The Proceedings of the 1989 NanoCon Northwest regional nanotechnology conference, with K. Eric Drexler as Guest of Honor.

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Appendix F: Hypermedia Photo Retrieval System by G. Louis Roberts

The following material was selected from among the illustrations and notes used by G. Louis Roberts in his talk. Photostatic copies were used for the printed version of the NanoCon Proceedings, but for this electronic edition, some portions were scanned and slightly edited, and some portions were typed, so that any errors of transcription are the responsibility of the editor. Jim Lewis, July, 1996.

Hypermedia Operations Technology
Photo Retrieval System


Boeing Computer Services
Information Retrieval Technologies
G. Louis Roberts

Copyright© 1989, the Boeing Company

All Rights reserved


This presentation will be a guided tour of an application developed for the Commercial Airplane Company, specifically for the Operations Technology organization, in Auburn.

During this presentation, we will be focusing primarily on the issues of "what, why, and how much" rather than discussing the implementation details of "how we did it."

Please feel free to ask questions.


Senior Analyst with Boeing Computer Services, Information Retrieval Technology.
Developer Charter
Implement full text, text and graphics, and graphics databases across the Boeing family of companies, using a variety of technologies including hypertext.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes Operations Technology
(Manufacturing Research and Development).
Customer Charter
To insure that Boeing Commercial Airplane manufacturing processes are current, and optimally deployed.


Our organization is part of BCS's Corporate Support Division. We use a variety of software tools on the three hardware tiers, from Tier I --mainframes, to Tier II --minicomputers and organizational servers, through Tier III --individual workstations.

We are chartered to develop full text and graphics information retrieval applications internal to Boeing.

Our client for this application, Boeing Commercial Airplane Operations Technology, is chartered to make sure that the manufacturing technologies in use in the Commercial Airplane are kept appropriately close to the state of the art.

Our "work order" on their behalf, is to automate the Operations Technology Photo Library.


The Problem...



The system in place when this effort started was entirely manual. More than 40,000 photographs, slides, negatives, overheads, line drawings and other visual materials had been accumulated over the life of the Company. The collection was organized by a paper index system, in wooden file drawers. On occasion, as many as several hundred photographs had been added to the system in a single month.

The drawbacks inherent in manual systems had been impacting the organization for years. Until recently, appropriate enabling technologies in the areas of workstations and networking were unavailable in a cost effective manner.


Planned Production Scope


When full production scope is attained, the intent of this system is to enable end user access to all of the 40,000 plus images from any compatible workstation connected to the Boeing backbone Ethernet. Near term, that means Macintosh and MacII computers, within the Puget Sound region. Long term, other workstation types may be added, as may Company permission for network connectivity of broader scope. The physical network is in place today, and is being upgraded to optical fibre.


Typical Networking Path


The size and complexity of Boeing's networking environment is surprising. It's almost a joke when people ask "What does Boeing have a lot of?" The answer is "Everything!"

Even a simple communication configuration from our Renton site to the Auburn test database host site involved five different communication "boxes" before the signal even got out of our building.

The configuration shown was used to demonstrate the feasibility of running an image retrieval application using Hypercard over Ethernet, on a file server.


End User Workstation



Although the screen prints of the system you see in this presentation are from a Mac Plus, the intent is to go to production implementation using a Mac II platform, storing the images as analog video on local optical disk, and the storing database linking the images (and providing the retrieval capability) on magnetic disk, on a local area networked server.

This will provide a degree of platform independence to the application, since any software and hardware combination could be used to generate the serial control sequences required by the videodisk player.


...Guided Tour...

[Editor's Note: Only a very brief portion of the guided tour of how the system appears to a user is presented here. Only the first screen illustration is shown, and the notes for the subsequent screeen illustrations have been condensed and added to the notes for this screeen illustration.]


This is the first screen a user would see upon accessing the application. The main activity "loop" is multiple passes through the "Category Selector", into the "Photo File", where an order list is built.

If the user cannot locate an image that is useful, it may not exist within the system. On a "find failure" the user is given the opportunity to view an organizational procedure whereby a new photograph may be requested.


A design constraint for this system was to make it as simple as a hammer to use.

For that reason, the opening screen incorporates an animated description of the "features and functions" of the system, that is intended to be somewhat more entertaining than the system itself.

All the icons on this screen flash as they are being discussed in the scrolling text field. When "you must obtain your supervisor's signature" appears on screen, it is accompanied by a "lightning flash" (the screen inverts very rapidly three times in succession) and a digitized audio "thunderclap" is heard.

Category Selection ...

[The] "Category Selector" segment of the application [contains] ... over a thousand broad categories of photographs within the system.

This series of screens allows users to reduce the number of images under consideration by selecting one category of images for detailed examination.

Users are allowed to free-browse screen to screen, and line to line within screens, using either the on-screen pushbuttons or the keyboard "arrow" keys.

Information is provided about what screen is being displayed, how many lines of text are within that category, and how many cumulative items have been ordered.

Select by Keyword ...

If the user "clicks" anywhere within the text field, a data entry panel appears, requesting keyboard input for text retrieval. Any word or phrase contained in the text (including category numbers) is available via word searching.

Keyword Not Found ...

The "failure case" (if a word is not found) gives the user the opportunity to be routed to the Organizational Instruction describing the procedure for requesting new photographs.

If the user has just misspelled the word, and knows it, we allow him to continue searching.

Organizational Instruction ...

When the user can't even locate the category of images of interest, it might be because he is seeking "that which is not there."

We handle that eventuality by providing access to the Organizational Instruction that defines the administrative conditions and procedures for requesting the services of a photographer to take a new photograph.

"Generic" Image File ...

When the user is at this point, a category of images has been successfully selected.

The data shown in "bent brackets" ("<example>") is dynamically modified, either at file entry, or when individual images are displayed. At all times, we attempt to provide the user with maximum information about his location, and maximum cues about the next available appropriate action.

In all of the "image" screens, the control panel is across the top. Forward, backward, and "go-top" arrow buttons are supported, as are the keyboard arrow keys.

All the data fields in the left third of the screen are "live". If the user mouseclicks in any of them, a data entry panel will be presented, so that keywords or phrases may be used to further refine the selection.

Category Restricted ...

Certain types of materials are restricted, and require a special coordinating process with signature approval, before copies can be released.

We warn the user if this is the case for materials being requested, both on initial entry to the file containing restricted category materials, and each time a copy of such materials is requested.

Show Instructions ...

If the user selects the "FIND" pulldown at the top left of the control bar BEFORE clicking in a field and entering any retrieval criteria, the "Show Instructions" choice is presented.

Enter Criteria ...

Here, the user has clicked in the "REMARKS" panel, and has entered some retrieval criteria.

Filter Input ...

We filter the input, and detect any characters that might cause problems with string parsing, or with later retrieval of a phrase.

Image Retrieved ...

Retrieval is possible within 3-5 seconds, even though our test system is on a rather slow Bernoulli drive.

At 72 dots per inch, the standard black and white Mac resolution, this retrieval spped is maintained over Ethernet.

Browsing ...

Several browse modes are supported.

The keyboard arrow keys and the control panel arrow buttons support scanning the images one by one, outside the context of any retrieval criteria.

The "FIND" menu supports dynamically modified "SHOW NEXT" and "SHOW ALL" choices, in which the most recently entered "FIND" criterion is shown in the menu, in upperclass letters.

Repeat Browse ...

Since a user might not have a specific retrieval criterion, but might just be "free browsing" for inspiration, a "SHOW CATEGORY" choice is supported, that shows every slide within the selected category.

On the "SHOW ALL" and "SHOW CATEGORY" choices, after one pass through the file, the user is notified, and given the opportunity to repeat the browse.

Order Original ...

During a browse or a slideshow, clicking on an image as it slides past "freezes" it, so that it can be ordered.

The six available image types are shown in a pulldown menu.

Type Restricted ...

Certain categories of originals are restricted.

Here, we warn the user that a supervisor's signature will need to be obtained. A color viewfoil has been ordered; the ordering of this item class is restricted due to cost.

Category Restricted ...

In this case, we warn the user that the entire image category is restricted, and that special approval routing is required for this entire range of images.

Enter Quantity ...

The item type ordered is repeated in the panel requesting the item quantity.

Select Source ...

The user can select the source negative for the original, depending on availability and type.

Done with file ...

When all images of interest have been ordered from within a given category, the user may then select a new category, or may elect to print the order for those images already selected.

The Trail ...

Each time a category is visited, it is also recorded on a list that may be displayed or cleared on the OVERVIEW panel. This feature is provided for users with long lists, and short memories: if the system knows where the user has been, the user doesn't need to bother to remember it.

Show It ...

The image categories visited have been selected for display.

Clear it ...

If the "CLEAR" choice has been selected, the user is given the opportunity to revise the choice.

We always try to give the user the chance to "bail out" before doing something that might cause trouble later.

User Form ...

The user may print order when all images of interest have been selected.

This is the first point at which we "know" the user as an individual.

Whether to capture this information here, or earlier, when the first image has been ordered, is still under evaluation within the user and management communities.

"Busy ..." your request is being processed ...

The electronic order form takes a minute or so to print. Since this is the only point within the system where the user is exposed to any significant delays, we say something positive, so the user won't think the system has just "gone away."

User Feedback ...

After the user has provided feedback on this form, the answers are catenated to a dayfile of all the responses given by other users earlier in the day.

Although we do not tell the user so, the name and mailstop already provided for the photo order form is also catenated to this response, as is the date and time.

A separate application (to which the users do not have access) allows review of all the answers so that user requests and feedback may be incorporated (as appropriate) into phased upgrades of the software.

Other Applications ...

All of these hypertext applications were developed to address widely variant browsing needs. The Photo File application you have just seen is largely graphics, with only a little text.

The next applications are towards the other end of the spectrum, in that they are largely text, with only a little graphics.

Morning Report

Boris Mishel's DC Office Morning Report
This application has not graphics at all; it is, however, the most "hypertext-like" of the three, in that double-click selection of any word anywhere in the text chains forward in the database to the next occurrence of that word.

SINGLE-clicking on any word asks "What is the definition of this word?" If the word has been defined in an application specific database, the definition is presented. If the word has NOT been defined, the user is put into authoring mode, and given the opportunity to define it.

Each text frame contains a single topic, attributed to a source.

Although in the "real world", dates would obviously be present in such an application, a conscious design decision was made to exclude them for this demonstration, to allow the demo to be used over a longer period of time.


Government - Industry Data Exchange Program
The orginal version of GIDEP electronically available did not have any graphics; it seemed logical to provide the means to attach graphics to any frame of text.

Again, point-and-click hypertext is provided, as is the ability to free-browse using cursor keys and or arrow keys.

The "PICTURE" button ... is dynamic. It only appears if the artwork is actually attached to the given frame.

In this application is differentiated from the others in that the artwork is maintained in a separate file as bitmap images in Hypercard, rather than as analog images on a laserdisk.

Lessons Learned

The "lessons learned" will probably come as no surprise. They are certainly consistent with other work, already published.

What is surprising (to me at least!) is that a product like Hypercard, intended primarily as a toolkit for a single user workstation, is able to address the information retrieval needs of a networked application in such an easy, straightforward manner.

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