Well, it seems that gaming is the portal to the metaverse. Brad Sams from First Ring Daily had an idea on how to get rich from “the mesh”, but maybe producing a blockbuster game is a sure-fire way to success. Or almost accidentally make one and give it away.
“Wordle” became a synonym (or even an anthimeria) for a “word (or tag) cloud” from the mid 2000s – the idea being that you feed text into an app to generate a diagram showing the most common words in varying arrangements. The original “wordle.net” site has now disappeared, though since it needed Java to be installed on your computer to actually generate the image, it’s been defunct for over a decade.
In late 2021, another Wordle appeared – a play on the name of its creator (Josh Wardle), a simple word game which has taken the internet by storm. It deliberately only had one round per day (so as to not rob the player’s attention like many other games do), and aims to be free to play and commendably ad-less. If you’d prefer to have your attention stolen so you can repeatedly play the game, try clone Wheeldle instead.
Of course, many other word games are available as apps and sites – like Wordle, the word-search mobile app which has been around for years, along with a load of clones of the viral 6-line Wordle web app; they may not be free and may not be free of ads. Apple has already weilded the ban hammer to several Wordle rip-offs.
If you’ve not been much of a word puzzle gamer previously but you’ve taken to Wordle, try out Wordament – a venerable app available on mobile devices and Windows PCs alike. It’s also available online. However you play it, you will need to put up with some ads on the way.
Outlook made some helpful suggestions in response – just one example of new AI functionality showing up by dint of subscription services.
Another case in point where software gets better on a regular basis, is a slew of new features that have appeared for some Teams users – namely, the ability to tweak your own camera image. If you don’t see them yet, try checking for updates from the … menu to the left of your own profile image in the main Teams window.
Mirroring your video makes it easier to interact with your own environment while you’re looking at the screen, though it doesn’t affect what others in the meeting see.
Lighting Correction is a one-setting tweak for fixing the contrast and brightness, which can be handy when it’s dark outside and your room lighting isn’t ideal.
Most entertaining though, is the facial retouching feature – YMMV depending on how much your fizzog need retouching in the first place, possibly. You can apply a dab of filler all the way up to full-blown Insta-influencer soft focus, by enabling the feature then moving the slider. Look under Device Settings from the ellipsis (…) menu when you’re in a call.
Check out the Teams blog, and look forward to lots more new features arriving later in the year.
Another tweak in managing your own video comes from users’ feedback, where they don’t want to see their own video window, thinking that it’s distracting when looking at a gallery of other attendees in a meeting.
You’ll be able to hide your own video by clicking on the … in the corner of your own preview, and can then selectively show or hide, or if you’re especially vain, you can pin your own tile to the meeting view so you show up as the same size as everyone else.
Perfect for checking out how the facial buffing has worked out.
“The years go by so fast, let’s hope the next beats the last”– a sentiment that rings so true over the last couple of new year celebrations. Whether setting resolutions to do new things, read more, lose weight, be a better human etc, we all tend to reflect, even if just trying to do the same things as before but a bit better. Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing for the end of December had some great tips on things to do and try in the coming year.
If we can’t reduce volume of professional communications (be that emails, Teams messages, whatever – just look at Steve cleaning his mailbox and removing >100,000 Sent Items from a single year), then maybe we could do a better job of managing the stuff that we have to deal with. Much ink has been spilled on how to be more effective and how to get things done, but one useful time/focus management principle to revisit is sometimes known as Eisenhower’s Matrix, of which a variety of depictions exist:
The premise is that any task has separate degrees of importance and urgency; we tend to prioritize urgent and overdue things versus things that are actually important. Discipline in task management can give us the clarity to not worry about seemingly urgent yet non-important tasks, and to stay focussed on things which are important, regardless of their urgency.
Carve out 75 minutes if you can – because this stuff is important – to watch Randy Pausch’s lecture on Time Management, with the context that when it was recorded, he knew he only had weeks left to live: talk about prioritizing important vs urgent.
How you put time and focus management into practice will differ depending on your own style and what tools you want to use. For the Windows / Microsoft 365 user, there are a few quick wins to consider:
ToW has talked before about appointments and meetings in Outlook – in summary, an appointment is something you put in your diary, a meeting is one to which you invite others (or have been invited to by someone else).
Thinking of meetings you have organised, you can do a few things to make them stand out, like configuring your calendar view to show your own meetings in a different colour.
… click Conditional Formatting, add a new rule and click Condition… to set it up.
Go to the Advanced tab, click on Field and choose All Appointment Fields, then Meeting Status, then set equals Meeting organizer as the condition, set your colour, font etc choice and save it all out.
Ghost meetings – you’re organiser, nobody else shows up
How many times have you joined an online meeting that you organised, waited a few minutes and then realised that the other party/parties have actually declined but you didn’t notice? Sure, you can see in the tracking tab of a meeting, but might not check until you’ve already started the meeting and wonder why you’re on your Jack Jones.
At this time of year, it’s quite likely you’ll have regular meetings with colleagues, customers or partners, and that instance has been declined by all of the invited attendees: the only real solution is to look ahead at your calendar, check the tracking responses and delete meetings which nobody else will attend. What a palaver.
Never fear, dear reader. Here’s an Excel spreadsheet with a macro which will list all the future meetings where you are the organiser and all of the attendees have either not responded or have declined, so you can easily decide which ones to go and remove.
Download the ZIP file from the link above, save/open it on your PC and you’ll see there’s a single XLSM file within. Open that in Excel, allow changes and enable Macros so it will run, then click the Scan Calendar button to show you a list of meetings that you might be able to delete since everyone else has already bailed out. It will take a couple of minutes to run but will eventually show you a list sorted with the earliest at the top.
The Hokey Cokey / Hokey Pokey is a childhood party tradition many of us will recall, where you put something in and take it out again, or a step forward then a step back. The transition from Windows 10 to Windows 11 aims to simplify the user interface to a large extent, hiding things that some people think just get in the way, while beautifying the stuff that remains.
Power users might grind their teeth at some choices – like the context menu when you right-click on a file; it’s more spaced out (in terms of screen size) but designed to be clearer and more relevant, hiding some of the chaff that 3rd party applications might install.
It even adds some hitherto hidden features, like Copy as path, which puts the full path & name of the selected file into the clipboard, ready to be pasted into a file selection dialog, for example. Some common commands – like cut or copy – have been replaced with icons at either the top or bottom of the dialog. If you want to use the old-style menu with the full set of options, you can do that too by selecting Show more… or pressing SHIFT+F10.
You can disable the new menu if you prefer the old style – just run a single command from an elevated command prompt then use Task Manager to restart the Windows Explorer application (or reboot).
Another piece of Windows that’s had a refresh is the notification function – first appearing in Windows 8 and having redesigns with every variant of Windows since, this is an attempt to summarize alerts from multiple apps in a similar way to how smartphones do it.
Windows 10 shows a little callout in the corner of the screen with the number of notifications to read; click on that or press WindowsKey+A and you’ll see a pane slide in showing notifications on the top, and a load of Quick Actions icons below.
Windows 11 has cleaned the UI up somewhat, with notifications and Quick Actions being separated out – look for a simple bubble with a number in the corner of the screen. Clicking on that or the date/time in the system tray (or press WindowsKey+N) displays notifications.
Pressing WindowsKey+A or just clicking on one of the network / sound / battery icons on the system tray will display the Quick Settings pop up, which can be tweaked by clicking on the pen icon. You can easily remove settings you don’t use – like Battery Saver, maybe – and swap in others from a fairly short list. Perhaps that list will grow in time.
Also worth a note is that WindowsKey+W brings in widgets from the other side, showing news, weather, calendar etc.
The legendary science fiction writer and 20th century soothsayer Arthur C Clarke famously wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. If you have a relatively cheap bit of hardware like an Alexa or a Google doohicky, you’ll be familiar with the wonder when you say something from an adjacent room, and it not only understands you but gives you a response immediately.
And when you’re leaning directly over it shouting “Alexa! STOP!” and it bravely blinks while continuing whatever it was doing, you’ll no doubt curse how stupid the thing is, even though from a computer science perspective, what happens most of the time is truly remarkable. In 1986, it certainly seemed like something belonging to the technological era of dilithium crystals.
We’re now used to giving voice commands to our phone, or to our car – yet many people don’t speak to their PC. Maybe it’s a legacy of not wanting to look like an eejit sitting in an open plan office talking to your computer. Now that most of us are still WFH, though, does it matter?
Windows 10 had a dictation feature which has been overhauled for Windows 11 – launch it by pressing WindowsKey + H and you’ll get a pop up which will let you dictate into any application or text box – just click the microphone icon to get started.
Settings allow you to auto-punctuate (though maybe not quite as nuanced as one might want), and to keep the voice typing function closer to hand so by enabling the launcher, you can start dictation just by pressing Win+H rather than having to click the mic icon first.
Give it a try – start reading aloud at normal speed from a book or a magazine and here’s betting you will be amazed at the speed and accuracy. It’s certainly quicker than typing, for most people.
For more detail, check out Use voice typing to talk instead of type on your PC (microsoft.com)
After Americans celebrated “Turkey Day” yesterday, the phenomenon of Black Friday is now well underway. Originally coined for bricks & mortar retailers to kick off the shopping spree in the run-up to Christmas, it’s now exported around the world and applied across all retail channels with consumer electronics being routinely discounted for a few days (stretching through the weekend to what grew to be called “Cyber Monday”).
Around a year ago, the Edge browser debuted the Shopping feature which showcased vouchers from various sites you might visit – similar to the Honey add-in which offers coupons and vouchers proactively when you visit e-commerce sites.
There have been some recent updates to Shopping, including a price tracking feature which tells you if a specific item has been reduced in price recently – as with all these things, YMMV depending on the retailer and your own location, but it’s certainly worth a look – find out more, and see which retailers are supporting the Shopping feature with coupons and price alerts.
When the pandemic first hit, many people realised that fast, reliable home broadband was an essential utility rather than a nice-to-have. With potentially more people in the house sharing the connection all day, streaming video and doing online meetings, contention in the domestic environment became something of an issue, where one user can hog the available bandwidth to the detriment of others.
The same issue occurs en masse at the broadband provider’s network, where their resources are shared between users on the assumption that they won’t see all of them demanding full speed at the same time: a contention ratio of 50:1 is pretty common, meaning if your neighbours are hammering their connection then it may affect you (assuming you’re on the same provider).
By now, we should all be used to the challenge of making your home network better – plugging into a wired network port to avoid poor WiFi signal, making sure other devices don’t do massive downloads during the working day. Check the speed of your network using one of the many tools available – like this one from Microsoft Research; if you search on Bing.com for just speed test then you’ll get a simple speedometer view.
If you’re using Teams or other realtime conferencing tools, it’s arguably more important to look at the latency (or “ping”) and the upload speed, than focussing on the headline download speed; if you have a device uploading lots of data, it might rob your bandwidth and ramp up the latency, which will be the enemy of any kind of synchronous comms. Check your latency over time with an online tool (like TestMy Latency) or download WinMTR to look for spikes in latency.
It’s worth making sure your PC isn’t causing issues itself, by running out of memory or pegging out the CPU and therefore giving a poor experience: the topic of looking for poor home network perf has been covered previously in ToW #533 amongst others.
Microsoft Teams has added some built-in monitoring and data collection capabilities, reported back to a central admin dashboard (Set up Call Quality Dashboard (CQD), and now semi-realtime data is visible in the Teams client itself.
When in a call, go to the … menu and look for Call health. Click on the various “view more… data >” buttons to see further detail, like the size and rate of the video you’re sending to the call you’re currently on. If your colleagues tell you that the quality of your video is poor, take a look in there to see what you’re actually sending.
As an end user, see here to understand how to interpret the various data. Hover over the little info icons to the side of each headline to see a bubble explaining in one-line what this is measuring. It’s quite interesting.
For admin guidance on what bandwidth and latency requirements you should have to perform acceptably, see here.
|As the Holiday Season starts to loom (though some retailers’ tasteful décor has been in the aisles since late August), technology fans’ thoughts turn to Black Friday and the inevitable gift flinging that follows. The Global Pandemic™ and its spin-off, The Supply Chain Nightmare®, has dealt a shortage of what uninformed pundits refer to as “computer chips” amongst many other issues.
This means that even if big ships weren’t in the wrong place and there was anyone left to drive the containerloads of toot they ordinarily carry, the actual goods themselves might be in shorter supply than expected. All sorts of consumer electronics from gadgets to motor cars have been affected by shortfall in capacity at silicon fabs.
If you haven’t got your planned-for Xbox Series X console yet, then good luck in finding any in stock – there are numerous twitter accounts and stock scraping websites out there which might help, assuming you don’t want to get scalped on eBay. Maybe you’ll need to stick with what you have already and just wait until 2022 to get the top spec console, or settle for a Series S in the meantime.
Good news for all Xbox console gamers, though – the latest release in the mammoth Forza series has arrived.
Originally a racing simulation franchise to rival the PlayStation’s Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport appealed to driving sim types, but Forza Horizon – a more arcade-style driving game which has you hooning around an open world in all kinds of exotic cars – has reached a far wider audience. Set in Mexico (or a fictionalized variant thereof), FH5 has hit the ground running with over 1 million gamers already.
Forza Horizon 5 is available for PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series S / X. Already available on Xbox Game Pass, it can be downloaded free with the right subscription, though it might take a while to complete the installation…
If you can’t wait to play it (or you just fancy a quick try without spending all day installing it), why not run it from the cloud instead?
The smoothness of the graphics probably won’t be quite as good as having it locally, but with Game Pass Ultimate you can try the streaming experience which has been in beta for a while now. Cloud Gaming is available on Apple, Android and Windows devices.
Simply plug in an Xbox controller via USB or connect via Bluetooth, and your device will be the front end to the game which is actually running in an Azure datacenter, on one of many Xbox Series X blades.
Even modest spec PCs like the original Surface Go can cut a credible job for a little Friday night entertainment.
Microsoft has always been good at having several ways of doing the same thing. Internal competition was encouraged with the idea that if several teams built solutions for the same problem, it would spur them all on and the best would win out. The Best Laid Plans don’t always work, and sometimes politics and machination gets in the way.
One modern incarnation of the multiple-ways principle is electronic mail; despite many attempts to replace email with other means of messaging, persistent chat etc, it’s still a huge deal (especially in business) and it’s still growing.
In the days when companies ran their own IT on-premises, there was Exchange, and the companion mail client Outlook arrived shortly after. Web-based consumer services like Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail changed the expectations of many users. Home and work email services have been getting closer in form and function since.
Microsoft’s current email clients are quite diverged: you can use the full-fat Outlook application to connect to your business email as well as your private
The Mail app is pretty good – it can connect to a variety of sources including Office 365, so while it might not be an ideal primary business email application, it can be a good way of connecting to multiple personal email services.
One feature which appeared in different ways across multiple services and apps is the idea of Snoozing your email; initially pioneered by Gmail, others followed suit. It’s a different concept to flags and reminders, rather if you select an email and say snooze until 10am tomorrow, it will literally disappear from your inbox and it would reappear at the top of the pile the following morning.
Well, that’s how it works on some combinations. In the browser versions of both Hotmail / Outlook.com and Exchange/Office365, it works as you’d expect – you Snooze an email and it is actually moved into the Scheduled email folder (and you’ll see when it is later due to reappear in Inbox if you look in there). At the elected time, it shows up again on at the top of the mailbox. Let’s compare to some other Microsoft clients & services…
Outlook client and Office 365 – there is no snooze feature. Sorry. Just be more organised. If you snooze an email from another client, it will disappear from Inbox, but when it reappears, it’ll be in the same place as it was before – eg. if you Snooze a 9am email from the web app until 1pm, it will move into the Scheduled folder – but when it moves back into the Inbox, the Outlook and Windows Mail clients will show it down at 9am again so you might as well flag it and be done.
Windows Mail client with Outlook.com or Office 365 – Zip. Too bad.
Mobile Outlook and Web clients on Outlook.com or Office 365– Mail disappears and shows up again at the allotted time, right at the top of the mailbox. In the web clients, you’ll see the time stamp of the message as if it has literally just arrived; in the mobile version, though the message is ordered correctly (eg a 9am snooze to reappear at 1pm will show up between 12:30 and 1:15 mails), the displayed time is correct but a little clock icon is shown alongside. Clever.
At some point, there is a plan to deliver a single, unified, email client. An Ignite 2020 session talked about the roadmap and further commentary speculated that the One Outlook client may be coming, but isn’t going to be with us for some time yet.