Week Beginning 25th February 2013

I was on holiday on Monday and Tuesday this week – spent a lovely couple of days at a hotel on Loch Lomondside with gloriously sunny weather.  On Wednesday I worked from home as I usually do, and I spent most of the day updating Exercise 1 of the ‘New Words for Old’ page of ARIES.  Previously this exercise asked the user to get a friend to read out some commonly mis-spelled words but last week I recorded Mike MacMahon reading out the words with the aim of integrating these sound clips into the exercise.  I completed the reworking of the exercise, using the very handy HTML5 <audio> tag to place an audio player within the web page.  The <audio> tag is wonderfully simple to use and allows sound files to be played in a web page without requiring any horrible plugin such as Quicktime.  It really is a massive leap forwards.  Of course different browsers support (or I should say don’t support) different sound formats, so it does mean sound files need to be stored in multiple formats (MP3 and OGG cover all major browsers) but as we only have 12 very short sound clips this duplication is inconsequential.

Originally I had intended for the exercise to have a sound player and then a simple text box where users could enter their spelling using their device’s default keyboard.  However, I realised that this wouldn’t work as web browsers and smartphone onscreen keyboards tend to have inbuilt spell-checkers that would auto-correct or highlight any mis-spelled words, thus defeating the purpose of the exercise.  Instead I created my own onscreen keyboard for the exercise.  Users have to press on a letter and then it appears in the ‘answer’ section of the page.  It’s not as swish as a smartphone’s inbuilt onscreen keyboard and it is a bit slow at registering key presses, but I think for the exercise it should be sufficient.  You can try out the ‘app’ version of the exercise here: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/spelling-5-new-words-for-old.html

On Thursday morning I attended a symposium on ‘Video Games and Learning’ (see http://gameslearning.eventbrite.co.uk/) that my HATII colleague Matthew Barr had organised.  It was a really excellent event, featuring three engaging speakers with quite different backgrounds and perspectives on the use of video game technology to motivate and educate learners.  I managed to pick up quite a few good pieces of advice for developing interactive educational tools that could be very useful when developing future STELLA applications.

For the rest of Thursday I had a brief look at the Mapping Metaphor data that Ellen had sent me, I emailed Mike Pidd at Sheffield about getting my ‘mobile Bess’ interface available through the main Bess of Hardwick site as Sheffield begin the final push towards launching the site.  I spent the remainder of Thursday and a fair amount of Friday working on the technical plan for the bid for the follow-on Bess of Hardwick project.  Writing the plan has been quite slow going as in writing it I am having to think through a lot of the technical issues that will affect the project as a whole.  I made some good progress though and I hope to have a first draft of the plan completed next week.

My final task of the week was to try and figure out why certain computers are giving Firewall warnings when users attempt to play the SCOTS Corpus sound clips (for example this one: http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/corpus/search/document.php?documentid=1448).  Marc encountered the problem on a PC in a lecture room and as he didn’t have admin rights on the PC he couldn’t accept the Firewall exception and therefore couldn’t play the sound clips.  I’ve discovered that there must be an issue with Quicktime or the .mov files themselves as the Firewall warning still pops up even when you save the sound file to the desktop and play it directly through Quicktime rather than through the browser.

Rather strangely I downloaded a sample .mov file from somewhere else and it works fine, which does lead me to believe there may be an issue with a codec.  I’ve asked Arts Support to check whether Quicktime on the PC needs an update, although its version number suggests that this isn’t the case. I’ve also looked through the SCOTS documentation to see if there is any mention of codecs but there’s no indication that anything unusual was used.  I will continue to investigate this next week.

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