Week Beginning 8th October 2012

I spent a lot of time this week on corpus related matters.  I managed to get a test corpus (well, in reality just one sentence) uploaded successfully through the CQPweb interface to our test instance of the Open Corpus Workbench, which felt like a real achievement.  The corpus appears to work successfully through the front end, including word frequency lists, searches and KWIC displays.  There is currently no access to the full text though and this still needs to be investigated.  I had a meeting this week with Stephen Barrett and Marc regarding corpus matters, which proved to be very useful.  We went through a few of the existing online corpora that utilise CWB / CQBweb which gave us some good ideas and we also discovered that I’d somehow managed to check out an older version of CQBweb from the Subversion repository.  After the meeting I rectified this and reinstalled the front end.  I also managed to get a couple of Stephen’s Celtic texts which he’d been having trouble with installed, and by the end of the week Stephen had managed to get his complete corpus uploaded, which really is progress.

I still haven’t got access to the SCOTS corpus server and I’ve chased up IT support about this.  Marc suggested that I might be able to get the necessary details from Flora and I’ll ask her next week if I’ve not heard anything further back from Chris.

Also this week I continued working on the mock-ups of the redevelopment of the STELLA applications.  This week I completed mock-ups for the ‘Essentials of Old English’ and I began looking into ‘Readings in Early English’.  The exercises for the Old English application threw up a number of conundrums for implementation, most notably how to deal with Old English characters ‘æ’ and ‘þ’ when users are required to input these.  For the app version we will be reliant on a mobile device’s built-in touchscreen keyboard that will overlay and obscure the web page.  These characters will not be available through this keyboard.  I’m still pondering how best to deal with this but it might be better for the sake of simplicity if we could just let users input ‘ae’ and ‘th’ instead of these characters and have the app transform these into ‘æ’ and ‘þ’ for display.

I had a couple of further meetings this week, one with Jeremy and then the general DROOG meeting.  Both were very fruitful.  I managed to speak to Jeremy about the ‘Essentials of Old English’ application as he created the content for this.  He would like to rewrite a lot of the content, although as he’s a very busy man I’m not sure when this might be completed.  He suggested prioritising ‘Readings in Early English’ initially.  At the DROOG meeting Marc suggested that ‘ARIES’ might be the best app to develop first as the online version of this tool continues to be used widely.  I think this is a good idea.

I demonstrated the mock-ups as they currently stand at the DROOG meeting and everyone seemed quite enthusiastic about them, which is encouraging.  I also had further contact with Alison Wiggins about a mobile / tablet version of the Bess of Hardwick site and it looks like we are going to take this forward.  We are hoping initially to make a mobile-friendly interface for the existing website (which shouldn’t take long) and we are hoping to put in a bid to develop a stand-alone app version of the letters after this.

Also this week I completed the migration of the Disability Studies Network from WordPress to Glasgow and that all seems to have worked out very smoothly.  I also had my first contact with the Burns people, providing some help on the addition of sound files to the Burns blog.  I’m meeting with the Burns project next week so I’ll find out more about my involvement then.

I’m still ensconced in the HATII attic this week, although I did peek once again into my new office.  It’s all pretty much finished now, but there is still no furniture and I’ve been told it might take a week or two to get furniture delivered even after I’ve been to the stores to select suitable pieces.  I emailed the estates people this week to see if there is any further news on a possible date of entry but I haven’t heard anything back yet.  I did think I might have flown the HATII nest by now.

Week Beginning 1st October 2012

I split this week primarily between four projects:  The SCOTS Corpus, the Open Corpus Workbench, the STELLA desktop applications and the Disability Studies Network, a project being run by two PhD students in English Literature.

Last week I met with Marc and Wendy to discuss some legacy issues with the SCOTS Corpus when running it in Chrome and modern versions of IE, and this week I began testing things out.  The main problem relates to the advanced search page, and would appear to be a Javascript issue.  Certain page elements have their display property set to ‘none’ within the HTML of the search page, and during page load some Javascript executes, initialising things like the Google map pane.  After everything is initialised Javascript then overrides the ‘display:none’ and makes the elements visible.  Only in Chrome and IE this last step isn’t being reached.  I’ve asked IT Support for access to the SCOTS server but they are still waiting for a port to be opened to allow me access.  Once this has been done I’ll try to find the cause of the problem.  Rather strangely, the advanced search page is working fine in my desktop version of IE9 yet fails to work in Wendy’s version, even though we are both running the same version number on Windows 7!

A couple of weeks ago Marc and I met with Stephen Barrett who is doing some corpus work for a project in Celtic. An outcome of this was to ask IT Support for a test server where we could install the Open Corpus Workbench (http://cwb.sourceforge.net/) and this week IT Support delivered.  I spent quite a bit of time this week installing the Open Corpus Workbench software and its dependencies on this server.  Setting up the back end software for the corpus was relatively straightforward once dependencies such as Perl packages and a C compiler had been installed, but some issues were encountered when installing the PHP based front end for the workbench, which took some time to investigate.  It turned out to be a database privileges problem – the system requires ‘Grant all’ privileges for the database it will use and this had not been selected for the database in question.  After that was resolved the front end appeared to work.  However, there is still a lot to be done in terms of customisation and configuration.  I attempted to get the Dickens test corpus working through the front end but attempting to install it resulted in errors, specifically “Pre-indexed corpora require s-attributes text and text_id!!”, which is a bit odd as I would have expected the test corpus provided through the CWB website to be in a format that would allow it to work in the front end without any further tweaking.  I still need to investigate this further.

After completing some mock-ups of an App and a Website version of the STELLA resource ‘ARIES’ last week, this week I created mock-ups for English Grammar: An Introduction. The exercises in this desktop application are very complex and text heavy and it took quite a while to come up with an app solution that would not require the user to type in lots of text.  I’m quite pleased with the mock-ups I’ve created and I think they should cover most of the eventualities the original desktop based application throws up.

My final main project of the week was the Disability Studies Network.  I met with Christine Ferguson and two of her PhD students who currently run a WordPress hosted blog for the Disability Studies Network.  They are wanting the blog to be migrated to the University of Glasgow domain to give it a more official feel and I ran through a few options with them in collaboration with Matthew Barr from the School of Humanities, who had spoken to them initially.  I agreed to set up a blog within the University domain, to apply the UoG WordPress theme that David Beavan had previously created (and modify it where necessary) and to migrate all of the content across.  I am about half-way through this task and aim to have everything ready for the students to use by the end of next week.

Week Beginning 24th September 2012

This week involved slightly less meetings than previous weeks, and for the first time since I started I managed to tackle some redevelopment tasks.  I managed to get access to some of the STELLA resources this week; access to some of the websites (but not all, yet) and access to the desktop-based applications.  Access to the latter was made possible by Arts Support bringing me one of the old STELLA lab machines for my desk.  I haven’t tried any of the applications yet but I have started to go through some of the server-based resources.

As a ‘quick win’ I tackled the issue of the ‘Basics of English Metre’ website (http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/STELLA/Metre/MetreHome.html) only working in Internet Explorer.  In other browsers none of the coloured text was working, and more importantly none of the Flash-based exercises were displaying.  The first problem was solved by removing non-standard comment tags from the CSS file while the Flash no-show was fixed by adding an additional tag (<embed>) within the <object> tag.  The <embed> tag was deprecated in HTML4 but has since reappeared in HTML5.  The Metre website isn’t actually HTML5 so use of the tag isn’t entirely valid but it does at least mean the Flash exercises are now working in Firefox and Chrome.  It should be noted that this is a temporary fix and eventually the whole website will be overhauled as there is still much about it that needs modernising.

Also this week I began to think about how to systematically implement an overhaul of the STELLA resources for both PC and Mobile devices.  I have begun the creation of mock-ups of both versions for one of the STELLA sites (ARIES – Assisted Revision in English Style) and should hopefully be in a position to show these to people next week for comment.  The redeveloped versions of the resources will be fully client-side, using nothing more than HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.  This should be sufficient for all of the STELLA resources, but it will mean migrating functionality from a very broad array of current systems including Flash, Applets, JSP, Moodle, PHP, ancient desktop based applications and others.  It’s going to take a long time to migrate every resource, and the task will need to be fitted in around other priorities within to school, so it’s unlikely that anything will be completed in the near future.

Also this week I met with Flora Edmonds to discuss the work she has done on a variety of projects such as the Historical Thesaurus, the Thesaurus of Old English and Mapping Metaphor.  It was really useful to see the databases for these systems and to learn more about how they work.  Flora is in the process of migrating some sites to a new server and will potentially be updating the interfaces to the thesaurus websites.  I offered to give Flora some ideas for enhancements to the user interfaces and to help out with PHP based issues if any crop up.  I also gave some advice to Alison Wiggins about the possibility of making a mobile version of the Bess of Hardwick site.

I had a meeting with Marc and Wendy about legacy corpus issues and I learnt a lot more about the system used by the corpora and some of the compatibility issues that have been encountered.  I will spend some time next week identifying problems with the interface when using IE and Chrome and will then aim to address these problems.  I also read through a lot of documentation relating to the corpus websites and attended this week’s Course 20 lecture, which was handily about corpora.

My final meeting of the week was with Mark Herraghty of the Cullen project.  This took up most of Friday morning and was very useful.  Mark is at the stage where he is investigating different possible avenues for working with the XML encoded letters for searching and display on the public website.  I was able to talk him through a number of previous projects I have been involved with that took quite different approaches to this problem, for example the French (http://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/ ) and Italian (http://italianemblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/ ) Emblems sites and the House of Fraser Archive (http://www.housefraserarchive.ac.uk/).

I also attended Graeme Caie’s retirement do on Thursday, which brought back very fond memories of being taught Old English as an undergraduate by Graeme.


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.

Week Beginning 10th September 2012

It was Fresher’s Week at the University this week, so University Avenue was mobbed, with loud music blaring from vans and free noodles on offer to passers by.  It’s definitely a sign of getting middle-aged when you can walk through a throng of people handing out advertising bumf to students and not one leaflet is pushed in your direction.

My second week as Digital Humanities Research Officer was spent meeting people in the School, emailing more people and gathering further information on the wide range of current and legacy projects that have a digital component in the School.

A big thing this week was the first meeting of the SCS Digital Resources Owners Group, which took place on Tuesday.  This was a really useful meeting, bringing together people involved in projects with a digital component from across the School so we know what’s going on, what the current priorities for development are and what’s on the horizon.  The meeting really helped to define what tasks I should and shouldn’t be tackling.  For example, itmy responsibility.  Instead this was considered an administrative task and ideally the School will get someone else to manage such updates, although I will help in identifying problems with the pages.

At the meeting it was agreed that my current priorities should be working with the Cullen project, fixing the issues that exist when using the Corpora sites with Internet Explorer and looking into updating the STELLA teaching resources to use HTML5 so that web and app versions can be released.

Also this week I had very useful meetings with Marc Alexander and Jane Stuart-Smith, which gave me further insight into the projects associated with STELLA and GULP respectively.  There was also a post-work beer on Monday evening for the prospective tenants of the top floor of 13 University Gardens, and it was great to meet such people as Jenny Bann, Tamara Rathcke, Brian Jose and Ellen Bramwell for the first time.

Speaking about the top floor of 13 University Gardens, the building work there has still not been completed so as of yet I’m still based next door in HATII.  There was some talk of it maybe taking until October before the big move can take place so we’ll just need to see how that goes.  Thankfully my HATII colleagues are managing to cope with my continued presence with good grace.

Last week I started compiling a spreadsheet of projects within the School that have a digital component.  I’m documenting each project’s name, its type (e.g. if it’s a STELLA resource, a Thesaurus resource etc), associated URLs, a note as to whether there is an associated digital resource available, a project description, the primary contact for the project, whether I have spoken to the contact about development / redevelopment of any associated digital resource, the funder, the status (i.e. Active or Inactive), the priority for redevelopment and some further notes.  I’ve managed to complete the list this week, with a total of 70 projects listed.  I will send the document to the participants of the DROG to see if they know of are any further important projects I’ve missed off.

Also this week I attended the Cullen project’s induction workshop for new transcribers, which was a really useful couple of hours.  I found out lots about the editing and transcription process and Mark gave a demonstration of the Cullen database system as well, which was really useful to see.  It seems like the project is really going well and all the groundwork is in place and very well established.

Next week I have meetings arranged with the Mapping Metaphor project and some further meetings with SCS staff to discuss projects past and present.  I’m also hoping to be able to get started on the modernisation of one of the STELLA teaching packages, which should be an enjoyable task.