Tip o’ the Week 438 – Bing’s Visual search

clip_image002In an effort to attract users to the perennially under-rated search engine Bing, the service launched a “visual search” function some time ago (ToW 397). There have been some recent updates to mobile apps, enabling search capabilities from an image. Similar images will be identified or major subjects could be spotted, using AI technology to try to figure out what’s in the image, as well as find related info.

The Bing Search app and the Edge browser for both iOS and Android have been updated, as has the Microsoft Launcher for Android – each has added a little camera icon to the Search box, which makes it easy to take a pic and upload it to Bing for analysis. The Bing app can also scan QR codes and the Launcher can scan barcodes too. More features are promised for all 3 methods of app-based visual search, and for the Bing web site itself.

To use visual search in the Launcher, swipe from the left at the home screen and you’ll get the “Feed” page (a customisable summary of news, activities, apps, contacts etc), the top of which has a search bar with a camera and a mic (though if you’ve used the barcode scan in the Launcher, the camera will be replaced with a scanner symbol – just tap that as if to scan a new barcode, then tap the barcode with an X in the top right to revert back to camera).

If the results you get aren’t quite spot on at first, you could direct visual search to focus on a particular part of your snap – tap the magnifying glass in the top right, move the edges of the area to filter out any peripheral nonsense, and you may find results improve.

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Tip o’ the Week 405 – Bye Bye, Bird’s Eye

clip_image001The Bird’s Eye view is/was one of the nicest bits in Bing Maps (get there quickly, at www.bingmaps.com – did you know you can type simply bingmaps in the address bar of Edge or Chrome, and press CTRL-ENTER to add the www and .com bits?).

clip_image003The Eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that some changes have happened… clicking on the drop-down control to change the map type no longer shows Birds Eye – instead, if you right-click on a point on the map, you clip_image005may get the option of viewing in bird’s eye view, and maybe streetside (though don’t expect the same level of coverage of Google Street View, at least if you’re outside the US).

If the bird’s eye option is greyed out, that means the view is not available – or no longer available, as out of date maps have been temporarily removed from the platform. Or at least removed from being easily found – if the missing area is on a boundary between data sets that are being updated, it may be possible to find a nearby place, and scroll across to find the view you’d originally searched for.

clip_image007Shortly after going live, UK users found a temporary problem – clicking on the bird’s eye view (when it’s not greyed out) didn’t do anything if your locale was “United Kingdom”.

If selecting the view doesn’t work for you, try clicking on the “hamburger” menu in the top right, and change the country setting to be United States… whereupon the bird’s eye will work, but the Ordnance Survey view will disappear.

So for a while, it looks like Brits needed to say Bye Bye, to the Bird’s Eye (for your morning coffee, see what that last link will mean for Western civilisation). Boom Boom.

clip_image009Of course, another aerial view option would be to turn to Google Maps – one tip for using the aerial view (activate via the Satellite icon in the lower left), is that if you see older images, you may well be looking at a map layer associated with the 3D view, where the service renders the view by clip_image011“underlaying” building shapes with the images. Handy in a city, maybe, less so in the countryside.

In some cases, more recent images are available if you switch 3D off, by going to the hamburger menu in the top left; try disabling 3D to see what difference that makes to your aerial view.

Tip o’ the Week 397 – Bing visual image search

Loyal Microsoft fanbois and grrlz will doubtless use Bing as their default search engine, and many “ordinary” computer users will also stick with whatever their browser or phone apps default to. Even after years of trying, though, Bing is still very much a runner-up in the league of most-used search engines, even if arguably it’s as good or even better than the alternative. Recent stats suggest that in the US, 1/3 of all searches are handled by Bing, so it’s at least in a credible 2nd place rather than a distant irrelevance, as some detractors may say.

clip_image002Even the most persistent marketers have largely given up trying to make the verb “to Bing” catch on, and El Reg reports that Google is trying to encourage “search with Google” in a style guide for developers: ‘Don’t Google Google, Googling Google is wrong’, says Google.

Aside from the beautiful daily home-screen images, there are some neat and sometimes hidden tricks in using Bing.com to search for stuff online.

A little while back, the Bing team launched Visual Search – when you do a search and look at results in Images, click on a result to preview it, and you’ll see a small magnifying glass with a dotted line box around it, in the top left.

clip_image004Clicking on that icon will let you move and resize a box around some element of the image you’re interested in, and below, you’ll see a list of related images to the one you just selected.

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Handy for finding out about a specific item in a picture, or a person in a photo, for example.
(Yes, it is, in fact, Kevin Turvey)

This kind of searching is a variant on another approach, where you can either point Bing at an clip_image008existing online image, or upload one that you have on your computer, and it will find similar images to that. The Visual Search UI makes it a little easier if you just want to find out about a part of the image.

Watch out for some upcoming additions to Visual Search – like the ability to recognise faces in search results, for example. Read more about that and other Bing improvements to come, here.

Tip o’ the Week 328 – Clip for art’s sake

clip_image001As discussed in Tip o’ the Week 28, Office Clip Art changed a while back – out was the staid clip art composed of vectors and 1990s bitmaps.  In was an online search for stuff you might like, filtered loosely by content that’s maybe not always what it seems.

clip_image002You can, of course, use your own photos – in fact, the Online Pictures option within Office apps includes Flickr, OneDrive and Facebook – and you’ve always got the option of uploading from your PC or any other URL.

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If you’re after some high-quality clip art to insert into you magnus opus, you could try a service called Pickit, previously known as PicHit.me.

The Pickit Photo Finder app gives you a nice Modern app way of finding cool photos given a theme or keyword (though there’s a subscription fee if you want the higher quality pics). It’s even Cortana enabled, supposedly. There’s an Office Addin too, which lets you search for and add photos and art straight into your documents.

Pickit is a Microsoft BizSpark success story, and the service runs on Azure.

There are many ways of finding decent clipart for your projects – there’s Open Clip Art for an archive of more traditional vector & standard clipart image fare, or image hosting services like Pixabay, which offer free Creative Commons photos. Check out these other alternatives too.

Tip o’ the Week 316 – Edge browser and Cortana

clip_image001A short and sweet tip this week, concerning the Edge browser in Windows 10.

If Windows 10 was “Threshold” and the November update was “TH2”, the next iteration of Windows 10 is being referred to as “Redstone”. Rumours have surfaced that the Edge browser is due to get some new features as part of the Redstone update, some of which are being tested on the Insiders program now or imminently. Interestingly, following last week’s tip about Windows 10 Mobile, there’s a new ring on Insiders that’s more cautious than “Slow” – “Release Preview”.

Even if the first “Redstone” update has started making its way into the Fast Ring, and that’s going to deliver extra tweaks to Edge, there’s still plenty to learn about the current version – like how it integrates with Bing or Cortana, for example. Cortana continues to add smarts at the back end too – ask her to “tell me an Oscar fact”.

If you right-click on something in Edge and have Cortana integration enabled (click on the … ellipsis on the top right of Edge, and look under Settings, View advanced settings), you’ll see a context-driven search for the term you’ve highlighted in a handy sidebar. It’s a brilliant way of checking the definition of a word, looking up supporting information on a person, product etc.

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If you haven’t enabled Cortana & Edge, either through choice or because you can’t, then Edge will let you search Bing directly – and in practice, it may not make a lot of difference clip_image005between what The Blue One shows you and what you get from Bing. Answers on a postcard, please.

Tip o’ the Week 302 – Bing Maps Preview

clip_image002Bing Maps has had a bit of a refresh recently, with a new look and some tweaks to functionality & feel. The quickest way to get to the site is to type bingmaps into your browser’s address bar then press CTRL+ENTER, to add the www and the .com bit to either end, and be redirected to the maps URL.

clip_image004If you end up looking at the old Bing Maps, then try replacing the /maps/… bit of the URL with /mapspreview, or just click the Try the new Bing Maps banner.

Sometimes, however, old things are cooler than new things. There are some missing features: maybe that’s part of being in “Preview”. There’s an intro video that’s shown to introduce what’s new in the Preview. Check it out here.

clip_image006The old Bing Maps featured lots of layouts of facilities such as shopping malls and museums when you click on the outline of the building (along with a directory on the side – compare the view on the right with the Preview below – not quite so nice, unfortunately).

clip_image008Still, there are plenty of other things that are better in the Preview, and there’s always an opportunity to provide feedback (link at the bottom right), and ask for any missing features to be restored.

You can switch back to the old format by clicking the Leave Preview button on the lower right if need be, and provide an explanation of why you’re bailing out.

The most visible difference is the change to the way search results are displayed – you get a history of different searches you’ve carried out, colour coded and stacked up on the left, while the information panel below the current result set is used for displaying all sorts of search info – on searching for a location or clicking a point on the map, context-sensitive info is displayed on the side, with details from Wikipedia, reviews from the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp, and in the case of a tube or train station, times are displayed.

Navigation between different types of maps has changed, with a drop-down on the top right, now including Ordnance Survey maps view if you’re in the UK (or you go to the UK version). For Hallowe’en, you can Spookify your maps should you wish, and there may be other map variants to come.

The A-Z style London Street view has vanished from the UK variant too (maybe in the realisation that the old format just isn’t as easy to read as most smartphones maps), as has the ability to see the layout of the tube network by clicking on a station to see the familiar colour-coded lines superimposed on the real map. If you still want to see that kind of view, check out Here.com mapping and click on Transit to show the layout of train lines etc.

The Streetside service isn’t universally available – in the UK, major cities are covered pretty well but don’t go looking out in the sticks. Try right-clicking a point on the map and if Streetside is present, you’ll be able to select it from the context menu and see a quick preview without moving away from the current map view. Useful if you fancy a refreshment and yet your watering hole of choice is tucked away somewhat.

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Shplendid.

Tip o’ the Week #298 – Searching and finding

clip_image002Who keeps an up-to-date browser favourites list these days? Most people seem to find web sites by Binging/Googling (other search engines are available(!), though some of the pioneers are no longer around) for the site they know about, rather than in trying to keep a link that might change. This relates to the filing vs. piling analogy of document and email retention, which has been covered before (here).

[The precis is that some people find or recall things by where they are, like in a folder specific to that customer or project, whereas others might have a massive pile of unsorted stuff, but they can recover items within it by remembering key words or attributes, and searching the contents]

You’d think that by now, we’d all be experts at plugging queries into search engines, maybe even doing so before posting stupid stuff on Facebook. Hint – if anything looks dodgy or unbelievable, try searching snopes.com. Please.

Anyway, here are some tips for getting more accurate searches, in a few different places…

Outlook

Did you know you can direct specific clip_image004search criteria through Outlook’s Search pane? Click on the search box at the top of a folder and you will see the Search menu appear (or the ribbon will automatically show you the Search pane, depending on how you’ve got views set up). If you click on a criterion (like From), then Outlook will build the query for you in the search box, so you can see what it’s doing.

It’s possible to jump a little though – instead of clicking From then editing, you could just type from: Paul to search for all mail sent by anyone with Paul in their name, or try using a combo of other attributes (there are many – see more here), (eg. to: Paul sent: last week). Lots more example tips here.

Yammer

For many users, Yammer is a great conversational and collaboration tool, clip_image006but even if you don’t use it frequently to post content, it can be a brilliant way of searching for answers to frequently asked questions, that you might not get via email if you aren’t on the right DL.

Thing is, Yammer’s search tends to be a bit overly inclusive – if you enter several terms then you might have one or two more results than you’d expect.

clip_image008Adding quotes around phrases (“surface 4” “release date”) helps a bit, but it will still search for any occurrence of either phrase, but by adding a + sign to each word or phrase changes the search from clip_image010an OR to an AND (ie show results with all rather than any of the phrases).

Bing

If you’re looking to trim the results you get from a web search – either carried out from the Bing homepage, or from the address bar in your browser (assuming Bing is the default search engine) – there are a few operators that it’s worth remembering. Adding site:<url> to your query means you’ll only get stuff from there, so it may be quicker to use Bing to search a given site than to go to that site itself and search from within.

Eg. Try this querysite:engadget.com Lumia –iphone, will show results from the Engadget site regarding Lumia phones, that don’t mention iPhones: not too many results there. Try that same query as a web search rather than news (here), and you’ll notice a few pages in other languages. You could try filtering more by language (here). You can also stack site: clauses with an OR (must be capitals) operator, so you could say “Jenson Button” (site:bbc.co.uk OR site:pistonheads.com).

If you’re after particular types of content, you might want to throw the filetype: operator in, eg Azure filetype:pptx site:microsot.com. For more details on the kinds of operators Bing supports, see here.

Google users can find some search tips here, too.

Tip o’ the Week #281 – Calculator rebooted

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So, Windows 10 will be with us in less than 2 months. As well as many significant improvements and new experiences, there are a number of subtle clip_image003but still cool updates. One such is the new calculator app, a “modern app” which has been enhanced compared to the old-fashioned Windows Calculator (which itself was updated in Windows 7, covered way back in ToW #90).

The new calculator app in Windows 10 functions largely the same as before, though it looks a bit groovier (with the now-standard clip_image005Hamburger” menu in the top left). The refresh makes it touch-friendly without being unwieldy to desktop or keyboard users, and there are a bunch of cute touches too…

If you tap on the ‘burger, you can set different modes of operation, including the conversion of weights, measures and the like. As well as giving you the answer to your conversion query, it also furnishes an equivalent estimation …

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Have a play – how many kilojoules are there in the equivalent food calories of a slice of cake? How many elephants does your car weigh?

clip_image013The calculator doesn’t do currency conversion, but Bing.com clip_image015does a decent job of that – just type the currency symbols or standard identifier into Bing and you’ll get an approximation. Add the quantity too if you like.

In fact, Bing also does calculations and other conversions, too – try a few for size. It’ll give you a simple calculator if you enter a sum.

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Tip o’ the Week #256 – Clip Art clips off

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Exactly 5 years after publishing the very first instalment (though it was internal only for a year before I started posting the tips on this blog), clip_image003Tip o’ the Week goes Old Skool: #256, or 28, the number of combinations possible from a single byte. If you want to join the retro-fun, Sir Clive is backing a new crowd-funded Speccy games console. Sinclair was a hero of the 1980s’ UK 8-bit computer market, before having to sell out to the-then un-betitled upstart Alan Sugar.

Time moves on. The oft-mocked and much-maligned Clippy died, aged 10. Not enough people wanted to write letters any more, it seems.

Other things change, too – the very idea of Clip Art within Office apps, for one. Word 6 from the early 1990s had a handful of clip art images, but later versions of Office had full libraries of pictures and vector-image clip art. But Clip Art is going the way of the dodo…

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clip_image007Microsoft announced recently that the Clip Art collection was being closed down, to be replaced by Bing Image searches.

To insert Bing images into Word docs or Outlook emails, just go to the Insert tab and look under Online Pictures.

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The Bing Image Search option shows pictures which are available for free use, licensed through an arrangement called  Creative Commons – so you should be able to use them without charge, though do bear in mind that the license to re-use may have specific conditions – select the desired image  and click on the link for more details.

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So, let’s raise our hats to Clip Art – even if it’s sometimes pretty naff, with images that are out of date and a bit cheesy.

If you don’t like the Bing Image options, you can always select Pictures from your own PC, or add your own collections to the “Online Pictures” list  – from online accounts such as OneDrive, Flickr or Facebook.

Tip o’ the Week #243 – Parliamo Glasgow?

clip_image002The great Stanley Baxter had a famous series of comedy sketches looking to help Sassenachs and Embrafowk understand how to navigate a conversation (at say, a Hogmanay party) in the city that recently hosted the Commonwealth, and was hitherto known as “Second City of the British Empire”, or just Glesga to its natives.

Navigating regional dialects (“zarramarraonrabarraclara?”) is one thing, but dealing with foreign tongues outright is another matter. Fortunately, technology has come to clip_image004rescue us – from the mostly marvelous Bing Translator app on Windows Phone to our Googly friends offering to translate foreign websites directly within their browser, without having to do anything else.

There’s a Bing web page you can go to, or to translate blocks of text on a web page using IE, you could use the Accelerator to selectively do so.

clip_image006To add a powerful translation capability native to IE, visit http://labs.microsofttranslator.com/bookmarklet/ then right-click on the top of the IE window if you don’t already have your Favorites bar showing, and click on the option to display it. Once you see bar below the address, just visit the bookmarklet link above, and drag/drop the clip_image008Translate” link from the web page and onto the toolbar. Now you’ll have the ability to translate any web page to your language, with a single click on that toolbar.

clip_image010There’s also a Bing Translator app for Windows 8 which can translate blocks of pasted text and can download language packs so you can do it when you’re offline, too.

Right. Ahmaffdoontheboozerfurraswifthauf. Anyone else coming?