Week Beginning 18th February 2013

I seemed to work a little bit on many different projects this week.  For Burns I wrote up my notes from last week’s meeting and did a bit more investigation into timelines and Timeglider in particular.  I also noticed that there is already a Burns timeline on the new ‘Robert Burns Birthplace Museum’ website: http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk/collections/timeline.  It looks very nice, with a sort of ‘parallax scrolling’ effect in the background.  It is however just a nice looking web page rather than being a more interactive timeline allowing users to search or focus on specific themes.

I spent a bit more time this week working on the technical plan for the follow-on project for Bess of Hardwick, although Alison is now wanting to submit this in July rather than ASAP so we have the luxury of time in which to really think some ideas through.  I’m still hoping to get an initial version of the plan completed by the end of next week, however.  I also spent a little time going over the mobile Bess interface I made as it looks like Sheffield might be about ready to implement my updates as they launch the main Bess site.

I did a little bit of research into data visualisation possibilities for the Mapping Metaphor project.  It was suggested to me that the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit (http://philogb.github.com/jit/) might be a useful set of tools for making interactive data visualisations and I think it looks pretty promising.  Ellen sent me some sample data and I’ve started to think about how this might work.  We’ll be having a project meeting in March and it would be good to maybe have something to show at this.

I also worked a little bit more on the ICOS2014 website and responsive web design.  I’ve got a design I’m pretty happy with now that works on a wide variety of different screen sizes.  I still need some banner images to play around with but things are looking promising.

On the STELLA App front, I continued pegging away at the grammar book updates, and have now completed Section 8.  Only one section left now and then I’ll be able to move onto the exercises.  I also revisited ARIES this week.  In a previous post I explained how Christian was experiencing some issues with the exercises in IE on her work PC.  It turns out that these problems were being caused Internet Explorer’s ‘compatibility view’, which emulates IE7 to support some very old websites that use features specific to old versions of IE.  IE7 was released in 2006 and was superseded by IE8 in 2009 and as of January this year accounts for only 1% of browser usage so I don’t imagine a lot of people will encounter these problems.  It turns out IE7 uses an older version of Javascript that doesn’t support some of the features (specifically string manipulation features) that I’m using in ARIES.  For some reason Christian’s IE was set up to view ‘intranet’ sites (i.e. all .gla.ac.uk sites) in compatibility mode, which is why things weren’t working.

Once I realised what was causing the problem I could replicate it on my PC and tackle the issues.  Even though only 1% of web users still use IE7 I wanted to ensure ARIES worked on this older browser.  It took some time but I managed to update all the exercises so they work in both old and new browsers.

Also for ARIES this week I recorded Mike MacMahon speaking some words that I will use in an exercise in the spelling section of ARIES.  Users will be able to play sound clips to hear a word being spoken and then they will be asked to type the word as they think it should be spelled.  It was my first experience of the Sound Studio and Rachel Smith very kindly offered to show me how everything worked.  On Friday we did the recordings and everything went pretty smoothly.  Now I need to make the exercise and embed the sound files!

Also this week I attended a HATII developers meeting.  This was a chance for the techy people involved in digital humanities projects to get together to discuss their projects and the technologies they are using.  Chris from Arts Support was also there and it was really useful to hear from the other developers.  It is hoped that these meetings will become a regular occurrence and will be expanded out to all developers working in DH across the university.  We should also be getting a mailing list set up for DH developers, and also a wiki or other such collaborative environment.  I also pointed people in the direction of the new DH at Glasgow website and asked people to sign up to this as technical experts.

Finally this week I did a little bit more work with the data Susan Rennie sent me for the Scots Glossary project that we are putting together.  I made some updates to the technical documentation I had previously sent her and mapped out in more detail a data schema for the project.

I’m on holiday on Monday and Tuesday next week but will be back to it next Wednesday.

Week Beginning 11th February 2013

I had an afternoon of meetings on Friday so it’s another Monday morning blog post from me.  It was another busy week for me, more so because my son was ill and I had to take Tuesday off as holiday to look after him.  This meant trying to squeeze into four days what I had hoped to tackle in five, which led to me spending a bit less time than I would otherwise have liked on the STELLA app development this week.  I did manage to spend a few hours continuing to migrate the Grammar book to HTML5 but there are still a couple of sections still to do.  I’m currently at the beginning of Section 8.

I did have a very useful meeting with Christian Kay regarding the ARIES app on Monday, however.  Christian has been experiencing some rather odd behaviour with some of the ARIES exercises in the web browser on her office PC and I offered to pop over and investigate.  It all centres around the most complicated exercise of all – the dreaded ‘Test yourself’ exercise in the ‘Further Punctuation’ section (see how it works for you here: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/further-punctuation-6-test-yourself.html). In stage 2 of the exercises clicking on words fails to capitalise them while in stage 3 adding an apostrophe also makes ‘undefined’ appear in addition to the apostrophe.  Of course these problems are only occurring in Internet Explorer, but very strangely I am unable to replicate the problems in IE9 in Windows 7, IE9 in Windows Vista and IE8 in Windows XP!  Christian is using IE8 in Windows 7, and it looks like I may have to commandeer her computer to try and fix the issue.  As I am unable to replicate it on the three Windows machines I have access to it’s not really possible to try and fix the issue any other way.

Christian also noted that clicking quickly multiple times to get apostrophes or other punctuation to appear was causing the text to highlight, which is a bit disconcerting.  I’ve implemented a fix for this that blocks the default ‘double click to highlight’ functionality for the exercise text.  It’s considered bad practice to do such a thing (jQuery UI used to provide a handy function that did this very easily but they removed it – see http://api.jqueryui.com/disableSelection/ ) but in the context of the ARIES exercise its use is justifiable.

Christian is also wanting some further updates to the ‘Test Yourself’ exercise, specifically the option to show where the correct answers are in Stage 2, so there is going to be some further ARIES work in the next week or so.  This kind of testing is absolutely vital when developing apps where the logic is handled on the client side.  Different browsers implement Javascript slightly differently and I’ll need to ensure that all the major operating systems, browsers and hardware are tested.  Marc suggested getting the English Language Society to help with the testing, which I think will be a very useful thing to do, once we get to that stage.

I also spent a little bit of time this week reworking the layout for the ICOS2014 conference website, although there is still some work to do with this.  I’ve been experimenting with responsive web design, whereby the interface automatically updates to be more suitable on smaller screens (e.g. mobile devices).  This is currently a big thing in interface design so it’s good for me to get a bit of experience with the concepts.

Following on from my meeting with Susan Rennie last week I created a three page technical specification document for the project that she is hoping to get funding for.  This should hopefully include sufficient detail for the bid she is putting together and gives us a decent amount of information about how the technology used for the project will operate.  Susan has also sent me some sample data and I will begin working with this to get some further, more concrete ideas for the project.

I also began work on the technical materials for the bid for the follow-on project for Bess of Hardwick.  This is my first experience with the AHRC’s ‘Technical Plan’, which replaced the previous ‘Technical Appendix’ towards the end of last year.  In addition to the supporting materials found on the AHRC’s website, I’m also using the Digital Curation Centre’s Data Management Planning Tool (https://dmponline.dcc.ac.uk/) which provides additional technical guidance tailored to many different funding applications, including the AHRC.

On Thursday I had a meeting with the Burns people about the choice of timeline software for the Burns Timeline that I will be putting together for them.  In last week’s post I listed a few of the pieces of timeline software that I had been looking at as possibilities and at the meeting we went through the features the project requires.  More than 6 categories are required, and the ability to search is a must, therefore the rather nice looking VeriteCo Timeline was ruled out.  It was also decided that integration with WordPress would not be a good thing as they don’t want the Timeline to be too tightly coupled with the WordPress infrastructure, thus enabling it to have an independent existence in future if required.  We decided that Timeglider would be a good solution to investigate further and the team is going to put together a sample of about 20 entries over two categories in the next couple of weeks so I can see how Timeglider may work.  I think it’s going to work really well.

On Friday I met with Mark Herraghty to discuss some possibilities for further work for him and also for follow-on funding for Cullen.  After that I met with Marc Alexander to discuss the bid we’re going to put together for the Chancellors’ fund to get someone to work on migrating the STELLA corpora to the Open Corpus Workbench.  We also had a brief chat about the required thesaurus work and the STELLA apps.  Following this meeting I had a conference call with Marc, Jeffrey Robinson and Karen Jacobs at Colorado University about Jeffrey’s Wordsworth project.  It was a really useful call and Jeffrey and Karen are going to create a ‘wishlist’ of interactive audio-visual ideas for the project that I will then give technical input, in preparation for a face to face meeting in May.

Week Beginning 4th February 2013

One of my major tasks this week was to investigate possible timeline solutions in preparation for the Burns meeting next week.  I have previously created a timeline for the University’s ‘World Changing’ website (see http://www.worldchanging.gla.ac.uk/timeline/) that uses the Simile timeline software but I have been investigating other options as well as although Simile has great functionality it does look a bit dated these days.  For Burns we may also be constrained somewhat by the site being WordPress powered.  Although it is perfectly possible to embed any timeline software within a WordPress page we have to consider whether it might make more sense to use a solution that has already been properly integrated with WordPress and made available as a Widget.  This might make more sense as then content management could be handled by the WordPress Admin interface rather than having to create a structure to handle the content from scratch.  I identified three possible WordPress Timeline widgets:

  1. Simile Timeline: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-simile-timeline/ which is a WordPress wrapper for this timeline software: http://www.simile-widgets.org/timeline/
  • I’ve previously used Simile – see http://www.worldchanging.gla.ac.uk/timeline/
  • The WordPress plugin appears to use blog posts and categories as source data so we would need to create blog posts as timeline entries – I’m not sure if the plugin allows other data sources.  The non-plugin version can use XML or JSON as source files though.  If we use blog posts as source material we would have to ensure the timeline ‘blog posts’ and categories are hidden from the main ‘Blog’ section of the site.  However, it would be easy for people to create and work on timeline entries – the same approach as writing a normal blog.
  • Allows unlimited number of categories, filtering and searching
  • The interface is functional but not very flashy
  1. VeriteCo Timeline: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/timeline-verite-shortcode/ which is a WordPress wrapper for this timeline software: http://timeline.verite.co/
  2. JQuery Timelinr: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-jquery-timelinr/ which is a WordPress wrapper for this timeline software: http://www.csslab.cl/2011/08/18/jquery-timelinr/
    • Is also set up to work with blog posts, but original version works with plain HTML lists
    • Looks attractive but very limited functionality – no categories, no ‘overview’ bar – just dates,text and images

I also identified a non-Wordpress timeline solution that could also work very well:

  1. Timeglider: http://timeglider.com/widget/?p=intro
  • A very feature-rich timeline, allowing multiple categories, searching – see good example here: http://timeglider.com/widget/large.html
  • Uses JSON as a data source, meaning I would probably have to set up a spreadsheet template, or write a simple web form interface for creating / editing entries.

We will hopefully be able to discuss these possible solutions at next week’s meeting and make some decisions about which to use.

I made a bit more progress with the Grammar app this week, but due to other commitments I only managed to spend about a day working on it.  I’m still working through the grammar book content, and I’m not midway through Unit 7.  I will hopefully be able to finish the book next week and then I can move onto the exercises.

I had some further feedback from Christian this week about ARIES, and also received the good news that Mike MacMahon has agreed to record some sound clips for exercise 1 of ‘New words for old’ (see http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/aries/spelling-5-new-words-for-old.html).  Currently this exercise asks the user to get a friend to read out some words so the user can try to spell them.  Once we have the sound clips I can embed these in the exercise and users will be able to hear the word and then attempt to spell it, which will make for a much more satisfying exercise.

I’m going to meet with Christian next Monday to discuss the app as there is one of the exercises that is behaving differently in her browser.

I spent a bit of time this week writing up notes from the various meetings I had last week.  I had been tasked with taking the minutes at the DROG meeting so I wrote those up and sent them to Jeremy.  I also wrote up my notes from my meetings with Alison and Jeffrey, and spent a bit of time thinking about their respective projects.  I did a bit of research for Alison about tablets and the possibility of us getting a donation of hardware from a company like Microsoft or Samsung.  It’s a bit of a longshot, but as we will need 30 tablets for the project it’s worthwhile investigating these options.

On Friday this week I had a meeting with Susan Rennie to discuss some possible upcoming projects.  This was a really useful meeting and I’m going to help Susan put a bid together for the University’s Knowledge Exchange fund.  We also talked about her Boswell project and the possibility of getting further funding to create a digital edition of the dictionary in future.  Her current project is primarily focussed on creating a physical book but she will be using TEI in the preparation of this which could then be used as the basis for a web version.

Also on Friday I met with Bill Kretzschmar, who will be working 20% at the University from September onwards.  It was really interesting to hear about some of the digital projects he has previously been involved with, such as the new version of the linguistic atlas project (http://www.lap.uga.edu/) and LICHEN, the Java based content management system and front-end  that was developed in collaboration with Oulu University in Finland.  Bill would like to see Glasgow use this system with some of the data we hold and there are certainly some possibilities here that could be explored.

Week Beginning 28th January 2013

I ran out of time on Friday so for the first time I’m having to write my update on the following Monday.  This week I began working on the ‘English Grammar: An Introduction’ app, which is going to be a fairly sizable undertaking due to the quantity of text in the Grammar book and the number and complexity of the exercises.  I started this week with the book text itself, giving it a similar design to the ARIES app (e.g. examples in dotted, grey boxes).  By the end of the week I had managed to complete the reformatting for over half of the book, so progress is being made.  You can see the ‘work in progress’ version of the app here: http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/grammar/

Also this week I received some very useful feedback from Christian Kay regarding the ARIES app and I spent a bit of time on Friday morning implementing her suggestions and fixing a few bugs that she had encountered.  For example, in the two ‘Test yourself’ exercises in ‘Further Punctuation’ there was a bit of a glitch that only occurred if you tried to check the results of stages 2 or 3 of exercise 2 when exercise one was displaying the same stage.  It was really very handy that Christian encountered this and I was able to sort it.

I had a number of meetings this week, the first was with the Burns project on Tuesday.  The meeting went well and we had some good discussions about the website and possible future developments, specifically concerning the timeline of historical events and the map interface for the travel journals.  We have arranged some follow-on meetings to discuss these areas.  I also met with Jeffrey Robinson to discuss the Wordsworth project he is wanting to put together involving a developer and a digital artist.  It sounds like a really exciting project and it was great to speak to him about his ideas.

On Friday I attended the DROG meeting, which was another great opportunity to catch up with developments on the projects.  After the meeting I had arranged to meet Alison Wiggins to discuss a follow-on project for Bess of Hardwick.  We spend a very useful hour discussing the bid and working out a few of the details such as the phases of the project and the amount of developer effort that would be required.