Author Archives: johnwallx

About johnwallx

NC State University PhD Student in Earth Science with a masters in Geographic Information Systems.

Query Interface

We have now begun working on developing the query interface for the Avkat Informatics project. The interface allows for the query of four parameters. Artifact Type, Time Period, and Unit Type correspond to specific attribute values. A second option for time allows a user to enter a range of values and retrieve all information that potentially falls within that date range. Lastly, the Search Comments of Forms allows users to enter in words to search the comments. The goal is to replicate the query interface of search engines familiar to the end-user.

The design of the Query Interface is highly important. Here, users access data in a fashion that is influenced both by the organizational structure of the database, the query, and the user’s internal notion of what would ‘make sense’. The goal of any data system is to provide structure and organization, while at the same time to allow for new systems of organization to emerge as the data is explored.  The query interface is that point where the questions of the researcher are addressed by the data system, and the types of questions that the interface allows (or doesn’t allow) can reveal potential research biases latent in the database structure, such as:

  • favoring one type of evidence over another (such as pottery shape over pottery function),
  • the way in which time is divided into periods, thus reflecting biases towards ‘important’ events of history that may or may not reflect actual cultural shifts;
  • potential artifact misclassification, owing to a lack of ‘unknown’ options
  • the inability to attach  two or more categories to an object due to uncertainty.

Our initial foray into the query interface is focused clearly upon the questions of ‘what’ and ‘when,’ and is designed to be a very bare-bones system to find and extract the data, understanding that further analysis will occur in 3rd-party applications. Our system is not intended to be the venue where complex analytics are performed. Our purpose is to provide an easy means of serving datasets to end users, who will manipulate the queried data within applications specifically constructed their needs.

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User Interface: Alpha II

We are continuing work on the Alpha phase of our user interface. As you can see, there have been a variety of changes between the work presented here and our last blog post. This user interface is closer to what we envisioned when creating the mock-up, but includes some substantial comments along with changes. The two main changes have been the adding of an accordion styled panes allowing for organization of various comments/notes and the addition of two exporting title panes (one for querying tabular data on the left and another for a user-defined geospatial query on the right).

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User Interface: Alpha

We have recently finished upgrading our servers from ArcServer 9.3 to ArcServer 10 SP 3. After upgrading we were able to begin building our user interface. Below is an image of the user interface from its alpha phase. Our primary goal during this phase is accessing our data via a REST service using ESRI’s REST API.

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The Mock-up: Part I

We have now created a mock-up of our user interface (UI) of our WMA. To develop this mock-up we reviewed the initial goals for the WMA. Given that data collection for the project has finished, the current critical need is in the area of data querying, data review, and export of data subsets for further manipulation in other applications (e.g., Excel, Photoshop, SPSS, ArcGIS). After revisiting these goals, various CSS, HTML, and JavaScript snippets were combined. These snippets resulted in an initial UI which was then commented upon by members of the informatics team. We have now taken these comments and created two mock-ups which are presented below. The first figure depicts the overall UI while the second figure presents a feature selection information bubble.

It should be noted that this is our first WMA, designed to handle basic query searches and data extraction. We will design WMAs relevant to the needs of the project.

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Tools of the Trade

We will be using a variety of software for this summer which will build upon previous work for the Avkat Archaeological Project. Prior work has been dominated by the creation of an SQL database coded in MySQL. A front-end was created for this database using PHP for query optimization. This database has stored all tabular and image data for the project, however spatial information has been lacking.

ArcSDE is used to store spatial information. Recently the MySQL database was translated to PostgreSQL which employs pgAdminIII. This allows for better communication between the SQL database and the ArcSDE geodatabase.

Currently, we are working on building data queries which result in tables and views which can then be queried by end users. It is important to note here the difference between the two – tables and views. Tables result in a more static image of the data within the SQL database. This means that as the data is changed within SQL database, the table either stays the same or breaks due to information loss. Views, on the other hand, update their information thereby allowing end-user queries on the most recent version of the data. While it seems that views are more ideal than tables, there are situations where a table could be useful. Such a situation could include when a researcher does not need the most up-to-date dataset.

Future work will include uploading this information to ArcServer and at least one web-mapping application (WMA) will be created. Information is uploaded to ArcServer in order to serve out geospatial data which, in this case, has been joined to tabular data. REST services will then be created via ArcServer REST API. These REST services will then be consumed by the WMA.

Our WMA will employ ArcGIS API for JavaScript. As such, the end-user interface is highly customizable. This level of customization is not only useful, but necessary when dealing with researchers that have different foci for their research. We can create one over-arching WMA which allows many researchers to access the same data or we can create many highly specialized WMAs. There are various benefits and drawbacks to both of these approaches. Additionally, this API allows for coding in HTML5 thereby increasing the capabilities of the WMA.

An Example

It might be useful to provide an example for how this applies more directly to archaeological research. Field research for the Avkat Archaeological Project tied artifact information to an observation point, which can correspond with zero to infinity artifacts. These artifacts have been recorded on paper forms which have been entered into a SQL database which stores data in a tabular format.

Geospatial data will then be tied to the tabular data by using ArcSDE. ArcSDE functions as middleware between the tabular and geospatial data. This means that the spatial observation points can then be tied (i.e. joined) to the tabular data. This is where differing versions can be created. For example, here we can join the observation points to a broad overview of all artifacts found at that point or to specific assemblages such as lithics or pottery. The beauty of this is that when the geospatial data is queried, i.e. through selection, the query retrieves all relevant/joined tabular data. Similarly, when tabular data is queried through the WMA the spatial information can also be referenced (i.e. highlighted). This provides a valuable tool to the analyst wishing not only understand the assemblage quantitatively, but also spatially.

A researcher conducting pottery analysis can observe an anomaly of interest at a given point and select nearby points to see if this anomaly continues into other areas. We additionally seek to provide the ability to download relevant data in both tabular and geospatial formats.

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Never Let a Roadblock Stop You

This past week we began working on the Avkat Informatics Project.  We planned this development to be more or less linear. However, we discovered that this will not be possible due to a number of obstructions.

The main delay involves our server, which appears to have experienced a number of internal errors resulting in services not starting up properly.   It was discovered that a reinstallation of ArcServer would be the best course. We are using this as an opportunity to upgrade from ArcServer 9.3 to 10, and have split the development of the WMA into two main sections. First, we will begin developing the user interface in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript using stand-in data obtained from ESRI to test layout and functionality. Once the server is upgraded later this week, we will begin importing actual project data into ArcSDE, uploading it to ArcServer, and creating services for consumption.

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