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The limitations of SQL and Access

Posted by on Nov 25, 2009 in Blog, CAR | No Comments

We’ve been data crunching a substantial database this week.  The fact that I’m not sick of looking at cells and formulas means something, either this type of work is really a good fit for me, or I’m insane.  Maybe both?

My anguished cries over my dislike for Access have been heard ’round the newsroom loud and clear for the past three days.  It all comes back to my love for open standards, and, um, not love for all things Microsoft.  But it’s just as when I tried using OpenOffice with English professors back at Brandeis – yes, it’s open, but there are reasons commercial tools are so ubiquitous.  Not reasons I agree with, but still, good reasons.

What I learned in the past few days: Access has its strong points.  For anyone jumping into Access/SQL data analysis, some things we learned this week:

-Excel counts blank cells when you group by a column, SQL doesn’t.

- Access is not case-sensitive, SQL is.  Thus, my SQL statement yielded separate counts for “Michael Smith” and “MichaEl Smith.”  Point to SQL for catching typos, point to Access for getting what I meant.

- Access ignores leading and trailing cases spaces (I need to learn to spell, but I also believe in openness of corrections as well,) SQL doesn’t.  My perception of data work as fun was called into question when searching for which of 20 rows in a column was the cell with the trailing space.  Not a fan of Excel formulas, but the trim function was my friend today.  We decided to just run trims on the whole database, for safety.  Perhaps this is a life lesson: it’s tough to locate the invisible.

Bottom line: SQL is a better copyeditor, Access is better at speaking human language.  I still prefer writing statements to putting categories on different lines to demonstrate and/or.  Humans should be able to make it so the computer naturally works as they want, and Access seems to restrict humans to think the way the computer wants us to.  I love technology, but I like my machinery subservient to my whims, not the other way around, thank you very much.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

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