Week Beginning 9th May 2016

I had quite a lot of meetings this week and I’ll just run through these first of all.  I met with Scott Spurlock on Monday to discuss a proposal he is hoping to submit over the summer.  It’s the same project that we discussed last year, which will involve crowdsourcing the transcription of millions of old handwritten documents.  Scott was previously hoping to work with the Zooniverse people and had made some progress with them, but unfortunately they have decided to take on no more humanities projects for the next 18 months, which has left Scott looking for an alternative.  It looks like we are going to try and adapt and host an existing free and open source crowdsourcing tool, although we still need to decide how detailed the transcriptions should be and how the workflow would need to be managed.  It was a useful meeting and I hope we can take the project further.

On Tuesday I met with Gareth Roy from Physics and Astronomy.  Gareth had previously helped me to use the ScotGrid infrastructure to process the Hansard data and he had also mentioned the possibility of being able to host the rather large database that the dataset requires after Arts IT Support said they wouldn’t be able to host it.  I met Gareth at his office in the Kelvin building, which too some finding as the Kelvin building is quite a tricky place to navigate around.  We discussed the requirements for the database and how I would need to use ScotGrid again to process all of the SQL files that my previous scripts had generated.  Gareth and his colleagues were very helpful in discussing the possibilities and have agreed to set up a server where the data can be hosted, which should be accessible from the ScotGrid infrastructure so as to allow the insertion of data from scripts running through the SQL files.  Hopefully I should have access to the database next week, which is brilliant.

On Thursday some of the developers and more technical academics in the College of Arts met with Arts IT Support to discuss the sorts of software that can be put on Arts servers.  Arts IT are wanting to lock down the servers to only allow standard LAMP technologies to be used (that’s Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP).  This suits the needs of (I would estimate) about 90% of the online resources that developers in Arts are creating and it makes a lot of sense to put these limits in place, both in terms of long-term support (e.g. if a project is written in Ruby on Rails and the only person who knows that language leaves then ensuring the project continues to work in years to come as operating systems change and new software versions replace older versions is going to be tricky) and in terms of security (it’s trickier to ensure a wider variety of technologies are patched and up to date, especially over the longer term).  However, there are cases when non-LAMP tools are simply the better solution to a research project’s needs and my worry was that these restrictions may hamper research and innovation.  I think the meeting was really useful.  We all got to discuss our concerns and we reached some useful conclusions about software, hosting issues and ensuring effective communication between the people writing bid proposals and the people who will have to support whatever is promised in these proposals.    There was general agreement that LAMP should be used wherever possible (e.g. a developer shouldn’t use another technology if this setup will work just as well) but when there is a real need for another technology (for example the eXist XML database for working with XML datasets) then this should be discussed with Arts IT Support who will try to support its deployment.  Hopefully this arrangement will work well in future.

On Friday I met with Christine Ferguson to discuss the requirements for her recently funded AHRC project.  This is going to be fairly simple from a technical point of view (just a project website and some hosted videos) but it was good to talk to Christine about how she wanted the website to look and function and to get things started.  I also met with Eva Moreda Rodriguez, a researcher from Music who is wanting to create a map-based system looking at early musical recordings in Spain.  I gave her some advice, which was hopefully helpful, but as Music is beyond my remit I can’t really do anything more than that.

Other than meetings, I spent the rest of the week returning to the STELLA apps.  Since publishing the Essentials of Old English app last year a new version of the Apache Cordova ‘wrapping’ tool had been released and Android apps created with the old version were being flagged up as being a possible security risk.  I managed to upgrade the app code to the new version of Cordova and to publish version 1.1 of the app, both on the Google Play store and the Apple App store.  I also took the opportunity to fix a couple of other issues with this app, namely a broken link when navigating between sections of the manual and some other small tweaks to the app text.  After this was out of the way I decided to revisit the three other STELLA apps that I had created.  I had only ever created iOS versions of these apps and I’ve always meant to create Android versions as well.  I started with ‘Readings in Early English’.  I upgraded Cordova and also upgraded the jQueryMobile framework for this app as well.  I also made some updates to the interface, using buttons rather than text links to navigate between sections, adding in a higher resolution logo and things like that.  Previously it had not been possible to use the HTML5 Audio tag in apps on Android devices – the player simply wouldn’t appear.  Instead I had to use Cordova’s media plugin, which works fine but is somewhat rudimentary.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the media plugin working, which I eventually did.  But then I decided to just see if the HTML5 Audio tag might work in Android now (it has been a couple of years since I last tried) and it now seems to be working.  This would appear to be a much nicer approach as the player features a duration bar, muting and other such functionality that I would have to manually create with the Media plugin.  By the end of the week I had submitted an updated version of the app to the Apple App store and had a test version of the app running on my Android phone.  I had also made a start on the Google Play store information for the app and had started creating screenshots and things like that, but I will need to finish this off next week.