frisket writes: Digital Humanities Quarterly is making its articles available as a "set of visualizations which will be published as a surrogate for the article", according to editor Julia Flanders of Northeastern University. "[This] helps address a growing problem of inequity between scholars who have time to read and those whose jobs are more technical or managerial and don’t allow time to keep up with the growing literature in DH. By removing the full text of the article from view and providing a surrogate that can be easily scanned in a few minutes, we hope to rectify this imbalance, putting everyone on an equal footing. A second, related problem has to do with the radical insufficiency of reading cycles compared with the demand for reading and citation to drive journal impact factor."
frisket writes: "As the new Mayan baktun starts, amid all the bogus apocalypse rumours, surely we need to celebrate this event with the Maya, as it won't re-occur any time soon. As chocolate was so important in their culture and religion, how's about we all bring some chocolate to our co-workers, friends, neighbours, relations, etc? Or do Slashdotters have even better ways to celebrate?"
" rel="nofollow">frisket writes: "The Register reports: "RBS and Natwest have failed to register inbound payments for up to three days, customers have reported, leaving people unable to pay for bills, travel and even food. The banks — both owned by RBS Group — have confirmed that technical glitches have left bank accounts displaying the wrong balances and certain services unavailable. There is no fix date available." Customers of NatWest subsidiary Ulster Bank in Ireland have also been left without banking services. RTE reports that "the problem had arisen within the systems of parent bank RBOS when an incorrect patch was applied.""
frisket writes: "My current phone contract is about to run out, and I'm due a phone upgrade. My HTC Hero has been fine except for the notorious lack of Android proxy support for wireless connections, so I want a new Android phone which provides this. None of the phone companies hereabouts (Ireland) seems to know anything about this, and the forums offer conflicting advice. Is it true that wifi proxy support is disabled to force users to use their phone company's IP connection? What choices do I have (if any)?"
frisket writes: "The JIRA issue-tracking system has been around for seven years and has proved popular in commercial as well as open-source environments owing to its licensing arrangements (free of charge to certain classes of organizations, and source code available to developers). The release of v.4 in 2009 (now at 4.4) brought some major changes to the UI and searching, a new plugin architecture, and the ability to share project dashboards outside the system. Patrick Li's JIRA 4 Essentials is a comprehensive guide to the interface and facilities that both presents the material straighforwardly and avoids the trap of just being a guide to the menus. Although it is aimed mainly at the administrator, it will also be useful for the desktop user wanting a standalone system.
JIRA is an tracking system for issues arising in software project
management and development (the vendor, Australian software
company Atlassian, seems to avoid the use of the phrase
"bug-tracker".) It's written in Java and runs on all three main
platforms, and can be downloaded for server or desktop, or run
hosted, and there is a 30-day trial period.
Pricing is scaled by number of users in bands, and is for a perpetual
license with a year's support. Although it is commercial
software, Atlassian provides it free of charge to open source
projects — one reason for its popularity in the movement — and a
limited set of non-profit organization
types. Academic and developer licenses are also available at a
JIRA 4 Essentials: Track bugs, issues, and manage your
software development projects with JIRA is aimed at the
administrator who needs a comprehensive description, explanation,
and reference to JIRA that goes beyond the online
documentation. Patrick Li has also provided a book that the end
user can use and learn from (I administer systems, but not JIRA; but
I use it for several applications).
So why this book? JIRA's online documentation is very good, and fine
for reference and searching, but the book explains the features
in much more detail, with more background on factors like why you
might want to use one particular feature rather than another.
Patrick Li has done what few authors of the "About..." style of book
do: produce a readable yet detailed explanation of how to use an
application, without simply reproducing each menu in turn.
The book is divided into ten chapters, approaching the topic from
the project management and issue management point of view. This
approach means that newcomers learns why they might want
to do something rather than just how.
Chapter 1 covers getting started: a description of the JIRA
architecture (I did say this was for admins and developers),
followed by installation options and the installation process itself
(Java, MySQL, and JIRA). The examples and screenshots here are for
Microsoft Windows users of the standalone version (which comes
bundled with Tomcat): experienced admins on Unix-based systems are
assumed to know how to install Tomcat and deploy an
application. Very sensibly it includes a section on installing
HTTPS, something neglected by many web-based systems.
Chapters 2 and 3 are on project management and issue management
as dealt with in JIRA. They take an outward-in approach,
describing the overall management facilities (project administration and
configuration) before going on to
the finer detail of components, issues, priorities, and
resolutions. This can be a little frustrating for the admin
taking over a running system, and needing to perform individual
tasks; or for the user wanting to add an issue rather than
configure an entire project, but the four-level table of contents
provides enough overview to let you find the right section. The
running example used for illustration is a project support desk, and
the many screenshots are detailed and accurate. Chapter 3 ("Issue
Management") in particular is very detailed: this is one area where
most users will spend most of their time, so it merits this approach.
Chapters 4 and 5 deal with field and screen management
respectively. The fields
available in any interface are always an annoyance to the end user:
the one you need is never there, and there are dozens that you can't
imaging ever wanting. Getting the fields and their configuration
right is critical to the success of any installation, and Li rightly
spends a lot of the chapter on customising the field set. A similar
approach pays off in Chapter 5 on screen management, although it
would have been useful to cover some of the concepts of usability
such as field order logic, data entry types, and flow logic between
screens, which tend to be neglected by busy admins, only to raise
issues later with the interface to the issue management software itself.
Chapter 6 is on workflows and business processes: how to adapt
the concepts of Chapters 4 and 5 to the business logic of your
organization. This is possibly one of the most important
configurations, as it forms the interface with the rest of the
company, but it is the only chapter I would take issue with, as
the writing seems to be less coherent and convincing than elsewhere,
as if it was done in haste. It's perfectly accurate, so far as I can
tell, and the screenshots are carefully detailed; it's just slightly
less easy to read, particularly the central part
on transitions and conditions. But this is a small defect overall.
Chapter 7 is on setting up email notification and SMTP. As with most
collaborative systems, email can be used both as an input and an
output, and there is a set of templates that can be edited to
reflect the way your company wants users to be notified. (I live in
hope that some company will say "Thanks for
submitting ticket XYZ. I'm sorry we screwed up on that one: we're
fixing it and we'll let you know." which would be much more honest than
the usual marketing claptrap.) Mail submission is an
often-neglected way of communicating, and it's good to see it get
I mentioned earlier that it was good to see HTTPS being covered:
the same is true of Chapter 8 ("Securing your JIRA") which covers
the benefits and shortfalls of signup, captchas, the permission
hierarchy, and the roles of JIRA sysadmin and JIRA admin.
The final two chapters cover searching and general
administration. Searching is one of the biggest bugbears in
bug^H^H^Hissue submission: people have so many
different ways of expressing what they feel to be the matter that no
amount of urging will make them write the same topic when they
submit the same bug. Dev teams have to deal with repeated duplicate
submissions which would be avoided if search engines would only let
people find earlier reports of the same thing, but this magic
continues to elude us. JIRA introduced JQL in an attempt to help:
this is based on a field=value query syntax which is fine for token
list fields, but not much use for freetext searches, where a
thesaurus would be more useful. However, Li explains the problem and
the solutions available, and also covers setting up stored filters,
and creating dashboards and reports. The last chapter (10) deals
with customising the general look and feel, colors, logos, date and
time configs, and the use of plugins (the Google Docs Connector is
Each chapter has a summary, but they are rather short. It would
be more useful to see a whole page summarising
the material covered, rather than just a few lines: this would
then provide a valuable resource when using the book for
training. Perhaps a re-issue of the book for v.5 could address
There are some minor cultural/linguistic problems with the use of
"a software" and "softwares" as nouns, and the occasional appearance of
"manual" for "manually", which indicates that some tighter
copy-editing might be appropriate for a future edition. There is a
good two-level index, but it is unclear from simple capitalisation what
the semantics of entries are (a reserved word or phrase? a key
value? a prompt or GUI widget?). A minor annoyance is the
otherwise very good Table of Contents, which appears to
have been done by a Powerpoint user, with the font-size continually
shrinking and the margin indenting as the
depth increases (for the page numbers as well as the entries!):
better control of the design is needed.
Overall, I found the book both readable and useful. It is well
illustrated with very clear screenshots, using
tooltip-yellow callouts to explain fields and prompts. The writing
style is light and illustrative, explaining why an action is
needed before how to do it.
On the subject of training, the book would probably be useful to
trainers for the same of
its detailed procedures (go here, click this, type that, click
Li does state that JIRA can be used for managing issues outside
the software issue-tracking field, which implies that it could be
used by non-IT people at some stage, and training would certainly
be needed. The HelpDesk application example, which recurs throughout, will
probably be a
useful point of reference for the majority of readers. If the future
plans for JIRA are to extend its reach outside the IT issue-tracking
field, it might be useful to develop a non-IT application example
for another edition."
frisket writes: "My 4:3 screen laptop won't last for ever, but when it dies, how will I replace it? In my line (document engineering) vertical screen space is essential. Wide-screen is fine for video, but it won't cut it for document preview. Hi-res will show the full height of a document, but only if you use a magnifying glass. The big makers have switched to wide-screen, but is there anyone else out there making 4:3 laptops? There's still a big professional market for these."
frisket writes: "DocBook 5: The Definitive Guide
by Norman Walsh
Edited by Richard Hamilton
Published by O'Reilly in conjunction with XML Press.
Definitive guides by the authors or maintainers of software systems tend to have the edge over other documentation because of the insight they provide. DocBook 5 — The Definitive Guide comes well up to scratch. DocBook has long been the de facto standard for computer system documentation in XML (and SGML before that), and Norm Walsh has revised and updated both the language and the documentation in a concise and valuable form, usable both by beginners and by tech doc experts.
DocBook is a rich XML vocabulary, primarily for the documentation of software systems. It provides markup both for the structure of your documents and for the descriptive detail of your writing, to an extent that few other XML systems match. Like XML itself, DocBook's popularity rests on its robustness, scope, and extensibility; and Walsh makes it clear that the Technical Committee has tried hard to balance stability and adaptability in releasing a new major version which does have a few backward-incompatible changes.
This is a reference book, so the initial chapters (1-5) are short (70 pages) but full of clear explanations of how DocBook works, what it does, and how to use it. Part II is 400 pages, covering every element type in the language, with a detailed description of what it is for, how and where to use it, and how it interacts with everything else. Both for the beginner and the expert, these descriptions are the key to effective use, and Walsh's explanations are clear and comprehensive.
For those of you who have been using DocBook in earlier incarnations, the changes are not deal-breakers, and many of them are welcome rationalizations of the way things have grown organically over the years. It still walks like a duck and quacks like a duck (and the book still has a duck on the cover), so it immediately feels like the same format that you're used to — the changes to element types are relatively few. Chapter 1 (Getting Started) has a brief history, a summary of the changes, and an explanation of the namespace and availability.
If you've never used DocBook before, its structure will still be familiar: in Chapter 2 (Creating DocBook Documents) Walsh explains the division of reference material like books, articles, and manuals into chapters, sections, and subsections, with all the conventional features like lists, figures, tables, and references, as well as the technically-oriented features like equations, programming constructs, interface descriptions, and code samples.
There is help in Chapter 3 (Validation) for those who construct or generate DocBook documents without the use of an XML editor (or even with them: more on editors below). The most common problems with misplaced markup (and the error messages they create) are clearly explained with examples.
Chapter 4 (Publishing) very briefly explains the role of stylesheets (CSS, XSL, and XQuery) in displaying and transforming your documents to other formats, but as these all have their own books and manuals, this book doesn't go into them in any detail.
Customizing DocBook is fairly commonplace, either to avoid the need to commit tag abuse, or to extend its structure into other fields (I added a new element type for typographical examples for my book on LaTeX, and it only took a few minutes). Chapter 5 provides some rules and explanation of customization layers and modularity for those who design schemas and DTDs.
The five Appendixes cover Installation, Variants, Resources, Interchange, and the GNU Free Documentation License — yes, you can read the whole thing online at docbook.org, for which Tim, Norm, and many others are to be thanked. It is a rare publisher who groks the need to be able to point someone at a reference, or quote it in email or a tweet, where a paper copy doesn't cut the mustard.
There isn't anything here about actually using an XML editor or about how to choose one. Editors do of course all come with their own documentation (much of it written using DocBook) and editor selection can be a complex business. However, there is a list of some common tools in Appendix C (Resources). Editors are a minefield, as my own research into the usability of editing software for structured documents is showing, so I can understand the omission, but some pointers to editor resources would have been useful.
The chapter on Publishing is useful for those who haven't been in the publication process before, but it could have emphasized more the need for accuracy and consistency. Experienced technical authors know this, but many other writers don't see the need for it, assuming that the publisher (or some elf) will automagically heal everything before publication. DocBook 5 and this book will help enormously, but author-edited documents sometimes unwittingly misuse or abuse the markup, no matter how exhaustive the manuals.
If you write computer documentation, or anything related to it, from a conference paper to a thesis to a book, DocBook 5 is probably what you should use if you want the document to survive and to be usable and reusable; and this is the book to help you do it."
frisket writes: "A research project has asked me (as webadmin) to set up a web forum for them, with password protection, topics groupable by category, and time-limited threads. I've run phpBB before, but it's a time-sink on maintenance and very clumsy to administer (and PHP has its own problems; although I do have Tomcat and Cocoon available as well). What FOSS forum software do other/.ers prefer or recommend?"
frisket writes: "I run a number of pro bono tech information sites. I've been approached by a (perfectly genuine) internet marketeer wanting to pay for a link. My suspicion is that they are just looking to boost their page rank, rather than actually get leads or business. I already fund the sites from Google Adsense, but there's no conflict. So I though I'd ask/.ers: do I bow to the almighty $ or keep my site aloof?"