Tip o’ the Week 390 – Paint it black

SHOCK, HORROR!”, the internet & news media said, “Microsoft is killing Paint!”. Cue the opportunityclip_image002 to make Clippy comparisons, and reflect on a bit of software that appeared in its first version in Windows 1.0, bring out the odd eccentric who manages to produce quite amazing art using Paint (like Pat Hines, who’s tried other paint software but “never managed to ‘connect’ with it”, or Jim’ll Paint It, who paints odd scenes on request, and whose fondness for MSPaint means he prefers the WinXP version).

Most of us probably don’t use MSPaint for much these days; maybe the odd bit of clumsy touching-up of images, or using it to snip bits out of screen grabs for documentation purposes.

Here’s one use case, if you’re in the UK and want to print out a map for a walk you’re going to do – fire up MSPAINT, set the clip_image004canvas dimensions to something huge like 4096×4096 (in File / Properties), then go to Bing Maps and screen grab (WindowsKey+S, or use the Snipping Tool) the relevant sections of your planned walking route, looking at the Ordnance Survey view in the top right, and zooming in so you see the footpath details.

For longish walks, you’ll struggle to fit the whole route on one screen at the max detail level, so you’ll need to grab a bit, paste it onto the Paint canvas, move the map view, grab the next section, then using Paint, assemble the bits together like overlaying jigsaw pieces by moving your newest-pasted chunk around so it fits the rest. Copy the whole finished lot into a Word doc, and print.

Anyway, Paint is most definitely not dead – it’s just going to be an app that’s packaged and maybe delivered via the Windows Store, just like lots of other apps that are traditionally part of Windows and may or may not be installed by default (like Calc, Mail, Groove etc). There’s always Paint3D, too (ToW 358).

If you do need to do some more intensive image manipulation, especially of photos, there are many free options, from Adobe’s PhotoShop Express or the built-in Microsoft Photos app, which lets you carry out simple tweaks to photos you’ve acquired. For more creating and pixel-by-pixel tweaking of images, though, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value yet powerful tool than Paint.NET. It looks a bit 1990s in some respects, but it’s a simple and effective image editing tool, that has been likened to the bits of Photoshop that people like, simplified and delivered for free.

Find out more about Paint.NET here – download directly from here, and keep an eye out for a packaged version of Paint.NET hitting the Windows Store at some point, too. Who knows – maybe it will be there before MSPaint is loaded on the cart and taken away?

Tip o’ the Week 389 – Jump to Windows Settings

There are many ways of jumping straight into bits of Windows that would clip_image002otherwise take a load of clicking around the place. ToW #312 covered some of them – especially on how to go directly to special folders like your pictures or downloads, but there are many other ways of jumping right into important bits of Windows under the hood.

WindowsKey+R / ncpa.cpl is one of the longest-serving and most useful, going back to Windows for Workgroups; it proceeds directly to the guts of the old-style networking control panel that can still be used to manage and connect to remote networks or configure advanced properties of the PC’s network stack.

Pressing WindowsKey+X shows a shortcut menu that clip_image004gives you quick access to lots of different but handy bits of Windows options and settings – eg. the System page, which gives you easy way to find your machine’s name, what version of Windows you’re using, what spec hardware you have etc. Not stuff you’ll find you need every day, but when you do, this is the easiest way of getting to that page.

Maybe the easiest, but not the most direct – many of the settings pages can also be got at by running ms-settings:name, eg ms-settings:about, which will do the same – either by entering that from the Run command (WindowsKey+R) or by creating a shortcut on the desktop (right-click on the desktop, choose New -> Shortcut) and then enter the appropriate command. Try some other ms-settings: commands – appsfeatures, display. Chere here or here for some more ideas.

Tip o’ the Week 388 – Crossing Time Zones

clip_image002Another dip into the annals of ToW, dusted down and spruced up – this topic was first covered in #301, though the topic of time zones has also featured in #280, #244, #120, #26

When moving between countries, one of the tricks the traveller needs to decide is how to handle the switch of time zone. Do you set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board the plane, or only when the pilot announces, in his or her ever-so distincive pilot tone, what the local time is on arrival?

Also, do you wait for your phone to pick up the destination time zone automatically, or do you set it manually? If you have a Fitbit or other wearable, do you want it to pick up the time from your phone or do you force it on departure? Decisions, decisions…

Frequent travellers tend to have pearls of wisdom on how to deal with jet lag – like get your mind in the destination time zone and keep it there (ie. If you’re out having dinner after arrival, do not keep saying that it’s really 4am; it’s 8pm now and you can’t go to bed for at least another two hours), or get the sun – or even a bright light – on the back of your knees. All we can cover is how to handle the crossing of time zones using your PC…

clip_image003Outlook – whenever an appointment is created, its date and time are recorded as an offset from UTC, and the time zone it’s due to take place in is also noted. If you’re creating meetings or appointments which are in a different time zone, like travel times, then it may be worth clip_image005telling Outlook by clicking the Time Zone icon in the ribbon, and then selecting the appropriate TZ – especially useful if you’re moving between time zones during the appointment itself, and don’t want to run the risk of horological befuddlement.

clip_image007If you’re booking a load of appointments in another time zone – eg. you’re working in another country for a few days and creating appointments with people in that locale – then it’s even worth switching the TZ of your PC whilst you do the diary-work, to save a lot of clicking around in setting the appropriate time zone specific to each meeting.

The best way to do this would be to show your second time zone in the Outlook calendar – in the main Outlook window, go to File | Options | Calendar and select the second one to show; when you’re ready to switch between your local TZ and the remote one, just click the Swap Time Zones button to switch the PC (and Outlook) between the different zones.

clip_image009Windows 10 – In the Settings | Date & time menu, there’s an option to tweak how Windows deals with time and time zones – some of which might be applied by policy and therefore greyed out for you. Like other phone OSes, Windows 10 – even on proper computers – has the option of setting time zone automatically.

If you’re going to use the time zone swapping in Outlook as per above, then it’s worth disabling the automatic mode as Windows can get itself properly confused; the default time zone will change, and Outlook will end up showing the same time zone for both primary and secondary.

clip_image011Using the old fashioned Windows control panel time settings applet, you can choose to show a second time zone in the clock on the system tray – in the Date & time settings, look to the right and you’ll see Add clocks for different time zones.

There’s a nice Alarms & Clock app in Windows 10, that shows a map of the world with your choice of locations, and the moving daylight line so you can see what’s happening around the globe. A good alternative to that exec boardroom display nonsense, that you might expect to see gracing the wall of your average corporate hot shot.


Tip o’ the Week 387 – Learning to Fly (reprised)

clip_image002Sometimes, the best ideas come back for another go. When thinking about the topic for this week’s tip, I realised that I’d covered some of it 3 years ago… so I decided to revisit that tip and give it a refresh. Since it started as a Microsoft internal one, it never made it onto the blog back then anyway. It’s quite a long read, but hopefully useful in places and amusing in others.

As another spring drifts into the rear-view mirror and a season of travelling looms, the whole rigmarole of getting airborne can be a tiring and unsatisfactory experience, being treated like sheep etc.. (text)

Halo 2 had a method for flying (caused by a glitch in the game that was fixed by a later update) but most of us are in the hands of mass air travel to get off the ground. While on life hacks tips, do check out Halo’s How Not to be Seen

Anyway, here are some thoughts on getting a good seat (maybe even an upgrade), and having a good flight…

Join the frequent flyer program

Even if you don’t expect to fly very often on this particular airline, it’s worth signing up to their loyalty program. At least you might be able to specify if you prefer window or aisle seats, and it might help speed you through online checkin and the likes. Put up with the spam you’ll get as a result, and save your userid and password somewhere.

Obviously, racking up the points on the program might give you access to airport lounges, pre-flight massages, all you can eat/drink, extra points/miles, the DYKWIA priority queues and all sorts. If you travel a lot, and you’re prepared to commit to one airline, it’s all about attaining & keeping status.

Find out what plane you’ll be on

clip_image004Most airlines will tell you which type of plane you’re scheduled to fly on (though occasionally they will change airframe, so you might get moved around) but a more useful method is to look at FlightRadar24 and enter your flight number.

You’ll see the aircraft type (in an abbreviated form – eg. B744 is a Boeing 747-400, A388 is an Airbus A380-800) and as the date & time of the flight gets closer, maybe even the actual aircraft registration that is going to take the flight. Click on that link to see more details of the plane itself, how old it is, where it’s been previously, etc.

If you’re a nervous flyer, you might prefer not to know that the plane you’re about to get on made an emergency landing last month and has been with engineering since…

If you do a search for the registration number online, you’ll find out all sorts of info about when it was last serviced, how long ago it’s been since the cabin was refitted, etc. Here’s just an example.

Pick your seats online before you fly

clip_image006When you’ve figured out what plane you’re on, then it might be possible to choose where you want to sit, before you appear at the airport. Things you might want to avoid when choosing a seat include being right next to the galley or the toilets, having all the gubbins for the seat-in-front’s in-flight entertainment taking up half of your legroom, not having a window, and lots more.

To see opinions on which is the best seat on your plane, look on www.seatguru.com and/or www.seatexpert.com.

Frequent Flyer sites like www.flyertalk.com have endless discussions about which is the best seat on any given configuration of plane (#firstworldproblems if ever you’ve seen them), but are an essential resource if you want to figure out how to get the best out of a frequent flyer or hotel stay program, get tips on how to access lounges or other perks at the airport and lots more. One FT’er flew from London to New York on Concorde by buying lots of biscuits at Tesco, to rack up bonus Clubcard points that got converted into Air Miles.

The right place at the right time

There is a science behind how airlines decide when to upgrade passengers to a better cabin, and in choosing who to bestow the upgrade upon. Sadly, the science is about as clear as a pint of milk and is likely different for each carrier. Generally speaking, airlines don’t give out upgrades for any reason other than they have to, because they’ve oversold a particular cabin and they have to punt some lucky folk forward into premium economy, business or first class. Unless you’re good friends with someone behind the scenes, the chances of getting upgraded just because you’re smartly dressed and polite are pretty much a thing of the past.

Airlines often do “Op-Ups” (or Operational Upgrades) when they have to, but they also increasingly offer pay-for upgrades at checkin, that can be considerably cheaper than if you’d bought the next class up in the first place. As long as there aren’t enough people happy to take money to go away and come back tomorrow, or to pay to move themselves forwards, there will always be a need to move people around. It’s worth asking at checkin if there are any pay-for upgrade options, and if you’re offered one, it might be a sign that the flight is busy and you could either splash the cash or take the gamble that there could be a freebie on offer.

If you’re travelling alone, you’ll have a better chance of getting upgraded – it’s just easier than trying to accommodate several people together. Oh, and don’t order any special catering unless you have to: if an airline goes to the trouble of getting a special gluten free/vegan etc meal for you, they won’t want to push you up into the next cabin where the food served would be different.

One way you could put yourself in the frame for an Op-Up is to be on a flight that you know is very busy, probably oversold, at least at the back of the bus. Friday night on BA48 from SEA-LHR at the end of a conference week is a good example – the airline might well sell dozens of economy seats more than they actually have available on the plane, and will either compensate or boot people off the flight if they can’t fill up all the cabins forward of economy by pushing others forward. Most will handle the situation better than in some recent news items.

Should you find yourself kicked off an oversold flight, do remember you might be up for some compensation – any EU-based carrier flying to or from an EU member-state airport, for example, is bound by the regulations known as EU261/2004 – in other words, if you flight is cancelled, very late, or if you’re downgraded or offloaded, then the airline is legally bound to give you money by way of compensation – not just free miles or vouchers etc. Know your rights, basically.

Have a touch of class

When airlines are determining who to push forward (from Economy- to Economy+, from Econ+ to business or even Business to First), there will be a number of factors that will determine who gets the red carpet treatment – clip_image007normally the “status” of the passenger (as defined by the airline’s frequent flyer program), with the fare class of the ticket they have (a single-letter designator that tells which bracket your ticket falls into… different airlines will use their own codes but often “Y” is full-price economy and “J” is full price business).

If you really care about finding out how busy your flight is, you could use a site like www.expertflyer.com to interrogate the same systems that travel professionals use, though you will need to pay for the privilege – or just do a trial to see how your next flight looks.

See here for some ticket class examples. Basically, if your ticket falls into the lowest of the low classes (group booking, consolidator fares etc) then don’t bother dressing smartly and chatting up the check-in clerk – you aren’t getting an upgrade. You should be able to find your fare code or class by digging around in the T&Cs of your ticket: it’s probably not obvious, although some airlines do print it on their ticket…

Points make prizes

No Brucie Bonus, but collect enough of the miles or points that you earn by flying and you can sometimes cash them in for flights or upgrades. Sometimes the taxes and other charges are as much as the cost of just buying a regular ticket, so keep your wits about you.

With BA at least, the best use of Avios points is what is referred to as “MFU”, or “Miles for Upgrade” – in other words, you buy a ticket in one class and then use points to move yourself forward. MFU seats and Award seats (ie the entirely funded by points) are thin on the ground for some routes and confer a class of travel that itself is non-upgradeable.

Check in online as soon as you possibly can

imageOne of the supposedly most reliable ways of getting selected for upgrade is to have your name near the top of the list after your ticket class and status are taken into account, and the way to do that is to have as low a Sequence Number (or “Seq No”) as possible – this is the order (vs all the other passengers on the plane) in which you checked in.

So if you have a seat with a relatively expensive ticket class, you’re a card-carrying (the higher-ranking the better) member of the FF program, and you have a single digit sequence number… then your luck may be in.

Try not to look too smug now.

Tip o’ the Week 386 – OneNote Store app updates

clip_image002OneNote continues to attract love from enthusiastic end users as well as continuous improvement from the product group; the former collective shows up with many blogs, articles and addins, most of which focus on the more traditional Windows desktop app, though the product group seems to be spending more effort in building functionality into the mobile and Windows Store versions of the app.

There are clear functional differences between the two Windows versions; the desktop app has a lot more functionality, some of it shared across other Office apps. The Store version (now being referred to as “OneNote for Windows 10”) has a much cleaner design that isn’t as functionally rich as the desktop but concentrates more on ease of use and focussing on the basics that are used most often, especially cross-platform with mobile and web apps too.

e.g. As the most excellent Robert Deupree (JR) has observed, support for Tags in the Store app is considerably less useful than in the desktop one…

clip_image004The Store/Modern/Metro app version of OneNote got a big update recently, surfacing some nice new functionality (some iterations of stuff that’s already in the clip_image006desktop app, but more easily used or functional – check out the Researcher function on the insert menu), and a design refresh to bring consistency with mobile versions of the app.

To hear a bit more about the ethos behind this redesign, (and other interesting info) check out this interview with OneNote design director, March Roberts.

If you’re a OneNote fan, there are plenty of great resources to get more tips and help – though quite a few of the blogs you may come across are pretty dead by the look of things. The most informative and up to date is maybe the official Office blog, which regularly posts OneNote content, especially with an educational spin: a key use scenario, given the effort that’s been put into the suite of classroom tools centred around the OneNote Class Notebook.

Twitter is a also good place to go for OneNote news and articles, especially OneNote Central, the official account or OneNoteEDU for educators.

To get some more detail on what’s new, see the announcement here.

For users of desktop OneNote, the best addin remains the OneTastic suite, available in free and pro versions that offer slightly different sets of functionality.