Tip o’ the Week 437 – Mapping of Minds

clip_image001Like just about every other productivity technique, “Mind Mapping” has vociferous proponents and those who’ve tried it but never quite made it stick. The general idea is to try to represent a complex but related series of thoughts and topics onto a diagram that helps to organise them, and to aid recall. Mind maps are perhaps more useful for the person doing the mapping as a way of sorting their own brain out, than as a means of communicating to other people or even to record those thoughts for much later consumption.

Like writing a status report, the act of doing the report or compiling the map prompts valuable activity more than the resulting artefact which might never be read. Research has shown that more visually oriented people are likely to get more out of mind mapping, and using a mind map to try to remember stuff has a fairly short shelf life.

If you’ve not tried mind mapping, the simplest way is to start with a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Read some more here about the concepts. Or here, realising that the site is basically trying to sell you mind mapping software. There’s a more balanced view of different software packages, here.

You don’t need to pay for your mind mapping software, though… OneNote could be a great way of doing it, especially if you have a PC with a stylus. There are a few 3rd party addins to OneNote (desktop version) that provide additional functionality for mind mapping, though the same don’t necessarily work with the Modern App version – something that’s been picked up on the User Voice forums.

clip_image002If you’ve got Visio on your PC, you could try the Brainstorm template, using Visio’s core strength of creating and associating shapes, moving them around, hyperlinking between them as appropriate and so on.

This functional approach can be a bit too structured and formal, some people preferring a much more freehand, flowing kind of mind map to basically do a brain dump. Maybe a good way of publishing an already-sketched mind map?


Here’s a step-by-step guide (originally written for Visio 2010). Watch this 10-minute tutorial video if you’d like a more visual approach.

There are some more brainstorming tips and tricks for Visio 2016 here.

clip_image005Another option is to try some specific mind mapping software – there are some very good examples of such in the Microsoft Store. One particularly good app is Mind Maps Pro, which is free for a few days (as of end of June 2018 – install it now; even if you don’t try it right away, it’ll save you a good few £/$/€/etc as and when you give it a go).

The app has simple hierarchical mapping features, and some freehand support – including Ink – with easy additions of structure, auto-layout and the like – it’s a great way to creating a mind map on Windows. It can automatically sync your maps to OneDrive, too, and export to PDF/PNG.


Tip o’ the Week 436 – I read the News today

Oh boy. clip_image001Sometimes, the news is so troubling that you wonder if it’s worth trying to keep up-to-date at all, and instead only read and watch the stuff you know you’re interested in, that you’re going to like. This is the dichotomy of online news – since the dawn of the widely-used web, the end of the traditional news media as we know it (and particularly, print) has been forecast. Editorial skill gives way to sensationalism so as to attract the reader’s eye: headline writers have been doing this for years, but in an ad-funded online world, the need to turn eyeballs into clicks is even worse.

The upside of snacking on a smörgåsbord of news sources is that the reader gets to choose the topics (and the providers of content too), so they can filter out the rubbish they’re not interested in, excluding the media outlets they don’t want to read. The flipside, of course, is that confirmation bias will tend to guide people to read and watch stuff that reinforces their existing opinions; so they’ll pick sources of news according to their political beliefs, and may not read about topics they know nothing about, to the detriment of balanced reporting of “news”.

Anyway, news apps are one of the most used categories on mobile devices – rather than shuttling around between several web sites, aggregator apps consolidate the content and can alert the reader to breaking news.

Google has a News app for iOS and Android, and is investing in AI technology to help curate compelling packages of news content that people don’t necessarily know they want to read. Apple has their own app, for fruity devices only, not as widely available and not quite as curated.

Meanwhile, MSN News has been around for years, too, both as a service that shows tiles on the Edge browser’s start page and the MSN.com site, and as apps for Windows, iOS and Android. Well, the whole thing is getting a rebrand and the back end is being sharpened up; see coverage here, and here, and the official announcement.

The Windows version of MSN News is still known as such in the Store, though clip_image003once installed (as it is by default), it’s simply “News”. If you sign in with your Microsoft Account, you can select specific topics and sources, and those preferences will be stored and roam across other devices.

clip_image005Mobile versions are available from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play, and offer the same kind of news customisation experience if you also sign in with your MSA. The naming convention can be a little clip_image007confusing… but at least the “Microsoft” name doesn’t get in the way of the app when it’s installed, as it’s just listed as “News”.

There’s a light or dark theme, and the content is displayed clearly and it’s easy to navigate by swiping left or right; the “My News” category is a summary of the categories you like, whereas “Top Stories” is curated by an editorial news team rather than using AI alone. Much is made of the partnerships established with the real news sources that provide the content, and it’s probably the Microsoft News service’s biggest strength.

clip_image009The personalisation of the mobile apps function much the same as the Windows one; various categories of your choice presented in summary and with the ability to flick between them at your leisure, though the clickbait sponsored stories (which are clearly labelled SPONSORED and showing the source) still rankle a bit.

Even without the warning in the headline, it’s pretty easy to spot sponsored content; headlines like Content Providers Are Furious About This… Something You Don’t Need Exciting People In <town you’re not in>, Hotels Don’t Want You To Know About This Secret Discount Trick, etc, etc.

If any “story” Capitalises Every Headline Word, Even Mundane Ones… then maybe don’t open it. Still, the funding collected from sponsored stories is shared with the real news sources that provide the actual content, so it pays for everything else.

If you don’t like the news presented in one app, then try another – like weather apps, it never does any harm to have a few on the go, so you can find something that makes you feel better.

Tip o’ the Week 435 – Symbols, reprised

clip_image002When the late purple paisley musician Prince restyled himself as a squiggle (or “Symbol”), nobody knew quite how to reference him or his work, so he was given the monicker “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”. The new “Love Symbol” logo that represented his “name” was not a regular symbolic character, and after first trying to get everyone to download a special font file that had that character in it, eventually he relented and rebranded back to Prince again.

Working with special symbol characters was covered back in ToW #362; there are lots of less esoteric characters that are in regular use: but have you ever stopped to think how they came to be?

The Ampersand (&) has been around for 2,000 years, starting as a single character to join the letters e and t, ie the Latin for “and”. It’s a surprisingly common symbol, often used in company names and logos … but not universally loved by writers, or the odd legal secretary in days of dictation typing (the lawyer doing the dictation might record the company name as “Smith & co” since that’s the legal name, but more than one typist has produced the letter addressed to “Smith Ampersand co”…)

What about the @ symbol? Popularised by accountants and keepers of ledgers, the “Commercial At” (short for “at the rate of” – eg. meaning 10 units at the price of 1 shilling – 10@1s), was part of the relatively limited character set of a standard typewriter for over 100 years. It’s arguably called the Asperand though has many other names; contemporary usage has meant the symbol is either the key conjunction in an email address or the start of a digital invocation in the way of a mention.

The Asperand has nearly as many alternative names as the Octothorpe, though modern users wouldn’t necessarily think about the history of the symbol, even though it has variously been used to denote “number”, to be “pound” on your telephone keypad, or the “hash” symbol (a corruption of hatch, as in the hatching pattern) and hence, hashtag.

Tip o’ the Week 434 – To Do: update To-Do

clip_image002Lots of people like to-do lists – from Post-it notes stuck on the side of your monitor (or the digital equivalent on your PC’s desktop), to the Tasks you might have in Outlook, up to dedicated list-management apps that run on your PC and on your phone; such delights have been covered in ToW’s passim, (the Wunder of lists, or what a right To-Do we’re in… see #various).

Well, the seemingly unloved Microsoft To-Do app has been updated recently, with a few new clip_image004capabilities – notably steps (sub-tasks, in other words) and the ability to share lists.

The Windows Weekly video from MJF and Paul Thurrott talked a little about To-Do recently, too.

See here for more details on the updates. List sharing sounds a lot like the existing Wunderlist capability, to collaborate on tasks with someone you work or live with; for now at least it’s most likely one or the other.

You can share a list with someone else only within the same organisation, if you’re signed in with Office 365 credentials – so you can’t share with parties outside of your own O365 org. if you choose to mix work and home, then you’d need to sign in with your Microsoft Account to be able to share tasks with your SO, unless they also happen to be a co-worker.

clip_image006Steps are simply a way of breaking things down – handy if your method of task management starts with “Sort my life out” / “Get a new job” / “become a millionaire”,  rather than going in at the level where action is obvious… (“Tidy my bedroom” / “re-write my CV” / “buy a lottery ticket”).

There are so many time management tools and techniques out there; like diets, maybe one day we’ll find a single one that can’t be improved on, and put an end to the industry peddling new ideas. Some people love to work on task management, some people just don’t do it. We think we work one way, but when stressed, do it the other…

Before you do any more thinking on Time Management, go and watch the lecture by the late Randy Pausch – a brilliant professor and speaker, had terminal pancreatic cancer when he delivered “The Last Lecture” and then, later (wha?), gave an extremely practical session on time management: someone with hardly any time left (he died 8 months later) knows more about managing time than any corporate productivity jockey.

If you haven’t watched both of these, go and carve out 3 hours of your life, and do so. You won’t regret it. Srsly.

Tip o’ the Week 433 – You can have the power

clip_image001With modern hardware and Windows 10, there is a great deal of flexibility in the way power (in the sense of AC/DC as opposed to Power Users) is managed.

As PC systems evolved over time, and Windows got reliable to the extent that you don’t need to reboot every day or even every week (Windows 7, realistically), the needs of power management also changed as the shift from mains-powered desktop to Lithium-Ion battery laptops gathered pace.

Sleep states defined what goes on under the covers in as a PC goes into a different power mode – whether that’s automatic (because of timing, or because the battery level gets to a particular point) or if the user chooses to sleep/hibernate, hits the power button, closes the laptop lid etc.

Most PCs could go into a low-power (S3) standby state, where the CPU was shut down but the contents of memory were preserved (still consuming power, but a lot less of it), so the machine can be woken up quickly and carry on as before. After some period in standby or at a point where the battery was about to run out, the PC might even wake up and dump the memory contents to a file on disk, then shut down completely (called hibernating), meaning a subsequent wake-up would take a few seconds longer as it would need to resume from hibernate, since the contents of that huge memory file will be read back in before continuing.

Windows 8 introduced the idea of “Connected Standby”, meaning that even when a machine was in a low-power state – to all intents, asleep, but with the CPU still able to run in a restricted manner – the system can maintain a wireless connection that means apps could remain up to date. This was a feature that only applied to modern/Store apps, allowing for synchronising contents in the background while the PC was asleep, so that when it wakes up, the app data and live tiles on the Start screen would be up to date.

As both hardware and software platforms have improved, the connected standby idea morphed into Windows 10’s “modern standby”. ToW 335 talked about managing battery states in Windows 10, and briefly discussed using a powerful tool to tweak the way your PC handles standby states.

Powercfg is a command line tool, run from an elevated command prompt (ie clip_image003one with admin privileges – press WindowsKey+R, type cmd, then crucially, press CTRL+SHIFT+ENTER to ensure the command line is entered with the right level of privilege). If you don’t see “Administrator” in the title bar of your resulting command windows, you ain’t an admin, buster.

To check and see what power modes your PC can handle, try running powercfg /a; a more traditional, ACPI desktop will clip_image005probably support S3 and Hibernate modes, but a modern laptop will likely be able to operate in Standby (S0 low power idle) – that’s “modern standby”.

You can get some detailed reporting on how your PC is behaving, by using powercfg with one of the following command line arguments: /energy, /batteryreport, /sleepstudy, /srumutil, /systemsleepdiagnostics or /systempowerreport.


Now, one side-effect of this S0 low power mode is that Windows 10 PCs will likely enter that mode shortly after the screen is locked (via timeout or by WindowsKey+L). Non-modern apps (ie Win32/x64 apps like Outlook, Skype for Business etc) won’t know how to deal with this effectively disconnected state, and will drop their connection.

This means that when you unlock a plugged-in laptop after being away for a while, you’ll see that Skype for Business is signed out, and Outlook might tell you it’s lost the connection to the server (and then immediately re-connects). If you find this annoying and would rather lengthen the time that elapses when your machine is plugged in, before it goes to connected standby mode, then powercfg to the rescue!

From an elevated command prompt, run:

  • Powercfg /setacvalueindex scheme_current sub_video videoconlock 3600
  • Powercfg /setactive scheme_current

Using the flag /setdcvalueindex instead will tweak the behaviour when on battery only. The value in the first command is the number of seconds before the screen will timeout when locked, so substitute 3600 seconds (ie 60 minutes) for a value of your choice. For further details of what Powercfg can do, see here.

Tip o’ the Week 432 – Generally Disregarded Privacy Rubbish

clip_image001GDPR day has passed.. Now, it’s illegal to communicate with anyone. Or not.

If Data is the new Oil, perhaps the much-anticipated big privacy stick that is GDPR will be the new Millennium Bug – companies will want to avoid to be made an example of first. €20M or 4% of global turnover fines, whichever is the larger, probably gives some execs sleepless nights, even though the proportionality of any punishment will only be realised when there are a few court cases to set the tone. The threat of being caught out might well have scared CxOs around the world into doing something to make sure they look like they’re prepared.

In many cases, it seems, that action has been to email all their customers and ask them to opt-in to being contactable; some got confused and emailed people, asking them to opt out if they didn’t want to get any more. As it happens, both of these approaches may well be irrelevant if not illegal themselves.

clip_image002The avalanche of “we’ve updated our privacy policy” emails unleashed over the last few weeks probably makes you realise the number of companies you’ve never heard of, who have your details on file. The most-used key on the keyboard in this time is surely “Delete”. Of course, there are many memes and jokes doing the rounds…

It’s time to recall a few message handling tips in Outlook which may help…

  • You can show a normally-hidden field in Outlook which lets you identify messages that originated from outside the organisation. Mail that arrives from the internet will be tagged in an attribute called Sender Address Type.
    By tweaking Outlook to make it visible, you can customise folder views to show external email in a different colour or font size, so clip_image003helping you quickly pick out messages to deal with differently. Normally, this would be to prioritise external vs internal emails, but in these dark days, it could be to flex the muscles on your delete finger.
    For more details, see ToW 275.
  • The “Focused Inbox” feature in Office 365 might well help you here; many of the GDPR spammage will be swept up into the “Other” category, so you should be able to quickly triage those messages.
  • If you keep getting mail from certain senders nagging you to respond, you could right-click on the clip_image004message and add the sender to your Block list. By clicking Junk Mail Options on the clip_image005same menu, you could add their whole domain to the blocked list so you’ll filter all their junk in future.
    Handy for the kind of spammers who don’t care about GDP Aaaargh.

Of course, GDPR should be a Good Thing. It’ll take a bit of time to settle down (and may need some further work in the UK, post-Brexit), but at least we all get a few less emails in future.