Short takes: Windows Phone screenshots and force closing apps; Android static IP

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I’m clearing down my browser tabs and dumping some of the the things I found recently that I might need to remember again one day!

Taking a screenshot on Windows Phone

Windows Phone 7 didn’t have a screenshot capability (I had an app that worked on an unlocked phone) but Windows Phone 8 let me take screenshots with Windows+Power. For some reason this changed in Windows Phone 8.1 to Power+Volume Up.  It does tell you when you try to use the old combination but, worth noting…

Some search engines are more helpful than others

Incidentally, searching for this information is a lot more helpful in some search engines than in others…

One might think Microsoft could surface it’s own information a little more clearly in Bing but there are other examples too (Google’s built-in calculator, cinema listings, etc.)

Force-quitting a Windows Phone app

Sometimes, apps just fail. In theory that’s not a problem, but in reality they need to be force-closed.  Again, Windows Phone didn’t used to allow this but recent updates have enabled a force-close. Hold the back button down, and then click the circled X that appears in order to close the problem app.

Enabling a static IP on an Android device

Talking of long key presses… I recently blew up my home infrastructure server (user error with the power…) and, until I sort things out again, all of our devices are configured with static IP configurations. One device where I struggled to do this was my Hudl tablet, running Android. It seems the answer is to select the Wi-Fi connection I want to use, but to long-press it, at which point there are advanced options to modify the connection and configure static IP details.

Ignore Sat Nav and engage brain

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Engage Brain

Despite being what many people would consider to be technology-inclined, I don’t have a Sat Nav in my car.

I’m fortunate to have a good sense of direction, my childhood was spent touring the UK (we didn’t have foreign holidays but we did have lots of days out) and I spent the first part of my career visiting customer sites, placing me in the “18,000 mile club” (those of a certain age will remember the company car tax break that encouraged high mileage).

Generally, I get by with a £4.99 AA Map Book supplemented by my own knowledge of the UK road network.

But last weekend I was visiting friends in Winchester and, although I knew how to reach their house from the north/midlands, I was heading up from the south coast and thought there might be a better route. No worries, thought I, I’ll use Nokia Maps on my Windows Phone.

I entered their street name (let’s say it was Acacia Avenue, Winchester – of course, it wasn’t, but bear with me) and was somewhat surprised to see a map of Manchester. I thought it was an autocorrect issue, so I tried again. “Never mind”, I thought, “I’ll look up the postcode”, so I put the same search string into the phone’s search engine (Bing of course) and got some Manchester results…

I was frustrated by now. So frustrated I considered using my Wife’s iPhone and Apple Maps…

In the end, the Royal Mail website gave me the postcode, which Nokia Maps was happy to accept and use to take me to “Acacia Avenue” but there’s a much bigger issue here.

It’s not about Bing, or Nokia, or Tom Tom or Apple Maps but about trust. When I want to get somewhere, I want to get to the right place. I know, for example, that Apple Maps has some terrible information for the town where I live (e.g. many businesses in the wrong locations and some there that no longer exist). If I can’t trust a mapping service for a locality that I know well, why should I trust it for one that I don’t?  Similarly, if Nokia Maps is going to send me to Manchester instead of Winchester, I don’t much fancy the fuel bills and travel times if I rely on it to get me somewhere in a hurry…

The map data will improve – and I’ve suggestfully proposed changes to Google Maps too (a typo in the name of the local Rugby Club is probably not too big a deal though). Open Street Map is another alternative – although someone there reversed some of my edits (so that’s only as good as the community that moderates it…).

The real point is that, as we become increasingly dependent on digital services, we also need to take stock. There’s an old saying in computing – garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). Maybe technology is not always the answer and we need to rely on a little common sense too?


Photo Credit: touring_fishman via Compfight (licenced under Creative Commons).

Downloading content from the US iTunes Store, outside the United States

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I’m getting increasingly tired of seeing apps launched in the US iTunes Store and not here in the UK.  And the worst culprit seems to be, would you believe, Microsoft?!  For example, the Bing app – freely available in the US, but not here.  Sure, some of the content is US-specific but not all of it – and it’s been around in the States for ages now!

Then, I heard that OneNote has shipped on iOS.  Yes, OneNote. Microsoft’s fantastic note-taking app, on iOS. Further more, it’s currently free of charge (for a limited period). Ever since I bought an iPad, I thought that OneNote would be brillaint on that platform and, as good as Evernote is, it’s just not good enough.

Sadly, the OneNote Mobile app for iPhone is only available in the US iTunes Store but there is a workaround:

  1. Purchase a US iTunes gift card. If you have friends in the States, they might be able to help (they can e-mail you the code on the back of the card) or there are sites on the web that will sell you a code, usually for a hefty commission fee…
  2. Launch iTunes and sign out from the local iTunes Store.
  3. Switch to the US iTunes Store – for example attempt to buy some content that’s only available in the US (and iTunes will prompt you to switch stores) – it needs to be free content though (like a free iPhone app), in order to display a payment option of none in a later step.
  4. Redeem  the code from a US-issued iTunes gift card, creating a new iTunes account in the process.  You’ll need an e-mail address that’s not already associated with iTunes and a valid address in the States.  If you’re staying with friends, or at a hotel, that would work.
  5. Select the payment type of none, then continue the process to complete the account opening process and download the content.  Your new account will be credited with the value of the gift card.

I don’t know if this breaches terms and conditions on the Apple store (maybe if they were shorter, and written in plain English, I might actually read them…) but it works. As for legitimacy, I might be writing this from the United States, in which case using my hotel address and a gift card seems perfectly acceptable.  At least it does right now – Apple may try an tighten things up later but what’s in it for them? This way they can sell content in multiple regions from the same customer… and I’m talking about apps here, it’s not as though I’m advocating circumvention of media distribution rights for music/video. Of course, I’m not a lawyer – and I can’t be held responsible for anyone else’s actions based on the advice in this blog post.

Content not authorised in iTunesWhen you sync your device with iTunes, you will probably get an error indicating that the apps are not authorised on the computer.  Simply follow the instructions to authorise the computer for use with that iTunes Store (Authorize This Computer on the Store menu in iTunes).

Content syncing with a device in iTunesAfter doing so, the next device sync should copy the app (iTunes will have one library containing content from both the US and the local iTunes Stores) and you can freely switch back and forth between US and local iTunes accounts to make new purchases.

As it happens, OneNote Mobile for iPhone is exactly what it says – it’s an iPhone app and doesn’t make full use of the larger screen on the iPad.  This is a missed opportunity for Microsoft – the best iOS apps detect the device and present an appropriate view to make full use of the display capabilities – and they could have a knock-out app running on a competitor’s platform. Hey ho.

After hours at UK TechDays

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Over the last few years, I’ve attended (and blogged in detail about) a couple of “after hours” events at Microsoft – looking at some of the consumer-related items that we might do with out computers outside of work (first in May 2007 and then in November 2008).

Tonight I was at another one – an evening event to complement the UK TechDays events taking place this week in West London cinemas – and, unlike previous after hours sessions, this one did not even try and push Microsoft products at us (previous events felt a bit like Windows, Xbox and Live promotions at time) – it just demonstrated a whole load of cool stuff that people might want to take a look at.

I have to admit I nearly didn’t attend – the daytime UK TechDays events have been a little patchy in terms of content quality and I’m feeling slightly burned out after what has been a busy week with two Windows Server User Group evening events on top of UK TechDays and the normal work e-mail triage activities.  I’m glad I made it though and the following list is just a few of the things we saw Marc Holmes, Paul Foster and Jamie Burgess present tonight:

  • A discussion of some of the home network functionality that the guys are using for media, home automation etc. – predictably a huge amount of Microsoft media items (Media Center PCs, Windows Home Server, Xbox 360, etc.) but also the use of  X10, Z-Wave or RFXcom for pushing USB or RF signals around for home automation purposes, as well as Ethernet over power line for streaming from Media Center PCs.  Other technologies discussed included: Logitech’s DiNovo Edge keyboard and Harmony One universal remote control; SiliconDust HD HomeRun for sharing DVB-T TV signals across Ethernet to PCs; using xPL to control home automation equipment.
  • Lego Mindstorms NXT for building block robotics, including the First Lego League –  to inspire young people to get involved with science and technology in a positive way.
  • Kodu Game Lab – a visual programming language made specifically for creating games that is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone.
  • Developing XNA games with XNA Game Studio and Visual Studio, then deploying them to Xbox or even running them in the Windows Phone emulator!  Other related topics included the use of the Freescale Flexis JM Badge board to integrate an accelerometer with an XNA game and GoblinXNA for augmented reality/3D games development.  There’s also a UK XNA user group.
  • A look at how research projects (from Microsoft Research) move into Labs and eventually become products after developers have optimised and integrated them.  Microsoft spent $9.5bn on research and development in 2009 and some of the research activities that have now made it to life include Photosynth (which became a Windows client application and is now included within Silverlight), the Seadragon technologies which also became a part of Silverlight (Deep Zoom) and are featured in the Hard Rock Cafe Memorabilia site.  A stunning example is Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ TED 2010 talk on the work that Microsoft is doing to integrate augmented reality maps in Bing – drawing on the Seadragon technologies to provide fluidity whilst navigating maps in 3D but that environment can be used as a canvas for other things – like streetside photos (far more detailed than Google Streetview).  In his talk (which is worth watching and embedded below), Blaise navigates off the street and actually inside Seattle’s Pike Place market before showing how the Microsoft imagery can be integrated with Flickr images (possibly historical images for “time travel”) and even broadcasting live video.  In addition to the telepresence (looking from the outside in), poins of interest can be used to look out when on the ground and get details of what’s around and even looking up to the sky and seeing integration with the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope.
  • Finally, Paul spoke about his creation of a multitouch (Surface) table for less than £100 (using CCTV infrared cameras, a webcam with the IR filter removed and NUI software – it’s now possible to do the same with Windows 7) and a borrowed projector before discussing his own attempts at virtual reality in his paddock at home.

Whilst I’m unlikely to get stuck into all of these projects, there is plenty of geek scope here – I may have a play with home automation and it’s good to know some of the possibilities for getting my kids involved with creating their own games, robots, etc. As for Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ TED 2010 talk it was fantastic to see how Microsoft still innovates and (I only wish that all of the Bing features were available globally… here in the UK we don’t have all of the functionality that’s available stateside).