Outlook.com Puts Productivity at Your Fingertips

Microsoft Outlook.com is the modern approach to email. This new service combines all the elements one would expect from a first rate email service and so much more. It connects you to your social networks like Twitter and Facebook. You can also work smarter with online versions of Office web apps and SkyDrive storage for your documents. Outlook.com is so much more than an email client. It literally puts the power of Microsoft Office in your web browser anywhere you can access the web.

Outlook.com Menu

Let’s say you’re at a friend’s house and you decide to jump on their computer to check your email. You get an email from your study partner reminding you of a PowerPoint presentation that the two of you are collaborating on. It’s one of those moments where you smack your forehead because you realize you totally forgot about the assignment. Fortunately for you, Outlook.com gives you all the power of Microsoft Office right there in your browser. In the image below, you can see an example of the PowerPoint presentation that was sent. Notice the large PowerPoint icon in the middle of the screen. You have several options here. If you click the PowerPoint icon title, it will automatically download the presentation down to your computer. What if you don’t have Microsoft Office on that computer? That’s where the handy “View online” button will help. You see, with Outlook.com, you don’t have to Microsoft Office to be able to edit presentations. It comes with Office Web Apps which allows you to edit your presentation right there in your browser.


Notice in the image below, how viewing the presentation online looks very similar to what you would see in desktop application of PowerPoint. This is the view you see when you choose to edit the presentation online. You will notice the standard ribbon toolbar that you are used to seeing in PowerPoint. You also have many of the same elements of the desktop application of PowerPoint like the slide thumbnails and the toolbar buttons.


If you click the “New Slide” button, you will get the dialog box pictured below. Choosing the “Picture with Caption” option will allow you to upload a picture onto the slide. You also can add titles and text just like the full version of PowerPoint.


Below, you can see an example of the picture slide with a caption and title. However, that is not where the Office Web Apps’ capabilities end. If you click on the picture, you get the contextual “Format” tab at the top of the ribbon toolbar. Notice all the frame options in the image below.


Once you have completed your presentation, there’s no need to worry about saving. Outlook.com automatically saves the presentation as you go. Another fantastic feature is versioning. You can literally revert back to an earlier version of the document if you mess something up. When you close the presentation, Outlook.com automatically asks you whether you want to send the updated presentation back to the sender. It shows how well the Outlook.com team thought out its features–and this is just PowerPoint.  The other Office Web apps work similarly with the features you’ve used for years.

This is just one example of how Outlook.com is truly a modern approach to email. I could literally write dozens of tutorials based on the new features built in to Outlook.com. No other service I know of integrates so well with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. You can literally write posts on your Facebook friends’ walls directly from Outlook.com. Email storage is virtually limitless as well. As long as you’re not spamming the world or abusing the service, Outlook.com does not put quotas on your account. This barely scratches the surface of the new capabilities built-in to the new Outlook.com. I highly recommend taking a moment to visit their preview website at Outlookpreview.com and learn more about this great service.

Outlook.com is a preview of modern email from Microsoft. It has a fresh and intuitive design, connects your email to useful information from Facebook and Twitter, and gives you a smarter inbox with the power of Office and SkyDrive. Visit Outlookpreview.com to learn more and connect with us at @Outlook on Twitter.

Full Disclosure: This was a paid review of Outlook.com and its services. More information can be found about Outlook.com via http://outlookpreview.com

Declutter Your Email Experience with Outlook.com

Microsoft is currently previewing its new modern approach to email called Microsoft Outlook.com. This new service combines all the elements one would expect from a first rate email service. Outlook.com connects you to your social networks like Twitter and Facebook. You can work smarter with online versions of Office web apps and SkyDrive storage for your documents. This does not require you to have a local version of Microsoft Office, by the way. It also sports the fresh Windows 8 tiled design which is very clean and intuitive to use. Outlook.com is a great way to declutter your email experience.


Pictured in the image above, you will notice the new Outlook.com interface. If you look across the top of the image, you will probably notice what isn’t there. As you can see, there is only a small icon labeled “New” with a plus sign beside it. One of the first things the Outlook.com team set out to do was declutter the user interface. The bar at the top is contextual, meaning it doesn’t show you unnecessary options. However, if you click on an email you will be given a set of options at that time. An example of these options is pictured below. You will also notice how nicely all the menu items and individual emails are spaced. This really makes the visual experience of using Outlook.com much easier on the eyes.


Organizing messages in the new Outlook.com is extremely easy. If you look at the picture above, you will notice one of my favorite Outlook.com tools – “Sweep”. The “Sweep” tool has incredible inbox cleaning capabilities. Let’ say for instance, you select a message from a newsletter subscription. Using “Sweep” you can automatically select and delete all similar messages from your inbox. You can also use it to move these messages to a particular folder, or delete all of the old messages and keep only the current one.


One last feature I am totally impressed with is the way Outlook.com handles ads. I know that may be the last thing one would consider, but I consider it a great feature for two reasons. First of all, the ads are very low key and blend in nicely with the rest of the Outlook.com theme. This is truly a “customer’s first” approach to advertising if you ask me. Look at the area highlighted in red in the picture above and you will see what I mean. This is the one of only two places you will see ads in your email. The other is when you view an email that is not a personal contact. They don’t splash pictures everywhere and try to force you into accidental clicks to look at their ads. There is no doubt in my mind that this will affect ad revenue for Microsoft which is why I say this is a “customer’s first” approach.

The second thing that impresses me about Outlook.com’s ads is the way they go about contextualizing the ads for their users. “Why is this so important?” you ask. You may not realize that many online email providers actually read every word of your emails to gather specific information about you. They use this information to target ads toward you. While this is largely done in an automated way, if you’re like me, you have to be concerned about privacy and security. Outlook.com has taken the approach that it will only use the information you give it. As much, or as little, information that you are willing to put on your Outlook.com profile is what is used to generate the context for ads. Outlook.com does not read your emails to gather information about you. This, to me, is a huge benefit for the end user, especially if they are security conscious.

As you can see, there are some great benefits to switching to the new Outlook.com. Take a moment to visit their website and take advantage of their preview.

Outlook.com is a preview of modern email from Microsoft. It has a fresh and intuitive design, connects your email to useful information from Facebook and Twitter, and gives you a smarter inbox with the power of Office and SkyDrive. Visit Outlookpreview.com to learn more and connect with us at @Outlook on Twitter.

Full Disclosure: This was a paid review of Outlook.com and its services. More information can be found about Outlook.com via http://outlookpreview.com.

Google’s Election Day Doodle

Election Day Google Doodle

Google has gotten into the election day spirit by offering up an U.S. election day doodle. The doodle sports the U.S. colors red, white, and blue and depicts ballots being cast in a patriotic ballot box.

Today’s doodle isn’t animated but it is plenty useful. If you click the “Find your voting location and hours” link at the bottom of the doodle, you will see something similar to what is in the picture below. Notice that the voting location is conveniently listed with a map on the left hand side. Highlighted in red, you will where you can click through the ballot and see what candidates are running. If the candidate has a website, Facebook, or Twitter feed, a link to that is provided as well.

Voter Information

At this point in time, a great deal of Americans are pretty much worn out by all the political rhetoric that is filling the airwaves and Facebook news feeds. Unfortunately, this election has the possibility of being so close that it may take weeks to find out who the winner will be. As tiring as this process is however, voting is one of the most important rights we as U.S. citizens have and exercising that right is an important duty that shouldn’t be taken lightly. No nation is perfect and the U.S. has seen its fair share of wrongs, but there have been many good people who have stood up to the injustices of our country and our world. I think about the citizen soldiers who stood up to an oppressive tyrant and began a great experiment. I think about the many men who died at the hands of their brothers while fighting to set slaves free in this country. I think about men and women who risked their lives to make voting a right for blacks and for women. You see, if you’re a U.S. citizen, your right to vote came at a heavy price no matter what your race, creed, color, or sex. Take a moment today to make your voice known if for no other reason than to honor the many who died giving you the right to do so.

Google’s 2012 Halloween Doodle

Haunted House

Halloween is usually a fun time at Google and this year is no exception. If you arrive at the search giant’s website today, you will notice a really cool Halloween doodle. The doodle is animated and if you look to the lower right corner of the image, you will see a little button where you can add sound. To me, the scene is reminiscent of Sesame Street except a little spookier. This would be a really good doodle to get your kids and let them enjoy the animation. I don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but I will let you know that you need to click around the different elements as they do special things.

Last year, I wrote about Google’s massive undertaking when they used 1000 pound pumpkins to carve out the letters for Google. I thought it might be a good time to show the behind the scenes video they produced from last year. It is pretty neat if you didn’t get to see it.

Halloween in the U.S. has become a major holiday. I’m amazed at how much it has grown even since I was a kid. One of the major differences I have seen is the outdoor decorations and lighting that is available now. I am also amazed by how many adults dress up now and have costume parties. I guess Halloween is one of those holidays that brings out the kids in all of us. Speaking of kids, if you’re taking out your little trick-or-treaters, make sure that they have something reflective on their clothing to make them more visible to cars. A lot of costumes are dark colored and with the days being shorter this time of year, visibility during trick-or-treat time is hindered. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween!

Google Honors Bob Ross with Doodle

Bob Ross Doodle

Google is honoring the 70th birthday of Bob Ross with a beautiful doodle on its search page. The doodle truly reflects what so many appreciated about Ross. His gentle nature is represented by the squirrel’s confidence in sitting on his shoulder. His appreciation for nature is portrayed on the canvas with his signature “happy trees”. His amazing eye for color is represented by the wet pallet that he so masterfully used to recreate the living colors of nature.

Bob Ross is best known for his decade-long PBS show “The Joy of Painting”. In this series, he introduced thousands, if not millions, of people to the art of painting. In particular, he used a wet-on-wet oil technique which produced quicker results on the canvas. Ross was so easy to relate to. His calm demeanor and relaxed approach to art really drew people to his show and made art more accessible to the common man. Statements like “there are no mistakes, only happy accidents” and “happy trees” made learning from him enjoyable and seemed effortless.

Ross wasn’t always the easy going painter that many saw on TV. In fact, he had a pretty successful career in the U.S. Air Force where he retired as a Master Sargeant after 20 years of service. During his stint in the Air Force, he was stationed in Alaska which turned out to be a very inspiring force for his paintings. According to Wikipedia, once he retired he lamented having to be “mean and tough,” …”the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work”. He apparently vowed to never scream again after retirement.

Unfortunately for all of us, Ross’ life was cut short due to lymphoma in 1995. His legacy still lives on at Bob Ross, Inc. where you can still find a variety of products and tutorials bearing his image. Ross has a personal spot in my heart as I remember when I was younger, my Grandmother was inspired by his show to paint. It was amazing to see the beautiful landscapes that she painted. I have also been personally inspired by his show and have even used his wet-on-wet techniques with acrylics and loved the results. Hopefully we can all take a moment today to learn more about this brilliant and humble man. He is truly missed.

Tutorial: Use Google Maps to Measure Distances

If you have used the internet at all, you have probably at some point used Google maps. It is probably the most fascinating and under utilized tool on the web. It is great for getting directions from here to there. You can also use the satellite view to get a real life picture of an area on they map. Street view is pretty handy to if you want to know what the landmarks of an area you are visiting look like. Today, I would like to show you a neat tool for measuring distances using Google maps.

I work in the construction industry and we are constantly looking at large buildings and parking structures. So often when you’re bidding work for someone, they don’t have a good blueprint with accurate measurements. Fortunately, Google maps makes this pretty easy. First thing we need to do is have a Google account. If you don’t have one, go to http://gmail.com and sign up for an account. The reason for this is you need to actually login to Google maps to use this tool. Once you have a Google account, go to http://maps.google.com. You should see something similar to the picture below. Beside the “Google” logo there is a search box where you can type an address or significant landmark and do a search. In my first example I typed “Golden Gate Bridge” because I thought it would be neat to see how long that bridge is. Once you type in your search, you will notice a button that says “My Places”. You will need to click this to get to the measuring tools.

Once you click on “My Places”, you will see what is pictured below. To use these tools, you actually create a custom map. Don’t worry, you can delete it later if you don’t want to keep it. Click the red “Create Map” button to start using the measuring tools.

Create Map

Below, you can see my screen. The Golden Gate Bridge is pictured in the middle. In the upper left corner of the map, you will see three buttons. The little hand tool lets you move the map around. The middle tool that looks kind of like a push pin allows you mark places on a map. This is handy for travel planning. The last tool looks like a squiggly line. This tool lets you draw a line on the map and is what we will use to measure distance.

Golden Gate

Below, you can see up close where I selected the “Draw a line” option on the Google map.


Line Tool

Below, you can see where I have drawn my line across the bridge. Here’s what I did. I clicked on the first point where I thought the bridge started. Now you can drag if you want to. What I did was just find the ending point of the bridge and clicked there. You will notice when you click, you get a little white square indicating a point where you clicked. Straight lines are easy. If you have something that is curvy or oddly shaped you will need to do several small clicks at a time. Once you have finished drawing your line, you will need to click the last point of your line to indicate you are finished.

Line Drawn

Once you have completed your line, a little box will pop up like the one pictured below. This is where you can give your line a description. Notice at the bottom of the box that it tells you how long the line is. In this case it was 1.05 miles.


Now you may be wondering how accurate this measurement is. Well, I was a little skeptical. One problem for me on the Golden Gate Bridge was I didn’t know how far down to click to get an “official” measurement. So I decided to my own little test. I decided to do a search for the place where I work. In the back of our building we have this huge dumpster. I went out and measured and got 21.5 feet on my tape measure. Notice in the picture below, I have a red arrow pointing to the measurement of my dumpster. That is pretty darn close if you ask me!

Dumpster Measurement

There are so many applications I could see this tool being used for. For instance, in the electrical industry it is always important to have an accurate measurement of cable runs so you order the appropriate amount of cable. Copper is expensive and having good measurements can save you a lot of money. Maybe you need to reseed your lawn but you’re not sure how many square feet you have. Google maps would be an excellent way to measure that distance. I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial. As always feel free to comment or as any questions.

Get the Right Tools to Conquer Your Day and Seize the Night!

Hey you! Yeah you, the one burning the candle at both ends. Between homework, friends, family, and the occasional party here and there, you barely have time to grab a meal. What you need my friend are some tools to help you out. With the innovation of Lenovo® IdeaPad U Series Ultrabook™ laptops and some cool apps, we’ll have you ready to conquer your day and seize the night!

Take Copious Notes with Evernote

Let’s face it, your life is moving fast. You don’t have 30 seconds for your laptop to boot up when you’re 5 minutes late for class. The professor is well into their presentation by now. With an IdeaPad Ultrabook™ that resumes from sleep mode in less than 2 seconds, you’re in business. Now all you need is a good note taking program. My favorite note taking software is Evernote! We have mentioned this software numerous times on this website and it is worth mentioning again. This software transcends the boundaries of the PC by being available as a desktop download, iOS or Android app, and also on the web from a browser anywhere in the world. Evernote is free with certain data limits per month. I have yet to hit any limitations. One of my favorite features is the ability to create notebooks so I can divide up my notes into categories. You can also take a picture of handwritten notes on a paper or whiteboard and Evernote will translate the written notes into searchable text. You can download Evernote for free at http://evernote.com/evernote/.


Avert Disaster with Dropbox

Dropbox is another must-have application for the person on the go. The last thing anyone needs is to lose a critical document. Dropbox is a great way to protect your important files and make them available to you on any of your devices. You can download Dropbox simply by going to http://dropbox.com and downloading their free software. You get 2GB of free storage and if you refer friends, you get an additional 500MB per user up to 18GB. What I love about Dropbox is its simplicity. It creates a folder on your computer. Any file that you put in that folder is synchronized to the web and stored on Amazon’s secure servers. Those files are now accessible via a web browser anywhere, or from your smartphone or tablet as an app. You can share folders with other Dropbox users or utilize a public folder option to share a link to a file with those you don’t want to share an entire folder with. A really nice feature is the ability to restore previous versions of a file. This is great if you accidentally overwrite an important file. Just go to your Dropbox website and restore previous versions. Crisis averted!


One thing that has to be considered when you’re on the go is connectivity. We live in a connected world and we like to have instant updates. Even the aforementioned programs are at their best when they’re connected. That is another reason to consider the Lenovo IdeaPad Ultrabook™. They have a smart technology that syncs your email, IM, and social networks even in sleep mode.

The Art of the Invitation

The day is almost done, but there is so much to do tonight! The party starts at 7PM, but you forgot the invites. No problem, just download the FREE image editing software Paint.net. You can download it at http://getpaint.net. This free image editing software rivals the extremely expensive photo editing suites, with all of the familiarity of the Microsoft products you’re already familiar with. Pictured below, you can see the invitation I created, complete with a silhouette of an image I found on the web. It took me about 5 minutes. OK, so I am not a graphic artist, but I think you get the point. You can have a lot of fun with this software and it is free.

paint dot net

Make Sweet Music with Audacity

Audacity is another free program that I wouldn’t do without. You can use Audacity to record tracks and edit music. This is perfect for making music clips to go along with a presentation, or to make a remix of some of your favorite songs. You can also import audio files from your smartphone when you record meetings or class discussions. Audacity is extremely robust with all kinds of effects and filters for your music.


Be the Life of the Party With VirtualDJ

Now that you have the crew together, you’re going to want to blast the music. You can have the power of a club DJ right at your fingertips with VirtualDJ. Free for home use, VirtualDJ is a cool way to DJ your party. It too is a very robust software with a lot of capabilities. There are paid versions of this software as well for the more serious DJ. They will integrate with turntables and projectors.

Virtual DJ

Get the Right Tool for the Job

For Those Who Do

You’ve seen the apps, now get the right tool for the job. Being highly mobile and connected requires a good laptop. The IdeaPad® U Series Ultrabook™, at Lenovo.com, has all of the right tools to keep you productive by day, and have fun at night. The IdeaPad weighs less than 2KG, so it won’t weigh you down. Depending on the model you choose, you get up to 9 hours of battery life. I encourage you to take a look at all the IdeaPad has to offer. See what you can do with the Book of Do, the IdeaPad® U Series Ultrabook™, at Lenovo.com.

Full Disclosure: This post contains sponsored content to promote the Lenovo IdeaPad Ultrabook campaign. Please feel free to visit their  website to learn more about their products.

Indian Led Team Discovers Giant Black Holes

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, led by Dr Manda Banerji, has discovered previously undetected supermassive black holes in the deepest regions of the early universe. The study is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Infrared colour image of ULASJ1234+0907 located 11 billion light years from Earth and one of the reddest objects in the sky. (UKIDSS / Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer Observatory)

A Royal Astronomical Society press release said the team used “cutting-edge infrared surveys of the sky to discover a new population of enormous, rapidly growing supermassive black holes in the early Universe”. Apparently, these black holes have been hidden from our site due to a thick layer of dust that surrounds them. One of the super massive black holes, labeled ULASJ1234+0907, is 10,000 times the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. It, and other black holes like it, is emitting enormous radiation through violent interactions with its  host galaxy.

Dr Manda Banerji said, “Most black holes of this kind are seen through the matter they drag in. As the neighboring material spirals in towards the black holes, it heats up. Astronomers are able to see this radiation and observe these systems.” He went on to say, “Although these black holes have been studied for some time, the new results indicate that some of the most massive ones may have so far been hidden from our view.”

Most of the massive black holes are located at the center of galaxies. Due to collisions with other galaxies, they are often surrounded by massive clouds of dust. The team from Cambridge used infrared surveys being carried out on the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) to look past the dust and locate the giant black holes for the first time. This research could have significant impact on the way black holes are studied in the future. For more information, visit http://www.ras.org.uk.

U.S. Intelligence Report Suggests Cutting Ties with Huawei and ZTE

A U.S. House of Representatives intelligence report suggests the U.S. should cut off relations with two of China’s top telecom manufacturers Huwaei and ZTE. It particularly states that neither company should be allowed to merge with any U.S. based telecom company. The recommendation comes after nearly a year long investigation into corporate practices of the Chinese based companies amid concerns of espionage and illegal activity.
House Intel Logo

Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, who is also the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, laid out the details accusing Huawei and ZTE of being uncooperative and not forthcoming with requested documentation. According to the report, the investigation into these companies began in February 2011 when Huawei “published an open letter to the U.S. Government denying security concerns with the company or its equipment, and requesting a full investigation into its corporate operations.” By November 2011, the U.S. House acted on that request and began to investigate potential security risks posed by doing business with the Chinese companies. There is growing concern that the Chinese are interested in accessing U.S. infrastructure for the purpose of espionage. Below is a quote from the Executive Summary section of the report that lays out many of the concerns:

Prior to initiating the formal investigation, the Committee performed a preliminary review of the issue, which confirmed significant gaps in available information about the Chinese telecommunications sector, the histories and operations of specific companies operating in the United States, and those companies’ potential ties to the Chinese state. Most importantly, that preliminary review highlighted the potential security threat posed by Chinese telecommunications companies with potential ties to the Chinese government or military. In particular, to the extent these companies are influenced by the state, or provide Chinese intelligence services access to telecommunication networks, the opportunity exists for further economic and foreign espionage by a foreign nation-state already known to be a major perpetrator of cyber espionage.

Huawei’s vice-president, William Plummer, said the latest accusations were “dangerous political distractions”. According to a BBC article, Huawei was started by a former member of the People’s Liberation Army. It also reported that U.S. based Cisco Systems cut ties with ZTE after it allegedly sold U.S. equipment to the Iranians which is a clear breach of U.S. sanctions.

The report outlined several recommendations from not allowing any ZTE or Huawei systems to be used in any government facility to warning U.S. businesses about the unfair businesses practices of these companies, particularly intellectual property. All of this comes about at a time when relations with China are already strained due to the Presidential election. Many Americans feel the government needs to do more about China’s unfair trade practices.

For more information and to see the full report, visit http://intelligence.house.gov/.

Review: Badly Drawn Faces

The other day I ran out of coins playing my favorite game, Scramble with Friends, so I decided to run to the App store and take a look at all the new apps out there. I ran across one that immediately caught my eye. The app is called Badly Drawn Faces and is developed by Sporcle. When I read the description, “Sharpy is a narwhal. Narwhals can’t draw. No one ever let Sharpy know that.”, I knew this game was the kind of silly I was looking for. Below, you can see a screenshot of Sharpy and his relatively bad rendition of Frankenstein.

Sharpy the Narwhal
Screenshot of Badly Drawn Faces

The game is extremely simple to get started with and to learn. There are many levels that they refer to as “Pads”. Below, you can see a screenshot of one of the pads. A lot of the pads are locked until you guess a certain number of faces, and then they will begin to unlock as you go.


The premise of the game is very simple. You are presented with a graph paper sheet upon which Sharpy will commence to draw a famous face. If you figure out who the famous face is before he is finished drawing, you can hit the guess button and type in the answer for extra points. Below, you can see the face with the guess button beneath it.


You will quickly find out that the most important thing in this game is collecting fish. You get one fish for every face you get correct. However, if you get stuck on a face, it will cost you 3 fish to get a hint from Sharpy. You also have the option of posting the picture to Facebook and Twitter so your friends can help you guess the picture.

I am giving this app 4 stars because it really is a lot of fun. If you’re looking for a simple game to pass the time, then this is the app for you. It runs like a charm on my iPad 2. I have played it pretty much non-stop for a couple of days and I am not even close to running out of levels. I believe this is one of those games you need to put in your arsenal for those days when you need mindless entertainment. Although, I have to admit I have learned a few things about people I didn’t know by playing it. Oh, did I mention it is free!

You can download Badly Drawn Faces at the following link http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/badly-drawn-faces/id541920351?mt=8&ign-mpt=uo%3D2.