2020 - Week 33

And so passed a full week of low to no productivity. Parliamentary emails seeking procedural clarification were sent and mostly met with the out of office notice that tends to accompany summer recess. Our Robert was still partaking of a long vacation in Battersea-upon-Thames. Librarian Jayne was part working and part attending to her garden. Librarian Anya was partly working but mostly mired in the kind of administrivia that plagues a job in management. Still, one makes one’s bed and one must lie in it. And Michael was largely lying on his sofa whining his way through heat exhaustion. You can take an Oldhamer out of Oldham but you can’t make them work in temperatures above 14° without at least some light drizzle to refresh their face.

That said, Anya and Michael did make it back to the office. Mostly in search of air conditioning. The place had a vaguely Mary Celeste vibe, with the newspaper shelf stacked high with quality journalism from the 13th March. And the Telegraph. And some posters about what to do if you think you have flu. Which felt strangely quaint. They had thought the presence of air conditioning would lead to a sudden upsurge in productivity but had not reckoned with parliamentary wifi. Or with Anya leaving her mobile telephone on the smoking step. And so much of Thursday was spent tethering to their one remaining phone to nuke the missing one. And reflecting at leisure on Apple’s fame for making stuff that just works, as attempts to sign in and do anything were met by demands for a second factor of authentication sent to a phone that was presumably a brick by that point. The next person to mention Apple’s attention to all the service design details will be in receipt of a particularly strong Paddington Bear stare from Anya.

Career opportunities

If you’re a librarian who loves to learn, we’re back in the market. Team:Anya is due to expand by one and we’re in search of a Procedure Data Librarian to help us make models, draw maps and write queries that help people make sense of Parliament. If you’ve never made a model, never sketched a map, don’t know your SPARQL from your Miss Marple, worry not. Help will always be given in Tothill Street. If you’re one of the many librarians who have attended a conference on linked data and returned to your day job thinking, “well, that was interesting but I have no idea what to do in practice”, this is your chance to get your hands dirty. We promise you’ll be in very good teaching hands.

Procedure mapping

Jayne and Michael scanned their Trello board for any quick bits of work on Statutory Instruments or treaties that did not demand much brain effort. But the board was pretty bare. Which they suppose is a good thing. So instead they returned to work they’d been doing before the order to abandon ship came back in March. When we still had newspapers no older than a week. Way back then they’d been working on a motion model with the aim of producing something generic enough to copy and paste across procedures. Should the time arrive when our computers can support procedure maps with logic gates. And pray God that is soon. The first version had been been sent out with the usual RFC to David, Paul and Martyn. And comments had come back. Mostly around the proposal of a motion being inserted between its moving and its putting. Memories of conversations were vague and scratchy but they think they thought it is the proposing - and not the usually cited ‘a motion once moved’ - that makes the motion the property of the House. And it’s the proposing that leads off into the Hansard world of response and debate. And it’s the proposing that takes withdrawal of notice out of play and brings the begging leave to withdraw into play. But, like we say, it’s been the best part of five months so what seemed quite clear back in March is now cloudy through the murky windows of memory. We do know we need to add in amendments and amendments to amendments and however far we have to travel down that rabbit hole. And we hope that Martyn is summonable in some form. If you do take a look at the model and think, hang on, moving and then withdrawing a motion is fairly common but there’s no arrow from the former to the latter, please bear in mind that the maps are more state diagram than flowchart. At least in the eyes of the machines.

Back in week 27, the team created Made ‘n’ Laid, a bot account that tweets whenever a made SI is laid before Parliament. It is admittedly a somewhat niche area of interest, but it’s doing remarkably well. As of this week it has 138 followers. We’re just waiting for it to go global. That said we recognise that not everyone wants to use Twitter, and that anyone with a fondness for their own mental health probably wants to stay well clear. Michael, being no fan of platform or vendor lock-in, decided it was about time he practiced what he preached. So, if you want to be notified of incoming made SIs but don’t want to peer into the open sewer of Twitter, there is now RSS to subscribe to. If you’re lucky enough to own one of those classic public sector Dell laptops running Outlook, you can even subscribe to updates in there.

Your weekly egg timer update

With no Robert to keep him on the gramatical straight and narrow, Michael started to document actions we’ll need to take next time a prorogation or dissolution is announced. He would not normally choose to share his outpourings with our readership without first running them past the eyes of Anya or Robert. But tired, parched and alone he has done his best.

All about the collaboration

Way back on Tuesday, before the skies cracked and the streets flooded, Dame Jeni put out a tweet about her work composing a spreadsheet of ‘Rona virus associated local lockdowns. The sheet comes complete with local area code, area name, the enforcement period, a link to legislation.gov.uk where applicable and a link to any guidance. But does not come with any pointers to SI procedure in Parliament. Michael spotted Jeni’s tweet, prodded Librarian Jayne and within a couple of hours a new query was written and published. Top work, Librarian Jayne.

This paragraph is not simply padding because we’ve had a rather slight week. And yet we cannot pretend this is new work this week. But it was news to Michael, which seems a fair enough reason to include. Librarian Liz is the Editor for our UK parliamentary vocabulary. Since some time back the work of adding new, or amending existing, terms to the vocabulary includes checking Wikidata for corresponding items, and adding reciprocal links where a match is found. Not only this, but Librarian Ned has been approaching the same problem from a different angle. Ned has spent a good week leafing through a sample of the many, many organisations in the vocabulary and pondering on the matter of what “corresponding” actually means. All adding to the wonderful web of linked data. Top marks Librarians Liz and Ned. We’d love to hear from any vocabulary managers out there who are also engaged in triangulating their IDs - we’re new to this and would love to hear from you.

Michael had a quick call on Monday with Julian and Silver from Data Language. They’re about to embark on a piece of work to investigate the orchestration from the Members’ Names Information Service to the data platform. General data flows were sketched out and general problems discussed. Though, to be honest, it was more about the company. At least for Michael.