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Why two databases is double trouble

Way back around the mid seventies, I ventured off to the Computer Fair to buy my first DOS computer (up until then I’d been programming in Basic on an HP85). I got into conversation with an attractive young lady on one of the stands. She obviously knew her stuff and I was trying to decide which of their computers I should buy. She asked me

“How big is your database?”

“Huh?” I think I might have blushed.

I’d never heard of a database!

Well, since then I’ve had lots of them and I bet you have too.

Yesterday I went on to the Kindle website to buy a book that one of my visitors had recommended (“The Singularity is Near” by Ray Kurzwell, a director of engineering at Google). I found the book, but when I tried to buy it I go a message saying “Sorry, not available for sale to South Africa at this time” or words to that effect. I did another search from a different direction and found the book again. I opened the free preview and got a different message “Sorry, not yet available in Kindle do you wish to continue reading?”. I read the first chapter and I really wanted the book. So then I did another search, this time for Ray Kurzwell and there was the Kindle version, which I promptly downloaded!

What was wrong at Amazon?

Clearly they had at least three databases, each of which contained the book title. Now if you’ve got three databases with duplicate information they will never agree 100% unless, of course, a change in one immediately results in the same change in the other(s) and I mean immediately, because if it’s not immediate, then conflicts will arise and in their resolution, data will inevitably be lost.

Now most of us have to maintain our databases manually, so there’s no immediate. The answer is to maintain any particular data in one place only. This can be tricky. We have a master fee list in our accounting application, but we also list some of our fees on our website. Double trouble. We keep a record of shelf companies and shelf trusts for sale in our tax management software, so that we know whether or not we must do the returns at no charge, but we also keep a list of them on our website. Double trouble.

I don’t know the solution, but I at least recognise the problem and I keep working on it.

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