2020 - Week 17

As the black hole of COVID-19 envelopes us all and we cross the event horizon of week four, time has dilated to the point where Monday was months ago. The past, as they say, is a different country. And so is Monday. Nevertheless, we shall attempt to reconstruct what we can from fragmented memories and haunted dreamscapes.

Something we definitely remember from Monday is a call with assorted LDAPP interested folks, on serialising the Akoma Ntoso document model into HTML. Mark and Michael took to another glitchy telephone conference to represent UK Parliament interests. LDAPP is an end-to-end legislation drafting, amendment and publishing application, developed as a collaborative partnership between the two Houses of the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, the Scottish Government’s Parliamentary Counsel Office and The National Archives. The Scottish Government, TNA and our own dear Parliament have a requirement for publishing HTML, albeit with a few subtle variations. As luck would have it, TNA have already started tinkering with XLST to transform AkN native XML to browser friendly HTML5. With a dash of RDFa Lite for good measure. With the kind permission of Catherine, the slides for the meeting are available here. We anticipate that the AkN model will evolve as all things do, and three different organisations working with three different transforms feels like it has the potential for a certain amount of wheel reinvention. A vague plan for future collaboration was hatched. More conversations to follow.

Also on Monday, Robert and Michael took out their tiny chisels and continued on their mission to cautiously carve constructive comments into TextMate and Turtle. Last week, Arabella pointed out that the treaty model had bitten off more than it could reasonably chew. So they’ve paired it back and stripped out anything pertaining to the cognitive minefield of “in forceness”. The new treaty model has been passed back to Arabella for what they hope will be approval. In the meantime, Michael has added the revised model to our interface ontology, which continues to gobble up our fag-packety models and regurgitate them as a Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld.

Additional comment carving carried on throughout the week, with Robert and Michael poking around at the somewhat boring formal body affiliation model. A new version of which is now published. With 23 models down and 29 to go it’s ponderous progress, but what’s time these days?

Wednesday saw Librarian Jayne and Michael take to Onmigraffle and telephones to make a first stab at handling Statutory Instrument revocation and everything that falls out of that. They now have play pen versions of the made negative, made affirmative and draft negative procedures, to which revocation steps and associated routes have been added. As draft affirmative is so similar to draft negative - at least in this context - they decided to park that one for the time being. The conversation was dotted - as these calls often are - with clusters of confusion about what on earth they might have been thinking when making past decisions. Followed by scoffing at their foolish former selves, and confident dismantling of past efforts. Only then to remember why the thing they’d done in the past was exactly the right thing to have done. They will learn to trust their younger selves a little more and adopt Chesterton’s approach to fences. All three procedure maps have now headed off in search of the approval of Journal Office Jane. So long as she’s happy, changes to both the proper maps and the data should follow shortly.

Thursday saw the first procedural librarian discussion of locked down lives. Brarians Anya, Jayne and Claire together with computational expert Michael deployed their lately acquired telephone conferencing skills. They’re proud to say they’ve moved on from wireless and entered the television age. With moving faces and everything. All present were delighted by the offstage guest appearance of Anya’s dog, Conker. A vocal pup at the best of times, his off-screen yowling suggested he’d declared an early cocktail hour. Much Trello gardening took place as weeds were weeded, beds were mulched and heads were cleared.

Jayne and Michael dedicated Friday morning to more spring cleaning. Jayne had noticed a stray route in the draft negative procedure. Now, as we all know, a draft negative instrument cannot be made by a Minister unless and until it has cleared its parliamentary scrutiny period, and neither House has agreed a motion to stop the instrument becoming law. In the event of such a motion being passed, the map showed a causal route to the ‘instrument cannot become law’ step. Which makes perfect sense. But the ‘instrument cannot become law’ step has a causal route to the ‘instrument no longer in force as law’ step. Which does not make perfect sense. Time might be dilating, and we have not yet crossed the relativistic event horizon. At least for now and to the best of our knowledge, time is still linear. Give it to the end of the summer perhaps. Jayne and Michael have removed the causes route to ‘no longer in force’, and jiggled a couple of redundant preclusions in both maps and data. Which took a lot less time than typing this paragraph.

Away from procedural maps, Jayne has had another sparqling week. Her library of queries continues to grow - this week saw the addition of a new set of treaty queries covering Lords committee information, Lords motions and Lords debates. Because we’re always inclusive, these queries obviously also work for the Commons. Or would if the Commons had ever done such things. As of today they have not, but the minute they do you can be assured our queries will capture it.

At some bizarre intersection of parliamentary procedure, the semantic web and the plague, Jayne has also leant a helping hand to the Clerk of Papers in the Commons. Five of the six procedures currently supported feature defined scrutiny periods - or clocks - of some kind. The treaty procedure alone has three. Which is an Alice in Wonderland level of clock. Clock calculations are complicated by different types of instrument calculating sitting days differently, different Houses having different sitting days, different work packages having different day counts, and some instruments being Commons only so only counting Commons sitting days. Not all of which have bums on seats. As it were. In some ideal world we’d have an application to handle parliamentary time, with Parliaments having sessions and sessions having sittings and sittings being in Houses and on dates. We’d be able to hit an endpoint with a start date, an array of Houses, a day count and day count type and the machines would return an end date. But we do not have such a thing, so end dates are calculated and input by hand. This is problematic whenever sitting day dates change for early recess or late return. It’s particularly problematic at the moment, with sitting days changing in response to the pandemic. Our colleague in the Commons approached Jayne for a list of anticipated end dates. Luckily Jayne had already written a set of queries to return end dates which she and her fellow librarians use to check their work. The queries have now winged their way to the Clerk of Papers, who will pass them on to Members and others. Having gotten wind of the work, Jane joined in and sent the queries in the direction of the Lords Whips Office and Lords Table Office Clerk. Total applause Jayne. Total applause.

And finally. Temporary isolation presented an opportunity to type up some notes on the talk Anya and Michael gave at the Study of Parliament Group conference back in January. If you’ve stayed the course to the end of this post, you might also be interested in our thoughts on what Erskine May might have done if he’d been in possession of a computer. It will surprise no one here that we suspect he’d have made a data platform with modelled procedures, well managed data and a query engine for precedence.