.

Security experts recommend long, random passwords — and a different one for each Web site — and don’t write them down anywhere.

Yeah, right.LastPassLogo

But, there is a fairly easy way of doing exactly what they say.

As David Pogue once pointed out, the only realistic way of keeping handling secure passwords is to use one of the password management programs available now. They are relatively easy to use and inexpensive if not free.

Pogue recommended a program called Dashlane, which admittedly has a number of nice features. And it’s free. But, if I’m going to be putting all my secure passwords into one basket as it were, I want to be very sure about the people who built the basket. I particularly want to know where those people live. But when I go to the Dashlane Web site, there is not even a hint about what country it is based in, let alone the mailing address.

Veteran computer expert Steve Gibson recommends another password manager called LastPass, which is from a company by the same name in Fairfax, VA. Gibson originally reviewed the software extensively on his Security Now podcast in 2010. In 2011, he reiterated his support for the program. One of Gibson’s favorite acronyms for computer security is TNO, for “trust no one.” But I trust Steve.

Like Dashlane and many other password managers, LastPass is free on Windows and Mac computers. Following the “freemium” business model, there is also a Premium version that costs all of $12 a year and provides the ability to run LastPass on your mobile devices.

LastPass works by encrypting your vault of passwords using a master password on your computer and then storing this encrypted vault on its server. LastPass does not know your master password and cannot recover your passwords if you forget it. When it is fully set up, all you need to do is click on a secure Web site from any of your browsers on any of your computers, and LastPass ushers you right in. The program will even create secure random passwords for you, as long and as difficult as you would like.

In my tests, the program does have a few rough edges, especially regarding setup. I had to install it three times on my Windows PC to get it work with my two favorite browsers. I had a similar experience on my Mac. On most Web sites, the program worked immediately, but a few required some extra care – such as a few minutes reading the user manual. On my iPhone and iPad, the program uses its own browser – apparently it cannot attach to the Safari Web browser.

These rough edges are mostly temporary. Once you get the program set up, you can breeze into even your most secure Web site. It is well worth the price – either price – and the time needed to set it up. With LastPass you get both security and convenience – a very rare combination. And it this insecure world, it is not only convenient but also essential.


On June 15, 2015, LastPass posted a notice on its website saying, “our team discovered and blocked suspicious activity on our network. In our investigation, we have found no evidence that encrypted user vault data was taken, nor that LastPass user accounts were accessed. The investigation has shown, however, that LastPass account email addresses, password reminders, server per user salts, and authentication hashes were compromised.”

The company said that certain LastPass users would be advised to change their master password. I did not receive such a suggestion, but I took the opportunity to change my password anyway.

The bottom line is: Is LastPass still dependable? Security expert Steve Gibson still thinks so. And so do I.

— Rich Malloy

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