Week Beginning 19th May 2014

I was on holiday last week, having a very relaxing time on a beach in Turkey.  Whilst I was away I heard that Nigel Leask’s AHRC bid about Thomas Pennant has been suffessful, which is fantastic news.  On my return to work this week I got stuck back into the various tasks that are ongoing at the moment.  I attended a SAMUELS meeting with the folks from Lancaster on Monday morning.  I’m still not officially involved with the project (that will begin in July) but it was still very useful to sit in the meeting and hear about how things are developing.  I had a further chat with the Glasgow team members this week too about updating the HT database to incorporate the new SAMUALS classification fields that Fraser and Christian are putting together.  I’m still not entirely sure when they need me to implement these updates, but I’m getting a better idea now about what is required.

I spent a bit of time this week sorting out my new laptop, or more specifically setting it up to dual boot into Windows as well as OSX.  I’m not really a Mac sort of person and a lot of the software I use is Windows based.  Arts Support was able to supply me with the necessary media and the instructions for setting up dual booting provided by Apple were pretty straightforward to follow.  It didn’t take a massive amount of time to get Windows set up and all my usual software installed on the little machine.  Having got Windows set up I actually spent quite a bit of time using OSX this week, as I continued working towards the publication of the three STELLA apps.  I had previously managed to get ARIES working in an iOS emulator running on my laptop, but to actually deploy the app to my iPad so as to test it on real hardware I needed a developer account.  I was going to sign up for one of these myself when I realised this would mean that I would be listed as the publisher of the app in the App Store, rather than University of Glasgow, or STELLA.  I did some investigation into this and found out a couple of things.  Firstly, it’s not possible to just enter the details of any organisation (e.g. STELLA); instead you need to have a lot of formal information about an organisation (e.g. it must be a legal entity, it must have a ‘DUNS’ number (whatever that is).  So it wasn’t possible to create a STELLA account.  Instead I investigated whether there may already be a University of Glasgow account already set up that we could use.  After a couple of false starts I managed to track down the creator of the University of Glasgow student app, Ger Malcolm in the Communications Office.  He was very helpful and allowed me to use this account, with the understanding being that STELLA will take over payment of the developer fee in future years.  Having received access to a developer account and after a bit of trial and error I managed to register my iPad and deploy all three apps onto it!  All three appear to be working fine, although the ‘Readings’ app is over 100MB in size due to the number of MP3s contained within it.  I might have to store these remotely instead.  It was hugely satisfying to see them all running on the device, although there is still more work to be done, such as creating proper icons for all three apps, plus loading screens and App store info.  I’m hoping to get all this sorted next week.

Other tasks this week included setting up the basic structure for a WordPress powered conference website for Carole Hough.  This didn’t take too long as it was basically a case of taking the existing structure I had set up for ICOS and applying it to a new WordPress instance.  I also had a chat with Flora about the data for the new DSL project that I’m working on for Jean and I had an email discussion with Jane Stuart-Smith and the people in the University who are wanting to set up a data centre about some of the requirements for Arts data.

I also took part in a couple of Mapping Metaphor meetings this week.  The first one was to go over the feedback from the website testing sessions that took place at the colloquium and in the US.  Most of the feedback was very positive and there were a great deal of very useful comments that we will be taking on board once I get back into the development work (which probably won’t be until September due to other work commitments I have in the meantime).  The second meeting was to discuss the poster session at DH2014 and the contents of the poster.  We agreed who would write what and we will be meeting again next Friday to get all the elements put together on the poster.

I spent the remainder of the week continuing with DSL development work.  I added the first of the ancillary pages, made some further tweaks to the way authors and titles are displayed in the entry pages and implemented the ‘Bibliography’ pages.

Week Beginning May 5th 2014

This week is a three day week for me as Monday was May Day and I’m off on holiday on Friday (I’ll be away all next week).  When I got into work on Tuesday the first thing I set about tackling was an issue Vivien had raised with the Burns Choral website.  A colleague had tried to access the site using IE and was presented with nothing but a blank white screen.  I’d tested the site out previously with the current version of IE (version 11) and with it set to ‘compatibility mode’ and in the former case the site worked perfectly and in the latter case there were a couple of quirks with the menu but it was perfectly possible to access the content.  I made use of a free 30 minute trial of http://www.browserstack.com/, which provides access to older versions of IE via your browser and discovered that the blank screen issue was limited to IE versions 7 and 8, both of which were released years ago, are no longer supported by Microsoft and have a combined market share of less than 3%.  However, I still wanted to get to the bottom of the problem as I didn’t like the idea of a website displaying a blank screen.  I eventually managed to track down the cause, which is a bug in IE 7 and 8: when using a CSS file with an @font-face declaration the entire webpage disappears.  A couple of tweaks later and IE7 and 8 users could view the site again.

Also on Tuesday I attended a project meeting for Mapping Metaphor, the first meeting since the colloquium.  Things seem to be progressing quite well, and we arranged some further meetings to discuss the feedback from the test version of the visualisations and the poster for DH2014.  I’m probably not going to do much more development for the project until September due to other work commitments, but will focus back in on the project from September onwards.  I also spent a little time this week doing some further investigations into the new SLD project that Jean would like me to tackle.  I can’t really say much about it at this stage but I spent about half a day working with the data and figuring out what might be possible to do in the available time.

On Wednesday I finally managed to get to grips with phonegap and how to use it to wrap HTML5 / CSS3 / JavaScript websites as platform specific apps.  I put my new MacBook to good use, setting everything up on it afresh after my bungled attempt to get the software to work on my desktop machine months ago.  I approached the task of installing phonegap with some trepidation because of my previous failure, and the process of getting the software installed and working was still far from a straightforward process, but it was a success this time, thank goodness.  Although I installed Phonegap (http://phonegap.com/) I would recommend using Apache Cordova instead (http://cordova.apache.org/).  They are pretty much forks of the same code, but Phonegap is a bit of a mess, with documentation referring to cordova commands that just won’t run (because the command should be phonegap instead!) and certain commands giving error messages.  I eventually installed cordova and used this instead and it just worked a lot better.  So I finally managed to get both an Android and an iOS emulator running on my MacBook and created Android and iOS apps for ARIES based on the HTML5 / Javascript / CSS that I developed last year.  I’ve tested this out using the emulators and both versions appear to work perfectly, which is something of a relief.  The next step will be to actually test the apps on real hardware, but in order to do this for iOS I will have to sign up as a developer and pay the $99 annual subscription fee.  It’s something I’m going to do, but not until I get back from my holidays.

On Thursday I answered a query from a PhD student about online questionnaires and gave some advice on the options that are available.  Although I’ve previously used and recommended SurveyMonkey I would now recommend using Google Forms instead due to it being free and the way it integrates with Google Docs to give a nice spreadsheet of results.  The rest of Thursday I devoted to further DSL development, which mostly boiled down to getting text highlighting working in the entry page.  Basically if the user searches for a word or phrase then this string should be highlighted anywhere it appears within the entry.  As mentioned last week, I had hoped to be able to use XSLT for this task, but what on the face of it looked very straightforward proved to be rather tricky to implement due to the limitations of XSLT version 1, which is the only version supported by PHP.  Instead I decided to process highlighting using jQuery, and I managed to find a very neat little plugin that would highlight text in any element you specify (the plugin can be found here)

That’s all for this week, which proved to be pretty busy despite being only three days long.  I will return to work the week beginning the 19th.

Week Beginning April 28th 2014

I spent most of this week continuing to work through the ‘to do’ list that I composed following last week’s DSL meeting. The biggest thing I managed to tick off this week was the implementation of the browse facility. This facility appears on the entry page and positions the current entry in dictionary order with the ten previous and following entries also visible. Users can then scroll through the dictionary using up and down arrows and jump to another entry page. It all works very well but I was hoping to get the traversal up and down to animate nicely – I.e. Rather than clicking the up arrow and then the next set of results loading in have these results added to the list and then have the list drop smoothly down to reveal the new results. I tried implementing such a feature myself using jquery and although I got it working for scrolling down the list I just could not figure out how to get it working for scrolling up the list. The issue is that jquery cannot scroll to hidden elements – not a problem for scrolling down because I simply made the last item scroll to the top. But I couldn’t figure out an easy way to do this for scrolling up. I probably could have done if I had spent several days on it, but I didn’t think it was worth doing so. Instead I explored jquery carousel plugins but I tried a couple and they also had trouble loading in the Ajax data and then scrolling to it. I’ve decided to just stick to the non-animated traversal for now but I may return to this conundrum in future.

Also this week I replaced the old, blue background search results with the more modern looking alternatives I had developed. I also made the entry page redirect to the search page and automatically perform a search if the word passed to it isn’t found in the dictionary. I made some tweaks to the layout of the entry page too. Gone is the ‘options’ box from the right hand column. The options to show / hide quotes and the etymology have now been moved to the top of the page as buttons, and these options now also appear in the fixed header when the user scrolls down the page. The ‘cite this entry’ option has now been moved to the ‘info’ box. I’ve also made the right hand column ‘fixed’ on screen so that the info box, the browse facility and the ‘share’ box stay on screen even when the user scrolls down the entry. I added in some jquery trickery to ensure that the column is only fixed if the content is shorter than the browser window – otherwise it would be impossible for a user to access the information below the browser. I also began to look into the possibility of highlighting search terms on the entry page. My initial attempts involved passing the search term from php to Xslt and then replacing this term anywhere in the XML with the term wrapped with a highlighting span. However, php only uses Xslt version 1 rather than 2, which limits the find and replace options that are available. With some very useful input from Graeme I have some possible solutions to try out, which I will continue to look into next week. I will also look into the possibility of just doing the highlighting using jquery, which might be simpler to implement.

On Thursday I attended a meeting for the Scottish thesaurus project, and it was great to get an update on the project. Things are progressing with the appointment of the developer and it’s looking like the timescales will work out quite nicely. After the meeting I had a further meeting with Jean, Christian and Susan about some additional work that I might be carrying out for the SLD over the summer. I probably shouldn’t say anything about it yet, but it’s likely to be some sort of app. I also made a new section of the Choral Burns website live.

On Friday I attended the second Digital Humanities Network Scotland workshop in Edinburgh. The focus of this event was on research data and it was a hugely interesting day, particularly the talk given by Jonathan Hope about visualisations and text mining, which included a lot of great examples of how visualisations can be used to pose new and interesting research questions about collections of text. It was also a nice opportunity to catch up with some old DCC colleagues who were attending the event.