Week Beginning 5th July 2021

After a lovely week’s holiday in the East Neuk of Fife last week I returned to full week of work.  I spent Monday catching up with emails and making some updates to two project websites.  Firstly, for the Anglo-Norman Dictionary I updated the Textbase to add in the additional PDF texts.  As these are not part of the main Textbase I created a separate page that listed and linked to them, and added a reference to the page to the introductory paragraph of the main Textbase page.  Secondly, I made some further updates to the content management system for the Books and Borrowing project.  There was a bug in the ‘clear borrower’ feature that resulted in the normalised occupation fields not getting clears.  This meant that unless a researcher noticed and manually removed the selected occupations it would be very easy to end up with occupations assigned to the wrong borrower.  I implemented a fix for this bug, so all is well now.  I had also been alerted to an issue with the library’s ‘books’ tab.  When limiting the listed books to only those mentioned in a specific register the list of associated borrowing records that appears in a popup was not limiting the records to those in the specified register.  I fixed this as well, and also made a comparable fix to the ‘borrowers’ tab as well.

During the week I also had an email conversation with Kirsteen McCue about her ‘Singing the Nation’ AHRC proposal, and made a new version of the Data Management Plan for her.  I also investigated some anomalies with the stats for the Dictionary of the Scots Language website for Rhona Alcon.  Usage figures were down compared to last year, but it looks like last year may have been a blip caused by Covid, as figures for this year match up pretty well with the figures for years before the dreaded 2020.

On Wednesday I was alerted to an issue with the Historical Thesaurus website, which appeared to be completely inaccessible.  Further investigation revealed that other sites on the server were also all down.  Rather strangely the Arts IT Support team could all access the sites without issue, and I realised that if I turned wifi off on my phone and accessed the site via mobile data I could access the site too.  I had thought it was an issue with my ISP, but Marc Alexander reported that he used a different ISP and could also not access the sites.  Marc pointed me in the direction of two very handy websites that are useful for checking whether websites are online or not.  https://downforeveryoneorjustme.com checks the site and lets you know whether it’s working while https://www.uptrends.com/tools/uptime is a little more in-depth and checks whether the site is available from various locations across the globe.  I’ll need to remember these in future.

The sites were still inaccessible on Thursday morning  and after some Googling I found an answer to someone with a similar issue here: https://webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/104092/why-is-my-site-showing-as-being-down-for-some-places-and-not-others I asked Arts IT Support to check with central IT Services to see whether any DNS settings had been changed recently or if they know what might be causing the issue, as it turned out to be a more widespread issue than I had thought, and was affecting sites on different servers too.  A quick check of the sites linked to from this site showed that around 20 websites were inaccessible.

Thankfully by Thursday lunchtime the sites had begun to be accessible again, although not for everyone.  I could access them, but Marc Alexander still couldn’t.  By Friday morning all of the sites were fully accessible again from locations around the globe, and Arts IT Support got back to me with a cause for the issue.  Apparently there was some server in the Boyd Orr that controls DNS records for the University and it had gone wrong and sent out garbled instructions to other DNS servers around the world, which knocked out access to our sites, even though the sites themselves were all working perfectly.

I spent the rest of the week working on the front-end for the Scotland data for the Comparative Kingship project, a task that I’d begun before I went away on my holiday.  I managed to complete an initial version of the Scotland front-end, which involved taking the front-end from one of the existing place-names websites (e.g. https://kcb-placenames.glasgow.ac.uk/) and adapting it.  I had to make a number of adaptations, such as ensuring that two parallel interfaces and APIs could function on one site (one for Scotland, one for Ireland), updating a lot of the site text, creating a new, improved menu system and updating the maps so that they defaulted to the new area of research.  I also needed to add in facilities to search, return data for and display new Gaelic fields, e.g. Gaelic versions of place-names and historical forms.  This meant updating the advanced search to add in a new ‘language’ choice option, to enable a user to limit their search to just English or Gaelic place-name forms or historical forms.  This in turn meant updating the API to add in this additional option.

An additional complication came when I attempted to grab the parish boundary data, which for previous project I’d successfully exported from Scottish Government’s Spatial Data website (https://www.spatialdata.gov.scot/geonetwork/srv/eng/catalog.search#/metadata/c1d34a5d-28a7-4944-9892-196ca6b3be0c) via a handy API (https://maps.gov.scot/server/rest/services/ScotGov/AgricultureEnvironment/MapServer/1/query).  However, the parish boundary data was not getting returned with latitude / longitude pairs marking the parish shape, but instead used esriMeters instead.  I found someone else who wanted to covert esriMeters into lat/lng (https://gis.stackexchange.com/questions/54534/how-can-i-convert-esrimeters-to-lat-lng) and one of the responses was that with an ArcGIS service (which the above API appears to be) you should be able to set the ‘output spatial reference’, with the code 4326 being used for WGS84, which would give lat/lng values.  The API form does indeed have an ‘Output Spatial Reference’ field, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to do anything.  I did lots of further Googling and tried countless different ways of entering the code, but nothing changed the output.

Eventually I gave up and tried an alternative approach.  The site also provides the parish data as an ESRI Shapefile (https://maps.gov.scot/ATOM/shapefiles/SG_AgriculturalParishes_2016.zip) and I wondered whether I could plug this into a desktop GIS package and use it to migrate the coordinates to lat/lng.  I installed the free GIS package QGIS (https://www.qgis.org/en/site/forusers/download.html) and after opening it went to the ‘Layer’ menu, selected ‘Add Layer’, then ‘Add Vector Layer’ then selected the zip file and pressed ‘add’, at which point all of the parish data loaded in, allowing me to select a parish and view the details for it.  What I then needed to do was to find a means of changing the spatial reference and saving a geoJSON file.  After much trial and error I discovered that in the ‘Layer’ menu there is a ‘Save as’ option.  This allowed me to specify the output format (geoJSON) and change the ‘CRS’, which is the ‘Coordinate Reference System’.  In the drop-down list I located ESPG: 4326 / WGS84 and selected it.  I then specified a filename (the folder defaults to a Windows System folder and needs to be updated too) and pressed ‘OK’ and after a long wait the geoJSON file was generated, with latitude and longitude values for all parishes.  Phew!  It was quite a relief to get this working.

With access to a geoJSON file containing parishes with lat/lng pairings I could then find and import the parishes that we needed for the current project, of which there were 28.  It took a bit of time to grab all of these, and I then needed to figure out where I wanted the three-letter acronyms for each parish to be displayed, as well, which I worked out using the National Library of Scotland’s parish boundaries map (https://maps.nls.uk/geo/boundaries/), which helpfully displays lat/lng coordinates for your cursor position in the bottom right.  With all of the parish boundary data in place the infrastructure for the Scotland front-end is now more or less complete and I await feedback from the project team.  I will begin work on the Ireland section next, which will take quite some work as the data fields are quite different.  I’m only going to be working a total of four days over the next two weeks (probably as half-days) so my reports for the next couple of weeks are likely to be a little shorter!