Tip o’ the Week 362 – Working with symbol characters

clip_image001One of the coolest things about the PC as it developed from the earliest days, was the ability to represent “foreign” symbols through expanding beyond the 7-bit ASCII character set, meaning it’s feasible to use all sorts of exotic symbols, accents, icons and the like (without resorting to art).

As well as “Dingbats” fonts (like Zapf or Wingdings), there is a plethora of symbols available within regular fonts too, and there are a variety of techniques to access them…

Symbols in Outlook / Word

There’s a Symbol menu in both Outlook and in Word, that lets you access some relatively commonly used symbols, or go to another dialog to pick from a more extensive range, and from special clip_image003characters too.

Word & Outlook do a pretty good job of anticipating some through AutoCorrect rules – like the En Dash that is used when you type a straight hyphen but with spaces around it – but there may be cases where you want to force it rather than relying on AutoCorrect.

You’ll find special accents embedded within each font, so if you want to spell someone’s name correctly, you may need to delve within. On an English keyboard, you can make an acute version of the relevant letters by pressing ALT-GR – so instead of e you can quickly write é, but if you want to do something else, you’ll have to try harder.

clip_image005If you go into the More Symbols option above, you can pick one of your fancy accents from the many presented, and just press Insert to stick it into the cursor at the current location, and in the current font/size. If you’re not using Word / Outlook, you could always run the old Windows app, Charmap, which will let you copy the right character to the clipboard.

Another less-well known technique is to use Alt-x in Office, in combination with the Character code (as shown within the symbol dialog, as 00E2 in the case of â). Type the code of the character you’re looking for and immediately press Alt-x to convert that code into the character you need. In case you find it hard to remember the handy 4-digit hex code, if you put the cursor immediately after any special character and press Alt-x to replace it with the Character code (and press it again to restore the character). Or, if you can remember that instead, try the Shortcut key shown at the bottom of the dialog above…


Of course, if you regularly want to correct Jurgen to Jürgen/ J00FCrgen, or Cecile to Cécile / C00E9cile, then without butchering their name every time, you could add your friends’ names to your AutoCorrect rules. In Word, either click the AutoCorrect button in the Symbol dialog, or else go into the menu at File | Options | Proofing | AutoCorrect Options, and you can add the automatic corrections you’d like to apply.

The same AutoCorrect options for Word will also apply to Outlook, but if you want to set them there, go into File | Options | Mail | Spelling and Autocorrect | AutoCorrect Options (avoiding the branding inconsistency) and do the same.

Tip o’ the Week 361 – Music streaming choices

clip_image001Happy New Year! Fingers crossed, 2017 will be slightly less momentous than 2016, whether your measure of panic is political upheaval or celebrities ceasing to be. Some people even think 2016 was a real horror movie.

News just in, though, is that 2016 saw a resurgence in sales of vinyl LPs; in the UK, over 3.2m LPs were sold, up 53% from the previous year and the highest for 25 years.

Why? A few major releases from the likes of Bowie & Prince, but even new music is being released on vinyl at a rate unheard of a few years back. Amazingly, a high proportion of the LPs sold never get played – they’re objects to collect and to admire, while listening to the music in digital format. Maybe even bought by people who don’t own a record player.

Still, the burgeoning trade in big plastic discs is only 5% of the market and makes up the 41% of overall sales attributed to physical media including CDs. It seems streaming is the way most people consume music now, and the eventual outright demise of the digital download is being predicted in its favour.

But which of the many paid-for streaming services to use?


clip_image003Well, Microsoft fanpeeps will turn to Groove for the Music Pass offering, which is slick, cross-platform and reasonably priced, has great integration with OneDrive for roaming your own media around, hugely improved Xbox and Windows apps, integrates well with Sonos (if that’s important to you) etc. But still, it gets little attention from the media, it seems.

  • Fastcompany’s analysis of how streaming is changing, ignores it outright
  • Most of the comparison lists of which is the best streaming don’t even mention Groove, or list it as one of a few other options or at best an also-ran – eg. here, here, here.
  • Although the catalogue is more or less the same as the others, there are gaps in functionality – like the Family Plan idea, where you could have multiple users all tapping into a family subscription. Calls have been made (MSPowerUser here, Paul Thurrott here) to hurry up and offer such a thing. Time will tell.

Amazon Music Unlimited

clip_image004Recently launched, but will tap into the huge subscriber base already addicted to free next day deliveries and some fat old men on Prime (as it can be had for a discount if you’re a Prime user already), and no doubt enjoy stickiness through the ease of integration with must-have techno-toy, the Amazon Echo (there’s even a £3.99/mo subscription that works with just one Echo device).

If you’ve an Echo or Echo Dot device, ask Alexa if she’ll open the pod bay doors. And many other stupid things.

There’s an app for some mobile platforms (not Windows Phone, obvs) and a fairly decent Windows desktop app, too. Integration with Echo/Alexa is great, and there’s a promise of being able to use your Echo to control playback of Sonos devices, later in the year. This opens the somewhat tantalising prospect for existing Sonos users, of having a relatively cheap Echo Dot providing basic Alexa type services while controlling the music on the better-sounding Sonos.

The Amazon Music desktop app plays back local music and stuff that’s streamed, even offering the ability to upload your own tracks to the cloud service so you can consume them when mobile, though you need to pay extra if it’s more than 250 tracks.


clip_image006King of the hill as far as streaming goes, Spotify offers a free ad-supported but otherwise limited service. It says that 40m of its 100m users pay for Premium, which offers a richer feature set – it also supports Amazon Echo and Sonos playback (which is generally more pleasant than using Sonos’ awful desktop controller app).

There’s little more to say about Spotify other than it’s the service synonymous for most people with the act of streaming music, just like YouTube is for video or Skype is for video chat (unless you’re an Apple user, of course)…

One potentially infuriating thing about Spotify, though, is that its desktop app won’t play back local files encoded in anything other than mp3 / mp4 / m4p – so if you have a huge library of existing media all neatly encoded and tagged in FLAC, then too bad.

See comparison with the Amazon Music, here…

All the others

Meh. Some people like them, there are plenty of up & coming streaming services that think this is the year they’ll break through, but Tidal, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora; whatever. YouTube is still the most popular music streaming service, for copyright-dodging tightwads who don’t want to pay for content and are stuck in 2002.


One of the hardest things to do is to switch from one service to the other – what if you want to try out the new service but don’t want to rebuild all the playlists you may have made already? Try Soundiiz, a free web-based playlist sync & export tool, which supports a lot of the popular services including Spotify and Groove, but unfortunately not Amazon, Google or Apple’s offerings. Still worth a look, though it’s been in beta for a long time…