Thursday, 24 May 2012

The On-line Database Problem

Since February 2012 I have been unable to load data to the on-line database files on the Pterosaur Database.  This has been a concern for some time and I have tried to progress this issue with 1and1 to find out how they are moving on with the server error that is blocking the file uploads.

Unfortunately, the support desk of the company is set up to act as a firewall between the customer and the server administrators.  The server is in Germany and the support desk is in the Pillipines.  This is an on-going problem and after 4 attempts to enquire about progress, this is the best response so far:-

"Thank you for contacting us.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that this has 
brought you,we have already informed our higher department 
regarding how urgent thiscase to be resolved.
And as of the moment they are doing there best to have this 
resolved atthe back end of the server. Once they are able to
find the cause for thisissue and have this fixed then we will 
sent you an email update for this.We understand that you 
might be anxious to have this resolved as soon as possible 
so thank you so much for your patience while we working on
the resolution.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to
contact us."

The first update enquiry response 3 days ago, when they had already replicated the error on two previous occasions was:-

"Thank you for contacting us.

We have tried testing in importing database composing of
2 data and it gonethrough. What is the data file size that 
are you trying to import?

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to 
contact us."

I must say that for years, 1and1 have provided excellent service.  But now, the new support desk is a wast of time.  Each enquirey contact is treated as a new problem by a different opperative. The opperatives generally have a poor grasp of the English Language and they are limited in what responses thay can give.  The general policy seems to be - ask the customer a question, then the enquiry will come back to someone else - it is essentially a "pass it around" culture with no single point of contact responsibility.  When I have asked for the enquiry to be read by a supervisor, the response has been a further question.

My advice is, if you want to use databases on-line, avoid using 1and1 at present.

The datasets, I am sure, will eventually be uploaded, but there is no timescale for the completion of the on-line data.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A tail

 Within the collections on display at the Sedwick Museum, Cambridge is a specimen of a Dimorphodon macronyx tail.  This is catalogue number J.61175 and is part of the Whinborne Collection.  The fossil is from Lyme Regis in Dorset and may have been collected by Mary Anning from the Lower Lias of the Undercliff.  The tail is in a state of dissociation and may be the rotting offcast from a predators meal.
Removing the bones photographically from the matrix shows the caudal vertebrae and the stiffening rods that would have kept the tail rigid in life.  There is also some material on this slab that looks like a sternum fragment.  It is not easily defined from a photograph.  If there was a cartilage running from the sternum to the tail, this would not be an unusual association.

The only other tail of Dimorphodon macronyx is in the Natural History Museum, London.  Specimen number 41349 is a complete and rigid tail with all of the stiffening rods in their natural place close to the vertebrae.  The arrangement of rods is similar to that seen in Rhamphorhynchus.

The long tail of this type of pterosaur would have been used as a balancing organ and would most probably have had a vertical sail at the tip to give the animal directional stability when flying. The sail is only seen in some Rhamphorhynchus specimens where wing membrain is preserved.  Dimorphodon does not show this degree of preservation.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Acronym Confusion

The names of museums are often added to scientific papers as acronyms.  It occurred to me that if the pterosaur database included a searchable list of museum information, the appropriate acronyms could be used to link the museums to specimens.
This idea sounds good, but the truth is that museum acronyms are not standard.  Above is a picture of The Natural History Museum, London.  This is represented in many of the old papers as BMNH or BM(NH).  In newer papers it is seen as NHM, NHM London, NHMUK, NHMGB or BMNHL.  The change in name from British Museum of Natural History to Natural History Museum has been an issue here.
There are a number of websites that allow you to match a museum acronym to a museum.  In Europe, the Natural History Museum London usually comes up as NHMUK;  on U.S. searches it comes up as BMNH.  There seems to be no means of standardising the acronyms across the world, especially in scientific papers that were written some time ago.

To start to address this problem, I have written to the Museums Association in London to see if they have an existing UK standard for acronyms.  Lets see how we go on from there!

If anyone has any sound information I would like to hear about it.

Footnote:  An E-mail from the Museums Association informs me that the old ERGMA system of the 1970's, which allocated a code to every museum, was not supported by all museums and was dispensed with many years ago.  There is no clear standardisation of Museum Acronyms in the UK.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Still having server problems

Today all of the web database failed.  There is an issue with the server at 1and1 Internet - the host for the Pterosaur Database.  The support desk is powerless to do anything, but if I leave a message on the 1and1 facebook page, I get a lucid response.  Perhaps this is the way forward.

1and1 have been an excellent host for many years, but my recent experiences are unusually exceptional.  This issue first started in January this year and we are now into May and I have had no contact from the people who control the web servers.  This is not helping the reputation of a once excellent company.

It may be the case that like all big and successful companies, the infrastructure becomes overloaded as costs are cut.  As soon as we are able, the database pages will be re-instated.

Should this problem persist much longer Then a new host company may be the only solution to the problem.

Footnote: within a couple of hours of posting on the 1and1 facebook page, the databases were restored and running.  There are still issues with uploading data, but at least the uploaded data is now accessible again.