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dBase Support Returns to Access

Long before Access came on the personal computer scene, there was dBase. Ultimately, several other data management systems used the same .dbf file format, including FoxPro and Paradox.

From time to time, Access developers may be working with clients who want to incorporate legacy date currently stored in dBase (.dbf) format into an Access project. Some time ago, Access dropped .dbf support. Now we have good news, .dbf support has returned to the Access platform.

A Place for Everything… (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article, I discussed the information management needs for my training practice. Now I will turn to the first major component of the system – managing correspondence and applying OneNote® to the task.

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With vary rare exceptions all correspondence for my training practice is electronic – email. So the primary purpose of the system is organizing and managing email. At the same time, the system needs to allow for possible correspondence in other formats, particularly telephone calls and text messages.

Guiding Principles

In Part 1 of this article, I referred to the system’s “prime directives”

  • ease of storage
  • ease of retrieval

The system is intended to manage information

  • received from, and sent to, other people

and

  • about training workshops and people attending.

Dealing with training workshops and the people who attend the workshops suggests a general structure (or categories) for organizing the information:

  • Sponsors
    • Years
    • Workshops
    • Trainees
  • Information Requests

Why OneNote

Given that most of the information I am dealing with comes in the form of e-mail, it is fair to ask why go beyond my email client, Outlook®? After all, Outlook does offer custom folder, and fairly extensive search tools. Couldn’t you organize all the information in Outlook and avoid transferring information to and from another tool?

The answer is, of course, “Yes …. but….”

As good as Outlook’s folder management and search tools are, I found they weren’t quite the tool I was looking for. For one thing, my emails deal with more than just training-related information. As my training practice grew, it became increasingly time-consuming to track down all the emails related to, say, a specific workshop or a specific sponsor.

Some years ago, I discovered OneNote® and had been using it to store and manage much of the information that comes my way on a daily basis. For example, I uses a variety of computer applications. I use a OneNote notebook to keep track of the license information for these applications.

So I began thinking about using OneNote to manage my training practice information. Communication between Outlook and OneNote is relatively easy; versions of Office since 2010 or so have included an Outlook command to send the current item to OneNote. The same versions include a ‘printer’ which means you can create a OneNote entry for just about anything simply by printing the item and selecting “Send to OneNote” as the printer.

Setting it up in OneNote

Image result for notebookThe OneNote features I will be discussing here specifically refer to OneNote 2016 running on a Windows 10 desktop computer. The organization of OneNote notebooks is relatively simple.

A OneNote can have one or more sections. Each section can have one or more pages. For my purposes, the most useful structural feature of notebooks is section groups. It is this feature the is at the heart of my filing system.

When you first create a OneNote notebook, it has one section with one page in it. In my training notebook I will use that section  as a table of contents for the entire notebook. To identify the section and its purpose, I have renamed it ‘Notebook Contents.’

I should mention at this point that I use the Onetastic add-in TOC in Current Notebook macro to automate this part of the notebook. The table of contents supports the ease of retrieval prime directive. The Notebook Contents section contains a single page, ‘Table of Contents,’ generated by the Table of Contents macro. When I add new content to the notebook, I use the macro to generate a new Table of Contents page and delete its predecessor.

The notebook has a second ‘top-level’ section named, ‘Information Requests.’ This section contains one page for each training information request I receive. I use another Onetastic macro, TOC in Current Section, to generate a Table of Contents list of current requests in the section.

The meat and potatoes of the notebook is a section group I have called Sponsors. Each sponsor is represented by its own section group with an index section, and one section group for each training year.  Each training year has one section for correspondence to and from this specific sponsor during the year and a section group for workshops. Finally the Workshops section group has individual sections for each workshop.

One possibility I considered was to have two section groups for workshops, pending and completed but I decided to simply use colour coding to make the distinction.

Believe me this system is far more complicated to write or read about, so here is a chart outlining everything:

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Notice that the contents are blue and underlined? Each entry in the generated table of contents is a hyperlink to the section listed. That makes it easy to get to any particular section or page.

 

How it Works on a Daily Basis

Here’s how the workflow goes.

I receive an email from Mary Smith asking for general information. After reading her email in Outlook, I click the Send To OneNote command and choose the Training Notebook Information Requests section as the destination.

Now, let’s skip ahead in time a bit to when Mary books a training date. Since I don’t yet have a section for the company that will be sponsoring the training, I create new section in the Sponsors section group for DEF Inc. At this point I name the section that OneNote automatically added to the DEF section group for 2016, name its first section Correspondence and create a Workshops section group.

In the Workshops section group, I name the first section Workshops and create a new section named for the Workshop that Mary has booked.

Now, if all of that sounds time consuming, it really isn’t. All it takes is a couple of minutes.

Since I’d like to keep all correspondence related to a particular sponsor together, at this point I will move Mary’s information request to the new correspondence section for this year for the sponsor. OneNote make it easy to relocate pages ‘on the fly.’

I should also note that, while the Onetastic TOC macros are a great tool, this system does require some manual work for some of the sub-indexes. Once again, OneNote makes creating links to specific pages pretty much child’s play.

 

So that is my correspondence management in a nutshell, albeit a somewhat large nutshell. Part 3 of this article will discuss the building data management component of my system.

Access Now Included in Office 365 Roadmap

Exciting news for the Access community – for the first time Access now appears in the Office 365 Roadmap. See this UtterAccess news announcement. TheSmileyCoder, one of my UtterAccess colleagues has posted a review here. Use this link to go directly to Access features currently listed on the Roadmap.

A Place for Everything …

imageThe timeless proverb, sometimes attributed to Benjamin Franklin, A place for everything and everything in its place, is a simple principle, one that is at the heart of getting and staying organized. For several years now, one particular application has been at the heart of managing much of the information that I need to keep a tight rein on. That application is Microsoft OneNote®.

In this article I am going to discuss how I use OneNote to manage vital information for business. On any given day, I may wear one or more ‘hats,’ each hat representing one aspect of my business which includes, Access database development and consulting, Excel worksheet consulting, and Microsoft Office® Suite user training.

Scenario

In my training practice (Sudbury Training), which I will focus on in this article, I work with companies and individuals to help the people who attend one-day workshops improve their skills in using Microsoft® applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint,Access, Publisher, Project, Visio, OneNote, Outlook) in their daily work. From a business perspective, I am dealing with two main groups: clients (the business or individual paying for the service) and trainees (the individuals to whom I directly deliver the service.) Regardless of whether a particular workshop is ‘once-only’ or repeat business, there is a general pattern for the information I need to manage. OneNote® makes it easy to set up a system that makes sense to me in this context and  that mimics (or models) the real world setting of the information.

Before that can happen, of course, it is necessary to determine what general categories describe the information to be managed. There is really no single right way to do this. The guiding principle, at least in a ‘one-man show’ is what works best for the person who will maintain and use the information. In a larger enterprise, of course, the guiding principle has to be what will work best for the organization as a whole.

 

That said, the categories I came up with for my business are:

  • Clients
  • Correspondence
  • Workshops
  • Attendees
  • Scheduling

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Figuring out the System

The “prime directive” of any information management system is that recovery of any single piece of information stored in the system must be simple and efficient. If it takes a dozen commands and many minutes to find out when a workshop is running and how many people are attending, that is a pretty good clue that the system in question is not ideal.

Second only to ease of retrieval, is ease of storage, getting information into the system so that it can be retrieved as and when it is needed.

In the course of analyzing my data management needs, it quickly became apparent that what I needed was a two-pronged approach, one for storing and retrieving correspondence and one for storing, retrieving, and analyzing facts and figures.

Why the separation? From a data management point of view, correspondence is messy. The vast majority of my business correspondence is e-mail. In general, the pattern starts with a query from a client about workshop availability followed by response to the client with availability details, follow-up discussions and clarifications, formal quotation, and scheduling. Each e-mail in the sequence contains varying amounts of verbiage and significant detail.

While the full content of each email may be more or less important from a documentation point of view, the vital who, what, where, and when details are but a small part of the whole. That’s where the separation comes into play:

  • Correspondence manager for communications received and sent
  • Data manager for significant details

I will leave discussion of the data manager aspects for another article.

In part 2 of this article, I will discuss using OneNote® as the correspondence manager.

Recommended Read

My UtterAccess colleague, Grover Park George, just posted this thoughtful article discussing his mindset, underlying all of his development work. Whether you are a developer or a developer’s client, this article is valuable food for thought.

Excel 2016 A Small Surprise with Autofill

Autofill has long been one of my favourite Excel productivity features. It is the fastest way I know to copy cell contents to multiple cells. If you have an existing column of data and want to one or more formulas to adjacent columns, double-clicking the fill handle adds a whole new layer of productivity.

This video illustrates this tip and the small surprise that Excel 2016 introduced that affects this feature. By default, autofill reproduces a series; in other words if the cell that you want to use as the source data for autofill contains a value like, Room 101, autofilling this cell down a column will give new values like Room 102, Room 103, Room 104 ….

That’s all well and good, but what if you wanted to assign a number of people to the same room, Room 101? In previous versions of Excel, immediately after autofilling, Excel displayed the Paste Options button. The surprised that Excel 2016 introduced is that the default does not display Paste Options.

That can prove very frustrating, especially if you autofilling cells across may rows to many columns. Fortunately, the solution is relatively simple: enable the Paste Options button by modifying your Excel Options to Show Paste Options button when content is pasted.

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Check it out!

Are You a OneNote Fan?

Have a look at this article. It has some valuable tips on note-taking. Although the article is addressed to medical students, anyone who needs to take notes of any kind will find some excellent tips here.

Excel Copy and Pasting Functionality

Familiarity with Excel’s copy/paste capabilities will significantly improve your ability to get more done in less time. Copy/paste seems simple enough but the feature offers far more than the simple name suggests. In this article, guest blogger Nick Williams explores copy/paste in depth.Nick is an Access tutor based in the U.K.

Copy and pasting is always a useful way of moving data from one location to another, however, in Excel it can be so much more. The copy as picture and paste special options add some really useful functions, yet many people are not aware of their capabilities.

Copy as picture

The copy as picture feature does exactly what it says, allowing part of the worksheet to be copied and pasted elsewhere a picture. This is particularly useful for taking snapshots when working with data that updates frequently. It is also useful when pasting data into another program, for example, Word or PowerPoint, as when copied as a picture, your table or chart will look exactly as it does in Excel when pasted, saving the need to tidy it up. The copy as picture feature can be accessed through the drop down menu next to the copy icon on the Home ribbon.

Paste special

The standard paste tool will copy both the design and contents of a cell or selection of cells. Whilst more often than not this is what most people want to do, there are times when the additional features of paste special are handy. It can be accessed through the drop down menu below the paste icon on the Home ribbon.

The options available upon clicking on paste special will vary depending on what’s currently stored on the clipboard. An image will not offer any choices beyond what type of image to paste it as, whereas a cell copied from elsewhere within Excel will offer plenty of options and is where paste special is most useful.

When pasting a cell or group of cells from within Excel, there are two main option groups; paste and operation. The various paste options allow the user to pick what features from the cell they are copying to paste. The operation option allows basic mathematical operations to be applied to cells.

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Paste Options

The below example aims to demonstrate how some of the paste functions work. Column A simply shows the numbers 1 to 5 with one decimal place, with cell A7 summing these 5 numbers with a simple formula. Some basic formatting to the background colour and cell borders has been applied and there is conditional formatting in place giving cells with a value of less than 3 a bold, red font. There is also a comment on cell A4.

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All – Copies everything in the cell; the content, visual formatting, number formatting and comments. The pasted cells in Column B of the example appear exactly as they do in Column A, other than the width of the column itself.

Formulas and Values – In the example above, the formulas and values columns look identical to one another. The numbers from Column A have carried over into Column C and Column D, however the visual and number formatting have not, nor has the comment. The difference between the two is the formulas are copied if Formulas are selected, but not when Values are selected i.e. the formula bar for cell C7 would show =SUM(C2:C6) whereas the formula bar for Cell D7 would simply show the number 10. Replacing formulas with numbers can be a good way of getting a snapshot of data in a spreadsheet that is updated frequently.

Formats – Selecting formats will see the visual formats carried over (including conditional formatting), but neither the data nor comments are copied with it. Number formatting is not copied, so if the number 1 was to be entered into one of the cells in Column E in the above example, it would show as 1 rather than 1.0.

Comments – This will paste only the comments, and not any of the formatting or data contained in the copied cell, a great time saver if the same comment needs to be used repeatedly throughout a spreadsheet.

Validation – It is difficult to show validation on the example as it works in the background. It does what it says, and pastes only validation rules from the copied sell into the pasted cell. If the cell being pasted into already contains a value that does not meet the validation rules, it will not be flagged up unless the cell contents are edited.

All using Source theme – This is difficult to show in the example as it only works if pasting into a different spreadsheet. As well as formatting cells individually, it is possible to set a theme for the whole spreadsheet which will control things like font and colour. When copy and pasting data from one spreadsheet to another, formatting set by the theme will not be copied unless this option has been selected.

Column widths – Pasting column widths allows the width of one column to be applied to another without affecting any of the data or formatting in it. Pasting column widths so that they are all equal can make a spreadsheet look much neater. In the example, Column H, where column widths have been pasted, is the only column with the same width as Column A.

Formulas and number formats – As with pasting a formula, this option will paste the formula from one cell to another. The difference here is that number format, for example currency or number of decimal places, will also be copied.

Values and number formats – Similarly, pasting values and number formats will keep the number formatting, but will convert any formulas to values.

All merging conditional formats – Although conditional formatting is pasted along with any other formatting, it will override any conditional formatting already contained in the cells. This option allows the conditional formatting in both the source and destination cells to be applied. In the above example, Column K had a conditional format applied telling it to make all cells with a value of less than 3 brown. Rather than overwrite this, both this conditional format, and the one in the copied cells turning the font bold and red have been applied.

Operation Options

The example below shows how the operations work within paste special. They will add, subtract, multiply or divide the value in the pasted cell by the value in the copied cell. In the example, Columns D to G originally contained the numbers 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50, as shown in Column C. When copying the number 10 from Cell A2 and pasting into Columns D to G using a mathematical operation, the number 10 is added, subtracted, multiplied or divided from the original number.

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Other Options

Skip blanks – This is something that may be used when copy and pasting multiple cells. If one of the copied cells is blank, Excel will not overwrite data in a pasted cell with a blank, rather it will leave the contents as they were originally, while overwriting any cells where the copied cells do contain data. Cell C4 in the below example shows how when a blank cell is copied and skip blanks is selected from the paste special menu, the original contents of the cell remain.

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Transpose – Transposing data allows rows to be turned into columns and vice versa.

Paste link – Rather than paste the value or formula that is in a cell, selecting paste link will create a formula linking to the data from the copied cell, rather than the actual formula or data it contains. This is useful if the data is likely to change but has to appear in multiple places throughout a workbook.

Creating User Defined Functions in Excel

Welcome back guest blogger, Nick Williams. In this article he discusses the intricacies of User Defined Functions. UDFs are arguably the single most important feature of Excel because it adds virtually infinite depth to Excel’s functionality, supplementing the already extensive list of ~350 built-in functions. The only limit on what you can do with UDFs is the depth of your imagination. Nick is an Access tutor based in the U.K.

Creating User Defined Functions in Excel

Most users are familiar with at least some of the functions built into Excel, for example SUM and AVERAGE. Whilst these are useful tools, there are times when they are not capable of performing some of the more specialised tasks that advanced Excel users require. Creating a custom function is a way of performing a calculation over and over again without the need to run a macro each time or create a series of complicated formulas.

Enabling the Developer tab

User defined functions are created in the Visual Basic Editor, which can be accessed from the Developer ribbon. If the developer ribbon is not visible, it can be enabled by going to the File menu and choosing Options. Select Customize Ribbon from the list on the left hand side, and ensure that there is a tick next to Developer on the list of tabs on the right.

 

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Creating a new module

The Visual Basic Editor can be opened by pressing Alt+F11, or by clicking the Visual Basic Editor icon on the Developer ribbon. Once in the Visual Basic Editor, the first step towards creating a custom function is to create a new module. Although it is possible to add a function to an existing module, putting it in its own module makes it easy to export and reuse in another workbook.

To create the new module, from the menu click Insert, followed by Module. The module should be inserted into the current workbook by default. It is best to store the module within the workbook itself, rather than in the Personal workbook, as anything stored in the Personal workbook is only available to the current user on the current computer. If the file were to be opened on another computer, or even by another user on the same computer, errors would occur wherever the function has been used.

Writing the function

The code for the new function can be entered into the new module window. The actual content will vary depending on what the function is doing, however, it will always start with ‘Function’ at the top and ‘End Function’ at the bottom. The variables used by the function go in the brackets after the function name. The below example is for a very simple function that works out speed.

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The first line declares the name of the function (SPEED) and its two parameters (Distance and Time). The ‘As Double’ after each of the variables is telling Excel what type of data to expect from these parameters, in this case a double-precision floating-point number. The second line is the code telling the function how to calculate the value it needs to return. In this basic example it is simply one line stating that speed is equal to distance divided by time. The final line End Function is telling Excel that is the end of the function and there is no more code to run.

In practice, most functions will much longer and more complex than this, as speed is something that could be easily be calculated using a simple formula. Although there is nothing wrong with making calculations in this way, especially if they are being performed over and over again within the document, user defined functions really come into their own when doing more complex calculations, for example where multiple if statements are required.

Using the function

Once the function has been created in the Visual Basic Editor, it can be called up in a workbook in the same way as any of the built in functions. The below shows how the speed of three people has been calculated using the newly created SPEED function. The formula refers to other cells to get the variables distance (Cell B2) and time (Cell C2) and uses these to calculate the speed.

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Unlike built in functions, custom functions do not show what variables are required once the open bracket symbol is used. This can however be displayed by pressing Ctrl-Shift-A, however rather than displaying as a tip, the variable names will be entered into the formula bar as a prompt for what they need to be replaced with.

Saving the workbook

As the user defined function is created using VBA code, it will be necessary to save the workbook as a macro-enabled workbook with a .xlsm file extension. When it comes to saving, simply select this as the file type. If this step is not taken, or the workbook had been previously saved as a standard Excel workbook with a .xlsx extension, a prompt will be shown warning that the function will not be saved.

Importing and exporting functions

If a function needs to be used in more than one workbook, rather than rewrite it, it can be exported from the Visual Basic Editor, and then imported into another workbook. When in the Visual Basic Editor, click on the module to be exported and select File > Export file… from the menu. In the new workbook, open the Visual Basic Editor and from the menu select File > Import file… from the menu to import the function.

Excel Financial Functions–Calculating IRR for Irregular Cashflows

This week, in the final article of this series, guest blogger Nick Williams discusses calculating the Internal Rate of Return for an irregular cashflow. Nick is an Access tutor based in the U.K.

XIRR – Internal Rate Of Return

XIRR function returns the value for an Internal Rate Of Return for a supplied series of cash flows, set of values. The key difference between IRR and XIRR is that XIRR can deal with cashflows that aren’t evenly spaced. Because it can deal with cashflows that aren’t evenly spaced you need to tell is both the series of cashflows and also the dates of each cashflow.

The syntax of the XIRR function in Excel is XIRR (values, dates, [guess])

values is a required parameter. It is an array or reference to a set of cells that contain the cash flow values.

dates is another required parameter, it is a series of dates. You need to have a date that corresponds to each cash flow for the calculation to run. The first date is the date of the investment/loan, and subsequent dates refer to income values.

guess is an optional parameter, and works as it does for IRR. Again, if this parameter is omitted, it is set to 0.1 (10%) by default

Continuing with our previous example, let’s introduce dates into our cash flow set.

We now have dates for the initial investment, and irregular dates of actual and/or forecasted income over the seven years of the project.

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As we would expect, as the returns come sooner on this project the return on it has gone up, when compared with our previous calculation.

If we entered dates that were exactly one year apart for each of the cashflows this would give an answer of 1.82%, the same answer as using the IRR function.

Again continuing with our previous example, lets we add more expected income and periods. Again as the returns come sooner the return on the project has increased when compared to have all of the cashflows spaced exactly one year apart.

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WHAT TO DO IF YOUR CALCULATION RETURNS #num!

Microsoft Excel uses an iterative technique for calculating IRR AND XIRR starting from guess. If XIRR can’t find a result that works after 100 tries/iterations, the #NUM! error value is returned. If this happens, or if the result is not what you expected to see, try again with setting a different value for guess.

#NUM! error can also appear if:

1. there isn’t at least one positive and at least one negative value in the list of cashflows

2. any of the specified dates precede the first specified date

3. the specified dates and values arrays have different lengths

XIRR can also return a #VALUE! error if it cannot not recognize any of the specified dates as dates (e.g. you have the value of 20 among your dates array)

Excel Financial Functions–Calculating IRR

This week, guest blogger Nick Williams discusses calculating the Internal Rate of Return for a regular cashflow. Nick is an Access tutor based in the U.K.

IRR – Internal Rate Of Return

IRR returns an interest rate. It is the interest rate that would need to be applied to all of the cashflows in the calculation to give an NPV of zero for the project (see above). In short it tells you the return on the money invested in a project and is often used as an investment decision tool. It is designed to work with a set of regularly spaced cashflows only.

IRR is the same as interest rate of savings or loan, however there is it applied to a very straight forward situation.

The syntax of the IRR function in Excel is IRR(values, [guess])

values is a required parameter. It is an array or reference to a set of cells that contain the cash flow values for the project.

guess is an optional parameter. It is a number that you are guessing is close to the result of IRR. If this parameter is omitted, it is set to 0.1 (10%) by default.

Continuing with our example of above we can see the function in use below.

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Intuitively we know that that is right. Above we discovered that the project had a negative NPV if we applied a 3% discount rate. Therefore we knew that the discount rate to get an NPV of zero had to be below 3%.

Again, as above, lets add two more years of income and see what happens to the result. We got a positive NPV using a 3% rate before so we know that the answer will be above 3% before we start.

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Note: Microsoft Excel uses an iterative technique for calculating IRR starting from guess. If IRR can’t find a result that works after 20 tries/iterations, the #NUM! error value is returned. If this happens, or if the result is not what you expected to see, try again with setting a different value for guess.