How I use Mail Merge for name badge labels using Word (& Excel or Notepad)

This is not a general ‘how to use Mail Merge’ post, it’s mostly a reminder for me for when I come to repeat this task next year and wish that this year’s me had written it down. This time, I made notes!

A mail merge involves importing a table of data (a spreadsheet in Excel form (“.xls(x)”), or as a tab- or comma-separated version in notepad) into a blank Word template so that the contents of each row in the spreadsheet is presented in label form.

You will need

  • Word – open a new document, this is where you’ll make the labels
  • Data file – Excel, notepad / text document, anything that has tabulated (columnar) data. Note that with Excel files with multiple tabs you can select which tab is used as the data source. Big fan of the text-based version though.
  • Patience and determination

1a. Open Word: Mailings tab » Start Mail Merge » Labels (select option / OK)

1b. Click on the ‘Label products’ drop-down menu and select brand, then size, then OK. You can also create your own label page from scratch with the New label option.
(I used “Avery A4 and A5 sizes”, L7163 (which has 14 labels to a page, 99mm in length, 38mm in height.)

1c. Word will now automatically populate a single page with largely invisible labels (‘Select All’ / Ctrl+A to see them) all but the first containing the phrase “Next Record”.

2. Select Recipients » Use an Existing List… (navigate to your data file, usually Excel (see section on troubleshooting) or notepad / plain text). If invited to “Open Document in Workbook:” click on menu to select which workbook (tab) of the spreadsheet you want to use. You can also select a cell range within that.

3. The ‘Edit Labels’ pop-up invites you to Insert Merge Field – click on that and add the fields (column headings) you want included, eg First Name will look like «First_Name». You can decide on the order and layout a bit at this stage but you’ve more control in the next stage so add them in and press OK.

4. Using the Home tab adjust the layout and appearance of the first record (top left, the only one that doesn’t say «Next Record» with colour, font, size, positioning etc. Once happy click back into the Mailings tab, click Update Labels to copy your layout across all labels. Then click on “Finish & Merge” and choose Edit Individual Documents… A new Word document will open with the finished labels which you can check and amend individually if necessary.

5. If you need to make changes affecting all labels just close the finished labels without saving and amend the underlying label design before repeating the Finish & Merge step.

6. While you can re-use this label ‘template’ with a different file (restart process from (2)) it doesn’t always work well and to be honest I’d start fresh, but I only do this once or twice a year. You may work out a better system for your needs.

Slight cheating
At point 1c you can stop if you only wanted to make a few labels manually, as you now have the basic template and can add in text and adjust layout, overwriting each «Next Record». For speed format the first label and copy to the rest by clicking the Update Labels button in the Mailings tab.

Troubleshooting
A friend sent me an Excel spreadsheet to make some labels and it misbehaved, giving me error messages when I tried to run the mail merge (it wanted me to download lots of unnecessary fonts). I completely solved that by selecting all the cells of the table and pasting into a blank notepad – it will keep the underlying formatting that lets it know where info in one column ends and the next column begins. It’s also a smaller file. Wikipedia has a good article on tab-separated data files.

On my Mac the Excel file wanted me to give it access to my keychain and I had to rebuff it a few times, also telling it not to download missing fonts. After clicking ‘deny’ and ‘no’ a few times it worked OK but it was quicker to paste the data into notepad and use that instead.

There’s an interim pop-up window if using a tab-separated notepad file where it asks what formatting it should use, for me it was a default Mac thing that worked (basically it asks ‘how should I read this file when transferring the contents to Word?’, with Excel it already knows as both are Microsoft products).

Font sizes
I had four lines of text using the following font sizes with Calibri or Arial.
FIRST_NAME – 36
SURNAME – 22 or 26
COMPANY – 14
DAY – 12     PHOTO OK – 12 (I’ve also written 14 in brackets in my notes).

Printing
This will depend on your printer but for mine it’s safer to print each page individually by selecting ‘print current page’ (the printers at work overenthusiastically default to double-sided!) and then feeding in the label sheet through the side tray, labels facing down but maintaining normal top to bottom (ie flipped only front and back).

Colouring in blocks or individual labels
Select labels to be coloured, right-click, borders and sharing, select colour and choose ‘apply to: Cell’ from the options then OK.

How to set up a rolling / looping PowerPoint for a display eg kiosk

At the final film event at the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival (I’m one of the volunteers) last night we wanted to show a rolling display of photographs taken from our previous events. This is something that is reasonably straightforward using PowerPoint.

1. First create your presentation.

2. Click on the Transitions tab and make sure there’s a tick in the box on the left of ‘After:’. The box in the right lets you adjust the time (in seconds) to determine for how long the slide appears on the screen. In the example given it changes every 15 seconds. If you want all slides to be on screen for the same time click the Apply to All button and check a few slides to make sure it’s worked. Or adjust each slide individually.

Screenshot 2019-09-15 15.59.26

If you want the slide to appear gradually you can fiddle with the ‘Duration:’ options (3 sec shown) but you also need to click on one of the effect options (eg ‘morph’, ‘cut’ or ‘fade’) to activated it. If it’s on the default ‘None’ then nothing will happen.

3. Click on the Slide Show tab then the Set Up Slide Show option and choose ‘Browse at a kiosk‘. This will cause the presentation to show at full-screen size and loop continuously until you press Esc.

Screenshot of 'Set up Show' on Powerpoint, allowing you to make it loop continuously by setting it as a kiosk presentation

OR: If you want a bit more control you can choose the top option (‘Presented by a speaker [full screen]’) and also click ‘Loop continuously until Esc’ and making sure the ‘Using timings if present’ is ticked. This will let your presentation loop as before but also gives you the option to move a slide on (usually by clicking the space bar) if you want to.

Screenshot showing the manual version of how to make a presentation loop - it allows you to advance the slides as well

4. Run the presentation and check that it behaves as expected.

Here’s an example one to play with (looped) so you can see how changes to the the slide duration and effect duration options work in practice. It uses sound so silence your speakers or lower the volume if you are somewhere you’d rather not have that.

To run it as a loop just open the file and start the slideshow (see how below) – it will run until you press Esc. It has 3 slides in its deck.

Demo powerpoint presentation that loops

How to start a slide show

Use any of the four options shown (they appear randomly, not in a particular order)

  • Blue / grey = View, Slide show
  • Grey / orange = Mac menu for PowerPoint, Slide Show, play from start
  • Grey = Slide show icon at bottom right of window
  • Orange / grey = PowerPoint’s own menu, Slide Show, Play from start

Or use the shortcut key shown for Macs, or this info for PCs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

How to record screen (or part) on a Mac via Mojave OS

This is just an opportunity to point people to Apple’s excellent help page on this topic, with instructions and screenshots. Go here for more https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT208721

Shift+Command+5 brings up a resizable window (adjust to select an area you want to record, or click the ‘whole screen’ option). You can tweak the settings to include the inbuilt mic if you want your video to have spoken instructions. To end the recording you need to press Shift+Command+5 again at which point you can edit out the ending (the bit of you moving the mouse to press ‘stop’) from the recording, and you can shorten it at either end.

Give it about 3 seconds after you press record before speaking as there seems to be a slight delay and I’ve found it generally misses off the first few words. Recommend doing a test 10 sec recording first.

Once you’ve completed the recording a small pop up version appears at the bottom right of the screen (on my system) and clicking it brings up the video with a panel at the top for editing. Click the button on the left of Done to shorten it (first pic below), and use the yellow drag bars (2nd pic below) to shorten it. You can click anywhere in the ‘tape strip’ and press play to see how your new ending / beginning changes things.

Screenshot 2019-08-23 13.09.58

Screenshot 2019-08-23 13.10.06

Here’s one I made earlier, which relates to Make Twitter Useable Again

Basic photo watermarking on an iPhone

If you happen to take images of ‘stuff happening’ that might be newsworthy and that you want to share but not have mis-used there are apps that let you add a watermarks. I presume these watermarks can also be removed later, presumably by you (but perhaps by newspapers) so I might suggest screenshotting the image first and sharing that instead. Screenshotting also means minimal EXIF data. But you can do it without apps too and just draw your initials on the picture and only remove them when you send (by DM) a copy of the image to media sites you want to [though this won’t stop someone from passing it on I suppose…].

For iPhone users you can draw on any picture in the Camera roll –

  1. Make a duplicate copy of the photo first (to keep the original safe)
  2. Draw your watermark on the copy
  3. Screenshot the watermarked copy and share that (watermark possibly harder to remove because it’s no longer layered on top of the image, and EXIF data is hidden)
  4. Resizing the image if necessary

1. Duplicate the original

Have the photo open, click the upload icon (the one on the left in the all-blue icons picture below), then choose Duplicate which is the middle grey icon in the second image below. Note that you may have to scroll right to find this option.

1A

Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.32.58
Pic 1. It’s the one with the arrow bursting out of an empty box, on the left

1B

Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.34.21
Pic 2. Duplicate icon is a grey rectangle with a white + & a single grey rectangle behind.

Once you’ve created your duplicate open that one (you can slide back and forth between the two copies).

2. Draw your watermark

Click on the Edit option (on the right in the pic below), then choose the three overflow dots in a circle (•••), then click Markup.

2A
Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.38.56

2B
Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.40.34

2C
Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.41.44

You’ll have the option of various pen thicknesses, and colours to choose from. To select the colours click on the (()) symbol…

2D                         and                  2E
Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.56.45   Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.58.11

…or you can add text by clicking on the (+) at the end (in pic above).

2F
Screenshot 2019-08-17 20.55.56

Once you’ve added whatever watermark format you’ve chosen and clicked DONE twice (once in blue at the top right of the photo, and once in yellow at the bottom right) you’ve completed the ‘add watermark’ to your duplicate image bit of the process.

2G

IMG_1595.jpg
“Watermarked” image.

3. Screenshot it

Click on the image to remove the white borders (the bits saying the current date / time, battery info or whatever’s currently on your phone) and to see the image just on its own – usually with a black border at top and bottom. The two images in 3A below are identical, the only difference is the white or black border – this is a toggle-click, where clicking once hides the phone info and clicking again brings it back, and so on.

3A

Press the ON/OFF button and HOME button simultaneously (iPhone) to make a screenshot which is saved to your cameraroll. (You can do the white-border one too of course but may need to do an extra step of pruning out the additional info)

This is the image that you should share.

4. Resizing / removing the white or black borders

If you want to prune out the borders outside the relevant image, or only want to share a particular portion of the image then use the cropping tool to do this.

Click the image again to bring up the white borders which shows the options. Click Edit (see 2A), then the white square tool from 2B which will go white as shown at the bottom of the three images in the panel below.

Screenshot 2019-08-17 23.07.41.png

Left: the square button brings up the resizing boundary – you can use the corners or sides to shrink the picture. Middle – I’ve taken most of the top black border off and the resulting image now takes up more space on the screen. Right – I’ve pruned out all of the unnecessary bits. The next thing I click on is Done (in yellow, bottom right of each pic).

 

Using Dropbox on a phone to listen to media files offline

A version of this was originally posted here, this is updated with screenshots and adapted for playing files offline.

It’s fairly straightforward to save media files to your Dropbox and set them up on your phone so that you can listen or watch them when you’re without internet.

To begin with you will need

  • a laptop and a smartphone
  • a free Dropbox account
  • and the Dropbox app installed on your smartphone
  • wifi connectivity (you won’t need it later though)

Instructions

  • Save the media file into your Dropbox folder on your computer
  • open up the Dropbox app on your phone, and wait for the file to appear / sync, or if it’s already there just search for it or navigate to its folder

The example shown is a short beep (listen) from the machine checking tickets at the Royal Albert Hall (at a performance of a Star Trek film with a live orchestra!).

tricorderbeep03
Step 1. Click on the three ••• dots on the right hand side.
IMG_1260
Step 2. Click on the Make Available Offline option and wait
tricorderbeep01
Step 3. The rotating sync icon will take however long is needed to make the file available offline. I assume you will need some space on your phone to do this, especially for larger files.
tricorderbeep02
Step 4. Once you have the white arrow on the green circle icon you should be able to use that file without internet access. Check! If it doesn’t play check that your phone is able to play that file type.

Dropbox’s own help pages have a list of files that will play including music and video: https://help.dropbox.com/installs-integrations/photos/play-movie-audio-mobile – note that you may need to convert some files to a type of file that your phone can play so check before disconnecting from wifi / signal. They suggest Handbrake for conversion though I’ve only used Zamzar and Real Player).

Media filetypes that I’ve successfully played on my iPhone via Dropbox

  • .avi
  • .flv
  • .m4a (these are meant for iTunes, but work fine)
  • .mp3
  • .wmv

Music files listed on Dropbox help files that should work: .mp3, .aiff, .m4a, .wav

Video files previously listed on their help files that should work: .mov, .mp4, .m4v

Filetypes that I’ve not had much luck with

  • .m4r – ring tones, but these can be converted to .mp3 files via http://www.zamzar.com (I’ve just tried it, works fine)

Add “?random” to a WordPress dot com blog homepage to view random posts

Random post generator

Granted this might not have wide application on this particular blog (where people are generally looking for answers to specific questions) but if you fancy having a wander around this site you can use the Random post generator button in the menu panel on the right. Clicking it takes you to a link formed from the blog’s homepate address with ?random appended to the end – https://howtodotechystuff.wordpress.com/?random

Just add ?random at the end of any WordPress.com blog homepage.

This mildly useful trick came from the WordPress dot com blog https://en.blog.wordpress.com/2007/04/26/get-random/

How to tweak (digitise) drawings in Inkscape

I’ve been playing with Inkscape, a free open-source image processing tool. For a project I need to draw some cartoonish images and clean them up and I’m learning how to do that thanks to YouTube and Inkscape’s own tutorials.

Note: If you’re using Inkscape on a Mac you may also need to download XQuartz; note that you use the Ctrl key not the Command key in Inkscape. Similar software is Gimp (free) and Adobe Photoshop (not free). I’m also teaching myself to use Scribus, a layout tool, but I mostly use PowerPoint for that at the moment.

Here’s a drawing of a house (biro on white paper) photographed by my iPhone and emailed to myself. Scanning it in would give a much better starting image to work with and drawing it more neatly etc etc but I’m just playing for now.

Screenshot 2019-04-16 17.32.56

Imported into Inkscape by File > Import and OK-ing whatever suggestion it gives

Screenshot 2019-04-16 17.33.21

Once imported ensure it’s selected (click on it if not) and that the arrows are double-headed, then choose Path > Trace Bitmap

Screenshot 2019-04-16 17.35.34

Fiddling about with the settings … (use Update to see how it’s going before using OK to apply)…

Screenshot 2019-04-16 18.17.22

…produces a layer which can be moved away from the main image, resulting in a separate clean black and white image.

 

The resulting image…

Screenshot 2019-04-16 17.38.13

Further tweaking can be done by using the node tool (looks a bit like an archer’s bow between the pointer icon and wave (?) icon in the panel on the left below) and moving the lines about but I’ve not bothered with that for now.

Screenshot 2019-04-16 17.39.42

OK I had a bit of a play around with it. Stretched the E.  (Eeeeee !)

Screenshot 2019-04-16 18.22.58         Screenshot 2019-04-16 18.23.11       Screenshot 2019-04-16 18.23.18

Things I’ve learned after a few hours’ play

I have not been saving images as .svg files (which is, I think, what I am supposed to do) and am. just cheating, copying a screenshot and pasting into my .pptx presentation. I’ve noticed that enlarging the image once in the PowerPoint neans that it looks a bit grainy so I recommend enlarging it in Inkscape by zooming in, taking a screenshot of that and then it will look better.

I’ve also had some fun with the ‘bucket’ tool which fills an area with colour. Also the resizing tool (hold the Ctrl key [Mac users you too, not Command] to enlarge or shrink while keeping the same aspect ratio.

Screenshot 2019-04-19 13.18.52.png