2020 - Week 41

So then, another week down. And another week closer to the end of the Now Times. Perhaps. It has not, in all honesty, been our most productive week. Anya was mostly mired in meetings and other assorted administrivia. And Librarians Anya, Jayne and Claire, together with dabbling computational dilettante Michael spent two whole days glued to headsets in their latest efforts at…

…expanding the family

In a little under a month they’ve managed to narrow down the candidate field from 128 to 9 to 4 to 1. And late on Friday they got news that the 1 had accepted. At least verbally. We look forward to welcoming a new librarian shortly. Or as shortly as security clearances allow.

Procedure mapping

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that our Jianhan has made excellent progress on the implementation of procedural time bound routes. These allow us to state that a route through a procedure became valid after a certain date or was valid before a certain date. So we can retain the fact that, prior to the 24th April 2020, the laying of a treaty in the House of Lords allowed the treaty to be allocated to the EU External Affairs Sub-Committee. But, from the 24th April, this was no longer true. Because the websites compress a rather complicated interwingled graph into a list, there is currently little direct benefit to end users. That said, our work package visualisations are now somewhat less noisy and no longer show steps at the end of deprecated routes. And those visualisations are used by our dedicated team of librarians to check their own work and the work of Parliament. The less noise we present, the easier the checking and the better the checks. So eventually everyone benefits from better data. Not least our users.

The work for this week was liaising with colleagues in Software Engineering to check that the addition of time bound routes had not inadvertently broken their websites. That testing happened on Monday, and we’re happy to report our changes broke nothing. Our Jianhan has now pushed ontology changes and orchestration tweaks to live, the time bound routes card has moved firmly to the done pile and another Slack channel has been closed. Top work Jianhan.

In other testing news, our attempts to add a new procedure did not go so well. Librarian Jayne created a new test procedure and two associated work packages in the staging environment of the data platform. On Wednesday colleagues in Software Engineering tested the changes in their test environment but the new procedure did not appear in the dropdown and the two test work packages did not display any associated work. Software Engineering continue to investigate. Jayne and Jianhan continue to provide assistance.

Continuing our work with Rad, Tom and other assorted friends in Oxford, Jayne has added Standing Order citation blobs to our procedure maps. Or at least the ones for which we have data. If any clerkly colleagues find themselves with a spare hour on their hands, they might want to consider brewing up a fresh pot of tea and checking her work. Particularly if your name happens to be David, Paul, Martyn, JO Jayne, Matt or Luanne.

Jayne and Michael spent a pleasant few hours back in the world of the treaty procedure map. What had been a set of bubbles relating to a generic House of Commons Select Committee is now an explicit name check for the International Trade Committee(ITC). A treaty might, in theory, be scrutinised by any Commons Select Committee with an interest, and there are rather a lot of Commons Select Committees. So they’ve decided that they’ll be reactive rather than proactive and add named Select Committees to the map as and when committees pick up treaties and report. Which should also help to salvage what little is left of their eyesight. The ITC was excepted from this firm rule of thumb because the ITC is planning to scrutinise the UK Japan Trade Deal. And it seemed worth getting ahead of the game for once.

Following conversations with Arabella and Ellie, Jayne and Michael have also added new steps for committees to recommend that scrutiny period A be extended. This for both the International Trade Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In final treaty procedure news, Jayne and Michael have also made a start on adding steps for motions calling on the government to extend period A to the Commons’ side of the map. A similar motion was already mapped on the Lords’ side of the fence, so this was mostly a case of lifting and shifting from the red corner to the green. It should have been straightforward, but was made difficult by Michael’s computer no longer supporting the drawing of pictures. So Jayne did all the work and most of the swearing, and Michael chipped in with encouraging noises. Which is not nothing.

Your weekly egg timer update

Robert and Michael had planned to add a new calculation for those oddity SIs where the egg continues to cook only when both Houses are not adjourned for more than four days. But the best laid plans of men - and mouses - oft come to naught. And that was the case this week.

Our real egg timer news is rather more exciting. We can report that, on every occasion on which it has been called into action, the egg timer has returned dates in agreement with those generated by clerks using the traditional method of calendar and abacus. In fairness, it has only been called into action twice. Which cannot reasonably be described as an extensive field trial.

Glitching legislation

Because we often have call to peruse legislation.gov.uk, and because we often work with little screens, and because we frequently have to view source to find anchors so we can link to a particular place, Robert has been busy making a Glitch app that re-renders legislation in a useful format. The meaning of useful here being, ‘useful to us’. This for instance is the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. And this is the now infamous Section 7 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. Without which Robert and Michael might have had a summer. You can of course use Robert’s app to render any piece of legislation. Just take the path from the legislation.gov.uk URI - that is, the bit after legislation.gov.uk/ - and append it to https://agile-tonsil.glitch.me/ and Bob’s your uncle. We think this could be useful to a number people outside our immediate circle. Particularly perhaps for constitutional lawyers on a toilet break. Which is surely an untapped market opportunity.

Last week, Jianhan and Robert were exploring how we might use a Bing based search, piped into an Open Search interface to improve the findability of content from our three research services. Filtering by publisher and content type had been implemented. But then we hit a snag. One requirement was for chronological listing of results by update date. But Bing is not being fed enough information to determine this. Robert met Lina to discuss but the chronological part proved non-negotiable. So for now this work is parked. Though we hope to return to it one day.