RIDPad and Schematics Browser

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Dept. of Computer Science
Portland State University


We assume you are familiar with terms such as superimposed information, mark, and context.

Application Domain

The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (USFS) routinely makes decisions to solve (or prevent) problems concerning forests. The public may appeal any USFS decision. The appeal process begins when an appellant sends in an appeal letter. An appeal letter raises issues with a USFS decision and the decision-making process. It frequently cites documents such as the Decision Notice (DN) and Environmental Assessment (EA). A USFS Editor processes all appeal letters pertaining to a decision and prepares an appeal packet for a reviewing officer. An appeal packet contains all documents a reviewing officer might need to recommend a decision about issues raised. The RID letter (RID stands for Records, Information, Documentation) is one of the documents in an appeal packet. This letter lists the issues raised and a summary response for each issue. An Editor synthesizes a RID letter using information in documents such as the DN, EA, and specialists’ reports. In this letter, the editor presents information from other documents in a variety of forms such as excerpts, summaries, and commentaries. In addition, the editor documents the location and identity of the information sources used in synthesizing the letter.

Composing a RID letter requires an editor to maintain a large working set of information. Since it is not unusual for an editor to be charged with preparing appeal packets for several decisions simultaneously, the editor may need to maintain several threads of organization. Though using documents in electronic form can be helpful, such use does not necessarily alleviate all problems. For example, the editor still needs to document the identity and location of information. In using electronic documents, the editor has to cope with multiple document windows open at once.


RIDPad is a superimposed application for the USFS appeal process. A USFS editor can use this application to collect and organize information needed to prepare a RID letter. A RIDPad instance is a collection of items and groups. An item is a superimposed information element associated with a mark. It has a name and a description. The name is user-defined and the description is the text excerpt from the associated mark. A group is a convenient collection of items and other groups. Figure 1 shows a RIDPad instance with information concerning the “Road 18 Caves” decision (made in the Pacific Northwest Region of USFS). The instance shown has eight items in four groups. The group titled “Environmental Assessment” contains two groups. The information in the instance shown comes from three distinct base documents in two different base applications. (The item labeled “Comparison of Issues” contains an MS Excel mark; all other items contain MS Word marks.) All items were created using base-layer support included in the current implementation of SPARCE.

Figure 1: A RIDPad document.                                                           Figure 2: The RIDPad information model.

RIDPad affords many operations for items and groups. A user can create new items and groups, and move items between groups. The user can also rename, resize, and change visual characteristics such as color and font for items and groups. With the mark associated with an item, the user can navigate to the base layer if necessary, or examine the mark’s properties and browse its context from within RIDPad via a reusable Context Browser we have built. The Browser is capable of displaying several kinds of context such as content, topology (surrounding information), and presentation (fonts, colors, and so on). Figure 3 shows the Context Browser for the item labeled “FONSI” (on the right, associated with the item by dashed lines).

RIDPad uses a simple information model to store details of groups and items, and mark IDs associated with items. Figure 2 shows that information model.

Schematics Browser

Appeal letters from different appellants in the USFS appeal process tend to share features. They all contain appellant names and addresses, refer to a Decision Notice, and raise issues. Such similarities suggest a schema for appeal letters. A superimposed schematic is an E-R schema superimposed over base information. The Schematics Browser (Figure 3) is a superimposed application developed by Shawn Bowers to demonstrate the use of superimposed schematics. We have altered this application to use SPARCE to access base layers. We have also enhanced this application so a user can view contexts of base-layer elements.

The Schematics Browser lists superimposed schematics and allows a user to browse an instance of a selected schematic. (At present this application does not support creation of new schematic instances.) Entities and attributes in a schematic instance may be distributed over any number of base layers. Marks can be associated with entities and attributes. When an entity or an attribute has a mark associated, a user can either visit the base layer or choose to view context from within the Browser. The Browser stores mark IDs and other information related to schematic instances in a relational database.

Figure 3: The Schematics Browser.


Author: Sudarshan Murthy

Page modified: 13 Sep 2006 10:05 AM