SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION adventures in databases


I thought I had written about creating a database for Backstreet Arts that would serve as a sign-in app, thus allowing us to track attendance of our participants and volunteer hours of our volunteers, but apparently I haven’t. So let’s do this.

For the past two years, whenever anyone arrived at Backstreet Arts they would simply sign in on a page in a notebook. We now have two years of sign-ins. This is so that we will have numbers to report when we apply for grants: we’ve served x number of participants with x number of volunteers, etc.

Our original intent in creating an electronic sign-in was not only making the data more manageable, but also to provide our participants with a self-esteem survey at certain points in their journey with us. They would fill out the survey their first time with us and then again at the one-month, three-month, and six-month points. That way we could tell if we were having any kind of impact on their lives. (Our hypothesis, of course, is that if you stick with us for six months, you’re going to be a lot more positive about your ability to Make the Thing That Is Not, etc.)

With a grant from fellow Lichtenbergian Kevin McInturff, we were able to purchase Filemaker Pro Advanced (my tool of choice), an iPad, and a keyboard.

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Getting the app up and running was pretty simple, and even when we launched it and ran into a couple of glitches, it was easy to fix those.

Now, a month or so into its use, we’re ready to make it even more useful.

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Here’s a quick list of things we wish the database could do. (Note: when you develop your own database, then “things we wish the database could do” means, “we can make the database do these things, yay!”)

  • A way for Kim (our fearless leader) to input sign-ins after the days when she and her laptop (which is the FileMaker Pro server) are not there and we have to revert to pencil and paper.

  • A way for Kim to search for a participant by first name

  • A summary page for first time entries so that participants and volunteers can double-check their info (emails, addresses, etc) and correct them if necessary (A stopgap measure—which truthfully should have been part of the original design—is the simple creation of a BACK button on those input pages. Duh. Apple Human User Interface Design Guidelines, anyone?)

  • A monthly report

None of these are hard. The catch is that having transferred the database from my computer to Kim’s, I now have to do the work on Kim’s copy of the database, and so all of this will have to wait until the end of second week of May—she’ll email me her copy on Friday after the week’s work, I’ll make the changes and email the database back to her, and on we go!

And why do we have to wait another two weeks to do this? Because this Friday I will begin my descent into Euphoria, Georgia’s spring burn, and I have found that concentrated SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION on a database is not something you can do while camping with the hippies.

The point of all of this is that in most creative projects, you don’t move smoothly from idea to final product. In the case of a database, there really isn’t any such thing as a final product, merely a string of SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATIONS as you improve it bit by bit. That’s worth remembering as you struggle towards the goal. As Austin Kleon says, Keep going.