iFreewayTimes

10 05 2009

In the spirit of thirteen23 and their teaser concept apps, here are some screenshots of my first and working iPhone web app, iFreewayTimes.

The web app uses the same logic as the existing FreewayTimes gadget and parses data directly from the VicRoads Traffic status site.  The flow and logic is pretty simple, you choose a direction, inbound or outbound, and the app then shows you the traffic times for all freeways in that direction and a traffic light based on flow.

The web app itself makes use of the excellent iUi framework for iPhone web app development that provides everything you need to create a fully functional web app that resembles the normal iPhone look and feel.

I intend to give this a bit of a workout over the next few weeks when I return to driving to work and back and will no doubt come up with a few enhancements. Once I am happy with it, I will release it properly.





Another new gadget – BeagleQuota

28 02 2009

About a month ago, I churned ISP’s due to a number of things. I decided to go with Beagle Internet, who provide ADSL2+ over the Telstra Wholesale network which is about all I can get where I live.  Beagle is a pretty good company, very responsive to support questions, active on Whirlpool and provide a great service. Some people don’t rate them because they prioritise P2P traffic, but to be honest I haven’t really noticed any issues with it.

Anyway, enough Beagle marketing. Of course if I am going to have a new ISP, I need a new way of viewing my usage, so I developed a new gadget… introducing Beagle Gadget v.1.0

image

I have to admit it looks pretty similar to the Optus gadget, but it has a couple of noticeable exceptions… TWO GRAPHS!!  Thanks to the excellent jQuery + jQuery progress bar I have been able to make the bars into dynamic graphs. The top bar shows your downloaded MB’s, if it’s green you are below your daily quota limit, if it’s red, your over.  The bottom bar shows the number of days remaining for the period. 

The gadget will also tell you if your shaped and will give you a countdown until you get your quota back.

There are a couple of other scenarios that certain beagle users can run into, depending on the accounts they use, but I haven’t coded them up as I don’t have specific test data to cover those accounts.

I am still not convinced as to whether I like the colour scheme of the graphs, but it’s fairly trivial to change them.

If your a beagle user and you would like to try the gadget out, it’s available for download from my Skydrive:

image  
BeagleQuota.v1.0.0.gadget




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.





Windows 7 + Xbox 360 = Nearly perfect

11 01 2009

A while back I wrote a post about how to get XVIDs / DIVX’s to play through Windows Media Centre using a technique called Transcoding and using the Transcoder 360 software.  Since writing that post I had moved over to watching those kind of files though the 360’s dashboard directly as it was incredibly simple.

On Saturday morning I was playing around with the new media centre functionality in Windows 7 and discovered that  the Win7 Media Centre can now play divx / avi’s directly without the need for transcoding!

Now if I want to watch a xvid / divx / avi file, I can watch it directly from within the Media Centre without having to drop out to the 360 dashboard by navigating to the Video Library and clicking on it. For me, this makes the 360 + Windows 7 nearly perfect. Given the current price point of 360’s at the moment, it is a very compelling deal.





Windows 7 : First impressions

11 01 2009

On Thursday night I took the plunge and installed Windows 7 Beta 1 onto my ‘production’ PC at home. Gutsy move I know, but in my previous experience with operating system beta’s (95, 98, 98 SE, ME, XP and Vista) you need to use it in anger to find the real issues.

The install was painless and only needed a small amount of interaction from me, which was great because I got to watch Iron Man that Father Christmas got me for Christmas ;). Once it was installed my first impression was WOW. Not because I am a Microsoft fanboy (I am), but because it was quick and responsive. For what is supposed to be Beta 1, it is behaving like Beta 2 or something that is way further along in the development cycle.

There are some things that immediately caught my eye:

  • Libraries – Instead of Documents / Photo’s / Videos etc, there is now a concept of libraries, which are virtual containers of folders. They appear to be very much what WinFS was supposed to be.  It was a relatively painless experience adding a new folder to a library, and I even managed to create a couple of new libraries in a matter of seconds.
  • Superbar – This took a bit of getting used to, instead of a taskbar you now have a pseudo taskbar that shows what is running, launch programs and show the status of things like file copies. It’s a bit hard to describe and I am sure a quick Google will find much better descriptions than mine.
  • Sidebar – The sidebar has gone but there are still gadgets thankfully for us gadget developers 🙂 With no sidebar to dock the gadgets in, there are some subtle changes to how they work which I will post about later.
  • Aero Peek – When you choose a program that is running from the superbar, all other windows will change to a transparent glass frame and only the program you selected will be rendered. This is great for finding a program when you have lots of windows open.

From a beta testing perspective, Windows 7 Beta 1 is a bad build, the quality bar is so high it makes it damn hard to find bug which is why we are testing it. It does on the other hand make it a joy to use, and I am certainly looking forward to diving into the depths of what it has to offer.





Microsoft Tag

8 01 2009

Coooooooooollllll.

image

More info over at IstartedSomething.com.





First post of 2009

5 01 2009

Well 5 days into the year I have finally gotten off my arse to right a blog post. I was going to do one of those blog post reviews of the past year and setting goals for the next year, but Andy and the Wookie seem to have nailed that already. In fact, Andrew has also beaten me too.

At the moment I am enjoying a nice three week break from work and spending some amazing time with my family. We went up to the Gold Coast last week and took the kids to enjoy the sun, beaches and Wiggles World. Thanks to a suggestion by a colleague we stayed in Broadbeach and it was awesome, the place had a great family buzz, was well located and had a fantastic pool (well four in fact). Whilst travelling with young kids can be difficult it is also very rewarding. Seeing our youngest run up and hug the life size version of the dinosaur he uses as a teddy was fantastic. I have certainly come to appreciate how lucky I am to have such a fantastic wife and children.

IMG_3462

As I write I have one week left before I return to work and am starting to ease back into all things nerdy (like Twitter and Google Reader) and eagerly awaiting the Windows 7 beta to kick off in the next week or so.

I am expecting 2009 to be a very big year personally and professionally and whilst I said I wasn’t going to set goals in a blog post, I have indeed set some, which will make 2009 very very exciting.