Tip o’ the Week #106 – Revisiting Microsoft Tag

We’ve covered Microsoft Tag before on Tip o’ the Week, but it’s worth paying another visit as a few things have changed. Tag is an innovative 2D barcode which can be in colour or black and white, and can even be heavily stylised and worked into logos or other graphics.

If you haven’t tried using Tag before, then point your mobile phone to http://gettag.mobi to download the Tag reader app, unless you have Windows Phone 7.5, in which case it’s built in. just press the search button on the bottom of the phone, and press the “eye” icon on the bottom of the page – then hold your phone over the tag to read it.

clip_image001clip_image003Here’s a customised tag that points to a web URL – http://binged.it/wcQrOr. (Spot the new function within Bing Maps, where when you share a map view that you have, it generates a short URL rather than the massive multi-line one that it used to. like this one.


It’s a piece of cake to create new Tags – go to http://tag.microsoft.com and sign in with you Live ID. You can create a tag that will point to a URL, will contain contact information, a simple block of text or a phone number. Someone can scan your contact and add it straight to their phone, or just call your number directly. Or if your website has mobile-oriented information, then maybe direct them to that.

clip_image005There have been some updates from the Tag team (banish any wrestling analogies from your mind), which have added some interesting new areas of functionality, such as the ability to generate the more widely used if much less visually jazzy, QR Codes. Like this one.

To create your own Microsoft business cards with Tags on the back, visit https://xerox-mscopy.nowdocs.com/ then click on Business Cards / Business Cards / Worldwide Employee Business Cards / . card WITH MS TAG . and upload the Tag image of your contact info you’ve already created

There are some nice analysis tools available, too – if you are using Tags, QR Codes or NFC codes to do some kind of marketing, you can check on:

· Frequency – how many times a Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint (or group of them) has been scanned.

· Time frame – how many scans each recognition technology receives each day and overall.

· Geography – where each Tag barcode, QR Code or NFC touchpoint has been scanned, which can be represented on a Heat Map.

Best of all with Tag, though – everything is completely free. Anyone can create and manage Tags, QR Codes etc, so let your customers and partners know that they could be adding rich, mobile-oriented content to any of their flyers, ads, business cards etc – just by sticking a Tag on the bottom. QR Codes are ugly – try using Tag properly!

Tip o’ the Week #105 – Productivity? Learn to type!


Thinking about general productivity often leads one down the path of some methodology to get things done, or some great tools to try and silence the background noise. I’ve certainly featured plenty of both as Tips o’ the Week, but one thing we’ve never covered is simply making correct use of the keys in front of you. Some factoids to amuse your family and bemuse your friends:

  • TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
  • The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog is a pangram, in other words a phrase that contains every letter of the alphabet (in English, at least). It’s often used by typists to try out a new keyboard, and has been used for a long time by typesetters to show off their fonts. It’s not the most efficient (there is a bit of repetition), but it is one of the most sensible in meaning. Well, sort-of.
  • Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim might be shorter, but it sounds like it came from a random word generator, or is the source of some fiendish anagram.
  • It might sound geeky, but “Just My Type” is a fascinating book all about fonts, if you have any spare book tokens or Amazon vouchers after Christmas. No, really. It’s Quite Interesting.
  • The average person’s left hand does 56% of the typing.
  • Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand and lollipop with your right.

clip_image002It’s been a long-held dream of many computer scientists, that people should be able to interact with their machines without using a keyboard. Remember Star Trek’s Scotty and the Macintosh?

Bill Gates championed Microsoft Research to spend years and years looking into handwriting, speech and gesture recognition – some of which was very ahead of its time (the Tablet PC predating the iPad by 8 years, for example – though history shows being first isn’t always best). Microsoft’s Surface platform developed and delivered multi-touch interfaces before the iPhone made the idea mainstream.

Only now has the technology become cheap, fast and advanced enough to make reliable speech recognition available, but it’s mostly being done on devices like phones (or Kinect sesnros), with cloud services providing the recognition & intelligence. See a comparison of Microsoft’s TellMe (in Windows Phone) with Apple’s Siri (iOS 5) – here. A less favourable comparison, here.

Oh, well.

Even with all the advances in touch and handwriting or speech, we still predominantly enter information into our PCs using the keyboard. And many of us might be embarrassed to still be at the “hunt & peck” method of typing, at best a finger or two of each hand meandering over the keyboard to pick out the right key, whilst looking at the keyboard.

Touch typing revolves around the raised ridges on the “F” and “J” keys, which form the root of the “home keys” – the idea being that you can use 3 or 4 fingers of each hand to type whilst being able to watch the screen and not the keyboard. A decent (nonprofessional) typist should be able to manage 40-50 words per minute (wpm), while the very best touch typists could be 120 wpm or better. Your average web surfer is probably 20-30wpm.

To find out your own WPM and error rate, check here.
The www.powertyping.com site has a number of practice exercises too.

There are a good number of ways to improve your typing – from seeking out the venerable Mavis Beacon software to teach the user, to online (free!) “Online Keyboarding” lessons.

You never know, sharpening up your typing skills could help you get a better work/life balance by being a few percent more effective at doing something we all do, every day!

Tip o’ the Week #104 – Windows 7’s clock & date

clip_image001One of the neat little design touches of Windows 7 that changed as a result of usage analysis was the calendar that is shown when you click the clock on your system tray. User feedback taught product designers that in previous versions of Windows, users would often go into the “Date & Time Properties” dialog box, not to set the date but just to see the calendar – eg what date is it 3 weeks from now?, or what day is Christmas Day .?

Of course, in earlier Windows versions, if you changed the date by clicking on another month/year, and hit the OK button, it would actually change the system date. not necessarily a good thing. In Windows 7, the default behaviour is to just show you the calendar, and easily allow you to jump between months, years, even decades.


Of course, you could just use Outlook, but a) not everyone uses Outlook all the time (the poor non-productive fools!) and b) it’s usually just quick & easy to click on the taskbar to check a date. If you are in Outlook, did you know that you can type in expressions into any date field – eg the Start date of a meeting. “3 weeks on Tuesday” , “next Friday”, “in 60 days”, “7d”, “Christmas 2013” . there are loads of variants to try.

Ticking away, the moments that make up the time of day

clip_image006If you’re a habitual jet-setter, are planning a holiday in foreign climes or just want to know the time in another part of the world, you can also add multiple clocks in Windows 7. Click on the Date/Time part of the system tray, click on Change date and time settings. and then the Additional clip_image007Clocks tab.


Sure beats those £2,000 “executive wall clocks” that feature in the back pages of in-flight magazines.

Tip o’ the Week #102 – When did someone really put something in their calendar?

I’ve been thinking about writing this tip since the ToW started almost exactly two years ago (yay!) but for various reasons, competitive advantage amongst them, I’ve held off. I figure it’s now time to relent and share.


The tip concerns the differences in Outlook between appointments, meetings, and meetings where you are the organiser. Huh? Well, an appointment is something you put in your own calendar. A meeting is created from an appointment when you invite someone else – or are invited by the organiser – to take part. Outlook exposes a whole load of variance in what you can do when you’re in each of these 3 scenarios, but in 2 of them – namely, appointment and being the meeting organiser, it doesn’t tell you when the appointment/meeting was created.

When you look an invitation sent by someone else, you can see not only when you accepted it, but when it was sent. Well so what, you might ask?

What if you look in your own calendar and see something you created, but don’t recall when? It can be quite handy to remind yourself when it was added – maybe you will find some emails around the same time that might give you more information on why you put that appointment in there.

The same rules apply when you’re looking at someone else’s calendar. What if you invite someone to a meeting (and this is where the competitive advantage bit comes in, perhaps), and they decline because they have a “conflict”. was the conflict merely an appointment they created after your invite. (covering tracks, perhaps)?

In a more benign scenario, what if you’re trying to bag a meeting room, but it’s booked out. maybe for a team meeting or some such. If you could see that the meeting was created 2 years ago, then you might contact the organiser to see if it’s still happening or even realise that the organiser no longer works here, and therefore a cancellation can’t be sent out to free the room, but it’s most likely not going ahead.


The beginnings of this method regards customising or designing Outlook “forms”. There’s a little more info on Outlook Forms in ToW#44 if you’re interested. In a nutshell, items in Outlook (appointments, messages, contacts etc) are simply a collection of fields, and use a designated – and customisable – form to display the fields’ values. In the example of a self-created appointment or a meeting you’ve organised, the standard Outlook form doesn’t display the date of creation, but it still exists behind the scenes.

To view the date, a simple way is to start by adding a new command to the “Quick Access Toolbar” that’s shown on the top left of your Outlook form:

  • Open the appointment or meeting you’re looking to get more information for, then click on the little down-arrow to the right of the Quick Access Toolbar.  then look at the bottom of the Customize list and choose “More Commands”
  • Next, change the “Choose commands from:” drop down to be “Developer Tab“, then on the left-hand side of the  dialog, scroll down the commands list to find Design This Form, (NB don’t choose “Design a Form”), then Add it to the list on the right by clicking the button. Press OK to return to the item. This will now put a new icon on the Quick Access Toolbar, that looks like a pencil, ruler and set square. Very retro design tools.

This should be a one-time exercise, that will now allow you to peek inside any Outlook item once you’ve opened it up (whether it’s from your own mailbox, or someone else’s calendar).

show me

Now, when you click on the Design This Form icon in the Quick Access Toolbar on an open item, it switches the form that’s being used to display that item into the “designer” mode, which shows any hidden tabs that the form might have (denoted as such by their names being in brackets). One of the hidden tabs on every form is “All Fields”, which lets you explore the values of every field that exists within the item that the form is displaying. Are you still with me?

Click on the All Fields tab and select “Date/Time fields” from the drop-down box, and hey-presto, you get to see every date field – like the Created date.

If you want to explore the differences between the various item types in Outlook, try looking at “All Mail fields”, “All Contact fields”, “All Appointment fields” etc.

Tip o’ the Week #101 – Finding files for dialogs

clip_image001How many times a month do you have a file (a picture, maybe, or a document) that you want to upload to some website, or attach to an email. and you know where the file is, but then have to navigate through a dialog box to locate it from within the application? I can sometimes think of 2 or 3 such scenarios in a given day.

There are lots of alternatives, of course – if you want to attach a document that’s on your desktop to an email, then you can just drag & drop it. But many dialog boxes don’t give you that flexibility – some apps will make you point to a file, by navigating to the file’s folder and selecting it from there.

clip_image002[4]This can be complicated if you have lots of documents in the folder, especially ones whose names don’t mean a lot – think about a folder with 100s of pictures, all called P0001234.jpg or similar. When you’re previewing the picture in Explorer, it might be easy to see which one you want to share, but if you’re uploading it through a dialog box that doesn’t give you a preview of the pics, then you’ll need to remember its location & name, so you can point to the file.

clip_image003[4]One approach would be to just click on the address bar within the Explorer window, and copy that to the Clipboard – CTRL-C – then you can typically paste that into the upload dialog box, and at least you will be pointed at the folder where the files exist. If you start typing the name of the file at the end of clip_image005[4]the path in the Address bar, then it may let you select the full name (using the up & down arrow keys to select) and copy that to the clipboard (CTRL-C again) too. All very well for the keyboard jockey but there is an easier way.

Copy as path

If you’ve selected a file in an Explorer window, hold down the SHIFT key and right-click, and you’ll see a new option shows up – Copy as path. This somewhat cryptic command copies the name of the file and it’s full path into the clipboard – so you can pick exactly the photo or document, and can easily paste that full path and file name into any dialog box.

Here’s an example of a SharePoint 2010 Upload Document dialog; just right-click in the “File name” box, paste the full name and hit Open.


On the face of it, this might not seem like a revolutionary function – but start using it and you’ll be amazed at how much time and aggravation it saves you. ZDNet’s Ed Bott said, “I use this shortcut constantly. It’s amazing how many times it comes in handy. It will save you many, many clicks.”