Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Lots of Presents!

If you sent me a present in this pile then THANK YOU! I'll e-mail you all separately when the e-mail is working again.

A Day Without E-Mail

I haven't had any e-mail since 7:30(ish) this morning. Apparently there is a problem with the Universities e-mail store that might not get fixed today. It's amazing just how much work you can get done when you don't have e-mail distracting you every few minutes -- there are of course plenty of other distractions on the internet.

Anyway, I've no idea how long the problem will last but if there are any friends/family out there who need to contact me urgently then don't send me an e-mail as you won't get an instant reply like you usually would.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Asian Elephant Vocalizations

Periodically at work we get e-mails telling us of new corpora that we can order as a member of the LDC. Usually these aren't particularly interesting e-mails but a few days ago there was an announcement of a new corpus of (yes you guessed it) Asian Elephant Vocalizations. I leave you with the official announcement of this fascinating corpus!

[This corpus] consists of 57.5 hours of audio recordings of vocalizations by Asian Elephants (/Elephas maximus/) in the Uda Walawe National Park, Sri Lanka, of which 31.25 hours have been annotated. The collection and annotation of the recordings was conducted and overseen by Shermin de Silva, of the University of Pennsylvania Department of Biology; voice recording field notes are of Shermin de Silva and Ashoka Ranjeewa. The recordings primarily feature adult female and juvenile elephants. Existing knowledge of acoustic communication in elephants is based primarily on African species (/Loxodonta africana/ and /Loxodonta cyclotis/). There has been comparatively less study of communication in Asian elephants.

This corpus is intended to enable researchers in acoustic communication to evaluate acoustic features and repertoire diversity of the recorded population. Of particular interest is whether there may be regional dialects that differ among Asian elephant populations in the wild and in captivity. A second interest is in whether structural commonalities exist between this and other species that shed light on underlying social and ecological factors shaping communication systems.

Data were collected from May, 2006 to December, 2007. Observations were performed by vehicle during park hours from 0600 to 1830 h. Most recordings of vocalizations were made using an Earthworks QTC50 microphone shock-mounted inside a Rycote Zeppelin windshield, via a Fostex FR-2 field recorder (24-bit sample size, sampling rate 48 kHz). Recordings were initiated at the start of a call with a 10-s pre-record buffer so that the entire call was captured and loss of rare vocalizations minimized. This was made possible with the 'pre-record' feature of the Fostex, which records continuously, but only saves the file with a 10-second lead once the 'record' button is depressed.

Certain audio files were manually annotated, to the extent possible, with call type, caller id, and miscellaneous notes. For call type annotation, there are three main categories of vocalizations: those that show clear fundamental frequencies (periodic), those that do not (a-periodic), and those that show periodic and a-periodic regions as at least two distinct segments. Calls were identified as belonging to one of 14 categories. Annotations were made using the Praat TextGrid Editor , which allows spectral analysis and annotation of audio files with overlapping events. Annotations were based on written and audio-recorded field notes, and in some cases video recordings. Miscellaneous notes are free-form, and include such information as distance from source, caller identity certainty, and accompanying behavior.

Broken Applications

So I've written my own fair share of bugs into software in the past but I hate it when I come up against bugs in software that I have absolutely no control over. Unfortunately these bugs might bite you as well as me.

I've released a number of bits of software through this blog that use Java Web Start to make it easier for you to download and install them. Unfortunately there appears to be a number of bugs which result in the installed shortcuts breaking and even causing the launch link on the web page to not work if you have previously run the application.

Well I upgraded PhotoGrid yesterday and everything broke. I'm assuming it may have broken for everyone else as well. It took me a while to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it so I thought I'd write it up here in case I've broken it for everyone else.

We can fix the problems using the Web Start cache viewer, which you can load by issuing the command javaws -viewer (on Windows you can enter this command into the Run... dialog box accessed from the Start Menu), and which should look like...

Now select the application that won't start and click the red cross button to uninstall it. Even though it will now have been uninstalled Web Start still remembers some details which can be a problem. So in the drop down box at the top left switch to viewing Deleted Applications. A similar list will appear and go through the same steps (select and the red cross) to fully delete the application. You should now be able to re-install without any problems.

The problem only seems to arise when I have to edit the JNLP file that is used to launch the applications. Updating the actual code works flawlessly. On the plus side it is quite rare for me to need to edit the JNLP files and so I'm hopeful that once the applications are working again they should continue to work for the foreseeable future.

Apologies for any inconvenience and I hope it doesn't put you off using the bits of software I write.

Sunday, 15 August 2010


I consider myself to be fairly well read and as such have a fairly large vocabulary. It is unusual, therefore, for me to come across not only a word I haven't heard before but one for which I can't even work out a meaning from it's context. The word in question... quinquennium.

As readers of my photography blog will already know we recently had a day out to Helmsley in North Yorkshire. As well as enjoying the fine views of the castle and the wildlife in the walled garden we spent an enjoyable half an hour browsing around an antiquarian and secondhand bookshop, not something I've ever really done before1. Whilst looking through the Yorkshire History section one book jumped out at me: The Story of A Modern University; A History of the University of Sheffield. Given that between us Bryony and I have graduated three times from the University I decided to buy the book without even looking at it's contents.

In 2005 the University celebrated it's centenary and as part of that celebration published a book, The Steel City Scholars, which documented the first one hundred years of the University. As someone who enjoys history I pre-ordered a copy without even thinking about it, and while I've flicked through it I haven't read it in any detail. The book I bought in Helmsley was published in 1955 to celebrate the first fifty years of the University. It is a very different book.

The Steel City Scholars draws on many first hand accounts to given an accessible and highly interesting account of the University's first century. In contrast the book I found in that secondhand bookshop is a scholarly work. I wouldn't necessarily describe it as dry but I think I'm even less likely to read this one in detail. Nevertheless I'm glad I bought it, if for no other reason than it taught me a new word; quinquennium. The second paragraph of the introduction reads:
The period with which it deals begins with the foundation of the institutions which were later to unite to form the University, and ends with the summer of 1952. This latter date is convenient not only for reasons of publication but particularly because it coincides with the end of an eventful Vice-Chancellorship, and also with the end of a financial quinquennium during which, largely by progressive increases of government grants, the University's activities and resources had been multiplied beyond all the imaginings of earlier times.
So here we have a word which I had never heard before and had no idea of it's meaning. In retrospect I could have worked out that it was related to time but without a classical education involving Latin I think I would have been hard pressed to figure out that it means a period of five years.

I'm actually tempted to keep reading to see if I learn any more new words2!

1 As a child I remember spending lots of times in second hand bookshops but we were always looking in vain for one specific book never just browsing for fun. My Dad is an avid fan of Nigel Tranter and I believe now has a copy of every book he has ever written. Whilst I wouldn't describe myself as from a poor background, my parents were always careful with money (my Dad is, after all, a Yorkshireman) and so he would wait until a new novel was published in paperback before buying it. Unfortunately one novel, The Lion Let Loose, was never published in paperback and by the time we realised this we couldn't find a hardback copy anywhere, hence the trips to secondhand bookshops. Eventually he wrote to the publishers who agreed to republish the book in paperback and so our trips to secondhand book shops dried up.

2 The last time I came across a new word was again in an old book. In fact it wasn't a new word but a new meaning. I was reading Bryony's Grandmother's favourite book, The Roadmender by Michael Fairless, which starts I have attained my ideal: I am a roadmender some would say stonebreaker. Both titles are correct, but one is more pregnant than the other. Now I know that there are multiple meanings for the word pregnant but I had no idea what the meaning was in this context. Fortunately Bryony's Dad (Scriptor Senex) not only gave me a copy of The Roadmender but also a copy of Barclay's Dictionary which dates to the mid to late 19th century. The dictionary is fantastic, deserves a post of it's own, and defines pregnant as teeming; breeding; big with young. Fruitful; or causing fertility. Full of consequence. Evident; clear. Easy to produce. I'm assuming that the relevant definition is full of consequence which I'd never heard of or used before.

3 I can't believe I wrote a blog post requiring footnotes!

Friday, 13 August 2010


I'm not usually a fan of modern art, but I recently saw a series of images that I really liked. Some of you will know that earlier this year I made a number of trips to London as part of a project I was involved with at work. Specifically I was visiting the Biomdical Research Centre for Mental Health at Denmark Hill. On the walls of the centre were a series of pictures that had been specially commissioned for the building.

On one of my trips I eventually spotted the sign that described the series, which is called Bloom and is by the artist Magda Kaggwa. The description reads: Magdalena Kaggwa's objective for the BRC Nucleus commission was to produce a series of six prints portraying the human skull gradually consumed by flowers, intensifying with each image and progressing from a bud in the initial stage to a full flowering bloom which engulfs the brain area in the final print. This concept aims to convey the advancement of mental illness in an individual through the invasion of the skull by flowers, exploring the beauty and complexity of the mind and confronting the psychiatric and social stigmas that inhabit perceptions of mental health issues whilst encouraging a deeper and more sympathetic understanding.

I'm not sure I buy into all that but I do know that I really like the series. My favourite (and the image I used in this post) is number 4, you can see the whole sequence here.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Following Prototype Through The LightWindow

So I've finally got the new layout mostly working. It's a combination of the XML layout from my book blog and the original style sheet from the HTML version of this blog. In other word, if you were to take a look behind the curtain you'd find that it's a real mess! Anyway now that I have something that kind of works I can slowly tweak it and tidy things up, hopefully, without anyone noticing.

There were a few problems with the conversion to the new layout, but one in particular, caused me no end of problems and so I thought I'd explain the problem and detail the solution. As a bonus if you read through this you might just understand the title of this post!

One of the reasons for upgrading the blog template was that I couldn't use any of the widgets with the HTML layout, and I wanted to be able to add a blog list and the followers widget. So once I'd replicated the old layout I started to play with the widgets. The blog list worked a treat and so you can now see the last post from my other blogs under the "I'm Also..." heading, but when I added the followers widget I just got a blank space. I knew the problem wasn't with the followers widget as such as it was working fine on one of my other blogs. Given that behind the scenes most of the widgets use a fair amount of JavaScript I assumed, rightly as it turned out, that one of the scripts I was loading was interfering with the followers widget. The problem was which one.

As well as any JavaScript loaded by any of the other widgets on the page or added by Blogger I also load nine other JavaScript files in the head section of the template. These provide support for embedding QuickTime videos and Google Maps, providing syntax highlighting on code snippets and the fancy popup display when you click on an image. Some of these are a single JavaScript file, others require multiple files to be specified, and some even dynamically load extra files as needed. Not knowing which of these was the problem I started by removing everything and low and behold the followers widget appeared correctly.

So I added back the JavaScript includes one at a time until the followers widget disappeared. This led me to the culprit -- prototype.js. Apparently "Prototype is a JavaScript Framework that aims to ease development of dynamic web applications". Now I don't use Prototype directly within the layout but it is used by the LightWindow script that I use for showing the large version of photos. I didn't know exactly what the problem was so I tried upgrading to the latest version of Prototype (v1.6) but that didn't help. I then tried the release candidate for the next version and the followers widget appeared. Unfortunately the LightWindow script didn't work properly -- I think there is an issue determining the correct size to scale the image to but I couldn't track down the bug to fix it myself. So...

I then went hunting to see if this was a known problem that I could fix in some other way. Of course not knowing how the followers widget works internally didn't help. Anyway after a lot of false starts I eventually found that adding the following JavaScript to the page just before the followers widget fixed the problem (it really does have to be just before the followers widget or it doesn't seem to help, I added it, inside script tags, at the end of the archives widget to get it in the right place):
window.JSON = {
parse: function(st) {
return st.evalJSON();

stringify: function(obj) {
return Object.toJSON(obj);
Apparently the problem stems from a bug in prototype that messes up the JSON parser used by the followers widget.

So if you find your followers widget disappears after adding a new widget or some JavaScript to your layout it might be worth seeing if this fixes the problem before you spend two days trying to hunt down the solution.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Upgrading The Layout

If you remember a few months back I had to move the blog to a new URL because blogger were withdrawing the FTP publishing support I'd been using.

Moving away from FTP publishing meant that I could, in theory, start using the more modern XML based blog layouts. At the time I moved the blog I decided to do one thing at once and so left the design as it was. The old HTML based layout doesn't allow for the customization/widgets that you can have with the new layouts and so the ability to customize the layout is limited. I've finally decided to take the plunge and upgrade the layout. Unfortunately I basically have to start from scratch so you may find the layout changes every time you visit for the next day/week or so while I get things sorted. Hopefully you'll still be able to find everything!