Week Beginning 22nd April 2013

This week was predominantly spent working on the Historical Thesaurus redesign, both the database and the page design for the front end. For the database I created a bunch of upload and data processing scripts to get the almost 800,000 rows of data from the Access database into the new MySQL database that will be used to power the website.  Despite stating last week that I wouldn’t change the structure of the data, this week I decided to do just that by moving the 13 fields that make up category information to a dedicated category table rather than having this information as part of the lexeme table.  Splitting the information up reduces the amount of needlessly repeated data – for example there are up to 50 lexemes in each category and previously all 13 category fields were being repeated up to 50 times whereas now the information is stored once and then linked to the lexeme table, which is much neater.

By the end of the week I had all of the data migrated and moved into the new database structure, with a number of indices in place to make data retrieval speedier too.  One slight issue with the data was that ‘empty’ categories in the hierarchy (i.e. ones that don’t have any associated lexemes) are not present in the Access database.  This makes sense when you’re focussing on lexemes, but in order to develop a browse option or present breadcrumbs the full hierarchy is needed.  For example 01.01.06.01 is ‘Europe’ and its parent category is ’01.01.06’, regions of the earth.  But as this category has no lexemes of its own it isn’t represented in the database.  I met with Marc on Thursday and he managed to get a complete list of the categories to me, including the ‘empty’ ones and I spent some time working on a script that would pull out the empty ones and add them to my new ‘category’ database.  While doing this I came across a few errors in the data, where the full combination of headings and part of speech was not unique.  I also noticed that I had somehow made an error in my database structure, missing out three parts of speech types.  Rectifying this will mean reuploading all the data, which I will do next week.

In terms of front end work, I made some further possible interface designs, all of which are ‘responsive’ designs (they automatically change with screen size, meaning no separate mobile / tablet interface needs to be developed).  It was a good opportunity to learn more about responsive web design.  My second possible interface can be found here http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/new-design-2/ and possibly looks a bit too ‘bloggy’.  I further adapted this design to use a horizontal navigation section, which you can view here:  http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/new-design-3/.  At the meeting with Marc on Thursday I received some feedback from him and the other people involved with the project regarding colour schemes and fonts, and as a result of this I came up with a fourth design, which will probably end up being used and can be viewed here: http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/new-design-4/.  This combines the horizontal navigation of the previous design with the left-hand navigation of design number 2, and I think it looks quite appropriate.

Also this week I helped to set up the domain and provided some feedback to Daria for the ICOS2014 conference website and did some Digital Humanities Network related tasks.

Week Beginning 15th April 2013

An early report this week as I’m taking Friday afternoon off.  I had a couple of meetings this week, the first on Monday with Marc, where we discussed the Mapping Metaphor visualisation options, the redevelopment of the Historical Thesaurus website and corpus matters.  The second meeting was on Thursday with Wendy, Ellen and Marc to discuss the Mapping Metaphor requirements.  I sent a couple of example requirements documents that I’d produced for previous projects so people could get an idea of the sort of document that should probably be created, and we reached a decision about how to proceed in the development of such a document.  Marc and Ellen are going to map out the sort of access that different users would need and the kinds of visualisations that might be appropriate for these users.  After that we will be able to write a more lower level requirements document, and I offered to write this, when the time comes.

I spent the majority of the rest of the week working on the redevelopment of the Historical Thesaurus website.  I’ve set up a new database that will house the Thesaurus data, and I have created the table structure for the main data.  I’ve also exported the data from Access into CSV format and next week I’ll write a little script that will upload all of this data into the new database on the server.  Marc and I discussed the possibility of normalising the data, for example the data currently has many fields containing date information (first, middle and last dates), but these are not all used for every row.  From a database design point of view it would make sense to have a separate date table, with each date for a lexeme taking up one row in this table and there being between one and three date rows per lexeme, depending on whether the lexeme has first, middle and last dates.  Although this makes sense from a design point of view, it would mean the online database would be quite different in structure to the Access version, and we have decided to keep the structures identical to make import / export of data more transparent and to keep things simple.

I also developed a new interface for the website, based on the existing HT interface as was agreed at the meeting last week.  It’s not the most spectacular of designs, due to it being based on the old site, but it is functional and should work well.  The new design can be found here: http://historicalthesaurus.arts.gla.ac.uk/new-design/.  I am also going to explore a completely new design without any connection to the old site design, which I will tackle next week.

Week Beginning 8th April 2013

I spent the majority of this week working on two specific projects:  Mapping Metaphor and Bess of Hardwick.  For Mapping Metaphor I spent some more time thinking about the requirements and how these might translate into a usable interface to the data at the various levels that are required.  I created a series of Powerpoint based mock-ups of the map interface as follows:  a ‘Top level’ map where all metaphor connections would be aggregated into the three ‘general sections’ of the Historical Thesaurus, a second level map where these three general sections are broken up into their constituent subsections and metaphor data is still aggregated into these sections, and a Metaphor category level map, where all Metaphor categories within an HT Subsection are displayed, enabling connections from one or more Metaphor categories to be explored through map interfaces similar to those I had previously created mock-ups for.  I also gave further thought into the issue of time, incorporating a double-ended slider into the maps, thus enabling users to specify a range of dates that should be represented on the map.  And I also came up with a few possible ways in which we could make the maps more interactive – encouraging users to great metaphor groupings and save / share these, for example.  I also attended a fairly lengthy meeting of the Metaphor project team, which had some useful outputs, although a lot more discussion is needed before the requirements for an actual working system can be detailed.  There will be a follow-on meeting next week involving Wendy, Ellen, Marc and me and hopefully some of these details can be worked out then.

For the Bess project I reworked my previous mockup of a mobile interface for the project website based on the now finalised interface.  The test site had moved URLs and I was unaware of this until the end of last week.  The site at the new URL is quite different to the older one I had based my previous mobile interface on, so there was quite a bit of work to be done, updating CSS files, adding in new jQuery code to handle new situations and replacing some of the icons I had previously used with ones that were now in use on the main site.  Kathy, the developer at HRI who is producing the main site had decided to use the OpenLayers approach to the images of the letters, as opposed to Zoomify, and this decision was a real help for the mobile interface as if the Flash based Zoomify had been chosen it would not have been possible for the majority of mobile devices to access the images.  I spent some time reworking the OpenLayers powered image page so it would work nicely with touchscreens too and on Thursday I was in a position to email the files required to create the mobile interface to Kathy.  Hopefully it will be possible to get the mobile version of the site launched alongside the main interface.

On Friday I met with a post-graduate student in English Language who is putting together an online survey involving listening to sound clips and answering some questions about them.  I was able to give her a number of suggestions for improvements and I think we had a really useful meeting.  On Friday afternoon I attended a meeting to discuss the redevelopment of the Historical Thesaurus website, with Marc, Jean, Flora and Christian.  It was a useful meeting and we agreed on an overall site structure and that I would base the interface for the new site on the colour scheme and logo of the old site.  I’m hoping to make a start on the redevelopment of the website next week, although we still need to have further discussions about the sort of search and browse functionality that is required.

Week Beginning 1st April 2013

Last weekend was Easter, and I took a few additional days off to recharge the old batteries.  Because of this there was no weekly update last week, and this week’s is going to be relatively short too, as I only worked Wednesday to Friday.  My Easter Egg count was four this year, with only one still intact.

I spent quite a bit of time this week working on the requirements for the Mapping Metaphor website, in preparation for next week’s team meeting.  Wendy emailed a first draft of a requirements document to the team last week and on Wednesday I went through this in quite some detail, picking out suggestions and questions.  This took up most of the day and my document had more than 50 questions in it, which I hoped wasn’t too overwhelming or disheartening.  I emailed the document and arranged to meet Wendy the following day to discuss things.  We had a really useful meeting where we went through each of my questions / suggestions.  In a lot of cases Wendy was able to clarify things very well and my understanding of the project increased considerably.  In other cases Wendy decided that my questions needed further discussion amongst the wider group and these questions will be emailed to the team before next week’s meeting.  Our meeting took about two hours and was pretty exhausting but was hugely useful.  It will probably take another few meetings like this with various people before we get a more concrete set of requirements that can be used as the basis for the development of the online tool.

Also this week I revisited the website I’ve set up for Carole’s ICOS2014 conference.  Daria emailed me with some further suggestions and updates and I managed to get them all implemented.  An interesting one was to add multilingual support to the site.  I ended up using qTranslate (http://www.qianqin.de/qtranslate/) which was really easy to set up and works very well – you just select the languages you want to be represented and then your pages / posts have different title and content boxes for each language.  A simple flag based language picker works well in the front end and loads the appropriate content, adding the two letter language abbreviation to the page URL too.  It’s a very nice solution.

The Bess of Hardwick website moved a little closer to launch this week as well.  All being well it should launch next week, and I’ll be able to get the mobile interface up and running too.  Alison had mentioned that it was likely that Zoomify would be used (the Flash version) in order to access images of the manuscript pages on the site.  As Flash isn’t supported at all in iOS and is deprecated in Android this would mean no mobile or tablet devices would be able to access any of the images.  I did some investigation about found a freely available Javascript based tool that could work with Zoomify tiles:  OpenLayers (http://openlayers.org/dev/examples/zoomify.html) .  Hopefully it will be possible for this tool to be used instead of Zoomify as it will greatly improve access to the images.

I was also contacted this week by Patricia Iolana, who is putting together an AHRC bid.  She wanted me to give feedback on the Technical Plan for the bid, and I spent some time going through the bid information and commenting on the plan.