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 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 492 – TAB and Search

clip_image002The Tab key on your computer has its roots in the Tabulate typewriter function, which let you align type to defined (even modifiable) stops, so you could easily type tables of text and numbers, like invoices and so on.

In short, Tab could be used to left-align text, and is still used in modern typing, especially in word processing and in writing code. People who type space-space-space-space rather than a single TAB press still exist, though.

As well as the many features invoked by the Tab key in modern Windows, though – like WindowsKey-Tab to look at the timeline or the more common ALT-Tab to switch between programs – there’s a new capability for Edge browser users that might be worth looking out for.

If you’re using the Edge Preview – the Chromium-based version that has recently been pitched as Enterprise-Ready (for testing at least) – there’s a feature that has been enabled, which lets you search within a website rather than going straight to your clip_image004favourite search engine and without needing to go to the site’s homepage and perform a search within.

clip_image006Start by typing the site’s URL in the browser address bar, and you may well see a prompt to press Tab to search within that site.

clip_image008This is a feature that has existed in Chrome for a while, but now appears more prevalent in the new Edge. The prompt showing up depends on the website implementing an OpenSearch capability, which is used to plug some query into the search engine behind the site, and how well it performs depends on whether that site search is any good.

Try Microsoft.com TAB search term ENTER and you might just see how many apps that match your word in the Microsoft Store there aren’t, but try Amazon.co.uk TAB Surface ENTER and you’ll have the opportunity to buy Surfaces and many things associated with them. Try maps.google.co.uk | RG6 1WG (what? No Street View?)

Perhaps most useful is when you want to try something in a search engine other than your default; so if you normally use Bing, you’ll know that typing a phrase in the address bar on its own will cause the browser to search if it can’t resolve your term to being a URL. Well, if you type google.com TAB term ENTER then it’ll try that same search over there, rather than you needing to go to the search engine homepage first.

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 490 – Bluejacking LinkedIn

clip_image002[4]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.

clip_image004[4]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.

clip_image006[4]clip_image008[4]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.

clip_image010[4]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.

Tip o’ the Week 489 – What’s the time?

{948851C4-1687-40F3-BED7-26DFF997E62F}The subject of time has featured on a few occasions on ToW, but it’s always worth revisiting. After the time-centric ToW 488’s reception on The LinkedIn, it’s always possible a few more people will be reading this week, too.

50 years ago, as the countdown timer clicked zero and the biggest rocket that was ever made (and still is) was fired to the moon, one of the few bits of technology onboard that wasn’t specifically made for the program was the Swiss watch around each astronaut’s wrist.

Despite all the computing power available to them, they used the stopwatch function to time critical parts of their mission. NASA went to some lengths to choose the right watch for the purpose, and when the ill-fated Apollo 13 needed to be guided home, Jack Swigert timed the corrective burn on his Omega Speedmaster.

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Back on earth and presently, on Windows 10, a single-click on the clock in the taskbar will show you the current time in multiple time zones (if you have it set up that way), as well as the date in a calendar that you can move around without worrying the PC’s own date setting. The Calendar app can sync your agenda and display that in the same view, and is a great way of quickly checking future commitments for a given date.

Many people now rely on phones or computers to tell the time, either a casual glance to see if they need to wrap up yet, or to be reminded that some activity needs to be completed. The Alarms & Clock app in Windows is a nice way of looking at the time across the world, of being reminded at a particular time, or just using a countdown timer or stopwatch to time the duration of something.

What is time?

Existentially, time is relative. If you ever find that your Windows PC isn’t keeping time accurately, you may want to check that you have it set to get its time automatically (check Settings -> Time & Language – > Date & time), or go into the old-fashioned Control Panel, search for time and look at the settings in there, especially under the “Internet Time” tab to see where it’s syncing the time from: time.windows.com is probably the default.

Windows Time is also a thing – the number of milliseconds since the machine was started up, and also the name of the service that controls the time synchronisation. Unix time is also a concept, measuring the number of elapsed seconds since 1st January 1970, and may present another millennium bug style problem in 18 years, if anyone is still using 32-bit *nix by then.

Back to simple relativity, though – what is the actual, real “time”? If you have multiple clocks, watches, phones & PCs, it’s a fair bet that they’ll all be divergent, unless they’re all being synchronised by some external device (your broadband router, maybe). If you’d like to find out exactly what the time is and don’t have access to an atomic clock or similar, there are a few online resources that might help…  and you could even try asking Cortana, as she knows about time zones and stuff.

But the best time site is http://time.is. Try it from any device and you’ll get the time right now;  some allowances need to be made for network latency but the operators have tried {A56CDC7A-F0F0-4CBE-B8D5-8611F35C6DC2}their best. It tells you the time in your location (or one of your choice), and calculates the offset between your computer’s clock and the time.is service.

For an illustration of what latency (as ultimately governed by the speed of light) means when accessing nearby vs far away websites, check out www.azurespeed.com, which measures the time to connect to storage services at Azure datacenters. Some variance could be explained by performance spikes and so on, but the main impact is network latency due to distance travelled. The results can sometimes be surprising.

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Tip o’ the Week 488 – Time Zone Travelling

clip_image002Heading somewhere nice this summer? Perhaps somewhere hot and busy, such as Las Vegas?

When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?

If pilots all sound the same, what about air-traffic controllers?

Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…

Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sunor even a bright light – on the back of your knees. It’s a lot easier to handle the differing time zones using your PC…

clip_image003Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth  telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between clip_image005time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.

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If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.

The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.

clip_image009Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like phone OSes, Windows 10 has the option of setting time zone automatically.

If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, switching time zones before you actually travel, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.

clip_image011Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.

The Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10 shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.

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