Tobias Ahlin: Making Better Design Predictions with Design Bets

Photo: Callum Kerr

One of the main challenges in designing and developing a product is figuring out how to improve it. How do you get from your ideas to your end goal? And how do you know if you’re on the right track to achieving what you want? Design Bets is a product management framework that aims to help you with this, pulling together research on the best ways to make informed, unbiased decisions.

Last year, I saw Tobias Ahlin, the Experience Design Director for Minecraft, give a talk on Design Bets at DiBi 2017. I was so inspired that I ended up using it on a project we are currently running. This year, we invited Tobias to come back to Edinburgh to speak to us at the University.

A recording of the talk is available publicly on the University’s Media Hopper service:

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A View from the Prater – IS at DrupalCon Vienna, Day 3

For the past week a group of us from Information Services have been at DrupalCon 2017 in Vienna. We shared our DrupalCon experience on Day 1 and Day 2 of the conference, giving our thoughts on the sessions we attended, recommended top sessions, and our key takeaways.

Thursday was the last day of conference sessions, although for some of us the Drupal work continued with the community code sprint on Friday!

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A View from the Prater – IS at DrupalCon Vienna, Day 2

Enjoying the famous Sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna

This week a group of us from Information Services are attending DrupalCon 2017 in Vienna and we are sharing our thoughts on the sessions we attend, recommending top sessions, and giving our key takeaways from our DrupalCon experience. Yesterday I posted our reactions to the first day of DrupalCon, and today we continue our DrupalCon reportage.

For two of our party, Tim Gray and Bruce Darby, this was a very exciting day as they were presenting a session on how we have used code sprints and collaborative development to build a community of users and developers around EdWeb.  More on our first-time DrupalCon Speakers later!

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Synergistic design solutions using a dry-wipe medium

This blog post is not brought to you by Simply Glass Wipeboards, nor do I receive any form of commission on purchases or compensation for writing it.

So a while back I got tired of throwing away pad after pad of paper drawing mockups and making notes. Iain swung by my desk recently and saw my solution: a desktop glass whiteboard, which he thought might be worth sharing with everyone.

Pictured below is an early design of this blog post I drew up on it. Honest.


It’s been great for to do lists: I can’t remove anything until it’s done, as it’s lost forever. It’s good for rough designs, you can quickly erase and try again – though granted not for a whole application (only being A3 sized). It’s bad for handing over designs to colleagues, as they try to steal it from you.

If of interest, this is it!

P.S. Eliminate all sharpie pens from near your desk if you do go for this.

Combining pdfs and images in ColdFusion using Java and iText

pdfs, images and text combined in real time

We were writing a ColdFusion application that allows users to claim expenses and add PDFs or images of receipts electronically. The client requested that a single PDF for each claim be created which included both the claim details and ALL electronic attachments.

Using <cfpdf> chewed memory and created huge files

ColdFusion has built in PDF functionality but we found that adding BOTH images and merging other pdfs on the fly had performance issues and created documents with bloated file sizes.

Using iText provided a solution

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Django Training

After the Python course, the same group of developers met again with Toby for a Django framework training.  The Django course was a day shorter than the Python one and felt more focused and intensive.  We were given a great opportunity to build upon our Python knowledge and learn how one does web development using the Django framework.

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Positive side effects of automated testing

We’ve recently been doing more automated testing in the SSP, and with that has come a lot of the benefits you might expect: an ability to spot faults as we make changes, and a guarantee of functionality working as prescribed among them. But I’ve come across a whole bunch of bonus benefits we get, some related to managing stories and projects, and some as personal gains for me.

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Puppet Training

wooden-mannequin-croppedAn increasingly important aspect of our strategy is to use automation as much as possible when appropriate. Using automation ensures that our application delivery infrastructure is consistent across our Development, Test and Production environments, and allows a service to be rolled out quickly onto a new server if required. It also enables us to stop doing the same manual task over and over again..

We started using Puppet over a year ago and have since used it to automate many aspects of web server (Apache HTTP Server) and application server (such as Tomcat) configuration. Several of our priority services such as Student records system, MyEd portal and Central Wiki are now built with the help of Puppet.

In order to get the most out of Puppet several Development services staff have attended training provided by Puppet. Last week was the turn of myself and Development Technology colleague Riky to attend Puppet Practitioner. I was a little apprehensive as I hadn’t been to Puppet Fundamentals, the course that Practitioner builds upon. The apprehension was unfounded as the experience that I had gained using puppet “in anger” building services was more than enough to see my through.

Our trainer gave a honest view of the different ways (good and bad) of solving real world problems they had come across whilst using Puppet.

The training covered things to be added to our todo list including, investigating testing of Puppet DSL using rspec. Also something to ponder is syntax validation of Hiera YAML files after I confused Puppet and myself yesterday by missing out a colon between the key and value. Riky found this Testing Hiera Data article that might be handy…