#10: More Mapping Bing(e)s

Following on from last week’s tip on Ordnance Survey mapping, it’s worth exploring a couple of other related topics. Reader Steven Grier recommends Walkhighlands: Scotland walks for invigorating walks north of the border (and not just the Highlands … it also covers Stevie’s native Burns country, so you could find some routes to get outdoors while practicing the forthcoming address).

Another regular, Mike Garrish, suggested looking at SysMaps, which aggregates a variety of different mapping services including Bing Maps. The UI takes a bit of getting used to but it does an effective job and makes up for Bing’s inexplicable removal of being able to export routes to .GPX files, by supporting that feature too.

Bing Maps can trace its lineage back nearly twenty years. Launched back in the days when Microsoft felt it needed to do everything its competitors were doing, even if not quite as well, the service was originally called Microsoft Virtual Earth (or Virtual North America, as one former colleague called it, given that everywhere outside of NA was still TBC; a bit like any sports tournament that has “World Series” in front of it). The Virtual Earth platform was aimed at developers looking to harness mapping in their sites and, later, apps. It offered up sometimes very good quality licensed mapping data and images for free, as part of the “Live” branding and then eventually morphed into being part of Bing. The Bing Maps Enterprise and Azure Maps services now form part of Microsoft’s “Map Platform”.

Start me up

The consumer-facing mapping service clings on despite having no discrete mobile client (in a browser, just go bingmaps.com to jump to it, or the alternative googlemaps.com, should you prefer being asked every five minutes if you’re rather use Chrome). There are mapping components in the expanding Microsoft Start mobile app, which is subsuming various formerly-separate apps like News and Money into a single application. Many of these things were at one point “MSN something”, might later have been lumped under Bing, but are now presented within Start like widgets, unsurprisingly slinging some ubiquitous Copilot in as well.

There’s a Copilot key coming to your next PC, the first major change since the Windows Key arrived with Windows 95, designed to make it easy to bring up the new Start menu. Remember that ‘Stones song? Here’s what it could have been like

 

“News” gives you much the same feed as the default New Tab Page on the Edge browser (ie. news from customizable sources, peppered with ridiculous clickbait and stupid adverts… albeit seemingly less so in this instance). From a mapping perspective, there’s a “Nearby” tile which tells you what attractions are close to you, and a “Commute” function which will warn you on the phone when there is trouble on the road ahead.

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The PC app, Maps, is having its wings clipped somewhat, no longer able to work using offline copies of maps. Place your bets on how much life there is in the Maps app, given that it’s likely no longer going to be installed by default.

While it is still available, there are some pretty neat things in that app, like adding Ink annotations to maps which are saved on your PC (though not synced across machines) and using a pen to measure distance on-screen. Notably cool and unique to the Maps app (as compared to Bing Maps in a browser) is the 3D Cities feature. This lists quite a number of major and minor cities in the US, though its international coverage is a bit patchy – the only UK city on offer is Southampton, and while Australia has a few, you’ll not be looking out over the Harbour Bridge.

Back to the Streets

The Maps app offers no Ordnance Survey support for UK users but otherwise it basically does what Bing does in your browser.

It is worth noting, though, that the “not nearly as good as Google Street View” service called Streetside has been expanding internationally where it was a bit of a desert when launched first in the US (see earlier “World Series” comment) – in partnership with Tom Tom, Streetside has been adding more coverage though sometimes there’s not much they can do about being unable to go places.

It’s worth checking out Streetside either in the Windows Maps app or just in Bing Maps on a browser; you’ll definitely get a different view from the one you’ll see in Google.

#9: Go for a walk

Hello, ToW readers! It’s been a few couple of months now since the recent yet erstwhile host of “Tip of the Week” was acquired and their new owner has thus far not completed the repurposing of their content, and therefore not given me confidence in writing any more for them, for now. In the meantime, I’ll continue to dribble this stuff onto LinkedIn each Friday (as Tip o’ the Week always was, in the days when it was a Microsoft internal email), following from the restarted numbering system as at the time it changed from Tip o’ to Tip of.

I do hope you enjoy. Yay.

Now that we’re finally in the grip of the New Year, some NY resolutions might have been sacrificed already; eating less, moving more, not drinking too much and the like. If you’re still keen, maybe each weekend, why not get out into the great beyond and go for a walk?

Step 1 will be to decide where you’re going to walk to. Technology provides lots of help in that regard – from local website guides offering “10 great winter walks to take in your area” type articles (typically stuffed with clickbait and stupid advertising, though), to mobile apps and web sites like MapMyWalk, AllTrails and Visorando. Community enthusiasts might post their favourite routes on these and other fora, possibly with reviews to tell you how muddy they are / how many angry bulls you might encounter etc.

Screenshot 2024-01-12 134756If you like the good old method of staring at a map and making up your own way, there are all the usual mapping tools available too. Google Maps clearly has a market share leadership position, and offers handy offline capabilities and walking directions, which sometimes include off-road footpaths as well. Not bad if you’re mostly in a built-up area, but once you’re in the sticks, you might be better off with more tailored alternatives. If you’re walking in London, check out Footways – a site showing a curated set of suggested “quiet” routes from A to B.

Apple pushes their alternative mapping software for Fruity device users, however if you follow a link to an Apple Maps location – eg https://maps.apple.com/?q=47.641944,-122.127222&t=k – and you’re not on an Apple device, it will send you to Google Maps instead. DuckDuckGo lets you view the map using another browser – eg https://duckduckgo.com/?q=47.641944%2C-122.127222&iaxm=maps – in case you feel like you’re missing out. [You’re not, btw]

If you’re planning a walk in the UK countryside, you’d do well to look at Ordnance Survey, a government funded department which publishes maps at varying scale and with key attributes highlighted. The organization dates back to the 18th century, set up to accurately map England in order to counter military incursions from troublesome neighbours. They still produce not-insignificantly-priced paper maps, however pinch-to-zoom is somewhat problematic on such offline media, so a mobile subscription based app with route planning, offline guidance and the like might be more fitting (and they have a 30% offer on annual subscriptions right now).

If you’re not inclined to subscribe, there is one alternative that’s useful when planning walks, even if you need to print the map out (or screen grab it to save the image to your phone): use Bing Maps.

Screenshot 2024-01-12 144611It’s easy to forget about Bing Maps (jump to bingmaps.com in a browser to get there quickly) since there’s no workable mobile solution, so most people will rely on the other main platforms. If you’re in the UK, however (and you set United Kingdom as your region in the hamburger menu on the top right) then you’ll be able to access Ordnance Survey mapping for free.

Look at the “Style” icon near the top right and you can choose road maps, satellite view and more, including Ordnance Survey. If you don’t see that option, you will need to play some more with your location settings. Zoom in or out until you get the right level, and you’ll see Explorer (slightly more detailed) and Landranger map views, showing key attractions with public footpaths marked.

Screenshot 2024-01-12 144928

Screenshot 2024-01-12 150614It’s brilliant. Right-click the map to use the measuring tool to draw your walk and calculate the distance. Screen-grab (WindowsKey+S) the section you want, and you could highlight your route from within the Snipping Tool before printing it out, nice and big and easy to read.


638 – Tracking and Mapping

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Looking back over the smartphone era of the last 15 or so years, one of the most transformative technologies is the confluence of mapping and geo-location, providing route guidance, finding things and even people. How did we manage to make our way around cities before maps in the palm of our hands? Just exit a tube or subway station anywhere in the world, and observe the herds of people spinning around looking at their phone trying to get a GPS fix.

Although Microsoft ceded the mobile phone space around 5 years ago, effectively leaving Android and iOS as the only options, the Bing Maps service still survives, even if fewer websites and mobile apps make use of it today. clip_image003[4]Windows 11 comes with a built-in Maps app which offers some decent functionality (and offline use), but lacks some of the features of Bing Maps in a browser, like the Ordnance Survey view showing public footpaths and other attractions in the UK (if you have the country setting to United Kingdom, that is).

Given the lack of “Bing Maps mobile” – and the commensurate lack of usage – the data that sits alongside may be less accurate, too; look at the reviews on the Windows Maps app in the store, and the main complaints are from people who don’t want it at all or comments about the map and PoI data being stale.

clip_image005[4]Some neat features in Bing Maps make it stand out from others – the Bird’s Eye view is cool, though not always as fresh or widely available as it used to be.

The team still updates imagery for the web view, provides data to the awesome 3D Cities feature in Windows Maps and contributes to the amazing scenery in Flight Simulator (even if some modders are switching Flight Sim to using Google Maps instead).

Bing Maps in a browser does sometimes offer a City Flyover option, which is akin to the Flight Sim view.

clip_image007[4]clip_image009[4]Bing’s Streetside can be sparse compared to Google’s Street View, even though the Google Maps car is sometimes thwarted with a “None Shall Pass” situation. Search the web and there are many – some NSFW – weird attractions found on Street View.

Some odd things can be found on Streetside too.

Apple used Google Maps data for its own maps app on the iPhone at first, but replaced with its own service which was at first poorly received. 10 years later, Apple Maps – available, of course, only to fruity device users – does a much better job and purports to be less cavalier with the user’s data than the advertising company. Despite a much larger number of users flocking to the universally available Google Maps, Apple Maps provides a good service for iOS users, and is there by default.

clip_image011[4]If you choose to surrender the use of your personal data to the advertising industry, Google Maps does offer some very useful capabilities in recording where you’ve been; it will remind you where you parked your car and let you see if you’ve visited a particular place before, and when.

clip_image013[4]If your family and friends consent, you can also share your whereabouts in real time, showing a pin in the map where they are, and when the location was last recorded.

This could be handy for checking if your kids are where they’re supposed to be, for friends arranging to meet or just knowing when to expect someone to come home. You can enable sharing of your location to each specified contact for a limited time or until it’s turned off, and it will also let you see their name, picture and other info including (!) battery level of their phone.

clip_image015[4]Sign into Google Maps on your computer, and you’ll be able to keep track of people a little more easily, too (as well as manage your own location sharing), and review your own timeline of where you’ve been. It’s usually somewhat fascinating and sometimes a little creepy.

Fortunately, you can choose to edit or remove certain items of data, export it to other formats or disable the collection of it altogether.

You give up some control of personal data, and you get some benefit from it.

As some say, them’s the breaks.

539 – Outlook calendaring fun

clip_image002Pretty much everyone who uses the Office productivity suite probably relies on Outlook for not just the daily splurge of email, but for organising their activity either by tasks, flags or just putting stuff in their calendar.

Here are a few simple tricks to remember when working with your calendar:

  • You can move to Calendar in Outlook by pressing CTRL+2 anywhere in Outlook – if you’re trying to organise meetings for lots of people and need to keep flicking between mail and calendar views, this can save you so much time (CTRL+1 for mail, CTRL+3 for contacts etc – try the rest of the numbers out for a trip down memory lane). Even the clunky old Notes function in Outlook now synchronises with Sticky Notes.

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  • CTRL+T always takes you to Today, or if you have the Ribbon showing, you can click Today there clip_image006– though an update to Calendar’s UI which was shipped to M365 subscribers in March, also added a Today button at the top left of the main calendar view, as well as a few other tweaks.
  • CTRL+G launches an old-school dialog that lets you jump to a specific day – and lets you choose from a date picker, or type the date in if you prefer. Like lots of other old-school date dialogs in Office apps, you can enter certain natural language clip_image008phrases too – some like next month, 3 weeks, will be relative from today’s date, others like June will take you to today’s day in that month (try it out; it’s easier to see than to explain) and there are certain special days like Christmas where it will jump to the next occurrence. See ToW #291 from nearly 5 years ago for more date tips. For multi-lingual dates and other stuff, see here.
  • clip_image010Manage Time Zones – at this time of year, some of us would ordinarily be planning holidays involving travel to foreign climes, but not so much in 2020. There’s every likelihood of planning online meetings in other time zones while you’re sitting in your own office in the middle of the night – so it’s worth adding multiple time zones to your Outlook Calendar view and labelling them. Right-click on the time bar to the left of your calendar view, and choose Change Time Zone to manage the display of time zones, or even switch your whole PC between them quickly.
    The rather nice Windows 10 Alarms & Clock application (WinKey+R then ms-clock: if you don’t like to click) has a nifty display of multiple time zones if you like to see at a glance where and when everyone is.
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  • Colour-coding appointments is another favourite tip the super-organised use. You can right-click on any clip_image013appointment to colour it by setting a Category, or you can use Conditional Formatting on a view to colour appointments based on category – like who sent it, or what location it’s in, etc. See more here.
    If you’re feeling extra-brave, you could install a special form that lets you differentiate mail – and therefore, appointments – which originated from an external source, by exposing a hidden property. This allows you to automatically colour them differently.
    Delve into ToW #275 to install the form, then set up a Condition under the Calendar view in much the same way.

Tip o’ the Week 454 – Time Zone Tumult Ahead

clip_image002You may be affected by upcoming changes to time zones, as much of the northern hemisphere moves out of Daylight Saving Time and back to winter, which for is happening over the next couple of weeks.

Many Southern Hemisphere nations have already moved into “summer time”, though a few will make the transition on 4th November.

Europe, most of Mexico and parts of the Middle East will move out of DST this weekend, but most of the North America and the Caribbean will “fall back” the week after. See the list of places that currently observes DST and when they transition.

This can play havoc with people’s electronic calendars; systems these days generally take notice of time zone changes pretty well and that means the relative times of meetings are preserved, though what this does mean is that a 9am meeting organised in Seattle (and therefore hosted in Pacific Time) will be 5pm for attendees in London this week, but it would be 4pm GMT the week after, then back to 5pm after that, as the US moves clocks back.

This topic was covered 3 years ago in ToW #301, and most of the tips contained therein are still valid today.

Maybe future generations will stop the winter/summer time flip-flop effect altogether (Californians get to vote on whether to join their neighbours in Arizona, by staying on the same time zone all year, and the EU may stop the practice of changing clocks too). In the meantime, for a few weeks a year, those of us who deal cross-border may need to think a bit more about what the time is in our neighbour’s locale.

clip_image004clip_image006If in any doubt, make sure you add another time zone to the time scale on your Outlook calendar view, so you can see at a glance what the time is in other regions.

One further innovation since the last time this topic was aired, is that Outlook now lets you show a third time zone in calendar if you so desire.

Tip o’ the Week 443 – Starting modern apps

Power Users often like to start applications quickly, without recourse to grubbing around with a mouse or a trackpad. Super Users might even want to write scripts that automate all sorts of things that mere mortals with less time on their hands are happy to do manually. Regardless of your penchant for automation, here are a few short cuts you can take to quickly start apps that you use often.

Apps pinned to taskbar

The taskbar in Windows obviously shows you what’s currently running, but can also be used to pin frequently accessed apps or – by default at least – those that Windows thinks should be frequent (Edge, Store, etc – right-click on them to unpin if you disagree). You’ll see a highlight line under the apps that are running, so those without the line are simply pinned there.

If you start typing the name of a favourite app at the Start menu, then right-click on it in the list, you can choose to pin it. So far, so good.

If you drag the pinned apps around, they’ll stay in that position relative to each other, and new apps will always start to the right (or underneath, if you use a vertical taskbar, as you really should). Now, if you press WindowsKey+number, you’ll jump to the app that is n along the line, and if that app isn’t running, then Windows will start it. So in the picture above, pressing WindowsKey+2 would start Edge, or WindowsKey+3 would bring Outlook to the fore.

Shortcut to desktop

You could try an old-skool method, by creating a desktop shortcut to apps that are already on your Start menu – press WindowsKey+D to show the bare desktop itself, then press Start to show the actual Start menu.

Assuming your Start menu isn’t full screen then you’ll be able to drag icons or tiles from the menu to the Desktop, and if you right-click the shortcut and look at Properties, you’ll see a Shortcut key: option… just press some key sequence that makes sense to you and press OK to save.

This method differs from the taskbar one above, because each press of the shortcut you set might start a new instance of the app (if it supports that) – which may or may not be desirable. If you end up with several windows of OneNote, for example, you could cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the appropriate WindowsKey+n as above.

Keep on Running

There’s no better mark of being a real PC deity than by launching your apps through running the executable name… you know the drill? WindowsKey+R to get the Run dialog (it’s so much faster than pressing Start), then enter the app’s real name and you’re off to the races. winword, excel, calc, notepad… they’re for novices. The genuine hardcases might even dive into the (old fashioned, obvs) Control Panel applets like ncpa.cpl rather than navigating umpteen clicks.

Looking at the shortcut to OneNote’s modern app above, though, it’s clear there isn’t a simple executable to run – onenote will launch the on-life-support OneNote 2016 version.

Many modern apps do, however, let you launch them from the Run dialog by entering a name with “:” at the end…

Examples include:

onenote: Modern OneNote (annoyingly, you may get prompted to open in OneNote 2016 – just hit cancel and it goes away)
ms-settings: The new-fangled control panel. You can tag on other commands like ms-settings:display or ms-settings:windowsupdate but you might be quicker clicking the icon than typing all of that.
bingmaps: A good bit quicker than launching the browser and navigating to the maps URL, even if you do press ALT-D to set focus to the address bar, and type bingmaps <CTRL-ENTER> to auto-fill the www. and the .com
outlookmail: Even though it’s not real Outlook, this launches the Mail part of the Mail & Calendar store app. outlookcal: does the other bit.
ms-windows-store: For when you can’t wait to check out all the great new apps in the Microsoft Store.
fb: If you feel the need to do a personality test or look at other people’s holiday photos.

More on this, later…

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Tip o’ the Week 419 – What’s the time?

clip_image002The subject of time has featured on a few occasions on ToW – #301, #314, #325, #388 … but there’s always more scope to talk about it.

Windows 10 tweaked the way time is clip_image004presented, from showing the calendar and the agenda (sourced from whatever is synced into the Calendar app), to the Alarms & Clocks app which offers visual wakeup alarms, daylight maps, and timer/stopwatch apps.

In the Windows Insiders builds of the last few weeks – currently 17101 (which is now in the Fast Ring), there have been changes that bring the clock further forward too – the Game Bar has been updated to include the clock on the clip_image006left of the bar, for one thing.

What is time?

Existentially, time is relative. If you ever find that your Windows PC isn’t keeping time accurately, you may want to check that you have it set to get its time automatically (check Settings -> Time & Language – > Date & time), or go into the old-fashioned Control Panel, search for time and look at the settings in there, especially under the “Internet Time” tab to see where it’s syncing the time from: time.windows.com is probably the default.

Windows Time is also a thing – the number of milliseconds since the machine was started up, and also the name of the clip_image008service that controls the time synchronisation. Unix time is also a concept, measuring the number of elapsed seconds since 1st January 1970, and may present another millennium bug style problem in 20 years, if anyone is still using 32-bit *nix by then.

Back to simple relativity, though – what is the actual, real “time”? If you have multiple clocks, watches, phones & PCs, it’s a fair bet that they’ll all be divergent, unless they’re all being synchronised by some external device (your broadband router, maybe). If you’d like to find out exactly what the time is and don’t have access to an atomic clock or similar, there are a few online resources that might help…  and you could even try asking Cortana, as she knows about time zones and stuff.

But the best time site is http://time.is. Try it from any device and you’ll get the time right now;  some allowances need to be made for network latency but the operators have tried clip_image010their best. It tells you the time in your location (or one of your choice), and calculates the offset between your computer’s clock and the time.is service.

For an illustration of what latency (as ultimately governed by the speed of light) means when accessing nearby vs far away websites, check out www.azurespeed.com, which measures the time to connect to storage services at Azure datacenters. Some variance could be explained by performance spikes and so on, but the main impact is network latency due to distance travelled. The results can sometimes be surprising.

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Tip o’ the Week 405 – Bye Bye, Bird’s Eye

clip_image001The Bird’s Eye view is/was one of the nicest bits in Bing Maps (get there quickly, at www.bingmaps.com – did you know you can type simply bingmaps in the address bar of Edge or Chrome, and press CTRL-ENTER to add the www and .com bits?).

clip_image003The Eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that some changes have happened… clicking on the drop-down control to change the map type no longer shows Birds Eye – instead, if you right-click on a point on the map, you clip_image005may get the option of viewing in bird’s eye view, and maybe streetside (though don’t expect the same level of coverage of Google Street View, at least if you’re outside the US).

If the bird’s eye option is greyed out, that means the view is not available – or no longer available, as out of date maps have been temporarily removed from the platform. Or at least removed from being easily found – if the missing area is on a boundary between data sets that are being updated, it may be possible to find a nearby place, and scroll across to find the view you’d originally searched for.

clip_image007Shortly after going live, UK users found a temporary problem – clicking on the bird’s eye view (when it’s not greyed out) didn’t do anything if your locale was “United Kingdom”.

If selecting the view doesn’t work for you, try clicking on the “hamburger” menu in the top right, and change the country setting to be United States… whereupon the bird’s eye will work, but the Ordnance Survey view will disappear.

So for a while, it looks like Brits needed to say Bye Bye, to the Bird’s Eye (for your morning coffee, see what that last link will mean for Western civilisation). Boom Boom.

clip_image009Of course, another aerial view option would be to turn to Google Maps – one tip for using the aerial view (activate via the Satellite icon in the lower left), is that if you see older images, you may well be looking at a map layer associated with the 3D view, where the service renders the view by clip_image011“underlaying” building shapes with the images. Handy in a city, maybe, less so in the countryside.

In some cases, more recent images are available if you switch 3D off, by going to the hamburger menu in the top left; try disabling 3D to see what difference that makes to your aerial view.

Tip o’ the Week 390 – Paint it black

SHOCK, HORROR!”, the internet & news media said, “Microsoft is killing Paint!”. Cue the opportunityclip_image002 to make Clippy comparisons, and reflect on a bit of software that appeared in its first version in Windows 1.0, bring out the odd eccentric who manages to produce quite amazing art using Paint (like Pat Hines, who’s tried other paint software but “never managed to ‘connect’ with it”, or Jim’ll Paint It, who paints odd scenes on request, and whose fondness for MSPaint means he prefers the WinXP version).

Most of us probably don’t use MSPaint for much these days; maybe the odd bit of clumsy touching-up of images, or using it to snip bits out of screen grabs for documentation purposes.

Here’s one use case, if you’re in the UK and want to print out a map for a walk you’re going to do – fire up MSPAINT, set the clip_image004canvas dimensions to something huge like 4096×4096 (in File / Properties), then go to Bing Maps and screen grab (WindowsKey+S, or use the Snipping Tool) the relevant sections of your planned walking route, looking at the Ordnance Survey view in the top right, and zooming in so you see the footpath details.

For longish walks, you’ll struggle to fit the whole route on one screen at the max detail level, so you’ll need to grab a bit, paste it onto the Paint canvas, move the map view, grab the next section, then using Paint, assemble the bits together like overlaying jigsaw pieces by moving your newest-pasted chunk around so it fits the rest. Copy the whole finished lot into a Word doc, and print.

Anyway, Paint is most definitely not dead – it’s just going to be an app that’s packaged and maybe delivered via the Windows Store, just like lots of other apps that are traditionally part of Windows and may or may not be installed by default (like Calc, Mail, Groove etc). There’s always Paint3D, too (ToW 358).

If you do need to do some more intensive image manipulation, especially of photos, there are many free options, from Adobe’s PhotoShop Express or the built-in Microsoft Photos app, which lets you carry out simple tweaks to photos you’ve acquired. For more creating and pixel-by-pixel tweaking of images, though, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value yet powerful tool than Paint.NET. It looks a bit 1990s in some respects, but it’s a simple and effective image editing tool, that has been likened to the bits of Photoshop that people like, simplified and delivered for free.

Find out more about Paint.NET here – download directly from here, and keep an eye out for a packaged version of Paint.NET hitting the Windows Store at some point, too. Who knows – maybe it will be there before MSPaint is loaded on the cart and taken away?