541 – shrtn ur url

clip_image002We’ve all been in the position when sharing a web link with someone reveals a URL that is several lines long and full of hexadecimal IDs and so on. There are a few ways to make the long URL more acceptable – a simple one being to hot-link the URL under a piece of text.

In most email programs, in Word, and even in the new Yammer experience and some other web forum software, selecting some text and pressing CTRL-K lets you insert a URL under that text – so rather than saying “Flight Simulator – https://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/microsoft-flight-simulator”, you could just write Flight Simulator”.

When it comes to sharing URLs with other people, though, you might still need the native URL clip_image004rather than copying the text that has been hyperlinked, so in many apps and websites you could right-click a hyperlink and grab the URL (or in Office apps, again, put your cursor on the text and press CTRL-K to get the edit UI which would also let you put it on the clipboard).

clip_image006It’s both easier to share and also to remember shorter URLs with simple names, but URLs for linking directly to a web forum discussion or Yammer post (in the new Yammer, click on the 3-dot icon to the side of a post to get the link directly) tend to be cumbersome and with lots of references within.

The first URL Shortening service was launched in 2002, tinyurl.com (and doesn’t the website look like a 2002 site?). The basic idea was that instead of having a 200-character URL, you could generate something that would have the form of the tinyurl domain and a random series of characters, such as https://tinyurl.com/yxtj4gft.

When the user clicks the link, their browser goes to the TinyURL website and is then provided the full link to follow, and redirects to that. The primary benefit was to make it easier to share the URL, even if it’s not so memorable, however the developers later added the ability to provide a custom redirect name and, as long as nobody else has nabbed it first, you can use it – eg https://tinyurl.com/yammerofficespace.

TinyURL has been overtaken by others, notably bit.ly, which Twitter switched to from having previously used TinyURL, and before later launching its own t.co. There are many others too, some connected with existing services – like the onedrive.com shortener (eg https://1drv.ms/u/s!AgMogCiKiWDFraIfifRzFKdjw4F1uQ?e=Yepjwh) which isn’t really very short, and which causes Bit.ly to get its Alans in a twist, as it seems it doesn’t like to shorten another shortener’s link.

There are some downsides to using this kind of service, potentially. What happens if the provider goes bust, or decides to start charging users where it was once free? Sites like Photobucket which started free but began charging users a “ransom” get internet warriors hot under the collar, but so far, sites like TinyURL and it’s progeny are mostly still free to use, with the operators selling aggregate data about the referrals being followed to fund their operations costs.

Some shorteners decide to close down – like goo.gl – meaning there’s a risk that previously-shared short URLs won’t work in future (though in the case of Google’s shortener, they are keeping old links alive, just not allowing any new ones to be created). Similarly, if a shortener has a technical problem or security breach, it could affect the way it works – TinyURL reportedly having problems just this week.

clip_image008Finally, a web shortener that is unlikely to disappear overnight is operated by Microsoft, called aka.ms. Anyone from Microsoft can create an aka.ms shortlink – subject to some rules – as long as they share responsibility with someone else. Like the other public shortener services, can generate a random series of characters or can provide the “target” part of the link if they like.

All aka.ms links are by definition publicly accessible, but many are used to get access to sites that are for internal use, even though they exist beyond the firewall – Sharepoint sites, for example, or the intranet homepage, aka.ms/msw. Anyone could resolve the destination URL – even en masse as one enterprise developer has done, using Azure functions – but you still need to provide appropriate credentials to access the destination site.

508 – Black Friday Mania

clip_image002Like other aspects of what some might call cultural imperialism, the Black Friday epidemic continues to spread around the world, on the day after the fourth Thursday in November.

Shoppers around the world might go a bit crazy for special deals, and this weekend is likely to be one of the busiest ever for the online emporia too. Not all retailers play the game, though – in the past, some worthy chains have publicly opted out, though every one of them will have some kind of sale or special offer roster on, FOMO and all that.

There are plenty of bargains to be had, of course; retailers will have been planning their sales for months and many now start a week or more before Thanksgiving, and continue well into December.

The Microsoft store has some good deals – in the UK, you can grab £hundreds off new Surface gear, and there’s probably never been a cheaper time to buy a new Xbox One – and with Project Scarlett arriving next year (along with Surface Neo and Duo), maybe it’s the best time to be buying a current Xbox. There’s a fire sale on the disc-less Xbox One S “All-Digital Edition” – £129 means a third off the usual price, with some rumours that it might be the last chance to buy such a device.

The world’s largest bookseller has some great offers too, especially if you want to festoon your house with Alexa stuff or other first-party surveillance gear. If you’re an Amazon shopper, consider supporting homeless charity, Launchpad, by using Microsoftie Fraser Murrell’s affiliate link which he uses to collect a few hundred pounds every year: all you need do is click through to open up the site, go about your shopping as normal, and a slice will go to a good cause.

Scourge of Fakebook, the Money Saving Expert, has a pretty comprehensive list of other UK offers that apply right now – check out their special page for maximum distraction.

Finally, another ‘Softie, Darren Adams, has a great solution if all of this brings out the Grinch in you:

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Tip o’ the Week 462 – Instagram photos on your PC

clip_image001If you’re an Instagram fan, you’ll no doubt be quite used to posting, browsing, liking and hashtagging everything in sight, using your phone. If you like editing photos on your PC, however, there’s no simple way to upload pics to post as Instagram photos.

Instagram continually toys with their UI and the capabilities of the app – not always to great acclaim – and also offers a browser experience that lets you find and interact with content, but not upload it yourself. Various third parties offer other tools that integrate with Instagram – like the Top Nine meme that celebs were posting, showing their best pics of 2018.

clip_image003The Instagram Windows 10 app does give the option to upload photos by clicking or tapping the + icon in the toolbar along the bottom, but it can occasionally be a bit slow, and it only lets you clip_image005choose photos from your camera roll folder.

The Instagram app sometimes goes a little berserk, too.

There is a technique to use your PC to upload anything to Instagram, though, and it involves fooling the web site into thinking you’re on a mobile device rather than a PC. Start by signing into www.instagram.com using your existing Instagram or FB credentials. You’ll see a particular  UI with no + button in sight.

clip_image007Assuming you’re on Edge browser, press F12 to go into Developer Tools mode (or if you’re using a keyboard that’s a pain to get to function keys, click on the clip_image009ellipsis on the top right to bring up the menu, choose More Tools, Developer Tools).

When you see the Dev Tools pane appear, go to Emulation.

Now choose a device or set a browser profile that will tell the Instagram site that you’re using a phone… even a defunct one (at least while Instagram supports that profile – someday, you may need to tweak the other settings).

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And bingo; click on the ickle + icon on the bottom and you’ll get a regular Windows Explorer file dialog box that can be used to select and upload a photo from anywhere you like.

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clip_image015Chrome domes can do a similar thing, using Developer Tools (menu – More tools – Developer tools, or press CTRL+SHIFT+I) and then toggle a device toolbar that lets you test the page as if it was running on a different device.

Strangely, Windows Phone doesn’t appear as one of the default options, but you can, if you want, add a Nokia 520 back in.

Tip o’ the Week #247 – Block the adverts in IE

clip_image001Adverts. The economy of much of the web is dependent on them, as evidenced by where Google makes its money. Of course, other advertising services are available.

Sometimes, you’ll get ads targeted at you, offering things you didn’t know you wanted. The day that happens, make sure you buy a lottery ticket.

clip_image002Sometimes you’ll get ads targeted that you definitely don’t want, or that the advertisers wouldn’t want to juxtapose with the adjacent content or other ads. Of course, this doesn’t just happen in online ads –  print gets it wrong sometimes, and you can’t always trust that poster displays will have the sensitivity the advertisers might have wanted.

Even with sophisticated targeting algorithms, it’s all too easy to see ads placed all over  your favourite sites, that compete against or even conflict with the content, show you ads for stuff you’ve already bought or browsed at another site and decided not to buy.

There are plenty of funny websites out there, showing photos of real-life advertising that has backfired (many too close to the bone to feature here, so beware…)  – for a 5 minute laugh on a Friday, check out here or here.

 

If you’ve had enough of ads in your browser, Tip o’ the Week reader Nick Lines has the following advice…

…..

Advertising on the web: it's the way a lot of content providers get their revenue and many argue it makes the internet go round, but sometimes it's obstructive, offensive, misleading or just pushes your buttons the wrong way.  If it gets to the point that you're avoiding using a site, no-one's winning. 

clip_image004If you've used other browsers – yes, incredibly, there are alternatives out there – then there's a good chance you may have experimented with ad blockers to eradicate the worst offenders from your favourite sites.   My personal browser of choice used to be Firefox with Adblock plus configured, with IE used at work.  The main reason for not using IE all the time was the lack of an effective ad blocker.  I tried Adblock plus, which has an Internet Explorer version: it didn't work well for me, causing issues with some sites not loading, and frequent hangs or crashes.  I was hopeful for Ghostery, however they've pulled their IE version temporarily and it hasn't returned.

At this point, I'd resigned to be haunted by ads but when Taboola started appearing on more and more sites, I redoubled my efforts to find a solution. Taboola provides “click-bait” articles often with sensationalist titles, that show up on content websites – “Other readers also like…” type sections, with tantalising excerpts to encourage you to click. The resulting page is generally covered in ads, and Taboola share their ad revenue with the site that provided the link in the first place. Here’s what Auntie Beeb had to say about them.

clip_image006Hands up everyone who knew Internet Explorer has an ad blocker built in?  Oh, that many?  Keep your hands up if you knew it works brilliantly?  Ah, so it's not just me who didn't know about this…  It's in the "Tracking protection" functionality.  Obviously.

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To enable, try going into Tools | Safety | Turn on Tracking Protection to turn on the feature. 

This will then display the Manage add-ons dialog  – select Tracking Protection then Get a Tracking Protection List online…  IE will load a site to give you a list of providers, though there have been reports of the URL being incorrect. Open this site to add Tracking Protection Lists if you don’t see the list of TPLs right away.

clip_image010I've found EasyList and Privacy Choice do the job, and Privacy Choice was the one that removed Taboola from my favourite sites. 

Ad blocking can be a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a walnut, however many of the list providers are actively working with advertisers to validate and provide a way for decent ads to still be shown.  Getting in contact with the websites admin might work: as an example, Pistonheads has had a prolonged user backlash against Taboola (though it’s still in use at time of writing…)

…..

clip_image012Thanks to Nick for such a neat trick – let’s put it to the test. First, let’s look at a nice article online. Plenty of ads all over… and at the bottom, the “You May Like” section shows …

Adding the TPLs as described above (ensuring they’re “Enabled”), hitting refresh in the browser… and You May Like has gone, along with all the ads on the side of the page.

Just like that!

Tip o’ the Week #225 – Surveys R Us

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Have you noticed an increase in online surveys asking if you have a few minutes to complete them, when you visit web sites? Do you duck & dive when walking along the street and are confronted by a just-a-little-too-friendly student in high-vis and brandishing a clipboard?

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Surveys are undoubtedly useful to the people collecting the information (as long as they screen out the loonies) though there’s always the possibility that the people who bother to fill in surveys might not always be the typical user – who has a spare 5 minutes in their day to tell some website what they think?

All that said, there are many tools that can be of use if you’re the surveyor and you want to ask people their opinion. In SharePoint Online (see here for a tutorial) it’s really easy to create surveys that contain structured and unstructured questions, even branching logic (eg. If you answer “No” to one question, jump to the next relevant one rather than asking you further questions about the thing you didn’t do).

Thanks to Phil Cross for pointing out that there has been a super-simple solution available for more than a year, courtesy of SkyOneDriveExcel Surveys. Ready for your Mum and Auntie to use, it’s a really simple way of asking a few questions and collating the responses you get – here’s an example survey.

It looks nice, but there are few fancy features like branching, however it’s really easy to set up a survey and it’s on OneDrive, so anyone can fill it in.

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One thing to note, though – the originator doesn’t get any more information than what’s entered in the actual survey, so you might want to add questions about who the respondent is, what date it is etc. Answers are retrieved in a straightforward Excel table, and can use Excel functionality to filter and analyse – if you think you’re going to get enough replies that you’ll need to do that.

Still, Excel Surveys are easy to initiate, simple to complete and can be filled in by anyone who can access OneDrive.

Tip o’ the Week #194 – Windows 8.1 Reading List

Windows 8.1 is now available free for existing users of Windows 8, and in a break with tradition, will not be sold as an upgrade to existing installed Windows versions – it’ll just be the full version, and that’s it.

Upgrading from Windows 8.1 Preview isn’t officially supported – though it can be done (you do need to match the language version exactly – if you installed the Preview as English US, you’ll need the English US ISO from the MSDN etc site, to upgrade).

clip_image002There are plenty new features in Windows 8.1, as well as the much-documented return of the Start button (after all the fuss about the removal of the Start button from Windows 8, and the subsequent rush from application vendors to restore it, there’s already a Start Killer app for Win8.1 which removes the reinstated Start button… you can’t win, sometimes…)

There are a bunch of new apps with Windows 8.1, and major improvements to existing ones. One new app of some interest is the Reading List: the idea being that if you’re looking at web sites in the IE11 browser (the Modern UI version) or possibly reading content in other apps (like the Store), if you flick the Charms out and choose Share, then you can add the site/content link to you Reading List.

Start the Reading List app up, and it will show you the list of sites you’ve bookmarked, and also make use of Windows 8.1’s improved side/side view, to show the content shown alongside.

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Tip o’ the Week #173 – LinkedIn Contacts in Outlook

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This week’s tip focuses on the power of LinkedIn. Some people use it as their system of managing customer and partner contacts. Some find new employment by schmoozing their network – some even use it as the launchpad for their next career.

Hands up who’s ever thought that a work colleague suddenly connecting with them, means that work colleague is a soon-to-be-ex one? Or been in the middle of a meeting and had a LinkedIn request from someone (external) who’s currently in the same room?

LinkedIn is undoubtedly a powerful business connection tool, and using clip_image004it in Outlook makes it even more so. First step, if you haven’t done so already, is to enable the Social Connector. In the past, this was a separate addin to Outlook, but in 2010 was included (though you had to install each social network provider as a separate addin). Now in Outlook 2013, Facebook, LinkedIn and internal SharePoint services are all built in.

There was a recent issue with LinkedIn that could mean even if you had previously configured it to work with Outlook 2013, it may have broken – to check all is well, look at the bottom of the preview of an email (in the “People Pane”) from an external user who is in your LinkedIn network, and see if there is an error message, or if you’re seeing LinkedIn status messages. To ensure you have everything configured correctly, go into the View -> People Pane menu in Outlook, then click on Account Settings to ensure you have the correct username, password and options set.

clip_image006Enter your own LinkedIn username & password, and if you also check the “by default, show photos…” option, then you’ll see the LinkedIn photo of any contact – external, or in fact internal too – within any emails etc that sit in Outlook.

An interesting point – if you look at any standard LinkedIn list of people, or of the individual profile of any one person, their photos are typically shown on the left side of any text. Since we mostly read text (in western cultures) from top left, and all the way down to the bottom right, this lends itself to preferring photos which are facing left-right, especially if placed on the left of the page; so it looks as if the individual is looking on approvingly of their own profile, rather than dismissively starting away from it. Thanks to Eileen Brown for pointing this out.

Try it as an experiment on Linkedin.com: look at all your own contacts, then open up a few who are facing left-> right and others facing right-> left, and see if you agree. Time to change your picture?

clip_image008clip_image010Anyway. LinkedIn contacts, once the Social Connector is configured, show up in a separate contacts group within Outlook’s People view – you can “Peek” by hovering the mouse over the People icon on the shortcut bar, and search details of contacts there, both those in your existing Outlook contacts list and those from LinkedIn. If you click on the People icon, you’ll see lists of Contacts that can be searched in or filtered as appropriate – so if your contacts in LinkedIn have allowed it, you can see email addresses and phone numbers within Outlook.

If you open up a LinkedIn contact and make a change – let’s say, added a mobile number that you’ve gleaned from their email – then Outlook will make that a copy of that contact in your own Contacts folder, and make the change there. Synchronisation of content from LinkedIn appears to be one-way – and if you get into creating custom fields and categories on LinkedIn itself, they might not synchronise at all. Best try a few experiments out before relying on information being available everywhere.

clip_image011There are other ways of using, and benefitting from, LinkedIn integration – and we’ll explore some of these in a future Tip o’ the Week: how LinkedIn plugged in via your Microsoft Account can mean you can share info across Facebook, Twitter and other services, for example.

Careful though – It sometimes makes sense not to cross the streams of “work” and “life”. Like Monty Python said, “…don’t take out in public, or they’ll stick you in the dock, and you won’t come back.”

Tip o’ the Week #171 – eWallet on your phone

One attribute of your phone is that it tends to be with you all the time, so it makes a great place to store information that you want to get access to when you’re out and about – the details of your car insurer, the password for your online banking site, your frequent flyer numbers etc. The long-established iLium Software has offered eWallet for years on a variety of Windows Mobile systems and PCs. There’s a Windows PC desktop version, and a Windows 8 Modern App version, as well as the various fruit and malware-ridden-Googly-device versions.

clip_image002iLium’s current offering on Windows Phone isn’t very well organised – the main eWallet app (which is quite complex) is only on iOS and Android, but there’s also a simpler (though still very flexible and powerful) application called eWalletGO! The Windows Phone version isn’t quite as capable as some of the others, but it’s still a decent app and it’s so useful to be worth persevering with.

The model is simple – you can have a Windows PC (or Mac) version of the app, and a corresponding mobile version too. You create your single wallet (there’s no File menu or anything) and can backup and restore to/from online services DropBox and Google Docs.

So to get the wallet on your phone, you either create it in situ or else build it on your PC and perform a backup (to DropBox) and then restore it down to the phone – a faff, but one that can be done fairly quickly and since the wallet probably doesn’t change much once established, it’s not too hard.

If you buy the Windows PC version (well worth a few quid investment) and want to sync its data between machines, there’s a simpler way than using backup/restore to keep it up to date on multiple PCs… well, it’s simpler once you have it set up…

The eWalletGO! application stores its data in your user profile folder – after installing, just run the app for the first time and create a dummy wallet, press WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog, then paste %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software into the box and hit enter. You should see an eWalletGO folder….

Sync application data between PCs using SkyDrive

Now, if you want to sync this to SkyDrive, simply carry out the following…

  • install the SkyDrive desktop application (here, if you haven’t got it already) and copy the eWalletGO folder above into the SkyDrive folder that is Synced to your PC (by default, %userprofile%\SkyDrive). Once it’s copied, we need to fool the eWalletGO app into thinking it’s accessing its own folder, and instead redirect it to SkyDrive.
  • Let’s say that you’ve dropped the eWalletGO folder into the root of your SkyDrive folder… (ie %userprofile%\SkyDrive\eWalletGO), now go back to %userprofile%\appdata\Roaming\Ilium Software and delete the eWalletGO folder
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  • Fire up a command prompt with administrative privileges (press WindowsKey, simply type cmd, then CTRL+SHIFT+Enter) and then click on Yes to approve the use of admin privileges
  • Now we need to create a symbolic link – it’s basically a special folder within the Windows file system which redirects from one place to another – ie if an app thinks it’s accessing c:\foo\whatever, then “whatever” could be a symbolic link to c:\foo\bar.

So, when you have your admin cmd prompt up and running, copy this following command to the clipboard and paste it into your command window …
mklink /D "%userprofile%\appdata\roaming\ilium software\eWalletGO" %userprofile%\skydrive\ewalletgo  
(modify the \skydrive\ewalletgo as appropriate to point to your real location of your eWallet folder if it’s not in the root of your SkyDrive storage… and put quotes (“) around that section if your location has any spaces in it)

Now, if you fire up the ewalletGO app and make a change, then exit, you should see the ewalletgo.wlt file in your SkyDrive  location has been updated – proof that not only do you have an automatic backup of the important data, but that if you repeat the exercise above on PC #2 (apart from the first step that copies the eWalletGO folder into SkyDrive, since it’s already there), you have an automatic replica of your data onto multiple machines, even though the application doesn’t realise it.

This technique can potentially be applied to any application that doesn’t realise it can replicate its data to the cloud – or in the case of eWalletGO, that it can copy data to the cloud, but just does it to the wrong cloud.

Tip o’ the Week #168 – Loving some Windows Phone 8 tips

clip_image001At a recent “Love It” internal event hosted in Microsoft UK’s Reading campus, a whole series of tips and tricks were shared amongst other Microsofties. Did you know, for example, that with an application called ZipApp (www.zipapp.co.uk – check it out), you can build a Windows 8 app in a few minutes without writing any code?

DPE’er Andy Robb said, “Yesterday I helped a couple of people create a dummy app for their customer complete with logo, draft content, a couple of social feeds, in about 30 mins… Customer walks in, sees their app on the Start menu, has a play on a touch device and they ‘get it’ better than any pitch deck could do.“ … BOOM!

Phone gurus Jon Lickiss and Natasha Joseph presented a great session on Windows Phone, with a slew of great tips and apps that  they recommend – they’ve promised to write up the session so we may feature it here in future. In the meantime, here are 3 of the tips to get cracking:

clip_image002Here Maps

Nokia has released mapping software available to any Windows Phone 8 user, which they called Here Maps. The great thing about Here Maps is that you can download the content offline, so they can be used on the tube (say) or when abroad, without racking up career-ending roaming charges.

The downloaded maps data is shared between Here Maps and Here Drive, the new name for the sat nav software that’s free (in beta) for any Windows Phone 8, as well as Nokia Lumias. If you’re on a non-Nokia device, Here Drive only allows access to the maps where the phone’s SIM is registered, but if you’ve a Lumia then you can use maps all over the world,, still get turn/turn navigation.

Here Maps also has a feature analogous to Bing Maps’ own capability to show details of what’s inside buildings – like shopping centres. Here’s a pic of the Oracle centre in Reading, as seen by Here Maps…

Where are you…?

If you’re arranging to meet up and want to tell your friends your current 10-20, you could text them a description – or try this neat function that was new in WP8. Go into the Messaging (ie text) app, start a new text message, then tap on the paperclip icon normally used to attach something – select “my location” to insert a Bing Maps link to your current whereabouts. See here.

Screen grab

A quick and simple way to capture the screen of a Windows Phone. To snap the contents of the phone screen, press the Windows logo on the bottom of the phone then quickly press the power/standby button. It may take a little practice to get the timing right, but once you’ve figured it out, you’ll see the results in the Screenshots folder within the Photos app.

To get them to your PC for further use, it’s probably easiest to just go into the folder, view the picture then Share it via email or NFC, if your new PC supports it

Tip o’ the Week #144 – Office 2013 Templates

A short and sharp tip this week, courtesy of Louis Lazarus, concerning the way the New Office clip_image002handles template files… and how to configure search in Outlook 2013 to be a bit more fullsome. See more templates online, and now, over to Louis…

When you create a new document in Office 2013 with Word, Excel, etc, you are not given a choice of the templates on your local machine.  You can fix this by…

1. Click File, Options

2. Select the Save item in the menu on the left

3. Enter the location of your templates folder in the “Default personal templates location”…
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4. clip_image005Click OK

Now when you select New, you will see a choice of Featured or Personal Templates – click on PERSONAL to see your templates…

clip_image007Outlook 2013

By default Outlook 2013 only includes your emails for the last 12 months.  You will usually see a message saying something like “there are more items on the server” – clicking the link sometimes returns more items and sometimes does not.  To get rid of this message and have all your items sync’d to your PC…

1. Click File, Account Settings…

2. Click Change… and drag the slider to get All mail items…
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3. Click Next and then Finish

4. Now all your mail will be available offline.