Author Archives: Ben Brumfield

A Frustrating Finish

It’s near my bedtime, and I’m sad to report a frustrating finish to my Day of DH.

Although I know exactly which modifications I need to make to the Scribe code-base to migrate it to Mongoid, I got stuck shaving a yack.  Specifically, just modifying the Gemfile for the project invoked an obscure bug in a package I’m not even using.  As a result, I haven’t even been able to start the modifications I was hoping to have finished by the afternoon, and find that it’s nearly time for bed.

The afternoon hasn’t been a total waste, however.  I spent some time arguing with strangers on the internet (specifically in a discussion about representing unclear handwriting when transcribing primary sources), which is always cathartic.  I also corresponded with the technical half of a manuscript transcription project which wants to host their material on, as well as a representative from a different project which is interested in using FromThePage to link primary sources.  I stole a few minutes to read Meghan Ferriter’s Prezi on crowdsourced transcription of field books, which I discovered through the Day of DH twitter stream.  I added a FAQ section to the Open Source Indexing  website.  And I got to feed my family, plant the garden with my two-year-old, and read part of a science fiction novel to my second-grader — an event which turned into a discussion of the difference between civil wars and international wars and the motivations of individual soldiers.

This year’s Day of DH has been far more stressful for me than last year’s.  Immediate deadlines, worries about funding, self-criticism about choices I’ve made over the last year, and a greater awareness of my own limitations have all served to dampen the euphoria I read in those posts.  Nevertheless, I remain optimistic about the opportunity to make a real difference in the world through this work and about my future in the community.



Open Source Indexing

It’s 2:11 PM here in Austin, and I’ve just finished the work I’d hoped to accomplish by 11.  Being an independent programmer means that I spend at least half of my time communicating.  Being an open source developer means that in addition to client emails and meetings, I need to publicize and drum up support for projects.

Sometimes that works — last week I sent out an appeal to several mailing lists for help with Open Source Indexing, a project to develop a general-purpose tool for transcribing tabular records into searchable, analyzable databases.  That yielded a few great responses from interested organizations who were willing to share their own indexing project ideas.  We’ll be using those ideas to test the flexibility of the tool, since you can’t generalize unless you have at least three data points.

I just finished converting those project specifications into a presentable format and posting them on the site, which mainly involved hand-editing a lot of HTML.  You can see the results here:

My hope is that by providing those example specifications, we can make it a bit easier for interested organizations to understand what kind of participation we’re asking for, and can raise awareness of the project.

Good Morning!

Last year’s Day of DH happened on my sixth day as a full-time, freelance digital history developer.  This Day of DH would be a great time to reflect on the year that’s elapsed since then, and to review my successes and failures trying to make a career out of programming where the library/archives/museum world intersects with the public history and genealogy worlds.  However, I’ve got deadlines to deal with, so I’d better just roll up my sleeves and jump in.

Today I plan to:

  • Update the Open Source Indexing website with the sample projects which have been submitted since last Tuesday’s Call for Participation.
  • Write an abstract for my talk at International Colloquium Itinera Nova
  • Fix what I hope is the last bug in our migration of MyopicVicar from the Mongo Mapper database driver to the Mongoid driver which has overtaken it.
  • Migrate Scribe from Mongo Mapper to Mongoid
  • Fold the Scribe codebase into the MyopicVicar codebase, so that people interested in Open Source Indexing will have a single repository to work with.

So far, all I’ve accomplished was a quick post to TEI-L this morning in between getting my two-year-old dressed and the rest of the family waking up.