Tip o’ the Week 400 – Shake your Groove thing

clip_image001Streaming tunes has been covered by ToW in the past (#284, #350 and perhaps, most pertinently, #361) and if music be the food of love, then stream on. But Groove no more, sadly.

clip_image002The Groove app now offers an option of migrating your stuff over to new BFF, Spotify.

Groove Music Pass (which was Xbox Music Pass before that and originally launched as a service for Zune music players), is/was an arguably equivalent service to many others out there… but despite having similar catalog and pricing as other, newer services, never really got the momentum to be a big success, at clip_image004least in the eyes of the media and the general public.

The Groove app itself soldiers on, as the default music playback app in Windows, and it’s a great way of playing music that you’ve uploaded to OneDrive on a variety of devices. Rumours abounded a couple of months ago about imminent feature updates coming to Groove, so there may still be development to come – time will tell.

On the other side of the coin, the surprisingly successful Amazon Alexa gained a new skillcourtesy of Sonos, it’s now possible to control your Sonos kit using another device, like they entry-level Echo Dot.

Sonos also unveiled a new speaker which has a built-in mic for using Alexa with, so despite Amazon bringing multi-room audio to the larger Echo device, the two companies are working together for the benefit of their mutual end users. (applause)

You can still stream your Groove music collection and playlists to your Sonos, controlled by Alexa, at least until the end of the year, when the Groove Music Pass will cease to be. Spotify integrates into Sonos too, but only if you buy the Premium offering.

Amazon’s own Music Unlimited service is worth a look if you’re already a Prime customer, as you get money off every month, so it could be the cheapest of the main streaming services out there, and is the first (& only, so far?) streaming service that can be voice controlled using Alexa but played back on Sonos. Spotify support is supposedly coming soon.

Tip o’ the Week 399 – What’s in Store?

clip_image002The Windows Store was/is a key part of Windows 8 and 10, it being a place to distribute apps that conform to the “new” model (originally known as “Metro”apps, after the codename given to the design ethos that typified the redesign of apps and the OS itself, though thatname was later dropped in favour of the much duller “Microsoft Design Language” (MDL), and the term given to “Metro Apps” was “Windows Store Apps” or “Modern Apps”).

The original idea behind the Apps that were to be distributed via the Store was that they would be easy to install and share, but perhaps most importantly, heavily sandboxed so they couldn’t hog the performance of the machine, couldn’t be a vector for attack by spreading malware and the likes or drain the battery of the laptop (or phone) through excessive background execution.

Anyone who’s ever looked in Task Manager on their PC and seen Runtime Broker run amok might disagree that it’s worked out, but ‘tis still a noble aim. The idea of Windows Store apps evolved into Universal Windows Platform apps in Windows 10, the plan being that the same app could run on PCs, Hololens, Surface Hub, phones, Xbox…

clip_image004It seems the Windows Store is being rebranded, though. As its remit grew from an app store to include music, games and TV/movie distribution as well, this makes a deal of sense. Expect to see the change percolate to Windows 10 users as an update is rolled out to the Store app, starting with Insiders for now. The same rebranding is supposedly happening to Windows Mobile (who knew?) and also on Xbox.

There’s nothing obviously new in the Store app yet, but MJF reports that Progressive Web Apps will be featured in the catalogue of apps in future.

In other news, the bricks’n’mortar Microsoft Store is coming to London.

Tip o’ the Week 401 – Go with the Flow

We all get notified of stuff that we’re probably interested in, but clip_image001which we never get around to reading about in-depth, or trying out. Well, this week’s topic presents both an example of exactly that (for some of us at least) and a potential solution to it – Microsoft Flow, a free-to-use, simple*, workflow tool that can stitch all kinds of things together in a useful manner.

* some may take issue with “simple”.  Bah.

Flow promises to do all sorts of groovy things that nobody ever needs, like writing every email to a Google Sheet then sending your calendar a reminder to look at it. But there are lots of potentially interesting and useful things you can put together, either by using the many templates or by building your own custom flow based on simple logic. You could connect all kinds of disparate web-based services together and using triggers, fire off actions based on events happening – like a tweet about a particular topic, or a new event added to a calendar.

Let’s take an example – say, you have an Office 365 work mail account and associated calendar. When you put something in your calendar which is both an all-day event, and is also marked “Out of the Office”, that probably means you’ll be out of the office all day, maybe away on a business trip or possibly even on holiday.

Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to copy that to a calendar that your nearest and dearest can see, maybe even adding all the events from several family members into one place, shared with all the others?

First off, you may want to log into www.outlook.com, go into Calendar and create a new shared calendar (if you don’t have one already)clip_image003 give it a suitable name (like Family Calendar) and clip_image005then make sure you’re sharing it with the right people you’d like to be able to see it. They will get an invite to see the shared calendar and it will be added to their own Outlook.com calendar view (as pictured way below).


Now, to create the flow to copy stuff from your work to Family Calendar…

  • Login to Microsoft Flow using your Microsoft Account, here.
  • Create a new Flow using a blank starting point, here.
  • Search event and select Office 365 Outlook – When a new event is created (and might as well pick v2 unless you know better)
  • Next, you’ll need to sign into your Office 365 account to be able to access it. Select the default calendar (probably just called “Calendar”…). This is the source for the flow, the trigger.
  • Click New Step and select Add a condition, then click in the “Choose a value” field; in the dynamic content pop up box, type clip_image009Is all day and you’ll see an “Is all day event?” condition clip_image011appear in the list. Click to add it to the flow.
  • Check that the central drop-down is “Is equal to” and click on the value to the right and enter True.
  • In the “If yes” left-hand pane, select Outlook.com – create event, then Sign in to provide your Outlook.com credentials.
  • Choose the Family Calendar from the list, and add the relevant details you’d like to add – in other words, the attributes from the source (O365) calendar, that you’d like to reflect on the destination (Outlook.com) one.
  • It’s a good idea to show Advanced Options, and select something like the following attributes by searching in the Dynamic content box for the key fields in each case (one of the more important being Is HTML, if clip_image013you’re going to put anything in the body of the message).
  • When you’re happy, click on the Flow name box at the very top of the page and give it something meaningful, and then Save Flow to the bottom

Now you should be able to see any new, all-day events that appear in your work calendar, showing up in your shared Outlook.com custom calendar.

A further refinement might be to add a condition to only trigger the sync when the original meeting is set to “Out of Office” – click on Update flow to edit, then add another clip_image015step, Add a condition then add Show as equals 3 – that’s the field that denotes the event’s status (busy, free etc), and “3” is the value that means “out of office”.

Save the flow and you’ll see the flow copies only OOF events from your work calendar to your shared private one… as below, where Outlook.com is shown behind the Outlook app.


It’s worth having a play around with Flow, as you can do some interesting things with it (and there are connectors for all kinds of services, including Google mail & calendar, Wunderlist tasks, even grown-up apps like Dynamics or Salesforce. There are mobile apps that can take part in flows, too); do bear in mind that it takes anything up to a few minutes to fire these kinds of events, and if there’s a problem running your logic, then you’ll be notified.

It may be worth adding a debug step that can be easily removed later, by getting the flow to send you an email with the values of the fields you’re interested in…


Tip o’ the Week 398 – New Dimensions in Sound

clip_image002Sound technology has been advancing ever since the phonograph wax cylinder, through higher quality recordings and transmission formats, stereo, quadrophonic, multichannel home cinema and so on.

High fidelity sound is delivered via a combination of lots of overlapping but distinct technology; from the quality of the original recording equipment, technique and media the sound was recorded onto (if analogue), or the bit-depth & format used to encode all the way from the point of recording to the moment of consumption (if digital), and all of the equipment used to turn the sound recording back into vibrating air. Many words are written on the merits of this bit of kit, or that piece of cable – YMMV.

Lucasfilm realised in the late 1970s that despite going to great lengths at the point of production to assure the quality of video and audio, there was little way of guaranteeing that cinemas showing films had anything like the quality of AV reproduction kit required to render the experience for the movie-goers. As a result, they came up with THX – a certification system rather than a specific recording technology, though many viewers confused the two; maybe because of the various THX idents that preceded popular movies, starting in 1983 with Return of the Jedi, through other mainstream hits like Terminator 2 and even a spoof-turned-ident Simpsons special.

clip_image004Other technology suppliers started following the same approach in trailing their formats, and as DVDs took off, recording compression and representation systems like Dolby Digital and DTS (and their many subsequent variants and successor technologies) showed up on players, on discs, and in theatres.

You may have seen some of their idents before… like here and here. And if you’ve bought an Audio-Visual Amplifier in the last 20 years, it probably came festooned in stickers proclaiming all the certifications it had.

Dolby Atmos is one more recent development of surround sound encoding & reproduction technology; originally designed for movie theatres with hundreds of speakers and able to precisely position a pin-drop anywhere in the auditorium. There are a growing number of Atmos-equipped cinemas around, but the curious would still need to go out of their way to find both a suitable location and the right content to watch and listen to.

Predictably, there’s an Atmos consumer version aimed at enticing AV users to upgrade their existing 7.1 system to a fancier setup. And there’s also a version of Dolby Atmos for the PC, too – maybe most useful for headphone users, and delivered to Windows 10 users via the Dolby Access store app. It costs cash money to use, but you can trial for 30 days free of charge and make up your mind if it’s worth the $15 to keep it going.

It won’t turn your 2-channel headphones into a 64-channel Atmos theatre, but it does provide some interesting software-driven tuning, akin to several other 3D software sound systems. Interestingly, it also runs on Xbox One, showcasing the benefits of the Win10 PC and Xbox sharing the same base OS. There’s the free Windows Sonic that might give you a similar experience.


A note from intrepid reader, Peter Martin – if you have some Carlos Fandango Bose wireless noise cancelling jobs (as worn by frequent flyers as if to say, “I travel so much, I carry these $400 cans that take up half my hand luggage, because they’re Just Better”), then it’s worth heading to Bose’s firmware update page and installing the software to check and update your chunky funks.

Pete also says:

For some cool sounding audio effects, check out Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos settings.

Also, if you’re looking for a more robust sound, enable the enhancements on the Headphones device.

Note that the enhancements can be a bit over the top, especially on bass, so play around to your liking…


When connected, if you hear audio dropouts during audio calls, try disabling Signal Enhancement on the Hands-Free device setting…


Tip o’ the Week 397 – Bing visual image search

Loyal Microsoft fanbois and grrlz will doubtless use Bing as their default search engine, and many “ordinary” computer users will also stick with whatever their browser or phone apps default to. Even after years of trying, though, Bing is still very much a runner-up in the league of most-used search engines, even if arguably it’s as good or even better than the alternative. Recent stats suggest that in the US, 1/3 of all searches are handled by Bing, so it’s at least in a credible 2nd place rather than a distant irrelevance, as some detractors may say.

clip_image002Even the most persistent marketers have largely given up trying to make the verb “to Bing” catch on, and El Reg reports that Google is trying to encourage “search with Google” in a style guide for developers: ‘Don’t Google Google, Googling Google is wrong’, says Google.

Aside from the beautiful daily home-screen images, there are some neat and sometimes hidden tricks in using Bing.com to search for stuff online.

A little while back, the Bing team launched Visual Search – when you do a search and look at results in Images, click on a result to preview it, and you’ll see a small magnifying glass with a dotted line box around it, in the top left.

clip_image004Clicking on that icon will let you move and resize a box around some element of the image you’re interested in, and below, you’ll see a list of related images to the one you just selected.


Handy for finding out about a specific item in a picture, or a person in a photo, for example.
(Yes, it is, in fact, Kevin Turvey)

This kind of searching is a variant on another approach, where you can either point Bing at an clip_image008existing online image, or upload one that you have on your computer, and it will find similar images to that. The Visual Search UI makes it a little easier if you just want to find out about a part of the image.

Watch out for some upcoming additions to Visual Search – like the ability to recognise faces in search results, for example. Read more about that and other Bing improvements to come, here.