Week Beginning 20th November 2017

It was another unsettled week for me, as on Tuesday my uncle died.  He’d been suffering from cancer for a while and had been steadily getting worse, but we hoped he would make it until after Christmas, so it was a bit of a shock.  I was very close to him, and he introduced me to hillwalking, which is one of my favourite pastimes, so it’s all very sad.

However, I still managed to work just about a full week of work and get a lot done.  I’d met with Jennifer Smith several weeks ago to discuss a pilot project she was putting together that would require an online questionnaire that schoolchildren would fill in.  On Monday Jennifer phoned me up to say that the pilot school had been in touch and she would need the website in place for next Monday.  Thankfully I had intended to spent a fair amount of time this week on the SCOSYA project (another of Jennifer’s projects) so I could simply divert my time without causing too much inconvenience to anyone.

I met with Jennifer and her RA Derek Henderson on Monday to discuss what needed to be done.  When we’d met previously we’d decided that a simple Google Form would probably work well enough as the questionnaire, but after further discussions it turned out this wasn’t going to work so well.  Derek had been playing about with Google Forms but it just wasn’t flexible enough to get things laid out exactly as he wanted.  Plus, we needed to password protect the form and create different user accounts for different schools, and as a Google form is hosted on a Google server at a Google URL it’s not possible to do such a thing (I did some investigation and it is possible to set up a password, but only in JavaScript on the client side, which means anyone looking at the page source can see how to bypass it).  So for these reasons I decided I’d just set up the questionnaire myself at a subdomain on one of our servers.

As the questionnaire is to be filled in on mobile devices as much as traditional PCs I used the jQuery Mobile framework to set up the user interface.  This worked very nicely as it provides lots of great widgets for form elements.  It’s also possible (and indeed recommended) to use one single page to process multiple jQuery Mobile powered pages, which allows for nice transitions between pages, and also works very nicely with forms split over multiple pages (the questionnaire was in four parts) as it means the previous stages aren’t actually submitted but are just ‘hidden’ by the framework.  This allows the user to navigate back to the earlier stages and for all the content they’ve entered to still be there.

So, I set up a database structure for questions, answers, user groups and such things.  I designed a simple but pleasing user interface, aided by the jQuery Mobile theme roller, I picked out a couple of nice fonts for the header and the main site text, I added in some validation of certain boxes, made some boxes hidden until certain options had been selected, and wrote a small amount of PHP to handle the submission of the form and the inserting of the data into the database.  I also created a script that exports all of the data as a CSV file for Jennifer and Derek to use.

Other than this I had a further email conversation with the DSL people about future updates and make a couple of tweaks to the live website.  I also participated in an email discussion about the way the Thesaurus of Old English links out to the Dictionary of Old English.  Previously, we were able to link from a word on our site directly into the search facility on the DOE website, allowing users to go from an OE word on our site to entries on about the word on the DOE website.  However, a while back the DOE unveiled a new website, which was much improved but unfortunately changed the way their search worked.  All searches are now handled by AJAX in the client’s browser and it’s not possible for us to hook into this.  However, DOE are keen on allowing us to hook in as before so I made some suggestions as to how this might be possible, and explained exactly how the old system worked.  It looks like we might be able to get something working again soon.

On Wednesday I met with Pauline Mackay to discuss a few upcoming issues.  Firstly, we talked about a new database she’s been putting together that I’m going to create an online version of.  Pauline has created this in Access and I should be able to migrate this to an online version and create a nice search / browse interface fairly easily.  Secondly, we talked about updating the ‘Editing Burns’ website to incorporate the new ‘Phase 2’.  We’re going to have some sort of top level of tabs allowing users to choose two different sites that have different colour schemes.  There’s a project meeting in December that I’ll be going to where this will be discussed further.  Thirdly, we discussed a new project Pauline is in the process of putting together that will have a small technical component.  I can’t say much more about this for now, but I’m going to help out with the Technical Plan.

I also spent a bit of time this week on AHRC review duties and I have a brief chat with Scott Spurlock about a possible way of getting his parish records project funded.  And I updated Gavin Miller’s SciFiMedHums project website to disable user registrations as these had started to attract spammers and the project doesn’t require user registrations at the moment anyway.  Oh, on Monday I was on an interview panel for a technical job in another part of the College.  Finally, I spent a bit of time upgrading all of the WordPress instances I manage as a new version of WordPress (version 4.9) was recently released.  No doubt there will be a 4.9.1 to install before too long.