Blog Archive

Has Bing improved in ten years?



I am search-engine-agnostic.  I use several of them without favour and without particularly liking any of them.  Google’s lack of privacy scares me but I like the mapping, Bing’s home image often makes me smile and once in a while I earn enough points to gain a £5 John Lewis e-voucher but I grumble when it can’t find the most obvious things.  Yahoo, oh wait, I haven’t used that since Steve Ballmer foolishly offered a ridiculously large sum to buy it and Yahoo even more foolishly turned that ridiculously large sum down.

Bing was ten years old in June 2019

Bing had an Ed Balls moment today when it felt it had to tell us all that it’s ten years old (Wikipedia thought it was two days ago until someone quickly updated the entry for Bing).  I thought I’d retry some of the failed Bing searches I have noted over the last few years to see if it had improved.

Some errors aren’t Bing’s fault.  The Christmas quiz from 2018 had the following question and any decent pub-quiz fan knows the film version of Walking in the Air was sung by was Peter Thingamebob.  Let me just Google his surname.

Bing's incorrect Christmas quiz question from 2018


Whilst some search issues could be put down to temporary glitches (a search for the fashion brand “Moncler” didn’t even show the official website on page 1 let alone the top result, or a search for “Empire of the Sun” returned absolutely no results), Bing does especially badly on places.  Many times I’ve popped in place names, either in the Bing homepage or directly within Bing maps and some obscure place is displayed as opposed to the big, famous, obvious choice.  Most of these seem fixed now:

Fixed – “Lambeth”, Bing maps displayed somewhere near Hatfield as opposed to the London Borough of Lambeth.  A bit too far to do the Lambeth Walk.  Ok, no more puns, I promise.

Fixed – Enter “Southend” in Bing maps and it showed Southend in Canada.

Fixed – “Richmond Upon Thames train station” and Bing suggested Norbiton Railway Station.

Fixed – Search for “Manchester Piccadilly Station” and Bing showed a different station on the outskirts of Manchester.

Fixed – Search for “Warrington” and click maps; displayed the tiny village of Warrington near Milton Keynes rather than the bleeding obvious Warrington near Manchester.

Fixed – Same for “Croydon”.  Bing used to show Croydon in Cambridgeshire as its first result.

Fixed – Same with Preston.  Displayed a small village near Cirencester.

Fixed – Same with Bury.  Displayed a small village in West Sussex.

Not fixed – I’m signed into Bing and my location is Bracknell.  About 15 miles away, on the other side of Reading, is a place called Calcot.  It has a big Sainbury’s Savacentre and an Ikea so it’s not obscure.  But search for Calcot (and remember, Bing knows where I am) and I get results from a building in Gloucestershire.



So it does seem Bing improves over time.  The former Bing product manager at Microsoft UK used to send very good explanatory emails about the vagaries of search algorithms when employees would send him glitches like these and it’s nice to see they may have had an impact.

It is still a very silly name though.


Subtitle your Presentations



When we run webcasts and presentations, we like to include subtitles.  There are a couple of ways we’ve done this with the Microsoft tools and one of those methods is now in the ubiquitous PowerPoint.

Microsoft have done very well in the last few years improving the accessibility tools in Windows and Office and much of this has to do with the improved AI capabilities enabled by Azure.

Office has included a dictate feature for some time, first in OneNote, followed by the mainstream applications.  Dictate allowed users to create notes and documents using voice and also to edit documents and control the interface.

Dictate in PowerPoint now goes a step further by adding real-time subtitling to your slide shows.  There is a bit of a lag and it’s not perfect but it’s easy to use, helpful and included in the application.

To use the feature, open a PowerPoint presentation and click the Slide Show tab and choose your subtitle options, including the languages.  This is not a translation service and I haven’t determined how good the translations might be but the subtitling feature accepts various spoken languages and can display the subtitles in another language.

Subtitle feature in PowerPoint 2019


Next, run the slideshow as normal.  You can use presenter view in the normal way if you choose to.

On the primary presentation screen, move the mouse to view the overlaid toolbar and click the subtitle icon.  PowerPoint is now listening and will display subtitles.

Here’s a video of the feature in action.  I’m using a small headset here and I haven’t tuned my microphone and the results are pretty impressive.  I spotted a couple of minor mistakes during testing but for live, automated subtitling, I think this is excellent.


The subtitling feature is not available if you are recording your slideshow to video, which I think is a big loss as that’s a great way to create accessible presentations that can be viewed later.

And the final point.  The subtitling does not show swear words (although I probably haven’t tested this exhaustively) and as detailed in this previous blog post, I still can’t get this feature to create a £ sign.


Protection from Phishing



You are no doubt aware of phishing attacks.  When emails arrive purporting to be from your bank or the tax office with an urgent message trying to prompt the recipient to click a login button.  The login button links to a web page that looks like the official organisation but of course, is not and the site is trying to gain your login information so they can use it on the legitimate site to access your account.

Spear-phishing is more targeted.  An example is where an email is sent from a person you know and potentially trust.  It might even be a senior figure at your company.  The email will ask for something quickly and again, his is an attempt to catch people whilst they are unwary and trick them into paying a fake invoice or revealing sensitive information. 

Spear Phishing Attack

Here is a snip from an email account and as you can see, we have a message flagged for high importance from the CEO.  Naturally we open it and want to action this straight away.

Outlook (and the Outlook web app) try to catch these attacks and warn the user in a clear way.


When we open the email (and before we even hit reply), Outlook displays a prominent warning that, although the name is similar to someone we receive email from regularly, the email address is unusual.

Outlook 2019 Spear Phishing Attack Warning


This is a great improvement and will hopefully help to reduce these attacks which are easy to fall prey to.


The Unpredictability of AI



Horses need love too
Horses need love too

Artificial intelligence, data mining, business intelligence; they promise a lot and can deliver stunning outcomes but not always the results we’re looking for.

An old colleague of mine from Microsoft (who will know who he is if he reads this) created some AI to predict horse racing results (ah, the holy grail). The training was based on historic almanac data which he painstakingly input into the engine. The concept was he could use future data such as the horses in a race, the going, etc. and the engine would then predict which horse would be most likely to win and which horses would place second and third.

However, the results were surprising when the system was run. Rather than predict the winning order for an upcoming race, it predicted which other horses any particular horse would prefer to run against. In effect, the world’s first horse dating agency.

So the flawed project was shelved which is a shame in my opinion. A lot of work went into the system and it could have been reconfigured. Also, with the success of dating sites such as match.com and eHarmony, a new market could have been created for animal dating. Although it is quite hard to swipe right with a paw.


PowerPoint’s Morph Transition



When we train on PowerPoint, we don’t often go through the animations and transitions in detail because everyone plays with them and you should never overuse them.  There is a thin line between effective and gaudy.  Please, we’re begging you never to use the airplane transition in a serious presentation.

There are two very useful transitions in PowerPoint however; morph and whilst not listed on the transition ribbon group, the zoom control which we’ll blog about later this week.

Morph

Morphing two similar slides is nothing new and in the past I would have used animations tools such as motion paths and fade.  The morph transition potentially saves me hours by automating what I need.

Let’s get started

I have the following slide and want to add a second slide afterwards with different text and layout but essentially the same main components.

PowerPoint morph example slide 1

 

Of course, I could just use a fade transition but to be really flashy I’d create motion paths to move each of the elements around as if it were the same slide animating.

The easiest way to utilise morph is to duplicate your starting slide so now we have two slides the same.

In slide 2, move the elements where you want them to be, edit the text as required and create any new elements you require as you would normally.  Here’s my new slide 2.

PowerPoint morph example slide 2

 

Once you’ve finished, select the morph transition for slide 2 and if you have transition preview set on, you’ll see PowerPoint recognising the existing elements from slide 1 and automatically moving them to their new positions on slide 2.  The text and new elements simply fade in.

Here’s the effect.

 

Morph can also be set to animate words or characters as well as objects by setting your choice in Effect Options in the Transitions ribbon tab.

If you try to set morph on two completely dissimilar slides, you’ll just see morph perform a simple fade.

Whilst morph is a great time saver and looks really special, you may still need to create motion paths if you want elements to animate in certain ways, such as following a defined route.

This Early Solar System Explorations – Morph PowerPoint deck is a great example of using morph.  There are no animations in this deck whatsoever, the work is all done by PowerPoint and it makes the fictional Mrs Roberts look awesome.

Morph is available in PowerPoint on Office 365 and PowerPoint 2019.


Accessibility with Microsoft Office



User excluded from the team

Part of any software rollout involves considering the needs of a diverse population of users.  We are running a series of free webinars which introduce the challenges for users with accessibility needs who may use computers in different ways.

We’ll cover technology and techniques used, design decisions which affect the accessibility of documents and features available in Microsoft Windows, Office 365 and Internet Explorer which will help IT projects to be more inclusive from the outset.

Each webinar will last 20 minutes and there will be opportunities to ask questions.

 

Webinar 1 – Wednesday 28th November 2018, 2pm – Why is accessibility important?

Webinar 2 – Wednesday 5th December 2018, 2pm – Creating accessible content with Microsoft Office

Webinar 3 – Wednesday 12th December 2018, 2pm – Accessibility tools in the Microsoft platform for consuming content

Webinar 4 – Wednesday 19th December 2018, 2pm – How not to alienate users with accessibility needs in team collaboration

You can register for these by clicking here.

We hope to see you for the webinars!


Do Challenges Motivate Trainees?



Snail moving to a finish line

Not that we like to brag but we’re pretty good at motivating attendees on our courses and events.  But there’s no magic bullet or panacea.  Just like raising children – lots of advice out there but no single, simple answer.  I can sense your disappointed face.

When we’re designing training exercises or labs, we need to motivate the trainees.  One way we can do this is to break new and potentially complex tasks into simpler steps and lead the user on a journey of mini-achievements.  Success is like endorphins; keep plying the attendee with obtainable challenges and they’ll continue and remain engaged.  Sounds like common sense; “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.  I believe Kayne West took the credit for that gem.

But the difficulty of these challenges is a science in itself.  This study from the University of Southern California says the key is what people think ease and difficulty mean for them.  For some people, if tasks feel too easy, the journey becomes demeaning and boring and thus a demotivator.  Too difficult and the trainee might give up.  For others, easy tasks are in themselves motivators and for others still, high levels of difficulty can trigger feelings of the task being valuable and worthwhile to invest time and effort.

How people perceive difficulty can significantly influence their learning performance and the study found that people who perform better are the ones who felt that difficult does not mean impossible and easy does not mean trivial.

So we design course materials with a mix of challenges; some important objectives that are easy to accomplish (easy ≠ trivial) along with some complex or unfamiliar tasks broken down into methods, steps and terminology that allow trainees to achieve or at least confidently tackle the problem (difficult ≠ impossible).

Demographics comes into play as well so we also need to understand our audience and the mix of people.  The study found men on a low income are more likely to view difficulty to mean probable failure so may demonstrate a propensity to ‘give up’ quickly.  Statistics should always be questioned however and the study covered only 1,000 people and may not be representative of wider communities.

In conclusion, don’t set labs based solely on people’s perceived skill or ability but understand your trainees and set the right mix of challenges in order to maximise and maintain their motivation.  Training based on motivation is likely to be more successful.


Quick Access to a SharePoint library



Being able to synchronise a SharePoint document library to your pc in order to utilise it through Windows File Explorer is extremely useful. However the synchronisation will use up storage space on your local hard drive and having organisational documents stored locally will increase the risk of information compromise.

An effective way of rapidly accessing SharePoint document libraries and folders through File Explorer is to add them to the Quick Access section at the top left or the File Explorer windows, aka Favourites.

Step 1 – Navigate to the library through Internet Explorer

Browse to your SharePoint site and click on the document library.

SharePoint Document Library

 

Step 2 – Open the library in File Explorer

This is a great little step which opens the library as if it were a traditional mapped drive.  On the right-hand side of your document library toolbar (New, Upload, Sync, etc.) you’ll see the All Documents view.  Dropdown to see options and choose Open library in Windows File Explorer.  This allows you to act on the files just as you would normally for operations such as bulk copy or move.  The files are not synchronised locally so there is no offline access, storage or latency issues.  You must be online to achieve this and also must be using Internet Explorer as Chrome, FireFox and even Edge don’t support the Open library in Windows File Explorer feature.

Open a SharePoint document library in Windows File Explorer

Step 3 – Pin the library to you Quick Access navigation

When the explorer window opens, right-click the Quick Access on the left hand side and choose Pin current folder to Quick Access.  Or if it’s just a subfolder, right-click the specific folder you want and select Pin to Quick Access.  You’ll now have a handy shortcut to your online document library within File Explorer.

Pin a folder to Quick Access in Windows File Explorer

 

Caveats

This method assumes you are on a domain-joined machine with the same login as your Office 365 account, you have automatic login enabled and your SharePoint intranet is a trusted domain within Internet Explorer.  Otherwise File Explorer won’t be able to authenticate and you’ll get an error window stating access denied.  If this is a problem you aren’t able to resolve, then try one of the alternative methods below.

SharePoint Access Denied Error

 

Alternative methods

You can achieve a similar result in the Office applications.  Copy the URL of your SharePoint library (removing everything from the /forms suffix onwards).  Start your Office application, e.g. Word.  Select File, Save As and paste the URL into the filename box (you may need to click Browse first).  Hit enter and the app will open your document library.  Now you can scroll up the folder tree on the left until you see Quick Access and right-click in the same way as step 1.  This will propagate into other Office apps but not File Explorer and it’s useful if you regularly save into or open files from SharePoint libraries.

Finally, it’s also possible to pin the web page to your Windows taskbar in order to have quick navigation to the portal view of your library.  Drag the webpage tab onto the taskbar until the icon changes to Pin.  Then release the mouse button and you’ll have a persistent icon to that page.

Pin a webpage to Windows taskbar

Don’t Cycle in London



London bike theft data by street

 

3D Mapping in Excel (formerly Power Maps) is one of our favourite features and can make a huge impact on a dull spreadsheet of data.  We were working with the Metropolitan Police recently during their upgrade from Windows XP and we created a customised Excel analysis demo on crime data.

UK crime data is publicly available and we envisaged mapping crimes across police forces.  It turns out there’s quite a lot of crime in the country.  So we limited the data to just the Met Police.  Still a lot of crime.  Then we filtered to just show bicycle thefts.  Still a lot.  So we limited the data to between January and November 2015.  Still 13,500 recorded cycle thefts just within those eleven months.  So the moral is don’t cycle in London.

Turn Dull Data into a Compelling Story

Imagine you are a crime prevention officer (or perhaps you already are in which case just imagine you have a different name).  Your experience tells you a bike anti-theft campaign in Richmond will pay dividends in lowering the crime figures for the area.  You want to take the data to a budget holder to ask for some cash for bike marking, lockable posts, etc. and you show them the following:

London bike theft data sample

 

It doesn’t paint a compelling argument to obtain budget.  And there are 13,500 of these rows too.  Now luckily, you recently saw an awesome awareness session from someone at ImageFrame when they ran a Buzz Day at your office and you recalled Excel 3D maps.

3D maps allows you to create a graphical report (called a tour) with pages (called scenes) on which you can plot data with geographical information such as postcode, town, latitude/longitude.  For example, in the first scene of our bike theft tour, we mapped the count of bike thefts grouped by London Borough.  This gives us a good overview.  Then we mapped the count again but using lat/lon for accuracy down to street level.  This clearly shows us correlation we don’t see from the data alone; the high concentrations of bike thefts are from train stations (notice the highest brown column in the first picture in this post).

3D maps also allow us to overlay different data sets so we could show crime data overlaid onto demographic information.

If that wasn’t enough, we can include a timeline so the map ‘matures’ and plots the data gradually in relation to dates.  This allows us to see which months are the hotspots for bike thefts.

We’ll blog about how to create a 3D map in the near future but for now you can download our sample data set here and the completed map report as a video here.  Once you have the data set, open it in Excel, select the Insert tab and 3D map then Open 3D Maps.  You’ll see our tour already created for you.  In Office 2013, the ribbon tabs will refer to Power Map instead of 3D Map.

Open 3D Maps in Excel

 

Have a play and if you do cycle in London, make sure you have a really good bike lock.

 

 


Simple ways to cut costs through tech



We’re often told how technology can help organisations save money so here are some concrete actions that be used in organisations and teams.

Action 1 – Utilise virtual meetings

Until we develop telepathy we’re going to need to meet with other people but we can do this in a much smarter way.  Think how quick and easy a telephone call is; no travel, no hanging around, we get things done quickly.  Now translate the benefits to a meeting.  Spending time finding, booking or hiring a meeting room, getting to the room (which may involve some participants travelling in), setting up your laptop, waiting for everyone to arrive all put a dent in your time and budget.  It’s incredibly easy to hold virtual meetings from your desk or a quiet corner.  Your virtual meeting room is always ready and waiting, people can join from anywhere and if someone is only needed for part of the meeting, they can be invited into the virtual space at the appropriate time.  Many virtual meeting tools include whiteboards, presentation tools (where all participants can annotate slides), polls and moderated Q&A channels.  Also think about recording the meeting instead of taking minutes or as a record for absent staff who couldn’t attend in person.  There are plenty of free tools to run virtual meetings, share screens and documents as well as the more enterprise-ready and full-featured Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Steps to achieve – Reduce your in-person meetings to once or twice a month and hold the rest using the virtual collaborative tools available to you.

Action 2 – Work from anywhere

We have worked with many enterprise organisations that are reducing physical office space because it is extremely expensive.  It’s possible to work in virtual teams where staff aren’t expected to come into an office.  How did your staff fare during the big UK snowfall of March 2018?  Could they work from home or if not what were the blockers?  Personally, I was stranded in Edinburgh due to the lack of flights and trains.  I was just as productive, perhaps even more so because of the room-service cheesecake on tap.  You can still remain in-touch through collaborative portals such as SharePoint and Teams and using presence information from Skype for Business.  Setting up team portals or collaborative spaces for individuals sectors, projects or clients can add a great relationship benefit because you can include external users, such as business partners, agencies or the customer in your team portals.

Steps to achieve – Set up a team channel in Microsoft Teams (there is a new free version if you don’t already have an Office 365 plan), invite the relevant colleagues and start collaborating on your project.

Action 3 – Save on software licences

We worked with a marketing firm a few years ago and due to acquisitions, an aggressive hiring plan and allowing their staff to use the tools they were familiar with, they had almost 300 disparate business intelligence reporting tools in use.  That’s an extreme example but we often see companies paying for software which is available to them in another licence they own.  For example, paying for WebEx or paying an external provider to host virtual meetings when you already have an Office 365 plan with Skype for Business.  Or paying for screen recording software when PowerPoint has the ability to record and trim screen recordings (brilliant for creating training videos) and Windows has Steps Recorder built-in (brilliant for capturing a series of screenshots for documentation).  The latest update to the Office applications allow for dictation when creating emails and documents so if you’re paying for dictation software this could be your first reduction in licence costs.

Steps to achieve – Perform an audit of software (many tools available to do this including Intune, the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit or Spiceworks Software Inventory Audit) and look for duplication of functionality.

Action 4 – Use project management tools

Breaking down projects into assigned tasks, delegating and distributing workloads can save time, duplication of effort and enable working to tight schedules.  There is a host of choices including no-cost options.  Microsoft Project is a full-featured suite for enterprise project portfolios or again, Office 365 can help here with the Planner app for simple task management across your team.

Steps to achieve – Choose a project to pilot with a project management tool and monitor the benefits from stronger planning, time management and budgeting.

Action 5 – Reduce stationery

Yes, we had to check we had the right spelling of the word; we’re not perfect!  Notepads, pens and all those colourful post-it notes cost a lot to buy, no surprise there, but they also cost a lot to store and then recycle after use.  You can’t password-protect or encrypt a notepad (bad handwriting doesn’t count as encryption), it’s not easy to search back through hundreds of pages of notes, you can’t add rich content such as graphs, videos or pictures and you can’t share notepads so people can work on a common set of notes.  Even if you don’t have mobile or touch devices, OneNote is a superb tool for digital note taking with the ability to accept handwriting (and convert to text if needed), paste pictures and then search the text within the image (or even extract the text), dictate, tag, assign tasks share and record audio and video.  The notes also synchronise between devices so you can browse your notes on your mobile phone whilst you’re on the train travelling to the next meeting.

A common task we see users perform is signing documents.  The user prints the document, walks over to the printer, signs it with a pen, scans the signed copy, shreds the printout, walks back to their desk and emails the signed scan.  Open the document in Word (even if it’s a PDF, Word 2013 onwards can open and edit PDF files), use your mouse, finger or stylus to sign the document and then select File, Share, Send a PDF.  Word will convert the annotated document to a PDF and attach it to an email for you saving time and paper.  We’ll blog about how to do this in an upcoming post.

Steps to achieve – Use OneNote in your next meeting (In your Outlook meeting, choose the Meeting Notes button on the ribbon).

 

We’ll continue this blog in part 2 with some more steps on moving to VOIP and easy steps to move to the cloud.