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24 February 2012

Microsoft Excel 2010 Formulas and Functions Inside Out by By Egbert Jeschke, Helmut Reinke, Sara Unverhau, Eckehard Pfeifer, Bodo Fienitz, Jens Bock

There's plenty of books on the subject of Excel, so I was interested to see how Microsoft Excel 2010 Formulas and Functions Inside Out would fare in such competition. Weighing in at 1088 pages, and split into four sections, it certainly falls into the comprehensive reference category.

In the first section a problem solving approach offers a speedy orientation to some of Excel's most useful formulas and functions. The many insights, tips and tricks also whet the appetite for what's to come.

The second section lifts functions out from the worksheet cells, and spotlights how they can be used within macros to deliver more sophisticated programming solutions. It's a good place to discover new concepts and ideas. Many of these solutions also include visual and charting scenarios, plus there's an introduction to creating custom functions with Excel's built-in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) development tools.

In both these sections the content is attractively presented in a practical step-by-step flow. Most pages have at least one colourful image, figure or table. The text is further supplemented by plenty of embedded boxes containing notes, tips, associated information and references to sample files. It's a presentation style that lends itself to the experimental approach, rather than a long reading session.

Although not strictly in the formula and function domain, the authors have also thrown in examples of the new PowerPivot in action. A feature I'm sure will be heavily utilised by 2010 edition owners.

Section three is dedicated to in-depth function explanations, suitably organised into category-specific chapters. Despite the technical nature of the content, even here there's no shortage of colourful graphics and informative boxes.

And finally, the appendixes contain the obligatory function lists in A-Z and category arranged format, plus a summary of the features new to Excel 2010.

The comprehensive nature of this reference is further enhanced by a suitably large collection of downloadable sample files. These samples are fully cross referenced by chapter usage at the front of the book.

In conclusion this book is a strong product in this competitive marketplace. It's certainly a book I could recommend to anyone with a basic understanding of Excel and a desire to dig deeper into its potential. And despite being aimed at Excel 2010, there's still a great deal of value for 2003 and 2007 version users.

23 February 2012

Beginner's Guide to CSS

CSS is an essential component in website design. Understanding how to harness the power of CSS will add a professional touch to your web pages.

Part one of my Beginner's Guide to CSS, in issue 1197, introduces the language itself and its syntax. In part two I construct a classic two column web page layout to demonstrate some of CSS's most useful features and capabilities.

All the code examples from part 1 and 2 are available in this github code repository.

Here are a couple of extracts:

Using CSS for page presentation provides many advantages. A single style declaration can be used by multiple web pages. A change to this declaration will be instantly applied to all those pages - a boon for experimentation, and a great time saver. Styles can be defined in hierarchies, which improves clarity and reduces the lines of code required. Replacing elements such as HTML tables with CSS can improve page loading performance. And the resulting simplified, uncluttered HTML code will help improve your Google and other search engine page ranking.

These are class selectors rather than IDs, so they can be applied to multiple elements if required. Both define a width in terms of a percentage instead of with a fixed number. It's the percentage of the parent element's width, in this case 'page-container'. As the width of the parent element changes, so the width of these columns will change proportionally. Note they don't quite add up to 100% by design, as it provides a little wiggle room for some extra touches.

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