Ideas for New Posts — Part the First

“I am not an actuary, but I play one on TV”.

I like to say this, even though it’s not true (the TV part). But I get some things about data that actuaries like to dig into that end up being fun challenges in Excel. One of the biggest learning experiences for me over the last few years has been “how to best query, organize, and analyze my_metric in the context of ‘root year’, calendar year, and ‘dimension x’ ?”

I have recently migrated my core preference from pivot table to (in Excel 2007 and hopefully later) Excel Tables, the entities formerly known as lists. Tables and structured references are not only viable replacements for the former, they have some syntactical qualities that make them superior. In the right context of course.

So, in keeping with the ambiguity of the title, “stay tuned” hah ha.

p.s. some typo fixes


Strange Arrangements in MS Word

I am a reluctant user of Word, but at times my hand is forced. Real pro uses of the Word probably understand its idiosyncrasies, but I sure don’t.

In Word (2007) “single document interface”, aka “SDI” is the default. In SDI each document opens in its own window, which you see represented as a task bar button. SDI never worked well for me since I frequently have many applications and many documents open at one time.

Luckily, for a few versions now MS has offered this nice option found under Advanced | Display | “Show All Windows in the Taskbar”, which effectively toggles off the “MDI” mode or “multiple document interface”. MDI is king for me because it reduces taskbar clutter and therefore the number of alt+tabs I have to do to find my way back to the right document when I have 10 applications open, some of which have 4 documents open.

Here’s the strange thing… Whether in SDI or MDI mode, for some reason Word cannot arrange multiple documents in a vertical (left-and-right) arrangement. Only horizontal (top-and-bottom). This is absurd. In a world where monitors are wider, not taller, why must I be forced to split my document views along the long axis? Adding insult to that injury, the vertical pixels the ribbon nearly uselessly commands detract from usability even further. And by the way, Excel 2007 can tile vertically, but Word 2007 can’t. What?

Stranger yet — and thank you if you followed me this far — in MDI mode, you can still work outside the Word box. I just discovered this Windows trick, maybe three months ago actually, after oh, maybe 13 years of using…

Ctrl+Click taskbar buttons and ask them to tile vertically. Just what I wanted! So why it that so hard to do in Word?


With best intentions I jumped in here to begin (a somewhat regurgitated) compendium of do’s, don’ts, tips, tricks and hey kinda wow things to do in the excel / dashboard / info visualization genres.

And I might go back to that. But for now I’m going to play. You don’t have to bear with me.

Why Pie Charts are (Usually) a Bad Idea (Part 2)

This is part 2 on this topic. Click here for Part 1.

I concede, a pie can be an acceptable way to get a message across as long as the message is simple. There are other limitations as well.

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Why Pie Charts are (Usually) a Bad Idea (Part 1)

My mentors have already written well on this topic. Here, I share some bits that resonated with me.

Pie charts are among the most sought-after and brandished charts in the corporate world, and, I have noticed, in the marketing materials of information graphic software publishers as well.

However, among serious information graphic designers the overwhelming opinion about pie charts is they are at best a poor choice. The reasons for this are amply documented in the in the blogosphere, and someday I will post references.

Meanwhile, I find the persistent popularity of pie charts to be profoundly strange. I will talk about this in two posts.

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First Post!

I have decided to try blogging as a vehicle for creating instructional material. Since I often find myself writing extensive documentation at work–oh wait–I don’t actually do that. But I should. And there is much that needs to be told isn’t there?

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