Tip o’ the Week 332 – Failing to plan is, eh…

clip_image002[1]If you’ve ever tried to source the real originator of some popular quote, you might come across the same old names that are supposedly responsible for it – Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Jeremy Clarkson, etc. One such quote that has been widely attributed to any number of people (including self-styled 1970s time management guru, Alan Lakein) is, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

clip_image003[1]A new tool has been rolled out to Office365 users to help – Microsoft Planner. It’s a relatively simple-looking yet deceptively powerful group project / task management application that lets you assign and collaborate tasks amongst team members, all the time maintaining an easy to use and very visual overview of the projects.

clip_image004[1]Planner has been in preview for a few months but was released generally in early June and will automatically show up in the grid icon set on the top-left of browser-based Office365 applications.

To get the gist of what Planner does, check out the overview video, here. For tips on getting up and running, see the Getting Started guide.

There is a degree of functional overlap with other task-management systems like Wunderlist or even Outlook on its own, but Planner is designed very much to be a team-based thing and is particularly aimed at businesses or for educational use.

Comparisons are inevitably made with other tools, most notably Trello, and SharePoint’s own Tasks capability has had the Sword of Damocles hanging over it, if you believe the chat, so Planner is a welcome addition.

Tip o’ the Week 331 – OneNote Clipper Edge Extension

clip_image001Ever since the Edge browser appeared with Windows 10, there have been calls from some quarters to allow extensions of some kind – ad blocking, the main one, though the practice of blocking ads in web pages is turning into a pitched battle between content owners and readers. Oh, and the advertisers too.

With the latest versions of Edge that are available to Windows Insiders, and due to be generally released with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update on July 29th, it’s now possible to try out some preview extensions (including a couple of ad blockers – though be careful, don’t use more than one at a time or you might cross the streams).

See the list of preview extensions here, noting the minimum version of Windows you need to be running to use them (try pressing WindowsKey+R and entering winver to see what you’re currently using).

One extension in preview is a version of the OneNote Web Clipper application, which allows for a simple button to be added to the Edge toolbar, making it a quick click to grab the current web page and save it into OneNote. View more about the extension here.

If you’re not yet on the right version of Windows, there are other ways to save web pages into your OneNote notebook…

  • clip_image003Edge – if you click on the Web Note icon on the Edge toolbar, the intent is that you can annotate web pages (eg. with your stylus if you have one), and you clip_image004can then save the annotated page to OneNote. You could skip the “annotating” bit and just go straight to the “saving”.
  • Print – you could just print from any application to OneNote, using the installed dummy printer driver that sends a copy of your app/page/doc to a new page in OneNote instead of physically printing.
  • Snip on your own – the desktop version of OneNote will let you capture an area of the screen by pressing clip_image006WindowsKey+SHIFT+S – grab that, paste it manually into OneNote or set it to go straight there – look in the Desktop OneNote under File | Options | Send to OneNote and you can set the default behaviour.

Anyway, get into the habit of saving stuff from your browser into OneNote and you’ll wonder how you managed to run your life beforehand.

Tip o’ the Week 333 – Du Temps Perdu

clip_image001Last weekend saw the greatest motor race in the world take place in the presence of hundreds of thousands of visiting fans, though mainstream media barely gave it a passing glance. If you’re interested, you may be able to catch highlights on Eurosport or watch online, looking out for the Scottish knight as he transitions from two to four wheels.

With a good portion of the sporting world focussed on France right now (at least you’d think that, given the TV coverage), it seem opportune to look at some language tools if the de facto lingua franca of The Mother Tongue isn’t available.

Machine translation has become fairly commonplace, and though it’s not perfect, it’s a lot better than the non-fluent might achieve by stumbling through a phrasebook and getting all the pronunciation wrong. Translation in real time is now built-in to Skype, with instant message or even full spoken voice translation available in several languages. The technology is moving from simple word-by-word conversion, to full semantic and grammatical translation (though not yet summarising or otherwise interpreting), and it might not be all that long before fully synchronous, real-time translation from any language to any other is possible just by sticking an earpiece in. Douglas Adams would have been pleased.


Windows 10 has added translation capabilities into Cortana; saying something like Hey Cortana, translate “Where is the nearest train station” in French or Hey Cortana, how do I say “Oh no, not penalties again” in German should let you see, and possibly hear, what the translation should be.

Click on the Open Translator link to visit the Bing Translator web page, which will do the same sort of thing, but can also break down the phrase by word, showing alternative words in the translated text that you might want to use instead.

clip_image005If you’re running a preview version of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and have a build later than 14302, you can also add an Edge extension to translate a page that’s written in another language, accessed via the Translator icon showing up on the toolbar.

It’s a bit “all or nothing”, and doesn’t show you the individual words that it has translated, but it is quick and easy. You may want to try feeding the URL into bing.com/translator or translate.google.com to see how well the translation has gone (if you hover over translated words, both will show you the original underneath, though both have a habit of mangling complex websites).

Finally, if you’d like to just translate a short phrase but might be offline at the time (so Cortana isn’t any use), it’s worth installing the Bing Translator app, which also has the ability to translate text identified from the camera, such as on a menu or an instructional sign. Très bien, or as Proust would say, “la malade imaginaire de recondition et de toute surveillance est bientôt la même chose”!

Tip o’ the Week 330 – Windows Store updated

Windows Insiders may have noticed clip_image002since desktop build 14342 (which made it onto the slow ring recently), that the Store app has been given a bit of a makeover (assuming you’re able to update it). Both the layout of the main screen and the pages which detail individual apps have been changed, adding functionality and making the whole thing a bit more usable.

clip_image004The refresh brings the PC and Mobile versions of the store into closer alignment, and the UI adapts to the window changing size, by reordering and resizing tiles and modifying the layout of other options.

The Store hasn’t grown a hamburger menu (yet?) but it has adopted a dynamic UI layout, one of the tenets of UWP now that modern apps can run in a window, can be resized more easily and may be targeted at different device types and screen sizes.

clip_image006If you check the Downloads and updates option (reached by clicking on your profile pic, to the left of clip_image008the search field/icon) then you’ll see “Recent Activity”, which shows you the details of updates including the current application version.

There’s still a paucity of update and version information within the main Store experience though – it would be nice to be able to search for an app and sort/filter the results based on the average ratings or the date the app was published or updated; that way, it would be easier to filter out stale or rubbish apps. If you agree, try suggesting through the Feedback Hub.

In the My Library section of the store, you can also hide apps you’ve previously purchased or otherwise had installed – like Candy Crush Saga, maybe, not always with your consent. There are other ways of ditching ready-installed apps if you’re especially bothered about their presence.

While on the topic of the Store, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Windows Store Weekly posts on the Windows Experience team blog – it highlights apps (games, especially) and TV or movie content that’s new or being promoted within the Store.

Tip o’ the Week 329 – Fuzzy Duck? Yes, he does

clip_image001Sometimes, when writing the ToW, the topic is inspired by a specific problem that someone has emailed me – it’d be a lot better if they’d email me the solution to a problem, but never mind – and sometimes it comes about because of an issue I’ve spent ages struggling with and then happened upon a solution. Today’s is following one of those latter episodes.

Be honest. Do you know how to use the VLOOKUP function in Excel? It has its roots in @LOOKUP from VisiCalc, which goes back well over 30 years – see here for a demo (and, wipe a tear, you missed “VLOOKUP WEEK 2012”).

It’s one of the more useful functions, where you can use tables of text to cross reference one another – leading some to create spreadsheets to manipulate data that might be achieved elsewhere by a database join or an IF…THEN…ELSE statement.

VLOOKUP (and her friends, HLOOKUP, LOOKUP and the other reference functions) is all very well if you have nicely constructed and controlled data – but what if you have messy text that has been entered by end users? How do you go about normalising that without boring brute force (ie ploughing through it all yourself)?

Imagine, if you will, that you have a list of a few hundred company names exported from your CRM system – let’s call them “Partners”. What if you also had many thousands of unique names from people who’ve registered at a conference? (Let’s call that “Partner Conference”). Wouldn’t it be nice to run a report which shows the team that works with each partner, who has registered and where they’re from?

If the registration tool allowed anyone to enter free text fields for the name of their company, you’ll get any number of variations, mis-spellings etc – maybe even the odd deliberate spanner. (On the McXFace front, once again, El Reg excelled itself with this headline, though has a way to go to top the best so far… or the subheading of this one, which reads like a line from a DC Thomson cartoon).

These names won’t allow VLOOKUPs as they’ll show up as all different, and therefore cross-referencing one source with the other will be difficult. So even telling Jane Smith, who manages the ACME Inc account, that these 10 people are attending the conference, is going to be hard if every one of them registered with a variation of A.C.M.E, ACME Inc, Ac-me Ltd and so on.

clip_image002clip_image003A relatively little-known Excel addin might come to the rescue (technically described as a technology preview in the EULA, but it’s been around for a little while in its last variation, and a few more before that; so probably is not going to advance a great deal more) – the Fuzzy Lookup Add-in for Excel. Simply take two sources of data (formatted as tables), create one or more mappings between them, and run the tool  to see what it comes up with.

The Fuzzy Lookup tool will add extra columns to the source table; showing the text that it thinks is the nearest match, and a score of “similarity”. The technology comes from Microsoft Research, and uses the Jaccard Similarity method of comparing sample data sets.

One technique for comparing a couple of different columns is to set conditional formatting on the Similarity column and choose colour scales for easy identification of the ones likely to be correct; or simply put a filter on that column and hide rows below an arbitrary low bar (like 0.6). Then spin down the two columns to the left and check to see if they tally up, given the human eye for spotting similarity, spelling mistakes etc. You could even add a Y/N column to the right so you can manually affirm which is right and which is not, then filter on that to confirm.

clip_image005After installing the Fuzzy Lookup addin, you’ll get a fairly detailed Readme and a nicely illustrative Excel sample file showing some share price comparisons (with company names in wildly different formats being matched with eerie accuracy). It might be in preview but it could be exactly what the Excel jockey needs.

Fuzzy Duck? Ducky Fuzz! Does he? 
(look it up on Wikipedia – NSFW, obvs).