These modules are intended to help people with an abiding need to access the social, economic, demographic, geographic and other public data to be found in the MCDC/OSEDA public data archive at the University of Missouri. We shall be using the MCDC's Uexplore and Dexter web applications as the primary tools for accessing the data and producing the outputs shown in these modules. This application is intended for people who are interested in accessing these kinds of data and getting it in a form they can work with, as well as getting it for just the geographic areas or years or economic line codes of interest. It assumes that the user has visited the MCDC/OSEDA Public Data Archive home page and have read the important note (linked to at the top) on that page which begins with
This eliminates at least 90% of the world, we know. We do lots of stuff on our web site that is aimed at that 90% who don't want to know how we did it, they just want some numbers. One of the reasons for the existence of the archive and the extraction tools is that it makes it easier for us to do quick, easy and reliable extractions which can be easily shared with users who do not want to ever have to deal with a Dexter query form.
In addition to passing the "important note" test we also assume the following about users of these modules:
In summary, these modules are really not so much about teaching the user the details of using Dexter (although you definitely will see some tricks or shortcuts that you may not have gathered from the other document sources), but are more about the data itself. What kind of information is hidden in the data archive, and look how relatively easy it is (most of the time) to extract it and get what I want. We want users to understand the difference between raw data, and information. The SAS data sets in the archive are closer to raw data than to information, but when combined with Uexplore/Dexter they can easily be transformed into information. That is what we want these modules to show people.
Each Xsample module demonstrates how to combine the functionality of the Missouri Census Data Center's Uexplore and Dexter software modules (mostly the latter) with specific data sets in the MCDC public archive in order to create useful extracts. This is a frame-based application. When you invoke one of these modules your browser will display a window that is partitioned into 4 frames. The upper-left frame is quite small and always displays a link to this document.
The rest of the left side is taken up by the Main Frame, which contains the text of the tutorial. A topic template is used for these modules to create a degree of consistency between these modules. Most of the hyperlinks in the Main Frame will cause those documents to be displayed in one of the fraems on the right side. (Although the user can override that by right-clicking on a link and specifying that they want to open it in a new window or tab.)
The two frames on the right of the screen start out each occupying half of the vertical space. The upper right frame is called the Input frame and initially contains a saved Dexter query form. The latter is what you get when you invoke Dexter and fill out the form (checking boxes and select list items, making text box entries, etc. -- all the things you do to define the query prior to using an
Extract Data button to run the query). The user can browse this frame to see the details of how the query was done; they can also take advantage of this being a "live" module (unlike the static graphic images that we employed in earlier Xsample modules) where choices can be modified (or left alone as well) and an Extract Button used to run the query "live".
The right side bottom frame is called the Output frame and is initialized with an output module generated by the Xsample query. Links to all the output modules are provided in the Main Frame and those links can be used to display any or all output modules in the Output frame (just one at a time, of course).
Each frame occupies a specified portion of the window initially, but the user can drag the frame boundaries in order to modify them.
The purpose of the MF is to describe the query, and provide access (hyperlinks) to various related modules such as the filled-out dexter query form, output files, metadata pages, related web sites, etc. It is structured, so that you can expect to find the same bolded item and paragraph headers, along with standard hyperlinks and other buttons that will help you navigate through the example. We won't go through each category, since they are pretty much self-explanatory. But we want to make sure you are aware of (and therefore make use of) several key items.
Dexter query form, which is already pre-loaded in the Input frame. Other modules that may be linked to here might be a metadata page for the dataset, maybe a screen shot of a Quick Look display, or some other relevant page that was viewed in order to help code the query. Links here always specify that the page be opened in the Input frame.
We have created a fair amount of metadata to describe many of the data sets, but there will be some that have little or no metadata associated with them. And even when there may be some, it may not be sufficient to really understand how and why these data are relevant to the problem at hand.
The use of frames to organize all the different pieces of the xsample is intended as a convenience feature. But you have to be able to navigate among the frames in order for it to work. The idea is to have the explanatory text being read in the main frame which refers to various input and output components that are displayed simultaneously just over to the right. The problem with this has to do with frame-size issues affedcting "browseability". The Dexter Query Form ("dqf"), for example, almost always needs to be viewed in a frame/window considerably larger than what is initally displayed in the Input frame quadrant. There are various ways you can view the dqf in a larger frame/tab/window:
The two best basic sources for help on using the Dexter query tool are linked to from the top of the Dexter Query Form pages (and thus are typically just a click away since there is usually a DQF module visible in the upper-right Input frame). For basic help on what the Data Archive and the uexplore/dexter software are all about follow the link (from the Navy blue navigation boxes along the left side of most MCDC web pages) to the MCDC Data Archive home page. From there you will see numerous links to other documents that provide background information regarding the data archive and the software. There are also links to tutorials and on-line Help pages (including these Xsamples, which for many users may be the best source) that deal specifically with how to use the Dexter query form to define your queries.
For help with specific data collections, we suggest you peruse the archive home page to get an idea of what kinds of data are available and to navigate to the specific filetype data directories. From the pages displayed by Uexplore for these data collections look for files that appear to contain metadata. These would include files such as Readme.html files, SeeAlso.html files, and various files with extensions such as html, pdf and sometimes xls. Subdirectories with names such as Techdoc contain technical documentation. Subdirectroies named Tools appear in almost every filetype directory and these contain mostly programs and the associated log/listing files which document how the Missouri Census Data Center converted or otherwise processed the "raw data" for this particular kind of data. Tools libraries are most useful for professional programmers, espcially those who know SAS.
Be sure to look for and utilize Datasets.html files which are much easier to use when looking for a dataset than just the alphabetic list of dataabase files that you get from Uexplore. These dataset reports provide links to metadata files, the same kinds of links that you see at the top of the Dexter Query Form when a dataset has a metadata module for it. These metadata modules are perhaps the most important resource to use when trying to understand what a dataset is all about.
We do not have a forum specifically dedicated to accessing the archive (or regarding accessing this type of public data via any means) but we have pondered whether there would be sufficient interest to start one. If you would be interested in such a forum please send a note indicating so to the author (see link, below - the last thing on the page.)
And, of course, you can still get help from the human beings who are responsible for all of this. The best way to do that is by using the feedback buttons (the author's name at the end of the Questions/Comments provided at the bottom of most MCDC web pages, including this one).