Friday, June 03, 2011

Domesday or Bust

AAAAAAAUUGH!!! There, that feels better.
  You know, my cyberlife didn't begin with Medieval Writing. About fifteen years ago there were some other projects on the go, all relating to medieval topics, and produced on a program called Toolbook, which would have been very good had they got the bugs out of it, kept it up to date with new releases of Windows, properly hooked it into the internet age and generally not flushed it down the toilet. Well, I figured it might be time to try and rescue some of the material from these, which were in use for a number of years by my husband in teaching medieval history, but he doesn't do that any more.
  Discovered to my horror that two of the projects, the most useful ones which had had the most work put into them, were on an ancient version of Toolbook that won't even run on my current computer. So stoked up the boiler and fired up the wheezing old contraption that contains such arcane hardware as a floppy disc drive, a zip disk drive, a SCSI port with an old scanner attached - you get the picture. At least I can copy and paste all the text out of them. I will have to do all the fancy interactive graphics and maps again. The photographs are all in 256 colour bitmap format, which is about as useful as ..... well, since we are in public, something which is not useful. Still, I've just finishing copying and backing up all the masters. The only data transferring device that will work on it, as well as on my current computer, is the card out of my camera, as the old beast at some stage acquired a simple card reader to add to the multiple USB devices hanging off it to make it do things it wasn't originally designed to.
  We designed things differently then. Screens were smaller and lower res, and the multimedia guys straight out of school told us that people would not put up with scrolling pages, so everything was divided up into little gobbets of text. To get more on a page you put in more little boxes that popped up when you clicked things. It makes it look as if there's not much there, but after copying and pasting for three days, I discover I practically have a thesis on the subject of the medieval towns of York, Lincoln and Norwich; and these are only suppose to be examples of how to go about investigating medieval towns. My excuse is that I was still suffering from post-PhD thesis verbal diarrhoea. It can take years to get back to being able to write a single clause sentence using only the words available in the Scrabble dictionary. Then, of course, the web was only just being invented, so there is no webography, and there are numerous interesting sites on various aspects of medieval towns now. 
  I think,having rescued the text, I might park that one for now and launch an assault on the other old one; a synopsis of the structure of the medieval church. It is much snappier, I think ... I hope. The glossary from it is already done and on the web. Easy peasy!
  Just to cheer myself up, I took a look at the current state of the 900 year anniversary Domesday project. This was launched in 1986 as a grand and ambitious snapshot of the nation in digital format. Trouble was, they stored it on 12 inch laser disks which would only run on BBC computers. Well, 25 years on they have launched the website Domesday Reloaded, which contains some of the data from the original project; more promised. The official site is all very cheery and upbeat about how they are going. An article in Computing History is a little more circumspect, daring to use such terms as digital obsolescence and reverse engineering. The Centre for Computing History claims to now have three (count 'em) working Domesday systems complete with players and disks, and has been active in digging the project out of the sludge of obsolescent oblivion. Oh well. at least my little effort hasn't taken 25 years - yet.
   The Luddites have been cheerfully yodelling that the original Domesday Book is still there after 900 years, and perfectly functional. However, big bad Willie's commissioners didn't just take that  grand tome into the field and write the final entries into it. There was once a whole archive of material in the royal treasury that had been used to compile the book, but it disappeared centuries ago. Probably disappeared into the Chancellor's fireplace to warm his feet once he figured that they didn't need it any more. History wouldn't be any fun if all the evidence was still there.


DaveP said...

If the text is anything like repetative in format, I may be able to help with getting it into HTML or XML?

Dianne said...

Thanks for your kind thoughts Dave, but getting the text into html is the least of my worries. Getting it into concise, user-friendly English will be a start. Then there is the business of translating all the bells and whistles into new formats. 'Smy own fault. Should have got going on it years ago.