Tip o’ the Week 500 – Greatest Hits

clip_image002Another milestone in Tip o’ the Week – 500 weeks. A bit more than 5 million minutes. A judicial sentence that would have meant a very serious crime. 500 weeks ago, Jay-Z and Alicia had an Empire State of Mind atop the US chart. Some months later, Newport State of Mind was a viral hit.

On days like these, it’s easy to reflect on previous glories and favourite moments. Brits of a certain age, start playing that TOTP chart rundown tune (without getting distracted by YouTube clips of what was actually in the charts back in the day – some of it was undoubtedly great, some just bad noise)… and get ready for probably the 5 best Tips of the Week since the whole sorry enterprise started nearly 10 years ago…


Horizontal lines – this one is incredibly handy when you’re formatting an email or document and need to demarcate a section of content. Simply type three (or more) dashes “—” and press enter. Bingo, thank Autocorrect for that piece of magic. First seen all the way back in Tip o’ the Week #16: All wiyht. Rho sritched mg kegtops awound?


OneCalendar / OneTastic – a fabulous addin to the pensioned-off OneNote 2016 (and its predecessors), the OneCalendar function shows you a calendar view of note pages, arranged by when you edited them. It’s brilliant if you use multiple notebooks, and you want to recall something you knew you did on a particular day (like the previous week’s regular call). OneCalendar spawned OneTastic, a suite of other useful addins and macros for OneNote.


clip_image004Sadly, neither feature in the new, Modern app OneNote (which you can start with Win+R, onenote-cmd: <enter> if you recall ToW 445). Though the modern app version is getting better all the time, it doesn’t have the same kind of addin architecture so OneCalendar/OneTastic is relegated to the legacy version. Still you can take notes in the new OneNote and as long as you have the same notebooks configured within the old one, then you can use either OneCalendar standalone or activate it by launching the old OneNote, just for searching your notes.

Actually, as ToW 393 covered, searching in old OneNote is better, anyway. ALT-O – who knew?

OneCalendar was first discussed back in Tip o’ the Week #98 – OneNote calendar front-end


clip_image006Copy as Path – a well-hidden but most useful Explorer trick that is of particular use when you’re fishing around for files to then add into another application; sharing, sending, uploading, that kind of thing. Within Windows Explorer, right-click on the file in question whilst also pressing SHIFT, and you’ll see Copy as path, which plonks the full path and filename of the file onto the clipboard, making it a snatch to reference it within the other application.

Originally uncovered in Tip o’ the Week #101 – Finding files for dialogs


WindowsKey + V – a fairly new entrant to this chart, a feature that arrived with the October 2018 update to Windows 10, and was redesigned a little in May 2019: it shows you the clipboard history, so you can recall URLs, screen grabs etc that you might have copied a few steps ago. Hugely useful once you remember it’s there, once you’ve enabled it. See more in Windows help. First look was in Tip o’ the Week 482 – Paste History


404 – not so much of a tip, as a practical joke played in email. It doesn’t work quite the same in the browser, but you’ll get the idea. Also has some of the best tangential links to random content.

Guess what? It was in Tip o’ the Week 404 – [%subject%] not found %&


Thanks to all the regular readers who provide feedback, ideas and encouragement!

Will anyone still be here for ToW1000?

Tip o’ the Week 499 – Cortana resurrection?

clip_image002Cortana was supposed to be the differentiator for Windows Phone. 5 years ago, before Alexa had wormed her way into kitchens of millions of people and forced Google to respond with their range of devices, Siri and Cortana were the assistants in town. When Windows Phone carked it, Cortana transferred her attention to Windows 10, though there have been a few redesigns after feedback from users, such as preferring to have the search dialog shorn of Cortana-ness.

clip_image004In latest news, rumours have surfaced of some kind of Microsoft speaker to be announced, though it’s purely a design patent rather than any details of what it might do – Cortana? Or just a companion device for making Teams calls? Time will tell. The same source unveiled a patent for a Roundtable type device at the same time last year – ahead of the autumn Surface launch event – and nothing seems to have come of that yet.

clip_image006The much-trumpeted GLAS home thermostat (competing with Nest, basically) has dropped Cortana from the device, and the Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke speaker (which, by all accounts, is a really good speaker) has sunk beneath the waves following a fire sale to get rid of stock. Cortana is reportedly disappearing from Xbox too, though a wider speech strategy is in place so she won’t go too far.

Cortana has been repositioned from being a consumer service or device, to a series of services that add value by integrating with your productivity applications and services. Additionally, efforts have gone into making speech/AI assistants interoperable.

In a recent Windows 10 build pushed to Insiders, Cortana is getting a new look – again – and will eventually roll out around the world, rather than be limited to a few locations as it had been previously.

clip_image008If you’re on the insider program for Windows 10 and using a UK language machine, you may find that the new Cortana app doesn’t want to talk to you, unless you set English (United States) as your Windows Display language.

Also click on each entry in the Preferred languages list, and make sure you have all the speech and proof-reading features installed.

clip_image010The original vision of Cortana’s usefulness is evolving so that when you enable the service, it now searches your email and calendars on a variety of sources (Office 365, Gmail etc) and will remind you when you say things in email (eg I’ll give you a call on Tuesday) – it’s vaguely spooky when you first start to use it, but after a while proves to be really useful.

As To Do and the Microsoft Launcher continue to improve and integrate, the original vision of Cortana might well come back to being more than a gimmick to ask for directions or the current weather – a genuinely personal assistant that will help you organise your life and get more stuff done.

Tip o’ the Week 498 – Go do, To Do (you do so well)

clip_image002The Microsoft To Do desktop and mobile applications and services (all available from https://todo.microsoft.com/) had a major update recently, which included being slightly renamed. Instead of “Microsoft To-Do”, the core app is now simply clip_image004Microsoft To Do”, and it has a new logo (well done if you noticed)… instead of a blocky light-blue and white tick on a blue background, it’s a slightly rounded and shaded blue tick on white background.

clip_image006Still, To[-]Do’s functionality has stepped forward greatly since its first release a couple of years back, taking more than a few leaves from the Wunderlist app that preceded it. The new v2 of the To Do app includes background images that can be shown behind task lists, including one of the Berlin Television Tower which was synonymous with Wunderlist.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of 6wunderkinder (the company that made Wunderlist), it was announced that, at some stage, the Wunderlist application would be retired but still there’s no confirmed date or anything, with back-end engineering apparently taking a good bit longer than was first expected.

When the To-Do app was launched, it was a somewhat poorer cousin. Now, the story is that To Do v2 has enough of the functionality of Wunderlist, and lots of new capabilities (such as Cortana integration), that it’s time for Wunderlist users to transition.

See more of the detail here. See what’s new in versions of To[-]Do. For further To Do tips, check the help center.

The founder of 6wunderkinder has taken to Twitter to offer to buy back Wunderlist before Microsoft shuts the service down. It remains to be seen if the offer is being considered or not…

Tip o’ the Week 497 – 21st Century Morph

clip_image002Morph was a clay stop-motion animated figure from the late 1970s, who featured on a BBC children’s programme, Take Hart. He was created by Aardman Animations, who later went on to create Wallace and Gromit, amongst many others.

Morphing is a special effect used to move between two forms or images, gaining ground from the late 1980s as software allowed smooth transitions between different pictures or moving images – used heavily in movies like Terminator 2, for example.

This week’s tip was inspired by Dan Scarfe of New Signature, who commented, “I think of my life in two halves: pre-morph and after-morph.” It’s not often a feature in a software package can have such a life-changing effect, and for most of us it will be less profound than on Dan. Still, it’s worth a closer look – and was first mentioned on ToW back in July 2016, a tumultuous time in British politics. Plus ça change

clip_image004The Morph feature is a Transition in PowerPoint – meaning it’s applied when moving from one slide to another, when presenting. These are powerful capabilities that need to be used carefully for maximum effect – there’s a temptation to add whiz-bang transitions and animations just because you can, but often, a subtle and steady hand works better. See some tips here.

If you want to animate shapes moving from one part of the screen to another, just copy the starting slide from within the slide sorter view, paste it to create the destination, and then move/size/colour the shapes as you see fit. Select the second slide and in the Transitions menu, chose Morph… and that’s it.

Example: blue rectangle 1 will move to the opposite corner of the screen, the number size will shrink and it’ll change to green. 2 will slide across to the top left and the number size will grow, while 3 will drop down and also grow. The star changes shape and orientation, adopts a textured fill, all while also moving to the lower left.

clip_image006clip_image008clip_image010Here’s a screen-grab taken during the transition – it’s smooth and, basically, magic.

Here’s some more info on using Morph. Download the PowerPoint PPTX file of this example, here.

Back to Morph, the plasticine man: turns out he did have a life in the 21st century as well – after a Kickstarter campaign, two whole new series of short videos were commissioned and along with lots of archive material, released on Morph’s official YouTube channel.

Tip o’ the Week 496 – Dark Mode marches on

clip_image002Back in the olden days of computing, wage slaves sat in front of terminals with black backgrounds and lurid green text writing. The advent of the graphical user interface relieved this tyranny with a paper-white background from a bitmapped screen to write your WYSIWYG text, to showcase colourful graphics (and Fonts!).

Fast forward 30+ years and it seems every app and OS is running away from black text / white backgrounds, and heading for monochrome graphics and oppressive white text on a black background again.

Using Dark Mode, either in apps or in the operating system on your computer or phone, promises a variety of benefits – less noticeable flickering, reducing eye strain, avoiding bright lights in a dark environment, perhaps better readability and therefore productivity, and even lower energy costs.

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Dark Mode has existed in Windows for a while – but ultimately, apps need to support the theme, too, and more and more are doing so – like new Edge browser, or Office apps (where you can set the Office Theme).

Microsoft recently put out a groovy video to highlight Dark Mode across a variety of apps and device types, and some commentary about why and when. It’s even come to Outlook.com as well.

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The announcement on Microsoft 365 functionality adds for August 2019 highlighted additional Dark Mode support coming to Outlook mobile apps and Outlook.com, saying, Dark Mode is not only easier on the eyes and may extend battery life, it also enables you to comfortably continue using your device in places where the default bright mode isn’t appropriate, like darkened airplanes and movie theaters.”

So kids, next time you want to go and watch a movie & catch up on your email, make sure you’ve Dark Mode on!

Tip o’ the Week 493 – downsizing PPT

clip_image002PowerPoint files can be quite big. Not that it matters too much, now that we have huge amounts of local and cloud storage available, and even email quotas tend to allow large message sizes, so your 25MB PowerPoint file will typically still get through.

What lots of people do when they’re building a new PowerPoint deck, is to start with a template they like – a conference slide deck, or a jazzy marketing one they got a copy of. They delete the slides they don’t need, and maybe create a few of their own, and there’s a beautiful new document, ready to use.

As the decks morph in these ways, lots of hidden stuff stays embedded, even when it’s not used. In a recent group exercise, a bunch of people were asked to create a business plan deck for every one of hundreds of accounts, but the template they were asked to use was nearly 10MB in size before there was any real content within.

In this case, the reason was that the slide deck had over 200 master slide layouts within the template, many of which had large embedded bitmap images. If you find a slide deck whose file size is huge even if there isn’t much content in the slides themselves, you may see the same behaviour. ToW #276, some 4 years ago, covered a few things you can do to make the file smaller, but here’s a slightly more straightforward solution.

clip_image004clip_image006In your huge yet seemingly empty file, try going into the View tab in PowerPoint and look under the Slide Master view. You’ll see a vertical list of thumbnails for all the different slide layouts (where each contains background graphics as well as layout controls).

Hover over each thumbnail, and a tool-tip will tell you if that layout is used (and on which slides in your deck). If it’s not being used… then maybe you could ditch it and save some space?

clip_image008A simpler way than deleting all the unwanted layouts – if there are many – would be to create a new, blank PowerPoint, then (back in the normal slide sorter view, rather than slide master), copy the slides from the the huge slide deck, and simply paste them into the new, blank file. You may want to force it to Keep Source Formatting – but this process will copy only the used slide layouts into the new deck.

In this example, copying the slides to a new deck and saving that, reduced the size from nearly 10MB to only 750KB.

Tip o’ the Week 491 – PowerPoint layout tips

clip_image002Microsoft people love PowerPoint. Even when using it for completely unsuitable purposes (writing reports using PPT instead of Word, OneNote etc – filling slides with very dense and small text) or simply putting too much stuff on a slide, so a presenter has to say “this is an eyechart but…”

There are many resources out there to try to help you make better slides – from how-to videos to sites puffing a mix of obvious things and a few obscure and never-used tricks (eg here or here), and PowerPoint itself is adding technology to try to guide you within the app.

clip_image004The PowerPoint Designer functionality uses AI technology to suggest better layouts for the content you’ve already put on your slide – drab text, even a few clip_image006Icons (a library of useful-looking, commonly-used symbols) or graphics from your favourite source of moody pics.

If you don’t see the Design Ideas pane on the right, look for the icon on the Design tab, under, er Designer.

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The PowerPoint Designer team has recently announced that one billion slides have been created or massaged using this technology, and they have previewed some other exciting stuff to come – read more here.

A cool Presenter Coach function will soon let you practice your presentation to the machine – presumably there isn’t some poor soul listening in for real – and you’ll get feedback on pace, use of words and so on. Watch the preview. No need to imagine Presenter Coach is sitting in his or her undies either.

When it comes to laying out simple objects on a slide, though, you might not need advanced AI to guide you, rather a gentle helping hand. As well as using the Align functionality that will ensure shapes, boxes, charts etc, are lined up with each other, spread evenly and so on, when you’re dragging or resizing items you might see dotted lines indicating how the object is placed in relation to other shapes or to the slide itself…

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In the diagram above, the blue box is now in the middle of the slide, and is as far from the orange box as the gap between the top of the orange box and the top of the grey one. There are lots of subtle clues like this when sizing and placing objects, and it’s even possible to set your own guides up if you’re customising a slide master.

Tip o’ the Week 487 – Who are you? Who, who?

clip_image002[4]Who are you? A simple question, but one that can be tinged with malice while taunted on the football terraces, or a classic and multi-layered song by a windmilling ‘70s rock god.

But how about finding info about who your colleagues are at work (what a segue …)?
If you’re a Teams user, there’s an app (one of many) called who. To use it, try typing /who in the search box at the top of the main Teams window.

Dr Who fans from overseas: did you know the TARDIS is real (ish), and was used by bobbies to keep in touch with the station, restock their notepad, or even temporarily incarcerate apprehended ne’er-do-wells? C’est magnifique!

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clip_image006[4]After first trying to use /who, you may need to install the app, and you’ll be sent a message explaining what it can do…

clip_image008[4]Follow the /who command with the name of a colleague and will give you their contact details, org chart and so on, assuming they’ve been published in the directory appropriately.

clip_image010[4]Hat tip to Dom for suggesting this week’s tip!

Tip o’ the Week 486 – Cloud Storage Bonanza

clip_image002Microsoft’s OneDrive end-user cloud storage system was in the news this week, as plans were unveiled to allow people to buy more storage space than was previously available. The tl;dr version of this is that in addition to your free 5GB of storage when you sign up for OneDrive, you can opt in to buy an additional block of 50GB for $1.99 a month. Now, you’ll get 100GB for the same amount, and Office 365 users will soon be able to buy even more.

clip_image003If you visit the OneDrive.com site and sign in, you’ll see the total space being used in the lower left, and have the option of upgrading your service – but it’s pretty clear that Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy OneDrive storage on its own… in a Tarrantesque “We don’t want to give you that!” move, you’d need to click through

several “are you sure you don’t want Office 365 instead?” type dialogs.

The best way to get clip_image005additional OneDrive storage is indeed to get Office 365 Personal, if you only need one account – and for your $70 / £60 per year, you get 1TB of storage plus all the additional awesomeness of Office 365 for your home delight.

An even better solution would be to fork out an extra $30 / £20 per annum to get up to 6 accounts; even if you don’t plan on sharing O365 with your extended family, you could set up separate accounts for different purposes – eg if you want to backup all your movie files from a home NAS, that could be a separate login to your primary one, or if you store RAW format images you could keep them in one OneDrive login while enjoying your processed photos in your regular account.

If you really need more than 1TB per login, Office 365 will soon let you buy addon storage, so for $2 per month more, you can add storage in 200GB blocks, all the way up to an additional 1TB for an extra $9.99 per month.

Online commenters have already pointed out that you could buy 2TB of storage outright from Google for $10/month without first needing to have an Office 365 subscription, but let’s get distracted by that.

Tip o’ the Week 485 – Excel and the Web

clip_image002For decades, it’s been possible to import data into spreadsheets from elsewhere. Excel supports many data sources, from basic stuff like CSV, ODBC and OLE DB, to more specific and advanced knowledge of particular data sources and types.

A recent tweet from @msexcel showed a simple video  on how to grab data from a website – highlighting a capability that’s been in Excel for years but has been refreshed and made a lot easier to use.
Try this as an example:

  • clip_image004In a new Excel workbook, go to the Data tab and choose From Web
  • Try a web site that has data tables – eg
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population
  • clip_image006After confirming the authentication method to connect, Excel will retrieve the page and try to make sense of its layout – and let you choose the table you want to retrieve data from.
    This is part of a new “Get & Transform Data” set of functionality that’s available to Office 365 subscribers, that uses Power Query to retrieve data from a variety of sources, and can include some advanced transformation and editing of the query too. See here for a more detailed tutorial.

clip_image008If you want to revert to using the old data import methods, you can either enable the Legacy import wizards in Options (File > Options > Data > Show legacy data import wizards), or just type Legacy into the Search / Tell Me box in Excel, and see the available actions from there.
You can jump to the Search box quickly by pressing ALT+Q and jump straight to any Excel function, or get help on how to do many tasks.

clip_image010Another cool Office 365 data feature is to use Data clip_image012Types. Enter your data in a column, select it and choose the appropriate Data Type – let’s use Stocks as an example.

Once you’ve tagged the source data, clicking on the icon to the left of the data point will show a pop up with the background detail, or you can reference the fields within formulae to display or manipulate the data values.

clip_image014Each data source presents a number of fields that can be discovered and selected through autocomplete in a formula, and the values can be refreshed easily.

See more detail on using the Stock quotes functionality, here.