The Dovetail Blog

The Bird's Eye View: Issue #8

I'm back with another installment of the Birds eye view. This week flew (pun!) by, we're busy in here as usual, and the nice mornings/evenings have made commuting on my bike a blast.

This week I have spent some time on the new iCIS marketing site. I have spent most of my time, however, on support. Some weeks we get a lot of support cases in, and some weeks we don't.

The 2-for-1 voucher application forms went live for the European SharePoint conference this week. The designs were completed by Avalanche design, and I coded the HTML and hooked it up to our backend CMS. The unique codes will then be used later in the year when the conference registration opens.

2 for 1 voucher from European SharePoint Conference

Trevor and I started on some work to improve some parts the Rennicks Data application. Retrieving data from the speed signs has proven difficult because of the high level of lost packets on the GRPS network. After a good bit of research we found YModem as the most reliable way to transfer data from the signs to our application. We are currently testing, and hope to push those changes to live soon.

Tomás has been busy working on upgrading the CIS customer facing web application ("iCIS") and their backend publishing application ("Eolas"). He has added functionality so that iCIS customers will also be able to view the latest public sector tenders for the whole island of Ireland.

Initial research from the University of Ulster's tests of the Menu Calorie Calculator has come in and Martin has been running through the recommendations with the Food Safety Authority.  Once these recommendations have been actioned, a second round of testing will follow.

Trevor had another trip to Wembley to attend a workshop with IKEA. He says:

"I love visiting IKEA, both the stores and the offices. The co-workers, as they call themselves, really live up to the IKEA spirit of collaboration and togetherness. Sessions with IKEA are industrious but fun, and very open. And it's like working in a showroom, because naturally the offices look fantastic!"

Found on the web

SearchClip allows you to quickly google any highlighted text from any window. Just highlight the text (in our case it is often a diagnostic message) you want to search for, press CTRL+C twice, and you should see your search results instantly.

We love web applications that utilise keyboard shortcuts to make our life easier. And with Mousetrap, we have no excuse not to implement keyboard shortcuts into our future development.



The Bird's Eye View: Issue #7

Ollie is on holidays, so I'm taking on the Bird's Eye post this week. Man, he picked the wrong week to head off foreign. I'm just back from lunch on the Grand Canal, and it is b-e-a-utiful out there! I'm looking forward to a weekend of sun in Dublin, but I should get some more work done first!

Tomás has continued working with CIS this week. He is making backend changes to their "Eolas" publication system, and adding some functionality to the customer front-end "iCIS" to improve the user experience too. The categorisation of projects in iCIS will change slightly which will make the underlying system more flexible going forward. He has also joined me on the new CIS marketing website, and we have merged existing functionality into Umbraco CMS. This means we can integrate the marketing content closely with the underlying iCIS project database. The result will be a seamless experience for the anonymous visitor through to valued subscriber. Users will have a consistent UI and site navigation will be greatly improved.

The LUAS LeapCard Integrated Ticketing System has kept Martin busy this week as development and testing continues on TaxSaver Tickets.

Trevor has been refining our internal time tracking systems. This has given him the excuse he's been looking for to use some more Python. Right now he say's he's having a little love affair with Requests. We'll leave him to that...

Requests takes all of the work out of Python HTTP/1.1 — making your integration with web services seamless. There’s no need to manually add query strings to your URLs, or to form-encode your POST data. Keep-alive and HTTP connection pooling are 100% automatic, powered by urllib3, which is embedded within Requests.

I have been working with both the European SharePoint Conference and CIS. We will be launching a 2-for-1 voucher on the ESPC site next week and we're getting the delegate registration form finalised for the 2014 conference. Continuing on our lean approach to designing the new CIS marketing website, I am still trying to focus on the content first, and let the design come from that, and I am continuously communicating with the CIS team as we iterate.

I discovered Connect Ireland on my twitter stream today and it looks like a really good idea.  Through your connections, help create jobs in Ireland and receive a reward from the Irish Government.

It's basically a referral programme for international businesses that settle in Ireland. While on the site's homepage, I scrolled to the footer and was intrigued (read: easily distracted Mossy) by a really cool timeline feature.

Timeline JS

Upon closer inspection (taking a look at source) I discovered it's an open source tool called Timeline JS that can be used anywhere, and can be easily integrated with a Google spreadsheet too. You can expect this to crop up again in one of our future projects, in fact Martin has an idea for it already and plans to start some prototyping over the weekend.

In lighter news (pun intended!) myself and Trev had a gym outing this week. We use the  Guinness Bicentenary Centre - being in the GEC gives us access to use the Guinness Gym. I'm used to excercising a lot for Triathlon, but the gym has left me a little tender as I wouldn't alway be hitting certain muscles when running, cycling or swimming. Trev says he's fine, but I don't believe him :)


The Bird's Eye View: Issue #6

Well, like a true Irishman I'm going to talk about the weather again. What a great few days we've had, and I could say that maybe we're all beginning to think we might get the whole summer out of it. Anyway, this is my last Bird's Eye View for a few weeks as I fly off to more predictable sunshine. I hope the good weather continues in my absence, but now, let's go straight on to the weekly dispatch...

As well as working in Dovetail, Martin performs voluntary work for the Civil Society Organisation ActiveCitizen. For over a year now, Martin has been meeting with media, politicians and civil servants trying to persuade them that Ireland should join the Open Government Partnership (OGP). OGP is an international initiative to promote government reform, transparency, accountability, citizen participation in policy-making, and the provision of Open Data

On May 20 Minister Brendan Howlin finally announced that Ireland had sent its Letter of Intent to OGP chairman, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP.  (You can see ActiveCitizen's response here.) Subsequent to this announcement, Transparency International Ireland was appointed to administer the public consultation during the first phase of the project.

This week, Transparency scheduled the inaugural public meeting of OGP Ireland. OGP is an opportunity for citizens at large to present policy suggestions which influence how Ireland operates. The first OGP Action Plan should be ambitious, so come along and bring your ideas, opinions and expertise to the meeting on Wednesday, July 10, in Wood Quay Venue.  You can register for the event here and it will be streamed live here.

Open Government Partnership Ireland Logo

During the week, Tomas started on the public appllication (iCIS) and internal operational system (Eolas) changes for CIS. More work was done adding content to the CIS marketing site as part of the UX process we have discussed in previous editions.

Mossy is putting finishing touches on the new Dovetail Marketing site, codename: Flycatcher. The new site is a small refresh on the existing design, but the intention is to deliver our message more clearly and allow visitors to get a better and quicker understanding of our skill set. Case studies are a big part of this offering, which will allow potential customers to see exactly what we have done for others. As part of this process I have been working on the case study for the IKEA Family Kiosk project. In an effort to write better case studies, I found some excellent examples, the best example is here.

IKEA Family Kiosk Touch Screen Interface


FSAI have completed the first phase of testing the restaurant calorie counter and feedback is being collected. We will do a small piece of development work based on this feedback, which should improve the system for the next phase of testing.

Finally, here's something a little interesting. Tomas and I came across an SMTP Server issue on PerfectCard Vouchers this week. After some investigation we discovered that the standard .Net SMTP library was failing to send emails to Hotmail addresses. When our server was attempting to send the mail to Hotmail, it was identifying itself as 'localhost', which is the default identifier. Hotmail complained that this was not a fully qualified name and did not accept the mail from our server. The workaround was to make our SMTP server identify itself as servername.dovetail.ie instead of localhost by extending the standard SMTP class. We found the solution here.


Why is UX as important as SEO?

As someone who is relatively new to the facinating world of I.T. and development, I have noticed how important SEO is to everyone. As an experienced businessman, however, I have discovered (with my wife's help) the importance of UX Design.

I don't need to detail the virtues of an SEO plan to anyone, as everyone seems to be much more up-to-speed than me. The importance of UX design is a sometimes overlooked element of applications that I think is critically important to any on-line application.

My wife, Catherine, runs a U.K. based Designer Radiator Retail company called Inspiration Radiators. Her sales are quite modest, however, she is ranked number 3 on ebay.co.uk for Designer Radiators. Her business has experience of UX design, although she didn't know what to call it at the time. Below is an example of a typical example of a buy page in Ebay. A user can place a bid or buy-it-now and so on.

NormalEbay

As sales grew, so did the number of products that the store had for sale. Putting these products into the ebay shop individually became very time consuming. As a result, my wife started to group some of the new products, allowing the user to choose the variation on the buy page, which is illustrated below.

EbayNew

I have added the red arrow to show the only difference in the two page types. "Why is this important?" I hear you ask. This small change, resulted in a 300% increase in sales for the items with variations versus the single item listings. It appears that users want as many of the final choices, regarding their purchase, to be left as late in the buying process as possible.

Dovetail understand that UX elements like those above, are critically important to the success of an application. Mossy Breen has invested time and energy becoming our in-house expert on UX Design, and is currently developing several next generation applications incorporating both SEO principals and UX Design principals.


The Bird's Eye View: Issue #5

We're all just back from a great lunch in the Brazen Head so it's with a very contented smile that I write today's Bird's Eye View. I would recommend a lunch in the Brazen Head to anyone lucky enough to find themselves in the vicinity.

Mossy has been working on delegate registration form changes for SharePoint Europe. This involved upgrading the current forms to allow for group bookings and an easier to use booking process. The 2-for-1 voucher form is currently being designed by an external graphic designer, and once that is complete and approved by SharePoint Europe, Mossy will integrate this into the ESPC system.

UX Design work is continuing and Dovetail and CIS have begun writing content for the new CIS marketing site. We will shortly be working with Vroom who will make recommendations to improve the sites search engine rankings by tweaking the content.

Trevor and Martin burned the midnight oil working with RPAVIX Technology and the National Transport Authority getting ready for the launch of the Real Time Ireland app and the RTPI site, both of which provide up-to-the-minute information on public transport. As part of this work Trevor and Martin developed a web-based analysis tool that required lines to be drawn between page elements. This led them to discover the wonderful jsPlumb Toolkit which does a very nice job of this type of work!

jsPlumb

Using jsPlumb, Martin and Trevor wrote a custom data inspection utility which is shown below.

LuasForcastDoc


The Bird's Eye View: Issue #4

Another week has passed and work progresses on the projects we mentioned last week.  As part of our regular weekly meetings, we discuss "interesting things" that we have found online or while developing. In this blog I'll share some of these interesting things, but first we'll go for a nice lunchtime cycle...

Martin, Mossy and myself went on the "Lunchtime Bike Ride" on Wednesday in the beautiful Dublin sunshine as part of National Bike week. We were among 2,500 cyclists on a 5km cycle around the city. Cyclists of all abilities took part - from experts like Mossy and Martin to those just-off-their-training-wheels like me. The route took in the Samuel Beckett Bridge, City Quay, College Green, Merrion Square, The Pepper Canister Church and part of the Premium Cycle Route along the Grand Canal. It was great fun and we really recommend the new cycle route along the canal, it's a really beautiful ride.

 LunchtimeCycle

Now, back to work. We've implemented some pretty cool mobile applications, including some iPhone apps. The most notable that comes to mind is the iPhone app that allows access to the LUAS timetable to blind users.

As part of that development we used TestFlight, an application that allows us to beta test an iOS application without having to use the App Store.

We are constantly 'brain storming' in Dovetail, particularly as part of the development process. We use mind mapping extensively for this, allowing us to get all the important information together for later analysis. One of Trevor's favourite tools is Mindmeister.

Another cool tool, which I found to be a lot of fun and very useful was the Button Optimizer. This tool allows a user to design a button, and download the .CSS for the button, see below.

ButtonOptimizer

 

Regexpr is a very handy visual aid for building and examining regular expressions (and maybe give you one less problem).

Analysing Logfiles on Windows? We found BareMetalSoft to be good. The latest version of these programs are about six years old, but it's still very very useful for searching and monitoring large files.

I'll continue to add some more useful tools and items to the next issues of the blog, I hope you find them as interesting as I do.


Into the Blue with Bandwidth

I'm a bit late blogging about this since it happened a few weeks ago, but I'm proud to announce that Bandwidth Telecommunications has taken delivery of a new portal developed by Dovetail.

It is called Blue Portal and it allows Bandwidth to disseminate data to their clients including Cork and Limerick City Councils.

blueportal

The portal gathers data from sensors such as motion detection video cameras and can count cars, trucks, pedestrians etc. It can also integrate with other devices such as traffic lights to allow the recording of red-light offences.

This is another successful project in our portfolio of Intelligent Transport Systems development, and we look forward to helping Bandwidth use it to deliver innovative new services.


The Bird's Eye View: Issue #3

Well, what a summer we had! In years to come, we’ll look back fondly on the week in June 2013. But seriously, like everyone else, we are all hoping that the rain is a mere interval in our best summer ever. Meanwhile, the work continues.

 

Mossy continues to implement the UX principles on the latest CIS project. This project has diverged into two parallel tracks. On one track, Mossy is developing the Umbraco CMS and specifically user controls. These user controls will allow real-time access to content on the client’s back-end systems, thus improving the value of content on the marketing site. On the UX track, Mossy has been working very closely with the client to fine tune the UX elements. One of the cooler tools, in my opinion was his use of tracking technology from crazyegg.

 

 CrazyEgg

Below, is an illustration of the “HeatMap”’ tool, showing the hotter parts of a webpage, giving us more on the why of user behaviour.

 HeatMap

The testing phase of FSAI's new Calorie Calculator for Restaurant Menus begins on Monday, and Martin and Mossy spent the last week implementing final tweaks and building a survey system for tester's feedback.  There's nothing like a go-live on a Friday evening!

Martin also worked on the Integrated Ticketing System for Luas Taxsaver Tickets, testing renewal requests which are issued to the Hewlett Packard-managed ITS backend.  

 LeapCard

Tomas continues development on Highlife’s Communication Builder. This week he implemented the Outlook 365 API to save custom developed emails to Highlife’s sales staff 'drafts' folder automatically. This will improve efficiency and effectiveness, while allowing the client to automatically co-ordinate all customer communication. Tomas also implemented esendex to send customised text messages to Highlife customers, again automatically. Finally (as if that wasn’t enough), adding a customised web service that sits on top of the Umbraco website which, once integrated with a custom image chooser, will allow Highlife sales staff to insert images from their Umbraco library onto corporate emails built on their custom Communications Builder.

 


The Bird's Eye View: Issue #2

Well, the summer has definitely arrived and we have been enjoying the amazing weather, like everyone else lucky enough to be in Ireland at the moment. When we get the weather, it's hard to beat Ireland. 

Last week Mossy and Martin started collaborating with the University of Ulster as we enter the testing phase of FSAI's new Calorie Counter system. This is a tool that makes it easy for chefs and restaurateurs to calculate the number of calories in the meals they prepare.

Internally, we name our projects after birds. It's an easy way to come up with a name that is memorable and a good working title. Project Thornbird is one of our longest running projects and is coming to its conclusion: Mossy is putting the final touches to the Windows Mobile application and partner web application. The system allows our client's consultants to use their phones to conduct site surveys, allowing them to spend more time delivering value to their clients and less time reporting.

Mossy also started work on the European Sharepoint Conferences's 2014 conference in Barcelona. Conference-goers can soak up the timeless architecture of Antoni Gaudi, while attending one of Europe's leading I.T. Conferences.

 EuropeanSharepointConferenceBarcelona

Trevor attended the 9th European ITS Congress, hosted in the Dublin Convention Centre. There were some fascinating talks, such as the briefing on MOBiNET, and it was great to catch up with others in the Intelligent Transport Systems sector.

Trevor also spent some time researching machine vision solutions based on compact high frame-rate cameras such as the Flea 3 to detect motion for an upcoming project.

Flea3 camera


The Bird’s Eye View: Issue #1

Dovetail has decided to put a regular blog to tell all our follows what cool stuff is going on in Dovetail, and this is the first of those blogs. We hope it's as fun to read as it was to write.

Mossy implemented a lean approach to developing client functionality, and turned around a working prototype in a few hours for a quick feedback loop with the client’s team. A source dataset was parsed and imported so it could be linked with search results in the application. The client is now testing the content, and will come back with feedback for the next iteration. 

We broke ground on another client’s new marketing website this week. The approach for this project is based on a Lean UX process. Mossy, Martin and the client’s team took part in a participatory design process, where we discussed the possible features of the marketing site, prioritised the artefacts and sketched out some quick designs on paper to give the team an idea of what to expect, allowing us to develop some HTML prototypes based on the feedback from sketching. Our SEO partner Vrooom SEO was involved from the outset, and they will be guiding us on content refinement to help search engines and site visitors understand the product. Below are the first sketches of the new client site, adopting a new UX driven approach.

 CIS Brain storm

Mossy also did a small piece of user experience research for IKEA to see how we can improve the user experience and increase interaction between the store customers and the kiosk.

Tomás developed a new CRM driven GUI that combines the client’s depth of experience and loyal client base with the latest technologies that will bring more value to the client’s users. Some of the technologies Tomás used last week were:

 

Trevor attended the ISME AGM lunch in the Burlington Hotel. John Teeling gave a brilliantly opinionated talk, plumbing the depths and scaling the heights as he looked reviewed the state of the Irish economy.