Week Beginning 10th December

I started off this week by continuing with the mobile interface for Bess of Hardwick, which I had begun last week.  I managed to complete a first version of this interface that I’m pretty happy with.  In addition to making the interface work with the full width of the browser and show / hide any navigation options I also managed to use Jquery to position some icons at the end of the sections of the letters, enabling a user to tap the icon to display a pop-up containing information about scribal hands.  With the main site this information only appears when the user hovers the cursor over a section of a letter, so with a touchscreen there was no way to access this information.  My little icons fix this, although it may well be that having icons dotted throughout each letter is considered a bit intrusive.  I completed a mock-up version of the site that covers all of the pages (though obviously not all of the content – generally only one page per type, e.g. one letter, one search results page etc) and sent the URL to Alison for comment.  I’m not going to make the URL available here as the main Bess site is still not publicly available and I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the main site!

After polishing off Bess I moved on to Burns.  I spent a bit of time this week going through the existing site and compiling a list of possible improvements, combining this with the website document previously created by Pauline.  I also got my local test version of the site installed on my laptop so I could demonstrate the changes I’d made at the Burns project meeting on Thursday.  I also engaged in an email debate with one of the project’s US partners about the use of TEI and XML in general when creating  digital editions.  The project meeting on Thursday was very useful and took up most of the morning.  We went through the website and discussed what should be changed and who should provide content for each section and it was a very positive meeting.

I had a further meeting with Stevie about the Corpus sever on Friday morning, which was also very productive.  Stevie wanted to set up a local instance of the server on his laptop and we tackled this together.  It was a good way to revise how to set up the server as we’ll have to do this again some time soon when we move from the test server to a proper server.  I also spent a little time on Friday morning looking at the user interface for the front end.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt this interface, but there will be issues in doing so.  A lot of the HTML is buried within functions deep within the code for the front end.  Initially Stevie had an older version of the interface installed on his laptop and comparing this code to the more up to date version of the code we have on the server demonstrated that significant changes had been made between versions.  If we create a new, bespoke interface for the College of Arts it will work perfectly with the current version of the front end (hopefully!) but when (or if) new versions of the front end are released there is no guarantee that our interface will continue to work.  Ideally the front end would have its layout located in one place and changing it would be a simple process of replacing one set of layout scripts with another, but as a lot of the layout is buried in the code it’s going to be a bit messier and not really a sustainable solution.  We’ve emailed Marc about this with the hope that he can initiate a dialogue with the creator of the front end to see where future developments may be headed and how our work may fit in with these.

For the rest of the week I began working on the mobile interface for the STELLA app ‘ARIES’.  This is going to be interesting because it will be the first app that will require a lot of user interaction, e.g. dragging full stops into sentences and evaluating the results.  At the moment I’m only putting up the site structure but next week I’ll start to look into how to handle the exercises.

Week Beginning 3rd December

An early post this week as I’ve taken the Friday off as it’s the HATII Christmas party, which I’ll be attending.  As it’s starting at 3pm I thought it best not to take up SCS time with non-SCS revelries!  This week I started (and indeed completed) the ‘web’ version of ‘Readings in Early English’, which emulates the University’s T4 look and feel.  As with the App version it doesn’t have a proper home yet, but you can see at test version at the following temporary URL:  http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/briantest/web/readings/

Also this week I continued to work with the Burns website.  I spent quite a bit of time this week working with the song pages and comments.  I generated OGG versions of the songs (required for the HTML5 player when viewing the pages in Firefox, which doesn’t support MP3) and created sub-pages for each song, with both the ‘download’ option and the HTML5 in-browser playing facilities in place.  I also added these items to the menu and ensured everything was displaying properly.  I also found a way to limit comments to certain pages – basically telling the system to not show the comments options if the page ID matches one of the existing top-level pages.

The final large-ish task relating to songs was to ensure that the ‘download monitor’ stats continued to log hits even if users play the song in their browser rather than downloads the song.  I used Jquery to attach an event handler to the ‘play’ function of the HTML5 Audio controls.  Every time a user clicks ‘play’ Jquery fires an AJAX request to a little script I’ve written that connects to the ‘download monitor’ script, logging a hit in the same way as when the user clicks to download a song.

I’m still waiting to get other content for the song pages from Pauline, and I hope to have a meeting with her soon to view this content and to show her the changes I’ve made, which are currently only operational on my local PC.

I spent a morning this week attending ‘Area Fire Officer’ training.  I’ve been designated the fire officer for 11 and 13 University Gardens so I had to attend this course, which was very useful as beforehand I knew next to nothing about what my duties might entail.  I spent some further time this week checking out the buildings, fire extinguishers, fire doors etc and I also conducted my first fire alarm test, much to the surprise of my colleagues in 13 University Gardens where the alarm not only makes an absolute racket but actually tells people to flee the building.

Other than the above tasks I had a catch-up meeting with Jeremy, which went well.  It was strange looking down on my office from his window as from that vantage point you can pretty much see my entire office.  For the remainder of the week I worked on the mobile interface of the Bess of Hardwick website.  It’s a bit tricky to do this as I’m having to work on a static HTML representation of the site, meaning it’s not really possible to see how certain design choices affect navigation and page loading.  However, I have been making progress and by the end of Thursday I had managed to get a version of the website that works with different widths of displays, utilises the full width of the user’s screen and hides the rather lengthy navigation options unless the user chooses to display them.  There’s still quite a bit of tweaking to be done before I’m ready to show the new design to anyone, but progress has definitely been made.

Week Beginning 29th October 2012

Back from my week off this week, with lots to do.  Whilst I was away Justin Livingstone of SCS got in touch with HATII about a project proposal related to David Livingstone.  Thankfully my colleagues in HATII were able to provide Justin with some helpful advice before his deadline, and I contacted Justin to offer my services if he needs them in future.

One of the pressing outstanding issues on my ‘to do’ list has been to fix the Scottish Corpus Advanced Search page, which is currently broken in the most recent versions of IE and also Chrome.  As I had received access to the server the week before my holiday and I had a Corpus meeting set up with Wendy, Jane and Marc this Thursday it seemed like a good time to tackle this issue.  I had been hoping that the problem would be a relatively simple Javascript issue but as I begin to delve into the code it became clear that solving the problem was going to be a larger undertaking.

The SCOTS advanced search page (http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/corpus/search/advanced.php) allows a massive amount of customisation, with a range of display options for the results including a Google map, a concordance and a document list.  The page works by creating a query, feeding it to the database and generating an XML file from the database results.  This XML file, together with several XSLT files are then pulled into the user’s browser for processing using a Javascript plugin called Sarissa (http://sourceforge.net/projects/sarissa/).

Unfortunately it is this plugin that doesn’t work with Chrome and IE – see this test page: http://dev.abiss.gr/sarissa/test/testsarissa.html.  Sarissa is needed because different browsers have different processors for working with XML and XSLT files.  But although it set out to solve some of the incompatibility problems it has introduced others. These days it’s generally considered a bit messy to rely on client-side browsers to process XSLT – far better to process the XML using XSLT on the server and then use AJAX to pull in the transformed text from the server and display it.  This is what I set out to do with the advanced search page.

This has basically required me to rip out the heart of the advanced search page and build a new one.  This task has taken up most of the week, but I am just about ready to launch the new version.  It works in both Chrome and IE and handles all XSLT on the server side.  It also uses a JSON file for populating the Google Map as JSON is much easier to work with as a data source for Javascript compared to XML.  I’ve also introduced the Jquery Javascript library as it vastly simplifies the Javascript needed to work with page elements and AJAX.  I still need to add the ‘loading’ spinner to my new version of the advanced search and to properly test it but it should be possible to go live with this new version next week.

I had been hoping to work some more on the Open Corpus Workbench server this week, plus make a start on the STELLA applications but due to getting bogged down in the SCOTS advanced search both of these tasks will have to wait until next week.

I did manage to do some other tasks this week, however.  As mentioned earlier, I had a meeting with Wendy, Marc and Jane to discuss Corpora in general at the university.  This was a useful meeting and it was especially interesting to hear about the sound corpora that Jane is working with and the software her team are using (something called LabCat).  I’ll need to investigate this further.

Also this week I had a further meeting with Alison Wiggins regarding possible mobile and tablet versions of Bess of Hardwick.  We had a bit of a brainstorming session and came up with some possible ideas for the tablet version that could form the basis of a bid.  We also got in touch with Sheffield to ask about access to the server in order to develop a simple mobile interface to the existing site.  Although it won’t be possible for me to get access to the server directly, we reached an agreement whereby I will develop the interface around static HTML pages here in Glasgow and then I’ll send my updated interface to Sheffield for inclusion.

My final task of the week was to migrate the ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ website to a more official sounding URL.  I haven’t quite managed to complete this task yet but I’ll get it all sorted on Monday next week.

Week Beginning 15th October 2012

I had a great meeting with the ‘Editing Burns for the 21st century’ people this week.  We’d been trying to arrange a meet-up since the beginning of September but it was difficult to get a time that suited everyone until this week.  I’m really looking forward to working on the project and I’ve already started making suggestions about their website and some possible ways in which web resources can be best exploited to throw the spotlight on their project outputs.

I also had another very productive corpus-focussed meeting with Stephen Barrett this week.  We spent a couple of hours working through some of the issues we’d been encountering with the Open Corpus Workbench and made some real progress, specifically to do with character encoding issues (we’ve now upgraded to the most recent version of the CWB so we finally have proper UTF-8 support) and text-level metadata issues (it’s now possible to specify metadata about texts and for this to be used as the basis for limiting searches using the ‘restricted query’ option).  I’ve started working with Marc’s Hansard texts and have so far managed to import one test text complete with one metadata category.  This may seem unimpressive but a lot of the issues that will be encountered when importing the entire body of texts have been resolved when processing this one single text file so I feel like real progress has been made.

Also this week I completed my mock-ups for the App and web versions of the five STELLA applications that we have identified to be the initial focus for redevelopment.  I also had a meeting with Marc to discuss STELLA matters in general, which was very helpful too.  I will begin working on the actual HTML5 based websites for these applications the week after next.  Whilst making the mock-ups I encountered some rather odd behaviour with HTML5 Audio and IE9.  Although IE9 fully supports the HTML5 Audio tag (which when used presents an audio player within the web page without any plug-in being required) I just couldn’t get the player to appear on my test file that I was hosting on a University server, even though the exact same code worked perfectly on my desktop machine using the same browser.  This was very frustrating and eventually I worked out that the discrepancy was being caused by IE9’s ‘Compatibility view’.  For some odd reason IE9 on the standard staff desktop is set to view pages within the university domain using ‘compatibility view’, which basically emulates an older version of IE that doesn’t support HTML5!  It’s most frustrating and as of yet I can only find a way to override this manually at the client end.

I also spoke again to Alison this week about the possible developments for Bess of Hardwick and we’re going to meet up the week after next to take this further.  And I also met up with Ann, Marc and Graeme to discuss the redevelopment of the Digital Humanities Network website (http://www.digital-humanities.arts.gla.ac.uk/) that Graeme created a couple of years ago.  We had a good discussion about the sorts of features that a revamp should incorporate and it was agreed that I would press ahead with the update, with Graeme providing some additional help as time allows.  We’re hoping to have a new version ready to go by the middle of next month.

Also this week I finally got access to the SCOTS server so I will be able to look into the problems with the Advanced Search when using Chrome and IE the week after next too.

Note that I will be on holiday next week and will be back at work on Monday the 29th October.

Week Beginning 17th September 2012

Lots more meeting people and discussing projects this week.  I spent some time reading through the project documentation for the Mapping Metaphor project, and also looked at some of the ongoing research, which is being compiled in Access databases and Excel spreadsheets.  I participated in two meetings for this project, one a more general project meeting and the other more technical in nature.  It seems like the technical aspects of the project are progressing nicely at this stage.  They are still very much at the data input and analysis stage, and discussions about how to visualise the connections between words over time will not be focussed on until later.

I also had a very interesting meeting with Alison Wiggins about the Bess of Hardwick project and was given a preview of the website through which the letters will be made publicly available.  The website, which is being produced by the University of Sheffield’s Humanities Research Institute, is looking really great, with lots of search and browse options available.  I spent a little bit of time this week trying out the site and providing feedback to Alison about the functionality of the website.

Another meeting I had this week was with Carole Hough to discuss a couple of upcoming conferences that will require web presences.  Nothing is imminently required for these conferences but I was able to provide some advice on how to manage the paper submission process and how the front ends of the websites could be created and managed.  For handling the logistics of paper submission I recommended easychair.org, a free online conference management system that I have used for previous conferences.  It’s a really handy system for keeping track of paper submissions, editorial groups and the peer review process.  For the front ends I recommended setting up a WordPress instance for each site, and I spent some time looking into WordPress and the customisation options for this.  There are so many modules, themes and plugins for WordPress that there really is no reason to create a conference website from scratch as everything is ready and waiting to just be tweaked and configured.   I’m still not sure at this stage whether I should personally be setting up these instances or just advising on which solution to use, I’ll raise it at the next DROG meeting.

A further meeting I had this week was with Marc Alexander and Stephen Barrett, who is currently creating a Gaelic corpus within the School of Humanities.  There were a lot of connections between the work Stephen is carrying out and the corpora held within SCS and we are hoping to work together to create one big corpus (with many subsets) for use by the College of Arts as a whole.  We are hoping to use the Open Corpus Workbench and are attempting to get some server space set up for test purposes.  I spent some time this week investigating the Open Corpus Workbench and corpus software issues in general

My final meeting of the week was with Jean Anderson, the previous head of STELLA and one of the major driving forces in Literary and Linguistic Computing projects at the University of Glasgow.  We had a hugely useful chat about my role, STELLA, projects and the School and I received lots of helpful advice.  Jean should be able to continue to provide advice and maybe participate in future DROG meetings, which I think would be very useful.  She also proposed that the Digital Resources Owners Group should have the acronym DROOG, a reference to the slang term meaning ‘friend’ in Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, which I think is really rather good.  We just need to think what the second ‘o’ could stand for… Digital Resources Owners and Operators Group, perhaps?

Through the meeting with Jean I have a clearer picture of which STELLA teaching tools should maybe be prioritised and I’ll run this by Marc.  After that I should hopefully be able to get started updating them.

After the meeting with Jean we went to look at the work being carried out in 13 University Gardens.  It’s all looking really good, but things are definitely not as far advanced as I had hoped.  The previous estimate of October for moving in looks more and more likely.  Here’s hoping the HATII people don’t turf me out before then.

In addition to meetings I also attended the first lecture of the Literary and Linguistic Computing course and I am planning on attending a few more of these over the course of the academic year.  It’s useful to see what is currently being taught on this course as although I took the course myself as an undergraduate that was a fair number of years ago and it’s interesting to get an up to date overview of the subject.