Recently in Database Wonkery Category

Database Cleanup Outside In

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I had some free time today, so I decided I would clean up my language database. As it happens, it's a small relational database setup in File Maker with the following table relations.

LanguageTableKey.gif - see description below

As you can see the Language table (more or less the center of the DB universe) has a relation to a script table. The script table in turn has a relation to the script direction table (left-to-right or right-to-left) and to the script type table (alphabet/logographic, etc)

The interesting thing was that even though I had to clean up the Language table, I first had to clean up the script table, and to do that I had to clean up script direction and script type.

Not all clean ups are like this, but I did find that when I'm setting up a database first time (especially configuring drop down menus), I often have to set up the "peripheral tables" first because they will become the contents of the drop down menu. It's a little backwards from the actual design where you usually you begin with one or two central tables, then see which peripheral tables are needed.

Maybe it's a quirk of mine, but it was an interesting insight for me.

Browse or Search? - A little experiment

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I just saw an announcement for an ancient Celtic Personal Names database, and I have to say that what excited me the most wasn't the data, but the fact that it had a Browse button.

One of the perennial issues of database/archive design is how to allow users to find data. One ways is Search (just a search box into which you enter keywords), but the other is Browse (a directory list of items organized by different keywords or parameters). Interestingly, users seem to be split into Search camps and Browse, and many of my project mates seem to be Search users.

But I am a strong advocate for Browse for most databases and this is why. With the exception of very common tools like the phone book, Google or the library catalog, I don't most users can't intuit someone else's information architecture. When you have a specialized database (like ancient Celtic names) I think it's very beneficial that Browse mode exist to give user's a holistic sense of the information architecture. This is a critical factor if we expect students to start to use "professional" database resources.

So here's my thought question - do you want just a search form or do you want to browse the table of contents first when figuring out what you can extract from this resource?

Database Wonkery

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Database can be a slightly scary word for many people, but I have to admit I've a big fan of them ever since they helped me figure out some weird pattern in Celtic historical phonology.

Since then I've had to futz with databases at a variety of jobs including the bank, my freelance writing job, the comic book distribution company and Penn State University.

With the right training and tools, you can actually get your database tools to automate some truly tedious procedures and simplify your life somewhat. I'm pretty sure the deployment of a clever formula has saved me from throwing my computer out the window more than once.

The problem, unfortunately, is that most databases aren't so user friendly (and too many assume you understand SQL). But that's another topic.

I'm not sure what the solution is to database phobia, but I know I'll always be a fan...except when *&*$!! field has been miscoded.