Blog Archive

How to Make OneNote use £

We often run accessibility training for staff.  Not just staff with accessibility needs; all staff should have an understanding of how to create inclusive content and work collaboratively.

A very useful add-on for OneNote is Learning Tools.  This is developed by Microsoft and there’s no charge so we hope it will make it’s way into the native product at some point rather than needing a separate download.

Learning tools includes a dictation feature to transform speech to text and it’s very effective, especially with a good quality microphone or headset.

However, try as we might we cannot get it to recognise £.  Here’s an example:

OneNote Learning Tools dictation feature

 

As you can see, I’m dictating “Host a fantastic Office 365 excitement day from £500” (which is a blatant sales plug for our Buzz Days of course).  OneNote recognises when I say dollars, euros and yen and probably many others that I could recall from my travels outside of Reading (does Swindon use Roubles?) but try as I might, I cannot get it to place a £ sign.

The dictation you see where OneNote has wisely replaced the letters with asterisks was me saying 500 nicker.  Nicker is a slang term for pounds which OneNote is clearly not familiar with and thus thought I was being offensive.

No, OneNote, I’m not rapping, I’m simply trying to get our pricing correct.


Create an Azure Virtual Machine

An Azure Virtual Machine is a simulated computer (also known as a guest) hosted within a physical computer (also known as the host).  Virtual machines have been around for decades but the technical capabilities have advanced greatly over recent years and they are now a significant commodity in hosted infrastructures.  A virtual machine behaves like an actual physical computer but it shares the physical pool of resources, the memory, buses, processing power and storage, with other virtualised infrastructure.  The end user can connect to their virtual machine and it will have the same look and feel as if it was a physical computer.  The host computer runs a very specialised, reduced operating system (called the hypervisor) which takes care of the security, sharing and scheduling of all the guest operating systems on top of it.

The Azure Virtual Machine allows IT architects to create a network that will build success for the business. It means that the organization can easily set up temporary and therefore cost-effective environments for development and testing or they can transfer business-critical applications from on-premises servers to more advanced, reliable and economic hardware.  It allows organizations to try new ventures in a safe way; trying out new operating systems such as Linux or open-source application software.  It allows businesses to stretch and flex in a ‘fail fast’ way; if the business project or need is no longer relevant, then it can be switched off or even deleted without leaving redundant hardware.

Azure Virtual Machines are created through the Azure portal, which can be found at https://portal.azure.com or through programming interfaces such as PowerShell.  The simplest way to create an Azure Virtual Machine is using the portal; a browser-based user interface for interacting with Azure. It’s a straightforward process to create and configure Azure Virtual Machines and there’s even a Quick Start so that your Virtual Machine is up and running within minutes.

The difference between an Azure Virtual Machine and an on-premises Virtual Machine is that, in Azure, the IT architect does not control the host machine or its operating system.  All of the configuration is done through the cloud operating system, whether through the browser or the portal. In this example, we will create a new SQL Server Virtual Machine in Azure, using an image from the Azure gallery.

  1. Log in to the Azure portal at https://portal.azure.com using your Azure subscription account.
  2. On the Azure portal, click New.
  3. The portal opens the New window.  Select the Compute option and then select the option See all.
  4. In the search field, type SQL Server 2017, and press ENTER.
  5. To see the relevant options, click the Filter icon, and select the image for Windows SQL Server, which will be published by Microsoft.
  6. Select the image named SQL Server 2017 Developer on Windows Server 2016.
  7. Under Select a deployment model, ensure that Resource Manager is selected.
  8. Click Create.
  9. There will be a number of options for configuring the Virtual Machine, such as its size, location, and security information. Once you have selected the relevant options, select Deploy. The Virtual Machine will take a few moments to deploy.

Once the deployment has completed, you can connect to the VM remotely using Remote Desktop Connection on your PC or in the case of our SQL Server installation, through the SQL enterprise tools.


Azure Virtual Machine Types

When creating an Azure Virtual Machine, you will be presented with a wide choice of codes from A0 to M128s.  These represent the intended use and configuration of your virtual machine; basically, how many cores, RAM and storage it includes but there are other intricacies to this as well. Your choice depends on the workloads you want to run on the virtual machine. The most important thing is that you understand what the virtual machine will be used for. Once this decision is made, the IT architect can select the series and the size of virtual machine.

How does the process of Virtual Machine selection differ from sizing on premise Virtual Machines?  The machine will need as much RAM, CPU and disk as your operating system and applications will consume and in this respect, the selection of Azure Virtual Machine is identical to the process of selecting the sizes and configuration of on-premises physical or virtual machines currently.

One key aspect of Virtual Machine selection that is different, however, is that the Azure cloud environment allows the IT architect to scale. With some restrictions, you can scale your virtual machine up to a more powerful instance or down to a less powerful and cheaper virtual machine.  Azure Virtual Machines also offer high availability (HA) via scale-out.  For the on-premises architecture, this would require densely packed hardware and the IT team would have to take care of the Virtual Machine hosts, networks and storage whilst also thinking about redundancy and ensuring that the virtual machines were running at all times. Azure is different because the cloud takes care of that work for the IT team and offers high availability as part of that process.

Azure allows organizations to be cost-effective by setting up a group of smaller machines which share workloads and can be turned on or off according to demand or on a timed schedule.  Effectively, Azure charges for the compute power you are using when the virtual machines are turned on and doesn’t charge for virtual machines that are turned off.  The organization is only paying for any persistent storage or networking of the virtual machines when they are powered off, but not for unused compute power.

 

Selecting a Virtual Machine Size

To select the correct Virtual Machine series, the IT architect will need to know the intended workload. Each virtual machine type is optimised to run a different workload, so it’s essential that this planning is done first. For example, if you are looking for a virtual machine that can work with Big Data solutions, then the organization should select a virtual machine from the High Performance Compute VM series. At the time of writing, Microsoft offers six virtual machine types:

General Purpose – Balanced CPU-to-memory ratio
Compute Optimised – High CPU-to-memory ratio
Memory Optimised – High memory-to-CPU ratio
Storage Optimised – High disk throughput and IO
GPU – Specialised virtual machines for heavy graphics rendering and video editing
High Performance Compute – Fastest, most powerful CPU with optional high-throughput network interfaces (RDMA)
Once the series has been selected, the IT architect can choose the virtual machine size.

 

Selecting a Virtual Machine Size

One key piece of advice to note is that if the organization believes that they may need to move up to another larger virtual machine in the future, then it is best to check that the larger machine is available in the same hosting region (e.g. UK South, West US) as the original virtual machine. Otherwise, the organization will have to move the virtual machine to the new region.  Although it’s not an onerous task to move a virtual machine from one region to another, it is best to avoid if possible.

The following table will help the IT architect to identify the correct size of virtual machine for the requirements.

 

Table of Azure virtual machine types

 

To summarise, choosing an Azure Virtual Machine is a crucial part of the transition to cloud.  There is a good choice available and you have the ability, with some restrictions, to switch in the future as your needs change.


The Azure Pricing Calculator

The Azure Pricing Calculator, located at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/pricing/calculator helps you to predict the estimated monthly Azure bill for any Azure workload.  Once you have Azure services running, the Azure Portal helps you to monitor actual costs that you have incurred.

 

Screenshot of the Microsoft Azure Pricing Calculator
Figure 1 Azure Pricing Calculator website

 

The Azure Pricing Calculator helps you understand the costs of moving your technical estate to Azure, and to estimate pricing once your data and applications are in Azure.  The calculator allows you to view the price for different sizes and configurations of your Azure Virtual Machines in terms of the machine’s CPU, memory, storage, location and hours in use.  You can add any combination of Azure services to the calculator and view the pricing for complete solution.  This allows you to make better decisions on your move to the cloud by expediting the cost component of the decision.

The calculator is also useful in determining if you have all of the crucial resources in place for a successful migration to the cloud as relevant Azure services will be suggested when you add a component.  For example, if you add a virtual machine, you will typically require storage so the calculator helpfully adds that component into the pricing.

Since the Azure Pricing Calculator allows you the mix your configurations before you make your purchase, the cloud migration process becomes clearer.  This facility is particularly critical when the technical estate of the cloud infrastructure is in a constant state of change.  Microsoft Azure has monthly releases of new updates and new features.  This flexibility means there are a lot of different choices that can be made and the calculator not only helps you plan for your costs but can even reduce them altogether by helping to overcome the challenge of comparing your existing costs with the impact on cost of moving to Azure.

Azure has a great deal of choice but, in some ways, too much choice can be a difficult problem to have!  The Azure Pricing Calculator helps navigate the complexities of the Azure migration and choose the optimal configuration and pricing for your environment.  By proactively playing with the Azure Pricing Calculator, you can simulate various scenarios amongst the various Azure instances, types and features that are available.

Often, it can be perceived that organisations need to move all of their estate to the cloud but in reality, this is not always the case.  When onboarding your technical and data infrastructure to the cloud, it can be a good idea to start small in order to set yourself up for success.  The Azure Pricing calculator can help you to price up different scenarios to help you to navigate hybrid architectures as well as full cloud architectures.


Introduction to the Azure Portal

Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure created by Microsoft and the Azure Portal is one way for administrators to work with the cloud-based services and resources that are held in Azure.  It’s extremely straightforward and as it’s browser based, doesn’t require any new client software to be installed.

The portal can be found at portal.azure.com and it is sometimes known as the Azure Resource Manager or ARM for short.  The Azure Portal allows users to conduct a range of activities in Azure including creating and browsing resources, configuring settings for services such as Virtual Machines and monitoring the resources while they are in operation.

Due to the range of activities available on the portal, a detailed description is beyond the scope of a brief article but the main activities of the portal are very easy to use.  To log in to the Microsoft Azure portal, open a browser and navigate to https://portal.azure.com.  Log in with your Azure subscription account or if you don’t have one yet, you can set one up using the link on the portal page.

Once you are logged in, you can see the Azure dashboard.  There is a good search facility, which means that developers and IT architects can find what they need quickly.  You can also see your account information at the top right-hand corner.  The portal itself is free to access and does not incur any cost to use.

It’s possible to bring your existing knowledge to bear on Azure.  For example, the portal has its own Bash functionality and you can deploy JSON templates and your existing web apps via the portal. Azure offers a wide range of varied services on the portal but everything is located in one place.  This unified approach means that people can find what they want quickly, rather than having to use different interfaces or applications for different things.

Like most administrative tasks, once your Azure deployments are established, well-known and documented, it’s more likely the Azure API or PowerShell interface will be used to provide ongoing automated operations and functions.  For example, a PowerShell script to spin up a new instance of a pre-configured virtual machine with SQL Server for the marketing team who want to store some results of a campaign.  This is straightforward to include as part of your operations workflow rather than expect an IT administrator to log into the portal and create the virtual machine.

From the Finance perspective, you can access billing information through the portal so that it’s possible to keep an eye on costs for each service.  User rights can be set to allow IT administrators access to the Azure services but not the subscription or billing information and vice versa for finance users.  The Azure portal uses Power BI to provide context and clarity to the billing information as well as other types of data such as service and maintenance information.  From the users’ point of view, this means it is easy to port experience from the Azure portal onto Power BI, which is another interesting and useful data visualisation and reporting technology from Microsoft.

To summarize, the Azure portal is a unified window into Microsoft Azure.  It’s an easy, one-stop-shop to everything Azure.


Using Tags in OneNote

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Using Tags in OneNote can be an effective way to fight against information overload. One of OneNote’s most powerful, yet underutilised features is tagging. Tags help you extract and organise data across notebooks. Every note or item marked with a particular tag will show up in the search results when you search for that tag. A summary can also be created to pull out and group all tagged items. This can be extremely useful when making a to-do list or focus on particular information.

To use tags:

  1. Click on the Home ribbon
  2. In the Tags group, click the drop-down arrow to see a list of the built-in tags

NOTE: Custom tags can also be created in this section

Using tags in OneNote

Use tags to organise your data. For example, you could mark important items with the ‘Important’ tag, To-do items with the ‘To Do’ tag or questions with the ‘Question’ tag and so on. Keyboard short-cuts can be used to tag items faster. You can apply more than one tag to an item.

Using Tags in OneNote
  1. Click the Find Tag button

By default, all tagged items will show grouped by tag name. You can also change the search options to include the current section, the current notebook or even all of your existing notebooks.

Using Tags in OneNote
  1. Click Create Summary Page
Using Tags in OneNote

A new page will be created in your notebook that contains all of the tagged items organised in to groups. This is a great way of creating to-do lists and organising your data more efficiently.


A different way to attach documents

Sending and receiving documents and files in the form of an attachment is something that we are all very familiar with. The recipient is required to double-click on the attachment to open it and then it can be saved off as required.

However, did you know that there is a different way to attach documents? That you can also send the contents of a document in the body of the email as opposed to an attached file? This can sometimes be really useful and can be done by simply adding a button to the Quick Access Toolbar in Word.

Open the Word document you would like to send

  • Click the drop-down arrow on the Quick Access toolbar
  • Select More Commands
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  • Select Commands Not in the Ribbon from the Choose commands from drop-down menu
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  • Scroll down and select Send to Mail Recipient
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  • Click Add

The Send to Mail recipient icon will now be on the Quick Access Toolbar.

  • Click Send to Mail Recipient

Email fields will show. Complete these as normal. The Word document will appear in the body as opposed to as an attachment.

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Action Items in Outlook

In the Office 365 Exchange Admin Centre there are several default apps that can be turned on in Outlook by your administrator such as Action Items, Bing Maps, Suggested Meetings or Unsubscribe. These apps can help to streamline your daily workflow and save you time.

All emails received into your inbox will be scanned. If Outlook notices anything that needs to be ‘actioned’ it will flag these items to you in the form of buttons above the reading pane.

In the following example, Outlook has picked up and flagged an address and an item that needs to be actioned.

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Click on Bing Maps to see the exact location of the address.

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Click on Action Items to see what items need to be actioned. In this example, Outlook has picked up that the sender has asked me to download a form from the files library. It has flagged this with a suggested action of adding it into my tasks lists for follow-up.

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So next time you receive an email, take a glance at the bar above the reading pane for Bing Maps, Action Items, Suggested Meetings etc. These can be really helpful and time saving little apps!


Quiet people have the loudest minds

How do good trainers run great training sessions that are inspiring for different types of attendee?

As far back as I can remember I have been made to feel somewhat guilty about my introverted personality. I was that child that preferred spending the summer holidays inside reading a book, drawing or making a fabulous princess palace out of old cardboard boxes and toilet rolls. Most of my friends would be outside on their bikes or up the hills playing games but for me, it was never as appealing. I think my parents found this somewhat unusual and I was always gently encouraged to go outside and play. Sometimes I did, but all the time longing to get back inside doing something creative on my own.

As an only child I grew up enjoying solitude and seeking out activities that I could do on my own or with one other trusted person. I always felt different to others. I didn’t really understand when I was younger why I didn’t enjoy being around lots of people or partaking in social activities. I felt weird. I felt that there was something wrong with me. If this rings true for you, then you are not weird, you are an introvert.

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So what is the difference between an introvert and an extrovert? It relates to where you gain your energy. It was the famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung that popularised this definition. Extroverts feel energised and most alive being around people and feeding off others whereas introverts get their energy from within themselves. An introvert needs solitude like most people need oxygen.

As an introvert I can tell you that if I have to spend a number of hours in a social situation, particularly with people I do not know I feel totally drained at the end of the day. My batteries are flat. I find that people tend to drain the energy out of me and I usually cannot wait to get back home and recharge. Now that makes me sound completely anti-social and a bit of a people hater. I am not. I do enjoy the company of others but it does tire me out. And this is the problem that introverts encounter on a daily basis.

All of our institutions, be it schools or the workplace are setup to cater to extroverts. The gregarious qualities of an extrovert are prized more highly than the contemplative qualities of an introvert in today’s society. It’s easy to understand why this is but let’s look at a scenario.

Richard and Daisy are both going for a job interview. They both have excellent skills and qualifications on paper. Richard walks into the interview and confidently speaks about his achievements. He oozes charisma. He has fabulous anecdotes. He’s social, gregarious, a go-getter and real man of action! Daisy follows him. She has a quiet confidence, she pauses in deep thought before each answer. She has amazing, well thought out and creative ideas but seems shy and reserved. She indicates that she works best on solo projects as this is how her creativity flourishes. As an employer, who would you hire? I am guessing probably Richard. Why? He fits the mould of the modern office environment. However, sometimes the quiet people have the loudest minds.

introvertvsextrovert

Introverts make up 1/3 of the population and in general this personality type is misunderstood. Introverts are not shy. Introverts do not lack confidence. This is the most common misconception. Type Introverts into a Word document and hit Shift+F7 to see what I mean.

I am an introvert and I do a very extroverted job. I am a trainer, which means I stand in front of large groups of people and speak. If I lacked confidence or was shy, I would find it very difficult to do the job I do. That’s not to say that I do not find my job challenging. Being in the spotlight is not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve had to work at it. A lot of trainers I know are extroverts. They are comfortable running a training session with very little preparation and to a certain extent ‘winging it’. I’m not accusing them of running bad sessions or not caring as much, they are just more able to absorb the unexpected and run with it.

That’s not me. I plan, I research, I think about all the things that could go wrong in advance and try to counter them, I prepare, I practice, all so that my time ‘in the spotlight’ runs smoothly. It is this that enables me as an introvert to do an extroverts job. It’s my process that enables me to feel comfortable. It is very frustrating for an introvert when someone tries to change your process or doesn’t understand your need for meticulous planning.

This leads us into talking a little bit about training sessions and how, as a trainer, you can execute an interactive training session that is conducive for both introverts and extroverts.

Let’s briefly go back to talking about schools. Schools these days are setup in a way that caters to extroverts. Students sit on large round tables, facing each other and are encouraged to partake in countless group activities. The idea being to encourage interaction, learn how to work in a team and share ideas. I am not saying this is a bad thing. Young people do need to learn these skills. But what about the introverted child in that classroom? The child that is uncomfortable working in large groups. The child who prefers to reflect on a subject quietly before sharing his or her idea. The child that is often labelled as anti-social or difficult. Forcing introverts to work like extroverts is counter-productive and only serves to alienate that child from the group.

This is similar in an adult learning environment. Most trainers use a technique at the start of training sessions to ascertain the different learning styles and personality types of their students. It’s called an ‘Ice Breaker’ and usually involves some kind of activity or exercise. I use Ice Breakers to sort out the introverts from the extroverts. Many trainers I have met are very focused on the interactive element of training sessions. Group activities, high energy exercises, getting the students to voice their opinions, ask questions etc. I agree that these are important parts of training in order to keep participants engaged and interested. However, I would encourage all trainers to think about the introverted participants who are sitting there dreading the next group exercise or next question that puts them on the spot. Often, the fear of what is coming distracts them from their learning.

Susan Cain did an amazing Ted Talk on the ‘Power of introverts’ and I think this quote is very true. ‘Stop the madness for constant group work!!’ Think about alternative methods that will allow extroverts and introverts to flourish equally. Instead of large, boisterous group activities, pepper your sessions with solo exercises or brain training activities. Instead of large group work, stick to partner work. If you need to do an exercise in a large group, make it a more relaxed ‘Café style’ workshop where you start a discussion with the group during a coffee break. This is immediately more relaxed and informal. Students can participate as much or as little as they like with no pressure. Try not to fire questions at a student that appears to be quiet and not interacting as much. They are probably listening intently and processing.

Introverts hold so much power that is overlooked. They tend to be more effective than their extroverted counterparts, statistically more intelligent and oddly better leaders as they don’t dominate others and are more inclined to let individual ideas flourish. Introverts are creative. They are imaginative. They are deep thinkers. They are invaluable to this world. Where would we be without the likes of Einstein, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parkes or Bill Gates? All introverts who changed the world.

Employers are slowly starting to understand this concept. Our workplaces are changing and becoming more flexible. Employers are introducing different ways of working and home working is on the rise. There is a mini revolution going on at the moment confirmed by the amount of blogs and articles popping up all over the web on this subject. Let’s embrace everyone, introverts, extroverts and all those that are in between and recognise the supreme benefit of letting individuals work within their natural personality type.

And whatever personality type you are, you’re more than welcome on our courses.

 

 


Living on the Edge

Microsoft Edge, that is.

As it’s Guy Fawkes Night this week and everyone is getting excited at the prospect of sparklers, amazing fireworks and toasting marshmallows on an open fire, we thought we would dedicate this week’s blog post to something new and exciting in the world of Microsoft!

If you are one of the many millions of people that have upgraded to Windows 10, you will probably be aware of Microsoft Edge already. If not then carry on reading and start living on the edge!

What is Microsoft Edge?

Microsoft Edge is your new browser for Windows 10. It’s a new way to surf the web! Microsoft Edge gives you new ways to find stuff, read and write. It’s the browser for doing stuff!

Click the Screenshot of logo tile icon to open Edge.

Searching from the address bar

No need to go to a website to search for pictures of cute kittens or funny memes, just type what you are searching for into the address bar and Edge will give you search suggestions, your browsing history and instant results right on the spot.

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The Hub: Everything in one place

Think of the Hub as the place where Microsoft Edge keeps the things you collect on the web. Select Hub to view your favourites, reading list, browsing history, and current downloads.

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Looking for your favourites? In the Hub, choose Favourites and then select Import favourites.

Read without distractions

Turn on reading view to bring articles front and centre

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NOTE: If the reading view icon is greyed out it means that the web page is not available in read mode.

Save articles to read later by adding them to your reading list. Click the star icon and select Reading List and Add.

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Write on the web

Add your own personal touch to web pages with Web Note.

Use the Pen, Highlighter or Type Tools to add your own ideas.

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Save your notes to share with a friend or co-worker.

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Get answers from Cortana

When you stumble across a topic on the web you’d like to know more about, Cortana is your ready and able, all-knowing guru. Highlight a word or phrase, press and hold (or right-click) it, then Ask Cortana to find out all about it.

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Happy browsing and have a safe and enjoyable Guy Fawkes Night!

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