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:


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



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.


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.

Rest In Peace SDM

29 11 2008

SDM Tombstone


As some of you may know I used to work for a company called SDM. Whilst there I learnt about a number of technologies and products I had never really come across before including SharePoint, Project Server and CRM. There were a number of things I loved about the company, the people; the projects; the ‘can do’ attitude, the fun.

SDM was taken over by another company in January 2008 which should have been a great partnership. If the company had been smart they would have left SDM to do it’s own thing and backed them to become bigger and better. But they didn’t. They changed things and the fun, the attitude and the people began to leave.

Why am I telling you all this? Well the 30th November marks the last day that the SDM brand exists. As of the 1st December the brand will be no more.

I will always look back on my time at SDM with a great fondness, I made some excellent friends, learnt a lot, and most of all enjoyed going to work there, one day I hope I will be lucky enough to work at a similar company again.