2021 - Week 24

Unto us a brarian was born

Hot on the heels of recent interviews - for some definition of recent - this week we welcomed a brand new brarian to the fold. It is always a relief when a brarian makes it through security checks - no background in low level crime to be uncovered. Mind you, we’re inclined to think if a brarian were to pursue a life of crime it would at least be organised. Welcome aboard Anna. We hope you don’t find things too mad.

Enabling enabling Acts

Back in week 12 we were pleased to apply our rubber stamp to the work enabling of enabling Acts. The piping was put in place to allow instruments, draft instruments and very draft instruments to cite their enabling Act. Or Acts. The plumbing being operational was not, however, the end of the story. In order to link to Acts, we had been using SKOS style equivalents from our search and indexing triple store. And that dataset was not without problems. So our Jianhan has spent a large part of the last couple of weeks fettling our Act data into finer form. Missing dates of Royal Assent have been populated. More importantly, all our Acts now link to legislation.gov.uk using the correct protocol for the transfer of hypertext and the correct form of URI. Because - as we’re quite sure our reader is aware - giving objects URIs makes them magical. Top work Jianhan.

A new procedure this way comes!

We remain feature complete on the thrillingly titled published drafts under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. At least in theory. With librarian Jayne fresh from her nascent nuptials we pencilled in time for testing. Unfortunately, our colleagues in Software Engineering have urgent matters to attend to, so testing time has been postponed. Instead, Jayne and Michael took to incorporating JO Jane’s feedback on map progress so far.

Most of the changes are primarily textual, with step labels being subject to an increase in both verbosity and - we hope - accuracy. The main change in terms of flow is based on a suspicion that notifications to the Lords may not happen in the case of published drafts preceding a Commons only instrument. Although, given that neither the nuts nor the bolts of notification are set out in legislation, it’s really rather hard to say. We remain, as ever, on standby to refurbish both maps and data to ensure they stay in line with ever emergent reality.

On the subject of downstream dependencies, Jayne and Jianhan knocked their heads together and came up with a clever way of encoding both the published draft procedure map and the two instances of published draft work packages into spreadsheet formats. This was in case unexpected progress was made in Jayne’s absence and we needed to enter data with no librarian available - no one showing much faith in Michael’s ability to step in and enter said data. In the event, unexpected progress was not made and Jayne is now both married and honeymooned. So that work has been parked. But still, we think, it deserves an award for very clever thinking. Who knows, one day it just might come in useful. Should Jayne consider bigamy for instance, we are fully prepared.

Logicifying and indeed componentising the procedure maps

Jayne and Michael continue to make plodding progress adapting the hot mess of the CRaG treaty procedure to our newly logical model. The past couple of weeks have seen them churn out a plethora of pertinent committee maps and data. Unfortunately they did this before checking in with clerkly colleagues in either the House of Commons or House of Lords. And so they had proceeded under the mistaken assumption that both withdrawal of a treaty and the Government invoking section 22 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 - the rough equivalent of them picking up their football and heading home - would preclude committees from commenting. A couple of quick emails to House of Commons David and House of Lords Jennifer, put them straight. Which meant this week has been mainly spent removing preclusions that should never have been there in the first place. Still, we live and we learn. Thanks David and Jennifer.

Arithmeticifying the procedure maps

We’ve had something of a long-standing problem with our maps. Some types of things - a non-fatal prayer being a good example - can see multiple instances being tabled in parallel. Some of which may be withdrawn, some of which may be disposed of. Given our procedure parsing takes no note of numbers, it’s impossible to say whether a question being put on such a thing is possible or indeed plausible. To date, we’ve relied on an assumed sense of symmetry. An assumption that bears no relation to reality. Things came to a head when trying to deal with period B of the CRaG treaty procedure. Period B can, at least in theory, be entered into an infinite number of times. Every pass through period B holds the potential for the House of Commons to resolve that the treaty should not be ratified and for the Government to disagree, at which point period B kicks off again.

It is difficult - read impossible - to deal with recursion when one can’t yet deal with numbers. We need some way to compare how many times the Commons has said “no” and the Government has said, “actually, yes” before we can determine whether we’re in yet another period B. Or aren’t.

For this reason, Jayne, young Robert and Michael met - and in person not pixels - on Tuesday to draw out what procedural maths might look like. So far, they believe we need at least the ability to add and the ability to question equivalence. Expect updates to our design notes in short order.

Things we’d rather not talk about

Young Robert and Michael spent at least an hour trying to get their heads around why the Google OAuth used by our beloved egg timer was whining. Assorted options were explored and screens filled with technical looking gobbledegook perused, before they finally settled on Michael having typed an ‘http’ rather than an ‘https’. A good use of everyone’s time then.

Relationifying the models

Anya, young Robert and Michael continue to make steady progress on relationifying some of our more ontological efforts. They started with bottoms occupying seats in Houses - a pretty obvious place to start - and are now working out from that to model the bits that lead to the placing of said bottoms and the reasons underlying the existence of said seats. If you have even a smidgen of interest in Member data, we’d be delighted to hear your comments.

Big believers in brutality

In this house, we are big believers that web design should be brutal. Certainly none of that JavaScript nonsense. And with not much more than the merest whiff of CSS. To that end, Robert has been busily chipping away at the Python coalface to render simpler, cleaner, more efficient HTML for our many and varied ontologies. An example of which can be seen in our recently minted peerage ontology. Work continues, but it’s not far off. Not far at all.

In continuance of our limited education

Super keen Study of Parliament Group students, Anya and Michael popped along to an early evening seminar on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and the proposed repeal thereof. Which was, as ever, fascinating.

Not content with learning one new thing, the next day saw them drop by a seminar on the impact the Covid plague has had on parliamentary procedure. This time lead by our Martyn and equally fascinating. The question of which changes might outlive lockdown has us pondering whether Covid life has been merely a blip or whether it’s a catalyst to accelerate us into the more distributed future that was always inevitable. Our money is on the latter but if we had a future as futurologists, we probably wouldn’t be here.