Seeking A Technical Collaborator or Successor for the Traceable Heraldic Art

As we approach the fifth anniversary of my Traceable Heraldic Art project, and given how terribly overcommitted I am with numerous projects underway, I wanted to let folks know that if someone with a strong software-development background was interested in developing the next generation of the system that hosts that collection, I’d be open to collaboration and eventually turning it over to someone else to run.

This recent blog post lays out some of the background on how the current system works and what I hope might some day replace it, and links to the source code and data files I use to build and update the site. A successor system might be coded very differently, but I would hope that it would still support the current functionality and enable the development of new capabilities, so it seems likely to be of similar complexity.

This doesn’t mean I am about to abandon the project, but I have spent somewhere about four thousand hours on it already, and would like to free up some time to work on other things. If you’re a combination web-development nerd and armorial-art nerd, and you’re interested in spending years of your life improving and maintaining a much-valued community resource, drop me a line!

An Idiosyncratic System for Publishing the Traceable Heraldic Art

[Note: The below is a lightly-edited revision of an email message I sent to a contributor to the Traceable Heraldic Art collection who asked about the technology used to update the web site. It’s somewhat rambling and may not be of interest to most, but I figured it was worth putting it in the public record. — Mathghamhain]

In hindsight it would have been sensible to tackle the creation of the online Traceable Heraldic Art collection as a web database project, but for historical reasons that’s not at all how it’s architected. Continue reading “An Idiosyncratic System for Publishing the Traceable Heraldic Art”

On Belling the Cat

[Note: this post is not specifically related to heraldry, but I’ve included it here because it is very much concerned with the question of developing web-based tools and addresses issues that frequently arise in the discussion of digital heraldic resources. — Mathghamhain]

Someone recently commented that it was a shame that the SCA didn’t have a tool on its main website that allowed people to enter their zip code and get links to their their closest local branches — instead newcomers need to use a two-step process of using the SCA’s site to find a kingdom based on state, province, or country, then using that kingdom’s search tools to find their local group — surely it would be more welcoming to simplify that process? And might the fact that such an integrated tool doesn’t exist reveal that the SCA doesn’t care about newcomers?

As I responded, I realized that I had written similar comments about a number of other such proposals — frequent topics of this kind of discussion in the context of the College of Arms are building new web tools for Orders of Precedence, or a central registry of all coats of arms — and of course the same issue comes up in numerous other areas — so I figured I’d clip them out and post them here (with just a bit of editing to allow them to make sense on their own) for use the next time this kind of thing comes up.

One minor challenge for the “just enter your zip code” plan is that some parts of the world don’t use zip codes, so now you are building a web tool that uses country names, zip codes, Canadian FSAs, Australian post codes, New Zealand telephone prefixes, and I’m not sure what else, with an authenticated back-end interface for the officers who manage this data in each kingdom to send you updates, and you need to staff the administration and maintenance of this tool for the next decade, keep up to date with the changes in local officers and revisions to the SCA’s overall web design, and you have zero budget aside from free hosting on the SCA’s server (and that only if you use the tools and platforms they already support).

When you say “it might be time consuming” you are answering the question about why such a thing does not already exist — it would require a lot of work from each of a lot of unpaid volunteers, which would need to be sustained over a period of years to ensure it did not fall out of date. If someone qualified wants to tackle the project, I would love to see it done, but it’s a larger project than it might seem at first glance.

Projects like this are hard to solve with grunt labor — they require technical skill, long-term dedication, and team-building. This is why we haven’t (yet!) solved this problem.

If you can recruit a talented software developer with strong communications skills who wants to devote thousands of hours to this project, I’d be excited to see the results!

And if you are an experienced technology professional who wants to volunteer a decade of their life to building this and keeping it running, please step forward — this would be a great project!

But if what you are saying is that someone else should do this work, about which you lack sufficient knowledge to be able to formulate an implementation plan or estimate the scope of effort required, consider the fable of Belling the Cat.

Five Years Before The Mast

The above social media post marks the five-year anniversary of my having joined the heraldic community.

I had started researching names and device designs for my own submission the previous December, getting some very helpful Irish onomastic advice from Mistress Alys Mackyntoich, and some armory feedback from the Facebook Heraldry Chat group.

I spoke to the former heralds of my canton and province that spring, but they weren’t submissions experts, so rather than mailing in the forms I filled them out as best I could and brought them to the Heralds Point tent at Pennsic that summer.

By happenchance, the herald who I was routed to was Meisterin Gisela vom Kreuzbach, who looked over the large pile of poorly-summarized documentation I had handed her and decided nonetheless that I had some promise, and invited me to come around the desk to sit by her and watch over her shoulder as she entered the records into the forms interface. I wound up shadowing her through several consultations that afternoon and returning for more a couple of days later, and by the end of the week I was hooked.

Little did I know that moment would set me on a path to spending literally thousands of hours working on this esoteric corner of our peculiar hobby. Thank you to everyone who has given me a hand up over the last five years, and to the many who went before us and paved the way for the world we now inhabit.