Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice – First Thoughts (spoilerish)

I saw Batman v. Superman Tuesday night. I normally wait until I have the DVD and can pause the movie while its playing, write down quotes, etc, before writing a review – but several of my friends on Facebook have asked for my thoughts, so here it goes – based on one viewing.

Overall – I liked it, but I have quibbles. Two of the quibbles were rather important – Ben Affleck (didn’t like him, more below) and the director (Dear Warner Brothers – Can we please fire Zack Synder? Please?) But there were also good things, and overall, taken all together, not only was the movie not as bad as I’d expected from the fannish rumbling and even critical backlash I’d heard even while trying to ignore spoilers, As I said, overall I liked it.

So – starting with the good:

I loved, loved, loved Wonder Woman (Diana Prince) – and I loved that she was a mysterious woman. We really don’t know who she is at first, and I liked that surprise factor. And she kicked butt during the fight sequences. I loved that. Plus her New 52-inspired armor actually worked for me.

I also really liked that the two “hero women” in the film were in a very real sense – the only ones with brains (we’ll get to that). Lois Lane and Diana Prince were the only people who knew what was going on. And they seemed to be at times the only ones with common sense.

Lex Luthor – omg, Lex Luthor. I never thought I’d be excited by Lex, he’s always bored me, other than his rather obvious direct parallels to real world politicians and businessmen. We’ve seen Lex as a buffoon, as a sociopath, and as cold unemotional b*****d, and even as president of the US – but I have never seen Lex Luthor as totally bonkers. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex is completely and totally nuts – and even people other than Superman seem to realize it. Eisenberg plays Lex like he’s The Joker – and I liked it. It was very different, and it was interesting. Possibly in the Chinese sense (May you live in interesting times – the old Chinese curse) but wow. That was pretty much amazing.

I also liked that the film started with a different view of the battle from the end of Man of Steel. Seeing the same events from a different perspective was a cool way to start the film. And it should have set-up why Bruce was, um, concerned, to say the least about Superman.

I also loved the sneak peaks into the other “meta-humans”. But I refuse to spoil that by going into details.

Okay – now on to the bad.

Ben Affleck – from the beginning, the very beginning, I questioned this casting choice. And Affleck sank the last superhero movie he was in (2002’s Dare Devil), but I reserved judgement until I saw it. And Affleck was so bad as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Just awful. His grizzled look, heavy armor, and throaty voice reminded me of The Dark Knight Returns – both the graphic novel and the two-part animated film. But whereas it works, both as costume design and by the actor (Peter Weller) in The Dark Knight Returns it definitely does not work – at all – in Batman v. Superman. This film is supposed to be setting up the Justice League – so Batman should be young and relatively new to crime fighting. He definitely should not be old, cynical, gruff, rough and tumble, and grizzled. It was just wrong. I also hated seeing Batman using guns. Batman doesn’t use guns. It’s one of his major principles. Having Batman using guns, beating criminals to a pulp, and even branding them – that makes him into the criminal those who do not know the canon always accuse the character of being. Heroes need to be heroic or they aren’t heroes.

Bruce Wayne’s cynical outlook and utter lack of trust, especially of Superman, just didn’t really play either.

And since when did Bruce start having apocalyptical visions of the future? Can someone explain that entire thread in the film to me? Because it made no sense.

The other big problem was the director. At this point, I’m thinking Zack Snyder needs to have his directing license pulled. His ADHD hyperactive directing style is counter-productive. I found I was just starting to get involved in a story thread – when Snyder would change focus, completely. Action is completely meaningless if you don’t care about the characters – and Snyder directs in such a way it’s like he’s afraid of character and actual meaning. Good characters, meaning – that’s basic to what makes a film work. You have to care about the characters and have empathy for them. Characters drive the story – that doesn’t make it “boring”, it makes good film. Action sequences centered on characters we actually care about always work better that action that’s simply there to blow stuff up. And the sad part is, Snyder’s such as bad director he could sink the entire DC Comics movie line before it gets started. If Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice has poor box office results – Warner’s could sink the whole line as “not profitable”.

OK – and on to the fan wank. Do Superman and Batman actually duke it out? Yes, they do. But what did I think of that scene? I was angry and annoyed. All Superman had to say was five words. Five words. He’s the bloody man of steel and he can’t get out five words because he’s either too dumb or too busy? Come on! That is not good action or good drama – it’s a bad excuse for a fight. And, in the end, it’s Lois who points out the truth to Batman. Though it was nice to see Lois being proactive for a change – that whole big fight scene just… well, it got my blood boiling. (Also, not spoiling what Superman just needed to say, because: major plot point, send me a message or comment below if you want to know.)

OK, finally, nice, not quite subtle point about how people treat Superman – as a hero, then as someone to fear, then as someone who’s “alien”, then as a saviour again. I actually liked that bit.

Overall, I’d say – go see Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice. It’s worth two and half hours of your time. And it’s the necessary prequel to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc, which I have high hopes for. I will be getting the DVD or Blu-Ray and posting a full review then.

UPDATED: 4/3/2016 to fix typos.

Call the Midwife Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Call the Midwife
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Cast: Vanessa Redgrave (voice only), Jessica Raine, Helen George, Miranda Hart, Jenny Agutter, Judy Parfitt, Pam Ferris, Ben Caplan
  • Original Network: BBC

Call the Midwife is a series about young nurse-midwives serving the extremely poor community of the East End in London in 1957 (for Series 1). The NHS nurses live in Nonnatus House, which is staffed by a group of Anglican Nuns dedicated to be midwives to poor women. The nurses are, for the most part, fresh out of nursing school and newly qualified as midwives. They are professional, educated, young women, with additional training as midwives. Call the Midwife is also based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth.

As this series clearly and without rose-tinted glasses shows us, the East End of 1950s London was extremely, extremely poor and in the opening of the first episode, the voice of “Mature Jenny” tells us that families of six to ten children were common. The first episode of Call the Midwife features a woman with twenty-four children, and the difficult birth of her twenty-fifth child. She has been continuously pregnant since marrying her husband and hadn’t even had a period in over twenty years. Twenty-five children? Can you imagine?

The second episode introduces “Chummy”, a large and clumsy nurse and when I say large, I don’t mean fat, I mean “large” – she’s over six foot tall, and big and hardy. Yet Chummy, as she asks everyone to call her, is both an extremely competent nurse – cool, calm, and collected in a crisis, and the first of the young nurses to marry – dating and eventually marrying PC Noakes (because apparently, even in the 1950s, in England, “blues & whites” or cops and nurses was a thing). Chummy is one of my favorite characters – she lacks confidence due to a lifetime of being belittled because of her size and being told she was never good enough by an over-bearing mother. Watching Chummy grow is amazing.

Jenny, introduced in the first episode, is our point-of-view character. She’s surprised when she turns up at Nonnatus House, to find a group of nuns – she had thought it was a small, private hospital. Throughout Series 1, Jenny is shocked by the living conditions of her patients. But she also comes to admire their fortitude and grit in the face of overwhelming adversity and poverty.

Oddly enough, Call the Midwife, most reminds me of All Creatures Great and Small, the television series based on James Herroit’s memoirs. Yes, All Creatures Great and Small is about a vet in rural Yorkshire in the 1930s, and Call the Midwife is about midwives in East End London in the 1950s, but both series are about caring people working among a unique population. Both series deal with tragedy and poverty. What surprised me about watching Call the Midwife was just how sad the show is. And both All Creatures Great and Small and Call the Midwife deal with a very unique group of people. Both series also generate in the watcher sympathy for a poor, under-served population of people.

Finally, Call the Midwife is not only a series in which the entire cast for the most part are women, and most of the guest cast is women, dealing with very much a woman’s issue: childbirth; but the series is also produced, written, and even directed mostly by women. That is an achievement in and of itself.

Superman Returns

  • Title: Superman Returns
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Date: 2006
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Parker Posey, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Sam Huntington
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: NTSC, Blu-Ray

“The son becomes the father, the father becomes the son.” – Jor-El, voiceover

“Well, I hope this experience hasn’t put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking it’s still the safest way to travel.” – Superman

“I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a Saviour, but every day I hear people crying for one.” – Superman

Superman Returns is a sequel to Superman the Movie and Superman II. Superman has been missing for five years, and Lois Lane has moved on having a son and a long-term boyfriend, as well as winning a Pulitzer Prize for her editorial – “Why the World Doesn’t Need a Superman”. Superman crash lands at his mother’s farm, then Clark returns to the Daily Planet. No sooner is he back than an EMP-generated blackout causes havoc on a 747 plane carrying a space shuttle into launch position. Lois is one of the reporters covering the new procedure on the plane. The shuttle is meant to decouple from the plane and then launch with rocket boosters – but the blackout means it cannot detach nor can it shut down the launch procedure. Superman gets the shuttle safely launched into orbit, then goes to rescue the plane. He eventually sets it down in the middle of a baseball stadium. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.

But the blackout was no ordinary blackout – Lex Luthor had gone to Superman’s fortress of solitude, listened to the crystal recordings, and taken a few of the crystal rods. He then goes to the mansion he’s stolen from a little old lady, and puts a tiny sliver of the crystal in the middle of a pond of water in the midst of a train set. When the crystal grows – it destroys the model city, and causes the EMP that knocked out the power – including to computers, cell phones, etc.

Lois wants to cover the power outage story – but Perry wants her to cover the return of Superman.

Meanwhile, Clark is trying to adjust to the idea of Lois having a child and a serious boyfriend, Richard White, Perry’s nephew.

Superman does what he does – stopping crime, rescuing people, world wide – not simply in Metropolis.

Lex Luthor steals Kryptonite from the Metropolis Museum of Natural History for the next stage in his plan.

Superman lands on the roof of the Daily Planet to talk to Lois, then takes her flying. Lois takes off her shoes before letting him fly with her. The flying sequence, rather than being romantic like in Superman the Movie or in Superman II – is sad. Lois, and Clark, act like old lovers who never quite got together – meeting again years later. Superman tries to explain to Lois that he hears all of the pain in the world – and he’s simply there to help. Lois doesn’t appear to buy it, but she writes an article called, “Superman Returns”.

Superman returns to his fortress of solitude and discovers some crystal rods are missing.

Lois, who should be on her way to her Pulitzer Prize dinner, takes her son with her to continue to investigate the blackout story. She finds the mansion, and the yacht moored at a private slip in front of it. Lois sneaks aboard the yacht to investigate and runs into Luthor, who kidnaps her and her son.

Once on the yacht, Luthor explains his plan – he will place one of the crystal rods inside a hollowed-out tube of Kryptonite, and fire it into the ocean. This will create a massive new landmass for Luthor to sell – and kill billions of people on the East Coast of the US which will be swamped with the displaced water. Luthor carries out his plan. Kitty begins to have second thoughts.

Superman deals with the earthquake and disasters in Metropolis as a result, including saving Perry from the giant art-deco planet that falls off the top of the Daily Planet building and nearly lands on Perry.

Thanks to a distraction provided by her son, Lois is able to send a FAX with her location to the Daily Planet. Richard takes the sea plane to rescue her; and once things settle down a bit in Metropolis, Superman also flies to the rescue.

One of Luthor’s goons, having noticed that Lois sent the FAX, attacks her. Lois’s son throws a piano at him and kills him. Additional goons grab Lois and the boy and lock them in the galley. As the land-mass gets bigger, Luthor, Kitty, Kitty’s very small dog, and Lex’s goons escape by helicopter.

The massive crystal land mass continues to grow, and Jason (Lois’s son) walks towards the door, which is opened by Richard. But just as he starts to rescue Lois and Jason, the shard of crystal stabs the bottom of the yacht causing chaos.

Superman arrives, pulls the yacht out of the water, he grabs Richard’s arm, and when he’s assured Richard has both Lois and Jason, he lets the yacht falls. Superman gets them to Richard’s seaplane and gives them a hand in launching.

Superman then challenges Lex Luthor, but he’s unaware he’s surrounded by Kryptonite. Lex punches and kicks Superman, then his goons and minions also beat Superman. Finally, Lex stabs Superman in the back with a shard of pure Kryptonite. It breaks off in Superman’s back and he falls into the Ocean.

Richard’s seaplane lands. First Jason, then Lois and Richard spot Superman. Lois jumps in to save him, Richard helps. They fly back to shore. Lois removes the Kryptonite, But when Superman recovers he tells her he must go back. He jumps out of the seaplane and flies above the atmosphere to recharge in the sun – then flies straight back to strike at Luthor. Superman picks up the entire island and flies it into space, then crashes to Earth.

Lex and his minions try to escape by helicopter – only Lex, Kitty, and the dog escape – the rest are trapped. Kitty dumps the crystals overboard into the Ocean. Lex, Kitty, and the dog end-up stranded on a desert Island.

Emergency workers bring Superman into the E.R. No one knows if he will live or die. Lois and Jason visit him. Superman recovers and flies off into the upper atmosphere to recharge. When Lois later asks, “Will I see you? Around?” Superman responds, “I’ll always be around.”

Superman Returns picks up a few threads from the classic 1970s Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner Superman films, using clips of Marlon Brando’s voice as Jor-El, the massive and gorgeous Fortress of solitude, and it’s crystal computer. Brandon Routh is quite possibly the most human Superman to date, that I’ve seen, and I liked his portrayal a lot. The story line between Clark and Lois of missed opportunities is truly sad.

The action sequences in the film are what action sequences should be – they work and are meaningful not merely for being “good action sequences” but because characters we care about are always at the center of the action sequences.

I liked Brandon Routh’s Superman and Clark Kent very much – his portrayal is very human. Kate Bosworth is a bit bland as Lois though. She doesn’t have the romantic quality Margot Kidder had, nor does she have Teri Hatcher’s humor and intelligence. She’s not terrible but she’s not great either. It’s like in big budget movies, the directors are either unable to let Lois really shine or unwilling to do so, perhaps for fear of overshadowing Clark/Superman.

Kevin Spacey is brilliant as Lex Luthor. He is a far cry from the Gene Hackman’s bumbling Lex of Superman the Movie and Superman II. This Lex is cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. He will sacrifice anything and any one to get what he wants. And he has no moral scruples whatsoever. He cares for no one. Spacey’s cold-edged performance is brilliant.

It’s a real pity Superman Returns didn’t do better at the box office, because it really is one of the best Superman movies. I recommend it.

Thunderbirds Are Go Season 1 Vol. 2 Review

  • Series Title: Thunderbirds Are Go
  • Season: 1 Vol. 2
  • Episodes: 13
  • Discs: 2
  • Network: ITV
  • Cast: Rasmus Hardiker, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Menkin, Kayvan Novak, Rosamund Pike, David Graham, Sandra Dickinson, Angel Coulby, Andres Williams
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R2, PAL)

Thunderbirds Are Go is a modern animated take on the Classic Supermarionation series by Gerry Anderson. This DVD set is the second half of the season. The series uses CGI animation and models, with model work by Weta Workshop in New Zealand, supervised by Richard Taylor. Vol. 2 starts off intense and never stops going. The first mission, “Falling Skies” involves all the boys and vehicles – with subsequent episodes focusing on individual characters, even the poor guy with bad luck from the first set (and his pet geranium Gladys) return for a story.

The CGI animation, and Richard Taylor’s updated model work let the stories do a lot more than Anderson and Derek Meddings (the Oscar-winning model specialist who went on to work on the James Bond films and Christopher Reeve’s Superman films) could do in the 1960s, even at ITV. And this is an action-packed series. It’s the type of show where I’d sit down to watch one or two, three at the most, and suddenly end-up watching most of the disc. The animation is beautiful, even though it does have the tendency that I see in CGI animated series all the time of people looking a bit plastic, and in this series, clothes looking more like clay than real fabrics (hair also has a very clay-like appearance).

Thunderbirds Are Go is an action-packed thrill ride, and it’s completely suitable for children aged 7 to 13. Adults can enjoy the series as well – I certainly did. I did find that with the running time reduced to about 22 minutes, rather than the hour (50 minutes) of the original Supermarionation series, there is less characterization. The back half of the season includes three episodes focusing on Lady Penelope and Parker, and Kayo gets to be center stage in the last couple of episodes. There’s an episode where Virgil is miffed no one seems to remember his birthday – then misses his own surprise party because the simple “hour or two” rescue John had sent him on turned into anything but simple. So there are some character moments. But I miss the strong characterization that made the original series work so well.

Set in the future, Thunderbirds Are Go, keeps the premise of everything being bigger – and the use of technology and science to help humans. When things go wrong, it’s often because of greed, violations of law, or more often than not – some scheme by the Hood which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it’s fun to watch. The Hood, and his “evil laugh” – should be annoying, but he isn’t because he just reminds us, well, me anyway, of the classic almost mustache-twisting villain. And while he isn’t actually tying Lady Penelope to a track track – he’s just a traditional-style of villain. That surprisingly works better than the Hood of the original series – who always made me very uncomfortable. Oddly enough, this Hood reminds me of a combination of Roger Delgado’s Master from Doctor Who, and Lex Luthor – with maybe a little bit of Dr. Evil thrown in. Given that combination – you can’t not like the guy, he isn’t really meant to be taken that seriously. And it’s a children’s series.

Another aspect of Thunderbirds Are Go it keeps from the original series is that the Tracys are simply there to help. When things go wrong – International Rescue is there. And IR’s mission is always to help people – not things, objects, whatever – but to rescue people. In the final few episodes of the season, conflict erupts between Kayo who would like to be more proactive – catching criminals to prevent disasters from happening, and Scott – who insists that’s the job of the GDF – the Global Defense Force. It’s an interesting and valid conflict, and it gives the final episodes a bit more depth.

I would love to see more of this series. It’s fun to watch, full of action, has a large ensemble cast, and although the characterization is a bit thin – it’s still there. The characters do act like their counterparts from the original series. This animated series honors the original and that is precisely as it should be.

Highly recommended especially for children.

Lois and Clark Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Lois & Clark The New Adventures of Superman
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 21
  • Discs: 6
  • Cast: Dean Cain, Teri Hatcher, Lane Smith, Eddie Jones, K Callan, Michael Landes, John Shea, Tracy Scoggins
  • Original Network: ABC
  • Production Network:  Warner Brothers

Lois and Clark takes the Superman story and turns it into a romantic comedy. This isn’t meant to put down the series, or Superman for that matter, but Lois and Clark emphasizes the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent and the third member of their romantic triangle: Superman. In the first season, there’s another rival for Lois’ affections – Lex Luthor. Lois and Clark is pure fun. Made when CGI was in it’s infancy, and without a budget for a lot of effects – this series emphasizes character and story over effects – and the effects are limited to wire work, green screen, and other minor effects (such as Superman’s heat vision and freeze breath). Yet it is a joy to watch. And because effects are de-emphasized, it’s still a very watchable series.

Lois and Clark begins with Clark arriving in Metropolis and getting a job at the Daily Planet. At first, Perry White doesn’t want to hire Clark, thinking he lacks experience, but when Clark covers a story that Lois had refused as a “puff piece” and does an excellent job – he gets hired. Perry assigns Lois as Clark’s partner – and a great partnership is born. The first season emphasizes the two working together, as journalists. They investigate and write stories – real stories. Some are even read aloud on screen. I loved seeing reporters as heroes, and as people who care about their city. Superman usually appears once or twice an episode – to save the day. However, that doesn’t get old because the plots and characters for the most part are well written. Yet, in this series – Clark is Clark first and Superman second.

Another aspect of Lois and Clark that I really liked was that Clark has parents – parents he gets along with, whom he loves and who love him. Clark calls home regularly, and flies home on visits. When he has a problem, especially when it concerns his identity as Clark intersecting with his identity as Superman – Clark turns to his parents first, in part, because he has no one else. The older couple playing Martha and Jonathan Kent, K Callan and Eddie Jones are marvelous in their roles.

Lex Luthor in this series is a complete sociopath. He’s cold, unfeeling, and willing to kill to get his way. He falls for Lois Lane – but he wants to possess her completely rather than be her true partner, like Clark. Superman and Luthor are rivals, as Superman quickly discovers that Luthor is behind much of the evil, crimes, and disasters that happen in Metropolis. In the two part finale, Luthor proposes to Lois, sees to it that the Daily Planet newspaper is about to go under, buys it, then has the building bombed. He then frames the young street kid, Jack, that Clark had brought to the paper for a job. Everyone loses their jobs. Lex offers Lois a job working at LNN, the Luthor News Network on cable. She takes it, but her heart isn’t in it. She also accepts his proposal. However, at the last minute, Lois decides she can’t marry Lex – just as Perry, Jimmy Olsen, Jack, and eventually Clark (whom, as Superman, Luthor had imprisoned in a Kryptonite cage) burst in with the news that they have evidence Luthor framed Jack, that he was involved in much of the organized crime in the city, and various other things. Luthor escapes custody, then jumps off the balcony of his “Lex Tower” – the tallest building in Metropolis, supposedly to his death.

I don’t think I caught Lois and Clark first run, but I remember watching it in re-runs, and enjoying it enough to buy seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. It’s a series I’ve always meant to watch all the way through, and I just recently bought seasons 3 and 4, so now I can see the whole thing. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher have great chemistry, and Teri Hatcher is funny, smart, cute – and perfectly cast as Lois Lane. Dean Cain is, well, he’s cute – very cute. But he also does a really good job as Clark/Superman, and he’s also a joy to watch. Together, Cain and Hatcher just sparkle, which is another part of the magic and timeless quality of this series. Recommended.

Microsoft Office Tips for Word and Excel

Excel Basics – Formatting Sheets and Cells

Formatting Sheets

Professional spreadsheets should not look like an 8-bit game, or an Easter Egg. However, some formatting can make spreadsheets easier to read. This article will review formatting sheets and cells.

The spreadsheet itself should look professional. Excel files should be named – with short descriptive names. Your quarterly budget reports should be named “Budget First Quarter.xlsx” or “Budget January 2016.xlsx” Nothing says unprofessional like a report with a name that’s a sentence – or a file named “Book1”. Plus reasonably named files are easy to locate. And having a system – naming your monthly budget as “Budget Month Year.xlsx” makes it easy to find again. Use the “save as” feature to change the initial default name (usually “book1”, “book2”, etc.)

Not only should the spreadsheet file be reasonably named with an intelligent, relevant name, but each tab should also have a name or label.

To label tabs:

Right click the tab, then choose “rename”. Delete “sheet1” and replace with a short, descriptive name for the tab. You can also double-click on the tab and do the same thing – delete the default and rename it.

Rename Sheet Option in Excel

Deleting Sheets

Older versions of Excel, including 2010, automatically open a new workbook with three tabs. Please delete the tabs you are not using. Nothing says unprofessional like a spreadsheet with extra blank tabs named “sheet2” or “sheet3”. To delete an entire sheet: Right-click and choose “delete” – you may or may not get a pop-up asking if you really want to delete the sheet – if you do, choose “yes” and click “OK”. One of the few advantages of the newest version of Office (Office 2013 aka “Office 365”) is that when you open a new workbook you get one sheet. Which is often all you need.

Delete Sheet in Excel

What if you need additional sheets, though?

Inserting Sheets – Insert

There are two ways to add sheets.  The first is using the Insert Command.

Click the tab, click Insert on the pop-up menu, then click “Worksheet” and press the “OK” button.

Insert Sheet in Excel

Excel Insert Worksheet dialog Box

Move or Copy Sheets

Let’s say, though, you have a Yearly by Month budget in Excel, and every month you add a new “Monthly Budget” sheet. All your column labels and formulas are already entered into the “January” tab. Sure, the details will change from month-to-month, but the format is the same. With Excel, you don’t need to start over with re-creating all the formatting and formulas. Simply copy the sheet, keep the formatting and delete the data.

To copy a sheet, right-click the tab, and choose “Move or Copy”.

Move or Copy Sheet in Excel

Put a check mark in the “Make a Copy” box, (make sure in the drop list the new sheet will appear “at end” (the default is before the current sheet). If you forget this step, you can always go in and move the sheet.

Excel - Create a Copy Circled

“Move or Copy” is one of the most useful tools in Excel – you can even move sheets to a new book.

Creating a New Book Using Move or copy

Use the drop-down arrow to choose new book. Your new copy will have the default name of “book2” (or three or four, etc – depends on how many new spreadsheets you’ve created that day) be sure to save the spreadsheet with a new name.

And as it says on the tin, the move command allows you to re-arrange sheets in a multi-spreadsheet workbook.

Some versions of Excel also allow color-coding of tabs. This makes it easier to find the correct sheet in large multi-sheet workbooks. Right-click the tab and simply choose “tab color” from the menu.

Excel Tab Color

Formatting Cells

The formatting menu has several useful commands. To get to the formatting menu, right click and choose “format cells”.

Format Cells on Excel Context Menu

This button can be added to your “Custom Quick Access Toolbar” as can any of the tabs in the menu, such as formatting. There are many useful items in Format Cells, let’s go through them one at a time.

Number

Format Cells - Number

Excel was designed for crunching numbers – but it has many other uses – the Number tab allows the user to customize a row, or more likely a column, by setting how Excel views “numbers”. The most used option is to set a column to “text”. Click at the very top of the spreadsheet column (the letter), right click, choose “format cells”, choose “text” and confirm the choice by clicking “OK”.

This will force Excel to consider a column, even one with numbers, as text. Do you have a phone list for your office in Excel, but the spreadsheet tries to perform mathematical expressions with the phone numbers? Set the column to text. This command also works best if you set the column to text before entering data.

Alignment

Text Alignment Horizontal tells Excel how to align text inside cells. The default is “General” which means Excel will try to “guess” how to display data. Trust me – you usually don’t want Excel deciding for you.

For text – names, budget items, etc – you want Horizontal set to left, you can then adjust the column size to be the smallest possible. This, in turn, allows the spreadsheet to be of a reasonable size – especially if you need to print it.

Numbers, especially currency, are normally set flush right. Also set the Number type to “currency” or “Accounting” (both will line up numbers by the decimal point. Both allow one to turn the currency symbol on or off and choosing the number of decimal places. Currency allows formatting negative numbers as red and enclosed in parenthesis, which is an accounting standard.

Center, Justify, and Distributed aren’t terribly useful for columns of data – but they may be useful for column headers. I’ve also used “Center” for check mark columns or Yes/No columns.

Vertical alignment – leave it at “Bottom” – this will also make “wrap text” work correctly.

Text Control

Alignment, text control circled

Wrap Text allows you to wrap a long title or item in the same cell, so it appears as two lines but it’s in the same cell. This is extremely useful for any descriptive item. It also allows you to continue to use Excel’s sorting and filtering tools which are thrown off by blank lines or text that takes up multiple rows.

Shrink to fit I don’t use – but it probably does what it says on the tin – shrinks a particular item to fit in a cell.

Merge Cells is an interesting one. I use it in my first (title or cell label) row sometimes. Merge cells will take the cells you select and merge them into something that gives the appearance of a single cell. It’s useful for setting up the labels at the top of your spreadsheet.

Orientation allows you to tip the text to the angle you select in the box. Again, this is useful for setting up your first row that describes the content of a column. If you, for example, have long column headers but short information in the column – Orientation can be used to tip the words in the first row to make the spreadsheet overall shorter and the columns narrower. Think for example of an order sheet.

Example of an Order Sheet with Tipped Text

It is even possible to color-code the columns to make the order sheet easier to use.

Color-Coded Order Sheet with Borders

Another solution would be to wrap the text in the first row – however, each column will still need to be as wide as the longest word in the item description.

Font

Font formatting in Excel is the same as in Word and most other Microsoft Office programs. One thing to point out, the Calibri Font is a compressed san serif font that works beautifully in Excel. Excel often is used to organize a lot of information in an easy-to-understand format, often, ideally a single sheet, or a series of related sheets. Calibri allows the same information (same characters) to take up less space. It’s also San-Serif so it’s easy to read, especially on-line or for numbers.

Border

Borders is a way to format cells in a spreadsheet. This includes setting a line under, for example, all the cells in the first row which describe what information is in each cell. Borders can be used to highlight a cell – such as a final price.

Fill

Fill allows the filling of cells with color. This is also easier with the shortcut button Paint Can Icon for Fills. Both the shortcut and the fill tab allow for picking color from the standard colors by clicking the “More Colors” button.

Color Picker Excel

The Fill Effects button allows building of two-color gradients.

Gradient Fill in Excel

However, in professional spreadsheets it would be a very rare occasion that would require using gradients. Remember, most professional spreadsheets should look professional, not like an Easter egg. Shading the first row of a spreadsheet, the one with the column labels, is about all you need to do. The Cookie Spreadsheet I’ve used as some samples in this tutorial is designed to be fun – something to easily illustrate a few points, and certainly order sheets are a common use for Excel – but it’s a bit colorful for business purposes. Think about the purpose and use of your spreadsheets, and don’t over design with too much color or pattern.

Text Color

In Excel, text color can be changed using the Text Color button  Text Color Button, Line Under the Letter A . Click the arrow to choose the text color you want to use. Text Colors can be used to highlight data, such as negative numbers. However, text colors should be used sparingly.

Protection

Finally the Protection tab allows you to lock and hide spreadsheets. It also has no effect until you protect the worksheet. Basically ignore this tab.

Conclusion

Excel is a powerful spreadsheet program. It has many uses, and can be used to do many things that it’s designers probably never thought it would be used for (My Doctor Who Episode List for my Master Post was made using Excel). There are many different formatting options for Excel. Some you will use all the time – setting the Number format, Alignment, Borders, and Fills; others not-so-much such as gradient fills or protecting a worksheet. Just remember that the formatting you apply to spreadsheets should enhance comprehension, readability and visibility of information and not distract from it.

Agile Update – Year 2 – Week 9

Last week? What happened? Well, for one thing I didn’t have any Internet Service for most of the week, which included the previous weekend, when I often get a lot of writing or at least pre-writing done. I kept thinking I should at least work on my Excel-Post-to-Come but every time I sat down at my computer I tried to do, well, anything, and I couldn’t really because my Internet was down.

We had a nasty snow storm, again, on Tuesday. Not wanting a repeat of the previous week when it took me over an hour to get home – I took my supervisor up on her offer to leave early and left work at 3:00pm instead of 4:30pm.  That meant I ended-up having to come in that Saturday to make up the time. And since I have a Doctor’s Appointment this week, I scheduled enough time on Saturday to cover for both.

And when I got to work, everyone from my department (well, all but one person) was there – and our Internet connectivity was gone. No one could do anything. I couldn’t even sign in on the on-line time clock. It gets worse. Without Internet – I couldn’t sign in, I couldn’t use the main program I use all the time to do my work, I couldn’t check my previous work – because it was stored on the Network Drive, which was down, I couldn’t work with Word or Excel – since we use Office 365 (the Cloud version) if I tried to open anything it crashed immediately, I could clean-up old stored mail in Outlook, but I couldn’t get new mail or send mail, and I couldn’t use Dreamweaver – because it’s “Creative Cloud” and you can’t even open the program without Internet. I tried. So, basically, four of us sat there, on a Saturday morning, with work to do and absolutely no way to do it – because our network access was down. This is the down side of “cloud” applications people! If I’d had access to my files, Word, Excel, and Dreamweaver – I could of at least done some work. I’ve had two other positions where if the Network went down, everyone sat there doing nothing – and it makes me wonder just how much time and money is wasted by the move to “cloud computing”.

Anyway, I got my Internet back at home on the Wednesday – so I was able to do some needed shopping. I also reviewed a graphic novel on GoodReads (see widget on bottom right of my blog). I also wrote my weekly Agile post.

I was not good about keeping track of my accomplishments last week. I did read every day. And I started watching Lois and Clark again. Since I finally bought Seasons 3 and 4, I wanted to go back and watch from the beginning. And I found to my dismay than the second episode on every DVD would not play. So I re-ordered Season 1 (got a great deal on it – far less than when I bought it years ago).  I watched Discs 1 and 2 over the weekend, and the new set plays fine. Reviews will be coming soon.

Goals:

  • Study for A+ 802 Exam every day
  • Exercise at least 3 days a week
  • Read
  • Post Excel Formatting to blog
  • Watch and review either “When harry Met Sally…” or “Superman Returns” (Or the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie)

Basically, I need to get back into my good habits. The bad weather the last two weeks, and problems with my Internet at home have thrown me off my game. But I need to get back in there. The good thing about Agile is it’s a progressive system. You will have setbacks and challenges – but you have to face those and focus on the goals for personal and professional achievement.