Wednesday 11 October 2017

The new oracc serve command

If you are managing a project please read this.

In the new buildserver/webserver architecture projects work on the build machines and only send stuff to the webserver when they are satisfied it is ready.  Only public projects and subprojects can be sent to the webserver.

While your work is not on the webserver you can still use it on the buildserver, which also functions as its own Oracc website.  There is no need to send projects to the webserver to see how they look--you can do that on the buildserver.

In order to get a project onto the webserver you need to follow several steps:

1) make the project public by setting <public>yes</public> in 00lib/config.xml

2) oracc build

3) ask one of the steerers (Steve, Eleanor, Jamie, Niek) to rebuild the project list

4) oracc serve

5) wait until the next 10-minute mark, and a minute or two after that.  The webserver looks for new data on the tens, so new data won't show up until a few minutes after that

I'm going to remove (3) when I have some time, but probably not for several weeks.

New ATF mode files for Emacs

I have updated the ATF mode files for Emacs to work with the new build servers.

In addition to this, I have added an upgraded dead-key mode written by Niek Veldhuis.

Instructions for how to use this are in the file oracc-init.el but here they are for convenience:

;; If your project is on build-oracc use the first oracc-build definition,
;; otherwise use the second.  Use a semi-colon at the start of the line to
;; comment out the definition you don't need.

(setq oracc-build "")
; (setq oracc-build "")

;; If you prefer to use the slash (virgule, /) as the dead key for the Oracc
;; Emacs keyboard, use the first definition.  Otherwise use the second to make comma
;; your prefix key--this is more user-friendly if you are using a German keyboard. 
;; Use a semi-colon at the start of the line to comment out the definition you
;; don't need.

(setq oracc-prefix "slash")
; (setq oracc-prefix "comma")

Please note that Niek's former documentation about selecting atf-mode_de.el no longer applies as I have replaced this with the oracc-prefix variable.

For information on getting and installing (in case it has been a long time) see:

Wednesday 4 October 2017

News for Oracc editors

The Steering Group has five exciting pieces of news to share with Oracc editors, project managers and other content creators.

1. Nammu 1.0.0 Released

I’m delighted to announce the release of Nammu 1.0.0, thanks to the ever-excellent UCL Research Software Development Group team: Raquel Alegre, Stuart Grieve and recently joined Anastasis Georgoulas. You can find it here:

The big changes you’ll notice immediately are:

  • the ability to change font size, screen colour
  • the inability to save files as anything but .atf

As ever, if you notice bugs in Nammu or have feature requests, please report them to Raquel and the team at We’ll give bug fixes high priority but new features will be on the back burner for now; see (4) below.

2. New Server Set-up

Nammu is also ready for a change to the way Oracc’s servers work.

Until now, when you ran “oracc build”, your project built on a machine at Penn Museum which is also the public web server — you if you messed up the build, you messed up your public website.

The new set-up separates the “build” and “serve” processes onto two different machines. So we’ll all be building projects on one of two machines — or for the Munich team — with the “oracc build” command as usual. This will generate a website in the usual way, and you’ll be able to look at it, etc., and share URLs with others, but it won’t be a public machine (not indexed by search engines, we won’t advertise it). So you can experiment a bit more without worrying about breaking things :)

And then, once you’re happy with the way your project website looks on the private build server, there’ll be an extra command, “oracc serve”, which will move everything over to the public web server,

The new build server address at Penn is already built into Nammu 1.0.0. If you're not one of the Munich team, email your project liaison now for a new password.. If you are one of the Munich team, you'll get instructions from Steve or Jamie in due course.

Windows users may need to update to PuTTy 0.70 ( in order to connect to build-oracc in a terminal session. This isn't necessary when you work in Nammu; perhaps necessary when you work in Emacs and/or use the terminal for oracc commands. Cyberduck for windows (for moving files to the server) has no issues with the new server as far as we know; Filezilla works fine, too.

3. New Editing Forum on Github

There’s now a lot of shared expertise amongst the Oracc editing community. Individuals often have questions that others can answer; so to lessen the burden on us liaisons, and to help you all get answers faster, I’ve set up a new “issues” section on Github at which works just like the bug reporting page.

So, in future if you have questions about editing ATF, please post them to Github rather than emailing one of us. We all monitor it, and will respond when we can. If you’d also like to get email alerts about the Editing forum, tell me (Eleanor) your Github account name and I’ll add you as a “collaborator”. It’s really easy to register if you haven’t already.

4. New Website in Development

The current Oracc website is now showing its age. Steve designed it when hardly anyone had smart phones, when there were only a few projects, and when it was still quite challenging to handle bidirectional script.

So now that Nammu has all its core editing functionality, I’ve asked Raquel and the team to bring the Oracc website into the 21st century. No-one’s going to mess with your content; we’re just going to make it look a WHOLE lot nicer, especially on small screens; and easier to find; and allow content-creators to work in Arabic, Farsi, Sorani, etc.

We’re setting up two focus groups to help us get the design right.

One will consist of my final-year History undergrads, some of whom have basic Akkadian, most don’t, so they’re a good proxy for public users.

But we also need a focus group of research users, and I very much hope we can construct that group from some of you and/or your own project team members. Please let me know before WEDNESDAY 11 OCTOBER (when we start work on this) if you’d like to join in. It won’t be time-consuming!

5. Long-term Support for Oracc Development

The work that Raquel and her RSDG team do for Oracc has been funded by UCL for the past three years: variously, by the Social and Historical Sciences Faculty, and/or my own History Department. I’m super-thrilled to say that for the next FOUR YEARS, RSDG’s work for Oracc will be funded by UCL from the overheads of a magnificent new grant.

The Nahrein Network ( fosters the sustainable development of antiquity, cultural heritage and the humanities in Iraq and its neighbours. Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council's Global Challenges Research Fund, it supports interdisciplinary research to enable universities, museums, and community groups in the region to better serve local, post-conflict needs.

A key goal of the Nahrein Network is to reduce Middle Eastern academics’ international isolation. Another is to research locally appropriate ways to train the next generation of academics in ancient Middle Eastern history, cultural heritage, and related fields. A third is to help local audiences make meaning of local heritage, in local languages and local contexts. As you know, in the Middle East, access to traditional print media is often prohibitively expensive or practically challenging in other ways, but almost everyone uses smartphones and other handheld devices, every day. Open-access, reusable online outputs are therefore a natural solution to increasing the accessibility of academic research, pedagogical materials, and resources for interested publics. So of course, that means Oracc.

Together the Network, Oracc, and RSDG have agreed the following programme of essential work, funded as part of UCL’s commitment to the project:

For end users:

  • Optimise Oracc’s website for small-screen devices using responsive design;
  • Enable bidirectionality on Oracc’s website to support mixed script use;
  • Add pedagogically necessary enhancements, such as Arabic-language glossaries and text- or corpus-specific lists of cuneiform signs;
  • Write online help pages in Arabic (and maybe also Kurdish dialect(s) and Farsi if time allows).

For content creators:

  • Extend Oracc’s bespoke ancient-text editor Nammu to support bidirectionality in modern translations;
  • Add glossary-editing functionality to Nammu;
  • Write error messages for Nammu in Arabic;
  • Check and adapt Oracc’s XHTML schemas and templates for educational ‘portal’ pages to support bidirectionality;
  • Write Arabic-language documentation for content creators

As well as various face-to-face activities in Iraq itself (first up: a workshop on digital humanities at the University of Baghdad, in the spring).

This programme of development work isn’t going to take all four years’ worth of funding, so there will be plenty of opportunity to keep up with new needs and expectations once this first tranche of work is completed.

PS The Network is also looking for a postdoc to work on issues around sustainable development, antiquity, heritage and the humanities, deadline 27 October: