Week Beginning 17th December

The last working week before Christmas saw me focussing primarily on the development of the ARIES app.  The development of this app has proved to be interesting and challenging as it has involved some concepts that I was previously not very familiar with, such as Javascript drag and drop functionality and handling all the logic for user submitted exercises at the client end.  Needless to say, the fabulous jQuery Javascript library once again provided the tools required to handle such tasks in a very compact and understandable manner.

My task has been to convert the existing ARIES site (http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk:8180/aries) into an HTML5 / CSS3 / jQuery powered site that I will then be able to wrap as an app on various platforms.  My experience developing the Readings in Early English app had already provided me with the experience needed to get a basic ‘read only’ site up and running using the rather wonderful jQueryMobile framework.  The next big step would be to provide the facilities to enable users to complete exercises, submit their answers to the site and provide the logic to evaluate these answers and output results.

I’m still in the middle of developing the ARIES app but you can try it out at the following URL: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/ (but be aware that this is a test URL and eventually the app will be relocated and this link will likely be broken).  I currently have the bare bones of the site in place (e.g. index page, contents pages, about pages) and I have fully completed the first two sections (‘Basic Punctuation’ and ‘Spelling’).  All but the exercise is completed in the third section (‘Further Punctuation’) and I’m in the middle of working on the exercise for section 2 of the ‘Spelling’ section.

You can see an example of a working exercise by scrolling to the bottom of this page: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/basic-punctuation-2-the-comma.html

This exercise involves placing full stops and commas within a paragraph and adding capital letters to the start of new sentences.  Originally I developed a nice little drag and drop option for placing full stops and commas within the paragraph, which worked very well on my PC – you drag the full stop icon to where you want it to go, let go and the full stop is dropped in place.  Unfortunately on a phone this didn’t work so well.  The mechanism worked perfectly but as the paragraph too up more space than the screen it proved to be very awkward to drag the icon about.

To get around this problem I went with a simpler approach:  Tap a location in the paragraph once to add a full stop, tap a second time to turn this into a comma, tap a third time to remove the punctuation.  It is an approach that I think works very well on both a PC and a phone.  I also wrote a little snippet of Javascript that would capitalise or ‘uncapitalise’ a word when you click on it, and that was all that was required to create the interface for this particular exercise.

Of course, creating the facilities to allow a user to properly format their answer is only one part of the conundrum; another important part is writing the code that can check the user’s answer and supply the user with appropriate feedback.  This took some time to think through but I managed to develop a fairly compact bit of code that can do this, placing helpful ticks and crosses on the page where appropriate and informing the user how many answers they have got right.  Try the exercise on the page linked to above to see how it works.

Each section of ARIES required slightly different methods for enabling users to format their answers, and I finally managed to employ my abandoned drag and drop functionality on the third exercise of the apostrophe section: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/the-apostrophe-3-apparent-problems.html

As the exercise here consists of individual sentences there was no danger of the draggable elements being positioned too far away from the place there users were to drop them.  In this exercise, users have to paraphrase sentences using the form with an apostrophe.  Each of these paraphrased sentences only uses words from the original form of the sentence, so I made each word a draggable icon that users could drop into a ‘sentence space’, thus building up the new sentence.  Clicking on a letter then adds  ’s to it, enabling the correct form to be constructed fairly easily (more easily than typing the sentence in on a mobile phone using an overlaid keyboard that may obscure the sentence the user is wishing the paraphrase).

There is still a fair amount of work to be done with the app – the final exercise of ‘Further Punctuation’ in particular is going to be very difficult to implement and may have to be broken down into stages.  However, I am very satisfied with how the app is developing and managing to successfully create exercises that users can submit and have evaluated is a major step in the development of not just ARIES but the remaining STELLA apps too.

In addition to working on ARIES, this week I spent a little bit of time on the Burns project (mainly just writing up notes from last week’s meeting and planning future developments) and I also attended the third DROOG meeting.  This meeting was very useful, once again.  It was great to meet with the other developers like Mark and Flora and catch up with their developments and it was also really useful to hear back from the people who are leading projects that have a digital element.  I also managed to demonstrate the ‘Readings’ app at the meeting, which I think went down quite well once I managed to get the URL right.

That’s all for this year, I will be back at work the week beginning Monday 7th January, so my next update should be posted on the Friday of that week, all being well.  If there is anyone other than me reading this then I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

Week Beginning 10th December

I started off this week by continuing with the mobile interface for Bess of Hardwick, which I had begun last week.  I managed to complete a first version of this interface that I’m pretty happy with.  In addition to making the interface work with the full width of the browser and show / hide any navigation options I also managed to use Jquery to position some icons at the end of the sections of the letters, enabling a user to tap the icon to display a pop-up containing information about scribal hands.  With the main site this information only appears when the user hovers the cursor over a section of a letter, so with a touchscreen there was no way to access this information.  My little icons fix this, although it may well be that having icons dotted throughout each letter is considered a bit intrusive.  I completed a mock-up version of the site that covers all of the pages (though obviously not all of the content – generally only one page per type, e.g. one letter, one search results page etc) and sent the URL to Alison for comment.  I’m not going to make the URL available here as the main Bess site is still not publicly available and I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the main site!

After polishing off Bess I moved on to Burns.  I spent a bit of time this week going through the existing site and compiling a list of possible improvements, combining this with the website document previously created by Pauline.  I also got my local test version of the site installed on my laptop so I could demonstrate the changes I’d made at the Burns project meeting on Thursday.  I also engaged in an email debate with one of the project’s US partners about the use of TEI and XML in general when creating  digital editions.  The project meeting on Thursday was very useful and took up most of the morning.  We went through the website and discussed what should be changed and who should provide content for each section and it was a very positive meeting.

I had a further meeting with Stevie about the Corpus sever on Friday morning, which was also very productive.  Stevie wanted to set up a local instance of the server on his laptop and we tackled this together.  It was a good way to revise how to set up the server as we’ll have to do this again some time soon when we move from the test server to a proper server.  I also spent a little time on Friday morning looking at the user interface for the front end.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt this interface, but there will be issues in doing so.  A lot of the HTML is buried within functions deep within the code for the front end.  Initially Stevie had an older version of the interface installed on his laptop and comparing this code to the more up to date version of the code we have on the server demonstrated that significant changes had been made between versions.  If we create a new, bespoke interface for the College of Arts it will work perfectly with the current version of the front end (hopefully!) but when (or if) new versions of the front end are released there is no guarantee that our interface will continue to work.  Ideally the front end would have its layout located in one place and changing it would be a simple process of replacing one set of layout scripts with another, but as a lot of the layout is buried in the code it’s going to be a bit messier and not really a sustainable solution.  We’ve emailed Marc about this with the hope that he can initiate a dialogue with the creator of the front end to see where future developments may be headed and how our work may fit in with these.

For the rest of the week I began working on the mobile interface for the STELLA app ‘ARIES’.  This is going to be interesting because it will be the first app that will require a lot of user interaction, e.g. dragging full stops into sentences and evaluating the results.  At the moment I’m only putting up the site structure but next week I’ll start to look into how to handle the exercises.

Week Beginning 3rd December

An early post this week as I’ve taken the Friday off as it’s the HATII Christmas party, which I’ll be attending.  As it’s starting at 3pm I thought it best not to take up SCS time with non-SCS revelries!  This week I started (and indeed completed) the ‘web’ version of ‘Readings in Early English’, which emulates the University’s T4 look and feel.  As with the App version it doesn’t have a proper home yet, but you can see at test version at the following temporary URL:  http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/web/readings/

Also this week I continued to work with the Burns website.  I spent quite a bit of time this week working with the song pages and comments.  I generated OGG versions of the songs (required for the HTML5 player when viewing the pages in Firefox, which doesn’t support MP3) and created sub-pages for each song, with both the ‘download’ option and the HTML5 in-browser playing facilities in place.  I also added these items to the menu and ensured everything was displaying properly.  I also found a way to limit comments to certain pages – basically telling the system to not show the comments options if the page ID matches one of the existing top-level pages.

The final large-ish task relating to songs was to ensure that the ‘download monitor’ stats continued to log hits even if users play the song in their browser rather than downloads the song.  I used Jquery to attach an event handler to the ‘play’ function of the HTML5 Audio controls.  Every time a user clicks ‘play’ Jquery fires an AJAX request to a little script I’ve written that connects to the ‘download monitor’ script, logging a hit in the same way as when the user clicks to download a song.

I’m still waiting to get other content for the song pages from Pauline, and I hope to have a meeting with her soon to view this content and to show her the changes I’ve made, which are currently only operational on my local PC.

I spent a morning this week attending ‘Area Fire Officer’ training.  I’ve been designated the fire officer for 11 and 13 University Gardens so I had to attend this course, which was very useful as beforehand I knew next to nothing about what my duties might entail.  I spent some further time this week checking out the buildings, fire extinguishers, fire doors etc and I also conducted my first fire alarm test, much to the surprise of my colleagues in 13 University Gardens where the alarm not only makes an absolute racket but actually tells people to flee the building.

Other than the above tasks I had a catch-up meeting with Jeremy, which went well.  It was strange looking down on my office from his window as from that vantage point you can pretty much see my entire office.  For the remainder of the week I worked on the mobile interface of the Bess of Hardwick website.  It’s a bit tricky to do this as I’m having to work on a static HTML representation of the site, meaning it’s not really possible to see how certain design choices affect navigation and page loading.  However, I have been making progress and by the end of Thursday I had managed to get a version of the website that works with different widths of displays, utilises the full width of the user’s screen and hides the rather lengthy navigation options unless the user chooses to display them.  There’s still quite a bit of tweaking to be done before I’m ready to show the new design to anyone, but progress has definitely been made.