Weeknote 4: music; teenagers; creating a chatbot; tech, more tech and tech TV; 7 day photo challenge; and cycling (Week 46, 2017)

Another week, another weeknote…

There’s not much to say about work this week – I’ve mostly been writing documentation. I did spend a good chunk of Monday booking hotels and travel, only to find 12 days of consulting drop out of my diary again on Friday (cue hotel cancellations, etc.) but I guess that’s just life!

Family life: grime, rap and teens!

Outside work, it’s been good to be close to home and get involved in family life again.

I had the amusement of my 11 year-old and his friends rapping to their grime music on my car on the way to/from football training this week (we’re at the age where it’s “Dad, can we have my music on please?”) but there’s only so much Big Shaq I can take so I played some Eminem on the way back. It was quite endearing to hear my son say “I didn’t know you knew about Eminem!” after I dropped his mates off. I should make the most of these moments as the adulation is dropping off now he approaches his teens!

Talking of teens, my eldest turned 13 this week, which was a big day in the Wilson household:

 

I’m not sure how this little fella grew into this strong chap (or where the time in between has gone) but we introduced him to the Harry Enfield “Kevin the teenager” videos a few months ago. I thought they were funny when I was younger but couldn’t believe how accurate they are now I’m a parent. Our boys clearly understood the message too and looked a bit sheepish!

Tech

I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:

Virtual Mark (MarkBot1) uses the Microsoft QnA Maker and runs in Microsoft Azure. The process is described in James Marshall’s blog post and it’s very straightforward. I’m using Azure Functions and so far this serverless solution has cost me absolutely nothing to run!

It’s also interesting reading some of the queries that the bot has been asked, which have led to me extending its knowledge base a few times now. A question and answer chatbot is probably more suited to a set of tightly bounded questions on a topic (the things people can ask about me is pretty broad) but it’s a nice demo…

I also upgraded my work PC to the latest Windows 10 and Office builds (1709 and 1710 respectively), which gave me the ability to use a digital pen as a presentation clicker, which is nice, in a geek-novelty kind of way:

Tech TV

I have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to Amazon Prime Instant Video – including several TV shows that would otherwise only be available in the US. One I enjoy is Mr Robot – which although completely weird at times is also strangely addictive – and this week’s episode was particularly good (scoring 9.9 on IMDB). Whilst I was waiting for the next episode to come around, I found that I’d missed a whole season of Halt and Catch Fire too (I binge-watched the first three after they were recommended to me by Howard van Rooijen/@HowardvRooijen). Series 4 is the final one and that’s what presently keeping me from my sleep… but it’s really good!

I don’t have Netflix, but Silicon Cowboys has been recommended to me by Derek Goodridge (@workerthread). Just like the first series of Halt and Catch Fire, it’s the story of the original IBM PC clone manufacturers – Compaq – but in documentary format, rather than as a drama series.

iPhone images

Regular readers may recall that a few weeks ago I found myself needing to buy a new iPhone after I fell into the sea with my iPhone in my pocket, twisting my ankle in the process…

People have been telling me for ages that “the latest iPhone has a great camera” and, in daylight, I’m really impressed by the clarity and also the bokeh effect. It’s still a mobile phone camera with a tiny sensor though and that means it’s still really poor at night. If a full-frame DSLR struggles at times, an iPhone will be challenged I guess – but I’m still finding that I’m inspired to use the camera more.

7 Days 7 Photos

Last week, I mentioned the 7 days, 7 photos challenge. I’ve completed mine now and they are supposed to be without explanation but, now I have a set of 7 photos, I thought I would explain what and why I used these ones. I get the feeling that some people are just posting 7 pictures, one a day, but these really do relate to what I was doing each day – and I tried to nominate people for the challenge each day based on their relevance to the subject…

Day 1

7 Days 7 Photos Day 1

I spotted this pub as I walked to Farringdon station. I wondered if “the clerk and well” was the origin of the name for “Clerkenwell” and it turns out that it is. Anyway, I liked the view of the traditional London pub (I was on my way home from another one!) and challenged my brother, who’s a publican…

Day 2

7 Days 7 Photos Day 2

I liked the form in this photograph of my son’s CX bike on the roof of my car. It didn’t look so clean when we got back from cyclocross training though! I challenged my friend Andy, whose 40th birthday was the reason for my ride from London to Paris a few years ago…

Day 3

7 Days 7 Photos Day 3

Not technically a single photo – lets’ call it a triptych, I used the Diptic app (as recommended by Ben Seymour/@bseymour) to create this collage. I felt it was a little too personal to nominate my friend Kieran, whose medals are in the lower left image, so I nominated my friend James, who was leading the Scouts in our local remembrance day parade.

Day 4

7 Days 7 Photos Day 4

I found some failed backups on my Synology NAS this week. For some reason, Hyper Backup complained it didn’t have enough storage (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Azure that ran out of space!) so I ran several backups, each one adding another folder until I had all of my new photos in the backup set. I felt the need to challenge a friend who works in IT – so I challenged my friend Stuart.

Day 5

7 Days 7 Photos Day 5

My son was cake-baking, for Children in Need, I think – or maybe it was my other son, baking his birthday cake. I can’t really remember. I challenged a friend who runs a local cafe and regularly bakes muffins…

Day 6

7 Days 7 Photos Day 6

Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.

Day 7

7 Days 7 Photos Day 7

The last image is following an evening helping out at Scouts. Images of attempts to purify water through distillation were not that great, so I took a picture of the Scout Badge, and nominated my friend Phil, who’s another one of the local Scout leaders.

(All seven of these pictures were taken on an iPhone 8 Plus using the native camera app, then edited in Snapseed and uploaded to Flickr)

Other stuff

I like this:

And I remember shelves of tapes like these (though mine were all very neatly written, or computer-generated, even back in the 1980s):

On the topic of music, look up Master Boot Record on Spotify:

And this “Soundtrack for Coding” is pretty good for writing documentation too…

I added second-factor authentication to my WordPress blog this week. I couldn’t find anything that uses the Microsoft Authenticator, but this 2FA WordPress plugin from miniOrange uses Google Authenticator and was very easy to set up.

Some UK libraries have started loaning BBC Microbits but unfortunately not yet in my manor:

Being at home all week meant I went to see my GP about my twisted ankle (from the falling-into-the-sea incident). One referral later and I was able to see a physio… who’s already working wonders on helping to repair my damaged ligaments. And he says I can ride my bike too… so I’ll be back on Zwift even if cyclocross racing is out for the rest of the season.

Cycling

On the subject of Zwift, they announced a price rise this week. I understand that these things happen but it’s gone up 50% in the US (and slightly more than that here in the UK). All that really does is drive me to use Zwift in the winter and to cancel my membership in the summer. A more reasonable monthly fee might make me more inclined to sign up for 12 months at a time and create a recurring revenue for Zwift. Very strange business model, IMHO.

I particularly liked the last line of this article:

“Five minutes after the race
That was sooo fun! When can I do it again?!”

I may not have been riding cyclocross this weekend, but my son was, and Sunday was the popular Central Cyclocross League race at RAF Halton. With mud, sand, gravel and steep banks, long woodland sections and more, it looked epic. Maybe I’ll get to ride next year!

I did get to play with one of the RAF’s cranes (attached to a flatbed truck) though – amazing how much control there is – and had a go on the road safety rig too.

And of course, what else to eat at a cyclocross event but Belgian fries, mayo and waffles!

Finally, my friends at Kids Racing (@kidsracing) have some new kit in. Check out the video they filmed at the MK Bowl a couple of weeks back – and if you have kids in need of new cycling kit, maybe head over to HUP CC.

Wrap-up

That’s it for this week. Next week I have a bit more variation in my work (including another Microsoft event – Azure Ready in the UK) and I’m hoping to actually get some blog posts written… see you on the other side!

Recording a video of a PowerPoint presentation

One of the challenges I have with an Office 365 implementation that I’m working on is that the customer is unwilling or unable (for various technical and commercial reasons) to configure all of the network ports that are required to make use of Skype for Business. That means that they are unable to attend meetings that I host – they can dial in and hear the audio but they can’t access presentation content.

That’s a bit of a challenge for me, as I need to deliver some training to technical support staff across the globe and in various timezones. So, with Skype for Business out of the question… I started to think about alternatives – like recording a video of a PowerPoint presentation.

I realised it’s possible to record a narrative within PowerPoint and then save the presentation as a video or as a self-running presentation. That’s not as interactive as a Skype session could be but it’s also available for playback later (although this would also be the case with a recording of the Skype for Business session).

The process was not without its issues though. On the positive side, I could break my recording and re-record each slide (for example if I fluffed my words). That also helped when the kids came home and the inevitable family interruptions occurred. Unfortunately, PowerPoint kept on cutting out the first few seconds on some slides, so I started waiting a few seconds before speaking (I can trim it later) and it even recorded silence sometimes, necessitating a PC reboot to make it work again.  The whole process was not exactly fast – around 4 hours to record a one-hour presentation… and that doesn’t include the media encoding.

As I write this, I’m saving the file to MP4, hopefully ready for distribution… now, if only they hadn’t asked me to turn off Office 365 Video I’d have a means to share the content…

Office Remote for Windows Phone

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be attending a “presentation masterclass”.  My last formal training in this area was twenty years ago, as a graduate trainee at ICL, so I’m hoping things will have moved on considerably since then in terms of the techniques and advice on offer!

Anyway, attending the course reminded me to blog about something I was introduced to last year by my colleague, Warren Jenkins.  Those of us with Windows or Android phones can use the Office Remote app to control PowerPoint – no need for a “clicker” – just a phone (running Windows Phone 8.x with the Office Remote app – or  Android 4.0.3 or later with the Office Remote for Android app) and a Bluetooth connection to a Windows PC (Windows 7 or 8.x), with the Office Remote PC plug-in for Office 2013.

Once Office Remote PC is installed, and the PC is connected to the phone, open the Office file that you would like to present and, on the Office Remote tab, select Office Remote > Turn On.

Then, go to the phone and make sure it’s running the Office Remote app and, if all is working well, you’ll see a list of open Office files and you can pick the one to present.  For example, in PowerPoint you can see speaker notes and control the presentation, with options to view in slide sorter mode or to use a virtual laser pointer to highlight points on the slide. You can also control other Office applications (e.g. interacting with data and switching between worksheets in Excel, or jumping around between headings or up/down a document in Word), but I’ve only used it in anger with PowerPoint.

More details are available on the online help page.

Short takes: cyber security; stock images; PowerPoint presenter view; smart TVs, iPads and YouTube

Lots of ideas for blog posts this week but limited time to commit pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard for that matter. Here are the highlights of what might have been…

Cyber security

Last year, I assisted one of the lecturers at University College London (UCL) with some “expert” opinion on the bring your own device phenomenon, for a module as part of the MSc course in Human Computer Interaction. It seemed to go reasonably well and I was invited back to speak on this year’s topic – cyber security.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I could present some supplier-side views on the UK Government’s “10 steps to cyber security” advice which seems very sensible but is also based on aspirational and tactical solutions which could be costly to implement in full, so need to be considered with an understanding of the relative risks and an eye to the future.

For anyone who’s interested, my presentation is available for viewing/download on SlideShare, although it’s very visual – full narrative is available in the notes.

 

Searching for good images

I’m a fan of full-page images on slides and limited text. I find it keeps the audience engaged and listening to the presenter, rather than reading pages of bullet points.  The down side is that it can be very time consuming to find the right images, especially without access to an account at a good stock library.

As my presentation to UCL was as in individual, not representing my employer, I was able to use images licensed for non-commercial use under Creative Commons and Compfight is a great tool for searching Flickr for these.  I’ve attributed all of the photographers used in the deck above, and if you don’t have access to iStockPhoto, Fotolia, etc. then this can be a good way to find images.

PowerPoint Presenter View

I’ve blogged before about PowerPoint’s presenter view and I’m amazed that more people don’t use it (although, the people who don’t are generally fans of dull corporate decks with lots of bullet points – yawn!). Somehow though, my PC had reverted to not using it, and I needed to Google to find where the option is in the PowerPoint 2007/2010 ribbon!  In the end, it was this Cybernet New post that showed me the important option: on the Slide Show tab, in the Monitors section.

YouTube smart TV and mobile apps

I wanted to re-watch a presentation that I’d missed last year and that I knew was on YouTube. Given that it was nearly an hour long, I thought the comfort of my living room would be a good place to do this, using the YouTube app on my smart TV. It was. At least until I lost the stream part way through and the Samsung YouTube app refused to play ball with the fast forward control. Another annoyance was that the “Watch Later” functionality in YouTube isn’t recognised by the a-little-bit-dumb app on the “smart” TV, so I needed to add the video to another playlist first.

Eventually, I finished up watching the second half of the video on my iPad. Here, again, it’s useful to know that the built-in iOS YouTube app is feature light and that there is a newer version available from Google in Apple’s AppStore.

Adding sound to a PowerPoint animation (if you must)

Please don’t misunderstand me – nine times out of ten – clip-art, over-use of slide animations/transitions and sound effects in PowerPoint presentations are naff. No – worse than that – often completely unnecessary and, in some ways, reminding me of the early days of desktop publishing, when it seemed to be necessary to use 20 fonts on a single page… just because they were there

Thankfully these days (most) people have reined themselves in and seem to steer clear of the “embellishments”, maybe using a single transformation style throughout a whole deck and the occasional build, perhaps with the odd animation – and some decent stock images. Even so, I recently found myself wanting to use sound in a PowerPoint animation.

I could work out how to add the sound to the slide transition but these was nothing obvious for individual animation steps. After some googling, it turns out that the trick is to select the barely-noticable dropdown arrow on a custom animation, and then click Effect Options, after which the option to enhance the animation with sound will become visible. I was using PowerPoint 2007 – it might be different with other versions but, be warned, with great power comes great responsibility. Or something like that.

Removing backgrounds from images in PowerPoint 2007

One particularly useful feature in PowerPoint 2010 is the ability to remove backgrounds from images. Unfortunately for me, since I returned to using a corporate PC build (after years of building my own, I succumbed to the standard build as the bureaucracy of adding a machine to the domain, installing encryption software, etc. became too much to bear) I’ve gone back to  Office 2007 and that feature is no longer available to me.

But there is a way – last week I found out how to remove the background from an image in PowerPoint 2007.  By selecting the image, then chosing Recolor from the Format menu, it’s possible to Set Transparent Color.

Obviously this is not as simple as in PowerPoint 2010, and it will only work for plain backgrounds, but it can still come in useful at times…

Embedding streaming video content (e.g. YouTube and BBC iPlayer) in a PowerPoint presentation

One of the reasons for the huge gap in posts here is that I’ve lost most of the last week to creating a presentation for an event where I’m speaking next week. The event is for The Society for Computers and Law, and I’m taking a look inside the black box of technology.  I was briefed not to expect much technical knowledge as the audience are junior lawyers but I figure they probably know quite a lot already as they do work in IT law, so it’s been pretty difficult to work out what level to pitch things at.  In the end, all I can do is take the event organisers’ advice and hope it works out on the night… we’ll see…

Anyway, I wanted to mix things up a bit and avoid death by PowerPoint.  My slides are pretty pictorial (at least they are if the brand police don’t make me change them to something bland and corporate…) but I wanted to mix in some video too. PowerPoint is quite happy to embed video from a file but it’s a bit harder if you want to embed video that’s streamed from the web, for example from YouTube.

There is a way though (without resorting to installing an add-in)…

I found a post from iSpring Software that goes through the process of manually inserting Flash into PowerPoint 2007 (the version I’m using). There’s more detail in the original post, so I recommend that you read it, but these are the basic steps:

  1. Make sure the Developer tab is visible in the ribbon – if not then turn it on in the Popular tab inside the PowerPoint Options.
  2. On the Developer tab in the ribbon, click the More Controls button (looks like a hammer and screwdriver, crossed over).
  3. Select a Shockwave Flash object and drag a rectangle on the current slide. Don’t worry about the size.
  4. Right click on the control and select Properties.
  5. Go down to the Movie attribute and add the path to the Flash movie. This could be a local file… but it also works with  YouYube URLs (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/v/PPnoKb9fTkA?version=3).

A couple of points to note:

  • You’ll need to save the Presentation as a PowerPoint Macro-Enabled Presentation (which is a .pptm file).
  • The video content may not actually show in the PowerPoint editor, but it’s there if you start the slide show.

So that’s YouTube… but what about other Flash content? Well, you may find that you can extract an appropriate URL from the embed code – and that’s what I did for BBC iPlayer content.  Note that this works for videos embedded on the BBC website, it’s not for videos downloaded to the iPlayer Desktop client.

I don’t normally rate Yahoo Answers but it did turn up a 2 year-old post from someone called wm1995 that gave me the answer.  Get the embed code for the video that you want to embed and look for the FlashVars parameter:

Add that FlashVars code to the end of http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/2.10.7938_7967/9player.swf?embedPageUrl= and you can view the video in a browser (without the rest of the webpage). Similarly, you can take the same URL and use it inside PowerPoint so, the Movie attribute in the Shockwave Flash object will look something like:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/2.10.7938_7967/9player.swf?embedPageUrl=”&config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav1&playlist=http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/emp/7690000/7694400/7694471.xml&config_settings_language=default&config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_edition=Domestic&holding=http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/45149000/jpg/_45149136_aef85a05-4b8d-4e24-8947-055f995745d2.jpg&config_settings_skin=silver&autoPlay=true&embedReferer=http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2008/10/28/a-look-inside-microsofts-quincy-data-center/&config_settings_autoPlay=true&uxHighlightColour=0xff0000&embedPageUrl=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7694471.stm&config_settings_showPopoutButton=false&config=http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/emp/1_1_3_0_0_440234_441894_1/config/default.xml&widgetRevision=323797&config_settings_showShareButton=true&domId=emp_7694471&fmtjDocURI=/1/hi/technology/7694471.stm&legacyPlayerRevision=293203&config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav6&config_settings_showPopoutButton=false&config_settings_showPopoutCta=false&config_settings_addReferrerToPlaylistRequest=true&config_settings_showFooter=true&config_settings_autoPlay=false”

Changing text colours and fonts in a PowerPoint theme

I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon working on a presentation that I need to deliver tomorrow.  We have a corporate presentation template but it only really covers the basics (background, standard fonts, etc.).  I wanted to change the colour of hyperlinks (because the default blue/purple, depending on whether the link has been clicked or not, did not fit well with the other colours on my slides) but I couldn’t work out how until I stumbled across a blog post from Springhouse Education and Consulting Services.

It seems that the secret sauce is:

  1. Go to the Design tab
  2. In the top right of the Themes grouping, click on the Colors down arrow
  3. Select Create New Theme Colors located at the bottom of the list
  4. Select the desired color for the Hyperlink as well as the Followed Hyperlink

[Springhouse Education and Consulting Services]

Whilst I was messing around with font colours, I also added a new font to the theme (we have a corporate typeface that’s used in our external communications but not normally used internally). To do that:

  1. Go to the Design tab
  2. In the top right of the Themes grouping, click on the Fonts dropdown
  3. Select Create New Theme Fonts located at the bottom of the list
  4. Select the desired fonts for the Headings as well as the Body

These instructions are for PowerPoint 2007 but I’m sure the process is similar in PowerPoint 2010.

Windows+P is the presenters’ friend

I’ve spent most of today working with my friend and (soon to be ex-) colleague, David Saxon, as he delivered a Windows 7 Skills Update course to a selection of IT Professionals from within the company that we work for, with a small amount of support from me. Watching Dave present reminded me of something I meant to blog about last week when I was delivering a Windows 7 presentation to around 40 senior architects from our company at Microsoft’s UK Campus in Reading – the Windows 7 shortcut for Presenter Mode, Windows+P.

Back in the days of XP (and even Vista), setting a notebook PC up with a projector required lots of jiggerypokery with function keys and display driver settings. In the world of Windows 7, I just plug in the cable to connect to the presenter, press and hold down the Windows key whilst pressing P, and I’m given four simple options to chose from: computer only; duplicate; extend; and projector only.

Windows+P

Simple! My preference is always extend, as it allows me to use Presenter View in PowerPoint to view my notes and the upcoming slides on one screen, with the slide show on the projector (and that seemed to work as I’m pretty pleased with the feedback I got for my presentation, only being beaten by the Microsoft presenters who spend far more time in front of an audience than I do).

Of course, Windows+P is just one of many useful combinations and Clinton Garbutt mentions Windows+X (for the Windows Mobility Center) in his post on the subject (Clinton also highlights that you can get to the same interface by running displayswitch.exe). If that’s whetted your appetite then there are a few more Windows shortcuts referenced in the recent 77 Windows 7 tips TechNet article too.

PowerPoint 2007’s Presenter View is a fantastic tool

Today has been a big day for me. I’ve given presentations before but typically to colleagues, or occasionally to customers. Never to a large group of technical people – some of whom will also be extremely knowledgeable on my chosen topics (perhaps using a competitive product) – and never at Microsoft’s UK Campus in Reading, where I have attended many presentations, but never presented.

I really enjoyed myself at today’s Microsoft UK user groups community day – and if you were in one of my sessions I hope you found it useful and thank you for your support.

Because this was such a big deal for me (and because I didn’t know who would be watching), I put a lot of effort into my preparation. I had virtual machine snapshots and demonstration screen grabs (just in case the demo gods decided that today was not my day) as well as full speaker notes (with printed copies just in case). I also used the presenter view in PowerPoint for the first time ever and have to say it is fantastic.

PowerPoint 2007 Presenter Mode

The notebook PC I was using doesn’t have an high-powered graphics adapter – just an Intel GMA 965 chipset – but the standard Intel Graphics Media Accelerator for mobile driver helped me configure multiple monitors (1280×800 on the notebook display and 1024×768 on the projector – both in 32-bit colour). After this, I switched PowerPoint into presenter view and the audience could see the slides (or whatever I was demonstrating on the projector), whilst I could view the current slide, my speaker notes (at whatever text size I wanted), thumbnails of upcoming and previous slides, a clock and an elapsed time counter (there’s full details on delivering a presentation on two monitors by using presenter view in the Microsoft Office 2007 online help).

Trying not to bore the audience with “death by PowerPoint” is one thing, managing to accurately type commands in demos is another and only experience will teach me how to manage audience questions to stay on track but the PowerPoint presenter view really helped me out today – I’ll be using it a lot more regularly now I know how useful it is.