Tip o’ the Week 483 – mobile OCR and Office

clip_image002Optical 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.

clip_image004Consumers 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. clip_image006In 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.

Near OCR functionality is also pervading the slew of freely available Office apps for Android tablets, phones and even Chromebooks, and similar versions for iPad and iPhone.

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

clip_image001Start 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.

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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.

Tip o’ the Week 482 – Paste History

clip_image002[4]Back in 2012, three weeks before Super Saturday, ToW #133 talked about the Art of Cut ‘n’ Paste. How the widely-used CTRL-V keyboard shortcut for Paste can trace its roots back to a program co-developed by Butler Lampson, one of the “Dealers of Lightning” as a founder at Xerox PARC, and now a near-25-year Microsoftie and Technical Fellow. QED was a thing before Neil & Buzz set foot on the Moon (which happened on 21st July, not 20th: Eagle landed on the 20th, but it was 21st before “one small step for a man”… at least it was in UTC).

clip_image004[4]Did you know that in recent versions of Windows 10, there’s a useful new shortcut – WindowsKey+V?

It shows you the history of the clipboard, so you can quickly access something you’d previously copied; you can sync the clipboard between multiple machines (or phones), too.

clip_image006[4]There are other controls you can assert when it comes to pasting stuff, too – CTRL+ALT+V in Office apps will let you paste something and decide how to handle it (the equivalent of Paste Special, in most cases) and you can over-ride the default behaviour in  Word too, by choosing to Set Default Paste.

clip_image008[4]In other apps, there may still be different ways of handling Paste actions – Paul Thurrott recently wrote about how to change the options in OneNote for Windows 10 (the UWP app that is replacing traditional OneNote; the one you can start by running onenote-cmd: from the Win+R box).

The “copy & paste” metaphor dates to PARC, too – and yet it’s still evolving, 45 years later.

Tip o’ the Week 472 – Update Store & Office apps

clip_image001[4]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.

How often applications update themselves is largely down to the publisher, clip_image003[4]but it’s usually possible to give the apps a prod to see if there are published updates before they get pushed out to you.

clip_image004[4]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.

clip_image006[4]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.

clip_image008[4]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.

clip_image009[4]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.

clip_image011[4]After you’ve installed any pending updates, the What’s New option will be active and will show you a summary of what has changed, in a pane within the app itself.

Or check the View Updates option at any time, and it’ll take you to the web to see what the latest updates contain.

Tip o’ the Week 468 – Get Office, My Office, Office app appears

clip_image002[4]For a while now, new PCs have been installed with an app that “encouraged” users to install and use Office. Even users with Office already installed sometimes complained that Get Office was nagging them to, er, Get Office.

Get Office became “My Office”, which was a lot more useful in the sense that it was showing documents you used etc, but its main aim appeared to still be to help you find and launch Office apps, or buy them if you’re not already using them.

clip_image004[8]The latest incarnation – simply called “Office” – moves the game on a whole lot more. For one, it’s a portal into all the Office documents you work with on your machine or online, allowing you to search content across not just the docs themselves – so you can search for documents in your most-recently-used lists, something that the File dialog in Word/Excel/PowerPoint annoyingly won’t do.

The search bar also reaches across SharePoint sites you use, OneDrive locations you have and even brings in the global address list so you can get to people details really quickly, including a really fast org chart ability.

The new Office app will be delivered automatically for a lot of people as it will replace the My Office and Get Office apps in due course; if you’d like to check it out sooner, go to the Store.

See more about the app here, or here.

Tip o’ the Week 437 – Mapping of Minds

clip_image001Like just about every other productivity technique, “Mind Mapping” has vociferous proponents and those who’ve tried it but never quite made it stick. The general idea is to try to represent a complex but related series of thoughts and topics onto a diagram that helps to organise them, and to aid recall. Mind maps are perhaps more useful for the person doing the mapping as a way of sorting their own brain out, than as a means of communicating to other people or even to record those thoughts for much later consumption.

Like writing a status report, the act of doing the report or compiling the map prompts valuable activity more than the resulting artefact which might never be read. Research has shown that more visually oriented people are likely to get more out of mind mapping, and using a mind map to try to remember stuff has a fairly short shelf life.

If you’ve not tried mind mapping, the simplest way is to start with a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Read some more here about the concepts. Or here, realising that the site is basically trying to sell you mind mapping software. There’s a more balanced view of different software packages, here.

You don’t need to pay for your mind mapping software, though… OneNote could be a great way of doing it, especially if you have a PC with a stylus. There are a few 3rd party addins to OneNote (desktop version) that provide additional functionality for mind mapping, though the same don’t necessarily work with the Modern App version – something that’s been picked up on the User Voice forums.

clip_image002If you’ve got Visio on your PC, you could try the Brainstorm template, using Visio’s core strength of creating and associating shapes, moving them around, hyperlinking between them as appropriate and so on.

This functional approach can be a bit too structured and formal, some people preferring a much more freehand, flowing kind of mind map to basically do a brain dump. Maybe a good way of publishing an already-sketched mind map?

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Here’s a step-by-step guide (originally written for Visio 2010). Watch this 10-minute tutorial video if you’d like a more visual approach.

There are some more brainstorming tips and tricks for Visio 2016 here.

clip_image005Another option is to try some specific mind mapping software – there are some very good examples of such in the Microsoft Store. One particularly good app is Mind Maps Pro, which is free for a few days (as of end of June 2018 – install it now; even if you don’t try it right away, it’ll save you a good few £/$/€/etc as and when you give it a go).


The app has simple hierarchical mapping features, and some freehand support – including Ink – with easy additions of structure, auto-layout and the like – it’s a great way to creating a mind map on Windows. It can automatically sync your maps to OneDrive, too, and export to PDF/PNG.

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Tip o’ the Week 417 – Resolving aliases in bulk

This might be a very old-Microsoft culture clip_image002thing, but alias names have always been a relatively big deal within the company; not an alias in the sense of a nom de plume or some alter ego, but a name curiously given to mean your login name.

Before enlightenment, Microsofties were emailed simply by sending to alias@microsoft.com – and still are, so even if the primary mail address is forename.surname@microsoft.com, you could still mail them at forenams@microsoft.com, or whatever their alias is.

clip_image004The alias, or logon name, at Microsoft was historically an up-to-7- or 8-letter moniker, based by default on surname|first-letter-of-forename, eg billg or steveb.

In a company with a handful of people, it was easy to remember such a name for when you wanted to drop them an email, but with hundreds of thousands of mail addresses, you might need more room – when Exchange Server came out in 1996, it supported 64 characters in the alias name, though oddly, Microsoft has never embraced longer than 8-character aliases.

Back in the day, your mailbox was a folder on a Xenix server, then an MS Mail postoffice, and the folder names were restricted by the 8.3 filename format. There are probably too many legacy systems that also have an employee name represented by their 8-letter alias, and it still kinda works.

Aliases – and the cultural phenomenon of calling people not by their name, but by their alias… eg “we had a billg review” – were a central part of the 1995 Douglas Coupland book, Microserfs.

clip_image006Some people at Microsoft still talk about an email distribution list as an “alias” – eg. “TAKE ME OFF THIS ALIAS!!” as a Reply-All (as opposed to a little “r”) to the occasional mail storms that amazingly still happen. They’re wrong – those are Distribution Lists (DLs) or maybe more correctly, Distribution Groups (DGs).

But the true “alias” lives on, even if the Skypey “Contact Card” UI in Outlook does its best to not show you what someone’s alias is (but you can usually still get to Open Outlook Properties, which shows you the traditional Outlook address book view, with alias in the very top section). Lots of reports from Microsoft’s internal systems will refer to an employee using their alias name, so it often helps if you can decipher an alias into the person behind it.

Resolving an alias to a name one-at-a-time is all very well, but when looking at a column of alias names in some spreadsheet, it’s a bit of a palaver to turn each of the FORENAMS into something meaningful.

Bulk alias resolver in Excelclip_image008

Fear not, worthy reader, for a solution is to hand.

  • Simply download this macro-enabled Excel workbook, and open it/save it somewhere locally
  • Click on the Enable Editing, then the Enable content button, so the macro can do its stuff
  • Now paste your list of chosen alias names in column A, then click the resolve button
  • The macro will now go through each alias in the first column, and resolve the name, then stick it in column B, if it can. If the name doesn’t work, then column B will just be the same as the alias in column A

This can be handy if you’re building Excel reports and want to add names to a table instead of aliases – you could sort the list of aliases alphabetically, run them through the resolver, and then reference the table with a VLOOKUP formula so you could hide the column of aliases from your report and show instead the derived real names.

Tip o’ the Week 403 – Office Insiders and training

clip_image002The Windows Insiders program is well known as an early-access scheme for Windows, with millions of users trialling out new versions regularly and getting new functionality ahead of general release. A new “fast ring” version of Windows 10 came out just the other day, in fact.

Did you know that Office has a similar programme? Office Insiders is geared towards Office 365 subscribers who want to opt-in to early releases.

clip_image004Regardless if you are or are not in the Insiders group, you can see what’s new in the latest version of Office you’re running (assuming you’re on Office 2016 and subscribing to Office 365).

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Try looking under File | (Office) Account menu, and check under the Office Updates section to make sure you’ve got the latest versions available to you.

Click on What’s New and you’ll see a pop-up of the latest features, with a “Learn More” link to find more. To see the latest for Office Insiders, check here.

One new feature that’s previewing for Insiders but available to anyone on the web is the new Office Training Center, which offers help in a number of features, templates and the like. There are short videos showing tips on how to use Office apps in conjunction with Office365 – check out some of the “try new things” category to see if they really are new to you.

Tip o’ the Week 396 – Handling dates in Office apps

clip_image002There are many times when you may need to deal with dates in ordinary applications – and there are a few shortcuts that you can make it easier.

In Outlook, any time there’s a date field (like when you’re setting a reminder, or clip_image004entering the start date/time for an appointment) you can choose or enter a regular date, or put in an expression – like “2 days” or “next Tuesday” – and Outlook will figure out the offset from today, and will set the appropriate date.

In some date fields (like an appointment start time), if you say “4 days” then press enter or TAB, it will evaluate the new date; if you return and put “4 days” again, it may add those extra days to the last date. Try a few other things like “next Christmas”, “3rd Sunday in November”, “2mo” , “7d” or some special days – there are some surprising ones there, like “Lincoln’s birthday”, and other events with static dates … though nothing that might change the actual date from year to year (like Easter, or Thanksgiving).

clip_image006In Excel, press CTRL+; to insert the current date into any cell – add a SHIFT key to insert the time instead. Excel are many date-oriented functions, but you don’t always need to write functions – simple maths can work on date fields – calculating the number of days’ difference between two dates, for example, or adding a number of days to a start date.

clip_image008In the desktop OneNote app, if you want to edit the date and time at the top of a page, click on the field and you’ll see a clock or calendar icon appear next to it – click on that  is set to, click on that to change the value; handy if you’re updating some reference material and want to make it clear that it’s recent.

Another way might be to insert the current date or time into the text: to do so, press SHIFT-ALT-D, or SHIFT-ALT-T for the current time, or SHIFT-ALT-F for the current date and time. The last one is really handy if you’re taking notes about a phone call, and want to quickly note the time that your insurance company said that everything was all fine, or when you started the indefinite call to the airline. The same shortcuts apply to the desktop OneNote 2016 application and also the OneNote store app.

clip_image010Word also supports SHIFT-ALT-D and SHIFT-ALT-T like OneNote, though inserts a date or time field rather than a simple bit of text, and is slightly different to the Date & Time command on the Insert tab, which gives a bit more control over the formatting at the point of insertion, rather than requiring the user to insert the field then go back in to edit the format.

Since Outlook uses Word as its text editor behind the scenes, the same shortcut keys will also insert date fields into the text of an Outlook email.

Tip o’ the Week 373 – Copying Images for emails

clip_image002A picture tells a thousand words, etc etc etc. We all know the power of adding images into presentations, documents, emails and the like… even forum posts into external discussions often feature reference to pics that exist elsewhere on the internet.

If you want to use someone else’s imagery, especially if it’s something you plan to disseminate, then you really ought to ask, or else pick imagery that’s appropriate licensed. One way is to source your image content from a pre-licensed source – like public domain (fill your boots) or Creative Commons, where some rights are reserved by the creator but others are often waived, meaning you’re free to use those images within certain constraints.

Bing.com has some nice image searching tools which let you find content and then filter based on the license type – just click on the filter logo on the far right, and then choose the requisite license type from the drop-down box.

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Once you’ve found the image content and you’re happy that it’s OK to use it as per the license (or you don’t really care), then you can copy & paste in a number of ways.

clip_image006If the destination for your image-based plagiary is some Office app, then you can usually copy & paste, or do some sort of Insert from within the app ; Outlook gives you an easy way of finding content that’s Creative Commons by default, and plenty of warnings to boot. Here’s a screen shot of the warnings and stuff, probably in flagrant breach of the actual rules…

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See earlier comment. Whatx`ever.

Anyway. There are a few other ways of pasting in found content – in Facebook, for example, if you have a picture in the clipboard, you can paste it straight into a Post and it will be uploaded. The same thing is true of some online forums (watch nerds, look away now), whereas most will want you to find a URL for your photos before you can embed them in the post you’re making.

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There are some different approaches to grabbing the URL of an online photo, should you need to – Google’s Chrome browser lets you right-click on an image, and you can copy it to the clipboard, copy its URL or even search Google for similar or different-sized versions of the same thing.

The Edge browser usually works a little differently, though – clip_image012you could share the image to another app that supports that ability, but with Edge (updated in a number of ways as part of the forthcoming (on April 11) Creators Update), there’s a simplification in that if you just Copy an image, it will copy & paste the URL that points to that image, and/or the image itself. If you want a URL (for example, you go to the Insert Image option in most online fora, where they expect you to point to an external picture rather than host a copy themselves) the clipboard just contains a hard link to the image in question.

clip_image014For applications that support directly inserting an image (via pasting), then the image will be pasted instead of its URL. Try it with any image you find online – Copy in Edge, and if you paste into MSPaint, you’ll get the image itself, but if you paste into Notepad, you’ll just get the URL. Some apps – like Outlook or OneNote – will let you choose which you want; when pasting an image, you could choose to leave it as such, or pick the “text” icon on the right, to paste the URL instead.

clip_image016Asking Cortana will tell you a bit about the image, too, which is nice

clip_image018Finally, don’t forget that if you’re grubbing about in Windows Explorer (WindowsKey+E, remember), you can right-click on any local or network-located file, while also holding shift, and you’ll see a Copy as path option – which will copy the name & place where that file is (the fully qualified filename, to be precise), to your clipboard.

So, if you’re a good girl or boy, you can share your own content from your PC, easily uploading to appropriate services by copying the path to any file on your machine and pasting that path into the dialog to attach, upload or insert a file.

In fact, that’s probably the most useful tip in this whole mail. Done.

Tip o’ the Week 363 – Erasing past mistakes

clip_image001[4]Using a Windows PC with Office presents many opportunities to make it easier to do things repeatedly – from shortcut keys which speed up regular tasks, to remembering things you’ve done before or accessed recently, so you can easily repeat them. Sometimes, however, they remember stuff you do mistakenly, and thereafter clutter up the system that’s supposed to simplify the way you work. Now, it’s time to look at ways of erasing those mistakes.

Custom Dictionary

clip_image003[4]Following the ToW #362, a reader asked how to remove misspelled words that are accidentally added to Word’s custom dictionary – if you’d like to edit that, within Word, go to File | Options | clip_image005[4]Proofing, then click on Custom Dictionaries… and then

select the default dictionary and click on Edit Word List…

clip_image007[4]Outlook Auto-complete cache

When you type a name into the To: line of a new Outlook email, the autocomplete cache will offer you a list of previously-used addresses. If you got the original address wrong or someone’s email address has subsequently changed, you may want to remove the suggested name.

In order to do that, when you’re presented with the list of suggestions, either use your mouse to hover over the name you want to ditch, and click the X to the right, or use the up & down arrow keys to move the selection and click the X or press the Del key. You could also clear the whole list, or switch it off entirely – see here for details.

clip_image009[4]Windows Run list

If you’re a habitual user of the Run command in Windows (press the WindowsKey+R) to enter commands, then you may rue mistyping one that sticks around getting in the way, as it is presented to you next time you’re doing something similar. To fix this Most Recently Used (MRU) list, it’s a bit more involved:

  • Start Registry Editor (WindowsKey+R / regedit, natch)
  • Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\RunMRU
  • Find the entry you want to fix from the list of values on the right, and either edit or delete it

clip_image011[4]Explorer recent files

Windows Explorer (WindowsKey+E) shows a list of recent files and folders, which is a handy thing if you want to quickly access things you use regularly, though if you accessed a file in error, you may not want it hanging around in the list. To remove a file from the list, just right-click on it and select to Remove from Quick access.

The Frequent Folders and Quick Access views in Explorer are essentially the same thing, so if you see a folder there you’d rather not have, just right click it and choose Remove from Quick Access or Unpin from Quick Access.