Tip o’ the Week #292 – Stop the ads on Edge

clip_image001Advert blocking in Internet Explorer was covered back in ToW #247, highlighting some ways to stop annoying adverts from taking over your browser. The internet has plenty of examples of misplaced advertisement, not all of them online banner ads.

There’s a burgeoning industry in providing ad-blocker type extensions for browsers, which basically intervene and elect not to show you the ads – or the “suggested content” or other stuff that not only clutters up your favourite web pages, but also slows down their loading.

Most ad-blocking software runs inside the browser to analyse what’s going on and decide if it wants to let content through. Thing is, the Microsoft Edge browser in Windows 10 doesn’t (yet) have extensions, so there’s not much to do about adverts if you’d like to use Edge as your browser.

3rd party software

Some 3rd parties have started offering software that purports to stop ads in Edge – eg. Adguard Adblock, but whether not looking at ads is worth the $20 fee for use (beyond a trial period) is debatable. Either wait for more support from ad-blocking specialists, for updates from Microsoft which may help, or look to other solutions.

HOSTS file manipulation

Deep in the roots of the TCP/IP protocol which underpins the internet, lies an anachronism known as a HOSTS file. This was provided originally to tell your machine how to find other machines’ IP addresses given their names; they sometimes took precedence over other methods (like Domain Name System, DNS) or were a useful backstop if a name/address couldn’t be found trhough other means. Ultimately, HOSTS became unnecessary for the most part.

To see if your PC has a HOSTS file already, try running (WindowsKey+R):

notepad %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.

There is a neat trick to immediately block a lot of well-known advert-serving sites. Think of it that the web page you’re reading is also telling your browser to go to sitea.com, siteb.net and sitec.biz to show you lots of ads and other content from those places. If you were to put a hosts file on your PC, which specified that each of these sites refers to the mysterious concept called “localhost”, then it means your PC will quickly redirect to itself when it comes to serving up any of that content, and it will immediately fail and move on.

Several online communities maintain communal hosts files that list the URLs of a lot of common advert sources, and if you drop an appropriate file on your PC every few months (or whenever you notice there are more annoying adverts appearing), it will quietly deal with the menace, and operates at a low level so you don’t need to do anything to your browser(s).

Find a HOSTS file

There are many out there, but a good one is from MVPS.org (which lists ~15,500 known ad-serving URLs):

  • Click http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.zip to download to your PC
  • In Microsoft Edge, click the View downloads button
  • You should see the hosts.zip file at the top of your list on the right – click on it to open
  • Double-click on the mvps batch file, then select Extract all then Extract, to unzip the whole lot into a folder
  • Select with left-click, then right-click on mvps and choose Run as administrator to update your hosts file
  • You can always go back into your downloads folder and delete the folder created above – its work is done

You will likely need to tweak the registry to enable Hosts resolution:

  • Press WindowsKey+R then run regedit
  • Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache\Parameters then
  • Click Edit > New > DWORD Value then type MaxCacheTtl
  • Click Edit > New > DWORD Value then type MaxNegativeCacheTtl
  • Double-click on the MaxCacheTtl key on the right pane, and enter the value 1
  • Double-click on the MaxNegativeCacheTtl key on the right pane, and enter the value 0

Another option would be to open this zip file, then double-click the file within, click Run, then Yes, Yes and OK. Assuming you trust this site, you won’t now be showing up on some list of transgressors, you’ll just have avoided the grubbiness of editing the registry as per the section above.

Now let’s compare one page:






clip_image006Some sites will substitute blank space for the missing ads, but for content like the Other Stuff you might want to click on (such as the Taboola-type clickbait guff that’s normally at the bottom of the page), site may just quietly ditch whole sections without you ever knowing.

You may see the odd weird missing bit on some pages (eg from Ebay, see >>>), but that’s surely a fair price to pay for not cluttering up your machine with annoying adverts, having auto-playing videos blaring at you, etc. Now if they only made adverts like they used to, it wouldn’t be such a chore.

Pea & Ham, from a Chicken? Now that’s clever.

Tip o’ the Week #291 – A few handy date handling tips

clip_image001Sometimes, the Tip o’ the Week is all about one topic, and sometimes it’s a theme that spans several things. Today’s is just such a smörgåsbord of stuff, spanning a number of apps that are concerned with dates.

Windows 10 dates

This is not a new topic for ToW – the swish new Alarms & Clocks app that ships with Windows 10 was covered in #280, though the UI has changed a little since then. If you hover your mouse over the date/time on your taskbar, you’ll see a clip_image003familiar preview that tells you a bit more detail. If you click on that section, you’ll see the new calendar view, with a link to Date and time settings which will take you to the system Settings > Time & language > Date & time options. In here, under Related settings, you can add clocks for an additional couple of time zones, if you need to – give them a label, then you’ll see those additional timesclip_image005 displayed atop the calendar and the larger display of the current time.

Hovering on the system tray shows a simple view clip_image007of the same thing. Handy for those of us who regularly work with people from all over the world, and want to make sure you’re not booking conference calls in the middle of the night. Outlook allows you to easily show a second time zone in your calendar – just right-click on the border to the left of the calendar itself, choose Change Time Zone and in the resulting dialogue box, tick the box to show an additional time zone and give it a label.

OneNote page dates

clip_image009If you use OneNote (the desktop version – does anyone prefer the Store app?) in a shared fashion, then you’ll see coloured blocks when other people update sections of the textclip_image011, though it’s not so easy to figure out when you last edited a page (in short, you can see the date you edited a page by looking under History tab, Recent Edits or Find by Author, but it’s not always that obvious).

If you’re using a template repeatedly (Sales Account Plans, for example, where you take a copy of a pro forma plan then complete it), or if you’re updating pages of old notes, you may want to adjust the date/time that’s displayed at the top of the OneNote page, to show yourself (and other readers, maybe) that it has updated content.


clip_image015Click on the date under the title, and then the calendar icon which appears to its side, and you’ll be able to use a date picker to change the date – or simply click the Today button to set the current date. The same process works with the time field, too – click on it, then on the clock icon, and you can set the time – with the default being the time now.

clip_image017OneNote has a couple of other neat date tricks that have also featured before on ToW – like the ability to insert today’s date or time, on the Insert tab – if you hover over the first two, you’ll be reminded that ALT+SHIFT+D or T inserts the Date or the Time, but hovering over Date & Time doesn’t remind you that ALT+SHIFT+F, does.

Tuck that away in your sporran for future use, as it’s supremely handy when adding notes (eg from a phone call) to the end of an existing page.

Other Office apps

Excel has a similarly handy shortcut – CTRL+; adds the current date to the selected cell, and CTRL+: adds the time. Word has a different way again; you can go to the Insert tab and look under Text > Date & Time which then displays a dialogue box to ask how you’d like it formatted. The same box can be got to more quickly by holding ALT then pressing N and then D, which is basically jumping to the menu using keyboard shortcuts. That same combo works in Outlook when editing an email, too.

While on the topic of Outlook, there’s one last tip and it’s a belter. Every time Outlook gives you a date & time control – like when you’re editing an appointment, for example – you can select the current value and replace it, either by typing in the new date/time or by using the date picker or time drop down.

clip_image019But the date control also has some other smarts – you can put  additions to dates, for example, so you could type the end date to be “tomorrow” and it will automatically figure out the offset from today and set it appropriately. The duration of the meeting will also be set, so if you subsequently went back to the start date and typed “tomorrow”, the end date would be a day further out. Clever eh?

Here are some others to try – just type a number in the date field and it sets to that number of the current month, or type next month to set the date exactly one calendar month away from the current value (or 2 months, or 1 year…). The most useful ones are often things like next Monday or in 3 days (or just 3d if you don’t want to wear your keyboard out; next mo, 2mo, 1y do the same). There are lots of special dates too – Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, Halloween etc. You can even combine them, so could say 2nd Monday in January or 3 days after Christmas. Maybe Outlook will integrate with Cortana one day, and you could enter “Steve’s birthday” or “my wedding anniversary”…

Tip o’ the Week #290 – get your Groove on

clip_image002It’s quite useful to have a catalogue of names that can be put to different uses. Codenames are frequently reused, and there was a time when every new product had to have a snazzy moniker – remember Daytona, Natal or more recently Spartan?

As well as the more public ones, there are all kinds of internal project and product codenames that never make it out into the wild. Nowadays, openly referring to old products exclusively by their pre-release code names is no longer a sign of authority and more an indication of being a wazzock.

Product names, on the other hand, sometimes get reused, though not often by the same company. Microsoft, however, took the original Surface name from the table-computer (now PixelSense) and applied it to tablet computers, and has also now renamed Zune Xbox Music to Groove (not to be confused with this Groove), featuring the Windows 10 app called Groove Music and a subscription service called the Groove Music Pass. If you already had Xbox Music content, you need do nothing – it’s a rebranding exercise and some fresh new app functionality. If you don’t have Win10 or a Music Pass, check out the web player to see what’s available.clip_image004

Great News! Groove Music Pass users can now play with Sonos, so there’s no need to keep a Spotify (… Deezer, et al) subscription if you’re already a Groove Music Pass user. If you’re tired of waiting for Sonos to release a proper controller app for Windows Phone or Windows 8/10, then check out Andy Pennell’s Phonos. Or take to Sonos’ forums to ask what’s happening, though be prepared for a wall of silence neither confirming nor denying if and when a Windows Phone app is coming.

Readers with long memories might recall where “Groove” came from – it was the product of Groove Networks, brainchild of erstwhile Lotus Notes inventor, Ray Ozzie, whose company was acquired by Microsoft 10 years ago, largely to get the man himself. Along came the baggage of the (frankly horrid) Groove 3.1 then Groove 2007, which begat Sharepoint Workspace and was subsequently deep-sixed as a separate product line. Or so you may have thought.

If you dig around in Task Manager (CTRL-SHIFT-ESC to jump there quickly, keyboardinjas), clip_image006or better still, use the excellent Process Explorer from SysInternals, you’ll see something interesting…


That’s right – the bones of Groove live on in OneDrive for Business, at least for now – the plan being to unify the OneDrive for Business and consumer OneDrive sync engines. Good thing too.

Tip o’ the Week #288 – When I’m reinstalling Windows


Now that Windows 10 is here, Whether you’ll be waiting for a new machine that comes with Windows 10, or whether you’ll be one of the millions that will upgrade, there’s lots to be thrilled about or to quietly look forward to, depending on your personal level of excitability.

If you’ve been running a preview version of Windows 10 then it may be best to install a clean  build of the RTM, just to be sure there’s nothing left behind that might clog your machine up. Some say it’s probably best practice to wipe your PC every year or two, and reinstall only the stuff you need.

clip_image003Fortunately, with OneDrive and Office365, reinstalling isn’t the major effort it used to be – with a  huge mailbox, nobody should need PST files anymore and fret about whether they’re backed up properly. No need to worry about My Documents when OneDrive (on your home machine) can accommodate Terabytes of data, and OneDrive for Business (on your work PC) will sync all of your stuff too.

If you’re linking your MSA (Microsoft Account, ie Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com etc address) then lots of other settings will be replicated between machines too.

There are a few things that don’t automatically get sorted out – Outlook Signatures being a particular annoyance, though moving them into OneDrive has been covered in ToW #267. Another is the list of notebooks which OneNote is configured to open – you may be able to select from your commonly used notebooks when you start the desktop version of OneNote up, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a quick shortcut to where they’re all stored, to make it easy to find them again?

OneTastic again

ToW regular contributor Stuart Leeks once again recommends a particularly neat trick, courtesy of the awesome OneTastic suite of extensions and addins to OneNote. OneTastic and OneCalendar come from the hand of Omer Atay, who’s part of the OneNote team but has built these tools on his own. There is form for home-grown extensions making it – more or less – into the product… maybe Omer’s product group will follow suit.
[Outlook Thread Compressor is long dead, btw; don’t bother trying to download it now]

Anyway, if you use OneNote in anything more than a cursory capacity, go to http://www.omeratay.com/onetastic/?r=download immediately and download the app.

clip_image005OneTastic adds loads of functionality, including a macro language and the MacroLand repository of useful extra commands. One such downloadable is the List Notebooks macro which will generate a page at the current section, listing each of the notebooks you currently have open and with a hyperlink to reference the book directly. So when you rebuild your machine, even before reinstalling OneTastic, just click on each link to reopen the notebook.

The genesis of OneTastic was OneCalendar, an amazingly useful applet which shows you each page you’ve visited in OneNote arranged by date – so if you know you took notes on a call last week, you don’t need to navigate to the page or search for it… just go to OneCalendar, and the page will be listed on the day in question. If you’re using shared notebooks, then OneCalendar will even embolden pages that other people have updated – a feature which could be super-handy or super-annoying, depending on how collaborative your co-workers are.

clip_image007If you use lots of notebooks, there’s a neat feature in OneCalendar, which might help – take a look in Settings clip_image009and you can specify which notebooks OneCalendar will show you changes from – so you might want to restrict it to the less busy notebooks and all your own personal stuff, or maybe even get into the habit of turning some on & off when required.

There are lots of shortcut keys in OneCalendar, for the power user – CTRL and + / – will make the text larger & smaller, CTRL+ Left / Right arrow moves back and forth between days/weeks/months (depending on what level of zoom you’re viewing), CTRL+ 1 / 2 / 3 switches between the days/weeks/months, and CTRL+ S jumps to settings. CTRL+ 0 jumps to Today, and CTRL+ F lets you “find” so it will filter the view based on keywords.