Tip o’ the Week #105 – Productivity? Learn to type!


Thinking about general productivity often leads one down the path of some methodology to get things done, or some great tools to try and silence the background noise. I’ve certainly featured plenty of both as Tips o’ the Week, but one thing we’ve never covered is simply making correct use of the keys in front of you. Some factoids to amuse your family and bemuse your friends:

  • TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
  • The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog is a pangram, in other words a phrase that contains every letter of the alphabet (in English, at least). It’s often used by typists to try out a new keyboard, and has been used for a long time by typesetters to show off their fonts. It’s not the most efficient (there is a bit of repetition), but it is one of the most sensible in meaning. Well, sort-of.
  • Quick wafting zephyrs vex bold Jim might be shorter, but it sounds like it came from a random word generator, or is the source of some fiendish anagram.
  • It might sound geeky, but “Just My Type” is a fascinating book all about fonts, if you have any spare book tokens or Amazon vouchers after Christmas. No, really. It’s Quite Interesting.
  • The average person’s left hand does 56% of the typing.
  • Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand and lollipop with your right.

clip_image002It’s been a long-held dream of many computer scientists, that people should be able to interact with their machines without using a keyboard. Remember Star Trek’s Scotty and the Macintosh?

Bill Gates championed Microsoft Research to spend years and years looking into handwriting, speech and gesture recognition – some of which was very ahead of its time (the Tablet PC predating the iPad by 8 years, for example – though history shows being first isn’t always best). Microsoft’s Surface platform developed and delivered multi-touch interfaces before the iPhone made the idea mainstream.

Only now has the technology become cheap, fast and advanced enough to make reliable speech recognition available, but it’s mostly being done on devices like phones (or Kinect sesnros), with cloud services providing the recognition & intelligence. See a comparison of Microsoft’s TellMe (in Windows Phone) with Apple’s Siri (iOS 5) – here. A less favourable comparison, here.

Oh, well.

Even with all the advances in touch and handwriting or speech, we still predominantly enter information into our PCs using the keyboard. And many of us might be embarrassed to still be at the “hunt & peck” method of typing, at best a finger or two of each hand meandering over the keyboard to pick out the right key, whilst looking at the keyboard.

Touch typing revolves around the raised ridges on the “F” and “J” keys, which form the root of the “home keys” – the idea being that you can use 3 or 4 fingers of each hand to type whilst being able to watch the screen and not the keyboard. A decent (nonprofessional) typist should be able to manage 40-50 words per minute (wpm), while the very best touch typists could be 120 wpm or better. Your average web surfer is probably 20-30wpm.

To find out your own WPM and error rate, check here.
The www.powertyping.com site has a number of practice exercises too.

There are a good number of ways to improve your typing – from seeking out the venerable Mavis Beacon software to teach the user, to online (free!) “Online Keyboarding” lessons.

You never know, sharpening up your typing skills could help you get a better work/life balance by being a few percent more effective at doing something we all do, every day!

Snipping tool for OneNote users

Following on somewhat from my off-topic Walking in the Country post, I thought I’d recount one useful tip that helps in grabbing the maps (or any other screen content, for that matter . at least anything that isn’t rights-protected).

If you have OneNote installed, press WindowsKey+S to initiate a snapshot, just like the Windows Snipping Tool. OneNote 2007 snaps the selected area of the screen into an unfiled note, and you can copy/paste the content from there to whatever application you like.

OneNote 2010 – which will be included with all versions of Office 2010 when it’s realeased later this year – even has the option of just copying the content to clipboard right away, rather than putting it into a OneNote file first.


OneNote is a great app which has a devoted set of followers out there – many Heart it, apparently.

Going for a walk in the country

I know it’s been a bit quiet in recent weeks here, but I figured I could chip in the now traditional New Year random post, which might of interest outside of the working day. Here’s last year’s post on how to wash you car.

During the Christmas and New Year holidays, I’ve been doing a bit of walking – going out for a few hours in the countryside, occasionally taking in the odd pub en route, that kind of thing. Over the last few months, I’ve come across several invaluable aids to finding and navigating some great walks.

If you search online for “walking in <name of area>”, you’ll probably find plenty of links to ramblers associations or other groups wanting to tell you about or sell you access to maps and documented walks. Ditto, there are thousands of books with details of walking in the UK . and very good I’m sure they are too.

I discovered the AA’s web site to be a particularly great source of free info, though – the walks are usually very well documented . though they make no sense when you’re reading them at the PC, they make perfect sense when on the walk itself (instructions like “walk along the edge of the field to a style, then cross the next field and two styles to a metal gate, turn left and cross a bridge to another field” don’t make for easy imagining, but when you’re at the edge of the field looking at the styles, it’s just right).

The AA “Walks and Bike Rides” site

Have a look on this site and see what there is in your neck of the woods. It’s been a brilliant source of inspiration for us. What I normally do, though, is to take the text from the AA site and copy/paste into a Word document – set the margins nice and tight, paste the text in with giant font size and copy/paste any maps they show from the AA page. and it’s easy to print out double-sided on a sheet of paper or two and take it with you on the walk.


What’s really got me out of trouble a couple of times, though, is Bing Maps. The most recent revamp includes the ability to display Ordnance Survey maps data (in the UK) as an alternative to Road & Satellite maps. Simply go to your favourite destination and from the “Road” drop-down, you should be able to view OS Landranger and OS Explorer maps (depending on your zoom level – if the OS option is grayed out, try zooming in or out to see what happens). image

Ordnance Survey Explorer maps are great, listing all manner of bridleways, byways, rights of way etc. But manhandling an A2 sized bit of folded paper when out and about is a bit cumbersome. these Bing Maps let you copy just the bit you’re interested in, and if you paste into your Word document, you could even have the OS version of the map on the back of the AA map & directions. Perfect.


I’ve also got a Windows Phone device which has the Bing for mobile available – and since the device has a GPS, it can show aerial views of where we are currently. Manually cross referenced with the OS maps, it’s got me out of trouble on more than a few occasions – knowing we’d missed some turning on a designated path, but been confident enough of making it back to the path just a few hundred meters ahead. I hope some future version allows the showing of real OS maps on the mobile screen . now that would be sweet.

Have a play with the OS features on Bing Maps – it’s truly brilliant, and might teach you a load of stuff about your own manor.

Ferrari powered by Sharepoint

ms_casestudies_logo[1] I noticed that the Sharepoint case study for Ferrari today, posted at the end of July – link here. The case study includes a cool video hosted in a nice Silverlight player – looks really slick and well worth a look, especially if you’re one of the Tifosi or just  like Ferrari road cars.

On a related note, if you’re a fan, check out one of the best car-related ads I think I’ve ever seen – Shell host a high-quality streaming version of it on their site:


The noise of the flat-12 F312B driving through Hong Kong makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I’ve watched it…

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Firstly, apologies for the silence in recent weeks – it’s been a busy time and, well, y’know. Once you’re a week or two behind blog posting, you might as well be a month or two behind…

Anyway. Lots has happened IT-wise in the last few months. Windows 7 press seems to be going well (shock, even some Mac users think it’s not awful, though maybe it’s too Mac like…), and the RTM last week [from our annual sales conference held this year in Atlanta, in past years the source of the various Ballmer videos that can be found online] has the potential to kick-start a new wave of PC innovation in both hardware and software.

The iPhone 3GS has launched to near universal acclaim, even if it costs £1700 to upgrade for existing fans. Hats off to Apple on another great product release – Windows Mobile is now so far behind it’s almost an also-ran: despite some great devices like the HTC Snap, which I had a play with the other day … that, for me, is the ideal device: I’ve never got on that well with ‘touch’, and a slim, 3G device with a decent keyboard is hard to beat.

The Emperors New Clothes The buzz in the press a few weeks ago (and inspiration for the title of this post) concerned Google’s Chrome OS. Essentially, a Linux kernel fused to a Chrome browser, with enough drivers to make it work on various bits of hardware (principally Intel based netbooks), at least as far as I can tell. Maybe I’m missing the point, but I don’t see it as being all that revolutionary, or even all that functional… and others appear to be saying the same thing.

Things get more complicated, though, when trying to understand Google’s plan for where this OS/browser fusion is going – especially when thinking about the Native Client project, which aims to provide a way of executing rich client code natively on the host PC rather than going through JavaScript or similar.

It seems that Google is putting a lot of effort into reinventing the Operating System, even though there are plenty of good ones out there already… but to what end? Is the end result going to be more “open”? More secure (than Windows, or Mac, or any of the major Linux distros)? Or is it just that Google wants to control everything the end users do, and what data they do it with?

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) wrote about a previously hyped revolution in the way we’ll all work, the Network Computer. 10 years ago, the story was that all our apps would move to a new paradigm, be written in Java, and delivered to the Network Computer – NC – on demand. The PC model was dead.

Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) was a driving force behind that initiative, at Sun. Maybe he thinks it’s time to try again?

I had to laugh at the brilliant Fake Steve Jobs’ “Dear Eric” post, highlighting something of the impending conflict of interest between erstwhile partners, GOOG and AAPL, as the anti-trust investigators start circling and looking for transgressions. With Google and Apple competing on mobile device OSs, potentially on desktop OSs and on browsers (although Chrome currently does use the same heart as Safari), how long before they start putting clear air between themselves in other areas? Maybe we’ll see Apple putting their arms around other search engines, and not hard-coding Google as the provider in Safari?

Last year, Wired magazine mocked the “Don’t be Evil” motto, by featuring an “Evil Meter” – maybe it’s time for an update?

Formula 1 back on the BBC – only 2 weeks to go…

I haven’t been looking forward to an F1 season as much, for ages – since the Damon Hill years, probably. A number of things are helping to build anticipation:

  • Rule Changes – this year, the FIA has torn up the rule book somewhat by resizing aero components of the cars, introduced hybrid-style energy recovery from braking, moved back to slicks etc.

    The best explanation I’ve seen of all of the changes comes from a cool video from Red Bull…


  • Honda/Brawn GP looking good – I’m a Honda fan. I like Ross Brawn. I think Jenson Button has been unlucky with the car/team selection for years, and Rubino is the most experienced (and some say, the nicest guy) of all the drivers on the grid. They deserve to do well – and reports from the latest testing indicate they’ve nearly a second faster than everyone else, with defending champ Lewis Hamilton’s Mclaren team looking very much like they’re on the back foot. You can be sure that the Woking lads & lasses won’t be willing to give up the title without a fight…
  • BBC Footage – Brundle. Good. Coulthard. Great. Jordan. Legend. Oh, and the trailer footage …

    image … forward to 00:50s into the clip and you’ll find perhaps the best thing about F1 coming back to the BBC…

    The Chain.


Sign of the times: new car registrations

I recall the 1st of August in years gone by, as the day that new car registrations would be released – in the UK, if you didn’t know, car registration numbers are centrally issued and every year, the prefix or suffix letter used to advance. For a young boy, it was really quite exciting to spot the first cars with the new registration, and people buying new cars would wait to take delivery on the 1st August, so their pride & joy would have the latest ‘plate.

A few years ago, the system changed (to try to smooth demand out a bit more, so there wasn’t a huge spike in new car registrations in August, but a dearth in June/July…), to being twice a year, on 1st March and 1st September. The prefix/suffix letter scheme also changed to be a numerical advancement, based on the year.

It’s now the 12th March and I’ve yet to see an “09” registration, even though I’ve been travelling on the motorways most days, and for the last few (since realising this), I’ve been actively looking, but found nothing…

Is this a barmoter of the economic slowdown?

Happy 1,234,567,890 seconds since 1/1/1970


Well there’s a thing. CNET reported that today officially marks the 1.2-odd billion seconds past the beginning of 1970, a standard that’s used in UNIX (and by the C programming language) as the basis for all time measurements. If you’re reading this before 23:31:30 on Friday 13/2/09 then you can see the countdown clock on http://coolepochcountdown.com/. Who knows what will happen after?

Actually, let’s hope they figure out how to patch all Unix (or 32-bit C) systems before 03:14:08 19th January 2038, otherwise we could all be in big trouble. Unix time is typically represented by a signed 32-bit integer (so has 2^31 positive values, ergo 2,147,483,648), and maybe we’ll be dealing with Y2k38 or something like that.

Apparently there was some debate about whether to use a signed or unsigned integer here – Dennis Ritchie (inventor of C and co-creator of Unix) figured it would be quite nice to numerically represent all the days he would live (since he was born in 1941, and if they’d used an unsigned integer, then time would have started in 1970 …)

Fortunately, modern Windows systems aren’t quite so dependent on this time code, though it is still heavily used. If you’re really interested in this field, there’s a comprehensive post on the oldnewthing MSDN blog. Turns out the Common Language Runtime (bedrock of .NET development) counts in 100-nanosecond intervals since the 1st of January “0001”.


Look what I found in my loft: a 9-year old netbook

I splashed out a week or two ago, and bought a Samsung NC10 netbook – a bargain at under £300, and it runs Windows 7 really well.

Impressed with the size and utility of the thing, I recalled a forerunner of the netbook, so went rooting around in my “box of old technology that it pretty much useless but cost money so I can’t ever throw it away”, in the loft.

I came across an old laptop that in its time was known as a “sub-notebook”: we got two of these machines courtesy of Sony, to demonstrate Exchange 2000, specifically the Conferencing Server version, at a big partner event in Birmingham. It was, to date, the biggest audience I’ve ever stood in front of, at about 1,400 people. I had a few minutes to demo the still-in-beta Exchange 2000, and would be doing it jointly with the host for the conference, Jonathan Ross (gulp).

Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server – aka “Jasper”

I’m now struggling to remember when this was, but since Exchange 2000 released in November 2000 (as discovered by the very useful Microsoft Support Lifecycle page), I reckon it must have been early/mid-2000, which would mean the little Vaio has to be at least 8 or 9 years old.

Sony Vaio PCG-C1XN

The two Vaios we had were great – well, great for the time anyway, although even then they were very functionally compromised even when new. The one thing you could say about the machine was it was small, and cool.

vaioCertainly not fast – a 266MHz Celeron CPU (a cut down Pentium II, in essence, for our younger readers), 64Mb of RAM and a 6.4Gb hard disk.

The machines originally came with Windows 98, but we decided to put Windows 2000 on them for the demo; subsequently, I upgraded it to Windows XP and it’s probably a bit too much for the little mite. Suffice to say, it won’t be getting any further along the Windows evolutionary scale.

Other features of note were the webcam (one of – if not the – first laptops to come with one built in, which was the reason we wanted them for the Conferencing demo). A single USB port, FireWire (or iLink as Sony insisted on calling it), a PCMCIA slot, infra-red (you don’t get that any more now, do you?) and a dongle which had composite-video and VGA, complete the mix.

So for our demo we had to install an early Wifi network (it might have been the very first 802.11b from Compaq, costing hundreds of pounds for the router and at least £100 per PCMCIA card). All of this for 8 minutes of Woss-y glory, swept away in the sands of time.

Sony never did ask for it back – I hung onto one, and Steve kept the other. I bet he’s still got it somewhere too.

Dust the old girl off

Enough of this misty eyed nonsense. Amazingly, on plugging the machine in and powering up (apart from my going into the BIOS and setting the clock), it started to resume from hibernate – and dropped me back into the logon prompt for WinXP. I had some head scratching to do, to remember the password – but when I logged in, it was the first time for 6 years and 3 months.



Surprisingly, the Vaio is about the same thickness as my Samsung, so it doesn’t look quite as archaic as you might expect a 9-year old laptop to.

It could even be called a “Netbook”, except there’s no networking on the thing – certainly no wireless, and even dial-up would have required an old modem like the Xircom PCMCIA card I literally just found in my office drawer.

Probably the biggest difference is the price when new. Adjusting for inflation and taking into account what the Vaio would have originally cost, it’s probably nearer £3,000 than the £300 for my NC10.

That’s Moore’s law for ya.

Top ten things for to do in 2009

It seems this time of year brings out the soothsayer in lots of IT journalists and analysts, if the volume of “ten things to do” articles is anything to go by.

Mary-Jo Foley posted a couple of weeks ago on what she thought Microsoft might/should do this year.

Don Reisinger over at CNet gives his 5 predictions for home technology this year (no real surprises).

But, the funniest predictions article I’ve read in a while comes from Infoworld, regarding what Apple needs to do in 2009. Mitch Wagner compares Steve Jobs to Willy Wonka…

And that’s the real reason Steve Jobs didn’t attend Macworld this year. He hinted he skipped it for health reasons. But the real reason is that he’s on an overseas excursion, looking for Oompa Loompas he can replace Apple’s employees with.

Priceless 🙂