Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gradient-free data bars in Excel 2007?

Data bars are a quick and handy tool for making numbers more visually obvious in Excel. Mostly I just use them for progress bars on long ongoing writing tasks like my the... thes... I can't say the word for some reason, nevermind.

Anyway, the problem* is that Excel 2007 forces the data bars to have gradient fade to white as they reach the top. This makes them look a bit stupid and indistinct, with the apparent rationalisation that it makes it easier to read the numbers in that cell - which is pretty weak TBH, just choose the right colours, bold your text and it won't be a problem.

A ridiculous workaround to get fake-solid bars is to set the bar colour to white and change the background colour of the cell to something with nice contrast that doesn't melt your eyes. Like neon green or piss yellow. Blue works for me...

Anyone know a better way of doing this (other than not using Excel, or upgrading to Office 2010, since then I end up with documents that don't work properly in the ancient versions of Powerpoint installed on DCU machines)?

*Well, one of the problems. The others are that the default range values make almost no sense, and that values at the minimum of the range (or lower) still produces a bar, and that values over the top of the range don't entirely fill the bar. What...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Browser tab overload

After a couple of years of using the excellent Opera browser, I switched to Firefox after some crashes and extremely high memory usage. It turns out that Opera was doing pretty well given that I had some 200 tabs open, though... (yes, I find interesting articles quicker than I read them, and if mail myself the links or put them in a "to read" folder, well, they seem to not get read either).

Anyway, with addons and things, I've grown accustomed to Firefox now, and a recent-ish update which forces JS events from background events/timers to be processed at most once per second really helped with CPU usage.
However, it still struggles a bit with some 100 tabs open on this laptop, and actually crashes with an out-of-memory exception on my 32-bit Vista box from time to time. Not that it explains this or anything, it just vanishes and pops up a crash reporter which doesn't seem to explain the crash; I had to run Firefox under WinDbg to get a proper, source-line annotated stack trace.

One workaround for this is to just not be so lazy and to read articles immediately and follow links in a depth-first way, rather than the exponentially disastrous strategy of reading a Wikipedia article and clicking open 12 interesting links into background tabs, then doing the same for each of those tabs if I ever get that far.

Until I have the discipline to do that, though (i.e. never), I found a couple of Javascript bookmarklets are helpful.
So I stole a few bookmarklets to zap plugins, events and timers from here and taped them together into one "Zap all" snippet. Going through the roughly five million open and unread Lifehacker tabs and zapping off the Javascript machinery and other cruft managed to reduce the CPU usage to a respectable ~1% mostly. And pared the RAM usage from 1.5 gigs down to just under 1 gig on that Vista box.

Screw solving the underlying problem when you have bookmarklets!

Obsolescence update: A recent feature in Firefox (at least the Aurora 8.0x releases) allows you to set tabs to load lazily (i.e. a tab won't automatically load after opening Firefox, until you activate that tab)... this is perfect for messy users like myself who end up with more tabs than they can eat - it seems to work really well.