Week Beginning 1st November 2021

I spent most of my time working on the Speak For Yersel project this week, including Zoom calls on Tuesday and Friday.  Towards the start of the week I created a new version of the exercise I created last week.  This version uses a new sound file and transcript and new colours based on the SCOSYA palette.  It also has different fonts, and has a larger margin on the left and right of the screen.  I’ve also updated the way the exercise works to allow you to listen to the clip up to three times, with the ‘clicks’ on subsequent listens adding to rather than replacing the existing ones.  I’ve had to add in a new ‘Finish’ button as information can no longer be processed automatically when the clip finishes.  I’ve moved the ‘Play’ and ‘Finish buttons to a new line above the progress bar as on a narrow screen the buttons on one line weren’t working well.  I’ve also replaced the icon when logging a ‘click’ and added in ‘Press’ instead of ‘Log’ as the button text.  Here’s a screenshot of the mockup in action:

I then gave some thought to the maps, specifically what data we’ll be generating from the questions and how it might actually form a heatmap or a marker-based map.  I haven’t seen any documents yet that actually go into this and it’s something we need to decide upon if I’m going to start generating maps.  I wrote a document detailing how data could be aggregated and sent it to the team for discussion.  I’m going to include the full text here so I’ve got a record of it:

The information we will have about users is:

  1. Rough location based on the first part of their postcode (e.g. G12) from which we will ascertain a central latitude / longitude point
  2. Which one of the 12 geographical areas this point is in (e.g. Glasgow)

There will likely be many (tens, hundreds or more) users with the same geographical information (e.g. an entire school over several years).  If we’re plotting points on a map this means one point will need to represent the answers of all of these people.

We are not dealing with the same issues as the Manchester Voices heatmaps.  Their heatmaps represent one single term, e.g. ‘Broad’ and the maps represent a binary choice – for a location the term is either there or it isn’t.  What we are dealing with in our examples are multiple options.

For the ‘acceptability’ question such as ‘Gonnae you leave me alone’ we have four possible answers: ‘I’d say this myself’, ‘I wouldn’t say this, but people where I live do’, ‘I’ve heard some people say this (outside my area, on TV etc)’ and ‘I’ve never heard anyone say this’.  If we could convert these into ratings (0-3 with ‘I’d say this myself’ being 3 and ‘I’ve never heard anyone say this’ being 0) then we could plot a heatmap with the data.

However, we are not dealing with comparable data to Manchester, where users draw areas and the intersects of these areas establish the pattern of the heatmap.  What we have are distinct geographical areas (e.g. G12) with no overlap between these areas and possibly hundreds of respondents within each area.  We would need to aggregate the data for each area to get a single figure for it but as we’re not dealing with a binary choice this is tricky.  E.g. if it was like the Manchester study and we were looking for the presence of ‘broad’ and there were 15 respondents at location Y and 10 had selected ‘broad’ then we could generate the percentage and say that 66% of respondents here used ‘broad’.

Instead what we might have for our 15 respondents is 8 said ‘I’d say this myself’ (53%), 4 said ‘I wouldn’t say this, but people where I live do’ (26%), 2 said ‘I’ve heard some people say this (outside my area, on TV etc)’ (13%) and 1 said ‘I’ve never heard anyone say this’ (7%).  So four different figures.  How would we convert this into a single figure that could then be used?

If we assign a rating of 0-3 to the four options then we can multiply the percentages by the rating score and then add all four scores together to give one overall score out of a maximum score of 300 (if 100% of respondents chose the highest rating of 3).  In the example here the scores would be 53% x 3 = 159, 26% x 2 = 52, 13% x 1 = 13 and 7% x 0 = 0, giving a total score of 224 out of 300, or 75% – one single figure for the location that can then be used to give a shade to the marker or used in a heatmap.

For the ‘Word Choice’ exercises (whether we allow a single or multiple words to be selected) we need to aggregate and represent non-numeric data, and this is going to be trickier.  For example, if person A selects ‘Daftie’ and ‘Bampot’ and person B selects ‘Daftie’, ‘Gowk’ and ‘Eejit’ and both people have the same postcode then how are these selections to be represented at the same geographical point on the map?

We could pick out the most popular word at each location and translate it into a percentage.  E.g. at location Y 10 people selected ‘Daftie’, 6 selected ‘Bampot’, 2 selected ‘Eejit’ and 1 selected ‘Gowk’ out of a total of 15 participants.  We then select ‘Daftie’ as the representative term with 66% of participants selecting it.  Across the map wherever ‘Daftie’ is the representative term the marker is given a red colour, with darker shades representing higher percentages.  For areas where ‘Eejit’ is the representative term it could be given shades of blue etc.  We could include a popup or sidebar that gives the actual data, including other words and their percentages at each location, either tabular or visually (e.g. a pie chart).  This approach would work as individual points or could possibly work as a heatmap with multiple colours, although it would then be trickier to include a popup or sidebar.  The overall approach would be similar to the NYT ice-hockey map:

Note, however, that for the map itself we would be ignoring everything other than the most commonly selected term at each location.

Alternatively, we could have individual maps or map layers for each word as a way of representing all selected words rather than just the top-rated one.  We would still convert the selections into a percentage (e.g. out of 15 participants at Location Y 10 people selected ‘Daftie’, giving us a figure of 66%) and assign a colour and shade to each form (e.g. ‘Daftie’ is shades of red with a darker shade meaning a higher percentage) but you’d be able to switch from the map for one form to that of another to show how the distribution changes (e.g. the ‘Daftie’ map has darker shades in the North East, the ‘Eejit’ map has darker shades in the South West), or look at a series of small maps for each form side by side to compare them all at once.  This approach would be comparable to the maps shown towards the end of the Manchester YouTube video for ‘Strong’, ‘Soft’ and ‘Broad’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZosWTMPfqio):

Another alternative is we could have clusters of markers at each location, with one marker per term.  So for example if there are 6 possible terms each location on the map would consist of a cluster of 6 markers, each of a different colour representing the term, and each a different shade representing the percentage of people who selected the term at the location.  However, this approach would risk getting very cluttered, especially at zoomed out levels, and may present the user with too much information, and is in many ways similar to the visualisations we investigated and decided not to use for SCOSYA.  For example:

look at the marker for Arbroath.  This could be used to show four terms and the different sizes of each section would show the relative percentages of respondents who chose each.

A further thing to consider is whether we actually want to use heatmaps at all.  A choropleth map might work better.  From this page: https://towardsdatascience.com/all-about-heatmaps-bb7d97f099d7  here is an explanation:

“Choropleth maps are sometimes confused with heat maps. A choropleth map features different shading patterns within geographic boundaries to show the proportion of a variable of interest². In contrast, a heat map does not correspond to geographic boundaries. Choropleth maps visualize the variability of a variable across a geographic area or within a region. A heat map uses regions drawn according to the variable’s pattern, rather than the a priori geographic areas of choropleth maps¹. The Choropleth is aggregated into well-known geographic units, such as countries, states, provinces, and counties.”

An example of a choropleth map is:

We are going to be collecting the postcode area for every respondent and we could use this as the basis for our maps.  GeoJSON encoded data for postcode areas is available.  For example, here are all of the areas for the ‘G’ postcode: https://github.com/missinglink/uk-postcode-polygons/blob/master/geojson/G.geojson

Therefore we could generate choropleth maps comparable to the US one above based on these postcode areas (leaving areas with no respondents blank).  But perhaps postcode districts are too small an area and we may not get sufficient coverage.

There is an interesting article about generating bivariate choropleth maps here:

https://www.joshuastevens.net/cartography/make-a-bivariate-choropleth-map/

These enable two datasets to be displayed on one map, for example the percentage of people selecting ‘Daftie’ split into 25% chunks AND the percentage of people selecting ‘Eejit’ similarly split into 25% chunks, like this (only it would be 4×4 not 3×3):

However, there is a really good reply about why cramming a lot of different data into one map is a bad idea here: https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/87941/maps-with-multiple-heat-maps-and-other-data and it’s well worth a read (despite calling a choropleth map a heat map).

After circulating the document we had a further meeting and it turns out the team don’t want to aggregate the data as such – what they want to do is have individual markers for each respondent, but to arrange them randomly throughout the geographical area the respondent is from to give a general idea of what the respondents in an area are saying without giving their exact location.  It’s an interesting approach and I’ll need to see whether I can find a way to randomly position markers to cover a geoJSON polygon.

Moving on to other projects, I also worked on the Books and Borrowers project, running a script to remove blank pages from all of the Advocates registers and discussing some issues with the Innerpeffray data and how we might deal with this.  I also set up the initial infrastructure for the ‘Our Heritage, Our Stories’ project website for Marc Alexander and Lorna Hughes and dealt with some requests from the DSL’s IT people about updating the DNS record for the website.  I also had an email conversation with Gerry Carruthers about setting up a website for the archive of the International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen and made a few minor tweaks to the mockups for the STAR project.

Finally, I continued to work on the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, firstly sorting out an issue with Greek characters not displaying properly and secondly working on the redating of citations where a date from a varlist tag should be used as the citation date.  I wrote a script that picked out the 465 entries that had been marked as needing updated in a spreadsheet and processed them, firstly updating each entry’s XML to replace the citation with the updated one, then replacing the date fields for the citation and then finally regenerating the earliest date for an entry if the update in citation date has changed this.  The script seemed to run perfectly on my local PC, based on a number of entries I checked, therefore I ran the script on the live database.  All seemed to work fine, but it looks like the earliest dates for entries haven’t been updated as often as expected, so I’m going to have to do some further investigation next week.

Week Beginning 25th October 2021

I came down with some sort of stomach bug on Sunday and was off work with it on Monday and Tuesday.  Thankfully I was feeling well again by Wednesday and managed to cram quite a lot into the three remaining days of the week.  I spent about a day working on the Data Management Plan for the new Curious Travellers proposal, sending out a first draft on Wednesday afternoon and dealing with responses to the draft during the rest of the week.  I also had some discussions with the Dictionaries of the Scots Language’s IT people about updating the DNS record regarding emails, responded to a query about the technology behind the SCOTS corpus, updated the images used in the mockups of the STAR website and created the ‘attendees only’ page for the Iona Placenames conference and added some content to it.  I also had a conversation with one of the Books and Borrowing researchers about trimming out the blank pages from the recent page image upload, and I’ll need to write a script to implement this next week.

My main task of the week was to develop a test version of the ‘where is the speaker from?’ exercise for the Speak For Yersel project.  This exercise involves the user listening to an audio clip and pressing a button each time they hear something that identifies the speaker as being from a particular area.  In order to create this I needed to generate my own progress bar that tracks the recording as it’s played, implement ‘play’ and ‘pause’ buttons, implement a button that when pressed grabs the current point in the audio playback and places a marker in the progress bar, and implement a means of extrapolating the exact times of the button press to specific sections of the transcription of the audio file so we can ascertain which section contains the feature the user noted.

It took quite some planning and experimentation to get the various aspects of the feature working, but I managed to complete an initial version that I’m pretty pleased with.  It will still need a lot of work but it demonstrates that we will be able to create such an exercise.  The interface design is not final, it’s just there as a starting point, using the Bootstrap framework (https://getbootstrap.com), the colours from the SCOSYA logo and a couple of fonts from Google Fonts (https://fonts.google.com).  There is a big black bar with a sort of orange vertical line on the right.  Underneath this is the ‘Play’ button and what I’ve called the ‘Log’ button (but we probably want to think of something better).  I’ve used icons from Font Awesome (https://fontawesome.com/) including a speech bubble icon in the ‘log’ button.

As discussed previously, when you press the ‘Play’ button the audio plays and the orange line starts moving across the black area.  The ‘Play’ button also turns into a ‘Pause’ button.  The greyed out ‘Log’ button becomes active when the audio is playing.  If you press the ‘Log’ button a speech bubble icon is added to the black area at the point where the orange ‘needle’ is.

For now the exact log times are outputted in the footer area.  Once the audio clip finishes the ‘Play’ button becomes a ‘Start again’ button.  Pressing on this clears the speech bubble icons and the footer and starts the audio from the beginning again.  The log is also processed.  Currently 1 second is taken off each click time to account for thinking and clicking.  I’ve extracted the data from the transcript of the audio and manually converted it into JSON data which is more easily processed by JavaScript.  Each ‘block’ consists of an ID, the transcribed content and the start and end times of the block in milliseconds.

For the time being for each click the script looks through the transcript data to find an entry where the click time is between the entry’s start and end times.  A tally of clicks for each transcript entry is then stored. This then gets outputted in the footer so you can see how things are getting worked out.  This is of course just test data – we’ll need smaller transcript areas for the real thing.  Currently nothing gets submitted to the server or stored – it’s all just processed in the browser.  I’ve tested the page out in several browsers in Windows, on my iPad and on my Android phone and the interface works perfectly well on mobile phone screens.  Below is a screenshot showing audio playback and four linguistic features ‘logged’:

Also this week I had a conversation with the editor of the AND about updating the varlist dates.  I also updated the DTD to allow the new ‘usevardate’ attribute to be used to identify occasions where a varlist date should be used as the earliest citation date.  We also became aware that a small number of entries in the online dictionary are referencing an old DTD on the wrong server so I updated these.

Week Beginning 18th October 2021

I was back at work this week after having a lovely holiday in Northumberland last week.  I spent quite a bit of time in the early part of the week catching up with emails that had come in whilst I’d been off.  I fixed an issue with Bryony Randall’s https://imprintsarteditingmodernism.glasgow.ac.uk/ site, which was put together by an external contractor, but I have now inherited.  The site menu would not update via the WordPress admin interface and after a bit of digging around in the source files for the theme it would appear that the theme doesn’t display a menu anywhere, that is the menu which is editable from the WordPress Admin interface is not the menu that’s visible on the public site.  That menu is generated in a file called ‘header.php’ and only pulls in pages / posts that have been given one of three specific categories: Commissioned Artworks, Commissioned Text or Contributed Text (which appear as ‘Blogs’).  Any post / page that is given one of these categories will automatically appear in the menu.  Any post / page that is assigned to a different category or has no assigned category doesn’t appear.  I added a new category to the ‘header’ file and the missing posts all automatically appeared in the menu.

I also updated the introductory texts in the mockups for the STAR websites and replied to a query about making a place-names website from a student at Newcastle.  I spoke to Simon Taylor about a talk he’s giving about the place-name database and gave him some information on the database and systems I’d created for the projects I’ve been involved with.  I also spoke to the Iona Place-names people about their conference and getting the website ready for this.

I also had a chat with Luca Guariento about a new project involving the team from the Curious Travellers project.  As this is based in Critical Studies Luca wondered whether I’d write the Data Management Plan for the project and I said I would.  I spent quite a bit of time during the rest of the week reading through the bid documentation, writing lists of questions to ask the PI, emailing the PI, experimenting with different technologies that the project might use and beginning to write the Plan, which I aim to complete next week.

The project is planning on running some pre-digitised images of printed books through an OCR package and I investigated this.  Google owns and uses a program called Tesseract to run OCR for Google Books and Google Docs and it’s freely available (https://opensource.google/projects/tesseract).  It’s part of Google Docs – if you upload an image of text into Google Drive then open it in Google Docs the image will be automatically OCRed.  I took a screenshot of one of the Welsh tour pages (https://viewer.library.wales/4690846#?c=&m=&s=&cv=32&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F4690846%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=-691%2C151%2C4725%2C3632) and cropped the text and then opened it in Google Docs and even on this relatively low resolution image the OCR results are pretty decent.  It managed to cope with most (but not all) long ‘s’ characters and there are surprisingly few errors – ‘Englija’ and ‘Lotty’ are a couple and have been caused by issues with the original print quality.  I’d say using Tesseract is going to be suitable for the project.

I spent a bit of time working on the Speak For Yersel project.  We had a team meeting on Thursday to go through in detail how one of the interactive exercises will work.  This one will allow people to listed to a sound clip and then relisten to it in order to click whenever they hear something that identifies the speaker as coming from a particular location.  Before the meeting I’d prepared a document giving an overview of the technical specification of the feature and we had a really useful session discussing the feature and exactly how it should function.  I’m hoping to make a start on a mockup of the feature next week.

Also for the project I’d enquired with Arts IT Support as to whether the University held a license for ArcGIS Online, which can be used to publish maps online.  It turns out that there is a University-wide license for this which is managed by the Geography department and a very helpful guy called Craig MacDonell arranged for me and the other team members to be set up with accounts for it.  I spent a bit of time experimenting with the interface and managed to publish a test heatmap based on data from SCOSYA.  I can’t get it to work directly with the SCOSYA API as it stands, but after exporting and tweaking one of the sets of rating data as a CSV I pretty quickly managed to make a heatmap based on the ratings and publish it: https://glasgow-uni.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/interactivelegend/index.html?appid=9e61be6879ec4e3f829417c12b9bfe51 This is just a really simple test, but we’d be able to embed such a map in our website and have it pull in data dynamically from CSVs generated in real-time and hosted on our server.

Also this week I had discussions with the Dictionaries of the Scots Language people about how dates will be handled.  Citation dates are being automatically processed to add in dates as attributes that can then be used for search purposes.  Where there are prefixes such as ‘a’ and ‘c’ the dates are going to be given ranges based on values for these prefixes.  We had a meeting to discuss the best way to handle this.  Marc had suggested that having a separate prefix attribute rather than hard coding the resulting ranges would be best.  I agreed with Marc that having a ‘prefix’ attribute would be a good idea, not only because it means we can easily tweak the resulting date ranges at a later point rather than having them hard-coded, but also because it then gives us an easy way to identify ‘a’, ‘c’ and ‘?’ dates if we ever want to do this.  If we only have the date ranges as attributes then picking out all ‘c’ dates (e.g. show me all citations that have a date between 1500 and 1600 that are ‘c’) would require looking at the contents of each date tag for the ‘c’ character which is messier.

A concern was raised that not having the exact dates as attributes would require a lot more computational work for the search function, but I would envisage generating and caching the full date ranges when the data is imported into the API so this wouldn’t be an issue.  However, there is a potential disadvantage to not including the full date range as attributes in the XML, and this is that if you ever want to use the XML files in another system and search the dates through it the full ranges would not be present in the XML so would require processing before they could be used.  But whether the date range is included in the XML or not I’d say it’s important to have the ‘prefix’ as an attribute, unless you’re absolutely sure that being able to easily identify dates that have a particular prefix isn’t important.

We decided that prefixes would be stored as attributes and that the date ranges for dates with a prefix would be generated whenever the data is exported from the DSL’s editing system, meaning editors wouldn’t have to deal with noting the date ranges and all the data would be fully usable without further processing as soon as it’s exported.

Also this week I was given access to a large number of images of registers from the Advocates Library that had been digitised by the NLS.  I downloaded these, batch processed them to add in the register numbers as a prefix to the filenames, uploaded the images to our server, created register records for each register and page records for each page.  The registers, pages and associated images can all now be accessed via our CMS.

My final task of the week was to continue work on the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.  I completed work on the script identifies which citations have varlists and which may need to have their citation date updated based on one of the forms in the varlist.  What the script does is to retrieve all entries that have a <varlist> somewhere in them.  It then grabs all of the forms in the <head> of the entry.  It then goes through every attestation (main sense and subsense plus locution sense and subsense) and picks out each one that has a <varlist> in it.

For each of these it then extracts the <aform> if there is one, or if there’s not then it extracts the final word before the <varlist>.  It runs a Levenshtein test on this ‘aform’ to ascertain how different it is from each of the <head> forms, logging the closest match (0 = exact match of one form, 1 = one character different from one of the forms etc).  It then picks out each <ms_form> in the <varlist> and runs the same Levenshtein test on each of these against all forms in the <head>.

If the score for the ‘aform’ is lower or equal to the lowest score for an <ms_form> then the output is added to the ‘varlist-aform-ok’ spreadsheet.  If the score for one of the <ms_form> words is lower than the ‘aform’ score the output is added to the ‘varlist-vform-check’ spreadsheet.

My hope is that by using the scores we can quickly ascertain which are ok and which need to be looked at by ordering the rows by score and dealing with the lowest scores first.  In the first spreadsheet there are 2187 rows that have a score of 0.  This means the ‘aform’ exactly matches one of the <head> forms.  I would imagine that these can safely be ignored.  There are a further 872 that have a score of 1, and we might want to have a quick glance through these to check they can be ignored, but I suspect most will be fine.  The higher the score the greater the likelihood that the ‘aform’ is not the form that should be used for dating purposes and one of the <varlist> forms should instead.  These would need to be checked and potentially updated.

The other spreadsheet contains rows where a <varlist> form has a lower score than the ‘aform’ – i.e. one of the <varlist> forms is closer to one of the <head> forms than the ‘aform’ is.  These are the ones that are more likely to have a date that needs updated. The ‘Var forms’ column lists each var form and its corresponding score.  It is likely that the var form with the lowest score is the form that we would need to pick the date out for.

In terms of what the editors could do with the spreadsheets:  My plan was that we’d add an extra column to note whether a row needs updated or not – maybe called ‘update’ – and be left blank for rows that they think look ok as they are and containing a ‘Y’ for rows that need to be updated.  For such rows they could manually update the XML column to add in the necessary date attributes.  Then I could process the spreadsheet in order to replace the quotation XML for any attestations that needs updated.

For the ‘vform-check’ spreadsheet I could update my script to automatically extract the dates for the lowest scoring form and attempt to automatically add in the required XML attributes for further manual checking, but I think this task will require quite a lot of manual checking from the onset so it may be best to just manually edit the spreadsheet here too.

Week Beginning 6th September 2021

I spent more than a day this week preparing my performance and development review form.  It’s the first time there’s been a PDR since before covid and it took some time to prepare everything.  Thankfully this blog provides a good record of everything I’ve done so I could base my form almost entirely on the material found here, which helped considerably.

Also this week I investigated and fixed an issue with the SCOTS corpus for Wendy Anderson.  One of the transcriptions of two speakers had the speaker IDs the wrong way round compared to the IDs in the metadata.  This was slightly complicated to sort out as I wasn’t sure whether it was better to change the participant metadata to match the IDs used in the text or vice-versa.  It turned out to be very difficult to change the IDs in the metadata as they are used to link numerous tables in the database, so instead I updated the text that’s displayed.  Rather strangely, the ‘download plan text’ file contained different incorrect IDs.  I fixed this as well, but it does make me worry that the IDs might be off in other plain text transcriptions too.  However, I looked at a couple of others and they seem ok, though, so perhaps it’s an isolated case.

I was contacted this week by a lecturer in English Literature who is intending to put a proposal together for a project to transcribe an author’s correspondence, and I spent some time writing a lengthy email with home helpful advice.  I also spoke to Jennifer Smith about her ‘Speak for Yersel’ project that’s starting this month, and we arranged to have a meeting the week after next.  I also spent quite a bit of time continuing to work on mockups for the STAR project’s websites based on feedback I’d received on the mockups I completed last week.  I created another four mockups with different colours, fonts and layouts, which should give the team plenty of options to decide from.  I also received more than a thousand new page images of library registers for the Books and Borrowing project and processed these and uploaded them to the server.  I’ll need to generate page records for them next week.

Finally, I continued to make updates to the Textbase search facilities for the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.  I updated genre headings to make them bigger and bolder, with more of a gap between the heading and the preceding items.  I also added a larger indent to the items within a genre and reordered the genres based on a new suggested order.  For each book I included the siglum as a link through to the book’s entry on the bibliography page and in the search results where a result’s page has an underscore in it the reference now displays volume and page number (e.g. 3_801 displays as ‘Volume 3, page 801’).  I updated the textbase text page so that page dividers in the continuous text also display volume and page in such cases.

Highlighted terms in the textbase text page no longer have padding around them (which was causing what looked like spaces when the term appears mid-word).  The text highlighting is unfortunately a bit of a blunt instrument, as one of the editors discovered by searching for the terms ‘le’ and fable’:  term 1 is located and highlighted first, then term 2 is.  In this example the first term is ‘le’ and the second term is ‘fable’.  Therefore the ‘le’ in ‘fable’ is highlighted during the first sweep and then ‘fable’ itself isn’t highlighted as it has already been changed to have the markup for the ‘le’ highlighting added to it and no longer matches ‘fable’.  Also, ‘le’ is matching some HTML tags buried in the text (‘style’), which is then breaking the HTML, which is why some HTML is getting displayed.  I’m not sure much can be done about any of this without a massive reworking of things, but it’s only an issue when searching for things like ‘le’ rather than actual content words so hopefully it’s not such a big deal.

The editor also wondered whether it would be possible to add in an option for searching and viewing multiple terms altogether but this would require me to rework the entire search and it’s not something I want to tackle if I can avoid it.  If a user wants to view the search results for different terms they can select two terms then open the full results in a new tab, repeating the process for each pair of terms they’re interested in, switching from tab to tab as required. Next week I’ll need to rename some of the textbase texts and split one of the texts into two separate texts, which is going to require me to regenerate the entire dataset.

Week Beginning 23rd August 2021

This week I completed work on a first version of the textbase search facilities for the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.  I’ve been working on this over the past three weeks and it’s now fully operational, quick to use and does everything that was required of it.  I completed work on the KWIC ordering facilities, adding in a drop-down list that enables the user to order the results either by the term or any word to the left or right of the term.  When results are ordered by a word to the left or right of the search term that word is given a yellow highlight so you can easily get your eye on the word that each result is being ordered by.  I ran into a few difficulties with the ordering, for example accented initial characters were being sorted after ‘z’, and upper case characters were all sorted before lower case characters, but I’ve fixed these issues.  I also updated the textbase page so that when you load a text from the results a link back to the search results appears at the top of the page.  You can of course just use the ‘back’ button to return to the search results. Also, all occurrences of the search term throughout the text are highlighted in yellow.  There are possibly some further enhancements that could be made here (e.g. we could have a box that hovers on the screen like the ‘Top’ button that contains a summary of your search and a link back to the results, or options to load the next or previous result) but I’ll leave things as they are for now as what’s there might be good enough.  I also fixed some bugs that were cropping up, such as an exact search term not appearing in the search box when you return to refine your results (caused by double quotes needing to be changed to the code ‘%22’).

I then began thinking about the development of a proximity search for the textbase.  As with the old site, this will allow the user to enter two search terms and specify the maximum number of words before or after the first term the second one appears.  The results will then be displayed in a KWIC form with both terms highlighted.  It took quite some time to think through the various possibilities for this feature.  The simplest option from a technical point of view would be to process the first term as with the regular search, retrieve the KWIC for each result and then search this for the second term.  However, this wouldn’t allow the user to search for an exact match for the second term, or use wildcards, as the KWIC only contains the full text as written, complete with punctuation.  Instead I decided to make the proximity search as similar to and as consistent with the regular textbase search as possible.  This means the user will be able to enter the two terms with wildcards and two lists of possible exact matches will be displayed, from which the user can select term 1 and term 2.  Then at this point the exact matches for term 1 will be returned and in each case a search will be performed to see whether term 2 is found however number of words specified before or after term 1.  This will rely on the ‘word order’ column that I already added to the database, but will involve some complications when term 1 is near the very start or end of a page (as the search will then need to look at the preceding or following page).  I ran a few tests of this process directly via the database and it seemed to work ok, but I’ll just need to see whether there are any speed issues when running such queries on potentially thousands of results.

With this possible method in place I began working on a new version of the textbase search page that will provide both the regular concordance search and the new proximity search.  As with the advanced search on the AND website, these will be presented on one page in separate tabs, and this required much reworking of the existing page and processing scripts.  I had to ensure that HTML elements that previously used IDs but would need to be replicated in each tab and would therefore no longer be unique would still be valid.  This meant some major reworking of the genre and book selection options, both in the HTML and in the JavaScript that handles the selection and deselection.  I also had to ensure that the session variables relating to the search could handle multiple types of search and that links would return the user to the correct type of search.  By the end of the week I had got a search form for the proximity search in place, with facilities to limit the search to specific texts or genres and options to enter two terms, the maximum number of words between the terms and whether term 1 should appear before or after term 2 (or either).  Next week I’ll need to update the API to provide the endpoint to actually run such a search.

Also this week I had an email from Bryony Randall about her upcoming exhibition for her New Modernist Editing project.  The exhibition will feature a live website (https://www.blueandgreenproject.com/) running on a tablet in the venue and Bryony was worried that the wifi at the venue wouldn’t be up to scratch.  She asked whether I could create a version of the site that would run locally without an internet connection, and I spent some time working on this.

Looking at the source of the website it would appear to have been constructed using the online website creation platform https://www.wix.com/.  I’d never used this before, but it will have an admin interface where you can create and manage pages and such things.  The resulting website is integrated with the online Wix platform and (after a bit of Googling) it looked like there isn’t a straightforward way to export pages created using Wix for use elsewhere.  However, the site only consisted of 20 or so static pages (i.e. no interactive elements other than links to other pages) so I thought it would be possible to just save each page as HTML, go through each of the files and update the links and then the resulting pages could potentially run directly in a browser.  However, after trying this would I realised that there were some issues.  Looking at the source there are numerous references to externally hosted scripts and files, such as JavaScript files, fonts and images that were not downloaded when the webpage was saved and these would all be inaccessible if the internet connection was lost, which would likely result in a broken website.  I also realised that the HTML generated by WIX is a pretty horrible tangled mess, and getting this to work nicely would take a lot of work.  I therefore decided to just create a replica of the site from scratch using Bootstrap.

However, it was only after this point that I was informed that the local site would need to run on a tablet rather than a full PC.  The tablet is an Android one, which seriously complicates matters as unlike a proper computer, Android imposes restrictions on what you can and can’t do, and one of the things you can’t do is run locally hosted websites in the browser.  I tried several approaches to get my test site working on my Android phone and with all of the straightforward ways I can get the HTML file to load into the browser, but not any associated files – no images, stylesheets or JavaScript.  This is obviously not acceptable.  I did manage to get it to work, but only by using an app that runs a server on the device and by using absolute file references to the IP address the server app uses in the files (relative file references just did not work).  The app I used was called Simple HTTP Server (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.ubi.common.http.server) and once configured it worked pretty well.

I continued to work on my replica of the site, getting all of the content transferred over.  This took longer than I anticipated, as some of the pages are quite complicated (artworks including poetry, images, text and audio) but I managed to get everything done before the end of the week.  In the end it turned out that the wifi at the venue was absolutely fine so my replica site wasn’t needed, but it was still a good opportunity to learn about hosting a site on an Android device and to hone my Bootstrap skills.

Also this week I helped Katie Halsey of the Books and Borrowing project with a query about access to images, had a look through the final version of Kirsteen McCue’s AHRC proposal and spoke to Eleanor Lawson about creating some mockups of the interface to the STAR project websites, which I will start on next week.

Week Beginning 9th August 2021

I’d taken last week off as our final break of the summer, and we spent it on the Kintyre peninsula.  We had a great time and were exceptionally lucky with the weather.  The rains began as we headed home and I returned to a regular week of work.  My major task for the week was to begin work on the search facilities for the Anglo-Norman Dictionary’s textbase, a collection of almost 80 lengthy texts for which I had previously created facilities to browse and view texts.  The editors wanted me to replicate the search options that were available through the old site, which enabled a user to select which texts to search (either individual texts or groups of texts arranged by genre), enter a single term to search (either a full match or partial match at the beginning or end of a word), select a specific term from a list of possible matches and then view each hit via a keyword in context (KWIC) interface, showing a specific number of words before and after the hit, with a link through to the full text opened at that specific point.

This is a pretty major development and I decided initially that I’d have two major tasks to tackle.  I’d have to categorise the texts by their genre and I’d have to research how best to handle full text searching including limiting to specific texts, KWIC and reordering KWIC, and linking through to specific pages and highlighting the results.  I reckoned it was potentially going to be tricky as I don’t have much experience with this kind of searching.  My initial thought was to see whether Apache Solr might be able to offer the required functionality.  I used this for the DSL’s advanced search, which searches the full text of the entries and returns snippets featuring the word, with the word highlighted and the word then highlighted throughout the entry when an entry in the results is loaded (e.g. https://dsl.ac.uk/results/dreich/fulltext/withquotes/both/).  This isn’t exactly what is required here, but I hoped that there might be further options I can explore.  Failing that I wondered whether I could repurpose the code for the Scottish Corpus of Texts and Speech.  I didn’t create this site, but I redeveloped it significantly a few years ago and may be able to borrow parts from the concordance search. E.g. https://scottishcorpus.ac.uk/advanced-search/ and select ‘general’ then ‘word search’ then ‘word / phrase (concordance)’ then search for ‘haggis’ and scroll down to the section under the map.  When opening a document you can then cycle through the matching terms, which are highlighted, e.g. https://scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=1572&highlight=haggis#match1.

After spending some further time with the old search facility and considering the issues I realised there are a lot of things to be considered regarding preparing the texts for search purposes.  I can’t just plug the entire texts in as only certain parts of them should be used for searching – no front or back matter, no notes, textual apparatus or references.  In addition, in order to properly ascertain which words follow on from each other all XML tags need to be removed too, and this introduces issues where no space has been entered between tags but a space needs to exist between the contents of the tags, e.g. ‘dEspayne</item><item>La charge’ would otherwise become ‘dEspayneLa charge’.

As I’d need to process the texts no matter which search facility I end up using I decided to focus on this first, and set up some processing scripts and a database on my local PC to work with the texts.  Initially I managed to extract the page contents for each required page, remove notes etc and strip the tags and line breaks so that the page content is one continuous block of text.

I realised that the old search seems to be case sensitive, which doesn’t seem very helpful.  E.g. search for ‘Leycestre’ and you find nothing – you need to enter ‘leycestre’, even though all 264 occurrences actually have a capital L.  I decided to make the new search case insensitive – so searching for ‘Leycestre’, ‘leycestre’ or ‘LEYCESTRE’ will bring back the same results.  Also, the old search limits the keyword in context display to pages.  E.g. the first ‘Leycestre’ hit has no text after it as it’s the last word on the page.  I’m intending to take the same approach as I’m processing text on a page-by-page basis.  I may be able to fill out the KWIC with text from the preceding / subsequent page if you consider this to be important, but it would be something I’d have to add in after the main work is completed.  The old search also limits the KWIC to text that’s on the same line, e.g. in a search for ‘arcevesque’ the result ‘L’arcevesque puis metre en grant confundei’ has no text before because it’s on a different line (it also chops off the end of ‘confundeisun’ for some reason).  The new KWIC will ignore breaks in the text (other than page breaks) when displaying the context.  I also realised that I need to know what to do about words that have apostrophes in them.  The old search splits words on the apostrophe, so for example you can search for arcevesque but not l’arcevesque.  I’m intending to do the same.  The old search retains both parts before and after the apostrophe as separate search terms, so for example in “qu’il” you can search for “qu” and “il” (but not “qu’il”).

After some discussions with the editor, I updated my system to include textual apparatus, stored in a separate field to the main page text.  With all of the text extracted I decided that I’d just try and make my own system initially, to see whether it would be possible.  I therefore created a script that would take each word from the extracted page and textual apparatus fields and store this in a separate table, ensuring that words with apostrophes in them are split into separate words and for search purposes all non-alphanumeric characters are removed and the text is stored as lower-case.  I also needed to store the word as it actually appears in the text, the word order on the page and whether the word is a main page word or in the textual apparatus.  This is because after finding a word I’ll need to extract those around it for the KWIC display.  After running my script I ended up with around 3.5 million rows in the ‘words’ table, and this is where I ran into some difficulties.

I ran some test queries on the local version of the database and all looked pretty promising, but after copying the data to the server and running the same queries it appeared that the server is unusably slow.  On my desktop a query  to find all occurrences of ‘jour’, with the word table joined to the page table and then to the text table completed in less than 0.5 seconds but on the server the same query took more than 16 seconds, so about 32 times slower.  I tried the same query a couple of times and the results are roughly the same each time.  My desktop PC is a Core i5 with 32GB of RAM, and the database is running on an NVMe M.2 SSD, which no doubt makes things quicker, but I wouldn’t expect it to be 32 times quicker.

I then did some further experiments with the server.  When I query the table containing the millions of rows on its own the query is fast (much less than a second).  I added a further index to the column that is used for the join to the page table (previously it was indexed, but in combination with other columns) and then when limiting the query to just these two tables the query runs at a fairly decent speed (about 0.5 seconds).  However, the full query involving all three tables still takes far too long, and I’m not sure why.  It’s very odd as there are indexes on the joining columns and the additional table is not big – it only has 77 rows.  I read somewhere that ordering the results by a column in the joined table can make things slower, as can using descending order on a column, so I tried updating the ordering but this has had no effect.  It’s really weird – I just can’t figure out why adding the table has such a negative effect on the performance and I may end up just having to incorporate some of the columns from the text table into the page table, even though it will mean duplicating data.  I also still don’t know why the performance is so different on my local PC either.

One final thing I tried was to change the database storage type.  I noticed that the three tables were set to use MyISAM storage rather than InnoDB, which the rest of the database was set to.  I migrated the tables to InnoDB in the hope that this might speed things up, but it’s actually slowed things down, both on my local PC and the server.  The two-table query now takes several seconds while the three-table query now takes about the same, so is quicker, but still too slow.  On my desktop PC the speed has doubled to about 1 second.  I therefore reverted back to using MyISAM.

I decided to leave the issue of database speed at that point and to focus on other things instead.  I added a new ‘genre’ column to the texts and added in the required categorisation.  I then updated the API to add in this new column and updated the ‘browse’ and ‘view’ front-ends so that genre now gets displayed.  I then began work on the front-end for the search, focussing on the options for listing texts by genre and adding in the options to select / deselect specific texts or entire genres of text.  This required quite a bit of HTML, JavaScript and CSS work and made a nice change from all of the data processing.  By the end of the week I’d completed work on the text selection facility, and next week I’ll tackle the actual processing of the search, at which point I’ll know whether my database way of handling things will be sufficiently speedy.

Also this week I had a chat with Eleanor Lawson about the STAR project that has recently begun.  There was a project meeting last week that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend due to my holiday, so we had an email conversation about some of the technical issues that were raised at the meeting, including how it might be possible to view videos side by side and how a user may choose to select multiple videos to be played automatically one after the other.

I also fixed a couple of minor formatting issues for the DSL people and spoke to Katie Halsey, PI of the Books and Borrowing project about the development of the API for the project and the data export facilities.  I also received further feedback from Kirsteen McCue regarding the Data Management Plan for her AHRC proposal and went through this, responding to the comments and generating a slightly tweaked version of the plan.

 

Week Beginning 26th July 2021

I returned to Glasgow for a more regular week of working from home, after spending a delightful time at my parents’ house in Yorkshire for the past two weeks.  I continued to work on the Comparative Kingship front-ends this week.  I fixed a couple of issues with the content management systems, such as ensuring that the option to limit the list of place-names by parish worked for historical parishes and fixing an issue whereby searching by sources was returning zero results.  Last week I’d contacted Chris Fleet at NLS Maps to ask whether we might be able to incorporate a couple of maps of Ireland that they host into our resource, and Chris got back to me with a very helpful reply, giving us permission to use the maps and also pointing out some changes to the existing map layers that I could make.

I updated the attribution links on the site, and pointed the OS six-inch map links to the NLS’s hosting on AWS.  I also updated these things on the other place-name resources I’ve created too.  We had previously been using a modern OS map layer hosted by the NLS, and Chris pointed out that a more up to date version could now be accessed directly from the OS website (see Chris’s blog post here: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/newsroom/blog/comparing-past-present-new-os-maps-api-layers).  I followed the instructions and signed up for an OS API key, and it was then a fairly easy process to replace the OS layer with the new one.  I did the same with the other place-name resources too, and its looks pretty good.  See for example how it looks on a map showing placenames beginning with ‘B’ on the Berwickshire site: https://berwickshire-placenames.glasgow.ac.uk/place-names/?p=results&source=browse&reels_name=B*#13/55.7939/-2.2884/resultsTabs-0/code/tileOS//

With these changes and the Irish historical maps in place I continued to work on the Irish front-end.  I added in the parish boundaries for all of the currently required parishes and also added in three-letter acronyms that the researcher Nick Evans had created for each parish.  These are needed to identify the parishes on the map, as full parish names would clutter things up too much.  I then needed to manually positing each of the acronyms on the map, and to do so I updated the Irish map to print the latitude and longitude of a point to the console whenever a mouse click is made.  This made it very easy to grab the coordinates of an ideal location for each acronym.

There were a few issues with the parish boundaries, and Nick wondered whether the boundary shapefiles he was using might work better.  I managed to open the parish boundary shapefile in QGIS, converted the boundary data to WGS84 (latitude / longitude) and then extracted the boundaries as a GeoJSON file that I can use with my system.  I then replaced the previous parish boundaries with the ones from this dataset, but unfortunately something was not right with the positioning.  The northern Irish ones appear to be too far north and east, with the boundary for BNT extending into the sea rather than following the coast and ARM not even including the town of Armoy, as the following screenshot demonstrates:

In QGIS I needed to change the coordinate reference system from TM65 / Irish Grid to WGS84 to give me latitude and longitude values, and I wondered whether this process had caused the error, therefore I loaded the parish data into QGIS again and added an OpenStreetMap base map to it too, and the issue with the positioning is still apparent in the original data, as you can see from the following QGIS screenshot:

I can’t quite tell if the same problem exists with the southern parishes.  I’d positioned the acronyms in the middle of the parishes and they mostly still seem to be in the middle, which suggests these boundaries may be ok, although I’m not sure how some could be wrong while others are correct as everything is joined together.  After consultation with Nick I reverted to the original boundaries, but kept a copy of the other ones in case we want to reinstate them in future.

Also this week I investigated a strange issue with the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, whereby a quick search for ‘resoler’ brings back an ‘autocomplete’ match, but then finds zero results if you click on it.  ‘Resoler’ is a cross-reference entry and works in the ‘browse’ option too.  It seemed very strange that the redirect from the ‘browse’ would work, and also that a quick search for ‘resolut’, which is another variant of ‘resoudre’ was also working.  It turns out that it’s an issue with the XML for the entry for ‘resoudre’.  It lists ‘resolut’ as a variant, but does not include ‘resoler’ as you can see:

<variant gram=”imp.5″>resolvez</variant>

<deviant gram=”imp.5″>resoylez</deviant>

<varref><reference><source siglum=”Alchimie”><loc>380.5</loc></source></reference></varref>

<variant gram=”p.p.”>resolé</variant>

<variant>resolu</variant>

<variant>resolut</variant>

<newvargroup/>

<variant gram=”p.p.pl.”>resolous</variant>

<deviant gram=”p.p.pl.”>resouz</deviant>

<varref><reference><source siglum=”Secr1″><loc>1524</loc></source></reference></varref>

<deviant>resus</deviant>

<varref><reference><source siglum=”Alchimie”><loc>379.1</loc></source></reference></varref>

The search uses the variants / deviants from the XML to figure out which main entry to load from a cross reference.  As ‘resoler’ is not present the system doesn’t know what entry ‘resoler’ refers to and therefore displays no results.  I pointed this out to the editor, who changed the XML to add in the missing variant, which fixed the issue.

Also this week I responded to some feedback on the Data Management Plan for Kirsteen’s project, which took a little time to compile, and spoke to Jennifer Smith about her upcoming follow-on project for SCOSYA, which begins in September and I’ll be heavily involved with.  I also had a chat with Rhona about the ancient DSL server that we should now be able to decommission.

Finally, Gerry Carruthers sent me some further files relating to the International Journal of Scottish Theatre, which he is hoping we will be able to host an archive of at Glasgow.  It consisted of a database dump, which I imported into a local database and had a look at it.  It mostly consists of tables used to manage some sort of editorial system and doesn’t seem to contain the full text of the articles.  Some of the information contained in it may be useful, though – e.g. it stores information about article titles, authors, the issues articles appear in, the original PDF filenames for each article etc.

In addition, the full text of the articles is available as both PDF and HTML in the folder ‘1>articles’.  Each article has a numerically numbered folder (e.g. 109) that contains two folders: ‘public’ and ‘submission’.  ‘public’ contains the PDF version of the article.  ‘submission’ contains two further folders: ‘copyedit’ and ‘layout’.  ‘copyedit’ contains an HTML version of the article while ‘layout’ contains a further PDF version.  It would be possible to use each HTML version as a basis for a WordPress version of the article.  However, some things need to be considered:

Does the HTML version always represent the final published version of the article?  The fact that it exists in folders labelled ‘submission’ and ‘copyedit’ and not ‘public’ suggests that the HTML version is likely to be a work in progress version and editorial changes may have been made to the PDF in the ‘public’ folder that are not present in the HTML version.  Also, there are sometimes multiple HTML versions of the article.  E.g. in the folder ‘1>articles>154>submission>copyedit’ there are two HTML files: ‘164-523-1-CE.htm’ and ‘164-523-2-CE.htm’.  These both contain the full text of the article but have different formatting (and may have differences in the content, but I haven’t checked this).

After looking at the source of the HML versions I realised these have been auto-generated from MS Word.  Word generates really messy, verbose HTML with lots of unnecessary tags and I therefore wanted to see what would happen if I copied and pasted it into WordPress.  My initial experiment was mostly a success, but WordPress treats line breaks in the pasted file as actual line breaks, meaning the text didn’t display as it should.  What I needed to do in my text editor was find and replace all line break characters (\r and \n) with spaces.  I also had to make sure I only copied the contents within the HTML <body> tag rather than the whole text of the file.  After that the process worked quite well.

However, there are other issues with the dataset.  For example, article 138 only has Word files rather than HTML or PDF files and article 142 has images in it, and these are broken in the HTML version of the article.  Any images in articles will probably have to be manually added in during proofreading.  We’ll need to consider whether we’ll have to get someone to manually migrate the data, or whether I can write a script that will handle the bulk of the process.

I had my second vaccination jab on Wednesday this week, which thankfully didn’t hit me as hard as the first one did.  I still felt rather groggy for a couple of days, though.  Next week I’m on holiday again, this time heaving to the Kintyre peninsula to a cottage with no internet or mobile signal, so I’ll be unreachable until the week after next.

Week Beginning 12th July 2021

I’m down visiting my parents in Yorkshire for the first time in 18 months this week and next, working a total of four days over the two-week period.  This week I mainly focussed on the Irish front-end for the Comparative Kingship place-names project, but also adding in some updates to the Scotland system that I recently set up, such as making the Gaelic forms of the classification codes visible and adding options to browse Gaelic forms of place-names and historical forms to the ‘Browse’ facility and ensuring the other place-name and historical form browses only bring back English forms.

The Irish system is mostly identical to the Scottish system, but I did need to make some changes that took a bit of time to implement.  As the place-names covered appear to be much more geographically spread out, I’ve allowed the map to be zoomed out further.  I’ve also had to remove the modern OS and historical OS map layers as they don’t cover Ireland, so currently there are only three map layers available (the default view, satellite view and satellite view with labels).  The Ordnance Survey of Ireland provides access to some historical map layers here: https://geohive.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=9def898f708b47f19a8d8b7088a100c4 but their terms and conditions makes it clear that you can’t use the maps on another online resource.  However, there are a couple of Irish maps on the NLS website, the Bartholomew Quarter-Inch 1940 (https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=9&lat=53.10286&lon=-7.34481&layers=13&b=1) and the GSGS One-Inch 1941-3 (https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=9&lat=53.10286&lon=-7.34481&layers=14&b=1) and we could investigate integrating these as the NLS maps people have always been very helpful.

I also updated the map pop-ups to include the new Irish data fields, such as baronies, townlands and the different map types.  Both English and Gaelic forms of things like parishes, baronies and classification codes are displayed throughout the site and on the Record page the ITM figures also appear.  I updated the ‘Browse’ page so that it features baronies and the element glossary should work, but I haven’t tested it out as there is no data yet.  The Advanced search features a selectable list of baronies and currently a simple textbox for townlands.  I may change this to an autocomplete (whereby you start typing and townlands that include the letters appear in a selectable list), or I may leave it as it is, meaning multiple townlands can be searched for and wildcard characters can be used.

I managed to locate downloadable files containing parish boundaries for Ireland here: https://www.townlands.ie/page/download/ and have added these to the data for the two parishes that currently contain data.  I haven’t added in any other parish boundaries yet as there are over 200 parishes in our database I don’t want to have to manually add in the boundaries for all of these if it won’t be necessary.  Also, on the Scotland maps the three-letter acronym appears in the middle of each parish in order to identify it, but the Irish parishes don’t have TLAs so currently don’t have any labels.  The full text of the parish will clutter up the map too much if I use it, so I’m not sure what we could do to label the parishes.

Also this week I responded to some feedback about the Data Management Plan for Kirsteen McCue’s proposal and created a slightly revised version.  I also had an email conversation with Eleanor Lawson about her new speech project and how the web presence for the project may function.  Finally, I made some tweaks to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, updating the layout of the ‘Contact’ page and updating the bibliography page on the new website so that URLs that use the old style IDs will continue to work.  I also had a chat with Rhona Alcorn about some new search options that we are going to add in to the new site before it goes live, although probably not until the autumn.

 

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!

Week Beginning 14th June 2021

I divided my time this week primarily into three.  Firstly, I wrote a Data Management Plan for Craig Lamont’s proposal.  I can’t really say much about it at this stage, but it took about a day to write, including several email conversations with Craig.

Secondly, I made some updates to the Books and Borrowing CMS.  This took some time to get started on as my access to the Stirling VPN had been cancelled, and without such access I couldn’t access the project’s server.  Thankfully with the help of Stirling’s Information Services people my access was reinstated on Monday and I could start working on the updates.  After familiarising myself with the systems again I had some further questions about the updates suggested by Matt Sangster, resulting in an email conversation and a suggestion by him that he discusses things further with the team next Monday.  Gerry McKeever had suggested some further updates, though, and I worked on these.

The first issue was the ordering of the ‘Books’ tab when viewing a library.  This list of books (of which there can be thousands) is paginated with 200 books per page, with options to order the table by a variety of columns (e.g. book name and number of associated borrowings).  However, the ordering was only ordering the subset of 200 books rather than the whole set.

I updated the page so that the complete dataset is reordered rather than just the 200 records that are displayed per page.  However, this has a massive performance hit that wipes out the page loading speed increase that was gained from paginating the list in the first place.  To reorder the data the page needs to load the entire dataset and then reorder it.  In the case of St Andrews this means that more than 7,200 book records need to be loaded, with multiple sub-queries for each of these records required to bring back the counts of borrowing records and information about book items, book editions and authors.

With the previous paginated way of viewing the data the CMS was taking a couple of seconds to load the ‘Books’ page for St Andrews.  With the new update in place it was taking more than 1 minute and 20 seconds for the page to load.  When running the exact same code and database on my local PC it was taking 10 seconds to load, so presumably the spec of my local PC is considerably better than the server (either that or it’s having to handle a lot of other database requests at the same time, which is affecting performance).

I had considered storing the data in a session variable, which would mean after the first horrendous load time the data would be ready and waiting in the server’s memory to be used until you closed your browser, however, as the data is continuously being worked on this would mean the information displayed would possibly not accurately reflect the current state of the data, which may be confusing.  What I am planning on doing when I develop the front-end is to create a cached version of the data, so counts of borrowing records etc won’t need to be recalculated each time a user queries something, but creating such a cached version wouldn’t really work whilst the data is still being worked on.  I could set the system up to refresh the cache every night, but that would mean the CMS would again not reflect the current state of the data, which isn’t good.  I also updated the ‘Borrowers’ page to allow full reordering of data here too.  This isn’t quite as slow as the books page.

I spoke to the server admin people to see if they could think of a reason why the server loading speed was so much worse that on my local PC.  They reckoned it was because the database is stored on a different server to the code, and the sheer number of individual queries being sent meant that small delays in connecting between servers were mounting up.  I reworked the code somewhat to try and streamline the number of database queries that need to be made.  Only two of the columns can now be selected to order the data by: Book Holding title and number of borrowing records.  I’m hoping these are the most important anyway.  I have updated the queries so that the bulk of the data is only retrieved for the 200 records that are on the visible page (as used to be the case) with only a single query of the holding table and then a further query for each relevant holding record to bring back a count of its borrowing records now being made on the full dataset (e.g. for St Andrews for each of the 7,391 books).  This has made a huge difference and has brought the page loading times back down to a more acceptable few seconds.

Gerry’s second request was that when the book list is limited to a specific register the counts of borrowings updated to reflect this.  I updated the code so that counts of borrowing records on both the ‘Books’ and ‘Borrowers’ tabs get limited to just the selected register and thankfully there was no performance hit associated with this update.

The third project of the week for me was the Anglo-Norman Dictionary.  As mentioned in last week’s lengthy post, I had discovered a fourth version of the texts for the textbase that appear to be the ones that the old site actually used.  I spent most of Tuesday splitting this fourth version of the texts into individual pages and preparing them for display.  They had new issues that needed to be tackled (following the previous process resulted in about 2,000 fewer pages and it turned out that this was caused by some page breaks in the fourth version not having ‘n’ numbers).  By the end of the day I’d managed to get the same number of pages as with my initial version, with the new pages available via the front-end and all working with spacing issues resolved.

I discovered that the weird spacing issue that I had previously thought was an issue with the first version of the texts I was working with had actually been introduced via the ‘Tidy’ library I’d used to remove mismatched opening and closing tags from sections of the XML that I’d split into pages.  It’s really bizarre, but the library was inserting space characters and rearranging existing space characters between tags in a way that completely destroyed the integrity of the data.  After some Googling I came across this item about the issue: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/15147711/php-tidy-removes-whitespace-and-inserts-newlines and a suggested way around the issue is to enclose the XML in a <pre> tag before passing it through the Tidy library, which means the library doesn’t mess about with the layout.  The placement of spaces in a text can be of vital importance so why the library by default messes with spaces and doesn’t even provide an option to stop the library doing so is baffling.  However, the <pre> hack worked, thankfully.

However, on Wednesday I received an email from the editor Geert to say that they had received approval for the AND to display each of the textbase texts in full on one page, rather than being split up into individual pages.  This was great news, but did mean that all my work on splitting up and reformatting the pages was all for nothing.  Still, that’s the way it goes sometimes.  As the week drew to a close I began working on a new version of the textbase, and by the end of the week I had completed a preliminary version of the textbase featuring the full content of each text on one long page.  I have to say it’s a lot easier to use now and is a massive improvement on having to navigate through hundreds of individual small pages.

The contents page is pretty much the same, and still includes a ‘jump to page’ feature, although this now takes you to the relevant section of the long page rather than an individual page.  When you load a text, either by clicking on its title or selecting a page the full text will load.

I added the copyright statement to the top as well as the bottom of the text to make it more visible, and have given it a blue background for a similar reason.  There is also a ‘jump to page’ feature on this page too, which takes you directly to the appropriate section of the text.  I also added an option to show / hide notes so you can hide them to declutter the page a bit.  The individual pages are divided with a horizontal line with the page number centred in the middle of this.  Explanatory notes appear in a grey section at the foot of each page.  There are still some things I need to work on, namely to go through each text to check that the formatting is correct throughout and to fix the footnote numbering and ordering.  I think I have a plan for this, but will need to look into this next week.

Also this week I heard that a proposal involving Jane Stuart-Smith and Eleanor Lawson at QMU that I helped put together last year has been funded and is due to stary in July, which is great news.  I also made a few further tweaks to the Dictionary of the Scots Language and had a chat about some new dictionaries that are going to be added to the site.