5 (or more) indispensable online coding tools

The last decade has seen an explosion of online tools and services. Especially in the coding world, a lot has happened. If you’ve been stuck in a cave for all this time, or have been coding in your man cave without ever reading developer news, you may have missed out on some real gems!

Here’s a compilation of my personal favorites:

1. Repl.it

This is the Mother Of All Coding Tools. A REPL is a Read Eval Print Loop. In other words, the computer reads what you have created, executes the code, prints the output, and then gives you a chance to go change your code, after which the loop starts again. You could also call this ‘an interactive shell’, but in contrast to normal operating system shells, like the command window in Windows, repl.it offers shells for all kinds of programming languages.

Using repl.it you can code in Python, C, C#, Java, JavaScript, PHP, and also the newest coolest functional programming languages. Of course it also supports HTML/CSS/JavaScript. You can even try the classic BASIC.

On top of this interactive shell repl.it has created a community for teaching, complete with courses, subscribing students and tracking.


2. JSFiddle and Code.pen

Let me compact this article by naming these two twins in the same breath. They are very alike, and give you the ability to use HTML/CSS/JavaScript as an interactive shell. They do offer more features then repl, but it’s really only for web development.


3. Codetracer and stackoverflow

Again I am placing two tools together, but in this case they have the same purpose yet look totally different. It’s like comparing a katana to a swiss army knife. Codetracer is the katana. It’s a place where you can post a piece of code, and instantly get feedback from others, line by line. Stackoverflow is a giant, and less a tool and more a community. It’s the Google for Developers: every coding problem known to man has been solved before on stackoverflow. But, getting answers on a specific question you should post is horrendous: often questions are downvoted, censored, or outright deleted. On top of that some stackoverflow members like to mock or insult people for not following guidelines or not investigating their problem enough. Simple questions just do not belong on stackoverflow (like: how do I sort this array?).

codetracer.co – stackoverflow.com

4. Debugle and Toggl

Debugle is the most slick and simple interface for listing and tracking your bugs while coding. It’s catered especially for single developers or very small teams. Toggl is the most slick and simple interface for time tracking (hey I get a deja vu here!). Together with Debugle you have an independent developers coding workspace setup in a jiffy.


5. Workflowy

Workflowy is one of those ideas that wakes you up at 3AM but which you have forgotten in the morning: “what if you had a todo list, that could indent, just like code?”

By indenting tasks you can separate tasks from categories, and using workflowy you can really go wild with your creative task lists. Filter by date, by description, by status, you name it. Also entering tasks is so simple it’s a breath of fresh air compared to Outlook or other monsters that make you go through hoops just to write ‘try out several button styles’.


10 worst Microsoft Excel practices

tableI have met a lot of people who know they ‘know’ Excel, even sometimes stating they are experts of some sort. Well, they were not, and I could usually spot it because they make one of the following ‘mistakes’. Of course they get the job done, but in the long run they usually got themselves into trouble with it. I used to be such a person myself, until I became a full time Excel and VBA trainer.

So here it goes, starting with the worst:

1. Using cross tabs

Cross tabs (contingency tables, like e.g. years on the left column and months on the top row) are nice for a visual report, but the data cannot be used in any other way. If you’ve read my recent article about the TableToListConverter, you know why. Excel is an excellent analyzer of data, as long as this data is organized in rows (lists), much like a database.

2. Using cell references

Don’t you hate those formulas like =C1*B6-H3+F5?. They’re horrible to work with. Wouldn’t it be easier to see =Rate*Hours-Discount+ExtraCost?
Well, that’s possible. Just click on the C1 in the top left corner and type the name ‘Rate’, then press Enter. From then on, C1 has an alias of ‘Rate’, and you can use it in formulas.

3. Using too many worksheets

Too many people use too many worksheet. As above in #1, they create Worksheets named ‘jan’, ‘feb’, ‘mar’, ‘apr’ and so on. Later on it will become very difficult to get totals or filter this data. Forget about multiple worksheets and put everything in one sheet, as long as the data belongs together of course. Update: too little worksheets is bad as well, if you think you need to put everything including charts and pivot tables on one sheet, think again.

4. Using color to indicate meta data

Using a color to indicate something is great if you are the only person using the Excel file. That is hardly ever the case. You would have to explain: ‘well, red means this row is to be deleted, yellow means it’s not checked, and green means it is checked’. That’s nice, thank you, but the sheet looks butt ugly, and if I print this on black and white all that information is suddenly lost.

The correct way to indicate this information is to add another column or more columns next to your data. Give them descriptive heading values, like ‘deleted, checked’. Notice yellow and green can simply be combined by putting yes or no in the ‘checked’ column.

And did you know about the conditional formatting feature? Based on a value or even a formula you can color or format a cell. But, make sure to only do that for formatting that doesn’t relate to valuable information you should have visible in your sheet. It’s a good feature though for e.g. zebra-stripes (odd rows colored different from even rows).

5. Copy & Paste

Using copy and paste is fine, as long as you don’t copy when you don’t need to. A simple cell reference will point to value without needing a copy. So if you have a price in a C1 in one worksheet, and need it somewhere else, use =C1, or of course =Rate (see #2 in this list). Another way, which even works for many cells, is go to ‘Edit > Paste Special > Paste Link’.

6. Bad formatting

Excel is good at formatting data automatically, if you insert it in the ‘right’ way. E.g. try typing ‘1-1’ and instead of ‘0’ you will get ‘1-jan’ depending on your date format (calculations need to start with ‘=’). So the value is automatically converted to a date value. If you would type ‘January 1st, 2009’, most likely Excel won’t recognize this and leave it as a text value. You cannot calculate with text values, but you can with Date values. So if A1 has ‘1-jan’, and B1 has =A1+1 then B1 will become ‘2-jan’.

7. Too complex formulas

Of course, some formulas actually are quite complex, there’s no doubt about it. But there’s no need to make them look complex. Split your formulas in multiple parts, and use named ranges. So instead of =Rate * Hours - Disount + ExtraCost you can use =Rate * Hours in the Amount field and =Amount - Discount + ExtraCost in the Total field.

8. Empty rows and columns

Empty rows are inserted to ‘make a sheet look nice’. However, by splitting e.g. January data and February data this way, Excel will assume you are dealing with two lists, not with one. The totals underneath using autosum will therefor work only on one of these sets. If you wish to have a bit more space, just drag the row height handle, or use Format > Row > Height to set a specific height.

9. Formatting for print

If you enlarge a font to make it look bigger on paper, you are making a mistake. Do it using File > Page Setup > Adjust to

You can adjust to any size without changing the font. The same goes for displaying on the screen in fact. Use View > Zoom, or use the percentage dropdown box in the formatting toolbar.

10.  Not using Pivot Tables.

I intentionally name it this way, since there are so many bad ways of analyzing data, getting totals, count, average and more on a set of data. But there’s only one way to do it extremely efficient, powerful and it brings lots more uses with it. Also, it keeps your data separate from your analysis. It’s called a pivot table. Make sure to have a list of data rows with headings, and then choose Data > Pivot Table. Now just click Finish right away instead of following the wizard. You can now drag in column heading names and be presented with a table with totals.

There’s so much you can do with a pivot table I am going to leave it to Microsoft to explain.

A very practical use of Pivot Tables is e.g. to get only unique values for a certain row. Since these are automatically grouped in a pivot table, you can simply copy and paste the list of unique values from there.

MarkMail – a great way of keeping track of mailing lists without subscribing