21.115 ideal readers for a database

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 22:43:39 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 115.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2007 06:38:41 +0100
         From: "John G. Keating" <john.keating_at_nuim.ie>
         Subject: Re: 21.110 ideal readers for a database?

Dear Neven,

you present some interesting questions for software engineers to
consider. I am not sure that I manage to answer these questions below
but I may be able to give you some insight into "the" database (or
more accurately software) development process.

Developing software is a tough job, and usually begins with a
Specification of Requirements document from a client (who may or may
not be the eventual user). Then, following a series of discussions
between the client and analyst, a software design is produced.
Traditionally, this design was handed over to the software developer
and the software was eventually produced and presented to the client.
Typically, the software met the requirements in the design document
(as far as the developer was concerned) but may not have met the
original client's requirements for a variety of reasons. More modern
approaches (depending on the size of the project) attempt to include
the client at all phases of the development process, in the hope that
the eventual product meets the initial requirements. Most projects
suffer from "requirements drift", however. This is because clients'
requirements, software tools, and developers' humours naturally
change over time, and this impacts on the eventual product. Including
the user at all phases, in fact, also impacts on requirements drift.

Returning to your question about the ideal user; these are usually
modelled early in the development process (using something called the
Universal Modelling Language; or the UML). This happens in a phase
called "Use Case Scenario Modelling". Here, the user activities and
interactions (with the software or other users) is "put down in black
and white", and is seen as one of the fundamental "invariants" in
modern software development. A change here (requirements drift)
impacts on all later phases of development as this model is used to
drive the development of software structure (called Class Models) and
User Interaction (Interaction Sequence Diagrams). Your term "ideal
user" is excellent, because this is what the Use Case model
represents. In short, if the client doesn't specify all ideal users,
then it is unlikely that the ultimate software will facilitate the
requirements of non-ideal users. If it does, then one begins to worry
about the software developer -- did he or she ignore the user model?
If this is the case, then what other aspects of the other models have
been ignored?

I teach software engineering and in particular software development
to second year computer science students. Most of the work is about
forward engineering computer code form specifications. This is a
tough job, as it requires human intervention and relies on human
interpretation of users' requirements. The general consensus is
always the same: we need users to become skilled in "requirements
modelling" and also require software engineers to think about users
as partners (and not "lusers").

So these are my thoughts on the general question you pose. I have
assumed, from the content of your message, that you make no
distinction between the software used to access the database and the
database itself. I'll get back to you later on databases, and "what
is possible" in a later message. It may be possible to do more with
a database that was originally intended -- often this relies on the
flexibility of the data manipulation interface. If you make it (the
DML) too complex, users will not be able to use it to access the
data; if you make it to simple then users will not be able to use it
to answer their research questions. To quote the Rolling Stones ...
"you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you
might just get what you need".

More later on how you can design a database to give you what you
need. This is my first post to this list; apologies if it doesn't
give you what you need.


On 20 Jun 2007, at 06:47, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of
Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

> Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 110.
> Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
> www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/humanities/cch/research/publications/ humanist.html
> www.princeton.edu/humanist/
> Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu
> Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2007 06:43:20 +0100
> From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic_at_ffzg.hr>
> >
>Dear all,
>after some experience with databases --- corpora, to be more
>precise ---
>of ancient Greek and Latin (and Neolatin) texts, a question
>occurs. What
>kind of an "ideal reader" (or "ideal user") did the designers of those
>databases / corpora have in mind? For whom are those databases
>What is very easy to do with them --- and what is quite uncomfortably
>difficult to achieve?
>Greek and Latin corpora that I know make it very easy to find
>of words, and (therefore) verbal similarities between texts. On
>the other
>hand, it is difficult to create one's own subcorpora there; it is not
>quite simple to search writers just from one period (i. e.
>synchronically), or from just one genre. It requires, also,
>special skill
>to follow ideas, not words. It is difficult to annotate a text, to
>interesting places (you have to go outside the database for this).
>It is
>practically impossible to add other texts to databases. It is
>to consult different readings (apparatus criticus) of a text.
>There is another kind of corpus --- the Perseus --- which makes it
>easy to study the text as a student, providing access to the
>translations, lexica (kind of "school" corpus). But this corpus is
>difficult to search (or research) as a corpus, as a collection of
>and genres and periods are accessible with difficulty here as well.
>What are your experiences with databases / corpora in your fields of
>expertise? For whom do these databases / corpora seem to be written /
>designed? What do they enable you to do --- and what do they,
>excuse the
>pun, disable?
>Neven Jovanovic
>Zagreb, Croatia

Dr. John G. Keating
Associate Director
An Foras Feasa: The Institute for Research in Irish Historical and
Cultural Traditions
National University of Ireland, Maynooth
Maynooth, Co. Kildare, IRELAND

Email: john.keating_at_nuim.ie
Tel: +353 1 708 3854
FAX: +353 1 708 3848
Received on Thu Jun 21 2007 - 17:55:01 EDT

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