Tip o’ the Week 412 – I Stream a Stream

clip_image002Not to be confused with iStream, a manufacturing process dreamed up by legendary car and Formula 1 tech guru, Gordon Murray (and who also basically invented the pit stop as we know it… if you’re interested, watch this film… it’s fascinating, really).

No, this stream is about Microsoft Stream, a video service first unveiled about 18 months ago, launched last Summer and expanded in its reach to Australia, India and the UK, in October. Expect to hear more about Stream in the coming months, if ChrisCap’s appearance on Windows Weekly is any sign.

In a nutshell, you could describe Stream as a corporate video sharing service – think of it like an internal YouTube/Vimeo type service that organisations could use to securely publish internal videos (like training, exec message broadcasts etc) without exposing it to the wider world.

clip_image004Anyone can sign up for a free trial at https://www.microsoftstream.com/. Have a play…

There are lots of other enhancements besides just sharing video, that are built onto the Stream service – such as auto-captioning or speaker identification, which use elements of Azure cognitive services to parse the video and identify various components within.

If you’re interested in this kind of thing, check out the Azure Video Indexer preview – it’s amazing. Try it out, then show it to your friends, family, customers, partners… and make sure they know about Stream, too – they may already be licensed to use it.

Stream is a companion service to Office365 – see more on https://stream.microsoft.com/ and for pricing details specifically, see here.

Tip o’ the Week 411 – Rip it up and start again

clip_image001Despite the continuing rise in popularity of vinyl, the consumption of media-based audio and video has fallen off over recent years. Youngsters will have no memory of recorded media before long, if not already…

A colleague decided to re-record all his CDs when moving to a new house (and on buying a new audio system that could stream all of the recorded content), so left the large box of CDs – from the attic in the previous house – lying around after moving in, waiting to be re-ripped.

Nine-year-old daughter said, “Dad, what are all these DVDs?” – she’d never knowingly seen a CD or even thought that music came on discs, as it was always just, “there”.

Even though we increasingly stream films from online services rather than watch them on DVD or Blu-ray discs, there is complexity in the licensing (where movies come in and out of various windows of availability on streaming services), so if you decide you want to watch a particular flick at any given time, there’s a chance it might not be available, or may only be offered for sale rather than for rental.

As many of us have a stash of old DVDs and Blu-rays, it can be worth looking at how to turn those media into digital files that can be copied to mobile devices and streamed across the home network – it is worth noting that it’s probably illegal to rip music or movies from discs (at one point, the UK allowed it, but a somewhat vexatious challenge prevailed and it once again became illegal), but if you have the original media and are backing up and converting for your own pleasure rather than for onward redistribution, then nobody’s going to come after you.

If you want to veg out over the festive season and take comfort in old movies from your possibly-forgotten collection, then start turning them into digital files now, so you can avoid Mrs Browns Boys.

clip_image002What you’d need to rip your DVD or Blu-ray collection

  • Firstly, you’ll need to have somewhere to keep your data, accessible from your various devices – common-or-garden NAS devices may do the trick, though if you’re mourning the demise of Windows Home Server, you could do a lot worse than investing not-inconsequential sums into Synology DiskStation kit.
    • A Windows PC with a decent-sized hard drive could be set up as a media server if you don’t have a home server or other NAS device, but DLNA can be a clunky standard to use
    • Better to run something like Plex on your PC or even on your NAS appliance, then use the widely-available client software (for all kinds of playback devices including Smart TVs, Amazon Fire, Xbox etc etc) to access the content in a more user-friendly fashion
  • Ideally, you’ll have a fast desktop PC with DVD or Blu-ray drive and plenty of local storage to process the media; if not but you have a laptop with USB DVD/BR drive, you could still do the same, though you may need to keep an eye on free disk space during the conversion process
  • “Backup” your DVD/BR to local disk, removing the built-in encryption using a tool such as MakeMKV.
    • This will generate a large volume of data – about 4-5GB for a typical DVD, over 30GB for a Blu-ray – and can take about half an hour for BR content to be read from the disc, decrypted and written to hard disk
  • Turn the massive raw format data into a movie file that can be more easily copied around – there will be superfluous chapters, audio data like other languages that can be removed, and the resulting file size can be compressed a lot without a great reduction in quality.
    • Use a tool like Handbrake to read in your decrypted source from above, and spit out a single .MP4 file, or even multiple versions (smaller ones for use on a tablet than you might stream to a big telly, for example). You can set up Handbrake to batch encode, so it could be feasible to have several discs ready for conversion, and maybe even spit out a couple of different sized versions of each
    • The “transcoding” is the bit that is compute intensive and takes the time; expect a full length Blu-ray movie to take 2 or 3 hours to transcode, depending on the settings you’ve gone for
    • When complete, delete the original source created by MakeMKV as you won’t need it again.

Tip o’ the Week 410 – Inbox Zero for New Year?

clip_image001ToW has covered various strategies in dealing with email (189, 223, 310 and more), but this week’s tip is shamelessly lifted from a LinkedIn article by an erstwhile colleague and media industry leviathan, Tony Henderson.

Tony, it turns out, authored a book a few years back which offered a slightly different-than-the-norm spin on productivity and how to deal with some of the difficulties of the modern workplace. It’s from this tome that he picked some great tips in handling your inbox – perhaps leading to the ability to clear it completely and leave “inbox zero”.

The Eleven Rules of Email

  1. Daily Mail Test – “Never write anything in an email that you would not be happy for your mother to read on the front page of the Daily Mail.”
  2. Responding – Don’t be too quick to respond to email requests – emails are very easy to send, and it is often hard and time consuming to respond.
  3. Expectations – Get people to call you if they want something urgently so that you know whether they are really serious and why they need a response.
  4. Inbox Management – Clear your inbox every day to less than 30 emails (so the list does not reach the bottom of outlook page). Set up folders covering each area you work on – or groups you deal with – and file religiously – even if you have not always read. That way you can go back and review by topic and avoid the stress of an overfull inbox.
  5. Getting Things Actioned – if you are sending an email looking for someone to act flag that action is required by putting ACTION REQUIRED in the title which will mean that everyone who the email is copied will read it.  To make it really clear who and what you are asking you must highlight specific requests e.g.: “Action: Alan to check this issue and confirm.” This approach works well with people you know, but may be ignored by people who you don’t – a good idea to get verbal agreement first.
  6. Getting Your Message Across – If you need to get an email response from senior people who are busy or don’t know you very well.                       
    • Construct your title carefully (perhaps write it as a proposition such as – “Getting final approval for Project X”).
    • Get the message over in three short and punchy paragraphs – no more.
    • If you want approval, ask for it by asking them to merely reply to that email and type “yes”. This works very well as it makes it so easy for them to respond!
    • Remember that people are all really pressured by email but generally always scan the title and first few lines.
  7. Avoiding Inevitable Email Accidents – the speed and simplicity of email will always lead to some mistakes; many of them can be rectified by adopting two simple principles.
    • Set a Delay – Set a sending delay of at least 2 minutes on your Outbox – it gives you just enough time to delete that accidental email. Better still you can set it for specific addresses such as clients.
    • Double Check Addresses – Double check your address lines in email before you send – Outlook auto insert often puts odd names in there.
  8. Arguments – Never, ever have an argument by email – everyone loses and it is recoded for posterity. If you sense a disagreement coming, make a call or organise a face to face meeting and then circulate the conclusions by email.
  9. Favourite Form of Communication – Email is not everyone’s favourite form of communication. Some people are better “live”, others like to use the phone, and others respond to formal letters or memos. Try and find out which form your key people like and use it for important communications.
  10. Circulation List – When you need to respond to an email with a wide circulation on it, you need to stop and think. Do I need to send this to everyone? Is this “thread” wasting a lot of people’s time? (You can be sure that it is).
  11. Interruptions – While internal emails can be a huge waste of time they can also avoid unnecessary interruptions. After you have interrupted someone at their desk it can take up to 30 minutes for them to get back to their original task.
    So while talk is best, email may be a useful method to log a question or thought. Equally making a note and saving it for a lunchtime chat is also a good option.

See Tony’s article here, and The Leopard in the Pinstripe Suit, here.

Tip o’ the Week 409 – Touchpad settings

clip_image002Once upon a time, mice had balls, and there was even a joke field service bulletin telling customers how to manage them better.

Microsoft has had a few funny KB articles over the years, too, though not necessarily intended to amuse. Barney sometimes plays on his own…, for example – who knew?

Given that a defining feature of mechanical meeces was the fact they had a rubbery ball inside, it seemed obvious to early laptop designers that a trackball would make sense to move the pointer around.

Eventually the touchpad took over, and divided opinion – some people just couldn’t live without a USB-tethered proper mouse, which they carted around with their laptop, while designers sought to add more and more functionality to the touchpad.

clip_image004A slew of 3 or even 4-finger gestures can change the behaviour of the machine, from switching between apps to controlling the system volume.

On a Windows 10 laptop, if you type touchpad at the start screen to find the settings that control it, you’ll see a load of clip_image006additional gestures have been added over time, depending on what capabilities your machine has (specifically, if it has a Precision Touchpad or not).

If you’re especially particular about how your touchpad works, you may wish to look into tuning it further through registry tweaks.

Tip o’ the Week 408 – sign up for email lists

clip_image001The curse of email is that it’s too easy to send nonspecific content to large groups, meaning it’s generally in everyone’s interests to avoid getting any more. How often do you have to parse some online form where you need to leave the checked checkbox unchecked if you’d like to remain not signed up to receive specially selected offers from our carefully chosen partners?

That said, email distribution lists were an early form of mass collaboration – powered by the likes of LISTSERV, where online communities formed, in some ways an alternative to USENET and the web forums that now host many interest groups online. In the days of LISTSERV, email volumes would be relatively low, and it provided a simple distribution system that fired mail out to everyone on the list, and people could easily join and leave, by simply mailing a JOIN or LEAVE command to the address.

Next time there’s an internal company email storm (the famous Bedlam DL3 storm at Microsoft occurred just over 20 years ago), it’s not necessarily counter-intuitive for people to respond in the “take me off this list” manner, even though the perpetrators themselves are probably unaware of that.

If you find yourself getting unwanted email from marketeers or newsletters you’re not interested in, there are a variety of ways of opting-out – most kosher bulk email tools will allow you to unsubscribe with a link at the bottom; if the email is completely unsolicited, however, then clicking on an “unsubscribe” link in a spam message might just mark you as a real person, and you’ll get even more spam in future. If in doubt, you might want to rely on some of the built-in tools within Outlook, to protect you from further spammage.

3rd party bulk unsubscribe tools like https://unroll.me/ might help clean up subscriptions for consumer mail platforms like Outlook.com, Gmail etc, though exercise with caution as there’s always a risk they’ll just be exposing your data to people you shouldn’t.

Though aggregated news apps and websites are ten-a-penny, there are some very good resources out there that are worth signing up to receive mail from – for example…

  • WhatIs from TechTarget, which gives a Word of the Day email (there’s a big red button on the page, to sign up) which explains a topics word or phrase; you’ll almost certainly know many of them enough to hit delete as soon as you see the mail, but every so often there’s a just-detailed-enough explanation to make it worthwhile. Check out the archive of Words of the Day.
  • Owler is a free, professional, community-driven (crowd-sourced, even) news service that curates news from companies you might be interested in and packages, including a Daily Snapshot email that might be a good way of picking up company intelligence you might otherwise miss.
  • LinkedIn is a great way of getting notifications about people you’re connected with, but can also give you news about companies you want to follow, as well as a curated Daily Rundown page. It’s especially useful if you have access to LinkedIn Sales Navigator (see MS internal learning)

Tip o’ the Week 407 – e-books in Edge

clip_image002Books have been an emotive subject for centuries; they further and represent knowledge, belief, culture and a whole lot more. Doing things to books has an impact, too – whether it’s the dramatic (like tomecide, the symbolic burning of books) or just the annoying (ever leant someone a book, then seen how they folded back along the spine, or just never gave it back?)

The book business has been a metaphor for big vs small biz for years, as well – from the Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail to the phenomenon of Amazon and the massed ranks of bricks & mortar sellers.

For years now, the assumption has been that real books are going the way of the CD or the DVD – still around, but in terminal decline as technology has changed the game to allow people to read content electronically rather than needing the inconvenience of printing, distributing, retailing and storing all those bits of dead tree.

Despite gloomy forecasts for the future of the printed word, earlier this year, it was reported that sales of electronic books were falling, against a rise in sales of physical books. The dedicated ebook reader appears to have had its day, with mobiles and tablets occupying that niche more, but younger readers are turning to real books again, presumably so they thumb through the tomes while listening to their LPs.

clip_image004clip_image006So, what better time to introduce electronic books into your favourite web browser? Edge has an eBook library – click the Hub icon on the toolbar and look under the books icon to see it. See here for more details.

You can download eBooks from a variety of online resources – including Microsoft Virtual Academy. In more recent Insider builds for Windows 10, the functionality and layout has changed (there’s no more “Shop for books” link, as the revamped Store has – at least for now – no obvious way of distributing books), and more change is likely to come.

Still, Microsoft employees can open the books section, sign in with their Microsoft.com address, and see the employee edition of Satya’s Hit Refresh eBook automatically provisioned.