Technology

Tell Me What You Want to Do

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  • I know it can be done in Word (or Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote). I’ve done it before but I don’t remember how or where it is on the menu.
  • I know it is there, but I don’t have time to look. I need to get this done now.
  • The instructions say look for Picture Tools, look for format tab, and click…. Where is everything? Seriously…

If you have ever been in any of the above situations, read on. There is a great feature for you in Office 2016. “Tell me what you want to do” (also known as Tell Me Assistant) is a handy tool available in Microsoft Office 2016.

Context-sensitive help has been around for a very long time and most people are familiar with it. Tell Me Assistant takes it one step further. Simply type what you want to do in the Tell Me Assistant box. Instead of getting instructions on how to do something, Tell Me Assistant shows you the menu required to get the job done. As you type into the Tell Me box, Tell Me Assistant will provide a list of suggestions. Click on the one you need and you get the menu immediately. If the task requires further selection of options, they will be provided on a flyout menu. No more looking for menu items on the ribbon or following lengthy instructions.

Expert users of Office who know their keyboard shortcuts by heart may find the Tell Me Assistant redundant if not downright irritating like Clippy the Office Assistant (Office 97 to 2003). Admittedly typing Alt-Ctrl-c to insert a copyright symbol is a lot faster, if you remember the shortcuts. But for the rest of us, Tell Me Assistant is a time saver. And let’s not forget those times when you are on the road with a mobile device and no external keyboard.

Below are a few examples:

Insert £, €, ©, ®, and other symbols (Word)

Put your mouse where you want the symbol to appear. Type symbol into the Tell Me Assistant box. Pick the symbol you need and voilà, it’s done. By the way, I used Tell Me Assistant to insert the à in voilà.

Text Box (Word)

Highlight the text to be put in a text box, type text box in the Tell Me Assistant box.

Click and drag the handles to resize the text box and click on the Layout Option icon on the top right corner for text wrapping options.

Page Number (Word)

Type page number into the Tell Me Assistant box, choose the position and format of page number on the flyout menu.

Pivot Table (Excel)

Here’s my all-time favourite. Highlight table cells, type pivot table in the Tell Me Assistant box.

 

and here you are with a pivoted table:

Here are a few more of my favourites. Give it a try.

  • Footnote
  • Table of contents
  • Change case
  • Link
  • Bookmark
  • Cross-reference
  • Margin

Adding Personal Notes to Outlook Email Messages

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A question I have been asked numerous times is how to add personal notes, annotations, additional information or comments to an email that you have sent or received. There are numerous imperfect ways to add notes to email messages received or sent but no perfect method. For now, we can only pick one or two imperfect workarounds and hope that Microsoft will some day add this as a feature. There are third party plugins that facilitate adding notes to mail messages, but for this article I will limit the scope to Microsoft Office products.

Below are a few options you can try. I have used all of these at one time or another and I have eventually eliminated all but the last. The Outlook versions I use are Office 2016 and Office 2010, but all options below should work with Outlook 2013 as well.

Use the custom flag box as a note field

I have used this workaround for a while but abandoned it because the note is limited to 255 characters, is not formattable, and is difficult to spot since it is wedged between the subject and the start/completion date and reply date. In addition, the notes entered in the “Flag to” box are not searchable.

Here’s how:

  1. Right click on the flag of the message on the message list column
  2. Select “Custom”
  3. Type your notes in the “Flag to” box

Forward the email to yourself

Forward the email to yourself and you can add lengthy notes and even attachments and links. This works well if the email thread is not too long. If the thread is long, your notes will be scattered over multiple forwarded emails. Using the subject line to help organize the “note messages” helps somewhat, but if the thread involves multiple recipients and lasts for more than a few weeks, it can get messy quickly, especially if you get lots of emails on a daily basis. So this is a feasible option but high-maintenance nonetheless.

Use the subject line

You can change or add to the subject line. Again, this will only work for short notes as you are limited to 255 characters, including spaces and punctuation.

Here’s how:

  1. Double click to open the email (you cannot change the subject in the preview pane)
  2. Type your notes in the subject box. You can type over the original subject or add your notes before or after the original subject.

Create a custom column

Again, this only works for short notes, even shorter than using the subject line or a custom flag. And being mildly anal retentive, I do not like the note column messing up the list column, even less than not eating my Smarties in colour order.

Here’s how:

  1. Right click on the header row (where it says “All | Unread | Mentions…” if you haven’t changed the default) on the list column.
  2. Select “View Settings…”, then “Columns…”, then “New Column…”.
  3. Name your column and move your new column up or down to where you want it to appear. Usually it is easier to spot and read the notes if it is the first column. Click “OK” to save.
  4. Next you have to change the settings so you can enter notes in the new column. Go to “View Settings…” again and click “Other Settings…”
  5. In the “Other Settings…” box, check the box marked “Allow in-cell editing”. Click “OK”. Now you can type in the new column. You are limited to 70 characters, including spaces and punctuation.
  6. To adjust the display width of the column, go to “View Settings…”, then “Format Columns” and “Specific width”. The maximum characters you can choose is 50.

Use Outlook Notes

It baffles me to no end why Microsoft would create a Notes feature in Outlook and yet stop short of providing a way to bind a note to a message in the Inbox or Sent box. That said, Outlook Notes is a handy utility to keep your personal notes on various matters and can certainly be used to keep simple notes on emails as long as you enter enough information in the note so you can locate the emails if you need to re-read, reply or forward the messages. Notes are searchable, sortable, and colour-coded, but the contents are not formattable since it is a plain old text file.

Here’s how:

  1. Click the icon with 3 dots on the bottom of the Navigation Column (also referred to as Folder column) in Outlook and click “Notes”.
  2. Click “New Note”.
  3. A yellow sticky note window will open up. You can drag the corner of the sticky note window to enlarge the window. To change the colour of the sticky note, click the note symbol on the top left corner and choose “Category”. You can also change the colour and category anytime after the note is created by clicking the note icon in either the icon view of list view.
  4. Type your note in the window. The first line will appear as the subject of the note so it is a good practice to create a meaningful short title. When you finish typing, click away from the sticky note window and your note will be automatically saved.
  5. You can sort your sticky notes by subject, date created, or the category.

 Save to OneNote

I save the best for last. Using OneNote is by far my favourite way to add notes to email. This works especially well for lengthy threads in which you need to add personal notes at different stages. Since the notes are kept in OneNote, you have great flexibility in organization using OneNote’s architecture: Notebook, Section, and Page. You can add links, attachments, insert screen captures, hand-drawn pictures, embed video and audio clips, and create checklists. You can also share your notes (or not) with other OneNote users, invite collaboration, or export the notes to PDF or Microsoft Word and share by email if needed.

OneNote is a powerful note-keeping application in the Microsoft Office family. It can do a lot more than keeping notes for email. But that is for another blog post.

Here’s how:

  1. Select the email you want to save to OneNote, click the OneNote icon on the “Move” section of the ribbon.
  2. You have the option of choosing which Notebooks and Section you want the email to be saved to. For example, you can have an Emails Section in a Notebook created for a specific project. Sections appear as tabs in a Notebook, and each email you save will be a new page under the Emails tab.
  3. OneNote will open automatically to the page with your entire email saved fulltext. Here you can add your notes, links, attachments, etc.
  4. The one thing I find missing is a link back to the email, in case I need to reply or forward the email. To add a link back to the Outlook email, open Outlook and OneNote side by side, drag and drop the email from Outlook’s item list to OneNote. It is as simple as that. You can drag as many email links to one page as you want. So you can use one page to keep track of an entire thread of emails and make notes pertinent to each email in the thread.

These are just a few different methods I have tried. I am sure there are other workarounds—such as using a simple Word document. It is just a matter of finding one that work best for your own workflow and habits.

A Humble Beginning: 32 Years of Saskatchewan Case Digesting (Throwback Thursday)

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TB19Jun_2
An acoustic coupler used in the 1983 movie WarGames

The year was 1982 , and …

Time Magazine‘s Man of the Year was the computer,
Commodore 64 was the most popular home computer,
Sony Walkman was the hot new gadget,
the first movie with extensive 3D CGI Tron was released by Disney,
and mobile phone… no, there was no mobile phone yet. The first consumer mobile phone didn’t come out until the following year and weighed almost 2 lbs. and measured about 12 inches tall and 3.5 inches thick.

And what cool tools did we have in Saskatchewan for legal research in 1982?

In the early ’80s there was generally a 6 to 12 month delay for Saskatchewan cases to be picked up by printed law reporters. QL Systems (Quicklaw) was the only online service available and was already popular in courthouses. Searching QL back then was over a phone line dialing into Canada’s packet switched network Datapac using a modem or an acoustic coupler with a data transfer rate of 1000 baud (approximately 10 million times slower than the download speed of a high speed Internet connection these days). Remember WarGames? Finding caselaw and getting cases to the lawyers in a timely manner was problematic and expensive.  There was a need to provide a local digesting service and This Week’s Law, commonly known as TWL, was the resulting product.

TB19JunTRS80III
A Radio Shack TRS-80 computer
TB19Jun_1
A page from TWL, 1986

The first issue of TWL was released in 1982. One copy was produced on a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. Copies for distribution were made on a photocopier because all office printers back then were dot matrix.  They were slow, noisy, and they printed on fanfold paper.  TWL was offered as a looseleaf subscription service with approximately nine releases a year. Over the years the contents of TWL expanded and many features were added. In 1998, the contents of TWL were imported into a new database platform that made searching on the Internet possible. This became the Saskatchewan Cases database. Data structure, search screens and reports were carefully designed to maximize the searchability of the contents and to take full advantage of the hypertext linking ability of HTML.  In order to enable fulltext searching of the judgments, a separate Fulltext database was created and linked to the Cases database.  The databases were initially available only for Law Society members for a subscription fee.  At the end of 1999 the benchers decided to make the databases available to the members for free.  A subsequent decision opened up the databases to the public. Since the databases were made available on the Internet and members have become more comfortable with computers and online searching , the demand for the printed TWL began to dwindle.  In 2002, after completing the 20th Anniversary volume, the Library decided to discontinue TWL.

Saskatchewan was the first law society in Canada to initiate an Internet-based search service for judgments. Today, Saskatchewan Cases database is one of the most popular databases produced by the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library. It is being used over 3,500 times a month. From the database we produce Case Mail, a twice monthly electronic newsletter of case digests. We also provide our case digests to CanLII Connects. All these were started from a need to provide current case law for our members, a vision, and a few people quietly doing what needed to be done behind the scene to provide a great service.

UPDATE: A recent inventory indicates that the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has contributed 18,639 case digests to CanLII Connects, making us one of the biggest contributors to the service.

More Tips on Using Microsoft Words

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The most popular blog post on Legal Sourcery since our launch in 2014 is Cross-referencing footnotes in Word by Reché McKeague. This post has been read 11,012 times since posted on April 29, 2014. That’s an average of almost 400 times each month. Here are a few more interesting posts on Word tips and tricks from other law blogs:

5 Microsoft Word Tips to Make Lawyers’ Lives Easier (FindLaw)

Get the Most Out of Microsoft Word (American Bar Association, Law Practice Magazine)

Master Class: Microsoft Word Shortcuts for Lawyers (LexisNexis Business of Law Blog, video)

If you have already upgraded to, or considering upgrading to Office 365, here’s  an article with useful tips:

15 Amazing Features in Office 365 That You Probably Don’t Know About (Business Insider)

Canada Post Personal Vault (Tech Beat)

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techbeatDo you need safe online storage for confidential information such as passwords, birth certificate, bank accounts, medical records, passports, tax returns, wills, insurance and other legal documents that you might need to access anytime, anywhere, or to share with your family members?

Canada Post has a Personal Vault service that provides bank-grade security and keeps your information on servers physically located in Canada. The Personal Vault is not meant to be cloud storage for your massive photo and movie collection but rather a secure place for your important personal, financial, medical information and your most valuable photos and videos. For this reason, file size is limited to 200KB each file and 3.5MB for photos and 10MB for videos. Picture this as an electronic safety deposit box, the contents of which you can access 24/7 whether you are at work, at home, or travelling.

Setup is straight forward. All you need to do is to create an ePost account (if you don’t already have one), pick a Personal Vault Plan and sign in. You can upload your own files or use the provided forms to quickly enter information such as bank accounts, passwords, prescriptions, etc.

Pros Cons
  • Data and all backup stays in Canada
  • No data is replicated outside of Canada
  • Bank-level security
  • Encrypted upload and download at 128 bit SSL. 256 bit AES encryption on data stored in the vault
  • Easy to use
  • Inexpensive
  • Small file size
  • Small storage size
  • Confusing website with lots of broken links
  • Server maintenance can occur during the day (but usually on weekends)

A trial account of 100MB storage is free for 90 days (500 documents, 28 photos, 10 videos). A Bronze account of 1GB storage is $23.95 a year (5,000 documents, 285 photos, 100 videos).  Silver and Gold accounts are available if you require more storage space. Give it a try.

vault

vault2

vault3

 

Find Values Quickly on a Spreadsheet (Tech Beat)

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techbeatConditional Formatting is a largely underused and undervalued feature in Excel. Very often I see people re-sort the entire spreadsheet or use the search feature to find specific values. These can be easily done instead with Conditional Formatting.

Ranking

Instead of re-sorting your spreadsheet, try selecting the data cells you wish to rank, then click “Conditional Formatting” on the command ribbon and select “Data Bars”. Hover your mouse over the fills and watch the data bars appearing on your spreadsheet where you can easily locate the high and low values.

ConditionalFormat_1

Colour Scales

If you keep track of workflow, transactions, cashflow, etc., this trick is great for getting a quick visual of your busy/normal/slow periods. Highlight your data cells, click “Conditional Formatting” and select “Color Scales”.

ConditionalFormat_2

Top/Bottom Values

The “Top/Bottom Rules” allow you to quickly identify the top and bottom values, top and bottom percentages, above-average and below-average values.

ConditionalFormat_3

This is just the beginning of all the cool things you can do with Conditional Formatting. In our next Tech Beat post, we will show you how to find duplicates, compare lists or values, and make a dynamic condition on the fly. Stay tuned…

Sway by Microsoft: the easy breezy way to create an interactive presentation (Tech Beat)

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techbeat

Have you ever had to create a simple interactive presentation in a hurry and PowerPoint seems too daunting when you are in crunch mode? Give Microsoft Sway a try. In a few easy steps, you can create an online interactive presentation that you can make public, keep private, or share with people who are given a link. Best of all, Sway is free, and you can’t argue with free.

Sway and PowerPoint are both Microsoft products. While PowerPoint gives you full control of animation, sound, layout, design and branding, Sway is for you to whip up a presentation (even if you only have your cellphone or tablet available) when the ominous deadline is staring at you and you are willing to give up some design control.

Once you log in to Sway, creating a presentation takes just a few steps. First you select a theme, then a navigation style (horizontal or vertical, for now). After this, you just add heading, text, and insert photos or videos directly from OneDrive, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Internet, or upload from your computer. Here is a quick presentation I made in under 15 minutes. It doesn’t give you a lot of creative freedom, but it gets the work done.

Start using Sway here, or check out this official video by Microsoft on YouTube.sway