Rebecca Sutton Koeser bio photo

Rebecca Sutton Koeser

Lead Developer, The Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton University

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There once was a blog called Tech Know-how. It was a team blog, and it ran on Drupal. This was back in the days when the Emory Libraries were just getting started with Content Management Systems for websites, and Tech Know-how (TKH) was one of the first Drupal sites that went up. Since then, the Libraries have been through two or three redesigns and at least one platform migration. TKH had fallen into disuse and disrepair, and (perhaps due to changes in leadership or a shift in focus) our team no longer used it to blog about our work and discoveries or document best practices. The site wasn’t worth upgrading, and so it had to be shutdown for security reasons.

Around this time, I had decided I wanted to try to set up a personal site on GitHub pages using Jekyll, and I thought at least some of my contributions to TKH were worth saving. So, I created this site and migrated my posts. I also decided to cross-post some of my content from the Networking Belfast project blog, because I don’t know how long thep project site will be maintained, and I’d like to preserve and control my own content. I wanted to keep the content, but I also thought it would be less intimidating not to start with a brand new, empty site. What I did not expect (but perhaps should have) is that migrating a large, diverse set of content (some of it fairly technical) is a pretty good way to put a new technology like Jekyll through its paces. It also shows how far we have come in the years– the tools now available for displaying code snippets and technical details are so much cleaner and better than the janky formatting I had to use to get queries or code to display semi-sensibly in Drupal.

Going through my old blog posts provides an interesting tour of the technologies I’ve worked with over the past several years: preliminary experiments with Python and FUSE back in 2009, when I was still learning Python but bored with the Django tutorial; we’ve long since replaced Trac with Pivotal Tracker for project management; PHP, now generally only still used in legacy projects; my discovery of the image server Djatoka, which we’ve been using for years and now are looking to replace. Back in 2011 doing development on a Macbook was novel enough for me that I wrote up documentation on how I set up my work environment, but now I do almost all my development on OSX and only occasionally go back to my Linux workstation. To my mind, the more interesting posts in the long term are some of the write-ups from conference sessions (which is good encouragement to do that again, the next time I have occasion to attend a conference!) and the experimental posts. Those experiments include one on using automated name-recognition to generate a map (which was useful again just recently), and my little experiment with archival Finding Aid data that eventually led to the Belfast Group Poetry|Networks project.

The technical landscape has changed just a bit in the last several years; it seems that projects tend to have better documentation, and we now have tremendous resources like all the questions and solutions Stack Overflow, so that you can often just search for an error message and find a solution. But I know I’ve often found solutions or ideas on someone’s personal blog or site, which should perhaps encourage all of us to write and share more often about the cool technologies we’re working with and document our clever (or occasionally hacky) solutions to tricky problems.

Tech Know-how is dead. Long live tech know-how!