There was a time when nefarious sorts could fire up their mobile in a busy place and send unsolicited messages to any hapless punter not smart enough to switch their own phone to not receive unsolicited Bluetooth connections – a process known as Bluejacking.
Mostly harmless, it was a way of making people take their own phones out of their pocket and look around in a puzzled fashion over what was happening – useful entertainment in a boring theatre or a packed train carriage. Mobile platforms stopped leaving these things on by default – booo – but it’s probably for the best.
Still, the more modern way of dishing out business cards – LinkedIn – has another way to harness the same basic technology for good. ToW #461 discussed the QR-code method of sharing a LinkedIn profile with someone, and it’s a great way of doing it 1:1, by pointing a camera at someone else’s phone to make the connection with them.
But there is another way that is perhaps more useful when dealing with several people at once – a networking meeting with people you don’t know, or a business gathering where you might be communing with several new people at one time. Or a party. If you’re at a pretty sad party.
If you start the LinkedIn app on your phone and tap the My Network icon on the bottom toolbar, you’ll see the Find nearby option, which allows you to see anyone else in the vicinity who has similarly switched on the same feature. On enabling, you may need to turn on Bluetooth and then separately allow the sharing of data, and of the LinkedIn app to use it.
You’ll see a list of who’s in the vicinity and with a single tap, can connect with them on LinkedIn. Make sure you remember to turn it off again, in case you inadvertently show up on some unknown ne’er-do-well’s phone, as the Nearby functionality can continue even when you leave that page.
But it you’re careful, it’s a great way to mutually share contacts with a group of people. See more here.
Optical Character Recognition is one of those technologies which has gone from being just-about-possible at great expense and hassle, to so mainstream that people just assume it will work flawlessly, all in a relatively few years. Numerous companies offer OCR services or addins to line-of-business systems which help to prepare printed data for easier consumption – scanning invoices for example.
Consumers tend to use OCR in other ways; combined with language translation, you can point your phone at a foreign menu or sign and it may be able to help you understand. In OneNote, if you have captured an image (maybe through the clipper addin from your browser), then it can extract the text from that picture – not always perfectly, and not necessarily well-formatted, but it’s probably quicker than re-typing everything.
A recent addition to the iOS version of Excel is the ability to scan a table of printed data and use OCR plus a bit of tweaking, to import the data into the spreadsheet. See more here. The same functionality was first made available on Android a couple of months earlier …
Start with the grid capture icon on the toolbar of a new spreadsheet, and then use the camera to highlight the area of a document that you’re interested in – the UI will be familiar to anyone who uses Office Lens, as the same anti-skewing technology is used to prepare the “document” for importing.
Then the OCR goes to work and tries to lay out the data as closely as possible to its source – obviously, your accuracy will be improved by having a well-lit and clear original document, and you’ll get to tweak the contents in context of seeing the OCR’d data and the scan at the same time, before committing to insert it.
On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.
The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.
Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.
e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.
Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.
The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.
Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.
If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.
You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.
You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.
Microsoft Flow was introduced a couple of years ago, and covered in ToW #401; it’s basically a glue between different online applications, allowing the exchange of data between them and being driven by events and actions.
Many of the templates for Flow are quite esoteric – when a tweet on a particular topic appears, write a log to a Sharepoint site and send a notification to a Teams channel, that kind of thing. But there are plenty of really useful connectors that can be combined in time-saving ways; here’s a really handy way of bringing traditional data sources into the modern era: an email parser, called Parserr.
After signing up with Parserr – free if you only need a few uses per month – you can then crack open mail that is consistent in format and contains some information you’d like to extract and use elsewhere, such as confirmation of an appointment or maybe a travel booking. In practice, you get given an inbox with a unique email address within Parserr and you’d set up a rule in Office365 or Outlook.com to send mails that meet some inbox rule to that address, where it would be parsed for you and key data fields then sent back to Flow.
e.g. if email comes from a specific source address or it has a subject that indicates it’s a particular type of reservation, then forward to your email@example.com inbox address, extract the details of the booking then do something with them within Flow.
Create a rule for each piece of information you want to extract, and it will effectively create a field:
Once set up, you create the Flow by choosing the connectors for Parserr and whatever other applications you need to work on the information.
In this example, we’re using Office 365 to create an appointment that matches a reservation – the arrival and departure dates are provided by the source email, and converted to YYYY-MM-DD format within Parserr, then dragged across in Flow to match the Start & End times of an “event”. We’ll tack on T16:00 to the arrival time and T10:00 to the departure as that’s the check in and check out times, and thus create an ISO8601-compliant date/time such as 2019-04-05T08:00, which Office365 will use as the start or end time of an appointment.
“Advanced options” gives you further control (such as adding body text that might contain static text and other fields provided by Parserr, other addresses to forward the invite to, setting if you want it to be free/busy/tentative, reminder duration, time zones etc).
And that’s it: you can test the logic is working within each system – in Parserr, you can continually re-run the processing of your initial sample mail until you know the data is being extracted as you’d like, and within Flow you can keep testing your formatting etc by either triggering a new input or by working with the last set of data that came over from the source.
Once you’re happy just save the Flow, and it will automatically create an appointment in your calendar every time you get a matching email forwarded to the Parserr system – all in a few seconds.
We’re all used to Windows Update or other software automatically downloading and installing updates (on phones, TVs, cars…). Sometimes the updates are at more of a leisurely pace than keen users might want though occasionally the recipients demand to hold back the updates until they elect to install.
The Windows 10 October 2018 is now being pushed to (nearly) everyone, though business users will have the option of pausing Windows Updates in case they want to enact a temporary delay for some particular reason – you’re about to go on a trip, for example – though it’s not meant as a centralised policy control: IT departments have other ways to do that. Windows 10 Homes users will soon get the ability to defer updates for up to 35 days, too.
In the Microsoft Store app, for example, go to the ellipsis menu on the top right. You’ll see Downloads and updates, which will force the check for updates for all your installed Store apps. Even if you’ve turned on the automatic app update checks, it’s worth taking a look periodically as some of the apps you use most often might have updates pending.
If you find that most of the stuff you’re offered is updates to boring apps that you don’t use, then you could just wait for them to fetch their own in time. If, however, you spot an individual update to an app that you know you want to have the latest version of, then click the down arrow to the right to get it right away, or click the app name to look at its page in the Store and see what’s new.
Of course, non-Store apps may still offer their own updates directly – to check for updates to the Microsoft Office suite, for example, try going into Word (or Excel or PowerPoint if those are your most-used Office apps) and from the start screen that offers a few previously-opened files, templates you’ll never use etc, look to the bottom-left and you’ll see Account.
Click Account to go to the product information page, which will let you check for updates, show you the current installed version number of the the application, and maybe even let you sign up for more updates through the Insider program.
Or check the View Updates option at any time, and it’ll take you to the web to see what the latest updates contain.
Edinburghers will know of the term, “Gardyloo” – perhaps a corruption of a French warning that “water” was about to need avoiding, like dodging the gutters in Blackadder. As well as regarding the loos, it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure your source of news is clean and fresh. Not fake.
A startup called NewsGuard hit the, er, news recently, after launching a service that uses real journalists to assesses sources of news, and scores them on various criteria on how they source, handle and attribute the stories they report.
The Mobile version of Edge browser was updated in January 2019, to include the NewsGuard plugin (though it wasn’t enabled by default), and at the time it was widely reported that their vetting had decided the UK’s Daily Mail, a popular newspaper and at one time the largest newspaper website in the world, was not to be trusted. (Screenshots above & right were taken on 24 Jan 2019).
More people probably read about the warning that was gleefully propagated by the Mail’s competitors, than there are actual users of the Edge mobile browser itself (if you use Edge on your PC, give it a try on your phone – it’s really rather good).
If you’d like to add the NewsGuard addin to the Edge browser on your PC, go to the Settings menu (…) on the top right of the Edge toolbar, and look under Extensions – then find NewsGuard in the Store to add it to the browser from there.
NewsGuard has since worked with the Daily Mail and decided that it’s not quite as bad as all that, so has backtracked and removed the klaxon warning.
It’s still not giving a completely clean bill of health – see the “nutrition label” – but the feedback NewsGuard has shared with some other news websites may well help to improve the quality of their output.
By asking Cortana to remind you of something, she’ll add it to your Outlook Tasks and To-Do reminders – if you’re set up that way – and you can manage lists within the To-Do app itself, or access the same To-Do Lists or Reminders from within the Cortana Notebook.
You don’t even need to go into the Cortana UI (or say “Hey Cortana”) to add things to be reminded – any app that implements Share functionality, like the Edge browser’s Share page toolbar command – will let you target Cortana Reminders.
You can set a reminder time, which will then sync to Outlook Tasks and on to To-Do, if you’ve set up Office 365 or Outlook.com integration, and will trigger a reminder using those mechanisms (get ready for toast overload…) Alternatively, get Cortana to ping you when you arrive at a place or next talk with a known contact.
Cortana’s past tells a good story, and her future is changing somewhat – after deciding to stop positioning her as a potential competitor to Amazon Alexa or Google assistants, a forthcoming release of Windows 10 will break the bond between Windows Search & Cortana, and the voice prompts from Cortana during Windows Setup will be silenced when installing a non-Home version of Windows too.
Nudge Nudge! We’ve all taken photographs and wanted to manipulate them with better tools or on a better screen than presented by our smartphones, haven’t we? Pros might use Photoshop (and some less than Pro too), but for the mere mortals among us, the Photos app for Windows 10 can do a lot of the basics really well.
There are some simple but reasonable tips on getting more out of Photos here, and if you’re still missing Movie Maker, then you could do worse than check out Photos’ ability to edit videos, as discussed here.
There’s a recently-released beta extension for Windows which provides support for RAW images (well, some of them) – see more here.
If you already use Photos, have you noticed that when using a Modern App to manipulate files (eg inserting a photo into OneNote or Mail), then you’ll see Photos appear as a node in the file chooser dialog?
You get the ability to use some of the Photo app functionality for organising your pics – like using search, viewing by subject or use the Timeline feature to quickly jump to a picture based on the date it was taken.
In a rare departure from the mantra that modern apps are somehow inferior to proper ones, here’s an example where using a UWP app is demonstrably better than its Win32 counterpart.
See for yourself – when you’re used to the Photos app functionality and go back to a non-Modern app (like the zombie OneNote 2016 application that’s still a lot more functional in many ways than its UWP sibling), the file dialog box is shorn of Photos addenda and you’re back to grubbing about in the file system to find your files.
Microsoft fangrlz and fanbois, shed a tear for the Windows Phone platform, which relaunched with some fanfare just over 8 years ago as “Windows Phone 7 Series” (recalling the Microsoft redesigns the iPod packaging spoof?). The original idea with the new platform was that you didn’t need to jump in and out of apps all the time, since apps surfaced their info on the home screen and to a series of Hubs. Check out the original 2010 advert that painted the vision (fairly) clearly…
The hastily-renamed Windows Phone 7 showed up in November 2010, and came with a comparatively lavish marketing budget, bring some quite edgy and memorable adverts – like the Season of the Witch, or Really? (try not to boke at the scene where the guy drops his phone…)
A year later, and almost 7 years ago to this day, Canadian DJ and electro-music producer Deadmau5 played an amazing light show in London to celebrate the launch of the first Nokia Lumia phone; the fact that his track “Bad Selection” was the one that showcased what the phone looked like did raise a snigger at the time. He was back a year later with another event to celebrate the launch of the Lumia 820 with Windows Phone 8.
Now that Windows Phone has been in the ground for more than a year, it’s worth celebrating its somewhat spiritual successor – the Microsoft Launcher for Android (see ToWs passim, #345 and #438). One of the upsides of the Android platform is the fact you can effectively re-write the main UI, and most phone manufacturers ship their own variants of common apps (like Contacts, Phone, Messaging etc), so it’s ripe for customizing.
The Launcher brings some of the design elements of Windows Phone to Android, while building in great new ideas – like the swipe right to the “Glance” screen, Bing visual search, Timeline integration with Windows PCs and more.
The Microsoft Launcher has had more than 10 million downloads and has a rating of 4.6 / 5, with over 750,000 reviews – and it’s recognised by many commentators as one of the best Android launchers, even in such a crowded market.
If you’re up for trying out a new release, sign up to be a tester for the Microsoft Launcher Beta – currently offering a major update (5.1) that includes better Cortana functionality, To-Do and Sticky Notes synch from PCs and more. See details here. Join the community here (Google+ is still a thing – who knew?)
The beta even has a new “Screen time” function that promises to tell you how often and how long you use the phone, and with which apps. Google has shipped a “Digital Wellbeing” feature for its latest Android release (v9 aka Android “Pie”), but many phones won’t get that release for ages, if at all. Microsoft Launcher works on Android 4.2 and later.