One mountain too much?

Yesterday’s drama in Casualty ate into a day which I had planned to spend coming to grips with a horrible technology problem.

Over ten years ago I wrote a database for my good friend Rose, who was chief editor of a dictionary of Scottish women .  This was an ambitious work, involving nearly 300 authors writing about nearly a thousand women in Scottish history.  My database was to serve primarily as a project management tool, chasing progress on the entries and providing reports for the management committee and publishers.  It would also generate complex indexes matching women to a range of activities as well as cross references, and then at the end exporting entries to the publishers.

As a largely self-taught database person, with a client (Rose) who had not the experience to anticipate what she really needed, this relational database, written with Filemaker, evolved into a messy, complex spaghetti with many sticky plasters (sorry for the mixed metaphors). But on the whole it worked.

I was relieved when the project completed without disaster and moved on to other things.  But now, more than a decade later, there is money for a second edition and there are another thousand women scheduled to have their lives added to the dictionary.

At first I was firm and said ‘NO’ to Rose; I could not, would not produce a revised database for this edition.  I’m older, I have forgotten what Filemaker skills I had, and I have other things to occupy me.

Inevitably I have got sucked in.  The current database is too complex (and eccentric!) to hand over to someone else, and anyhow, we cannot find that someone else.  So I thought I would at least have a bash at tidying it up.

I am discovering that not only can I not remember why I did  various things, but also, the database software had been upgraded many times since the first edition, and somewhere along the line, some of my original links between the different ‘tables’ of the database no longer work.

Nightmare!  Every time I try to set aside time to understand what is going on, either somebody drops by or I get ill. Tomorrow morning I’m going to make a huge effort to solve at least one of the serious problems I have hit.

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