Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Database Management

Sometimes I worry that my columns can get a little too esoteric for everyone to enjoy.

If I really want to be a respected writer beloved by one and all, I should probably stick to topics that one and all can relate to. As long as I write about popular subject matter, I should be able to ride that populist wave to Paula Sands-levels of local fame in no time. If I'm a sounding board for the masses, it stands to reason that one day those masses might, I dunno, erect a statue in my honor or something. Or give me a raise. Or introduce me to Katie Holmes. It's a no-brainer.

Good news, then, because this week I'm touching upon a topic near and dear to everyone's hearts:


Yes, who among us doesn't enjoy a spirited discussion on string searches and end-user queries? Nothing unites us together around the dinner table like a family dialogue of ASCII code and inventory control. It's the perfect topic to excite all of my readers and lead us down a path of... what's that? You say NO ONE likes to talk about database management? Even database managers hate talking about database management? Well, phoo.

The truth is, there's nothing else in my life to talk about, because I've somehow allowed database management to take over every aspect of it. Usually I write about fun stuff that I've been up to, but the only thing I've been up to is hanging out in my basement, sitting in front of a laptop until the wee hours with a permanent cringe on my face. The next time I decide to tackle a project, please stop me.

As many of you know, I have a fairly impressive music collection. Except at some point along the way, it mutated from "you have an impressive music collection" to "here's the number of a therapist who can help you with your hoarding problem, Shane." And it's certainly not impressive THESE days, because music is now one of the least impressive things that one can waste a lifetime collecting. With advancing technology, it's almost as if someone came along and said, "Hey, you know that ONE thing in life that you're known for? The hobby that's pretty much defined your entire existence? Yeah, it's void now. Try again."

Once upon a time, at least in nerdy circles, collecting music was cool. I used to judge a person's worth by the contents of their CD racks (oh, okay, I still do) -- and I did everything in my power to be one of the worthiest. I remember saving pennies for international phone calls just so I could stay up 'til 4 a.m. to place orders with record shops in London. I once drove through a blinding blizzard to the Muscatine mall because they were the only place that got their weekly shipment of new releases. No trip to Chicago was complete without voyaging to the suburbs to get to The Turntable in Schaumberg and then Tower Records downtown. There is blood, sweat, and tears in my collection. (No, really, there is. I have their greatest hits. "Spinning Wheel" is the jam, yo.)

But those days are gone, along with The Turntable, Tower Records, and even that store in the Muscatine mall. I used to think that no one could possess a music collection as cool as mine. Want to know how to do it? Log on to spotify.com and hit "Subscribe." There, now you have a collection as cool as mine -- and that royally sucks. CDs are entirely out of fashion these days. After all, who needs those cumbersome pieces of plastic when all the music you could ever desire is now just floating around on a "cloud"? I DO. I need those cumbersome pieces of plastic. They're my life's work.

There was a day when I wouldn't have dreamt of mentioning my music collection in print, for fear that our readership's vast demographic of evildoers might hatch a nefarious plan to rob me blind. (Please don't. I have a comprehensive home security system and very mean cats with fangs.) But honestly, if you waste your time plotting to thieve my CD collection, you're one dumb thief. The market for second-hand CDs has bottomed out so dramatically that you'd be better off recycling cans for profit, especially with the weirdo indie music that I collect. Unless you're in dire need of coasters, there's a lot better things to steal, trust me.

But I don't care. They might not be hip, they might not be worth the plastic they're printed on, but those CDs are mine and I still like keeping my collection organized and at-the-ready. In fact, I recently bought a nifty software package to catalog them all. That's what I've been spending my nights doing. The software comes with a bar code scanner, so it's like having a Hy-Vee cashier on your laptop. You just grab a CD, swipe the bar code, and the software looks up the info on your disc and adds it to the database. In theory, it sounds easy peasy.

There's just one problem. When it looks up a disc that you've scanned, it sources that info from other user entries -- and other users are clearly idiots. The only thing worse than being a diehard music collector is being a diehard music collector with OCD. Their master database is rife with spelling errors, alphabetization errors, and incorrect information -- and I'm just nerdy enough to sit there and fix every single error.

"This'll be a fun winter project," I once thought. Well, winter's over, and I've still got S-Z to enter. While people have been out there enjoying the warmer weather, I've been in my basement arguing with myself about whether "Huey Lewis and the News" gets alphabetized under H or L. While you're cooking dinner, I'm microwaving a Hot Pocket so I can get back to deciding between "and" or "&". And don't ask me what to do about the band named "!!!" -- that's the kind of conundrum that keeps me awake at night. I realize there are worse problems to have. I COULD just set this project aside and resume having a life. But the end is SO CLOSE. I can SEE it. There's only a couple piles of discs left to scan and I'll finally have a comprehensive database to impress the one or two people on Earth who are impressed by comprehensive databases.

I'm just in no hurry to enter the age of subscription-based music and thumb drives full of mp3's. And that's okay, because by the time I get this stupid project done, we'll have entered ANOTHER age where music is just streamed directly into your brain via a modem implanted at birth. And when we reach THAT age, maybe retro will once again be cool and you'll think to yourself, "Remember when CDs were awesome? Remember that one guy who used to write newspaper columns about his CDs? That guy was awesome! We should totally build a statue of him." And then I win.

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