BOOT CAMP 038
THE NUMBERS GAME
A couple of weeks ago in Boot Camp we touched very briefly
on the topic of spreadsheets, it's time for a closer look. A spreadsheet is
basically a smart calculator -- the classic number-crunching program -- they're
aptly described as word processors for numbers, and they can be just as useful.
The suite of bundled software that came with your PC almost
certainly included a spreadsheet, the best known being Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft
Excel and Claris Works. There are also simple spreadsheet functions in word
processors, like Microsoft Word plus plenty of freeware and shareware programs
available for the cost of a download on the Internet, so you have no excuse not
to get to know this incredibly versatile application.
The best way to do that is to use one. We're going to show
you how to create a simple home income calculator. The same basic techniques
can be used to track the finances of a small business, club or society,
generate a price list or even help to navigate an aircraft or boat, in fact any
application where numbers interact with each other. Spreadsheets do not depend
on the latest super fast processor chips or bucket-loads of memory, and once
you've become familiar with the basics you can quickly adapt to using any
spreadsheet on any computer, from a Sinclair Spectrum to an Apple iMac.
In this example we'll be using MS Excel, it is included in
the Office and Works software suites and sold separately. By sheer weight of
numbers it is the one you're most likely to have, however, with only minor
modifications our example will work with almost any other spreadsheet program.
The first thing you see when you open a spreadsheet program
will be a blank table or grid. By convention vertical columns are labelled
alphabetically, and rows numerically. By this means every square or 'cell' on
the table has a unique identity code, i.e. the square in the top right left
hand corner is A1, the one next to its right is B1, and so on. Begin by typing
in the months of the year along the top row, starting in cell B1. Excel has a
neat little trick to save you the effort of keying text or numbers that follow
a logical sequence. When you've typed in the first month move the mouse pointer
to the bottom left hand corner of the cell, where it changes to a black plus
sign. Click and hold then drag the pointer along row 1, as it passes each
column you'll see the month change. Stop when you come to M1 and a whole year's
worth of correctly ordered months will be entered into the cells.
Now enter some expenditure headings into column A. You might
want to make the column a tad wider to accommodate a line of text. In Excel put
the mouse pointer into the shaded row of letters at the top and on to a column
line, click hold and move the line slightly to the right. Obviously our
headings are only a suggestion, put in as many or as few as you think
necessary. When you have finished skip a row and put in something like 'Total
Outgoings'. In the cell underneath -- A15 in our case -- type 'Income', and
below that, in A16, 'What's Left'.
At his point you can begin to key in some figures. If any of
your outgoings are fixed -- such as your mortgage, or any other standing orders
-- type them in just once and use the logical sequence trick outlined above.
This time it will repeat the same figure in each cell in a row. You can assign
a pound sign to all of the cells containing numbers in Excel by highlighting
the whole table in same way you highlight a block of text in a word processor.
Put the mouse pointer into the top-left corner, click hold and drop in the
bottom-right corner, then on the toolbar click on the currency icon (shaped
like a banknote).
When you have entered all of the information click and
highlight cell B14, (or whichever one relates to your Total Outgoings for the
first month and click on the AutoSum button on the Toolbar (shaped like a Greek
letter E). This adds together all of the numbers in the column above. Another
way of doing that is to manually assign a mathematical expression to that cell.
Highlight the cell and in the Formula window above the table, type in '=SUM
(B3:B12)'. You're telling the spreadsheet to add together or sum all of the
numbers in cells B3 to B12. This formula has to be inserted into every column
in row 14, but again in Excel it is possible to do this in one step by clicking
in the bottom left and corner of the cell and dragging it along the row. Excel
automatically changes the column letter as it goes.
Finally, in cell B16, 'What's Left' insert the expression
B15 - B14; this subtracts the total outgoings in B14 from the income in B15, to
show how much is left. Repeat the formula in the relevant cells along the row
as before. The spreadsheet is now
complete and all calculations are carried out automatically as you type in or
If you like you can instruct Excel to show negative numbers
-- i.e. when your outgoings exceed your income -- in red. On the Format menu,
click on Cells and select the Number tab and, click on Number in the Category
window and highlight marked the red-coloured '-1234.10' entry in the Negative
Numbers panel. The 'Cells' option on the Format menu also has the facility to
add colours and shading to rows columns or blocks within the table. You'll find
it on the Patterns tab, highlight the area you want to stand out first and
choose a colour.
A spreadsheet table is divided into boxes or cells, each of
which is assigned a unique identity code. A cell can contain a mixture of text,
numbers and mathematical formulae
Mathematical expressions, such as add, subtract, multiply
and divide, used to create an instruction that tells a cell how to behave or
process a piece of information
Software programs that you can try, before you buy. If you
continue to use it you are honour bound to send a payment to the author or
If you want to launch a screen-saver quickly -- maybe you're
going out to lunch or prevent others from seeing what's on your screen -- open
Windows Explorer, go to the Windows folder and open the System file. There you
will find all of the Windows 95 screen-saver files. They're easy to spot as
they have monitor-shaped icons and end with the file extension *.scr. Right click
on the icon, select 'Send To' then 'Desktop as Shortcut', when you want to
start it in a hurry just double-click on the desktop icon.