Starting the day

Testing, testing, testing. In the absence of any NZ participants it looks like the Australian contingent will be spearheading the day while (most of) the rest of the participants are still asleep (or still in Wednesday)!

DofDH has dawned a nice day

Autumn is here and it’s cool and clear. A good day to get some work done, or blog the day away … I think I shall do like Steven and just take photos, and write a couple more blog entries to document them at the end of the day. Otherwise the blog will just get away with the day.

We are short-staffed and two of us are about to go away for extended periods (in my case over 3 months in Europe for the Computer Appplications in Archaeology and Digital Humanities conferences, and I’ll be renovating in France in between), so today will be a day of meetings. The morning mailbox was full of automated messages from our job tracking system, since I did a big cleanup yesterday – more of that today too.

First stop though is a stroll to the bike shop to pick up my bike after an expensive chain-twisting event …

The journey to work

A selection of images on the walk/ride to work through the (mostly) Victorian era suburbs of Camperdown, Forest Lodge and Glebe. For some reason the first image is the destination – Madsen Building, former home of the National Standards Laboratory and thus blessed with massively solid concrete floors. Despite the sandstone look, it is actually just a facade.

Madsen, coffee and the workspace

Well it started out with good intentions; to take photos, to blog from time to time … but soon the reality of the day’s work took over. But not before the taking on board of appropriate fuel …

Design meetings 1 – the relationship browser

In the end, my good intentions to indulge in a range of interesting Digital Humanities activities boiled down to one, that is if you discount email … Before heading to work I updated a document started back in August last year laying out my plans for Heurist version 3. The next entry picks up the tale. But first, Steven  Hayes gave us all a rundown on his recent work on the so-called generic relationship browser for Heurist.

The HRB is a Cocoon/XSLT processor for Heurist Markup Language (HML), Heurist’s native XML output which can be generated from any Heurist search. HML is intersting because it can drill down into the relationships between records and return nested data to a fixed or arbitrary depth. HRB renders the XML in different ways according to the type of record being viewed (lefthand panel) and shows the relationships for this record in the righthand panel.

The righthand panel primarily allows navigation, but the lefthand panel can include all sorts of smarts. For instance, records with TEI marked up text allow the selection and annotation of sections of text; the annotations themselves become Heurist records which show up in the righthand panel. The annotations can also become source documents in their own right, allowing individual works to be picked out of larger text streams,  saved (virtually) and itself become the base for further annotation. We are using this to develop a text editing workflow where the original OCRd or keyed data can be edited by markup rather than physical modification, conserving the original.

Discussion and new ideas ensued …

Design meeting 2 – Heurist version 3 (aka H3)

What is Heurist you ask? Sometimes described as ‘the database of everything’, it is a contortionista of a database (that is, very flexible!), providing, in no particular order, instant record type definition, collaboration, workgroups, blogging, rich text, annotation, tagging, web publishing, spatial and temporal data, mapping, timelines, multimedia, feeds, etc. etc. etc. Go visit and particularly the Help file where it is all described in excruciating detail (or at least will be when we catch up with the development cycle). You can also see some example Heurist applications by searching Heurist:  Heurist examples search

So what is H3?

Currently Heurist (Vsn 2) is a free service running on our server (there are a couple of other private installations). We run about 30 different Heurist databases for different projects, but all depend on a central core of definitions and although new definitions (record types, fields, values, ontologies, constraints etc.) can be added/changed in minutes, it has to be done by DIU staff to maintain consistency.

With H3, we plan to liberate Heurist from these constraints. It will be Open Source, easily installed (simply requiring PHP 5 and MySQL 5), distributed and peer-to-peer. Every copy of Heurist will be independant and can do as it pleases, adding, modifying or deleting definitions. However, installations of Heurist will be able to register themselves with a central index (which will itself be a Heurist database, of course), find other installations based on content keywords, import definitions selectively from other installations (including the central register), search and import data selectively (subject to the originator’s authorisation), and check for updated software.

Following the meeting I spent the rest of the day revising our specifications document – not exactly what I had intended, but ultimately quite satisfying to be in the position to finalise our thinking; we now have the design pretty much locked down ready for implementation (and have in fact started on some of the new components already, where they were clear). We hope to have the basic structure in place by the end of May and to be in a position to release H3 by August.

and so to close the day

Much as it has been fun, serious work calls …

I have just a couple of weeks before heading to the Computer Applications Conference in Granada. CAA is coming up to 40 years of conferences; I was at the second one in 1974 when real computer archaeologists programmed in assembler, none of this wimpy framework stuff; programs did calculations, not interfaces! CAA has produced a near complete series of proceedings which provides a wonderful record of the development of this branch of the Digital Humanities.

It’s not just textual scholars that have a long engagement with computers,  in fact computing in archaeology was alive and kicking in the 50s and 60s ; Factor Analysis, Cluster Analysis and Multi-Dimensional Scaling were all the range, then the French discovered Correspondance Analysis … Gardin was conceptualising while the archaeologist on the ground was writing primitive Apple II programs to do Chi squared tests and print out sectional visualisations.

Which leads me to my other project, a research retreat in France (near Sarlat, les Eyzies and the Dordogne River). By next year we will have accommodation for about 20, a generous conference room, and of course the context (woods, cliffs, chateaux and great food). This year, though, after CAA, I have renovations to pursue (while working, away from the interruptions of the University, on bringing H3 to fruition).

The ends of my annual travel cycle: Sydney and Esparoutis