After a wait of several days since being announced in the latest update the checkbox has made it to Google Sheets. NB in the UK a checkbox is called a tick box, so in the screenshots below you will see tick box instead.
So far the implementation seems to be a solid new feature. To insert checkboxes simply select the cell(s) where you want a checkbox, then insert them from the Insert menu.
When a checkbox is unticked the cell’s value becomes FALSE. This is the default value after adding checkboxes to cells. When the cell is checked it becomes TRUE.
But checkboxes are not restricted to returning TRUE/FALSE, they can return numbers or even custom strings. In order to do that you do so via the Data Validation menu. Make sure the cells you want these custom checkboxes inserted into are empty; i.e. do not insert checkboxes via the Insert menu first. From the Data menu select Data Validation. Then a pop over window appears. In the Criteria field choose Checkbox.
To customise the values for checked and unchecked tick the option for “Use custom cell values”. Then below two new text fields will appear. For the values you could use 0 and 1 as the unchecked and checked values respectively (or the reverse if you desire). Or they could be “Yes” and “No” or even “foo” and “bar”, etc.
If you insert checkboxes by this method then here is something to watch out for. When the checkboxes are inserted they are inserted as unchecked just as they are for the method of insertion using the Insert menu. However, unlike that method the cell values are not updated to what you set them in the data validation window. That is, when you insert standard TRUE/FALSE checkboxes with the Insert menu all the cells get the value of FALSE. But when you insert checkboxes with Data Validation the cell values remain blank until they are checked. For example, if I used “No” as the value for unchecked then after I Save the data validation the cell values will not be changed to “No”. In order to set the cell values to “No” they need to be manually checked and unchecked (Google may change this behaviour in the future).
Select a range of cells with checkboxes and toggle them with the space bar
Speaking of which, manually checking and unchecking large numbers of checkboxes, you can of course select a range of cells with checkboxes and toggle them all at once with the space bar. So should you be using custom checkboxes via data validation you can fairly quickly set them to the custom unchecked value you set.
On mobile (iOS at least) you cannot add new checkboxes but you can interact with any you insert on desktop. You can copy and paste existing checkboxes, so if you have a spreadsheet with checkboxes already set up and want to extend the range you can do it on mobile – this is true even of checkboxes with custom values.
In my opinion checkboxes on Sheets will prove to be a valuable feature, what are your thoughts – comment below or on Google+ or Twitter?
Google announced an update for Google Sheets on 11 April. The new features look very exciting with macros being the headline feature. Macros enable you to record a series of edits to a Google Sheet that you will repeat and then save them in a menu to replay anytime to automate that series of actions. It even generates a script that you can edit without having to re-record the macro. This will eliminate a significant amount of tedium for big users of Sheets. Click the link above to read Google’s update about this and to watch their demo. Currently this is available on G Suite accounts but not regular Google Drive accounts.
Whilst macros were the headline feature, the one I am most excited about is checkboxes. Checkboxes are a significant reason that I still use Apple’s Numbers for some of my spreadsheets. Being able to tick items off in a spreadsheet is, in my opinion, a much more efficient user experience than having to use a drop down menu. I am excited about this but as of yet the feature hasn’t rolled out to users as far as I can see – I can’t access them in my regular Google Drive account nor in my G Suite account. Fingers crossed that it comes soon and is a solid implementation.
What are your thoughts about this update? Do you make/use a lot of spreadsheets? Will these and the other new features tempt you away from Excel and/or Numbers to Google Sheets? Share your thoughts in the comments here, Google Plus or Twitter.
Last week I wrote about my set up for a secure and robust backup solution for my MacBook. Some feedback I got suggested that a flow diagram would help readers understand the concept better. So here is a flow diagram, which I will also add to the original post.
The following article describes how I’ve set up a system for Mac backups that is robust and secure. The importance of doing this correctly came to the fore of my thinking after my brother had his laptop stolen. In the event of a need to restore from a back up you need a system that is robust – you don’t want to find that your backup is corrupted or otherwise of no use right when you need it. Also, in the event of theft you want to be confident that even your backups cannot be used to provide confidential information to the thieves. If you are using FileVault on your internal HDD then you have already made a security-conscious move with your data, therefore having secure backups will be all the more important to you as you don’t want a thief to easily bypass the encryption on your internal HDD by simply restoring from an unsecured backup. If you’re not using FileVault then you should be – follow this link to find out how to set it up.
I have a MacBook Pro with a 500 GB HDD, so the below is a description of how I have recently established my system for backing up that Mac. In addition to that I have an extensive archive of educational videos that I’ve created and need to store somewhere (approx. 350 GB). My HDD is nowhere near large enough to accommodate those, so my backup solution includes keeping redundant backups of that archive (along with some other files). If you have a different size HDD and different archive requirements you can alter your backup disk sizes accordingly.
The system begins with three external disks. I have a 2.5″ 500 GB portable disk (Toshiba), a 2.5″ 2 TB portable disk (Western Digital, WD) and a 3.5″ 2 TB desktop disk (Hitachi). Some time ago (about 18 months to two years ago) I read an excellent article evaluating HDD’s to find the most reliable brands. Since then the article has been updated so it doesn’t have the same information when I read it but it’s still worth a read. In the article I learned that Hitachi drives are the most reliable (in the storage range they considered). Hence I have one in my system and I advise you to get one too if you can. If that is not possible WD now own the hard disk arm of Hitachi and WD drives faired well in the analysis so WD are a good brand to go with.¹
Whichever brands you settle on, I would advise using at least two different brands and one drive should definitely be a 3.5” desktop drive as 3.5” drives are inherently more reliable than 2.5” drives. In my set up I use the different drives as follows:
The 500 GB 2.5″ drive is set up as a Time Machine backup disk. I take this drive with me to work for frequent Time Machine backups at work and at home.
The 2 TB 3.5″ drive has two partitions. One partition is set up with the well renowned Carbon Copy Cloner, CCC, by Bombich Software. This disk remains at home on my desk to make bootable backups whenever I am at the desk. I also have a 128 GB SanDisk micro SD card permanently mounted on my MacBook for additional storage and CCC backs this up to the 3.5″ drive also. The second partition is used as a standard external hard drive for permanent archiving.
The 2 TB 2.5″ drive is used as an external hard drive with no extra software for making second copies of the archive files stored on the 3.5″ drive.
Once you have your three drives you need to format them correctly. In order to make your backups secure they need to be encrypted. So open up Disk Utility should be the first option when you type “disk” into Spotlight, Alfred, or Launchpad. Alternatively open up the Applications folder in Finder and then locate Disk Utility in the Utilities folder. Formatting the drives is easy if you are starting with blank drives. I wasn’t starting in that position so I had to move files to another drive, format one drive and then transfer files back to it so I could format the other drive. This is time consuming if you have to do it but it is important to get it right.
When you have a drive ready to format connect it to your Mac and it’ll show up in Disk Utility. Make sure that you are viewing devices in the Sidebar and not just the volumes in Disk Utility – select View All Devices in the View menu (so that you get the right formatting option). Select “Erase” as the procedure that you want to do on the device. You are then presented with some options. Choose “GUID Partition Map” as the Scheme you want to use and “Mac OS Extended (Journaled, Encrypted)” as the format. This option means that a password will be required to access anything on the drive. Combined with use of FileVault this provides a secure platform for your computing – extending encryption to your backup. Of course there are people/organisations that could bypass the encryption and access your data but the thief who steals your computer for a quick buck is (probably) not one of them.² Disk Utility will prompt you for the password you’d like to use to encrypt the drive.
Once you have correctly formatted and encrypted your drives, select the one that you will use for frequent Time Machine backups and plug it into your Mac. When you plug it in your Mac you will be prompted to enter the password for it – input your password and tick the box to save the password to your keychain. (There should be no security risk by saving your password on your computer because if someone gains access to your computer then what advantage do you have if they do not also access your Time Machine backup?) Your Mac should then show a dialog window asking if you’d like to use that disk to make a Time Machine backup. Click “Use as Backup Disk”, then follow the instructions and Time Machine will start making backups.
I think it is wise to use different software to Apple’s Time Machine for the backup on a second disk. Time Machine is an excellent application but you’ll never know about a bug until you need to restore from a backup by which time it is too late. My recommendation is to use an excellent app called Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) made by Bombich Software. CCC backups have a feature that sets them above Time Machine backups in my opinion – they are bootable.³ In the event that your internal hard drive gets fried you can boot up straightaway from your CCC backup. With this set up you are preempting bugs from ruining backups in either Time Machine or CCC and you benefit from the unique features of both TM and CCC backups.
If you are following my setup for assigning disks to backup function then this second disk will be your large capacity desktop hard disk. In that case partition the drive so that you have about 700 GB available for the CCC backup on one partition and the rest can be used for archiving large files so they’re not taking up space on your internal drive.
How to partition a hard disk
1. Mount the disk on your Mac and launch Disk Utility.
2. Set the view to Show All Devices (press ⌘2 or use the View menu).
3. Select the “device” for your hard drive in the sidebar. Don’t select the “volume” (volumes are displayed under their device)
4. Then click Partition in the toolbar.
5. Click the “Plus” button at the bottom of the window to add a new partition.
6. Resize the partition you will use for backups to be a bit larger than the internal hard disk you are going to backup.
For instance for my 500GB internal drive I created a 700 GB partition.
7. Ensure that archive partition has the encrypted format in the Format field. The partition for the encrypted CCC backup needs to be set up differently. So follow Bombich’s instructions on how to set up an encrypted backup here
8. Click Apply and Disk Utility will partition the drive.
The third disk is used for creating a redundant archive of your large files. Do this so that if your desktop hard disk should fail you still have copies to fall back on. When you copy files to the desktop disk make sure you also copy them to the third disk and vice versa.
At this point you have now established a back up solution for your Mac and any large files that is robust (if one device or app fails you’re still covered) and secure (even if your backup disk is stolen here is still an encryption barrier to keep that data safe).
If you’ve followed my scheme up until how I hope you find it to be a useful solution for your backup needs. If you have any comments or suggestions add them below or on Google Plus, alternatively you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some feedback I received suggested that a flow diagram would help readers better understand the backup solution I’ve described above. So here is the diagram:
Footnotes ¹ In the original article someone added a comment with additional information looking at failure rates over time. They noted that if WD drives failed they tended to fail almost as soon as you got the drive. That suggested that WD drives are most likely reliably built but poorly shipped. So if you manage to get your WD drive running after purchase it is likely going to last well. And of course that may have changed since the original article publish date – hopefully for the better!
² There probably are people or organisations who have the resources and knowledge to crack encrypted drives or bypass the encryption but the question is do they have the motivation to crack the encryption on your drive? Cracking into encrypted drives is possible but very difficult, time consuming and therefore expensive. Unless you are a person of significant influence or a known terrorist you can probably be confident that your data will be safe. Keeping data secure is really about using methods that make it impossible for the average person or even a skilled person to access your data.
³ A further advantage of CCC over Time Machine is the ability to back up multiple hard drives. Time Machine can only back up your internal hard drive (as far as I can see). CCC can make backups of external hard drives that you mount on your Mac. In my case this proves to be extremely useful for making backups of a 128 GB micro SD card that I have continuously mounted to my Mac. Find out more about using micro SD cards for continuously mounted storage expansion here.
I like many aspects of Inbox on iOS. It is Google’s own app so it can presumably harness the email data in ways that third party apps cannot, or at least the direct access it has to email data must give it a reliability and speed edge. Snooze to location is good. Built in actionable reminders. Google’s summary cards for standard emails. These are all great things, however the app does has some very annoying limitations.
1. No text formatting options. Five years ago this wouldn’t have been problem as most people would have been happy to be able to email whilst mobile. But these days it should be possible to add bold, italics and underline to your emails. This is all the more problematic given that even WhatsApp and Slack allow for some formatting – WhatsApp only handles bold but Slack has a range of options. If instant messengers can offer text formatting an email app absolutely should be able to do so. At times Inbox has had support for text formatting, but it is there one update and gone the next. Presently it is available, but who knows for how long?
2. No file attachments outside of Photos / Drive. Sure you can browse your file storage app and attach from there, but is it really too hard for Google to add a proper file picker? Furthermore this is no good for replying to emails; you have to start a new thread (not helpful).
3. Lack of draft saving from share sheet. When sharing files from other apps to email from Inbox, if the email fails to send or you stop composing the email you lose the email. Whereas when sharing into other apps (i.e. Spark or Outlook) the file is opened in the email app itself and attached to a new email. If you then stop composing the email you are given the option to save a draft. Inbox’s behaviour is nice in that it doesn’t switch you into the Inbox app; it overlays Inbox’s interface into the app you are sharing from. But as outlined above it is annoying if you start and email and aren’t able to complete it in one go as you’ll lose the entire email. A common problem here is that if you start composing from the share window and then need to check something in the document you’re trying to share (or another document in the same app for that matter) then there is no way to open the document without closing and losing your email.
4. No printing! If you want to print emails you’ll need a different app. Even attachments can’t be printed unless they are a PDF. I don’t often need to print emails but when I occasionally do this is a major limitation. More often it is the need to turn an email into a PDF that I notice this lack of feature. In iOS you can turn any document / file into a PDF if it can be printed (find out how here). So the fact that I cannot print an email means that I cannot turn it into a PDF.
I hope that these lack of features will be addressed soon. Does anyone have thoughts about their favourite email app?
Google Prompt is a fast second step authentication option on iOS and Android. Whenever a login attempt is made on your Google account Google Prompt sends a login confirmation to the Google app on your phone. You open the app (via push notification) and tap “Yes” to confirm a login attempt is valid (or “No” to deny a login attempt).
This login method is quite a bit faster than using an authenticator app. I use Authy which even with its widget in the notification centre takes some time to copy the number into the field. I like Google Prompt for its speed and simplicity. The slight downside is that it requires your phone to have a live internet connection to use. This is only a slight downside because if you are signing into a Google service somewhere chances are that you have an internet connection available; with some exceptions. But Google Prompt works parallel to the other second step options available including an authenticator app, so in the absence of an internet connection on your phone you still have offline options to fall back on. Head into your Google 2 step verification settings to set it up.
From a security perspective it is hard for me to say whether this is a better or worse method than an authenticator app. I understand the methodology behind authenticator apps, but not this one. That said, I trust Google with my information and I trust them to have built a reliable and safe second step with Google Prompt. Furthermore I trust that they will be on the ball enough to keep it safe. I say this because of the numerous articles and security updates that are the result of contributions that Google has made to tech security worldwide.
In summary Google Prompt is a system I am prepared to trust and it makes my login process a great deal more streamlined whilst maintaining its integrity. I recommend this for anyone wanting the benefits of 2 step authentication with a bit of a faster workflow.
Most discussions I’ve read of Apple’s move to only USB-C on MacBook Pros fail to include a key benefit of the SD Card slot. Sure a lot of non-photographers probably don’t use the slot much, if at all. But there is a usage scenario that would probably benefit everybody: storage expansion.
SSD storage is expensive, so most people probably have to compromise on what they keep on internal storage. Therefore any extra storage that is easy to carry with your laptop is undoubtedly going to be useful. Micro SD cards are available in a huge 128 GB and they are not overly expensive. Also available are short SD to Micro SD converters. This means it is possible to keep a high capacity Micro SD permanently attached to a laptop without worrying about it snapping off.
Low profile storage expansion
Micro SD cards as large as 128 GB are available
Let’s put that 128 GB size in context. The entry level storage size for a MacBook or MacBook Pro is 256 GB. Adding 128 GB to that increases storage by 50%. That’s a tremendous gain. Of course the speed is dramatically slower than soldered SSD, but it is fine for storage of files that are not accessed daily.
In the discussions I have read about the move to only USB-C I havent seen anyone discuss the removal of this expansion option. Discussions have tended to focus on the advantages of USB-C over USB-A, Thunderbolt and/or HDMI. I completely agree that USB-C is much better than all of these. In particular the move from a proprietary port (Thunderbolt) to open standard (USB-C) is to be lauded. So in general I am in agreement with the move to USB-C. But I view the removal of the SD slot differently based on how I and others use it in practice.
Whilst it is possible to still connect an SD card with a dongle, that isn’t good enough if for an always attached storage option – it’s going to stick out of the laptop and be liable to break. I have a 500 GB hard drive on my Mac. That’s big, but I still find it useful to be able to offload large files to an always available 128 GB archive. This helps a lot to maintain a minimum amount of free storage on my internal hard drive. In general I thought the introduction of USB-C was a great idea but I do think that it could have been done whilst retaining the SD card slot.
Anyone else got thoughts on the removal of the SD Card slot or the introduction of USB-C?