The word “Go” has so many connotations for such a couple of letters. It’s typically upbeat & positive, forward-looking and action-oriented. You get £200 for breezing past it in Monopoly, it’s the oldest board game known, it’s a popular open-source programming language and it’s what the Thunderbirds do.
Back in April 2021, ToW #574 talked about sharing a countdown timer in Teams, if you want to make it clear in a meeting that it’s about to get underway. That was by sharing the application window of a countdown clock, meaning that it would replace any other desktop sharing/slides etc being shown.
Also, the timer will loom very large on the screen of everyone watching, which could well be effective though maybe lacking some of the subtlety you’d prefer.
A more nuanced tip would be to overlay a timer on your own video feed, so you could make the point that things are about to change, and it could be shown alongside other content or whatever else might be happening in the meeting.
Depending on how you do it, the timer could disappear altogether when it has finished, and you’d carry on with the video as before. You might even want to replace your own camera feed with a backdrop and timer until you’re ready to go and show your face.
One recommended way to achieve this effect is to use OBS Studio, open source software which started life as a kind of video manipulation tool aimed at recording or streaming, and has grown to offer a host of features and plugins to modify and manipulate video in real time. It can look a bit scary to start with, but the basics can be picked up quickly.
OBS Studio can apply a series of effects to one or more video sources – could be the real-time recording of windows showing a live demo or a physical camera, with some other stuff like a video file, overlaid on top. You can go down a rabbit-hole of effects (like put a real-life green screen behind you, then chroma key a backdrop or video onto your own video feed – see Scott Hanselman’s tutorial for inspiration).
OBS also includes a virtual camera driver, so while you’re running the software and combining several sources – like a real camera and one or more media sources overlaid on top (along with selected effects) – OBS will combine everything to look like it’s a camera feed that can be selected in Teams, Zoom or any other software that could use a video input.
A simple trick could be to add only a countdown video to OBS and then choose the OBS Virtual Camera in Teams; it will display the video instead of your camera feed, and then when you’re ready to get going, just change the video settings in Teams to go back to your own webcam.
There are plenty of sources online for free countdown videos – here or here for example; download the file, add it to OBS as a Media Source and you’re off. If you’d like to take it up a level, here’s a more in-depth tutorial, and you can even script your own custom ones if you like to delver deeper into OBS features.
682 – Lens scanning
Continual advances in the quality of smartphone cameras mean that most people don’t use a physical camera any more; unless you are really demanding when it comes to control over digital imagery, phone cameras are good enough for most people, most of the time.
Compact cameras have evolved too, providing phone-beating snaps through better sensors and lenses than could possibly fit in the body of a handheld communicator. More light hitting a larger sensor through a bigger, higher quality lens gives you a better starting position to get a decent picture, though smartphones have powerful software and – increasingly – cloud services available to help improve the photo after it’s been captured. Higher-end cameras are changing, too – even Hasselblad (famed for moon shots but also for the most famous photo of the world) is ditching the DSLR model and going mirrorless. The horror!
Marrying high-resolution imaging with powerful software in the palm of your hand does give you access to new capabilities that a generation ago would be almost unimaginable science fiction.
Check out Plant Viewer to identify which is weed and which is flower, or Google Lens to capture information from the camera or even just to try to identify whatever you’re pointing it at.
As the world has discovered with ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, responses from AI powered services are not always quite correct, even if they appear convincing.
As any fule kno, this item in question is in fact a Seiko RAF Gen 2 (not a Gen 1), even though Google successfully found one for sale, that looks identical.
Google Lens is available on iPhone and iPad too, and depending on the Camera app you use on Android, it might also be launched from there (and most Android devices will launch the Camera app if you double-tap on the power button, so it’s a quick way of getting to Camera, even if the device is locked).
Microsoft Lens is one of the best “Lens” or scanning apps in either mobile store (Fruity | Googly). Formerly “Office Lens”, at one point also available as a Windows app (but now discontinued) and since rebranded somewhat by its listing in the mobile app stores as Microsoft Lens: PDF Scanner, though it can do lots more.
The premise of Microsoft Lens is that you can point the camera at something and scan it, by taking a high-resolution photo of the thing and then using the software to manipulate, crop and adjust the image. The most obvious use case is scanning a Document; start the Lens app, lay the doc out as clearly as you can and then step through grabbing each page in turn.
The red > icon in the lower right shows how many pages have been captured so far. In earlier versions of the Lens app, you’d try to frame the page at the point of capture but now you just grab the images one-by-one (using the big white button) and do the tidying up later.
Press that red button and you’ll go to the UI where Lens tries to identify the corners of each page, and lets you tweak them by dragging the points. You could retake that individual image or delete it from the set of captures.
Press the confirm button on the lower right and you’ll jump to a review of the captured images, giving the option of rotating or adjusting each one, cropping, applying filters to brighten and sharpen them and so on. Once you’re happy that you have the best-looking images, tap on Done to save your work.
You could send all the pictures into a Word or PowerPoint doc, drop them all into OneNote or OneDrive as individual files, or combine all the “pages” into a single PDF and save to your device or to OneDrive.
There are other tools on the primary screen of the Lens app, too, if you swipe left to right. The Whiteboard feature lets you grab the contents off the wall and applies a filter to try to flatten the image and make the colours more vibrant.
There’s a Business Card scanner which will use OCR to recognize the text and will drop the image of the card and a standard .VCF contact attachment into OneNote, ready to be added to Outlook or other contact management tool.
The Actions option on the home screen gives access to a set of tools for capturing text and copying it to other applications or reading it out. There’s also a QR code and barcode scanner too.
One somewhat hidden feature of Lens could be particularly useful if you’re sitting in a presentation and want to capture the slides for your notes.
Start the Lens app, and instead of using the camera to grab the contents and then faff around trimming them, tap the small icon in the bottom left to pick images from your camera roll. This way, you could just snap the slides quickly using the normal camera app and do the assembling and tweaking inside the Lens app, later.
This photo was taken on a 4-year-old Android phone, 3 rows back from the stage at an event using the Camera app with no tweaks or adjustments. It was then opened in Lens, which automatically detected the borders of the screen and extracted just that part of the image into a single, flat picture.
That logo on the top right looks familiar…
For more info on Lens, check out the Android and iOS support pages. Oh, and it’s completely free.
680 – Edgy emails
The Edge browser has seen a lot of change in its life. Originally conceived as a successor to Internet Explorer, with its own modern web rendering engine and lots of additional features which are designed to complement the usage experience, like taking handwritten notes on top of a webpage or building a Reading List of pages or publications to come back to.
Later, the decision was taken to replace the browser with one based on a new core using Chromium, largely for reasons of compatibility and performance, but to carry on building new capability that would differentiate the new Edge browser from others that also use the Chromium rendering engine, including Google Chrome itself.
Recent builds of Edge have a Sidebar which includes a load of apps and integrations – the goal being that it can help multitask on the web by sharing complementary information or functionality alongside the page the user is looking at; think a shopping widget that would compare prices of the product on the page you’re viewing, showing where else you could buy that same thing.
A recent update to the Sidebar has been the inclusion of the new Bing search, which adds some very cool relevance capabilities that would allow you to fire the current page content straight at the Bing’s AI engine to summarize, rewrite or explain the contents – selected text, or the entire page you’re visiting.
Here’s an example of a reasonably detailed blog article (from early 2021) summarized into a few key paragraphs:
One of the more useful integrations in the Sidebar is the Outlook app (individual icons on the Sidebar can be enabled and disabled through the settings option; you can also dock other sites which will appear in the sidebar, though not necessarily with the context of the page you’re currently looking at). A recent – and somewhat controversial – change means that when you click a link from an email in desktop Outlook on a PC, it will open in Edge and the Outlook sidebar will be shown alongside, displaying the email that you clicked it from.
Once you’ve got the hang of this feature, it’s actually pretty cool – especially if the email is offering some context about what you’re supposed to be doing on that page, or if it’s a densely-packed missive full of clickbait and other nonsense:
Why is it controversial? Well, the point is that the extra functionality is happening due to the Sidebar in Edge, so clicking a link in Outlook if you’re using a different default browser wouldn’t have the same effect. Outlook, therefore, has decided to send links to Edge even if that’s not your usual browser, to the chagrin of some netizens. Be careful with doing things that annoy some people.
If you’d prefer that Outlook and Windows respected your choice to send all your links to a specific, non-Edge, browser, then it’s fairly easy (if not exactly easily discoverable) to set that. Go to File | Options | Advanced within Outlook, and look for the Link Handling option, and change it to Default Browser. This will mean opening the hyperlink in Chrome / Brave / Firefox / whatever, without the Sidebar doing its thing.
More change is on its way to Edge and Bing AI.
If you like Edge but would rather dispense with the Sidebar altogether, go to the “…” menu on the top right, select Settings | Sidebar and disable the Always show sidebar toggle.
You can use the same settings UI to play with other behaviours in the various apps that are pinned to the sidebar, too.
To add or hide apps on the sidebar, just show it, right-click on something and choose Customize sidebar, or use the “Add or remove apps…” feature from the Settings | Sidebar screen.
If you’d rather not to have the somewhat prominent Bing icon on the very top right of your Edge screen, look under the Discover section of this Settings UI, and if you flick the switch, the big blue b goes away.
679 – Wordlament
Even if you weren’t taken with the viral word puzzle game Wordle, you’ve probably seen the coloured grid that people would share on social media. Sometimes bragging on how
lucky smart they were in getting the answer in a couple of goes, or complaining that it was too hard and that they missed out.
It also gives whingeing poms a new thing to complain about on Facebook groups, every time the Wordle answer is a 5-letter American spelling like FAVOR or LITER.
If you’re still playing Wordle each morning, you might have happened across the numerous other -dle games out there, like Quordle (same idea as Wordle but you 9 goes instead of 6, but need to solve 4 squares), Octordle (like Quordle but x8), Kilordle (x1000 – it’s getting silly). Lots of other “guessing things” online games jumped on the bandwagon, too – there’s Heardle (play it while you can – it’s shutting down on 5 May), Worldle, Cardle and, missing out on the ‘-dle’ suffix, Framed. Who needs to be productive anyway?
Wasting time while keeping your brain occupied is a time-honoured tradition, with crossword puzzles featuring in newspapers for over a century. One of the best word puzzle games to appear on mobile phones, originally launching in 2012, was Wordament. Published from a skunkworks project where two guys built it in their spare time (before moving on to be part of Minecraft), it has gone through several evolutions since, and is now available as a Windows app (in the Store, here), on mobile (Googly | Fruity) and it’s also playable in a browser.
In each of these settings, you do need to suffer some pretty intrusive advertising unless you want to pay a few £ a month (or £10 a year) to make them go away.
If you want to maximise your time-wasting, you can even play Wordament – and other “Games for Work” – within a Teams meeting.
There are other fun games to play during Teams meetings, too – the familiar “Bingo” being one that could be enjoyed by only those participants “in the know”.
678 – New Old Things again
In ToW 632 – New Old Things, the topic of the old version of OneNote getting some spiffy new features was raised. This week carries on the same theme in a different direction – some altogether new versions of old applications, which might be worth taking a look at, even if they’re not quite fully featured yet.
In the beginning there was Skype. Well, actually, before that there was MSN Messenger and its variants. Business environments then got Live Communications Server, Office Communications Server, eventually Lync, and finally the confusingly branded Skype for Business.
Teams came along from the left field around 6 years ago and from a real-time collaboration product point of view, swept all before it (at least in Microsoft), eventually replacing Skype for Business, as the pandemic turbocharged its adoption and appeal. Skype is still with us, with reasonably recent releases and even integration of the new Bing and GPT driven AI.
The thing is, the original Teams client grew up pretty quickly and though it has had lots of improvements, it’s never been especially resource-light, or quick. The Teams team (herein lies one challenge with its name) took the decision to start over and build a new Teams client, shiny and slick and running like greased lightning.
If you feel like giving it a try, you may see a Try new Teams slider on the top left of the main Teams client window; clicking that will restart Teams by closing the old app and starting the new. There are some features not quite there yet, but the list is being updated frequently as functionality improves. If you switch to the new Teams preview and don’t like it, you can quickly switch back – but you’re either/or running one or the other.
Outlook has a longer heritage – it came out first with Office 97 so has its roots in early/mid-90s code, and even if the core of the app has been re-engineered and the UX has had numerous polishes over the years, there are still occasional peeks at a Windows 95 era application lurking beneath.
There has been a push for some time to make the Outlook Web client a more viable alternative for many users, including showing Outlook Web in an Edge sidebar even when clicking a link from the PC desktop client. Functionality differs between the full-fat desktop, the web client and the various mobile apps.
There’s a “new Outlook” on the way, now too – previously codenamed “project Monarch” it’s supposedly been in the works for years, yet looks a lot like the web client that happens to run in a window – it’s available in preview now. It may end up replacing the variety of desktop, web and mobile apps, though that could take a while. In near terms, the new Outlook will likely supplant the default Mail & Calendar apps in Windows 11.
You may see a Try the new Outlook slider on the top right of the main Outlook window; flicking that will restart Outlook in its new guise, however unlike the new Teams, it is possible to run both new and old, side-by-side.
One way would be to make the switch, then on the new “Outlook PRE” icon that appears on the taskbar, choose to Pin it. Then flick back and you’ll now have both old and new Outlooks available together. You could configure the New one to remove your main M365 email account, and just have your Outlook.com / Hotmail or now even a Gmail account, while leaving all your work emails in the old Outlook UX.
If you want to keep old and new Outlook with different account setups – business in the old, private in the new, for example – go straight to the Store and install the New Outlook app, then configure it as you like when it starts.
677 – LinkedIn’s Blue Tick
The world’s fascination with what’s happening at Twitter and its charismatic leader (but not necessarily its CEO?) appears to remain high. One headline making topic was what to do with the “verified” blue tick service, previously offered to high-profile individuals but now turned into a monetization strategy. The full hour-long BBC interview with Elon is certainly worth watching.
In related but somewhat less controversial news, LinkedIn has just launched a verification feature which lets a user validate that they are who they say they are, and best of all, it’s free.
There’s no obvious verification badge akin to the blue tick quite yet, though you may see some other info about people when you see their profile picture – a green blob means they’re online, a green hollowed-out blob means they’re not active but they will see messages on their phone. If you don’t like to show the green blob/circle, you can always switch it off, so no visible blob means someone else is either offline completely or just going incognito.
Verification is rolling out gradually but will eventually be available to everyone, either by validating their corporate email address, by using the Microsoft Entra verification service (if your company subscribes to Azure Active Directory, that will be an option soon), or by validating your ID using the CLEAR program favoured by smug airport travellers.
Work email verification is probably the easiest for most people to use – sign in to LinkedIn.com and click the Me option on the toolbar at the top right and then View Profile to look at your own profile page. Now, click the More button and select About this profile – that will show you what verification options are open to you. Email verification just means entering your company email address, then clicking the link that is emailed to you. Once that’s done, return to the About this profile section and you’ll see that your account has been verified.
Visitors to your profile page wil see a prominent banner showing that you have been verified, and giving some details of how (without giving away the actual email address or details of Government ID etc). The Show verifications option gives some info about the means and timing of the verification.
LinkedIn says it might change the way verification is displayed on your profile, in due course; maybe the plan is to make it more visible in search results too. Time will tell.
674 – Here’s the (co)pilot
UK telly viewers in the early noughties may recall the surreal comedy show, Trigger Happy TV, with recurring characters like the aggressive squirrels or the guy with the massive phone (and that Nokia ring tone).
It was also known for some great soundtracks, like the fantastically titled Grandaddy song “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” (also used elsewhere). Tech news over recent weeks tells us that the pilot – or Copilot – is anything but dumb, even if it can be simple.
For Microsoft watchers, “Copilot” is a growing set of capabilities which are being built to add OpenAI functionality to other applications. With all the hoo-hah about ChatGPT and the generative AI that is now integrated into Bing (and available for everyone who wants it, not just early adopters), it’s easy to get different strands mixed up.
GPT-3 and now GPT-4 are the core language models which could underpin any number of applications’ use of what looks like artificial intelligence. ChatGPT is one web app built to hone some of the parameters of GPT-3 and put a chatbot front end to it. The new Bing and all the other stuff announced over the last few weeks is not using ChatGPT, but they do share some of the same technology underneath. Capisce?
There have been AI features aimed at making developers’ lives easier, such as Github Copilot (available since 2021), which uses another OpenAI tool called Codex, itself built to harness GPT-3. For developers on Power Platform, there have been AI functions for years too, though some capability has been recently added.
Everyday users of Dynamics 365 and Office applications will soon get Copilot capabilities to help automate boring tasks, like “work”. Do bear in mind that announcing something and making something available – in limited preview form or generally – are different activities. Copilot for Office apps like Outlook might be a few weeks or months away for most of us, but who can’t wait for AI to automatically read and reply to all their emails?
The future with our robot overlords never looked so appealing.
For a growing summary of Copilot announcements, see the hugely popular LinkedIn post from Jack Rowbotham.
673 – Where is my mouse?
The “mouse” was invented 60 years ago, as a means of moving a cursor around on-screen. Through many generations of hardware, it evolved from using wheels to rubbery balls, before eventually going sensor-based and even losing the tail that may have helped coin its original name
Since many people now use laptops with touchpads, they won’t even use an external meecely peripheral but the term “mouse” is still often used to refer to the pointer that it controls. Finding that pointer on your desktop can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you have multiple screens on your computer, and particularly if at least one of them is a snazzy ultrawide job.
The free PowerToys addons to Windows 11 includes a section of Mouse utilities; install the full PowerToys suite and you can usually enable each feature individually, and set what mechanism you’d use to invoke it. Perhaps the most useful is the “Find my Mouse” keyboard shortcut – just press the CTRL key twice in quick succession, and the screen dims with a spotlight on where your pointer currently is. Press CTRL once again to remove it and go back to normal.
There are loads of settings to tweak how some of the utilities work – Find my Mouse could be enabled by shaking your mouse if you’d prefer. There’s also a highlighter feature that indicates if you’re pressing a left or right mouse button, or a crosshair view which, when turned on, sets a permanent crosshair display (again, configurable in numerous ways) that remains in place until you repeat the key combo to switch it off.
Mice can jump high – who knew?
A new mousey feature in the latest release of PowerToys is called Mouse Jump – erstwhile known as FancyMouse – and lets you teleport your mouse pointer from one side of a potentially massive desktop to another.
This is particularly handy if you have multiple screens set at different heights, and in order to traverse from one side of the desktop to the other would take you multiple swipes of a physical mouse or strokes of a touchpad.
Press the activation key and you’ll see a shrunken version of the desktop in a small window; click where you want the pointer to vamoose to on that depiction of the display and it will teleport to the other side of the desktop.
672 – Why your meetings are clashing
Look at your work calendar for the next two weeks or so; if you’re a part of a multi-national organization that routinely has meetings with people all over the world, your nicely ordered diary might be a maelstrom of overlapping and clashing appointments. Welcome to the start of the 6-monthly Daylight Saving Time Shuffle! Of course, you might have clashing for other reasons.
Meetings in Outlook – apparently, other PIMs are available – are created in the time zone of the organizer. If you’re in London and have set up a weekly 4pm meeting, most of the time that’s at 8am for the people in San Francisco, but for the next 2 weeks it’d be 9am and therefore possibly conflicting with whatever else they had planned for then.
The topic of time and its zones has been covered ad nauseam on ToW passim, but it’s worth a quick reminder of what is ahead (and other countries / regions still do vary – see a summary of the global daylight saving time dates and regions, here), especially since the US has a habit of doing things differently to the rest of the world:
- 12 March 2023 – Most of the US, Canada, Carribean enters DST (if observed)
- 24-26 March – most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere enters DST (if observed)
- 2 April – Australia, New Zealand leaves DST
Practically, that means that today, a noon meeting in Seattle would be 8pm in London and 7am (tomorrow) in Sydney, but in a little over 3 weeks that would have moved to noon/7pm/6am and eventually settled back at noon SEA and 8pm LON, but now at a refreshing 5am SYD.
Fortunately, the Clock app on Windows 11 has a “Word Clock” feature that lets you pin cities to the map and you’ll see what the current time is (and what the time zone offset is currently). You can also get a tabular view of what the relative time will be at any given date.
0x29A – It’s only a number
Last week’s ToW was the six-hundred, three-score and fifth, and while this week’s is one more, it’s probably best if it’s not mentioned. As well as being called out in a certain old book, said number also features greatly in legend, light musical entertainment and popular fiction.
Other numbers attract a certain amount of superstition – some tall buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor, for example, and even big companies like Microsoft have been known to dodge bad luck by not shipping a v13 of a product (like Office – look at the File | Account | About dialog in any Office app, and you’ll see the version number – Office 2007 was v12 and Office 2010 was v14). Some cultures don’t much like the number 4 or 14 either.
One numerically interesting but easily overlooked app in Windows 11 is the venerable Calculator. Start it by pressing the Windows key and entering calc, or if you’re truly blessed, you might even have a physical button on your keyboard. The app starts in whichever mode it was last run – by default, a simple calculator with the same kinds of functions that were common on the popular pocket calculators of the 1980s.
But look at the hamburger menu on the top left and you’ll see so much more – from Programmer functions to convert numbers from one base to another (so you can decode hex error messages or “funny” binary t-shirts*), to a whole array of converter functions which let you quickly change currency (at the current rate) or transform from one measurement standard to another.
There’s a neat date calculator too, so you don’t need to resort to using an Excel formula to count how many days there are between two dates.
Back in Standard mode, you’ll see the history of your calculations on the right side, and you can use the Memory functions to store multiple numbers for future use; much better than the old one-and-done M- M+ and MR buttons on a pocket calc. There’s also a mode which keeps the calculator window on top of others, even if it isn’t the active window at the time.
If you have a full-sized keyboard, you’ll also probably have a NumLock key – that turns the numerical keypad on the right side on and off. In the early days of the PC, smaller keyboards didn’t have separate cursor keys, so these were sited on the keypad. In order to use these cursor functions – and the others, often doubled-up PgUp / PgDn etc – you’d switch NumLock off. And then swear when you went to use the numerical pad to quickly enter a number into some DOS application, only to find you’ve moved the blinking cursor around instead.
*convert each of the 8-bit binary numbers in the t-shirt to decimal; assuming the decimal number is the ASCII code corresponding to a letter, open a new blank doc in Word, and holding down the ALT key, enter the decimal number on your numeric keypad. Oh, if you’ve only got a laptop with no separate Numlock/keypad, bad luck.