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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Just like that!

IoT at Future Decoded, Excel Docklands, London–12th November

Future DecodedThere's a 3-day conference called "Future Decoded" running at the Excel centre in London's Docklands, with the Technical Day on 12th Nov having keynote speakers such as Prof Brian Cox, Sir Nigel Shadbolt (founder of the Open Data Institute) and Michael Taylor, the IT Director of Lotus F1.

There's an IoT track in the afternoon which includes sessions from a couple of Microsoft luminaries as well as from Dr Colin Birchenall, the Chief Architect for Future City Glasgow (a £24 million Demonstrator programme funded by Innovate UK) to showcase smart city principles and technologies at scale.

Tickets to attend are free; more details and the registration link are at http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/about/future-decoded-techday/agenda

Tip o’ the Week #246 – The least-used key on your keyboard

clip_image002The computer keyboard will probably be with us for many years to come – it’s just such an efficient way (once you get used to it) of text entry, that it’s hard to imagine it’ll be replaced entirely with gestures or by speech.

There are some pretty obscure keys on the standard PC keyboard though – many of which date to the very earliest implementations of the IBM PC. What does Scroll Lock do, for example, other than annoy Excel users who think they’re moving the cursor around inside the sheet, only to find the whole thing is scrolling up and down?


The Pause key (often doubled up with Break, which dates back to the days of the telegraph) has one interesting modern side effect – press WindowsKey + Pause, and your machine will jump straight to the “System Properties” page – a handy way of checking the config of a machine you’re using.

These kinds of tips were once redolent of the doyen of desk-side PC support, where every second spared in visiting a user was time better spent in the pub. All of this is of course lost now, what with the risk in desktop sharing via Lync or Remote Desktop software.

The AltGr key normally found to the right of the space bar has a few odd functions that are not often needed, from a way of setting formatting in Office to a means of entering accented characters. Try AltGr+e for example to chuck an é into a name, and keep people with extravagant names happy that you’ve bothered to spell them correctly. There are other ways of doing the same thing, too – Office apps all have a means of using “dead keys”, eg CTRL+ followed by an appropriate letter would render an acute accent, or the CTRL+ ` (generally found on the key below Escape) will render the next letter with a  grave. CTRL + Caret (^), Colon (:) or Tilde (~) will accent the following letter with the appropriate accent. See here for more international Office fun.

Finally, there’s the strange “menu” key, sometimes referred to a “application” or “right click” – usually found to the right of AltGr. It’s generally used as the equivalent of right-clicking a clip_image006mouse, though can be followed up with other keys to quickly perform functions that might otherwise need a few clicks or menu commands.


One example – if you are looking to paste some text in a document or email, you can quickly press the menu button then follow with T if you only want to paste the text only (ie plain text, not the formatting) or M if you want to merge formatting.

In a Metro Modern application, the menu/application/right-click key also has the same effect as swiping up from the bottom of the screen (or pressing WindowsKey + Z).

Tip o’ the Week #245 – Podcasts on Windows Phone 8.1

The topic of Podcasts was raised by a Tip reader some time ago, after Windows Phone changed the way it handled music synching onto the device (remember Zune?). Paul Thurrot suggested a workaround though it did involve using iTunes. Windows and iTunes are generally not Better Together: unless you have an Apple device to use with your Windows PC, you’re generally better seeking freedom from the clutches of AyeChoonz.

Fortunately, other Podcast apps appeared for the truly committed. With the release of Windows Phone 8.1, clip_image002however, a first-party Podcasts app is in the box.

It’s possible to stream or to download podcasts, you can use the built-in search clip_image004facility to find published episodes, or if you know the rss URL of a podcast, then you can just plonk that into the box and it will connect and (optionally) subscribe.

There’s the option of filtering audio and video podcasts, too; our own Channel 9 being one of the top video podcasts, and what better way to learn something useful while you’re on the move?

For more details on using the Podcast app, check out the guide here.

Tip o’ the Week #244 – Ticking away, the time of day

clip_image002Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day” –  even if you choose not to fritter them away, the seconds and the sands of time slip by whether you’re having fun or you’re not.

Apple has recently unveiled their long-awaited smart watch, which for fanbois will mean that a Whole New Thing has been invented, and for everyone else, will mean there’s no point in buying any of the plethora of existing smart watches until the Apple one arrives next year.

Suddenly everyone’s talking about watches and what you can do with them; increasingly they’re not about being watches as much as about being worn on the wrist. (Like smart phones, perhaps, being less about talking on the phone, and more about content on the screen).

However you choose to tell the time – be it by looking at your phone, your wrist or your computer screen –  you’d like to think that in this day of technological marvel, you’d always be looking at the right time… well, you’re wrong.

This thought occurred to me when I was sitting in my home office with 2 PCs, 2 watches and a phone all within a 90 degree view radius – and every one was showing a different time. How can this be?

PCs tend to get their time from “the network” – if  you’re using a corporate PC then that means when you connect to the company network, your machine will be told what the time is. This is less about making sure you know what the correct time is, and more about making sure (for synchronisation purposes) your PC knows what time everyone else thinks it is. Assuming the corporate environment is well run, it’ll be synchronising from an external source that is probably correct. Well, to a degree…

If you have a home PC, there’s an option to set it up to sync with an internet-hosted time service – a machine that’s probably connected to a super-accurate atomic clock which can tell time to a gazillionth of a second, so that it can clip_image004then be broadcast over the internet and with all the potential latency that might add. Still, it’s probably better than waiting for the pips.

To check if you’re synching properly, right-click on the clock in your task bar and choose Adjust date/time, then look to see if you have an “Internet Time” tab (if you’re running a company PC, you probably will not have this).

If you think your PC clock is off from others, it’s worth checking that you have it set up to synch with Internet Time, and that whatever it’s synching with is working OK. You can add your own SNTP time server if you’d prefer one other than the default list.

If you see an error in the Internet Time settings or if you think clip_image006your clock is adrift (the default time.windows.com server seems to be, clip_image008er, a little more variable in reliability than others), it may be worth setting to a different time server – just click on Change settings… and pick a different one from the list and click on Update now to check it’s working as expected.

If your PC is wildly off – like days or even years out of sync – then it could cause you problems even logging in, and it may be that your CMOS Battery has gone flat – meaning the PC’s clock has been reset to some date far in the past.

Finally, If you’d like to know a decent stab at what the correct time is, try www.time.is. And if you ever wonder whether it’s too early or late to call overseas, then enter the place name in the search box on that site and it will tell you the time in that timezone.


Tip o’ the Week #243 – Parliamo Glasgow?

clip_image002The great Stanley Baxter had a famous series of comedy sketches looking to help Sassenachs and Embrafowk understand how to navigate a conversation (at say, a Hogmanay party) in the city that recently hosted the Commonwealth, and was hitherto known as “Second City of the British Empire”, or just Glesga to its natives.

Navigating regional dialects (“zarramarraonrabarraclara?”) is one thing, but dealing with foreign tongues outright is another matter. Fortunately, technology has come to clip_image004rescue us – from the mostly marvelous Bing Translator app on Windows Phone to our Googly friends offering to translate foreign websites directly within their browser, without having to do anything else.

There’s a Bing web page you can go to, or to translate blocks of text on a web page using IE, you could use the Accelerator to selectively do so.

clip_image006To add a powerful translation capability native to IE, visit http://labs.microsofttranslator.com/bookmarklet/ then right-click on the top of the IE window if you don’t already have your Favorites bar showing, and click on the option to display it. Once you see bar below the address, just visit the bookmarklet link above, and drag/drop the clip_image008Translate” link from the web page and onto the toolbar. Now you’ll have the ability to translate any web page to your language, with a single click on that toolbar.

clip_image010There’s also a Bing Translator app for Windows 8 which can translate blocks of pasted text and can download language packs so you can do it when you’re offline, too.

Right. Ahmaffdoontheboozerfurraswifthauf. Anyone else coming?

Tip o’ the Week #242 – File favourites and Explorer

clip_image002Office365 offers a great way of hosting documents in the cloud, using SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business (which is really SharePoint under the hood) as its publicly facing storage offerings.

Office apps themselves are well versed in supporting SharePoint as a location to open and save stuff to, however other clip_image004apps – and websites – are not always so supportive.

If you’re lucky, applications will offer you a newer file dialog box >> which at least lets you navigate to shortcuts that can take you to your fave places – even good ol’ Notepad lets you pick from a Favo(u)rites list, and can access other groups of links to your PC or the network to which you’re connected.clip_image006

You could choose to disable the “OneDrive” tree from this file chooser (see the instructions, here). It’s a pity that OneDrive for Business – where you should be storing all your work-related files, vs OneDrive for your own personal stuff – can’t be exposed as an expanding tree. Oh well, there’s always Threshold

Well, if you want to make your favourite SharePoint sites show up in file dialog boxes, there are a few simple steps you can take…

  • clip_image010Navigate to your SharePoint library of choice in the browser, then click on the library tab, then on the Ribbon clip_image008which appears, click Open with Explorer… which will open said SharePoint library as if it was just another file share using Windows Explorer.

    Now, the road is rocky here if you are not using a domain-joined PC to access the library – for Windows to authenticate you automatically to open a library in Explorer, if you’re on a home PC, you may need to make sure you’ve appropriate saved the password (clicked Remember Me in authentication dialogs, even though they rarely do, etc).

    clip_image012It’s also worth adding the website to your intranet sites if you’re on a non-corporate machine – in the desktop Internet Explorer, first copy the site URL to the clipboard, then go into Tools | Internet Options (by pressing the ALT key to show the menu bar) and add the site to your Intranet zone by clicking the Sites button, then the Advanced button, to paste and include this site in your Intranet zone. You don’t need to do this is on a corporate, domain-joined PC.

  • clip_image014Now, once you have the requisite Explorer window showing you the contents of the SharePoint site (just click on the address bar if you’re in any doubt as to clip_image016whether it’s coming from SharePoint or not), then try right-clicking the Favorites menu in Explorer and adding the current location to Favorites. Now, it’ll show up in the list and can be renamed by right-clicking it, perhaps giving it a more uniquely identifiable name than “Shared Documents”, for example.
    Once you’ve created the shortcut in your Favorites, you could try jumping to your preferred text editor (or paint program, sound recorder etc) and try to open or save something – you should see your newly-created shortcut showing up.

There are numerous other ways of getting your favourite sites to appear in common-or-garden dialog boxes; from the library tab as above, you can choose to Sync SharePoint sites (and they’ll all show up under the SharePoint favourite), or if you copy the clip_image018URL/UNC to the clipboard, it can then be added to clip_image020Network Locations by right-clicking on This PC within Windows Explorer and choosing Add Network Location to make the link show up in that group of shortcuts.

Even the oldest binary apps and websites tend to support a file picker that will let you choose from This PC, and you should be able to navigate down to your new Network Location shortcut.

All of these tips are relatively self-explanatory for tech savvy folk like Microsofties – even if relying on old-fashioned style Explorer shortcuts might seem a little backward. If you’re helping to set up Office365 for a family member to use, however, this kind of short-cuttery could make the transition much smoother, and could be the difference between you getting asked numerous times how to save files, or being left blissfully alone.