How to Create a Template in Microsoft Project

A template in Project, as in most other programs, is a blank form. We fill in the spaces, as on a tax form or license application. The more complex the job, the more complex the form. So when we’re managing a project, any help we can get doing a bunch of similar projects is really good.

The key is having a project file that’s mostly or entirely complete—i.e., the project is done. Because if we know the project ran successfully, we can frequently use it to guide others of the same sort. So we open the file in question, and see what we need to do to make it “generic”, the first stage of the template.

First, we need to clear out the constraints, because they are often time-specific. If we don’t, we might run into trouble changing the project start or finish date in the template. The constrained tasks will “stick”, and prevent the overall timeline from updating.

Template constraints

Turns out there’s a way to do this for the entire project. We select all the tasks, open the Task Information box (Task tab->Properties), and set the Constraint type under Advanced to As Soon (or Late) as Possible. Don’t forget to mark them all as 0% complete. 😉

Template deadlines

We should also clear deadlines, of which most projects (and templates) won’t have tons. We can even filter for them. Going to the View tab->Data group->Filter dropdown and clicking More Filters… will show them.

Template auto schedule

And we need to set all the tasks to Auto-Scheduled. Otherwise, again, they won’t allow date changes when we need to start a new project. We can again select all, go to the Tasks tab->Task group, and clicking the Auto Schedule button.

Template splits removed

We have to check for splits in the tasks, regardless of the reasons, and drag the task piece on the right side of the split back to the left. In most cases, these are due to things which won’t happen again in a similar project. So they need to be eliminated from the template. This is one of the few things we can’t do all at once. Luckily, splits aren’t common in projects.

Template overallocations

Next, we clean up overallocations. Right-clicking on each and using “Reschedule to Available Date” is the simplest solution. Overallocations are sometimes harder to deal with. We often have to balance time and resource constraints, and there’s no single answer to the problems. But when setting up a template, it’s important that we do the best we can. Going from top to bottom is usually safest because of how it affects the schedule.

One other optional thing might have to do with resources. If you plan to have the same ones on projects each time, you can leave them in. Otherwise, you may need to do some work on the resource sheet.

Lastly, we save the file as a template. File->Save As, of course, and change the Save As Type to Project Template.

Save as template

Please note: In the dialog box we see upon saving, what you check is what you remove. The two things we tend to need least in a template are the first and last ones. We normally clear baseline data because it’s time-specific as most data are here. And the Project Web App (according to my students) doesn’t see much use at this time. So we check those two, leave the others in (as they don’t change a lot from use to use) and save.

Yes, it’s a bit of a laundry list. But a template in any program has certain requirements to work as a “blank form”. So it is here.

Using the Split Form and Datasheet Form in Microsoft Access

The idea of the split form in Access is rather like its cousin in Project. We set up a view with the “big picture” or large-scale view in one portion of the window (usually the top), and details in the bottom. Sometimes vice versa, but the thinking is to have both available for convenience.

Create split form

Creating a split form is very easy, as it’s listed within the regular forms. We select the table we want to work with, go to the Create tab->Forms->More Forms, and click Split Form.

Split form result

The result is to show the data from the table in two ways. One, at top, is the single-record-at-a-time view, which is what forms are for. If the records contain lots of fields, we can edit with ease. The other is the data-table-style view, where we can, for example, compare the record we’re working on with its buddies. If we see something inconsistent, or note some other problem with the table as a whole compared to the one we’re in, it’s easier to fix.

The datasheet form is related, but has a different purpose. It kicks in if you’ve created a one-to-many relationship between two tables. The “one” side of the hookup shows as a single record. The “many” shows the items on the other side of the relationship in the other part of the window.

Create datasheet form

Again, creating the datasheet form is straightforward, and even less work than the split form. We select the table on the “one” side of the relationship, click Create tab->Forms->Form, and the two parts will come up automatically.

Datasheet form result

The top is going to show one record, say the supplier of products, and the bottom–the “datasheet form” part–the products supplied.

Remove layout

The key point to be aware of with these is, the upper part (the “regular” form) may need layout adjustments. And this usually requires going into Design view, clicking Form Design Tools->Arrange->Table group to select Remove Layout. Otherwise the arrangement of labels and text boxes will remain locked.

How to Use Summary Tasks in Microsoft Project

When we create a project plan, summary tasks are like the main points in a term paper outline. They mark off the highest-level things we need to do in the project. They’re the main stages or phases we look at. So they’re a useful tool for visually organizing the project, in a user-friendly way. The good news is, we don’t have to insert them immediately. We can start by just writing down what we need to do, and clean up later.

List of tasks

Here we have a list of tasks for doing some house painting. (Yes, I’ve done this for real. Yes, that’s where I got the list. 😊 ) It’s quite alright to start by simply writing out the individual steps, as with a recipe. The important thing is to write stuff down and organize it.

Summary tasks button  Summary tasks organized

Once we have them written, we see there are no “groups” of tasks actually set up—the summary tasks. But we can easily insert them wherever needed. There are a couple of ways to do it, but the easiest in this case is to click where we want to drop one, go to the Task tab-> Insert group, and click Summary. We then immediately type the name of the summary task, and hit Enter.

Others under summary tasks

Only the task just below indents. So we need to select the others below it which are part of that phase or stage, and go to the Task tab-> Schedule group, and click the Indent Task button. This tells Project that the tasks are part of that “bunch” and it will add up the durations for the total in the phase.

Summary tasks done

Alternatively, when we’re ready to insert summary tasks, we can pre-select the tasks that will be part of it. The insertion will then indent the sub-tasks for us.

For sub-stages or –phases in a project, we can actually insert summary tasks inside others, and they’ll indent further. We can go up to nine levels “in”, if we want, though most of what I’ve heard seems to indicate an average of about three.

One last point: If we want to delete summary tasks without erasing the sub-tasks, we need to un-indent (outdent) the subs first. (This too can be done from the Task tab-> Schedule group.) The program assumes the summary tasks will carry the subs away with them—a logical idea, but not always right.

How to Create Calculated Fields in Microsoft Project

Project allows for things like calculated fields and other custom data. It holds some fields “in reserve” aside from the ones set up for task names, durations, etc. This way, users can insert data the program couldn’t know about in advance. (I mentioned custom text fields a while back, but a calculated field is a slightly different thing.)

Having some experience with formulas, in the style of Access or Excel, will help. And making sure one has a clear idea of what needs to be calculated is important, naturally.

Custom fields

We start by calling up the Custom Fields box. It’s under the Project tab, in the Properties group. We need to know whether it’ll be a task-related field (for example, number of days till a task starts) or resource-related (checking on, say, whether someone’s overtime rate is particularly high). For this example, we’ll go with task-related.

We’ll click the Task button at top, then select Number from the list on the right. This way we can enter a formula for a calculated quantity or value.

Rename for calculated

Next, we click the Rename button below the list, to give the field a descriptive name.

Calculated field setup

Then, almost right in the center of the box, we click the Formula button. Now we can actually write the formula. In the box, we can shortcut by going to the Function dropdown, and finding the Date/Time category. (I’ll use the example I mentioned earlier—number of days till a task is due to start.)

The thing we want to have calculated is how many days from now till the start of each task. So the function we need is called DateDiff. (You can check the Help for other functions’ info.)

The function officially needs five arguments, but only three are vital—what interval to use, the “start” date, and the “end” date. The last two, FirstDayOfWeek and FirstWeekOfYear, we can delete, as we don’t need to calculate them.

Calculated formula

The Interval is set in units, such as days or weeks. We enter a “d” in quotes, to tell it to use days. Date1 would be today’s date, so we can again cheat and put in the Now function, just as in Excel. This lets Project ask the computer what the date is. Date2 is the start date of the task, so we drop in the [Start] field, which contains the date for each task in the Gantt chart.

Calculated field inserted

After OK-ing out, we insert the field (column) in the Gantt chart, wherever we want it among its buddies. The number we see calculated is how many days till the start of the (detail) task. If it’s negative, we’re past it—which is not necessarily a bad thing, if the task started on time. But during the run of a project, this can give the project manager another useful indicator.

How to Fix the Moiré Effect in Photoshop

One of the more subtle problems in digital photography is something called moiré. It looks rather like a slight mesh of light and dark lines, sometimes curved, sometimes straight. Certain kinds of fabric produce this effect when one takes pictures of, say, people in suits. Silks are among the biggest culprits, and wedding images can abound with it. Luckily, there’s a bit of work we can do in Photoshop to greatly reduce the visibility of moiré.

Select moiré area

We start by opening the picture and selecting the area with the moiré effect. We want to use a couple of pixels of feather, so as to blend the edges and make our fix unobtrusive. (Using the Magnetic or Polygon Lasso is usually a good choice for irregular shapes.)

Blur moiré area

Then we apply Filter->Blur->Gaussian Blur—the amount is controllable, so it’s useful for this sort of thing. Two or three pixels, again, is enough in most cases, but use the Preview to check before OK-ing. This often zaps most of the moiré right out of the gate.

Moiré area noise

Another filter we can apply, oddly enough, adds a bit of “noise” to the picture. But if we do this, with Filter->Noise->Median, after the Gaussian Blur, it smooths the moiré further rather than making it worse. Best to apply about as much Median noise as we did Gaussian Blur for starters.

Unsharp mask moiré

Finally, we sharpen—again, a little—with the Unsharp Mask. About 60% or 70% will work here. It shows a hint of the fabric weave without the moiré returning.

Remember, when you’re experimenting on an image, a little effect at a time often works better. One cool trick with the Unsharp Mask is to apply a lower Amount percentage more than once. This makes edges clearer without exaggerating their contrast too much. So instead of 150%, use 50% three times, and the effect will be almost the same, but smoother and less obvious. And by feathering the selection right off, we make sure the change doesn’t show “edge”.

How to Export Data from Crystal Reports

We usually have to export data from Crystal Reports, for a couple of reasons. One is, the program normally has to be there to read a Crystal file, so exporting allows others to read something. And unless the report is on a shared drive, it usually has to be emailed to the other parties.

Export data dialog

Luckily, the dialog box makes the process about as simple as possible. One can click File->Export->Export Report, or go directly to the Export button in the first toolbar. When the box appears, we have two main choices to make. One is the file format we’ll export data to. The other is what the program calls the destination. This can open the file directly in the receiving program, send into a folder, or just saving to a file. Usually we save to a disk file, as this is the most directly useful thing for business.

Export data PDF

There are three or four formats which seem to be the most frequent choices. When we export data to PDF format, it’s similar to printing, and anyone with Acrobat Reader can use it.

Export data Excel

Saving to Excel format is limited (to my knowledge) by the fact that it’s in the older, XLS format. So we can only throw in about 65,530 or so rows of data. For larger reports, this might be a problem, but one could export data in pieces and assemble them. And the formulas doing the calculating evaporate, but not the results.

Export data HTML

We use HTML format a little less, but it can be helpful when reports need to go on the internal website. The main thing to know here is the dialog box for saving is in the older style. It requires us to navigate for saving by opening and closing folders. And we have to allow for the file(s) saving in a folder at the location we choose. We can save the report as one HTML document, or one webpage per Crystal page, with or without navigation tools.

Export data Text  Export data TTX  Export data TXT

The format that seems to export data oddly is Tab Separated Text (TTX). Normally the extension should be TXT, as far as I know. So when Crystal creates the file (it’s plain text), I just change the extension and acknowledge the “unusable” message. The icon changes to the Notepad piece of paper, and it’s good to go. Seems to work fine. I couldn’t tell you which versions of the program have this oddity, but the cure is simple.

Again, the only major limitation all around is we don’t keep the formulas, only their results. So whatever calculations are giving us our answers won’t carry over. In most cases, according to what I’ve heard, this isn’t a problem. Since the results are usually more important than how they got there, the formulas (if correct) don’t have to be there. I understand some people have macros and code to export data with formulas. It would certainly be worth investigating.

How to Use Warp Type in Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is capable of treating text as a graphic element much as anything we draw with any of the tools, so the ability to warp type shouldn’t come as a surprise. Type on a path is another feature in the same ballpark (check my previous post).

Warp type starting point

The basic starting point is the same. We use the Type tool, usually, to create the piece of text we need. We then have to tell the program to treat it as a graphic element rather than a text box per se. (This allows the Warp Type control to show.) We do this by switching to the Selection tool (black arrow) and clicking the text. We see the box selected overall, not just the text within it.

Warp type option

If we then look up at the Options panel, we have options specific to the text box. One of them will be the curved grid at right; this is the Warp Type button. It’ll say “Make Envelope”, and bring up a box called Warp Options, but it’s the right tool.

Warp type dialog box

In the dialog box, we have to select a style of warping, vertical or horizontal, the percentage of “bend” (how much to warp type), and the percentage of horizontal and vertical distortion. This is where one often has to pause and ask “How much of this, or that, should I apply?” Sometimes, the answer is given by whatever requirements were written up by the client or recipient. Or one can experiment and see what looks good aesthetically, if permitted.

Warp type result

There are a few guideline-type points to think about, though. 1) Don’t distort the text beyond readability. It defeats the purpose. 2) If you can, give some thought to the choice of font. This too can affect the readability, as fancier fonts with Warp Type running can look like tangled fishnet. 3) Most of the dialogs in the Creative Suite/Cloud have Preview checkboxes so we can play and see a live preview. Use them, by all means.

(This all works with type on a path, too. Whether it’s a good idea to do this depends on your artistic goals. But you can certainly give it a go.)

And although there is no way I know (except by creating actions) to repeat a Warp Type setup in the dialog box, you can write down any particularly good combinations for later. Or, as I said, create an action to record the details. Just remember NOT to record the selection of the text box—this way you can apply the action to any text box.

Use Type on a Path in Adobe Illustrator

The use of type on a path is an interesting cross between text and graphics, and allows text to be more than just a means of conveying information in Illustrator. But in order to use the feature correctly, one has to understand a couple of things about how it behaves.

First, we usually need to create the shape which we’ll use as a baseline, in the sense that typography uses the term—the line on which the text sits.

Type on a path

Then, we select the Type on a Path tool (in the same flyout as the regular Type tool). Position the cursor on the edge of the shape. When the “squiggle” that marks the hotspot of the cursor is on the line, we can click and type.

Once we click, we can also do most of the basic things we expect with text. We can change font, size, color, alignment, and so on.

Type on a path brackets

There are a couple of controls we need to know about, as well. They’re called brackets, and they control where the text is on the path. The two outer ones are the bounds of where the text can be; we can adjust them to show or hide the ends of the text. The middle one lets you slide the text along the path, left or right, till it gets where you want it. We usually use the Direct Selection tool to work with them. Grab carefully—watch for the cursor change to tell you when your cursor is on the control.

Type on a path options

We can also go to the Type menu > Type On A Path > Type On A Path Options command, and change how the text sits on the path. These are interesting, and can add a little pizzazz to text if you need it.

Type on a path flip

Dragging the bracket to the opposite side of the path will indeed flip the text “over”, another potentially useful trick.

One peculiarity, though. Sometimes, when we first click the path (especially if it’s closed), the insertion point can appear halfway round from where we click. So we drag the center bracket round to where we want the type on a path. (After all this time, I still don’t know why this is the case, but better to be aware.)

Many people tell me they find using guidelines helpful when precision placement of text is important. Dragging the path object to the right size, placing it carefully, and remembering it loses color when we add the text (we can click with the Direct Selection tool later to add it in again) are all things one should practice when working with type on a path.

Working with Image Size and Canvas Size in Photoshop

The Photoshop features called Image Size and Canvas Size can be a little confusing. The names are similar, and at first glance what they do will seem to be also. And both are on the Image menu. But the two controls do something quite different from each other, and understanding how can be helpful.

Once we open a sample document, we can try using each one. First, Image Size. This feature can change two main things—(a) the size, in height and width, of the printed image, and (b) its resolution, or level of detail in pixels per inch.

Image size box

Since it can affect the number of pixels, regardless, it affects the amount of information in the file, and therefore, the file size on disk. The key point is that when we use the Image Size dialog to change height and width, we are “stretching” or “squishing” the image as if it were printed on taffy. We are not adding more “canvas” around it (background) or trimming any off (cropping). Aside from the resolution, we are not changing the image itself.

Canvas size box

But the Canvas Size feature can. If we bring up this dialog, we are now either adding “blank” space around the image (if we increase the size) or cropping part of the image (decreasing). Think of unrolling new canvas from underneath, or cutting it away. We cannot change resolution with this feature, but this is not a problem.

Canvas size anchor

We can, however, determine where the new blank space goes, or where the crop will do its thing. The Anchor feature allows us to say if the expansion will start from top, bottom, side, corner, or center. And if we reduce the size, where it will “aim” toward.

Canvas size resized

So if we want to create a composite image, but not have pieces overlapping, Canvas Size offers us one option. If we need to resize an image to fit height and width, Image Size can come into play as well.

How to Adjust Resolution in Adobe Photoshop

Resolution, in the graphics world, refers to detail. Usually, in a Photoshop document, it means the number of dots or pixels per inch. And this number tells you how detailed, sharp, or clear the image will be. Generally, the higher, the better. But there are a couple of points we need to know to use this to the fullest.

Dialog box resolution

Changing the resolution of an image is very simple. Having opened the image, we go to the Image menu, click Image Size, and change the number as needed. The number of pixels per inch is usually figured according to the purpose of the image.

Internet resolution

An image for use on the Internet will generally be at 72 pixels/inch, because most monitor hardware will consider that the “common” resolution. It’s been the lowest common denominator for many years, because 72-point type is one inch tall. So it’s convenient, regardless of the image’s height or width.

Print resolution

But most printing devices can go quite a bit higher without even breaking a sweat. So if you’re scanning an image for print, the minimum resolution you’d want is 300 pixels/inch. Turns out there’s a scientific reason for this number—it’s the limit of resolution for the normal human eye. At 300 per inch, a person can just barely see the individual dots, so it’s a good middle ground. Not too much detail, but about as much as we can use.

Archival resolution

Beyond this, we usually think of what are called “archival” images. They may or may not see print, but they mainly go for storage. Museums, for example, will scan images at a resolution of at least 1200 ppi to make sure they get every detail for posterity. The Vatican Museum has scans of Michelangelo’s correspondence at resolutions at least this high. (Good thing, too. The ink he used is eating the parchment.)

Resolution too low

The one thing we should NOT do is scan anything at LESS than about 72 ppi. That’s the minimum for a meaningful level of detail in any image. If we go lower, any kind of detail such as writing will often be too blurry to understand. And we don’t want to set the resolution of an image lower than that, because we can’t get detail back once we do.

One last thing. If you have the authority to set the resolution of the image, remember to strike a balance. Higher means more pixels, more detail, and a bigger file size needed to store it. Lower saves space, but loss of detail could be critical later. A little forethought on this could save time, stress, and upset.

How to Create a Parameter Query in Access

The parameter query, while easy to set up, actually depends on a sort of quirk in the program, as we’ll see. But regardless, it’s a very powerful feature; it allows many variations on one question in a database. Ranges of dates, differences in spelling, and many others can fit a parameter query.

Parameter query prompts

A parameter query on a range of dates uses the “Between—And” keywords, and has the user enter a starting and ending date as indicated. (Any criteria of this sort go in the Criteria row in Query Design view.) The quirk is, when we want the program to ask the user for info, the prompt goes between square brackets, just as if it was a field name.

Parameter query box

This forces the parameter query to pause and say, “Huh? That’s not a field I know. Let me ask the user.” At which point it displays the prompt to the user, to inquire what the heck it is. The user answers with the appropriate data (the parameter), and voilà.

Parameter query plus like

But the real power of this feature comes from combining it with the wildcard. This is the “anything-you-like” character. Though this is not universally necessary, it makes the parameter query much more flexible. If a user can only remember part of a name, a couple of letters, or a not-very-specific parameter, it’s okay. We can then use the “like” keyword to help. This says “Find something like this.” Using the wildcard character (*) lets the user enter only what they have and ask anyway. Not as much help with dates, but many of the queries we run involve text. We can put the asterisk on either side, concatenated with the prompt (using “&”). Then there’s no problem having something start with, end with, or contain the letter(s).

Parameter query result

So if the user only knows a couple of letters in a company name, they can be entered for searching. If the result includes more than the one name, it isn’t a loss. Even if there are many results, better than not enough, or none, in most parameter query situations.

Creating an Action Query in Microsoft Access

The action query in Access is a different thing from the normal query we create, called a “select” query. The latter simply selects data and shows the result. But an action query edits data, or even deletes it. And the key thing one needs to know about this is one cannot use Undo to reverse the effect. So though we can easily create action queries, we need to treat them carefully. Luckily, there is a way to test them first.

We can use a food database for our example. Let’s say we need to increase prices on soft cheese (Category 2) due to more touchy shipping conditions.

Select query  Run query

We create a regular (select) query to find the items in that category, and run it. This is how we test, prior to making it an action query. We see if it pulls up the right data first.

Action query

The next step is to return to Design view and go to the ribbon, specifically to the Query Tools Design tab and the Query Type group. Initially, a query defaults to being a Select query. We click the button for what we want now, in this case an (Update) action query.

Action query formula

Then we go into the query grid, click the proper cell in the Update To row, and write the formula to take the action. In this case, [UnitPrice] (the field name) *1.05 (up by five percent), in the UnitPrice column. It’s even possible to make this a variable, or parameter query, but the basic technique is the same.

Action query warning

But the most important item by far is the warning we get next. We’re told the action query can’t be reversed with Undo. And it does NOT say the query will then do what we told it. Nor do we get a “mission accomplished” message. The query simply runs. And changes data.

Action query result

This means we need to understand that an action query assumes we know it will do this. Therefore if someone doesn’t know, and runs it again, the query will apply the same change again. And again. As long as we are aware, it’s not a problem. But it is a caution we must keep in mind.

How to Create a Subquery in Microsoft Access

Just as there can be subforms and subreports within an Access form or report, there can be a subquery within a query. As the term implies, a “query within a query” allows the main query to be more specific, or complex. It sometimes requires a little bit of Structured Query Language, or SQL. But this is not a problem. Access is a “shell” over SQL as Windows was a shell over DOS, and the two get along fine.

Start subquery

A typical example would be setting up a subquery based on text information, to allow more flexibility with the use of number fields in a database. After opening the DB, we bring up the query window—better to do this in Design view—and add our basic query info.

Subquery zoom box

We can then either switch to SQL view, which some SQL users prefer, or right-click in the appropriate column and row. We then use the Zoom command to write the subquery.

Here we want to ask which products are equal to or less in price than Colby cheese. We want to base the question, though, on the name of the product, NOT the price itself. This is the key.

SQL code

So in the UnitPrice column of the query (through the Zoom box), we tell the subquery to select (and show) the products from the table (of Products) where unit prices are less than or equal to that of (the product name) Colby cheese. (Note the SQL keywords.) What usually causes a little confusion is that the “less than or equal to” operator comes before anything else. But the nature of comparisons in Access, as well as in SQL, often requires this. And since the comparison is numerical for all that we’re writing a “verbal” formula here, it comes with the territory. Once we know about it, it’s pretty straightforward.


One point not everyone knows, though. If something is edited in the query results, we’re editing the actual data, not a copy. So a query (along with a subquery) can be used to find and correct potentially erroneous or out-of-date info. (One techno-term I’ve heard is “reflexive correction”.)

How to Indicate Blank Results in Crystal Reports

When we print a report in any database-connected situation, we sometimes get blank results, i.e. nothing to report. But we certainly don’t want to waste paper on such a thing. So how can we let a user know about it without sending more than one page (at most) to a printer? If you routinely run reports that can come up blank, this might be important.

Some programs can show an alert message to this effect: “No results match your criteria.” And though Crystal Reports has what it calls Report Alerts available, I haven’t yet found a direct way to pop up an alert for blank results. But I did manage to dig up at least one way to reduce the waste.

blank results message

We can start with any report, and add a second report header (for example) to it. We insert a message such as “No records found to match criteria” in a text box there; making it big red letters or something is helpful.

The key is to use the Section Expert, and suppress this section UNLESS the report shows blank results.

section expert  formula

We go to the Expert, click the X2 button next to Suppress (No Drill-Down), and enter a formula like this:

IF COUNT({Orders.OrderID}) < 1 THEN false ELSE true

where the field can be anything in the Details section of the report. If no records show, the Details section will have nothing, and the condition will kick into operation. The user will then know there’s nothing.

If we want to be a bit more thorough, we can also conditionally suppress the other sections the other way round:

IF COUNT({Orders.OrderID}) < 1 THEN true ELSE false

so when the “blank results” message shows up, nothing else will. Except maybe the date and time in an unsuppressed section, or whatever else would be helpful.

blank results

I plan to keep looking for a way to have a Report Alert do this, as it would be a rather more “correct” solution. But the main point is to alert the user of blank results, and the technique I describe here works.

Using Fields in Text Objects in Crystal Reports

Fields, in Crystal Reports, are the way we bring data from a source into a report. Sometimes, we need to combine the data with text even more directly than placing them side by side.

Data source

The technique we can use is similar to creating a mail merge with fields in a couple of other programs. First, we pull up the basic data of a report. Choose the data source and table(s), deal with links between them if necessary, and OK out of the Database Expert.

Text object for fields

Next, create the text object. One thing to be careful of is making the text object large enough to accommodate the “sizes” of the data in the fields. For addresses, it’s usually not a problem, but because descriptions and bios can be lengthy, previewing the data can help. (Right-click the fields in Design view and selecting Browse Field Data.)

When we create the text within the object, another thing to be careful about is proper punctuation and spacing. Just as in word processing, lack of attention to this can make the report look shabby and unprofessional.

Fields placed

Dragging the fields into the text object is not hard at all; it simply requires a little practice to make sure we let go the mouse button at just the right spot. Make sure of where your pointer is. If you miss, just undo or delete the field and try again.


Don’t be surprised if you need to go back and forth between Design and Preview a few times to do some fine-tuning of the fields/text object situation. This is quite normal. In addition, remember that the fields within the text object(s) can and should be formatted to match the text around them. (Selecting by dragging across them, or double-clicking them, will do it.) Otherwise, again, the final result won’t be professional-looking. Mismatches are visually inconsistent, and can actually make the document harder to read.


How to Create an Action in Adobe Photoshop

An Action is the Photoshop equivalent of a macro in programs like Word and Access. It allows consistent repetition of a sequence of steps. So it’s easier to do the same thing in different files, if one wants. As usual, the thing which helps most is rehearsal—practice a little to avoid frustration when you record the real thing.

(I’ll apply a layer effect here, the Drop Shadow, for demonstration.)

Record action

After opening your file and setting up whatever elements we want to affect, we bring up the Actions panel and click the New Action button.

Action dialog

We enter a name, a keyboard shortcut if desired, and a color (optional but sometimes helpful). When we OK out of that box, we record any mouse clicks or keystrokes from there on.

Action steps

So my double-click of the text layer, making various adjustments to the Drop Shadow after activating, and subsequent OK are all written down as performed. The recorder waits till I OK out to jot down the final numbers. When finished, I click the Stop Recording button (left of Record), and the action is ready.

Use action

To apply the same attributes to another item (not necessarily text), I select the layer in question, click the action, and hit the Play button at the bottom of the Actions panel. About the only hard rule on using layer-based actions like this is, they can’t be applied to a Background layer. But that’s a particular of the action I’m recording. A non-layer-specific action can work pretty much anywhere in a file.

One also wants to remember to select or otherwise tell the action what it’s going to work on.

The not-immediately-obvious advantages are:

Action changes

First, in the Actions panel, any step which involves a dialog box has a clickable icon to make the action bring the box(es) up during the run, to allow user changes. Which means they can be flexible.

Action folders

Second, actions can go in folders, and we can save them as separate documents. They can then be opened in other files, or sent to other PShop users, or kept as backups. Portability!

And third, though it’s not a common use for actions, they can apply company colors or fonts to a document. Which means actions can be helpful in maintaining product branding standards, if needed.

How to Use Quick Mask Mode in Photoshop

Of all the “beyond-the-basics” tools in Photoshop, the Quick Mask feature is probably one of the most nitpicky to understand. But it can provide the user with a fairly easy method of doing something complex, namely, making selections. So it’s worth the time.


It’s normally easiest to start by making a partial selection of the area. Using a conventional method such as clicking with the Magic Wand will work fine. Then, going over to the Tools panel/Toolbox, we simply click the button near the bottom for Quick Mask mode.

Quick Mask button

Now, the trick here is knowing what Quick Mask mode does, and how. It turns the selection into a mask—that is, a colored area which tells us what parts we’ve selected and which we haven’t. The colored part, which is red by default, is NOT selected. Anything not covered by the red overlay IS selected. And the mask (for non-selected) is partly transparent so we can edit the selection and see what we’re doing.

Quick Mask brush

The next point is how to edit the mask. Once we’re in QM mode, we switch to the Brush tool. The brush should have a 100% hardness, and be about half the size of the areas we’re selecting (give or take).

Paint in QM

The critical thing now is which paint color we use. We should set the colors to default (black/white), and remember that the FOREGROUND color is the one the tool is looking at. If we paint with black, we MASK (or DE-select). If we paint with white (we can use the Switch Foreground/Background button), we UNMASK (or SELECT). A quick way to remember which is which would be “Black Blocks” (i.e. masks or de-selects).

Quick Mask off

When we’ve made the edits we want, we go back to the Tools panel, click the Quick Mask mode button again, and return to Standard mode. We again see the selection marquee, and can proceed from there.

The main question most people ask, if they know the regular selection tools, is Why mess with QM mode? The main answer is that selection tools can be a little fickle. When we click with the Magic Wand, especially, the Tolerance can affect what we select. Quick Mask mode and the painting tools are a little slower, but more precise. Especially if we zoom in to work.

Using the Gradients in Photoshop—Additional Info

In an earlier post, I went through the basics of creating gradients in Photoshop. In this one, I want to mention a couple more details which might be helpful in their use.

There are five patterns, or appearances, which gradients can follow, shown to the right of the Gradient Editor in the Options panel. The one we use most, Linear, makes the color pattern appear as bars, or bands, in the selected area. But the others are potentially quite useful, and not just for decor. One selects the gradient and pattern, and drags from point A to point B, just as with Linear.

Radial gradients

The Radial gradient is a “sunburst”, the leftmost color in the center and moving outward in rings. This has been used with several real-life concepts, e.g. distances from the center of a city for travel purposes.

Angle gradients

The Angle gradient uses the direction of the drag to create a “wheel” effect. The starting color is on one side of the drag line, shading around in a circle to the ending color on the other side of the same line. This can create an object-lit-on-one-side effect by having black and white as the starting and ending colors. It’s often employed as sheer decoration. Of all the gradients, some people consider it the prettiest.

Reflected gradients

The Reflected gradient can do something interesting: Using metallic colors with it creates the illusion of specular, or pinpoint, highlights on metal. The “reflected” part indicates that the drag start point becomes a “mirror”. It becomes two “reversed” gradients, in bands centering on the start of the drag, a kind of “double linear” gradient. (One must therefore allow about twice the width of the drag for full visibility.)

Diamond gradients

The Diamond gradient makes the direction of the drag become one of the four points of a diamond version of the Radial gradient. Distance of drag works similarly as Linear. The start and end of the drag mark the extent of the color, and continue the last color out as far as possible.

Reversed gradients

One other element which occasionally comes into play is the Reverse checkbox in the Options. It reverses the direction of the gradients—start color and end color will flip around.

And don’t forget there’s an Opacity control in the Options, too.

How to Create an Adobe Photoshop Gradient

Setting up a Photoshop gradient works a little differently from its cousin, Illustrator. The concept is the same, but the tool involved, and how we create and fine-tune a gradient, changes.

Photoshop gradient options

The first thing to do is select the Gradient tool in the Tools panel/Toolbox. Looking up at the Options panel, we find the dropdown with the choice of gradients on the left. Usually there are a dozen to sixteen presets; clicking one will select it. But if we want to create one, we can click the gradient already visible to bring up the Gradient Editor.

Photoshop gradient editor

The next thing we frequently do is make changes to whichever gradient we see. The house shapes under the horizontal strip (the gradient ramp) show what colors are in the gradient, and we can add more by clicking where we want them. We can also move them left and right as needed. A couple of dozen seems to be the practical limit. Double-clicking any of these (color stops) brings up the color picker, which lets us change the color as we like. The diamond shapes between the color stops tell us where the halfway point is for any two colors, and can be moved as well.

The upside-down house shapes above the Photoshop gradient ramp (no, they’re not from Australia!) are transparency stops. One can therefore make parts of the gradient fade out as much as one likes. Clicking once on either a color stop or a transparency stop makes its “roof” black. Then it’s selected and allows the controls at the bottom of the box to modify it. Even clicking the diamond shapes allows us to use the percentage controls at bottom to position them.

Photoshop gradient name

Finally, when we’ve got the arrangement we like, we can type a name in the space at center, click New, and go ahead and use it. From here, it’s straightforward—select the area we want to fill with the gradient, click the Photoshop Gradient tool, and drag in the space. Length of drag tells the program how short or long the color transition should be. Direction of the drag gives the angle. And voilà. 😊

Using the Section Break in Microsoft Word

When putting together a complex document in Word, a section break can help us put together documents such as a book or manual, where one sometimes has to create multiple headers and footers, or allow for single columns, then multiple, then single again. A section break is like a fence between two farms—it tells the user “there’s a border and a change here”.

Section break command

Inserting a section break is very easy. Click at the end of whichever piece of text is the “previous” layout, arrangement, or whatever, then go to the Page Layout tab, Page Setup group, and click Breaks. There, we have a choice of four types of section break. The most commonly used one is Continuous, meaning there’ll be no visible break except what we decide on—the new section will start on the same page.

Columns command  Section break columns result

Once we insert the break, we can do several things after it. A frequent use is to change the number of columns in the new section. We click anywhere after the section break, go again to the Page Layout tab, Page Setup group, and click Columns. If we want a default number, say two, we just click on it. If we want something a little more customized, we click More Columns at the bottom of the menu, and decide on width, spacing, line between, and so on. Then click OK to get out, and there we are.

(The next bit here will refer to continuous section breaks, the touchiest kind, first.)

Show Hide Characters   Show section break

When it comes to headers and footers, we have to be a little more careful where we click once the section breaks are in place, but we can turn on the Show/Hide feature in the Home tab, Paragraph group to help. (I always do—makes life easy. Already did here, so you folks can see what I’m doing.)

Section break header footer

We then simply insert section breaks where needed. If we don’t do this, the program can’t do the rest. Once the breaks are in place, whichever page FOLLOWS the break(s) will show the next section number. So if one inserts a continuous section break on page 2, the next section header/footer will start on page 3. Then, to write a book with chapters whose starting places were based on continuous breaks, we’d be set. The other kinds of break are a little more predictable, as their names tell us what they’ll do. A next-page section break would, in fact, be better for chapter break-points. We could insert one of these at the end of a chapter and immediately start the next.

One last thing: Leave the Show/Hide feature on to remove breaks. Click at the beginning of the break, hit the Delete key (not Backspace—here you want to remove something after the insertion point), and it’s gone. No trouble.

How to Create a Gradient in Adobe Illustrator

The recent post on meshes in Illustrator kind of leads into a related subject, namely the gradient. Sometimes meshes aren’t necessary, or a little too complicated to set up, but there’s still a need for (at least simulated) shading, and gradients can provide some of this. They take a few steps, but they’re worth it.

(I will mention before I start that the process is a little different than in Photoshop; the nature of the use of gradients is different in each program.)

Gradient panel

Once the file is open, we select the shape we want to put the gradient in, bring up the panel (Window menu–>Gradient), and click the basic gradient to apply it. We can select either Linear (basically bands of color) or Radial (sunburst/circles of color) at the top right of the panel, but the main part of the process is the same from there.

Gradient ramp

Editing the gradient involves the horizontal strip near the bottom of the panel, called the gradient ramp. The house-like shapes below it are color stops; they tell us what colors are in it. The diamonds above are color midpoints, which show where the halfway mark is between two colors. Both of these can be moved, though the midpoints can’t be removed as they automatically show between any pair of colors on the ramp.

Edit gradient

To add colors, we click anywhere immediately below the gradient ramp to add another stop. Double-clicking on the new stop brings up the color controls, where we can use an existing swatch, or create a new color from the sliders. We can even choose other color systems from the dropdown menu at the top right of the controls. Editing existing colors works exactly the same way.  (Tried finding out how many colors I could put in. It got boring around fifty….) Then, if necessary, drag the midpoints to adjust where colors shade from one to another.

Removing colors is easy—just drag the color stop straight down about a half inch, and let go.

Gradient angle

Usually, once we set up the gradient colors, we change the angle if we want. The control is almost dead center, and allows use of the dropdown or typing the angle we want. It’s even possible to adjust the opacity of a color stop, using the control at bottom. According to my students, this is somewhat less common, but certainly invites experiment. Finally, the Location control positions the color stop precisely, if needed.

How to Create a Theme in Microsoft PowerPoint

In PowerPoint, themes are an important part of the presentation. Even if nobody directly notices them, they are as necessary to the slide deck as the foundation for a house. Consistent appearance throughout the show improves understandability, and its professional look. Creating a theme is fairly easy; simply build the pieces and put them together.

Theme elements

The first part is to set up  the fonts and colors needed. On the Design tab, looking to the right side of the Themes group, are dropdowns for Colors, Fonts, and Effects. We can’t edit the Effects, but the first two relate to many distinct business themes, so we’ll do those here.

Theme fonts

Selecting the fonts is pretty simple. Click the Fonts dropdown, select Create New Theme Fonts at bottom, and make the choices. One rule of thumb, barring anything else, is to use a sans-serif font for titles and a serif font for body text. In PowerPoint, one often uses sans-serif for both since the letter shapes are easier to read in slides. But it’s okay to experiment. Once the fonts are set, give the new combination a name, and click Save.

Theme colors

Setting up the colors for themes takes a little more work, since there are a dozen overall. Start by clicking the Colors dropdown and, at the bottom, select Create New Theme Colors. Unless your company has official colors, you might have to experiment a little. The colors for the Text/Background choices, should be related—shades of the same color for each pair, or black and white. For the others, there are many books and articles about color theory, but a general rule that seems to work is to keep to shades of the same two or three colors at most, if possible. (The show shouldn’t look like a circus.) One exception—if you’re creating a lengthy show involving several sections (or departments at work), changing the colors for each section can give a little variety.

More colors  Custom colors

If you company does have official colors (“product branding” is the term for this), you can go to the appropriate color dropdown, click More Colors, then Custom, and enter the RGB or HSL numbers for the color in question. Again, using variations of these is advisable for the accent colors. Think of how some uniforms or dressy outfits have one or two main colors, and you’ve got the idea.

Create theme  Theme document

After saving under a suitable name, the creation of the theme itself is no harder. One has to apply the colors and fonts just created. Then, just left of the Colors, Fonts, and Effects dropdowns, click the “More” button, slide to the bottom of the list of themes, and select Save Current Theme.

We then find out something pretty cool—themes can be saved as documents, which can be emailed or otherwise sent to other people! So someone can develop a theme, send it to the IT department, and have them “push” it onto everyone’s computer who needs it. And this means themes can be consistent throughout a company, which is always good in business.

Microsoft Excel Keyboard Shortcuts

SkillForge SkillSheet

Microsoft Excel 2010/13/16 Keyboard Shortcuts

Click here to download the PDF version.


Frequently Used Shortcuts

In order to…


Close a spreadsheet Ctrl+W
Open a spreadsheet Ctrl+O
Save a spreadsheet Ctrl+S
Copy Ctrl+C
Paste Ctrl+V
Undo Ctrl+Z
Remove cell contents Delete key
Choose a fill color Alt+H, H
Cut Ctrl+X
Bold Ctrl+B
Center align cell contents Alt+H, A, then C
Format a cell from context menu Shift+F10 or Context key
Add borders Alt+H, B
Delete column Alt+H, D, then C


The Function Keys—What They Do



F1 Displays the Excel Help task pane. Ctrl+F1 displays or hides the ribbon. Alt+F1 creates an embedded chart of the data in the current range. Alt+Shift+F1 inserts a new worksheet.
F2 Edit the active cell and put the insertion point at the end of its contents. Or, if editing is turned off for the cell, move the insertion point into the formula bar. If editing a formula, toggle Point mode off or on so you can use arrow keys to create a reference. Shift+F2 adds or edits a cell comment. Ctrl+F2 displays the print preview area on the Print tab in the Backstage view.
F3 Displays the Paste Name dialog box. Available only if names have been defined in the workbook (Formulas tab, Defined Names group, Define Name). Shift+F3 displays the Insert Function dialog box.
F4 Repeats the last command or action, if possible. When a cell reference or range is selected in a formula, F4 cycles through all the various combinations of absolute and relative references. Ctrl+F4 closes the selected workbook window. Alt+F4 closes Excel.
F5 Displays the Go To dialog box. Ctrl+F5 restores the window size of the selected workbook window.
F6 Switches between the worksheet, ribbon, task pane, and Zoom controls. In a worksheet that has been split (View menu, Manage This Window, Freeze Panes, Split Window command), F6 includes the split panes when switching between panes and the ribbon area. Shift+F6 switches between the worksheet, Zoom controls, task pane, and ribbon. Ctrl+F6 switches to the next workbook window when more than one workbook window is open.
F7 Displays the Spelling dialog box to check spelling in the active worksheet or selected range. Ctrl+F7 performs the Move command on the workbook window when it is not maximized. Use the arrow keys to move the window, and when finished press Enter, or Esc to cancel.
F8 Turns extend mode on or off. In extend mode, Extended Selection appears in the status line, and the arrow keys extend the selection. Shift+F8 enables you to add a nonadjacent cell or range to a selection of cells by using the arrow keys. Ctrl+F8 performs the Size command (on the Control menu for the workbook window) when a workbook is not maximized. Alt+F8 displays the Macro dialog box to create, run, edit, or delete a macro.
F9 Calculates all worksheets in all open workbooks. Shift+F9 calculates the active worksheet. Ctrl+Alt+F9 calculates all worksheets in all open workbooks, regardless of whether they have changed since the last calculation. Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F9 rechecks dependent formulas, and then calculates all cells in all open workbooks, including cells not marked as needing to be calculated. Ctrl+F9 minimizes a workbook window to an icon.
F10 Turns key tips on or off. (Pressing Alt does the same thing.) Shift+F10 displays the shortcut menu for a selected item. Alt+Shift+F10 displays the menu or message for an Error Checking button. Ctrl+F10 maximizes or restores the selected workbook window.
F11 Creates a chart of the data in the current range in a separate Chart sheet. Shift+F11 inserts a new worksheet. Alt+F11 opens the Microsoft Visual Basic For Applications Editor, in which you can create a macro by using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).
F12 Displays the Save As dialog box.


Navigating in the Workbook

In order to…


Move to the previous cell in a worksheet Shift+Tab
Move one cell up in a worksheet Up Arrow key
Move one cell down in a worksheet Down Arrow key
Move one cell left in a worksheet Left Arrow key
Move one cell right in a worksheet Right Arrow key
Move to the edge of the current data region in a worksheet Ctrl+Arrow key
Enter End mode, move to the next nonblank cell in the same column or row as the active cell, and turn off End mode. If the cells are blank, move to the last cell in the row or column End, Arrow key
Move to the last cell on a worksheet, to the lowest used row of the rightmost used column Ctrl+End
Extend the selection of cells to the last used cell on the worksheet (lower-right corner) Ctrl+Shift+End
Move to the cell in the upper-left corner of the window when Scroll Lock is turned on Home+Scroll Lock
Move to the beginning of a worksheet Ctrl+Home
Move one screen down in a worksheet PgDn
Move to the next sheet in a workbook Ctrl+PgDn
Move one screen to the right in a worksheet Alt+PgDn
Move one screen up in a worksheet PgUp
Move one screen to the left in a worksheet Alt+PgUp
Move to the previous sheet in a workbook Ctrl+PgUp
Move one cell to the right in a worksheet Tab


Selecting Items, Performing Actions

In order to…


Select the entire worksheet Ctrl+A or Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar
Select the current and next sheet in a workbook Ctrl+Shift+Page Down
Select the current and previous sheet in a workbook Ctrl+Shift+Page Up
Extend the selection of cells by one cell Shift+arrow key
Extend the selection of cells to the last nonblank cell in the same column or row as the active cell, or if the next cell is blank, to the next nonblank cell Ctrl+Shift+arrow key
Turn extend mode on and use the arrow keys to extend a selection. Press again to turn off Turn extend mode on and use the arrow keys to extend a selection. Press again to turn off. F8
Add a non-adjacent cell or range to a selection of cells by using the arrow keys Shift+F8
Start a new line in the same cell Alt+Enter
Fill the selected cell range with the current entry Ctrl+Enter
Complete a cell entry and select the cell above Shift+Enter
Select an entire column in a worksheet Ctrl+Spacebar
Select an entire row in a worksheet Shift+Spacebar
Select all objects on a worksheet when an object is selected Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar
Extend the selection of cells to the beginning of the worksheet Ctrl+Shift+Home
Select the current region if the worksheet contains data. Press a second time to select the current region and its summary rows. Press a third time to select the entire worksheet Ctrl+A or Ctrl+Shift+Spacebar
Select the current region around the active cell or select an entire PivotTable report Ctrl+Shift+asterisk (*)
Select the first command on the menu when a menu or submenu is visible Home
Repeat the last command or action, if possible Ctrl+Y
Undo the last action Ctrl+Z

Crystal Reports Keyboard Shortcuts

SkillForge SkillSheet

Crystal Reports Keyboard Shortcuts

Click here to download the PDF version.


Menu Bar Shortcut Keys

In order to…


Create New Report Ctrl + N
Open Report Ctrl + O
Save Report Ctrl + S
Print Report Ctrl + P
Cut Ctrl + X
Copy Ctrl + C
Paste Ctrl + V
Delete Del
Select All Ctrl + A
Find Ctrl + F
Go To Page Ctrl + G
Design View Ctrl + D
Refresh Report Data F5


Formula Editor Shortcut Keys

In order to…


Browse selected field Alt + B
Check for Errors Alt + C
Toggle the “Shows Field” tree Alt + F
Comment the current line Alt + M
Sort tree content Alt + O
Toggle the “Shows Operator” tree Alt + P
Save formula Alt + S
Toggle the “Shows Function” tree Alt + U


Formula Editor Shortcut Keys, cont’d.

In order to…


Select all Ctrl + A
Copy Ctrl + C
Move to end of last formula line Ctrl + End
Find Ctrl + F
Set a bookmark Ctrl + F2
Clear all bookmarks Ctrl + Shift + F2
Move to beginning of file Ctrl + Home
Move to start of word at left Ctrl + <-
Select through start of word at left Ctrl + Shift + <-
Open a dialog to create a new formula Ctrl + N
Save and close Formula Editor Ctrl + S
Focus to the syntax name list box Ctrl + T
Switch to previous control box Ctrl + Shift + Tab
Switch to next control box Ctrl + Tab
Paste Ctrl + V
Cut Ctrl + X
Undo Ctrl + Z
Repeat Ctrl + Shift + Z
Keyword Auto Complete Ctrl + Space
Move to end of line End
Copy object from list to formula box Enter
Go to next bookmark F2
Find next item F3
Go to previous bookmark Shift + F2


How to Edit Contacts and the Business Card in Outlook

Outlook 2016 has implemented a slightly different scheme for contacts and the business card in them, but the differences are mainly cosmetic. The basics are similar enough that users of the earlier versions won’t be at a loss.

Contact List

Once the program is open, the first thing is to switch to the Contact List (now also known as the People list). One can double-click where indicated to create a contact, and fill in the blanks, or edit an existing one.

Edit Business Card

The thing some people have a little bit of a time getting just right is the business card part. Right-clicking and selecting Edit Business Card gets one in the proper box. Most of the work is then done in the Fields area at bottom left. It’s rather like playing with Lego blocks—one can add or remove various places for information with the buttons at bottom, move items up or down with the arrow buttons just to the right. Then re-position the blank lines as spacers to get the card to look good.

Assemble Business Card    Edit Business Card Setup

One of the tricks is not to overdo the amount of content in the card. They’re supposed to carry just the essentials, as a real business card would. So basic contact info should be the majority of what’s on there. And making the text on the card a little bigger—which can be done with the controls in the Edit area at right—won’t hurt, provided the amount of content isn’t too much.

Another thing which helps is to be careful with the graphics. Having a company logo on the business card is about as far as one need go; much more would be a distraction. And getting a graphics person to set up a “watermark” style logo (high-brightness, low-contrast, rather like a watercolor) is fairly easy. In fact, many companies will have such a thing to hand in the PR office.

Business Card Graphics

Positioning the graphic can be done with the Card Design controls at top right. Experimenting a little is a good idea, but if your company already has a layout for your own card, use it by all means. Layout for others is fine too. Just bear in mind that you might need do nothing more than scan in someone’s card and import or paste it in.

How to Format the Gantt Chart in Project

Recently, I had a question about formatting the Gantt chart from a student who mentioned the issue of color-blindness. Since various kinds of this problem exist, knowing how to get around it can be helpful, just in case. As critical tasks are highlighted in red, it could be an issue. The Gantt chart, after all, depends at least in part on color, or so we normally think. But there are ways around it.

Format gantt bars

To start the process, we go to the Gantt Chart Tools Format tab, and click the Format button in the Bar Styles group. We then have to go to the drop-down, and click Bar Styles there.

gantt bars dialog

Then comes the big box. The key is understanding how this box is laid out. In the upper half, the names of the chart elements are listed on the left, and the appearance and other attributes go in each row.

What one has to do is select an element name on the left, then look down at the lower half of the box, usually to the Bars tab (we’ll deal with Text in a sec). For the regular Gantt bars, the kind we usually concern ourselves with, the Middle section is the one we need to tweak. Shape and Pattern are important, but Color is the main thing. If we’re dealing with someone who has red-green color blindness, the ability to change color for critical tasks is certainly going to be a help. Better still, we can change the pattern—which lets us put color aside when we need to.

critical tasks gantt    critical check mark

Once we make the changes, we’re set.

The only downside I’ve run into is, once the Critical Tasks checkmark is turned on, it needs to stay on when one formats the critical task bar appearance. Turn it off, even for a second, and it loses the formatting we apply to critical task bars. (If anyone finds or has a solution to this problem, I’d be glad to hear it. 🙂 )

Adding text to the bars is done in the Text tab downleft. This can be a help too, but one doesn’t want to overdo it, since the left side of the Gantt chart has text aplenty.

How to Set Up Custom Signatures in Microsoft Outlook

There are several features in Outlook that I can only describe as “cool”, among which is the ability to create custom signatures for email. It’s a feature most people would think should be in a program like this, but that doesn’t make it any less cool in my eyes. And not only is it not hard to set up, but more than one signature can easily be made available. This is a very important business feature, if you think about it. Having business contact data in an email is, if nothing else, polite.

Signatures location

First thing is to get to the dialog box. It’s easy: File tab to Options command, then click the Mail category on the left side of the dialog box; third item on the right under Compose Messages is the one we want, and the Signatures button is plain as day.

Signatures box

Once into the actual Signatures dialog box, we usually click New on the left side to start setting one up. Give it a name—sticking to something suitable for business is a good idea—and start editing, in the main space downleft.

Signatures setup

Any text you like can go in there, formatted as you wish. And any pictures, too. There’s even a button for inserting pictures, if you don’t feel like copying and pasting. You may have to play around with the layout a bit, to arrange things as you want them. If you have a program like Photoshop or Illustrator, you could simply set up entire signatures as pictures, import them, and do the whole operation in one easy step. Either way works. The key things are just the usual—highly recommended to use company font and color choices, company logo if available, etc. Otherwise, keep it simple and informative. Just the essentials. Before OK-ing out, make sure you go to the top right of the box and choose which signature(s) you want for your defaults.

Using signatures

From then on, whenever you start a new email, your default signature will show up every time at bottom. But the dropdown at the top of the email window lets you change on the fly. And you can edit any of them anytime.

How to Use Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

Of all the tools in the last few versions of Photoshop, the Dodge and Burn tools seem to be among the least used, possibly since digital photography has reduced the need for them. But once in a while, especially in restoring scanned-in prints, one might still try them out.

Dodging and burning, in photography, are lightening and darkening parts of an image that show some detail but not quite enough; if dark parts can be lightened a little, or vice versa, visible detail might be improved.

Once we have a decent scan, we can decide which parts are a little too dark or light. We can then select an area to work on—the key is to feather the selection by a fairly high number of pixels, how many depending on the image. That is, to make the selection fuzzy-edged, so the dodge and burn we do won’t stop too sharply at the edge and give itself away.

Dodge dark

We then select the tool—they work pretty much the same other than which thing they do—and adjust the options. For dodging, select Shadows; for burning, select Highlights. With dodge and burn work, one can use Midtones for both, but the thinking is to affect the more “extreme” areas of the image, so experiment if needed. The Exposure control is for how much “oomph” the tool will have, or how much it will affect the area quickly. We want this fairly low, usually no more than 20-25% or so, since we want to work slowly up to the degree of effect we want. Using the Airbrush option to build up is okay to try; I find I don’t use it much, but some people have told me it’s good when you get used to it.

Dodge and burn done

The real trick, at least from my experience, is that “tapping” the mouse button to apply short bursts of effect seems to be one good approach in both dodge and burn. Though we can use Undo or the History panel to go back if we overdo it, one doesn’t want to have to do it too often.

And if the effect is not very obvious, that’s because it’s not supposed to be. Remember, the goal in many cases is to have the image look as if nothing was done to it at all—as someone once wrote, “the art of concealing art.”

Using the Mesh Tool in Illustrator-Basics

The Mesh tool gives the Illustrator artist a capability that some people think doesn’t exist in this program—the ability to shade an object, for example if one wants to make something look three-dimensional, solid, curved, etc. This is fairly easy in Photoshop; what a lot of people don’t know is it’s only a little more work in Illustrator, and has easier adjustability to boot. 😊

Shape before mesh

The first thing is to create the outline of the object. I’ve laid out a simple vase-ish kind of shape for demonstration. It’s supposed to narrow down at the neck and bulge out a bit near the base. Now, art theory says that if part of an object “protrudes” toward the viewer, we paint it a little lighter as more light would strike it (the end of the nose, for example). And a part that “recedes” (say, the space under the chin) would be shadowed, and therefore a little darker.

Adding mesh

So we select the object, select the Mesh tool, and click inside it, usually near the center. This puts one horizontal and one vertical mesh line on it. We can then add more by clicking on either of those, as many as we want. The real-life example might be looking at a globe of the Earth, seeing the latitude and longitude lines that make it “look” round even aside from seeing the highlights and shadows on it—the lines help us perceive its shape.

Using mesh

But that isn’t the real power here. We can now use the Direct Selection tool and click on an anchor point where mesh lines meet, and add another fill color that leaks or diffuses out from the selected anchor point(s). If you imagine a white towel absorbing fruit punch, or grape juice, a little here or there, you have the idea. And the control handles emerging from the anchor points not only control the shape of the lines, but how far the color spreads from the anchor. And the best part is, you can always go back and adjust some more. Add mesh lines, add colors, remove them, adjust the shapes, all as you like.

Some time back, the cover of the box for Adobe Illustrator showed a reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the “Venus on the Half-Shell”), done in the program. What I did here, with some refinement, is how all the delicate flesh tones and shadings were done to almost exactly duplicate Botticelli’s work. Can we do “real” art in Illustrator? With meshes, I think we can.

Using Layer Masks in Photoshop – Basics

When we put together a composite image in Photoshop, built from pieces of other images, using layer masks is a very helpful trick. Masking allows us to experiment with the appearance of the composite by letting us show or hide very specific bits of the layers in the image, and adjust what shows without editing or deleting any of the actual images in the layers.


First, we assemble the pieces of the composite. The number of layers is entirely up to the user, of course. (Recently found out the actual max number you can have is 8000. Wow.) Then, of course, arrange the layers in whatever order you need.

Selection for masks

Now, the real key step in masking in a layer is selection (which is why I’ve emphasized it in other posts, and will continue to do so). So using whatever tools and variations we like, we select the area(s) we want to un-mask after selecting the layer in question. That is, we select what the masks should not hide.

Activate masks

Next is to give the command to create the layer mask, simply by clicking the appropriate button at the bottom of the Layers panel. This is the easy part, but still important. When we do this, we can often see a few bits we missed in the selection part. And the good news is that we don’t have to start all over again—we can edit the masks themselves to include the bits. We do this by using the painting tools—which are often easier to work with than the selection tools.


Setting a brush to moderate size (depending on the image size), perhaps ten or twenty pixels here, with a hardness of 100%, gives a nice sharp edge with which we can clean up bits of mask/selection. We make sure the Layer Mask thumbnail is selected in the layer in question, set the Foreground color to black (which masks, or hides) or white (which unmasks, or reveals), and do our touch-up.

(FYI, just so it’s all step-by-step on this part:

1-Select the layer MASK in the layer. 2-Select and adjust the brush you want to use to fine-tune the mask. 3-Check that the foreground color in the Tools panel is black for adding to the mask, or switch to white for un-masking. 4-Paint the appropriate areas.)

Is it a little tedious? Yes, but not really difficult. Mainly zooming in to do a few bits and then zooming out to check. Photoshop may not take away all the hand-work when we create layer masks, but at least we don’t have to clean up all the paint smears.