STEM newsletter

STEM 7.2 in refinement

30 April 2008

The headline features of STEM version 7.2 are mostly complete. The principal objective is to make the software easier to learn and to hand over to colleagues.

Effort is now focusing on rounding out some grey areas of the specification and generally smartening up the user experience prior to release to customers. A beta-test programme will be available in due course for dedicated users who are keen to influence the functionality of the final release. Please contact us if you would like to participate.

‘Click and click again’ toolbar and simplified linking

The toolbar no longer drops icons at the bottom left of the screen, but waits for a second click so that you can position the new icon directly where you want it. The snap-to-grid function will still keep your icons nicely arranged (unless you override it with the <Alt> key), and this also now applies when elements are copied and pasted.

A new ‘data link’ button enabled you to link elements by clicking this button on the toolbar and then dragging a linking line from one element to the other. This process is more intuitive, and does not require any special knowledge, compared to the existing ‘expert’ technique of dragging between elements with the <Ctrl> key pressed.

The ‘drop’ interface for Transformations has been simplified to allow the type to be changed to the more flexible Expression type on demand. New dynamic graphical ‘targets’ on the icon allow you to choose between reviewing an existing input or linking directly to the next free input.

You can also now drag-and-drop a multiple selection of services (or transformations) onto a resource to create multiple requirements in one go and save time when setting up large models.

Free text in views

If you are already familiar with STEM, then the icon names and automatic links make a model almost self-documenting. But if you are not, then a few concise notes in the relevant areas of a view, or attached to the icons, will make it much easier for someone to follow your ideas, and more immediately apparent than the existing notes on the embedded data. Text boxes on a view can make it more immediately apparent, and easier to explain to colleagues, how a STEM model works.

You click another new button on the toolbar, and then click and drag to mark out a new text area, into which you can then type titles, group headings or explanatory notes. You can choose left, right or centre alignment for the text, and optionally have the height of the box expand automatically to fit the text.

These text fields are not rich text, in the sense that you cannot format individual characters; but you can set the typeface (font), size and colour for all the text in any one box, with the option to apply the changes to all text boxes in a view, and to set the default attributes for newly-created text boxes. You can also set an optional background colour and choose the colour and thickness of an optional box outline.

Results export wizard for Excel

To match the ‘export model data’ command available in STEM 7.1, we have now implemented an intuitive export process to get data from STEM results graphs to Excel in just a few clicks. You can ask STEM to create an Excel workbook containing all the data from a chart in the STEM results program, or from all the charts in the current view, or from selected views in the current workspace. The familiar graph selection interface is used as the wizard element for selecting data to send to Excel.

Exporting STEM model results to Excel

The generated Excel sheets link their data dynamically from STEM (using the STEM add-in toolbar for Excel) so that they can be updated automatically after you re-run the underlying model.

All the data from a given view is written to a single worksheet with the same name as the view, and you have the option to choose separate sheets when exporting multiple views. STEM offers to write subsequent exports onto new sheets in a previous export workbook if you so wish.

Developing this functionality for results made us look again at the export of model data in STEM 7.1 and we have now added some extra formatting options for exported inputs to make Excel input sheets easier to read and more reminiscent of the layout in STEM.

Additional enhancements

Sometimes the small details can be just as import as the headline features and a long list of minor refinements will be documented in the final release notes for STEM 7.2. The following items may be of particular interest:

  • a new ‘average connections’ basis is provided for service requirements, and for service inputs to transformations, which is useful for modelling operating costs, especially for declining services where the end-of period demand is under-representative of the average load on resources
  • the status bar in the editor will flash to draw attention to detailed error messages when a model is checked, and will highlight the text of such messages more clearly
  • new pre-defined results are generated for the net present value of resource costs, and also for the number of any early-decommissioned units.

Status bar highlighting for error messages

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