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


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.

638 – Tracking and Mapping

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Looking back over the smartphone era of the last 15 or so years, one of the most transformative technologies is the confluence of mapping and geo-location, providing route guidance, finding things and even people. How did we manage to make our way around cities before maps in the palm of our hands? Just exit a tube or subway station anywhere in the world, and observe the herds of people spinning around looking at their phone trying to get a GPS fix.

Although Microsoft ceded the mobile phone space around 5 years ago, effectively leaving Android and iOS as the only options, the Bing Maps service still survives, even if fewer websites and mobile apps make use of it today. clip_image003[4]Windows 11 comes with a built-in Maps app which offers some decent functionality (and offline use), but lacks some of the features of Bing Maps in a browser, like the Ordnance Survey view showing public footpaths and other attractions in the UK (if you have the country setting to United Kingdom, that is).

Given the lack of “Bing Maps mobile” – and the commensurate lack of usage – the data that sits alongside may be less accurate, too; look at the reviews on the Windows Maps app in the store, and the main complaints are from people who don’t want it at all or comments about the map and PoI data being stale.

clip_image005[4]Some neat features in Bing Maps make it stand out from others – the Bird’s Eye view is cool, though not always as fresh or widely available as it used to be.

The team still updates imagery for the web view, provides data to the awesome 3D Cities feature in Windows Maps and contributes to the amazing scenery in Flight Simulator (even if some modders are switching Flight Sim to using Google Maps instead).

Bing Maps in a browser does sometimes offer a City Flyover option, which is akin to the Flight Sim view.

clip_image007[4]clip_image009[4]Bing’s Streetside can be sparse compared to Google’s Street View, even though the Google Maps car is sometimes thwarted with a “None Shall Pass” situation. Search the web and there are many – some NSFW – weird attractions found on Street View.

Some odd things can be found on Streetside too.

Apple used Google Maps data for its own maps app on the iPhone at first, but replaced with its own service which was at first poorly received. 10 years later, Apple Maps – available, of course, only to fruity device users – does a much better job and purports to be less cavalier with the user’s data than the advertising company. Despite a much larger number of users flocking to the universally available Google Maps, Apple Maps provides a good service for iOS users, and is there by default.

clip_image011[4]If you choose to surrender the use of your personal data to the advertising industry, Google Maps does offer some very useful capabilities in recording where you’ve been; it will remind you where you parked your car and let you see if you’ve visited a particular place before, and when.

clip_image013[4]If your family and friends consent, you can also share your whereabouts in real time, showing a pin in the map where they are, and when the location was last recorded.

This could be handy for checking if your kids are where they’re supposed to be, for friends arranging to meet or just knowing when to expect someone to come home. You can enable sharing of your location to each specified contact for a limited time or until it’s turned off, and it will also let you see their name, picture and other info including (!) battery level of their phone.

clip_image015[4]Sign into Google Maps on your computer, and you’ll be able to keep track of people a little more easily, too (as well as manage your own location sharing), and review your own timeline of where you’ve been. It’s usually somewhat fascinating and sometimes a little creepy.

Fortunately, you can choose to edit or remove certain items of data, export it to other formats or disable the collection of it altogether.

You give up some control of personal data, and you get some benefit from it.

As some say, them’s the breaks.

637 – Focus and disturbance

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Happy New Year! Now that we’re into the second half of 2022, we can look forward to new stuff coming to Windows 11, in the guise of the next update, currently in test with the Windows Insiders and due sometime soon, known as release 22H2.

This new version comes with a bunch of visual and some functional tweaks (which some might argue should have been like that since the release of Win11 nearly a year ago). The Start menu has had some attention, something to be revisited in a future Tip.

One welcome area of deeper integration is a broad subject covered in ToWs passim – the varied ways of managing do not disturb, quiet hours and attempting to focus.

clip_image004In Win11 22H2, the Focus sessions feature which was previously added to the Clock app has now been tied into the Windows shell more neatly – if you click on the date/time on your taskbar to show the calendar (or press WindowsKey+N to see notifications, which does the same thing), you’ll see a little Focus button with an adjustable time next to it.

clip_image006Click that and it will launch a new mode of the Clock app which displays a simple control showing the elapsed time on a circle, and clicking on the square in the middle will stop the session. The expand icon on the top left will launch Clock showing the Focus blade, also displaying To Do Tasks, Spotify (if you have it set up) and a history of today’s other Focus sessions.

Settings for Focus have also been placed in the main system Settings app, providing some configuration on what happens during a Focus session (and you can start a new session from there too):

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At least for now, there’s still no Teams or Outlook integration so merely being in Focus won’t change your Teams availability status, nor will it switch Outlook into Offline mode as did the old internal-to-MS “FocusTime” app.

clip_image010The Do Not Disturb feature in Windows 11 also has some rich settings to make sure your machine doesn’t give you notifications at inappropriate times – including a little button next to the notifications list on WinKey+N. If DND is switched on either here or by an automatic rule, you’ll also see a little bell icon emitting Zzs, on the taskbar next to the clock. Subtle yet useful.

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Still more focusing options are offered by Viva Insights – that has the ability to proactively book time in your schedule to ensure you can focus, and will silence chats and so on while you’re supposed to be concentrating.

Read more here.

To make your focus all the more effective, maybe go and grab a coffee or something stronger.

634 – M’aidez, m’aidez

Quick Assist logoThe internationally recognized distress signal “May-day!”, as used by pilots heading for trouble among other scenarios, was chosen as an anglicisation of the French “m’aidez”, or “help me”, due to difficulties of understanding other terms over poor quality radio.

With much less serious consequences, those of us with a technical bent might often be asked to help family or friends who have problems with their computer, and may turn to remotely taking over their machine –  from desktop sharing in Teams or Skype, to using software that should be simpler for the technologically challenged to initiate so you can help them out.

TeamViewer is one such bit of software that’s relatively easy to install and configure, so it’s unfortunately a fave of the scammers who prey on vulnerable people by phoning them up and warning that Microsoft has detected a problem with their computer, and they need to get help to fix it.

Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support.

Quick Assist updateIf you do want to get or give help from a Windows PC, a venerable in-box inclusion called Quick Assist could be worth a look – it has recently been updated and is delivered via the Microsoft Store, which now has support for any Windows app and not just UWP and PWA. More on that announcement from Build, here.

Sharing security codeThe gist with Quick Assist is that you over the phone, you could talk your victim friend through the process to start it up (Start -> type assist ENTER), then you do the same. The first screen gives an option to enter a code provided, or if you are the one doing the remote assisting, click the button to Assist another person, and you’ll be given a time-limited alphanumeric code to provide the other party.

They type this is to the dialog on their end, and a secure connection is established, whereupon they can choose to share their screen in view-only mode, or they can offer to give you control.

After a couple of prompts to validate that this is really what they want to do, you would see the recipient’s desktop in a window and have a variety of control icons around it, like a short cut to run Task Manager on their machine, shut it down or send messages back and forth between both of you. Unfortunately, the chat history is not preserved but it’s a good enough way to give short instructions.

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627 – Sleeping as Edge hits the ton

clip_image002Ever since Microsoft switched the Edge browser from its own page rendering technology to instead use the open-source Chromium, it benefits from regular rolling updates and the version number keeps increasing to match. If you use Edge already, you can see what release you have by going to the “…” menu > Help and Feedback > About Microsoft Edge or paste edge://settings/help into the address bar.

The release number ticked over from 99 to 100 recently, causing a few legacy websites to fall over: when you visit any site, your browser’s User Agent String identifies to the web server what type of client it’s dealing with, including the version number (so the server can modify the page to suit the client, if necessary).

In Shades of Y2K, a few sites balked at a browser showing up with a 3-digit number – if you have problems with any, you could make Edge stick to telling sites it’s running v99 – go to edge://flags/#force-major-version-to-minor on the address bar. Mozilla – creators of the Firefox browser which also uses Chromium – tracked known issues in sites and which ones have been fixed.

As well as taking whatever goodies come from the evolution of Chromium, the Edge development team can devote more of their time building stuff with a view to making Edge better than other browsers.

clip_image004One feature which made it into Edge a while back is sleeping tabs; meaning open tabs you haven’t used it for a while can be put into an inactive mode and consume less memory, CPU and ultimately, power.

Look in Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC) and you’ll likely see lots of entries underneath the Edge application; some are processes in support of the overall app, Extensions and the like, but you’ll also see each Tab appear separately. If you think Edge is running amok, it’s worth looking here to see if some specific site is chewing up CPU and consuming lots of memory.

clip_image006Tab sleeping has been updated and given extra capabilities to manage tabs which are inter-connected, reckoned to mean that 8% more tabs will be put to sleep. When a tab is dozing, it typically saves 99% of CPU and 85% of memory compared to when running.

Other updates which came into v100 include some changes to handling of PDF files and some tweaks to policy-based control and other improvements to the way the browser works.

The Performance view on sleeping tabs Is rolling out now; if you don’t see it in Settings, then sit tight, or try visiting the Edge Insiders site and install one of the test versions, either Canary (daily updates – not really recommended for the average user), Dev or Beta; pre-release and stable versions of the browser can be run side-by-side so there’s low risk in having both on your machine.

For more information on browser evollution, keep an eye on the release notes for the Beta channel and watch the release schedule for when to expect further browser updates. There’s a feature tracker too, to see what’s in development and learn what’s coming, and summary news is regularly shared via the What’s New blog.

626 – Android Link

clip_image002Leaving aside dewy-eyed recollections of Windows Phone, Android and iOS mirror Windows and MacOS in many ways – the latter being more closed and single-supplier while the former is relatively open and available from a large number of providers. Android has a far larger market share than iOS, even if the cognoscenti seem to flock to the Apple device.

Microsoft has made great strides in the Satya Nadella era to embrace other ecosystems, from releasing Office apps for iOS to wide support of Android to emulate some of the best bits of Windows Phone.

clip_image004One way of making your Android device more integrated to your Windows PC has just been refreshed and renamed – Phone Link.

Previously known as Your Phone, this app lets you access a variety of features of your phone from your PC; from reading and sending SMS messages and working with photos easily, to making and taking calls using your PC as a headset to the phone.

clip_image006The UI has been updated to follow Windows 11 design, the app is easy to set up and activate – head to aka.ms/phonelink.

There are some things you can’t easily do with Phone Link, though – while it will mirror notifications you receive on the phone, it doesn’t necessarily allow you to interact with the app that generated them (eg a notification from Twitter won’t let you open the Twitter app to view the full thing). It does allow you to clear notifications though, so if you’re the type with loads of unacknowledged notification badges on your phone, this could be a good way to get rid of them.

While on the topic of mirroring, it is also possible to use WhatsApp on your PC – so you can type messages and paste photos etc into WhatsApp messages, without dealing with the vagaries of autocorrect on the phone.

625 – Journaling now and then

Compaq Tablet PCMemoirs and autobiographies are the top selling non-fiction books for good reason, as people like to recall past events through the words and thoughts of someone who was there, in the room or even in the driving seat. World leaders who write their tell-all book on what happened 20+ years ago, better have great memories or perhaps a trove of notes and diary entries from the time. If they are fans of journaling, they would have of-the-moment musings, written down to help clear their minds at the time – on committing thoughts to her diary, Anne Frank wrote, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

Turning to technology and looking back to relatively near-term history brings up all kinds of product that was ahead of its time or was ultimately overtaken by other developments that nobody saw coming. Sometimes, the perfect blend of genius, timing, execution and luck combines and creates a durable and wildly successful category – like the Smartphone and the plethora of services and apps that were created.

Inversely, one of those tech innovations that was just a bit ahead of its time was the Tablet PC; a fully-functional Windows PC that was blessed with a pen and touch screen so you could take notes by hand just like on paper, yet by flipping it around it could be used to run Office apps and all the other stuff you’d need a PC for, 20 years ago.

Windows Journal appIn hindsight, the idea of the Tablet PC was 10-15 years ahead of the technology that was needed to really make it work – the pen and screen digitizer were a bit too low-res; the processing power and memory was not up to the mark of providing the kind of user experience that the vision hoped for. The battery life was too poor while the whole thing was too heavy. Nowadays, with devices like the Surface Go and the iPad Pro, the reality is much closer – even if the dream of writing meeting notes by hand has been made somewhat obsolete by transcription and the fact that fewer people use a pen to write any more.

One new app that was built for the Tablet PC to take advantage of its pen, was Windows Journal, a relatively simple yet effective note-taking app, with surprisingly good handwriting recognition built in.

To read more from someone who was in the room – figuratively and, at times, literally – around the time of Tablet PC, the Journal software and the Office app originally called Scribbler which went on to become OneNote, check out Steven Sinofsky’s Hardcore Software post. It’s a fairly long but fascinating read.

Using pen and paper for taking meeting notes might be less popular now, but many of us will still jot down reminders or lists on Post-it notes, perhaps doodling on paper to help creativity and flow. If you have a pen-capable computer now, the newly released Microsoft Journal app is worth a look.


Billed as an app for digital ink enthusiasts, this new Journal presents a modern take on the original Windows Journal idea – an infinitely scrollable canvas for jotting down anything, though with AI capabilities in the app providing quiet yet powerful functionality. Journal started as a research project (from the “Garage”), but has now graduated into a fully-fledged, supported app. Read more about it here.

Microsoft Journal appMaybe time to take a leaf from erstwhile storyteller Steve Clayton’s Friday Thing, and spend a few minutes every day handwriting a journal. Now where did I put that pen?