Things I wish I knew earlier 3. Importing Excel into Outlook appointments

At work I use Outlook as my all-in-one software for emails, appointments, and personal task management.

All my meetings, appointments, and time I’ve chosen to specifically allocate to work on certain tasks – go into the Outlook calendar. Excpet for one very important thing – the desk roster. Until today.

Before I would consult a piece of paper with the roster printed on it which created discordance between my desk duties and other responsibilites which were managed electronically. This meant that:

  • I would occassionally double-book myself into a meeting when I’m meant to be on the desk, as it is harder to detect conflicts.
  • My availablity in Outlook would not represent reality, as colleagues would see me as free when I actually have a desk shift.
  • I would sometimes forget to go out to the desk, being too absorbed in my work and there is no electronic reminder pop up, so I’d either be late or the colleague that’s meant to hand over to me would need to remind me. This is pretty rude on my behalf and I’d like to be punctual to my desk shifts.

I hear you asking – why don’t you just enter your desk shifts into Outlook, like everything else? The answer is: the effort outweighed the benefit. It wasn’t a problem often enough to justify entering all my desk shifts into my Calendar, which happen several times a day and are not neatly recurring, so the data entry is a repetive task without good return on investment.

But – yesterday I had the sudden insight that it would be much better to put all my forseeable desk shifts into a spreadsheet and import them. You can import data via csv into just about any software these days. So I found this how-to and imported a week’s worth of rosters. Adding several individual appointments every day is too cumbersome, but doing it via excel is a 5 min task that I do every few weeks when the roster comes out and that will help my productivity and organisation immensely.

The guide I linked to above gives a quite detailed example, but mine is more simplistic.

2017-10-29 15_38_49-Calendar import.xls - Excel

You need to give your table headings that match the field names used in Outlook.

Subject: name of the “appointment”

Start date: self-explanatory

End date: put in the formula so it just equals whatever is in column B.

Start and end time: self explanatory

Reminder on/off : Entered TRUE to enable reminders

Reminder date: Did the same formula as the end date so whatever I put in start date automatically populates.

Reminder time: What I did was in column I, I entered how many minutes warning I wanted, usually 2 mins except for Refchatter (where I want a bit more time to get ready before I log in). The reminder time column has a formula which minuses that time from the start time. This is simpler than working it out for each row.

Save as an excel file so you can keep the formulas and overall template, so next time you only need to adjsut the dates and times. Then save it as a .csv and import into Outlook.

This approach has less manual data entry and is more customisable. (Outlook only lets you set the reminder time a minimum of 5 minutes prior, while I prefer a very short reminder of just 2 minutes).

International Women’s Day, internet arguments and a surprise information literacy lesson

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so naturally there were plenty of people who feel the need to lash out online when asked to consider the situation of women for one day a year.

One video I saw doing the rounds was this one from “Prager University”, released just in time for this special day. Watch it if you’re curious.

The video claims to debunk the “myth” of the gender wage gap. It has nice production values, charts and numbers, and has the word University in it. Unfortunately, those factors are enough for it to pass the “trustworthy” test for a lot of folks.

I think this video makes a good example of why it’s important to critical evaluate sources. I can imagine students using this or similar videos to inform their arguments at a university level. It looks and sounds similar to other educational videos that you might be able to use in a class presentation or project, but it’s very different.

Let’s ask a few classic questions to help us evaluate this source.

Who is the author/responsible organisation? Spoiler alert: Prager University is not a real university. It doesn’t even have students! It’s basically a YouTube channel that styles itself with the word “university” in its name. But don’t believe me – believe the note at the bottom of the organisation’s website in a blue font on a blue background: “PRAGER UNIVERSITY IS NOT AN ACCREDITED ACADEMIC INSTITUTION AND DOES NOT OFFER CERTIFICATIONS OR DIPLOMAS. BUT IT IS A PLACE WHERE YOU ARE FREE TO LEARN.” Cool. Unfortunately I saw a few people yesterday link to this video as “proof” that their beliefs were legitimately backed up by research from this university. They retreated when someone pointed out the “not a real university” thing (and hey, it wasn’t me – someone got there before me, so there is hope for humanity’s critical evaluation skills.)

What is the agenda/purpose of the video? PragerU explain on their “About Us” page that their mission and vision is to “explain and spread what we call “Americanism” through the power of the Internet. Our five-minute videos are conservative sound bites that clarify profoundly significant and uniquely American concepts for more than 100 million people each year” and to provide “intellectual ammunition they need to defend and spread those values.” Provide intellectual ammunition. Spread “Americanism”. Ponder those phrases. Then compare them to “inform and educate”. Obviously the video is putting forward a certain point of view, informed by a worldview that PragerU wants to defend.

Does the information have any biases? Hahahahaha. HAHAHAHAHA.

Does it cite its sources? Where do they come from? This is the tricky one. The video references real studies and statistics. That makes it legit, right? But ask yourself: are the conclusions the video makes backed up by the facts, or do they put forward their own assertions to argue their agenda? Anyone who’s fluffed their way through an essay knows that you can cherry-pick references to back up any argument you wish you make, it doesn’t make it a good argument.

In this age of “alternative facts”, we’re more divided than ever and just seek and share information that backs up our existing beliefs, or worse, gears us up to attack others and their points of view. PragerU seems set up explicitly to foster this, providing “intellectual ammunition” for Facebook soldiers. With so much biased information out there, masquerading as authoritative, it’s so hard to seek and find the truth! I’m not sure people even want the truth sometimes.

Please, think about the information you hear/read/watch. It’s more important now than ever.



Google for research: If it’s wrong, why does it feel so right?

In the uni library world we encourage students to use the library’s discovery layers and database interfaces to search for information. We tell first-years over and over again not to use Google. Is this the right thing to do?

Here’s an information retrieval story from today when I was looking for journal articles on a certain topic:

  1. Used library discovery layer. Didn’t like my results.
  2. Used most recommended database #1, which is small but specialised. Simple 2-term search connected by AND. Some success, but not exactly a jackpot of relevant articles, but a few that were of interest.
  3. Added some synomyms to my search strategy to broaden. Results were the same.
  4. Used most recommended database #2. Large, but multidisciplinary. Had to add more terms to refine the search and experiment with my keywords a bit more. Not much success.
  5. Went back to discovery layer and fiddled with my keywords a bit more. Still not satisfied.
  6. Went to Google. Put in my 2 keywords, no syntax or synonyms or anything. Based on the nature of my search terms, suggestions from Google scholar appeared at the top of the results list. It suggested two articles that were basically my ~dream articles~ in terms of relevance, and highly cited.
  7. Clicked on them. Paywall.
  8. Copied and pasted the article titles into library search. There they were, in databases I hadn’t looked at in steps 3 or 5. Clicked through to full text, and downloaded the pdfs in all their glory.

Now, Google was by far the most helpful tool in terms of discovery (step 6). It was very simple. I didn’t even intentionally go to Google Scholar, just plain old Google. The Scholar results were presented right in my face, there was no effort on my part in doing this. But in terms of access, Google let me down (step 7). I happened to know there was a good chance that the library would have access, so I went looking there, once I had the article titles.

The databases and library search tool were not as good at discovery. It was trickier and more frustrating to find stuff,  I had to use some advanced search strategies, and common techniques like broadening my terms didn’t always work (steps 2-5). The few relevant results that I did get were not as good as what I later found on Google. Of course this is not always my experience.  It depends on the amount of literature available on your topic, how well your search terms match the vocabulary of the databases and the literature, and endless other factors. My topic happened to be a little bit niche on this occasion, which is the kind of situation when I think Google provides a better search experience. The real value in the library search and library-subscribed databases was the access itself (step 8).

I know this is just one anecdote. But c’mon, Google can be a life saver sometimes. Let’s not demonise it. Maybe next time a student is stuck in a rut not finding relevant information in databases, rather than complicate the search strategy, just use the Google workaround!

23 Research Data Things – 23. The end! Now what?


Woohoo, I made it!

I had a lot of fun going through the program, and learned a lot about research data that I can apply to my work and share with my colleagues.

My favourites were anything to do with metadata.  I also had a good opportunity for reflection and discussion being part of the catch-up webinar in June. I’ve already reflected in my blog on this.

I also used pages on the ANDS website, and other resources linked to in the “things”, throughout my uni subject this semester on research data management. So the program has been immediately helpful for that. I’m also going to plug the program to my colleagues.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more opportunities to do fun data stuff, especially getting into some of the technical skills that I didn’t do the first time around.

Peace out.


23 Research Data Things – 22. Big Data

To most people the term “big data” is associated with the data that corporations collect about us through our facebook posts, the GPS on our smartphones, and what products we scan at the checkout. It’s not just Big Data, it’s Big Brother. That is one very pervasive example of it, but “big data” basically refers to all the huge volumes of data that are generated every day, that we currently don’t have the capacity to fully use. I found this video quite helpful and accessible for explaining these ideas:

The mind boggles at how much data is collected using high-tech telescopes and satellites. I looked at the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope – which produces 2.5 gigabytes of data per second, or 75 petabytes per year. I was impressed at the collaboration between different organisations to store, analyse, manage and publish the data. Without that high level of collaboration, it wouldn’t be possible.