Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In a small discipline, proxy repositories

Software builds on other software.  With a build system like gradle, once you declare how your code depends on other code, the build system checks your declaration with listed repositories,  and downloads appropriate packages as they are needed.  If you are coding in a JVM language, you can find an enormous proportion of the libraries you might want from maven central, either directly or via a proxy.

But if you routinely work with ancient Greek, or in any similarly specialized domain, the situation is different.  Hugh Cayless' epidoc transformer package is indispensable for my routine work, for example, but for a few minutes yesterday, the one repository where it's regularly hosted was down.  I was paralyzed.

The solution is as easy as it is obvious:  smaller communities, like those interested in ancient Greek, need to ensure that the collections of material they depend on are proxied and available from multiple repositories.

I'm using Nexus to host material developed for the Homer Multitext project, and yesterday configured it to proxy dev.papyri.info/maven, where the epidoc transcoder is housed.  The unified front to all the material hosted and proxied there is http://beta.hpcc.uh.edu/nexus/content/groups/public/.

Nexus is a "lazy" proxy:  it only acquires local copies of a proxied package when it is actually requested.  One way to guarantee that your favorite proxying site has all the packages you want is with a minimal build, that creates dependencies on everything you might want, and then simply lists their names.   The example below is a gradle build to do just this.  The repository URL and version strings for packages are kept in a separate properties file, but this example is otherwise complete:  running the showAll task will force the proxy server to retrieve any packages it does not already have locally stored.

repositories {
    maven {
        url "${repositoryUrl}"
configurations {
dependencies {
    classics group: 'edu.harvard.chs', name : 'cite', version: "${citeVersion}"
    classics group: 'edu.harvard.chs', name : 'greekutils', version: "${greekUtilsVersion}"
    classics group: 'edu.holycross.shot', name : 'hocuspocus', version: "${hocusPocusVersion}"
    classics group : 'edu.unc.epidoc', name: 'transcoder', version : "${transcoderVersion}"
task showAll  {
    description = "Downloads and shows a list of useful code libraries for classicists."
    doLast {
        println "Downloaded artifacts (including transitive dependencies):"
        configurations.classics.files.each { file ->
            println file.name

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Abolish the journals"

I'm appearing on a panel next spring on the subject of "publishing" at the Classical Association of the Midwest and South.  Would it be too much to suggest that Walter Olson's critique of law reviews applies equally well to academic journals in the humanities?

Olson quotes Harold Havighurst:

Whereas most periodicals are published primarily in order that they may be read, the law reviews are published primarily in order that they may be written.
Sounds pretty much like the academic journals I'm familiar with in classics.

(H/T: groklaw news picks for the link to Olson's blog.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

CC licenses for photography of manuscripts

If you're interested in manuscripts of Greek and Latin texts, this week saw a seismic shift in the scholarly landscape.  The e-codices project, which has been putting high-quality digital images of manuscripts in Switzerland on the web for several years, has now standardized on a Creative Commons license for all of its images.

In this decision, they are following the lead of a growing number of projects and institutions.  I greatly admire the similar work Will Noel has done at the Walters Art Gallery, where high-resolution photography of more than 250 manuscripts is on line, available under a CC license.

Photographed manuscripts now in e-codices number more than 900.  Like the Digital Walters Art Gallery, manuscript photography in e-codices is accompanied by a scholarly catalog entry.

The digital archivists are doing their job.  Now the only question is whether we can find the scholars of Greek, Latin and other languages to read these beautifully documented texts.