Gadget update

22 11 2011

With the recent and sudden demise of gallery.live.com, the Microsoft site that hosted the various sidebar gadgets I had written, it has not been possible to download these excellent additions for your Windows Vista and Windows 7 machines.

As such, I am pleased to announce these gadgets are now available for download once again from my Skydrive account by clicking on the following links:

Countdown Gadget v1.2.0 – http://bit.ly/CountdownGadget

Melbourne Freeway Times – http://bit.ly/FreewayTimesGadget

Of course, if you wish to know more, please click on the Gadget link of the blog for more details.

Advertisements




Corrupted VirtualBox VHD’s

27 09 2009

For the past few months I have been using Sun’s VirtualBox as my preferred VM software. With the shift to x64 computing that is in full flow, the latest operating systems and servers such as SharePoint and Project Server are moving over toe x64 only. Unfortunately Microsoft has made the choice to only offer support for x64 virtual machines via Hyper-V on their server platforms and doesn’t currently offer any consumer product that will run x64 guests.

Today I had two virtual machines chugging along when we had a power outage. Yes I know I should have bought a UPS, but to be honest I would rather spend the money on a SSD 🙂 When the power came back, I couldn’t get the VM’s to boot back up, getting a “Could not get the storage format of the hard disk” error:

image

After a quick Bing, I stumbled upon someone suggesting mounting the VHD in Windows 7 which may fix the problem. Low and behold it did. So in an effort to give something back, here are the steps to ‘fix’ the vhd  in Windows 7.

1. In Computer Management, Choose Action and Attach VHD.

image

2.In the ‘Attach Virtual Hard Disk’ dialogue, choose the location of the disk and click OK

image

3.When the VHD has mounted you will see it in the list, with a blue icon indicating it’s a VHD

image

image 

The process of Attaching will have fixed the VHD, so now you need to do is detach the drive and it should work in VirtualBox again 🙂

4. Detach the drive by right clicking on it and choosing Detach VHD:

image 

Click Ok in the Detach Virtual Hard Drive dialog, do NOT choose the ‘Delete the virtual hard disk file after removing the disk’ option.

image

The VHD should now be fixed and ready to use in VirtualBox once again.





Tech-Ed 2009 thoughts….

14 09 2009

image

Last week I was lucky enough to attend Tech-Ed on the gold coast. This was my first Tech-Ed after wanting to go for a number of years but not having a job that easily allowed it. This year I decided to fund the trip myself so I could go and to 
sum it up in one word – AWESOME!

Here is my round up of the event, including some thoughts on things I would like to see in the future…

Session choice – There was a raft of sessions to choose from across a number of tracks. I picked a number of sessions and in many cases had three or four options to choose from for each timeslot. From my perspective there were a couple of standout sessions including Reed Shaffners Office 2010 overview, Project Gemini and Will, Lee Hickin and Elaine’s BPOS presentation.

Networking – I really underestimated the networking opportunities at Tech-ed. As usual it was great to catch up with the usual ex SDM Crew and other Melbourne based SharePoint people, but it was also good to catch up with other SharePoint and Project Server people from both Microsoft and other partners.  On the way home I was giving a bit more thought to the networking aspect, next year it would be good to formalise some of the networking aspects other than just the expo hall and adhoc sessions in the local bar. I personally would love to see a Microsoft competency or technology based breakfasts / meetings / dinners similar to what happens at the partner conference for the various groups of partners or people with relevant technology skills could meet up and build their network.

Social networking – Twitter was huge with an absolute stack of posts and information being distributed via the #auteched hashtag. It was funny to go to sessions and see everyone sitting there on their netbooks with Tweetdeck running away :)  I read Jeremy Thake’s post about improving the social aspects and having some kind of twitter integration into the session planning tool would be great. Building on this I would love to see users twitter names on their delegate badges as well as many of us are known by our twitter alta egos.

Facilities – The facilities at the Gold Coast Exhibition Centre were excellent. The quality of the catering absolutely blew me away.

Network – There was a heap of posts about getting the GCECC network up to scratch for the Tech-Ed. The Microsoft team did a fantastic job in getting the network up and running and maintaining the speed. There were a few idiots who thought it would be good to start up bittorrent, with one wally sitting next to me in a session surfing The Pirate BayTechEd 224

Netbooks – The netbooks were fantastic. Microsoft pulled off a blinder with the netbooks that will be the envy of other conferences the world over.  Seeing delegates that haven’t used Windows 7 get blown away by it’s speed and functionality on the netbook was really cool to see and no doubt served to build on the already fantastic reputation of  the software.  My only gripe around this was the TechEd websites, it would have been great to have optimised the sites to work on the smaller screens of the netbooks as this was the main mechanism for access.

Session level – On reflection of the content, I felt that the level of the sessions was more aimed at customers and didn’t really hit the target for the more cutting edge partners. I brought this up with a couple of my colleagues who agreed that a more partner focussed technical track would be good.

Certifications – I had the opportunity to take two exams whilst I was at Tech-Ed at a vastly reduced rate. The process for signing up was incredibly simple and the prometric exam centre well set up and staffed. As for the exams, more on that in a later post.

Hands on Labs – I stumbled across the HOL area late in the piece and had a pretty limited experience. However what I saw and tried out was easy to use and well implemented. I loved the fact that at the end of the lab you could email the lab notes to yourself to try again later. Whilst valuable, it is limited as you don’t have access to the the underlying VM. On the friday afternoon I was hoping to kill some spare time doing some labs, but they had shut, it would have been great to extend the opening times until the end of the Friday. Finally I would love for MS to allow the other HOLs that I hadn’t specifically tried to be available for use / download after tech-ed.

image Free BPOS account – The free BPOS account was a stroke of genius.  I loved trying out the functionality and trying out the full functionality of Office 2010 including Communicator and using it to connect to my peers and people I met during the conference. The only downside to the whole BPOS experience was the need to register and have it configured at the BPOS stand in the expo hall which meant some attendees had to wait a while before it was set up. Next time it would be good if the default password was included on your attendee credentials and the user prompted to change them again.

All in all, I loved the whole experience and can’t wait to go again next year and learn about the next wave of technologies coming through and catch up with my peers! If you get the chance to go, do!





Updated FreewayTimes – Version 1.4

15 02 2009

Some people may have noticed that my FreewayTimes gadget has been freaking out for the Monash Freeway for the last week or so. The reason is that the times are not available at the moment due to the never ending Monash roadworks.

Anyway, I have fixed the gadget so when there is no time available it will show ‘—‘ in the time.  I also took the opportunity to add a new News link which links through to Twitter for up to date news and communication and update the gadget to support Windows 7 a bit better.

The gadget will be up on the Live Gallery as soon as MS approve it. In the mean time you can get it from my SkyDrive.

Update : Gadget has been approved to the gallery and can be got from here.





Windows 7 – two weeks on

30 01 2009

I have been running Windows 7 for a couple of weeks now and thought it was time to share my thoughts on it (besides at the time of writing, Telstra have stuffed up my ADSL Churn so I have no internet. Update : all back up and running now).

As you would no doubt of already seen on the internet, the stability and quality of the build is rock solid. I haven’t really run into many show stopping bugs with day to day use of the operating system, but what I am finding as I explore more and more are the little things that make Win 7 stand out.  So in the style of Tim Sneaths post, here are some things I love!

1. Progress is displayed in the taskbar

When you do a file operation that results in a progress bar dialog being displayed, the item in the taskbar will also show the progress (see the copy below)

image

2. The Common Dialogs now have Search

Not sure if this was there in Vista, but the Common Save As dialog now has search in it. Damn it’s useful!

image

3. Improved Search Experience

By default each Explorer windows has a Search box in the top right hand corner, just the same as Vista, but the the text in the search lets you know the scope of the search straight off the bat.

image image

Vista

Windows 7

Also, when you start to enter a search term, it will autosuggest, and give you the option to filter the search straight away.

image

Finally, the results displayed via the new Content view are pretty impressive. It shows more information, notice the thumbnail and image size and creation date.

image

4. Libraries

Instead of having to consolidate tens of folders into one folder in one location, through the concept of libraries you can have a virtual catchall that encompasses a number of directories spread out throughout the computer, both internal and externally attached drives. The GUI also looks to let network drives to be included in a library but I haven’t managed to get that to work yet. 

image

In the library you can set one of the included folders as the default directory, so if you are downloading files to the Documents library, they will always be stored in your nominated directory within the library. Pretty neat. 

5. Problem Steps Recorder

This isn’t something you would use everyday and certainly most home users would never encounter it. However, I work in the software industry and have been involved in many projects where users have been testing software and gone through nightmares documenting issues they found in the software. Enter the Problem Steps Recorder, the answer to my (and most IT companies) dreams.

image

What the PSR lets you do is record all the actions you take on the screen, each time you do something it takes a screenshot and highlights what you did. You can also choose to annotate each step manually. The output is a HTML archive that contains all the screenshots and steps you took which can be passed on to the IT dept, or development team with the most detailed steps to reproduce ever seen!  Awsome!

6. Gadgets

Well it wouldn’t be a post from me without something on gadgets. Vista introduced the concept of gadgets, they could exist in two places, either docked in the sidebar, or undocked on the desktop. Windows 7 removes the need to dock them in the sidebar, you can have them wherever you want. Each gadget now has an option next to it allowing you to choose between the docked (smaller) and undocked (larger) version of the gadget.

Weather Gadget Forecasted image

Microsoft have updated a couple of the gadgets and introduced another new one around the Media Centre. I have to admit, the Media Centre one is good, but it’s too big and obtrusive for me.  The weather gadget changes have impressed me, it now uses Windows 7’s location functionality when you configure it to make an educated guess on where you are. If you lose your net connection (as I am experiencing now), it will still show the weather as per when it last downloaded, including a xx hours ago notification in red. Finally, if there is still no connection, it will show the forecasted weather instead of the real up to date info. Nice!

6. Reliability Monitor

Another concept that Vista introduced was the Reliability Monitor. This gave you an indication of how reliable your system was behaving. When you first installed your machine, it would start at 10, and then as an error occurred, either in the OS itself, or an application or driver didn’t behave itself, it would decrease. 

With Win 7, the reliability monitor has been given a face lift and now has a much more polished way of showing the issues affecting the machine and provides a mechanism for looking up those issues within the GUI. 

image

On the whole my machine has been behaving pretty well and I reckon the reliability monitor is being a little harsh (as per the above screenshot). As you can see, there are no real Windows failures, but heaps and heaps of Application failures which are mainly cases of the Windows Installer bug and Internet Explorer crapping out. I really hope IE 8 gets better with RC1, because the version in the Beta is letting the side down at the moment.





OptusQuota – an update

22 01 2009

Since Optus pulled their feed of Usage info and the OptusQuota gadget stopped working. I have spent a fair amount of time to get the gadget up and running again, but have gotten to the point where I am unable to invest any more time. On the whole the gadget works fine, but there a  number of niggly situations where it will error, mainly due to the way the data has to be collected.

After pulling the feed, there is no common interface to call so it is necessary to code up a number of special cases to get the data, which has become to painful to implement using my knowledge of Javascript and the sidebar gadget platform. 

Now it’s not all doom and gloom, I have managed to get the gadget going for some people:

  • At the risk of sounding like a developer, the gadget works fine for me and my Optus account. I can also confirm it works ok for other users;
  • Thanks to some of the guys on Whirlpool, I have also tested and confirmed the gadget returns and parses data from a static Fusion account usage page;

What you should be aware of is that there is some complexity around certain users where a number of http redirects occur to authenticate. It appears some users have account details stored in different machines within Optus, so when you try to logon, your credentials are handed around with hidden forms and session strings to other machines before coming back. The gadget hates this and returns the redirects. During debugging with the Grumpywookie I found four different redirects happening and decided that this was too damn hard to implement. If you account falls into this I am sorry. 

Anyway, the gadget is up on my Skydrive account for downloading. I won’t be releasing it to gallery.live.com as I don’t feel it is of sufficient quality to be up there. Once Optus release a stable feed to query I hope that the gadget will once again return to it’s previous stable and working for everyone state. 

Download the gadget

 

The most important point I need to highlight is that the gadget effectively implements screen scraping to get the data it needs for calculations and is at the mercy of Optus. If they change the source of the usage pages it may stop working again.

The best approach IMO would be for Optus to publish a secure API that we could query against.  Given usage info is of no use to anyone really except the user, maybe allow the user to activate an API key, that provided anonymous usage info at http://usage.optusnet.com.au/APIKEY. It should be relatively simple to query against and would remove any of Optus’s security concerns. Given the comments recieved on this blog and on WhirlPool, I think the users would like it too.  How about going on the front foot for once Optus? 😉

As for the future, well, I guess the removal of the feed without any warning (how many usage meter authors are out there you would have to alert Optus?), the price of the connection and need to bundle, two absolutely woeful technical support calls to call centres and lack of speed in my area has finally caused me to churn to a different provider. As of Friday I will be with another provider giving me ADSL2+ , a sanctioned stable usage feed and customer support from within Australia.  I will still continue to develop sidebar gadgets,  and provide limited support for this one, but if you are interested in taking it to the next level, drop me a line. 

 

For those of you that are interested the release notes (as they stand) are after the break… 

Read the rest of this entry »





OptusQuota Gadget – Error

15 01 2009

For all of those users out there that are getting this error:

image

Optus have pulled the usage data text feed that the gadget, and many other third party tools used today with no real warning (certainly no email fyi). 

I will endeavour to find a workaround over the weekend and release an update.

More info can be seen over on this Whirlpool thread.