Friday, March 04, 2005

Ah'm no weel! ...and thoughts about databases.

A translation of the title is probably in order. My sister, who now lives in London but has retained her Scottish accent, has had to learn to say, "I'm proper poorly", to convey the same thing as the title. Someone I know would say, "I'm lying in a bed of sickness" - a personal favourite of mine! Suffice to say I feel rotten, my throat is incredibly sore and it has taken extreme concentration to remain upright over the last few days.

My original plan was to aim for at least two blog updates a week... failed already.
Sad face
I wanted to develop something I cut from my last post because I thought I'd gone on too long. I was talking about search engines like Google and Teoma as well as sites like Amazon and which make recommendations based on people with similar tastes as well as technologies like, furl and RSS feeds. Now comes the the question. What computer application links all of these? The database.

I often complain to students that spreadsheets are the ignored computer application (people think they're just for financial hard sums but they are incredibly powerful problem solving tools) but databases are the hidden application. All of the above, search engines, recommendation sites, shared bookmarks, and more, are all driven by databases. Databases are everywhere but people can't see them. For instance, I have observed a few students teaching Commercial Data Processing lessons recently and, without exception, pupils think product barcodes contain the price of the item rather than simply a unique identification code that is used to look up a database. (I suspect this misunderstanding is not limited to school children.)

If databases are so ubiquitous, should we teach children more about how they work? The number one application taught in schools is probably word processing. Is this is because education is still geared towards consuming and producing printed information? Does education have to change in a world of ubiquitous Internet access? Would teaching about databases help pupils make more effective use of search engines and tools like blogs?

Ditch the word processor and max out on the database. Worth trying? Waste of time? Tinkering at the edges? Does George Seimens propose something even more radical with his ideas on connectivisim? What do you think?


Stephen said...

Yes, I well remember some people in Scotland concerned for their friends/relatives in "beds of sickness".

On your technical stuff, as an outsider to your field, I understand how databases can be ubiquitous and hidden. But I don't understand how a blog and a database go together. Blogs and word-processors seem to have a certain commonalty. Can you expand?

David said...

Ah... well... It serves me right. I think that simply by stating something that's obvious to me, it will instantly be obvious to everyone else. Obviously it isn't as obvious as obviously I obviously though it obviously was, but wasn't ...obviously. Still with me?

I started an answer here, but decided to create a new post instead: How to dismantle an Atomic Blog - Database or Word Processor? I hope it helps.