Displaying Formulas and Column Width

To display formulas in Excel, as opposed to displaying the formula results, you press the Ctrl+` key combination (that’s an accent grave and it’s to the left of the 1 on most US keyboards). When you do that, Excel helpfully increases the column width to show you more of the formula.

Excel increases the column width, but it doesn’t increase the ColumnWidth. That is, the ColumnWidth property is still the same even though you can see more characters than before. I’m not sure what exactly is changing here, but that’s not really the point of this post. The increase in width is about double. The percent of times that Excel makes the column wide enough to show me what I want to see is 0%.

If I have a 20 character formula, I’m probably not going to use Ctrl+` to check it out. It’s the longer formulas where I need to ensure consistency. I need to increase the column width even more, but that creates another problem. When I change the column width I also change the ColumnWidth. And when I go back to displaying formula results, my column width is now wider than it was. I’m working on a solution, but there’s a lot of moving pieces, so this isn’t fully baked yet.

First I need to store the ColumnWidth before any changes. Then I need to increase the column width so I can see the whole formula. Then I need to set the ColumnWidth back to what it was. For the above formula, that’s pretty straightforward. It’s only about 150 characters. But the one below is about 280 characters and that strategy will make the column wider than the screen – no good.

Round one of my attempt to replace the Ctrl+` behavior is below.

To combat really long formulas, I AutoFit the formula, then reduce the column width until it fits on the screen. It’s a bit more indirect than converting points to characters and all that funny business associated with ColumnWidth, but I like it. I haven’t tried to break it with hidden columns or anything like, so there’s probably some fragility there.

Five Minute Dashboards

Mike at Data Pig Technologies must have got some Christmas present he didn’t want because he’s having a giveaway.

The task is simple. Start with some prepared data and create a fully functional dashboard/report in 5 minutes or less.

To participate in this contest, you can submit a video of you building out a report or dashboard. All videos will be loaded to an official 5-Minute Challenge YouTube Playlist.

I think there are more prizes than there were a few days ago when I first read that post. Here’s a taste:

First Prize

XBox One

Second Prize

Fitbit Charge Heart Fitness Wristband

Third Prize

Amazon Fire Tablet

And much more. Visit http://datapigtechnologies.com/blog/index.php/new-contest-for-2017-the-excel-5-minute-challenge/ for all the details and updates.

Good VBA Dates and Bad Excel Dates

No, I’m not launching a match making service for Excel nerds. I’m talking about calendar dates. I was importing some data from a system that doesn’t seem to care what dates you might enter. Here’s the offender

Instead of 2016, the user entered 1206. VBA doesn’t care.

But Excel cares. As you know, Excel stores dates as the number of days since December 31, 1899. Anything before 1900-01-01 isn’t considered a date. The way this manifested was strange to me. I got the error (Application-defined or object-defined error) on this line

When I filled the class, and specifically the TranDate property, no problem as VBA recognizes it as a date. When I fill the array vaWrite, no problem – the array contains text, numbers, and dates so it’s typed as a Variant. It’s only when I try to write it to a range that it complains. But why? I can type 12/13/1206 into a cell with no problem. It won’t recognize it as a date, but it doesn’t throw an error either.

A user (who is not me) got the error and clicked End. They’ve learned that clicking Debug only makes things worse – not that there are ever bugs in my code. When he clicked End, the code filled up the range all the way up to the bad date, line 1103.

That’s unexpected behavior. I would think the whole write operation would fail, but apparently not. The good news is that this partial writing of data led me to the root of the problem very quickly. The bad news is that the user was perfectly happy that clicking End produced data and he didn’t realize that the data wasn’t complete. He went on about his day until things just weren’t tying out properly. As much as I like the debugging help of a partial write, I think I would prefer if it didn’t write anything at all.

In any case, it’s an interesting insight into writing an array to a range all at once. It’s long known that filling an array and plopping it into a range is way faster than writing out cell-by-cell. But whatever you do in VBA to avoid looping, you’re not really avoiding looping. All you’re doing is moving the loop to a faster place. For instance, when you Join an array, something in VBA is looping, just not you. In this case, VBA is looping through vaWrite and filling up cells and it’s doing it faster than you or I could. The interesting thing to me is that it’s really a screen refresh that’s hiding the loop (maybe). As opposed to, say, VBA building a bunch of XML in the background and replacing part of the sheet.

But back to the error. Why an error anyway? As I said, I can type that non-date into Excel without error. I can even type that non-date in a cell and format the cell as a date without error. If I enter the formula =DATE(1206,12,13) in a cell, it returns 12/13/3106. Not a good result, but not an error either.

I think it all comes down to the fact that VBA has cast this data as a date and Excel won’t accept a date outside of its range. At least it won’t accept it from VBA. If I look at the locals window, I can see that my Variant Array has cast that value as a Variant/Date.

And this command in the Immediate Window fails with the same error as above

but if I override the cast by casting it as a String, it works

If you’ve followed me down this rabbit hole and are still reading, then may god have mercy on your soul. Here’s my fix

Instead of assigning the recordset date field to the property (I commented out that line), I assign it to a date variable and test the year. If the year is less than 1900, then I change it to 1900. I considered changing it to the current year, but I think having a different incorrect year that doesn’t cause an error is better than trying to guess what it should have been.

You might have noticed that I prefixed the Year function with VBA. I have a property in this class called Year, so when I try to use it, VBA thinks I’m referring the class property and not the VBA function. Prefixing the function call with the library name ensures that it uses the right one.

I wrote that Nz function back in 2007 but it’s been updated since. So here’s the new and improved version.

This is great example of a function that needs some comments.

Standing Desk Upgrade

I upgraded my standing desk from paper boxes to something a little fancier.

The three components are a monitor pole, a desk for the top of my desk, and a mat.


VIVO Dual Monitor Stand Up Desk Mount


Adjustable height standing desk.


Imprint CumulusPRO Anti-Fatigue Mat

I tried this laptop stand for my keyboard and mouse, but it was a little too unstable. A comment on Amazon said it was designed to hold seven pound laptops and a lightweight keyboard may not work as well. It wasn’t super wobbly, but enough that I didn’t like it.


Portable Laptop-Table-Stand with Mouse Pad

The whole getup ran about $170. Compare that to almost $400 for a real stand up desk without the floor mat.


VARIDESK Height Adjustable Standing Desk Black

The downside is that I have to raise and lower the monitors manually. I loosen the allen screw, slide the monitors down the pole, and re-tighten. That’s not as easy as it sounds. The weight of the monitors makes the sleeve that holds them bind against the pole. Sliding them down means first lifting them up to unbind the sleeve. If my desk backed up to a wall this would be impossible. You really have to be dedicated to frugality to want this set up.

The next step is moving the floor mat out of the way and moving the desktop desk over to my credenza. I don’t really have a lot of paper or other stuff on my credenza, so there’s plenty of room. But again, this is hardly a universally appropriate set up. If I decide I hate it, I’m only out $170, so there’s that.

Grouped Sheets Warning

We’ve all been there. I group a few sheets, change several things at once, and pat myself on the back for being so efficient. A few changes later, I realize that the sheets are still grouped and that I’m an idiot. I finally decided to do something about it and I happened on this old post from Contextures. Debra asks

What would you like Excel to do, to make grouped sheets more noticeable?

I’d like a warning, but I’d like it to be non-modal. That is, I don’t want it to interrupt me.

What about a hideous Ribbon tab that appears when you group sheets?

First, I used the CustomUI editor to add some XML to my workbook.

It’s a couple dozen buttons with alternating colors. It appears whenever a sheet is activated and sheets are grouped. Here’s the code in a standard module

The onLoad procedure sets up a global Ribbon variable. The getVisible procedure controls whether you can see the custom tab. If the count of SelectedSheets is greater than one, returnedVal is set to True and that makes the tab visible. The If block shows the tab if it’s visible using the ActivateTab method.

In the ThisWorkbook module:

When a sheet is activated, the Ribbon is invalidated and the getVisible procedure is forced to run again.

The next step would be to put this code in an add-in with a class module and application level events to monitor all workbooks.

You can download GroupSheetAlert.zip

Meta Dose of Excel

Hey, did you notice this blog is significantly peppier lately? I recently moved from Digital Ocean to Linode. The transition, frankly, sucked lemons. I tried to move from Apache to Ngnix and I failed miserably. After several weeks, I finally gave up, uninstalled Nginx, reinstalled Apache, all was well.

If you’ve been visiting in the last few days, you’ve probably been treated to a different theme each time. All WordPress themes are terrible. I’ve settled on the current one because it’s the least offensive until I can find a better one. I found a super plain theme that I like, but it messes up code in the comments.

I’m sick of WordPress and ready to move on to something else. It’s a great CMS, but I just don’t need it. I want simple, secure blogging software with comments and a simple CSS. I wouldn’t mind having a go at writing my own, but the “secure” requirement might be a problem. I’d also miss Akismet for comment spam as it makes managing a blog tolerable.

That’s the update. More Excel stuff coming soon.

Paste Special Multiply

Thanks to Dennis Wallentin for another article:

Paste Special Dialog – Operating on a Range of Data

For some of you this is already known, but I know there are users who are not aware of the power of the Paste Special Dialog.

Suppose you have been asked to create a budget for next year. The budget will be based on last year’s sales figures and the budget should be 10% more than last year.

As usual, there are several ways to skin a cat. A quick method to achieve it is to use the Paste Special Dialog. The following screen shot shows the details:

  • First we enter 1.1 (which represents the 10% increase) in an empty cell in the worksheet.
  • Next we copy the source, i.e. the cell that holds the value.
  • Then we select the targeted range of data that is to be increased with 10%.
  • Next we select the command Paste Special… from the menu by Right Clicking on the targeted range.
  • In the Dialog we select the operation Multiply and then hit the OK button.

The output of the operation is showed in the following screen shot:

In my opinion this is an excellent way to quickly update a range of data.

Recently I made a suggestion to improve the operation. Instead of using a cell in a worksheet as the source I suggested to add a numeric field in the Paste Special Dialog. The following picture shows the idea:

If You think it’s a good idea, then I suggest that You vote for it at UserVoice:
https://excel.uservoice.com/forums/304921-excel-for-windows-desktop-application/suggestions/17352001-paste-special-add-a-numeric-field-when-using-one

Enjoy!
Thanks and all the best,
Dennis