I Didn’t Expect it to be Useful: How Amazon.com tricked me

Amazon tricked me.

You see, I bought a tablet a few months ago.  I held off getting a tablet for awhile, even though I really wanted one.  The price seemed too high for the return.  It struck me as mostly a consumption device, and I’m really more into the production side of things.

When I got my current client, I did decide to get myself a toy.  Because I fully intended for it to be a toy meant for media consumption, and I already had lots of Kindle books bought from Amazon, yes, I bought a Kindle Fire.

And I got tricked.

Don’t get me wrong. I use my tablet a great deal for reading, messing around on social media and watching trashy BBC Science fiction.  What I did not expect was how much I would use the device for productivity.

My latest client is a large hospital.  We’re doing a major OS upgrade and I’m managing the reimage side of the project.  Now, that part of it is dealing with desktops and laptops, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk tablets.

This hospital sees a lot of them.  We have a device independent tunnel that allows users to access myriad business applications, and this tunnel can be used just fine on many mobile devices, including tablets.  Doctors often make rounds carrying one and recording patient encounters in the hospital record system, many patients record initial information in tablets at the reception desk, and people just use tablets because, hey, they’re nifty and fun.

But I use that same tunnel to check my client email, use software unavailable on tablets, detail trouble tickets, take notes at meetings, and show presentations in small meetings or classes.

How do you make your tablet more productive?

1. Use it as your mobile device and leave the computer on your desk.

There’s a lot of good and secure desktop connection software out there.  GotomyPC is a person favorite, even if it isn’t free.  After you set it up, you can always connect to your desktop for anything you might need, freeing you from having to carry a large laptop with you. While I wouldn’t want to do major design work on a tablet, being able to remote into my “big computer” has made me less inclined to lug it around for routine tasks that require software not available on a tablet.

2. Get a keyboard

You might think it defeats the purpose of a tablet, but there are some good keyboard options out there that aren’t too clunky.  Mine folds up with the tablet in a case that’s smaller than most of the books I used to lug around in my pre-e-reading days.  When I don’t want to use a keyboard, I just set it aside and hold the tablet in hands.  Works great.

3. Apps, Apps, Apps

I’m writing this on my tablet using the WordPress app.  Even though Amazon’s app store can’t rival the selection in app store of the Computing Fruit Bowl King, you’d be a bit surprised at the productive goodness you can find.  I have an app that syncs with my financial software, I use OfficeSuite Pro for basic non-blogging writing, small spreadsheets (though it can’t handle the hoary complexity I get into when I’m get into spreadsheet Power User mode), and presentations.  

Honest to goodness, I really had intended my tablet to be an expensive toy.  But I got tricked into using it for real work.

Curse you, Amazon! 

NIFTY TIP Adding or Subtracting Amounts from Different Ranges

Problem: You need to add or subtract amounts from different ranges according to a specific criteria (SUMIF function).

Solution:  Insert two SUMIF formulas and combine them into a single formula:

  1. Insert the SUMIF formula to total the amounts based on the criterion 701 into cell E2.
  2. Insert the SUMIF formula to total the amounts based on the criterion 300 into cell E3.
  3. Select cell E2 and copy the formula from the Formula Bar, select the formula and press <ctrl>+C and click the Enter or Cancel symbol in the Formula Bar to exit Edit mode.
  4. Select cell E5 and press <ctrl>+V.
  5. Select cell E3 and copy the formula from the Formula Bar without the equals (=) sign by selecting the formula and pressing <ctrl>+C.
  6. Select cell E5 and enter a minus(-) sign after the formula in the cell, and then press <ctrl>+V.

The combined formula is now:




There’s No Substitute for Practice

When I teach classes in computer applications, there is occasionally an expectation that after a six-hour class, the student will have mastered all the material we’ve covered in the class.

I wish it worked that way, I really do.

But the problem comes in when the student takes the class and then never touches the application except to do the routine things that he’d originally done before spending all that time being exposed to new material.

Practice is important. No, it’s more than important, it’s crucial to retaining the information.

Every computer application class I teach has independent practice exercises for each concept covered. The student is meant to go back to the home or office, then try out the new material and see how it works in the non-classroom environment.

The students that do well will do these provided exercises in a day or two, often emailing me for help with the sticky parts.

The students that genuinely develop mastery take it a step further. After playing with the provided exercises, they’ll start creating their own solutions relevant to their lives, their jobs and their interests.

As a teacher, of course I have to maintain mastery of the applications I teach. To do this, I come up with exercises or play with solutions, myself, that are relevant to my interests.

As a computer professional, I do tend to have geeky interests. My husband, alike in geekery, was noodling around on a discussion board when a complaint about a long-term science fiction program (Doctor Who) came up. The main character flies about in a time machine and picks up companions to travel with him from all over time and space. Someone complained that the companions were all from present-day (at the time of the episode airing) Earth, and that didn’t make sense.

I disagreed that the companions were all from present-day Earth, and immediately pulled up MS Excel to come up with some solid proof.*

We made a list of the companions in one column; then populated the second column with a Y or an N to indicate whether or not they were from the present day. After that, I created a couple of named ranges for the columns.*

This groundwork made a COUNTIF function to find out how many companions were from present-day Earth a simple matter.

The formula in cell F2 is =COUNTIF(Present, “N”)

The formula in cell F2 is =COUNTIF(Present, “Y”)

As a small addition to this little practice exercise, I created a little pie chart from my findings.

Is it in any way important where characters from a science fiction program hail? Of course not! But consistent, deliberate practice? That’s crucial and vital to mastery.

But there’s no reason that the practice can’t be a little fun and goofy!


* A named range is a meaningful name you can give to a cell or range of cells that you can then use in a formula or function. I’ll be posting how to create one in a future Nifty Tip.

Nifty Tip #2: Combining the VLOOKUP and MATCH formulas


formula returns data from any column you choose in the data table. All you have to do is change the number of the column in the third argument, right?


Well, it sounds easy, but there is a little catch.

  • How can you determine the number of a column in a data table that contains numerous columns?
  • How can you easily change the number of the column in the third argument of the VLOOKUP formula?
  • How can you easily change the column number in multiple formulas in a worksheet from which complex reports are prepared or in a sheet that contains multiple VLOOKUP formulas?


Insert the MATCH formula in the third argument of the VLOOKUP formula.

Step One: Define Two Names

  1. Select Row 1, press <ctrl>+F3 (That’s the F3 function key at the top of your keyboard. It opens the Name Manager).
  2. Type the name Row1 in the Names in workbook field, and click OK.
  3. Select the data table by pressing <ctrl>+*. Then open the Name Manager again by pressing <ctrl>+F3, and enter Data in the Names in the workbook field, then click OK.

Step Two: Enter the Match Formula

  1. Open an adjacent worksheet, and select cell A1
  2. In cell A1, type 4/01/2001
  3. In cell B1, enter the formula =MATCH(A1, Row1, 0)
    Hint: Be careful to enter the value 0 in the third argument to specify the search for an exact value.
  4. Results of calculation: 7.



Step Three: Enter the Vlookup formula

  1. Enter the account number 201 into the cell A2
  2. Enter the formula =VLOOKUP(A2, Data, B1) in cell B2. In the third argument of the VLOOKUP formula, select a cell which contains the MATCH formula.
  3. Calculation results: 7981.


Step Four: Combine the Formulas

  1. In the formula bar (MATCH formula) of cell B1, select the formula without the = sign, press <ctrl>+c, and click the Cancel sign (from the left of the formula in the formula bar). Select cell B2, and in the formula bar, select the address B1.
  2. Press <ctrl>+v and press Enter.
  3. The final result, a nested formula is:

    =VLOOKUP(A2, Data, MATCH(A1,Row1,0))



I don’t often post about anything particularly personal in this blog, what with it being my business blog and all.  Today, I’m making an exception.

A client emailed me this morning asking me if I was free to teach some classes this month.  It’s a Sunday, and I was still in my PJs, drinking coffee and wading through my mail.  Most of us who are self-employed and carry our offices in our computer bags know the deal.  Get up, do a little working out, then get some coffee and fire up our laptops to see what’s happening in the wild worlds of our professions.

My husband, upon hearing that I’d have some more classes to teach, took a picture of me working and posted it to his Facebook account.  (Hey, he’s proud of me.  This is no bad thing in a husband!)  But it was what he asked me before he posted the picture that got me to thinking:

“Honey, are you worried this might come across as unprofessional?”

Yes, this is my writin' chair. Students? This is where I tend to prep those wonderful handouts I give you, too!

Well, no…

I wouldn’t go teach in my jammies, but c’mon…  Not everyone who works from home has a dedicated home office that’s the sole place they work.  I think this is pretty common knowledge.

Oh sure, I could get one of those stock photographs of a pretty smiling woman leaning over someone’s shoulder and pointing to a computer screen as part of the teaching image for my website.  And sure, I could imply that I work from an office, and keep quiet about the fact I haul my laptop to coffee shops, on trains, on planes and even on balconies watching the sun come up on the beach.  I could imply a staff, but I’m a hired gun.  Have laptop, will travel; that’s me!

While I still get an enormous kick out of doing this, it’s not unusual.  Lots of people live this way.  I think putting the reality of contracting out there (yes, we can work in our jammies, but yes, we also tend to work seven days a week) is a good thing, though.  Being self-employed isn’t the rock star lifestyle some like to make it out to be, but neither is it without some nice perks.

Excel Nifty Tips: The CONCATENATE Function

The CONCATENATE formula allows one to combine text from multiple cells into a single cell.

To add a blank character between words, type a space between quotation marks. This adds a blank character between the separated texts.   Whatever is between the quotes, be it a space, text or characters, it will show up in the concatenation.

So, if you were trying to create an email address at Hogwarts, the formula would be:



5 Signs Your Subject Matter Expert Might be the Wrong Teacher

Congratulations!  You’ve installed a new system or an upgrade that will make work easier for your office, automate some routine tasks and bring your organization up to date.   It’s fun and exciting to–

What?  Your end users are complaining?  Your staff hates the system?  Your IT person has rolled her eyes at the users so often that her pupils have fused to the back of her skull?

What happened?

Upgrading often has some resistance, yes.  The reality is that people often don’t like change.  The longer a person has used a system, or the more expert the user is in other areas, the more reluctant the user will be to embrace the new system.  Fact of life.  Even in the face of this, you might want to make sure that you didn’t fall down on the training end.

It is not uncommon to shoehorn teaching duties into your IT staff.  They know the material, right?  So they can teach it, no problem!


Teaching –especially teaching a technologically resistant learner, is an often frustrating job requiring a specialized skill set.  Your IT guy may be brilliant at what she does otherwise, but might be exactly the wrong teacher.

5 signs your subject matter expert might be the wrong teacher

1. The SME is contemptuous of the end user.

Yes, everyone in the tech field has spelled “end user” “l-user” at one time or another.  We’re human.  We get frustrated.  I’m just saying that if your IT person has a shrine to the BoFH or has a mug that says RTFM1, this person might lack the necessary empathy in this particular area to be a good trainer.

2. The SME has a lack of verbal facility.

If you can’t translate “geek” to “normal” you’re not in a position to train the end user on the new system or software.  Can that IT person you’re thinking of yanking away from his computer do that?  Talk to him.  If he uses expressions like “dumb down”, let him get on with what he knows and can do well.  Find someone else to teach.

3.       The SME equates technological expertise with intelligence.

This is an incredibly common sin among the IT crowd.  While in theory it needs to stop, in practice, you get someone like this as a teacher and you’ve set yourself up for a real mess.  There are several professions notorious not only for intelligence, but for resistance to change in computer systems and applications.  Don’t believe me?  Go to your nearest hospital and take someone from the IT department out for a drink.  Ask them who they hate to teach the worst.  You’ll get an hour on why they hate training senior physicians.

I think we’re agreed that to get an MD, one must be of at least slightly above-average intelligence, yes?

The problem is a bit of a lack of empathy on both parts.  Doctor Labrat really is used to being an expert.  She’s not used to the pain of being incompetent at anything.  Chances are good it’s been a long time since she’s perceived herself as having the time to study anything outside of his field.  IT is Ms. Sysadmin’s field.  Part of her job is learning new applications and systems.  This is routine for her, and it’s in her field.  Ms. Sysadmin, unless she’s a teacher as well, won’t know how to guide an intelligent, accomplished person through the pain of being incompetent and will likely chalk it up to mental laziness on Dr. Labrat’s part2.

4.       The SME hates public speaking.

Teachers are public speakers.  We’re good at it, we know how to engage an audience.  We know how to be clear and we know how to inspire.  If that’s not happening, it might be because your teaching candidate doesn’t like talking in front of people.  There’s no shame in this.  Let her get on with what she’s good at and why you value her work in the first place.  Don’t shoehorn her into something she doesn’t know or do well.  Training your employees is too crucial a job to give to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

5.       The SME doesn’t have the time!

 Teaching a good one-hour class takes about three hours of preparation for new material.  If the system is less than three months old, or the teacher has not taught a live class in this very subject more than once, it’s new material!  While it might look like a good teacher just gets up in front of a class and spontaneously spouts that entertaining and informative lecture, it doesn’t really work that way.  Spontaneity is often a matter of careful preparation.  Don’t mistake the casual competence for a lack of prep time!  If your employee doesn’t have three times the prep time that he has for face time in front of the class, your employee doesn’t have time to teach!  Get a contractor, hire someone, spread the duties around.  Do what it takes to get your employees trained properly.

The subject matter expert can be the right teacher.  Just keep in mind that teaching is a skill set all its own.  Study your people carefully and see if they have the skillset for training.  If not? Well, there are lots of trainers out there ready to help you on a contract basis.  Check around and good luck!


1Please read the manual, sir.

2Not that mental laziness doesn’t happen at that level. It can anywhere.  But unless you’ve got a real teacher, it might be hard to spot.

Gorilla Client

When you’re a freelancer and get a really big client, probably the first thing you do is cheer.  Money!  Lots of work!  You can slack off marketing for awhile, wheeee!!!!!

If that client is now providing more than about 20% of your business, stop cheering right now and start panicking.  No, seriously.

There’s an expression for this sort of client – the Gorilla Client.  Sure, that big client seems great, and yes, big projects with lots of work/pay really are.  But like having a big, powerful gorilla in your office, it can be a problem that becomes bigger and stronger than you are.  Any problem with that client is now a potential threat to your entire business.  You’ll find yourself structuring your business around the needs of that single client. You’ll find yourself tempted to leave off working for other clients and concentrate on that one[1].   Sure, you want to provide good service.  Good service should be at the heart of your business.  But you do not want to rise and fall at the whim of a single client.

So, why do we accept Gorilla Clients?  It’s mostly laziness and greed, from what I can see.  If you don’t love marketing (and plenty of freelance writers don’t), any excuse to be able to write and not market sounds like a lot of fun.  If you’re getting plenty of work, it’s hard to be motivated to do something you don’t like.

A good way to avoid this is to budget your time carefully.  Since you’re in charge of your work day, make sure you dedicate a certain percentage of that day to marketing no matter how busy you get.   Yeah, I know.  If you’re swamped with work from one client, it’s hard to make yourself go looking for more work.  Suck it up and do it.

Remember that as a freelancer, you can choose how much work you’re willing to accept as well.  How many hours a month are you willing to work?  I go monthly rather than weekly, because there will be plenty of weeks that you’ll be hammer and tongs at a deadline for one particular client.  That’s okay as long as you’ve got more work on deck, and are keeping up on your marketing. What you don’t want to do is let any one client suck up your professional time over a significant period of time.

Hours Per Month

Hours Spent Marketing


Time for Client Work

Maximum Time Allowed Per Single Client Per Month






















I actually consider myself a client for purposes of time management.  As a writer, there’s a certain amount of non-commercial “sharpening the saw” that’s necessary to stay fit, stay alert and stay skilled in my profession[2].  Now I don’t dedicate anywhere near to 20 hours a month on it, but I do make sure that I leave time to write, to work on projects with no direct result and to make sure that I’m exploring avenues that might be useful in the long run.

This article is meant for the one-man shop.  If you’re finding that you need at least 40 hours a week specifically to spend on client work, chances are good that what you really need is at least a part-time admin assistant or sales person.  If you’re in love with being a one-man shop, raise your rates.  That’ll take care of the problem well enough and you’ll bring your time management back into balance.


[1] The Pareto Principle might be okay for really large firms, but isn’t an ideal strategy when you’re a small business servicing small businesses.

[2] This article leaps to mind.  I don’t have a paying client for it at the moment.

Optimize for Mobile Devices: A Heartfelt Plea

I joined the 21st century recently and got a data plan and an Android-based phone.  Oh my word, is living in the future wonderful!


But, I have a bone to pick with you web developers, business owners, and bloggers out there.  Many of you don’t have mobile-friendly sites.  Why is this?

Even back when I was living in the dark ages and was not using a mobile device myself, I understood that there were plenty of people around who were.  My sites all have a mobile version.  Granted, I’m running WordPress-powered blogs for the most part, so getting the plug-in wasn’t exactly hard or anything.  I did it because I know that when you’re bored, reading short pieces appropriate to a blog is a common way for the wired to entertain themselves.

Don’t think it’s just for blogging, though.  More and more, people will be using mobile devices to search for information as they’re going about their day.

Categories for which a mobile-friendly website is crucial:

  • Restaurants

Every one of us has looked around, at our friends and voiced that time-honored phrase, “Where do you want to go for dinner?”  We don’t always ask this question in front of a computer or phone book.  Make sure that you have a mobile-friendly page that shows your location, hours open, menu and a general idea of prices.  It’ll make it more likely for your customers to pick you.

  • Bloggers


Yes, that theme you designed is very pretty.  Guess what? I can’t see it on a screen smaller than the palm of my hand, and I’m not visiting your site because it’s pretty.  If I read a blog regularly, it’s because I find what you have to say entertaining, informative, or more likely both!   Have a mobile version.  And if you’re worried about ad revenue, don’t.  On your mobile version, you can set it so that the ads show interspersed with the text or at the bottom of the screen.


  • Anyone that sells things over the Internet

Amazon has a mobile-friendly site.  Big department stores do, too.  If you sell products online, you really want your potential customers to be able to make an impulse purchase from their mobile phones.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on a site that’ll be friendly to your mobile customers,  and you want to be able to make it easy for them to make that impulse purchse.

Let’s assume you’re convinced.  So, what makes a website mobile-friendly?

  • Vertical Design

Mobile devices generally have a screen that is narrower than it is wide.   The user will be scrolling down a great deal to get to content.  Make sure the most useful content is right at the top – rather like going for page rank on Google.


  • Minimized clicks


Make sure that your user doesn’t have to click on too many internal links for the site to be useful.  However, resist the temptation to put all of the content on one page.


  • Minimized textual input


Typing on a mobile is a pain.  Make sure you’re not forcing your user to fill out too many forms.


  • Minimized Image Use


Think icons here.  Don’t integrate the image into the usefulness of the site!


  • Good Content organization

Make sure you sit down and draw out not only a generalized design, but make some flow charts about how your user is likely to navigate the site.  Test this with people who are not web developers until you can get a usage flow that makes sense and is fairly intuitive.


Remember that your main site, the one that people will be browsing on larger screens, can be considerably more elaborate.  What you want here is a version of the site built specifically for your mobile user.  If you’re considering a new website, make sure that you get a designer that understands these principles.


Clocking IT

Do you need to keep track of your time?

Do you need project management software?

Do you like it when it’s free?

Okay, silly question. We don’t like to pay for stuff when we don’t have to.

Well, I have a program for you that you might like. I’ve been using this one myself for over a year and couldn’t be more pleased. It’s called Clocking IT and is designed with the IT professional in mind. That said, I use it for an awful lot of writing and document design project where I’m being paid by time spent rather than by project.

It works like most project management software. You can have multiple clients and projects, a discussion group for any project that you choose to make collaborative, and you can have multiple users for each company account. There is a Gantt chart option to ensure appropriate allocation of time and resources, and the reporting methods are both powerful and flexible.

The program is web-based, but you can enter time spent offline into the database quite easily.[1]

I find it useful not only to track how much time I’m spending on clients, but also to make sure that I’m dedicating enough of my time to marketing and development projects. Since I do also collaborate with other people, I sometimes give them user accounts with my company to ensure that we’re on track with whatever project we’re working on.

All in all, for the small business, this is a very cool program and the price can’t be beat!

[1] Which I actually did for about ten hours on a train trip up the East Coast last year!