650 – All hands meetings

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Even though Dilbert isn’t funny any more there have been some good ones in the past, satirising corporate life. People who used to be cubicle or office based might struggle to deal with the new reality that most office workers would rather not be in the office 5-days-a week, 9 to 5, yet bosses would prefer people to not be slacking off at home in their PJs.

Zoom, Teams and other platforms adopted a metaphor in an online meeting, where attendees can figuritively raise their hand so they can be asked to speak. It works well when the people running the meeting have the discipline to check that they don’t have a forest of lifted paws before asking, “are there any questions?” to their audience.

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It helps if presenters are not doing the lowest-common-denominator thing of sharing their desktop to present slides. Using Teams’ own slide sharing means you can see the chat, and who’s joined, and whether they have their hand raised.

clip_image004Meeting participants also need to have the practice of raising their hand and waiting to be invited to talk, rather than blaring in to raise new topics or talk over others. Other attendees can also see who has their hand raised (look in the video gallery and you may notice those who have their hand raised are highlighted) and if you look in the People pane, you’ll see the order that attendees raised their hands as well, so if you’re the organizer then you can ask the top and most patient questioner to contribute at a point that makes sense.

A new etiquette has sprung up in hybrid meetings, though – how to balance commentary from remote attendees with chatter that’s happening in the room? Ordinarily, you’d rely on body language in a meeting room to decide it’s time to interject, nodding and perhaps making hand gestures yourself.

When some / half / most of the attendees are remote but you’re in the physical meeting room, it might be prudent to actually join the same Teams meeting on your PC – you’d only be sitting in the room looking at email on your screen anyway – and use the hand raise function before speaking, even if you’re sitting next to other contributors. This way, you’re on the same footing as all the remote attendees and it shows that you are at least giving the pretence of thinking about them too.

clip_image006When joining a Teams meeting on your PC, there’s a yeah-yeah dialog box which pops up just before entering the “room”, which presents various potentially relevant audio related options. The norm would be to use comptuer audio, then select what speakers/mic you want to use.

These join options can also give you a number to dial in to (or be called by the meeting, so you can stay silent and camera-less on somebody else’s dollar).

If you’re the first to join while in a physical Teams Room, you could bring the room system into your meeting and control it from your machine.


clip_image008If you are a bod in the room, though, then choose “Don’t use audio” to avoid any mic or speaker issues, causing endless echo. That way, you can enter the online meeting while being in the actual room, interact with other attendees on chat and use features like reactions and hand raising just as if you’re sitting at home.

Just remember that you are, actually, in front of other people, and also remember to change the default option back to “Computer audio” next time you enter a truly remote meeting, or you’ll spend the first few minutes saying “hello, hello? Can you hear me…?”

649 – Exploring SharePoint libraries

clip_image002SharePoint is now old enough that it could walk into a bar and buy itself a beer. It has changed a lot over the versions; starting out as a server product that would produce “portals” (or “digital dashboards”) it grew quickly to being rather more document-centric. SharePoint became the back-end for OneDrive for Business storage, and both have evolved a long way.

Two years ago, SharePoint was said to be used by over 200 million users. The following year, the Gartner MQ had it way out in front on the “Ability to Execute” Y-axis and slightly behind only one other supplier on the “Completeness of Vision” X-axis. It won’t be long now for the next MQ report to appear.

Nowadays, SharePoint underpins quite a lot of Microsoft 365 functionality, such as apps like Lists which provide a groovier UI over the top of the base web services, and the document oriented collab in Teams.

clip_image004If you look at a file library in Teams, you’ll see a bunch of SharePoint-y options – you can Sync the content offline and it will be held offline, using OneDrive to sync it (and if you like, syncing only the files you’ve opened rather than the whole shebang).

clip_image006The Sync’ed libraries show up in the Windows Explorer app, and in any number of applications’ File | Open / Save dialog boxes, so you can access and interact with the files through the apps you use rather than browsing to SharePoint.

You’ll see a collection of folders that have been set up to Sync, shown with your organization name, alongside any personal OneDrive and OneDrive for Business synced libraries.

The Download option (next to Sync on the Toolbar in Teams), creates a single ZIP file your computer, with the entire contents of the folder you’re looking at, so use it carefully.

clip_image008One somewhat overlooked option further to the right of the toolbar (or may be on the ellipsis (“…”) menu): Add shortcut to OneDrive. This creates a shortcut link to the current SharePoint folder within your main OneDrive for Business storage, making it easy to find that SharePoint folder in the future, even though it’s not synced offline. The Add shortcut option is also visible on the ellipsis to the right of sub-folders when viewed in SharePoint or Teams.

Don’t add shortcuts to libraries – or sub-folders – which are already being Synced offline. That would be bad.

One downside to the OneDrive shortcut approach is that it just dumps the link into “My Files”, which is the root folder in OneDrive. The shortcut is named the same as the original source – so if you have lots of Teams folders with the same name (eg “Documents”), they will clash with each other as adding a new link would try to create a shortcut with the same name as one that exists already.

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One solution would be to create a subfolder in OneDrive, called Sites (or similar), and after creating the shortcut to your latest Teams/SharePoint site, go to the root OneDrive folder and move your new shortcut – maybe renaming it too, so you can see what its parent site was (since the shortcut doesn’t make it clear what the source SharePoint site is) – you’d then have a Sites folder with lots of Shortcuts like Project Team – Documents etc.

Another side benefit of using shortcuts rather than Syncing offline, is that if you have multiple PCs – or feel like accessing OneDrive through a browser on a different machine altogether – you will always have access to the same collection of shortcuts, whereas the Sync offline capability is configured separately on each machine.

647 – Power of the Toys

imageAfter Windows 95 appeared on 25 August 1995, one of the later updates was to release a bunch of tweaks and addons which had been built to enhance the OS, but not considered mainstream enough to include them in the box – the Windows 95 PowerToys. They included such amazing advances as a round clock, or tools to help manage the country of your modem. Some more history of the PowerToys was covered back in 2005 by veteran commentator Raymond Chen.

In 2019, the Power Toys name was dusted down for a new run at building addins to Windows, this time using an open source approach; the vision document lays out what the team wants to achieve, and they are steadily releasing new versions with fixes, improvements and new features. You can find Power Toys in the Microsoft Store, or if you like to do to prove your geek creds, you can go straight to GitHub and clip_image002download it.

Recently, v0.62 came out and added some new functions, like a draggable box (Screen Ruler) which shows you the exact number of pixels between the start point and the mouse – useful if you’re looking to figure out how large a part of your screen is.

There’s clip_image004a neat Text Extractor tool which can take a selected area of an image and read the text within it straight to the clipboard – handy if you needed to get the serial number from a piece of electronics; take a picture on your mobile of the tiny writing on the back of the device, and quickly extract the details for pasting into some other app or website.

Other PowerToys of note include the Mouse Utilities, which can help find the mouse on screen – a double-tap of the CTRL key and you’ll get a temporary spotlight on the mouse, which can be super useful if you have multiple monitors and are not quite sure where the pointer has gone.

646 – Finding stuff in OneNote

clip_image002[6]Many people ❤️ OneNote. It has evolved much over the ~20 years since it sprang from the “Scribbler” project at the turn of the century and was released in the Office 2003 wave, under the name which the developers disdainfully referred to as “Onay-no-tay”. A recent update to the OneNote strategy for Windows was covered in Tip #632.

clip_image004[4]There were other OneNote tips a few weeks previously, in Tip #617, including OneTastic, a great addin to the traditional desktop app – the Metro Modern app never had an addin capability.

As well as powerful macro capabilities, which can do things like generate tables of contents or sort pages and other works in ways that the base app doesn’t offer, the OneTastic addin includes the OneCalendar application – also available to install separately – which lets you see which OneNote pages were edited on each day.

If you keep a note of every meeting, stored in different places – by topic, by customer etc – then this is invaluable when it comes to finding notes, as you can see what you last wrote on a given day.

Of course, OneNote has searching capability where you could look across notebooks for key words. There is the ability to Tag notes too, and you can search across notebooks for tagged content.

clip_image006[4]A powerful yet somewhat hidden search capability in desktop OneNote is also available – you can press CTRL+F to search on a given page, or CTRL+E to run a simple query across multiple places, for where a particular word is mentioned.

clip_image008[4]Look, however, at the “Pin Search Results (Alt+O)” option at the bottom – it opens search results in a pane to the side, and lets you sort by different criteria, e.g. date modified.

This ALT+O option can only be invoked from within existing search results, so if you want to find all your recent notes with a searched-for word, press CTRL+E to start, then ALT+O and search by date modified to see the results clustered by month.

645 – mobile ad blocking

It's always DNS

The internet just wouldn’t work without the magic that is the Domain Name System, or DNS. If you are not a networking guru, this service is effectively the index of internet hosts (not just websites but also anything else that offers a service on the net), and is used to find the actual address that your computer will connect to, using a name as the reference.

If you put www.bbc.co.uk into your browser, that means you want to connect to a machine called www which belongs to the domain bbc.co.uk, and a beautiful yet simply elaborate system is used to figure out how to find that domain, get the address(es) of the actual host, and provide the info back to your device so you can connect to it and request information.

Being the one service to bind it all also means DNS is often the thing that brings everything to a halt, eg. if your home router can’t connect to your ISP’s DNS server, then you’re basically unable to communicate with the rest of the world as you’d be unable to find anything (unless you hard-code your machine to use a different DNS, like CloudFlare’s 1.1.1.1 or Google’s 8.8.8.8).

Futzing about with DNS can sometimes bring benefits, though. One such is that for the many webpages which contain embedded adverts or clickbait links, if your browser is unable to connect to the source of the advert, then it might just not show the content at all. On desktop computers, you could use ad blocker browser extensions of all kinds, but on mobile devices your choices are a bit more limited.

Stupid Ad from Microsoft Start appIf you rely on mobile apps like Google News or Microsoft Start, which show content within the app and have no ability to install 3rd party browser extensions, you may have to take more action to block out all the insidious and stupid adverts.

A true geek’s solution at home could be to set up a Pi-hole; a DNS server (traditionally targeted to run on a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, hence the name) which will filter out the garbage by deliberately blocking the URL-to-address resolution of thousands of known advertisers or clickbait providers. Great when you’re on the home network, but what about if on the move and connected to another network?

One possible solution here is to use a provider like NextDNS, which has been described as effectively running a Pi-hole in the cloud for you to use.

Enable NextDNS on AndroidFree for up to 300,000 name resolutions (which sounds like a lot, but in reality, isn’t), it’s a snap to try out and if you sign up, you’ll be given simple instructions on how to plug it into your phone, tablet, desktop or even home router, so as to extend protection to every device connecting through that network.

Insidious ad has been silently blockedDNS queries would be routed to the NextDNS service and if the requested host is from one of a plethora of blocked sites – not just ads, but known trackers, phishing links etc too – then it will simply return a dud response as if the site doesn’t exist.

Your app or browser will either show you an empty box, maybe an inline error frame, or it may silently move on and display nothing at all. Just one small victory!

Using a service like this – others are available – can be switched on or off quickly (in Android, it takes the form of a single switch to configure a Private DNS with a URL unique to your account), and works regardless of whether you’re on Wi-Fi or mobile connectivity.

643 – Wireless extensions

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A computer on every desk and in every home”; that original Microsoft motto, all the way back from a time when any sane person would have said it was nuts. Looking back now, though – hands up, who has only the one computer at home?

clip_image004[4]The WindowsKey+P shortcut key has been used since Windows 7, for sending your screen output to another device. At one point, this was maybe a meeting room’s projector – hence “+P”. You’d plug it into the VGA port on your laptop, press Win+P and you’re away. These days, does anyone “project”? Or just mirror or extend their desktop to another connected display or monitor?

You’ll commonly be able to wirelessly “project” to a large screen on the wall in a meeting room nowadays, rather than having to faff about with ceiling-mounted projectors, with all their bulb issues, noisy fans and the multitude of connectors required.

clip_image006[4]Windows 10 and 11 has a nice wireless projection UI, used to “Cast” to a wirelessly-available device, such as a TV which uses the somewhat messy Miracast standard. Either through native support, or by adding a media stick like Roku, Chromecast or FireTV, most TVs can be made to receive the display output of your laptop.

One somewhat underappreciated feature, though, is the ability to set your PC to be the recipient of wireless projection from another machine. This could be used to show something to a nearby colleague, displaying your desktop on their PC, or to share your PC screen to a room where someone else is currently plugged into the screen / projector, and you can project to their machine rather than unplugging them.

Lesser known is the ability to wirelessly extend your desktop to another PC, effectively using it as a 2nd monitor.

clip_image008[4]To kick off proceedings, press Start and type project to find the shortcut to Projection Settings.

If you haven’t set it up previously, you’ll need to add the Wireless Display optional feature; have a look through the others in the same dialog to see if there’s anything else that takes your fancy.

After adding Wireless Display, clip_image010[4]you’ll be able to set various options about how and when to receive connections. Start the “Connect” app on the destination PC and you can run a source desktop in a window or make it full-screen.

clip_image012[4]This projection feature can be used to extend the desktop of your main machine onto a second PC.

If you have a spare laptop or a home desktop PC which has Wi-Fi capability, you could set it up to be the recipient of projection from your main work machine, as long as they’re both on the same wireless network, and without the need to join in domains or have the icy grip of corporate control extended to your own hardware.

Select the option to extend your desktop to the remote machine and you can use it just like an additional monitor.

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As many of us are used to having multiple screens in our home office, it could be worth carrying a second laptop if you go into an actual office where decent 2nd screens might not be available.

Having better kit at home than in the office is just one thing to deal with when going back to a workplace


642 – Finding work stuff

Data storage has become very cheap over the decades – a while ago, ComputerWorld wrote an article, saying that when it was founded 50 years previous, a 1MB hard disk would cost you $1M, and in 2017, that would work out at $0.02. 5 years later, $0.02 would get >1GB, more than 1,000 times as much.

clip_image002[4]This profusion has turned many of us into pilers – what’s the point of organizing data and deleting old stuff, be that files, emails, camera roll photos?

Outlook has a pretty good search function built in. OneDrive photos has some great organizing and filtering capabilities (like On This Day, or if you have GPS enabled on your camera/phone, you can easily group photos by the location taken from).

clip_image004[4]Still in OneDrive, there is also some AI-based tagging of your pics, which can sometimes be a bit hit & miss… but more often than not gets it about right.

While browsing “All Photos”, if you mouse-over to the right, you’ll get a scrollable timeline too (similar to the Windows Photos app), so you can quickly jump to a reference date.

Assuming you’re using Microsoft 365 / Office 365 at your workplace, there are other ways to find stuff that is more work-related, like documents, email and messages. One easily overlooked source is the “new tab” experience within the Edge browser.

clip_image006[4]The content on the default home page can be customized in a variety of ways, from choosing whether to show a background image or keep it clear; to displaying content from various “news” providers and clickbait advertisers that Microsoft News / MSN has elected to present to you, or hiding that altogether.

You can do some filtering of that content too, though for work purposes, many people may want to leave the page layout in “Focused”, which puts a link bar at the bottom and hides the content to be a scroll away.

Edge Profiling

If you have a “Work” profile (or you only have a single profile) and it is connected to your work account – ie your Microsoft 365/ Office 365 email address rather than your personal one – then you’ll see a “Microsoft 365” link within the list of content providers, which gives you a simple view of your most recent documents, SharePoint sites you visit and a whole lot more. To learn more about this Edge Enterprise tab, see here.

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Also, you’ll see the search box containing your company name – it uses Bing to search for whatever you put in there (somewhat controversially, regardless of what your default search engine in the browser is…). Edge doesn’t give you the option – like IE used to – of starting a tab with a completely blank page, though there are hacks to make that work.

clip_image010[4]If you stick with the standard new tab, it will also give you the choice of restricting your search to “Work”, so looking at documents and the likes. You’ll see a list of content sources clip_image012[4]displayed on the left side as tabs, allowing you to filter what you’re looking for or where you want to search.

There’s a fairly new one that searches “Messages”. At least for now, that means Outlook and / or Teams messages, but it could be really useful when trying to remember if a conversation you had was in email or in a Teams chat.

A quick way to jump to this section is to go to aka.ms/messages

– regardless of which browser you’re using, as it uses the Bing.com/work back end.

641 – What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?

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Time-telling technology has always been a hot-bed of invention, from the radically precise first marine chronometer in the early 18th century, allowing more accurate navigation on long sea voyages, to atomic clocks that can measure time with the accuracy of one millionth of a second over 10 years.

clip_image004Computers and smart phones probably never need your intervention to set the time, except when travelling abroad and you want to manually manage the time zone – if you prefer not to let the machine do that for you. To play with the time settings in Windows, just right-click on the clock in the system tray and choose to adjust from there.

clip_image006If you’d like to know what the actual time is, maybe after a power cut has blanked the clock on your cooker or you need to adjust because of Daylight Savings Time, how do you know what the real time is? Call the Speaking Clock? Switch on TV news and wait for the clock in the corner to click over one more minute?

Even better than that, check out time.is, a service synchronized with an atomic clock and which purports to figure out how accurate your computer’s clock is compared with the real time. Open the time.is site on your mobile phone and you’re ready for next time you have to set the clock on your video recorder or bedside alarm.

The chronometer (“time” and “measure”) evolved from a ship’s device for navigation and became a byword for a really accurate watch (they even had competitions until the late 1960s for the manufacturer who could make the most accurate timepiece – right up until the Japanese started beating the organising Swiss at their own game, so they took their ball away and went home). Meanwhile chronographs (“time” and “write”) were devices made to accurately measure time gone by, such as at the request of France’s King Louis XVIII, who wanted to know exactly how long his horse races lasted. Early devices actually marked the passage of time on the dial with a pen.

clip_image008In Windows, you can easily time events or have countdown timers that alert you when your eggs are boiled or it’s time to start working again – look in the Swiss Army Knife that is the Clock app. You can display multiple timers in one window if necessary, make a single timer go full screen (useful if you’re presenting and counting down to getting started) or pop out to a side window.

If you wear an old-fashioned watch, you may have a simple way to measure elapsed time –  some will have built-in timers, and others will have a moveable bezel which lets you rotate the zero-marker to where the minute hand is pointing at the start of something you want to time.

clip_image010clip_image012If you look at the watch a few minutes from now, you’ll see how many markers on the bezel the minute hand has moved on by – not exactly sub-second accurate but it’s good enough for the “about 10 minutes” type measurement.

You could also reverse the process and set the bezel’s 50 minute marker at the minute hand, so counting down 10 minutes towards the zero marker instead. You do need to keep an eye on it as there’s no alarm.

clip_image014Contemporary chronographs are analogue watches with built-in stopwatch functions, usually controlled by start and stop buttons on the side. They may count to fractions of a second marked around the edge, and some sport Tachymetre marking around the outside – designed to let you calculate how fast something is travelling as it goes over a set distance, or how far you’ve travelled if you know your constant speed.

It’s hardly red-hot technology, but millions of watches have this fantastically complicated but nowadays basically useless feature. They have to sell wrist furniture somehow.

Perhaps the most over-sold and fantastically-named wrist watch from the 1960s was the now re-issued Croton Nivada Grenchen Chronomaster Aviator Sea Diver – a single device that could be used for so many things as it combined various chronograph and bezel-rotating features in one 38mm-wide watch, billed as a “wrist-sized computer”.

Just make sure you have a magnifying glass handy to be able to read all the tiny markers and numbers on it.

640 – Smart Dates

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For all the time that computers have been used, date handling has been a problem. Bad dates cause problems from sorting lists to processing payments, yet many systems force the user to figure out what it expects by way of date entry – from web sites which force 2-digits (a la 01/01/22 vs 1/1/22) to non-localised apps which assume a date format without allowing it to be changed?

If you ever say a date out loud like “this report is due by eight-one”, meaning 8/1 or 1st August, then 91% of the world’s population will need to interpret that differently to how they represent dates, since most will expect the format to be day-month-year, or arguably most sensibly, year-month-day.

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Try saving things like expense reports or invoices using the file name starting yy-mm-dd or even yyyy-mm-dd and they’ll be much easier to handle (aside from just sorting by created date, of course).

When a user enters a date into a Windows app, the vast majority will respect the format set by the operating system, known as the User Locale.

clip_image006That doesn’t help too much if the author of a spreadsheet – for example – is in one locale and clip_image008other users are elsewhere; if the default date format is numeric, then the field remains in the format of the author, and that may cause befuddlement.

Switching display format to Long Date – or even setting a shorter custom format – could avoid confusion. Under the covers, Excel still stores the date in a universal format, but people might interpret it incorrectly when display in a different format.

clip_image010Other tools can handle dates in surprisingly smart ways – even since its first version in 1997, Outlook lets you enter text into date windows like a Due Date for reminders or tasks – any time you are presented a date field that lets you type as well as select a date from a calendar picker, you can put stuff in like tomorrow, 2 weeks, next Friday, third Tuesday in October etc. There are shorter versions – 2w, 3m 10d – or you can string things together, like Monday before Christmas.

clip_image012Microsoft To Do has also has some date smarts; if you type in a new task to track, it can read dates and times out of your task description and automatically set due dates and Reminders.

clip_image014It has other kinds of parsing – in 3 days etc – though not quite as comprehensive as Outlook’s. There are also a load of special dates recognised (at least in the US).

So far, this functionality is available on Windows and iOS apps and for the most part it’s really neat. If it detects a date you don’t like – you’re suggesting something may happen, rather than it is happening on 1st May, for example – then just hit backspace to clear that association.