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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Have a play and if you do cycle in London, make sure you have a really good bike lock.
Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup. One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.
We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.
A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image. If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’. Not very helpful. It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.
Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents. If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.
Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.
For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding. Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle. That should raise us at least one place in search results.
When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me. In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield. This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.
So you’ll get mixed results. Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.
Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump. I can feel our SEO going up.
The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition. Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias. I inserted the Microsoft logo.
No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some. If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.
Our result? A drawing of a face. Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.
I won £500 in a pub quiz recently because I answered a question incorrectly. The question was “Which suburb of Seattle was Microsoft founded in?”
I started at Microsoft in 1991 and knew full well Microsoft was founded in Alberquerukey, New Mexico. So that left me with Redmond or Bellevue. Bellevue was the first Seattle office but I figured the quizmaster had checked a press article or something stating Microsoft was founded in 1975 in Redmond (their current location). So I gave Redmond as my answer and won £500. Do I feel guilty winning by giving a knowingly false answer?
No but the point of this blog post is where can you find official facts about Microsoft, the products, interesting numbers, quotes and stories? Check out Microsoft Story Labs. As well as news articles there are fun facts and figures like how much Fanta Microsoft employees drink (the company offers free beverages on campus) and details about the company in the Press Tools dropdown. It’s a good resource to be aware of.
Had the quizmaster asked me to spell Alberqwerky, I would have gone home empty-handed.
Dictation is being made available to Office 365 applications including Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. Currently it’s a first release feature but will gradually make its way into the mainstream release. This is different from the Windows speech recognition feature where you can control your PC using speech and it’s also distinct from the Windows 10 dictation added to Windows last autumn (and only available for US English).
We loved the Learning Tools add-on for OneNote which included dication and a host of accessibility features and were keen to give dictation a whirl in Outlook.
Enabling Dictation in Office 365
Luckily, there’s very little to set-up as this is a feature that’s enabled by default in an office upgrade. It uses Microsoft’s intelligent services (just like the automatic Alt-Text feature for inserted images) so you’ll need an internet connection – dictation can’t be used offline. If you can’t get dictate to work, check Intelligent Services is enabled in the File, Options, General tab. Your Office account must also be up to date.
Using Office 365 Dictate in Outlook
In a new email, click the Dictate button on the right hand of the Ribbon Home tab. The dropdown menu shows the languages this is available in. This should default to your Windows locale and having UK English gives me a good excuse to test for UK spelling.
It’s unlikely many built-in pc microphones will provide good results in a noisy office so I grabbed a Sennheiser headset and recorded the following:
My favourite colour is purple to wear and green to see. I also like black but it’s not really a colour. I still can’t get dictation to type pounds. My favourite neighbour is the one down the road with the aluminium blinds. I drank too much at a party and made a bit of an arse of myself. It’s my mum’s birthday soon.
You need to specifically add punctuation by saying ‘full stop’ or ‘period’, etc. and also formatting such as ‘new line’ to add a carriage return. I was speaking in a normal cadence but did add a bit of a Windsor accent. This is the result:
Quite an impressive outcome. I like the way offensive words are automatically censored. Spelling is UK English. Why it shortened road I don’t know and the final ‘I’ would have been capitalised had I said ‘new line’ to move to a different paragraph. And I still can’t figure out how to get it to type a £ symbol.
You can say the following to add punctuation:
Period Comma Question mark Exclamation point Exclamation mark New line New paragraph Semicolon Colon Open quote Close quote Open quotes Close quotes
This should be a real boon for users and because it uses Microsoft’s online intelligent services with machine learning, recognition and accuracy should improve over time.
If you have clients around the world it can make a very favourable impression if you provide them with a number local to them. It can cut their costs and gives your organisation a ‘just around the corner’ feel. Imageframe is based in Reading, UK but we do have clients in the US so we set up a New York phone number which seamlessly transfers to our switchboard. This costs roughly £181 per year per number and it also gives us additional UK calling minutes for the organisation.
Let’s start with the basics.
Skype for Business (either as standalone or part of an Office 365 plan) allows you to make calls to other Skype for Business and Teams users. If you want to make calls to PSTN (public switched telephone network) phone numbers and you don’t already integrate with a phone service provider, Office 365 offers the Phone System and Calling Plan licences. The Phone System licence provides cloud-based call-management features such as hold, forward, transfer and voicemail and will cost (as of the date of this post) £6+VAT per month as an add-on for Office 365 E1 or E3 plans. Once you have assigned the Phone System licence to a user, you can add-on either the Domestic Calling Plan for national calls or the International Calling Plan for calls to both domestic and international numbers in hundred of countries. Each of these provide a number of included minutes for calling per-month, rather like an included minutes mobile phone contract.
Purchase the Phone System and a Calling Plan licence and assign these to one of your Office 365 users. Now you can choose their phone number from a wide choice of countries and cities.
The World is Your Oyster (almost).
You can transfer an existing landline number or choose from a selection of phone numbers for your call-enabled users. Sign into the Office 365 admin centre and select the Skype for Business admin centre.
In the Skype for Business Admin Centre, you’ll be able to click on Voice and then Voice Users to see staff who have the phone system and calling plan licences assigned.
You’ll also be able to obtain new numbers from the available countries. The nice thing is that you can keep requesting new numbers until a funky one comes up like 0118 370 1234. The image below is a selection of numbers for San Francisco (415). We can acquire any of these or cancel and try again later to see a new selection.
Once you have acquired numbers you can assign them to voice users. There are two limitations here:
the user’s country in their licence profile needs to match the country for the phone number you want to assign.
you must set up an emergency location address for each country for which you acquire phone numbers.
We have a couple of unused Office 365 licences that we apply to demo personas. These are ideal for assigning the international numbers. View the user properties in the Office 365 admin centre, click on licensing and select edit. Then change the user’s location in the drop-down at the top. This will propagate to Skype for Business after a while and you can assign the US number.
We have also set up a redundant emergency location address for the US as the US number will only ever be used for routing incoming calls and will not actually be used by a bona-fide person. You can set up emergency locations in the Skype for Business admin centre (under the voice option).
Finish by Setting Up Call Forwarding.
Our demo users now have exotic phone numbers but they are not real users so will never answer the phone. We can sign into the Skype for Business client as them and configure call forwarding so if someone rings their number, it will forward the call to one of our real users, or our switchboard. The Skype client also tells us the call has been forwarded so we realise this is an international client.
No unused Office 365 licences?
We have assigned our numbers to demo users. If you don’t have spare Office 365 licences then you can acquire Service Numbers instead of User Numbers. Service numbers are intended to be assigned to services such as Audio Conferencing in Office 365, auto attendants or call queues. Service phone numbers have a higher concurrent call capacity than user numbers but you are allowed fewer service numbers than user numbers.
If you acquire a service number, then you can create an Auto Attendant to forward calls to your switchboard. You do this through the Call Routing option of the Skype for Business admin centre.
Give it a go and create your “London, Paris, New York” office locations. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
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:
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.