Friday, August 10, 2012

Rob Peter to Pay Paul

The idiom "Rob Peter to pay Paul" is fairly well known and most people understand it to mean solving one problem by causing another.  In many cases, people use it to mean paying a debt by incurring another debt.  Here are some examples: discharge one debt by incurring another (

Why borrow money to pay your bills? That's just robbing Peter to pay Paul. (

Jacob: I think I'm going to apply for another credit card so I can pay off some of my bills. 
David: Robbing Peter to pay Paul, eh?! Just be carful not to get into debt. (

For example, They took out a second mortgage on their house so they could buy a condo in Florida--they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. (

We all get what these examples are trying to say, but they are not a completely accurate use of the idiom.  Imagine robbing a bank to get money to pay your bills.  If you get away with it, you're out of debt and you've solved your financial problem.  If you don't get away with it, you go to jail.  You could say that you've incurred a social debt, or you could imagine monetary fines being assessed, but none of these are what the above examples were talking about.

If we were to use a completely accurate metaphor, we would say in these cases that we are "Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul".

How important is this?  Not very.  As I said, everyone understands what the idiom represents, even if the language is not precise.  However, I think it is an interesting mental exercise to challenge assumptions, including habitual use of words that may or may not be exactly correct.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Is Education Useful?

When required to learn or practice something we don't really enjoy, we often ask "When am I ever going to use this in real life?".  The question is somewhat rhetorical in that we have already likely judged the activity as useless and expect an answer that will justify that position.  However, even if the answer to that question is "You won't", the process of education and the topic itself are still very useful.  Why?

Consider exercise, particularly strength training: push-ups, pull-ups, squats, bench press, you name it.  When will you be asked to perform any of these activities in the course of a "real life" activity or job?  You won't.  However, these exercises will make you strong and prepare you to better perform real life activities like lifting objects, climbing, walking, or even just sitting up straight.  That is why they are useful.

Now consider education.  When will you have to use truth tables in "real life"?  When will you have to write term papers?  When will you have to recite a list of US Presidents, or world capitals?  You might come up with answers for some fringe jobs or tasks, but for most people the answer is "You won't".  However, education makes your mind strong and prepares you to better perform real life activities of every type.  That is why it is useful.

Education is like mental exercise.  The more of it you can get on a regular basis, the better.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

MS Office Clipboard Manager

Using the clipboard - copying, cutting, and pasting - is one of the most fundamental ways to increase productivity and efficiency in your workday.  For most uses, keeping only the most current copied item is just fine - until it's not.  Maybe you copy one thing, then copy another, overwriting the first copy you haven't yet pasted.

A coworker recently had something like this occur.  They copied the text of an entire document, went to paste it into a new document...and it was gone.  When I got the call, I shared this tip with them.

To find the clipboard manager, look on the 'Home' tab of the ribbon on the far left, and click on the box in the corner:

This will display the clipboard pane.  If you want Office to collect clipboard items whether the clipboard pane is visible or not, click Options at the bottom of the pane and select 'Collect Without Showing Office Clipboard'.  

Items on the clipboard will survive until you clear them or until you close all Office programs.  

If you are working on a low-resource (RAM) machine, you can also open up more memory by clearing your clipboard through the clipboard pane.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Starting Back Up

I'll be starting this blog back up again.  Yes, I do still have the Tumblr blog, and that will stay as a quick place to post links to interesting things.  This blog will be a place to post more detail on tips and interesting tricks I pick up over time - like the successful Jasper Reports series (part 1 / part 2) from last year.

The reason I am doing this is to practice writing and communication, which I think is important.  If I can help someone out along the way, all the better.

To start off, here's a tip about keyboard shortcuts.

Ctrl+Shift Keyboard Shortcuts in Excel (and Windows)

While experimenting with some Excel (2010) keyboard shortcuts (as mentioned in this article), I discovered to my dismay that the Ctrl+Shift+0 (unhide) shortcut didn't seem to be working.  Ctrl+0 worked just fine to hide, but Ctrl+Shift+0 just did not respond (and yes, I had the appropriate rows/columns selected).  

What gives, Excel?

Well, it turns out not to be Excel's problem at all.  Windows (Vista and 7) are to blame in this case.  These versions of Windows use the Ctrl+Shift combo to switch keyboard layouts (by default, even if you don't have multiple layouts).  Here's how to fix the issue (see this MS KB article):

1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
2. Double-click Regional and Language Options.
3. Click Keyboards and Languages, and then click Change keyboards.
4. Click Advanced Key Settings, and select Between input languages.
5. Click change Key Sequence.
6. For Switch Keyboard Layout, select Not Assigned.
7. Click OK to close each dialog box.

Once you've done this, Windows will no longer hijack Ctrl+Shift, which will allow Excel and any other program to accept this key combo for use in keyboard shortcuts.