Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Converting to a new PC

Today I've finally ordered a new laptop.  My current HP laptop is almost five years old, so I think it's time.  The new laptop won't arrive for about 2 weeks.  Between now and then I'll  have some work to do to prepare:

  • Confirm all of my backups are current (and keep them current)
  • Confirm all of my Outlook data files are included in my backups
  • Update my list of downloaded software and license keys as needed to be current
  • Burn copies of any new downloaded software to my backup CD
  • Create a restore point just before converting (just in case)

My old laptop has Windows Vista and the new one will have Windows 7, so I won't be able to use my latest restore point to set up my new laptop, unfortunately.  I'll have to check and see if I can do a partial restore which includes all of the software except the operating system.  I have Norton Ghost, so it's worth checking my options. 

Once it arrives, I'll have a bunch of work to do to get it set up with all of my software, including:

  • Install all software that I have on CD
  • Install all software that I've downloaded (from my list)
  • Copy all of my data files over (from my last backup)
  • Set up my email accounts in Outlook and open data files (from backup)
  • Install my new Adobe CS6 software - excited to get the new version of DreamWeaver and others that I'll use a lot

As far as I know, all of the business software that I use is compatible with Windows 7.  One exception may be my "Family Tree Maker" software that I use for personal stuff (I'm the historian for both sides of the family).  I may have to bite the bullet and finally buy a new version, in spite of the terrible reviews that I've seen on it.

As I go through this process, I'll continue to post my findings and experiences, as I did when I was recovering from a hard drive crash this summer.  If you are one of my customers and are reading this, please be patient while I do the actual conversion (starting in about 2 weeks).  I may not be able to respond quite as quickly as normal if you need something, but I will get back to you.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Favorite Features in Excel

I admit it, I'm a geek.  The good news is that I can do really cool stuff sometimes on my computer.

One of a geek's best friends is Excel spreadsheets.  Have you ever used some of these really cool features?

Cell formats - on the Home tab
You can use the buttons on the home tab to set the format of a cell, row or column so that it displays nicely.  For example, you can select $ format, then add or remove decimal places if you do (or don't) need to see the amounts less than a dollar.  You can also choose from several date formats which may or may not display the year, or may use the name of the month rather than just a numeric value.

Merge & Center - on the Home tab
If you have values that are too wide for a single cell, you can merge two cells together to give it more space.  The fastest way to do this is to use the "merge and center" button, which looks like this <-a-> in a box (in alignment section). 

Paste Format- on the Home tab (icon looks like a broom)
If you're typing and the fonts, size, colors or other formatting are not consistent, you can highlight a cell, row or column that has the format you'd like to duplicate.  Then click on the broom icon, then click on the cell, row or column where you'd like the format to be applied.  This is much faster than applying the formats one at a time (font color, font size, centering, etc.) on a cell or area.  This icon is available in all of the Microsoft Office packages (Word, Excel, etc.).

Paste Special - on the menu when you right click
If you are copying values from one cell to another, or from a totally different document, you can use "paste special" to avoid using the format of the source document.  Or you can also use "paste special" to copy just the value (or answer) of a calculation, rather than the calculation itself.

Data sorting - on Data tab
When you have a large spreadsheet it's sometimes useful to sort it by one of the column values.  For example, if you have a list of all the sales for your company, it might be useful to sort the list by date, to see the most recent sales, or sort by customer to see trends in what your customers want.  Once your data is sorted, you can better use the functions like subtotals, filters and charts/graphs.

Subtotals - on Data tab
You'll need to sort your data first, then use subtotals to count records or sum values in the sorted data.  This is really helpful for analysis.  How much revenue did you earn for each of your products?  How many people on your mailing list live in zip code 33837?

Autofilter - on Data tab (icon looks like a funnel)
If you have a lot of rows of data, you may want to look at just a subset of your data sometimes.  You can use the filter button to decide what criteria to use for your filter (column A, values = 0 for example).  You can toggle the filter on and off using the button with the funnel.  You can select the value of any cell in the column as the value to use for filtering.  You can also use custom values or basics such as blank, non blank, or boolean values like greater than, less than, not equal, and others.

Print Titles - on Page Layout tab
You don't need to copy the header row in your spreadsheet so that it appears in your data where each of your page breaks appear.  Just insert your column names in row 1.  Then you can use the "rows to repeat at top" option in the "print titles" section to have the first row or set of rows print at the top of every page.  This allows the page breaks to fall wherever they have to and it doesn't require that you move your title rows to match the page breaks.  That is a lot of extra work that you can avoid.

Header/Footer - on Insert tab
You can also use headers and footers to get a consistent title or page numbers at the top or bottom.  Use Excel's buttons to get automatic page numbers, dates, and other values.

I hope you find these useful next time you're using Excel.  If you'd like to hear about more useful functions in Excel, please post a comment.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Multiple Monitors - Have You Tried It?

About two years ago, I began using two monitors  - my laptop's built in monitor and another, larger one.  I have them set up to be two totally different windows, so they are not mirrors of the same content.  That setting is called "extended desktop" and you can find it under Control Panel ->Personalization->Display Settings.

My setup allows me to keep one monitor displaying something, for example some data in a spreadsheet, while another displays something else, like my email.  It took a little while to get used to using both of them, however now I find that I feel lost if I only have one monitor (like when using laptop away from office).

It's really useful for a few things that I often do:
  • when doing any copy/paste from one document/spreadsheet to another
  • during design or development on a website, to view the page as it appears on different size screens
  • to monitor my email as I'm working on other things
  • to read or reference a document while writing another document
  • to work on a document or spreadsheet while displaying a presentation using a projector
  • to work on a document while also looking at a webmeeting
If you've never tried to use multiple monitors, especially if your computer is a laptop with a 15" or smaller screen, it's worthwhile to try it.  You can buy an inexpensive monitor sized at 19" or 21" (or even bigger) for around $100 at most electronics stores.  It is essential for anyone who often does multitasking.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Non-Profit Organizations Need Technology Too!

You may know that Tepato Systems supports numerous clients that are non-profit organizations.  A lot of those clients use our website services, but some of them are starting to also look to Tepato Systems for help with other technology tools.

For example, many non-profits hold fundraising events during the year, and often these events might include an auction (either live or silent).  Tepato Systems has an Access database tool that was developed to keep track of the donors, donated items, winning bids and all of the other details involved in an auction.  It can produce a variety of reports, including letters to thank your donors after the event, and financial summaries to show the amount of money raised.

For more information on using a tool like the Tepato Auction database, please contact us on our website or email

To see a user guide which includes screen shots of this tool, use this link:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Often Misunderstood Apostrophe

You can call me nitpicky, but I can't stand it when people misuse apostrophes.  It is especially annoying when it's done so frequently in the public view, like on signs, flyers and even by teachers occasionally.

Let me offer some basic tips so that you can avoid this very common grammatical error:

The function of an apostrophe is to show possession OR to replace a missing letter in a contraction.  For example:

"I am" can be written as I'm
"do not" can be written as don't

the girl's hat  - the hat belongs to the girl
today's date
teacher's pet dog - the dog belongs to the teacher

Apostrophes are not needed when a word is plural unless it also involves showing possession!

the girl's went outside
the boy's went outside
chair's and table's for rent

These are all incorrect because the word with the apostrophe is just plural, meaning there are more than one girl or boy.  These phrases are not trying to show possession so an apostrophe is NOT needed.

If a phrase needs to be both plural and possessive, then the apostrophe goes at the end.

girls' hats - more than 1 girl owning more than 1 hat
knights' armor - more than one knight has armor

If you don't believe me, here is a reference:

What I Learned From My Hard Drive Crash

Hello from Tepato Systems.  It's been a while since I've blogged, but I'm going to try to post items more regularly.

Right around the July 4th holiday this year, my laptop hard drive failed.  My PC would not start up at all.  This had never happened to me before, so I was a bit shocked.  I eventually replaced the drive and got everything working again, however it was a slow and painful process.

Here are the highlights of what I've learned from this experience:

Backups are only good if they're kept current - REALLY current - and if they include ALL of your data files.
  • Automatic backups can be set up pretty easily but you have to leave your PC on all the time to take advantage of performing the backups while you're not actively using the PC.
  • Backups need to include ALL of your important data files.  Keep in mind that not everything may be stored under "My Documents".  Some types of software might store your data file in the same folder as the program itself, so you need to be sure to include that folder or file in your backup process.  Email is a good example of this, if you use Outlook.
  • It's a good idea to have a software package such as Norton's Ghost which provides automatic backups of your data, as well as doing "restore point" backups.  A restore point will get your PC back to the same state as just before a failure, so all of your data, as well as all of your software installations, will be included.  This is also very helpful if you buy a new PC (as long as you don't change operating systems).

Rebuilding all of the software that you need on a new hard drive (or if you buy a new PC) will require more than just your software CDs.

  • If you've ever upgraded any software using a downloaded file, you need to know what file and keep a copy of it where you can locate it.  It's a good idea to keep a running list of all the software you've installed and/or upgraded from a download.  Keep all of these downloaded files together in one place.  Keep the downloads list current, and burn the downloaded files off to CD or back them up for easy re-use.  You can re-download some of these from the vendor's website, but if you've got an older version you may get stuck buying a new copy.
  • Keep all of your software CDs together and keep the license keys with them (or write the keys onto the CDs themselves).

If your PC seems to be running hot, it can cause your hard drive to fail. 
  • My internal fan seems to have stopped working, so I think that is what cause my failure.  A cheap desk fan keeps me cool for now, but I think a new PC will be on my "buy" list very soon.
  • The easiest part of the whole process was actually replacing the bad drive. I only had to open up the bottom of the laptop, pop out the old drive and put it's bracket on the new drive to install it. It took less than 30 minutes and I've never done it before.

There are companies out there that can try to recover your data from a bad hard drive, but it's not cheap. 
  • I got very good results with Data Recovery Group in Southfield.  They were able to save pretty much all of my data (almost 70 GB) and it cost me $500.   I dropped off the hard drive at their office and they called me when they were done, just a few days later.
  • It could have cost me $1500 or more to get my data if the issue with my drive had required DRG to disassemble it in a "clean room" and use the magnetic media in a different machine.  Fortunately this was not necessary.
  • I actually had backups for a lot of my data, but the few things that were missing or old in my backup file made it worthwhile for me to pay the money.

My hard drive crash cost me a total of $650.  About $60 of that was for the replacement hard drive.  Another $90 was for a large external hard drive for the Data Recovery Group to use to store the data they saved.  The other $500 was for DRG's work to recover my data. 

Overall I was glad to get my data back but I realize that I could have bought a whole new PC for $650.

I hope this summary can help you to avoid the pain I experienced.  Bottom line is back up everything, back up often and keep an organized list of everything you have installed on your PC.  It's a little work to set up the backups and create the list of software, but believe me it's worth a little time now to save a LOT of time if you happen to have a failure.  It's also very helpful if you need to transition from one PC to another (like when you buy a new one).