Microsoft Office Suite: How to Use the Right Tool for the Job

Microsoft Office is a suite of related products. Home and Student usually include:  Outlook, Word, Excel, and Power Point. Depending on which edition of Office it might also include OneNote. Microsoft Office Professional adds Access and OneNote, as well as a few picture gallery tools. However, the different tools included in Microsoft Office are not interchangeable. Using Excel to keep track of a large, interconnected, database of information makes about as much sense as using a screwdriver to pound a nail into a wall. Likewise, linear, quickly changing information really does not belong in Access.

The Microsoft tools are:

  • Microsoft Outlook – This is an e-mail program. You probably use it at work, where your company runs Microsoft Exchange to deliver e-mail. It comes with all versions of Office – and in a world where most home users have some form of webmail (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc) it’s not that necessary. However, if you want to download your webmail to Outlook, follow your provider’s instructions to do so.
  • Microsoft Excel – This is a spreadsheet program. It is not a database. Excel is designed to work with math, equations, and rows and columns of data, but it is not a relational database. Besides being an excellent way to keep track of financial information or numeric data (order invoices, profit and loss statements, depreciation schedules, etc) Excel is very good for keeping track of a limited amount of data that changes frequently. I keep a copy of the Doctor Who episode guide in Excel – and update it yearly. I also use Excel to keep a list of Doctor Who novels, both the ones I have and the ones I’m still missing. Excel is perfect, because the data is limited – and it changes every time I add a book to the list.  Although databases allow for flow of information, they are better for somewhat static information that doesn’t change too often. And when information in a database does change, it’s better to add it than delete it.
  • Microsoft Access is a relational database. It’s not included in the more basic versions of Office, but it is included in the Professional version of Office. The back end language for Access is SQL Server, the same as for Microsoft SQL Server and some versions of Oracle. However, some of the more complicated SQL statements, especially unions between two queries, cannot be used in Access. Access is also limited in size and is much smaller than SQL Server. But, having said that, for a personal database – it is a great tool.  Relational databases use tables, related by keys to organize information. For example, you might have a table called “Film” with information about the Film DVD you own, and a second table called “Actor” and a third table (called a Association Table because it associates or links information from two other tables) called ActorFilm. Why three tables?  Because each table in a relational database should only concern one topic – thus film and actor are separate concepts. By having an association table – some films can have only a few people listed and others can have dozens. Think about the difference between an early film like “It Happened One Night” verses a film like “Lord of the Rings”. Using three tables gives the flexibility of having some films with two actors, some with five or six and some with dozens.Otherwise, the film table would have to be bogged down with an arbitrary number of actors:  (Actor1, actor2, actor3, etc).
  • Microsoft Word is Microsoft’s word processing program. It’s what you use to write letters, reports, off-line blog posts, anything you like.
  • Microsoft Power Point is a program for creating presentations. It also has some very basic image editing capabilities.
  • Microsoft OneNote is a note-taking program. It allows you to create notebooks and add freehand (typed) notes, short spreadsheets, images, even uploads of documents.
  • Microsoft Visio is an additional add-on for Microsoft Office. It’s a design program used for creating computer networking maps, flowcharts, organizational charts, and the like.
  • Microsoft Project is another add-on that’s used to manage projects. Not only does it feature a time scheduler (including dependences), and Gantt chart, but it also has features for managing resources.

Some Microsoft Office programs play well with each other. It’s easy to add an Excel chart to Word, or import a Microsoft Visio chart to Word, or a Gantt chart from Project into Word. Others, not so much.  Access allows you to export query results to Excel – but plan on spending a lot of time cleaning it up in Excel, the export is almost as bad as a pure text .csv file.

Still, it is worth remembering that each tool in the Office Suite has it’s own uses. Trying to force a tool to do something it wasn’t meant for is not going to work well.

Ask your questions in the comments. I will try to answer them as best as I am able.

Social Media Master Post

Social Media has become a buzzword, in the last few years, but it is often misunderstood. I have been using various social media platforms for a several years and I am active on several of them daily. This gives me a little bit of authority to say that I know what I’m talking about, though I learn new things myself if not daily then weekly. There is a lot of confusion and this post is meant to clear up some of that confusion.

1.  Social Media is not One Thing – Got that? Social Media is several different things, that have similarities and differences. Not only do different Social Media platforms work differently – they have different best uses, and different limitations.

2. Social Media is not just a business tool – One of the best things about Social Media is that using it is free and how you use it and the content you post is pretty much up to you. I’ve seen lots of posts on-line from various “Social Media Experts” about growing your business with Social Media – and although that’s possible, it isn’t restricted to business people, the Forbes 500, the elite, or any other privileged group. Anyone with a computer or an Internet-capable mobile device can use Social Media.

3. Having said that, Social Media is about more than business or advertising – if you do own a business, especially a small business, and you aren’t using Social Media, you should be – it’s free advertising. And especially if your customers are young, or professional, or in any way part of the modern world, at the very least get a website or blog, a business Facebook page (not a personal one) and a Twitter account and use them.

4. Creative professionals and non-profits also really need to use Social Media, though what platforms you use and how will very by “industry” and even the level of your career. But writers, musicians, bands, artists, photographers, actors, – anyone in a creative field, and anyone trying to break into a creative field needs Social Media. It’s a great networking tool, a place to find others in your profession, a place to find mentors, a place to find a job, and a place to get excited about your work and your career.

5.  Social Media isn’t just for kids and teens anymore. I’m tempted to say ‘Nuff said; but on-line research shows the single biggest new group to join Facebook are senior citizens; and the largest and most influential group on Twitter are young and relatively young professionals as well as creative professionals. Get over the idea that Social Media is “a kid’s toy”.

Specific Social Media Platforms

Live Journal:  This blogging site is the first one I joined, in about 2005 – 2006. LJ’s was developed as a community site as well as a personal blogging site. It’s completely volunteer run, has been around for close to twenty years, and in terms of trivia, if you saw the movie, The Social Network, it was the blogging site Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, used while studying at Harvard. Live Journal was designed to allow users to keep an on-line journal, join communities (posting boards) that fit their own interests, and even post photographs. The site has an impressive amount of individual blog designs, and allows individual “userpics” or icons on each post or community post. It’s an oldie but a goodie; however, having been around for such a long time – it has problems caused by legacy code, and lack of server space.

Facebook:  Most computer-literate people know at least something about Facebook. The easiest way to describe it is, it’s like a perpetual on-line high school or college yearbook. You post (write) on your “wall” or visit your friend’s page and post on theirs. It’s very image friendly – not only for posting your individual pictures, but for creating photo albums. It makes sharing easy – and much of the content comes from the cross-posting and sharing of content posted by others. And it’s full of ads.

Business owners, especially small and micro-business owners, should be aware of Facebook Organization (business) pages. A business or organization page is an open page – with no content locked as “Friend’s Only”. Think of it as a Yellow Pages ad without the space limitations. The wall of a business or organization page should only contain relevant, focused posts. However, that doesn’t mean it should only contain ads. Relevant information is the key. Customers should want to read the page, not feel they are being bombarded with spam.

Linked In:  Linked In is like a combination of a Mega Job Search site like Monster and Facebook. This is another site I have been on for a really long time. When I originally created my site, and Linked In was still fairly new, it wasn’t much – you created a profile, then filled in sections that basically created an on-line job application. Yes, you could upload a picture, an write a short summary of who you are – the on-line equilvalent of the “elevator speech”, and connect to others, but there wasn’t much to it. Linked In has offered more services recently, however. You can now join career-focused groups on Linked In, a great way to keep up to date with your professional career. You can network. You can attend events. Linked In now has it’s own Timeline – you can post career information there, or relevant news about your professional life. And, from what I’ve read, Linked In has made it easier to post an professional portfolio to the site. I highly recommend it to college and high school students. I also highly recommend it to career changers, or people who have been out of the job market for awhile and are suddenly looking for employment.

Twitter:  Twitter is a bit different from other Social Media sites, in that you don’t really have a page to design per se. You can put a banner profile picture on your page, fill-in a brief description of yourself, and upload an icon picture of yourself, and that’s about it. Twitter is the first micro-blogging site – it limits you to 240 characters – not a lot. But the attraction of Twitter is that it works in “real time”. Thus if a topic is “trending” on Twitter – that means it’s suddenly become very popular, and lots of people are using that hashtag at a particular moment. A hashtag is the Number Symbol on a standard keyboard (#). On Twitter, a Hashtag makes a term searchable, thus #SocialMedia, makes the term “social media” a searchable term – anyone who searches the term “SocialMedia” can find the post that includes that hashtag. On Twitter the @ sign is used to send a Direct Message (or DM).  Therefore, @SocialMedia would send the message to the account “SocialMedia”. I recently learned that when a @ sign is placed at the beginning of a Tweet – the Tweet doesn’t even post to your timeline. To fool Twitter if you want your DM to also post to your timeline, place characters before it, even a dot (.) will work.  (Shout out and Thanks to @TweetSmarter the best resource for learning about Twitter that I’ve found.) Because Twitter is significantly different than other sites, I found it had a steeper learning curve – I’ve had my account for three years, and I’m just starting to really understand it.

There are three things about Twitter than make it fun:

  1. Following celebrities and Notable People in your industry, career field, or even hobby. Lots of famous people are on Twitter – you can follow their Tweets, without needing to be invited to their page or liking their page or anything. It’s PR for them but also interactive – and for you, it’s fun.
  2. Twitter is real time – want to know what is going on Right Now – look to Twitter.
  3. Because of the character limit – it tends to be light, fun, and you can read lots of posts in a short amount of time. The other common thing on Twitter, is that because space is limited, people often simply post the link to longer content such as a news story or a blog post.

Tumblr:  It’s the blog counter-point to Twitter. Like Twitter it’s Real Time, though when you go to your dashboard you’ll see a number of new posts to you from the blogs to which you subscribe. You read them on your dashboard. Anything you “reblog” will re-appear on your own Tumblr page. But I first became aware of Tumblr, because I noticed that if someone wanted to post longer content (or, originally – pictures or video, before Twitter added that capability.) to Twitter, they first posted it to Tumblr, then posted the link to Twitter. Tumblr has a very active feel to it, and a lot of back-and-forth – through notes, reblogging, mail, etc. It’s a type of blogging site.  The only thing I don’t like about Tumblr is your actual page is so limited. I would like to be able to see a list of my tags, a list of my posts, and a calender of my posts – like I can on Blogger or Live Journal. And even if a calender would give it a more static feel – at least a list of tags (labels) would be useful.

Blogger (by Google):  Blogger is another Blogging Site – and it’s my favorite of the three I use regularly. What I really love about Blogger is that it doesn’t assume the user knows anything about HTML or CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Java, Flash, .Net, C++, or C#. In other words, you don’t need to take a computer science course, prior to using the site. Setting up my Blogger page was easy – everything is drag and drop, and What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. And if you’re in doubt, you can have the design studio open in one tab and your blog open in another, and then all you do is refresh the blog page as you tweak.  Also, once you’ve set your page up, the individual “Widgets” and/or sections of the blog can be edited separately, for quick updates. I’ve added, and occasionally deleted, names from sections like “Favorite Directors” and “Favorite Current TV Shows” — without having to re-design the entire blog. Blogger, like most sites (but Twitter) has several themes and skins to get you started in designing your blog. But it also has different options (3 column, 2 column, etc), besides simply the background image.

The second thing I like about Blogger, is it supports a full service RSS Reader that not only imports other Blogger blogs, but it imports any blog, on any RSS-compatible service. The only problem is, as far as I can tell, all the mobile apps do not support the RSS Reader. That means, you can only read the blogs you’ve subscribed to on your computer screen, not your phone or tablet.

Google Plus:  Google Plus is Google’s attempt to get in on the Social Media action. Do I have a Google Plus account?  Well, yes, since I use Blogger and Gmail.  Do I use it?  Not really.  Part of the issue with Google Plus is that everything you “Plus 1” you are doing so publicly.  To me, there’s a difference to posting a link to my Facebook page as “Friend’s Only”, and putting my face as an advertisement on that link or page.  (“This link was Plus 1’d by: …).  It just feels so, phony.  And if someone wants me to hawk their products – they can pay me.

However, one cool thing about Google Plus, is that  when you take photos with your Android phone, those photos are automatically backed up to your Google account. And the photo editor for organizing albums is beautiful. It’s easy to use and makes sense.  Icons and words are obvious and do what you expect them to do. And those albums are yours – not public, unless you want to share them. But on the negative side, you can’t share your Google Plus album(s) to another site like Facebook. It almost feels like Google isn’t playing well with others.

Similarities of Social Media Platforms

All Social Media platforms and Web 2.0 sites do have one thing in common – user-generated content.  What that means is the content of a website like youTube is created by the youTube users themselves. Without the video makers – there would be no youTube. Yet visiting the site to watch videos doesn’t cost anything – it’s free. Getting an account on youTube (now, also through Google) is also free. From what I’ve seen, some video makers run ads on their videos and some don’t. Presumably, those users actually make money by allowing ads. And the site itself, like most Social Media Sites – is ad-supported.

Social Media is also social – it allows interaction with friends and family. It allows the free exchange of ideas. One thing I’m fascinated with is the idea of Social Media and Citizen Journalism. There have been several cases of Social Media having a definite impact during disasters and major events.

See this post

– which in part inspired inspired my post.

Differences to Different Social Media Platforms

In my explanations of the different social media outlets, I’ve explained some of the differences. I definitely use different Social Media services differently. Live Journal is my general blog. I don’t use it much anymore, though lately I’ve been backing up some of my posts from other platforms there. Facebook is my general mailbox, and I’m a lot less touchy about what I will or won’t post there. Linked In is strictly professional – I don’t let anything auto-post to Linked In, and I don’t use the new time-line feature. Twitter is fun, and a place to plug my Blogger and Tumblr posts. Blogger is home to my movie review blog – I don’t let anything else clog up the blog, especially politics.

Also – Rans

These are services I know of, but do not currently use. This doesn’t mean they are no good – I’m sure plenty of people use these. Social Media is time-consuming, and you simply cannot do everything. Also, I’m more verbal than visual – and my creative, fun side – and my professional research side – thinks in words.

Dreamwidth – A blogging site with a close relationship to Live Journal. I’m seriously considering trying it out.  Sigh.

WordPress – Another blogging site, with a relationship to blogger. I’ve just joined it, and I’m still poking my way around, but so far I really like it.

Pinrest / Delicious – These are “Social Bookmark Managers”. Apparently, they allow you to save bookmarks and organize them. They are social sites, so you can share your bookmarks with others.

Instagram / Vine / Imgur – Social Image sites – I have the vague idea that the cool pics and .gifs one finds on Facebook? If they weren’t created as photosets on Tumblr, they started on one of these sites.

MySpace – Oh, dear, poor MySpace gets no respect. My impression is that it’s full of teenaged girls – and bands. Seriously, if you are a singer/songwriter, musician, or in a band – look at MySpace. It’s also been around for awhile. But I’ve never used it – and my impression might need tweaking, at least a bit.

Tagging – How to tag blog posts

I’ve recently imported my entire Tumblr (over 500 posts – who knew?) and my Blogger blog, The Movie Project, to WordPress, and now I’m going to be concentrating on applying titles, updating the categories and adding tags (or conversely adding categories) to all those posts.

Why bother?

Well, besides the fact that I want my blog to be organized – I imported everything so it would be all in one place. Well, almost everything – I haven’t imported my LiveJournal yet. But tagging is very important, because it’s the tags that allow others to find what you’ve posted by doing a search.

Tagging is tangentially related to database, which is my area, so I understand how it works.

The first rule Be Consistent!

When tagging posts, or assigning categories, be consistent. If you tag a post about the BBC TV Series Doctor Who, “Doctor Who”, don’t tag you’re next post about Doctor Who, “Dr. Who”, and a third post, “DW”. You want to pick a single tag for a topic you frequently post about, and use it. Which isn’t to say you can’t use multiple tags, but don’t constantly change the tag you use for the same topic. If possible, look to see how others tag your topic. For example, you can check for the related Twitter hashtag if it’s a hot topic and use that without the pound (#) sign and with any applicable spaces. You could also tag both with and without spaces (e.g. Doctor Who, DoctorWho). This will help direct traffic to your posts and blog because you are using a tag that is likely to be familiar to your audience. Think of your tags as keywords. If you were to look on Google for information on a topic, What phrases would you use?

Wrangle (Update) Tags

Don’t be afraid to go back and update (wrangle) your tags – modern blogging sites even have management sections that help you to do this. Update your tags to improve consistency.

Spelling counts

Spell your tags correctly, especially proper names. Use IMDB or Google to check spelling of proper names.

Watch Tag Length

Don’t use overly long tags – unless it’s necessary for the topic. For example, for my blog, The Movie Project, one tag I apply to each post is the title of the film. This can result in a long tag, but the film’s title is the most likely phrase that someone might use when looking for posts about the film.

Tag in Groups – for Consistency and Logic

Also try to think of tags in groups, this will also help you to use consistent tags. For example, if you review films, you might want to consistently create tags for:  the title, the director, the cast (individually), the year the film was made (or, as I did, go by decades), etc. For my imported posts, I’m tagging them with where they were imported from – such as, From Tumblr, or From Blogger. You can tag on type of post too:  Video, Picture, Reblog (or cross-post), Meme, etc.

Or think of groups as either this or that or one of a group of things. So you could use a category of Sports, then tags of Swimming, Baseball, Soccer, etc.

Having a system in place for tagging your posts will help the tags to be relevant, consistent, and logical.

Apply several multiple tags, rather than a single long one

Finally, apply multiple tags to a post that accurately reflect the post.