Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life -- The Database

I like databases. They're wonderful ways to organize things. My favorite example of something begging for a database is a baseball card collection. You can organize your actual cards by only one method. You might sort them by team, by date of acquisition, by value, by field position, or any number of ways, but they can have only one order. If you choose a different criteria for sorting them, you lose the order you already had.

A database, on the other hand, allows unlimited sorting options. And filtering options! You can make a list that includes only pitchers and sort them by their statistics. Or you can list only the cards above a certain value. Or only the rookie cards sorted by year. Oh, the fun you can have organizing your baseball cards once you have entered them into a database!

What I want is a database for life. I just got back from a library conference and am pumped up with new ideas for things to do in the library. Right now they're banging around in my head or on a couple of pages of notes and some handouts. I added a few of them to my standing to-do list for the library -- at the end.

What if a had a database for all these ideas? I could assign each task a value, estimate the time investment needed, put them in categories, give them a start and finish time. I could do the same for my home to-do list. When I got up in the morning, I could run a report ranking my priorities for the day. I would have a field for date of completion and run a report of completed tasks at the end of the week. New ideas would be entered in and given a place among existing obligations. Tasks that went beyond the time available could be reviewed to see if they could wait or needed to bump another task off the list. I could customize each day's list to reflect my schedule for the day -- work tasks for work hours, home tasks for evenings and weekends.

I could also use my database for memory assistance. I could record the news from someone today that he just had cataract surgery. Next time I see him, I could pull up the record of the surgery and ask if the operation on the second eye went well.

I could use my database for a diary and calendar, recording tidbits from all aspects of my life -- diet, exercise, menus, recipes to try, service contracts purchased, schedule for auto service, for health check-ups. Sure, I have ways to do these things now -- calendars, journals, reminders here and there -- but wouldn't it be wonderful to have them all in one place?

Of course, if I'm going to use my database for memories, I would need to add a "fade" factor similar to the one my brain uses. After all, I don't want the memory of the stupid thing I did today to be just as sharp and painful two years from now. It needs to be softened around the edges. Good memories need to sweeten with time. Bad memories need to blur. I would simply build this into the database.

Ah for such a database. How long would it take to develop it? How much maintenance time would it require? Would I have time for living with all the time investment needed for data entry and manipulation? Let's see -- get up (record rising time); check breakfast menu; eat breakfast (record food consumed, update household food inventory and shopping list to reflect food used); watch the news (record the days' news items and my reaction); etc., etc. Something tells me this isn't really going to work out too well. I need some sort of automatic data entry system.

I guess this is what my brain is for. If only it were better organized and let fewer things slip through the cracks.

Oh well, one can always dream.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


So ... a friend has a laptop that had slowed down to a crawl, to the point of being almost worthless, particularly if the wireless card were turned on. My husband had looked briefly at it and didn't want to mess with it any more. He figured it was a virus and recommended finding a good computer repair shop.

I was only vaguely aware of the problem until the discussion of repair shops came up. I volunteered that if our friend couldn't find anywhere to take it, I could take a look at it. He was leaving town without the laptop for a couple of days and took me up on the offer.

Several hours later, I had eliminated a bunch of background processes, cleaned up the registry, uninstalled some extraneous programs and had it running like a top. (No sign of a virus, just junk processes eating up the CPU resources.) Although it required a significant time investment and I had to reinstall the printer with driver software that wasn't quite a match for his printer, I was generally pleased with the outcome and returned it with the satisfaction of having done better than I expected with it. I figured I could tweak the printer driver later if he came up with software for it.

Next time I saw the laptop owner, I asked him if it was running all right. He didn't know yet, having not returned to it, but made a comment about me knowing all his secrets. Huh? I told him I knew he used to have a weather desktop utility, that I had simply been interested in the running processes on his computer, not his files.

A few days later, I happened to see him with the laptop and asked how it was doing.


Just fine?

Yeah, it's doing all right, even starts up quickly.

Fine? That's it? If his car had been coughing and sputtering and would barely start and someone took it and tuned it up and returned it starting and running flawlessly would he say in an offhand tone it was running fine? Would he ask if the generous mechanic had rummaged through all the stuff he kept in his trunk?

I think I'm going to add up my time and send him a bill.

Nah, not really. I'll just make a note that the gratitude one receives for a gift is not necessarily going to reflect its worth in the general marketplace. And continue to give gifts as I am able.

Sometimes it goes the other way. A simple act of service requiring little time or effort will be received as a precious jewel. This wasn't one of those times.