Dis-tract-ed



  • We have a number of old Access-based "applications" (I use that term loosely).  Typically these consist of a database, often with just one gigantic table, with a crude interface to edit the data and view reports.  We were having problems with one of these, so I was asked to investigate.  I noticed a field called "tract", which often contained a four-digit number, but sometimes held a decimal-like value.  (Its data type was set to "text", naturally.)  I did a SELECT DISTINCT tract ORDER BY tract to see what people had been entering in this field, and I got this:

    1011.01
    1011.02
    1012
    1013
    1014
    1015
    1016
    1017
    1017.00
    1018
    1019
    1021
    1021.01
    1021.02
    1022
    1023
    1023.00
    1024.00
    1024.01
    1024.02
    1025
    1026
    1027
    1028
    1029
    1031
    1031.00
    1032
    1033
    1034
    1035
    1036
    1036.00
    1037
    1038
    1038.00
    1039
    1040.00
    1041
    1042
    1043
    1044.00
    1045
    1046
    1047.02
    1048
    1048.00
    1049
    1049.00
    1051
    1051.00
    1053
    1053.00
    1054
    1055
    1055.00
    1056.01
    1056.02
    1057
    1057.00
    1058
    1059
    1059.00
    1061
    1061.00
    1062
    1062.00
    1063
    1063.00
    1064
    1065
    1066
    1068
    1068.00
    1069
    1069.00
    1070
    1072
    1075
    1076
    1077
    1078
    1079
    1083
    1084
    1086
    1087
    1087.00
    1088
    1089
    1093
    1096
    1097
    1098
    1104.00
    1105
    1105.00
    1106
    1107
    1108
    1109
    1109.00
    1111
    1112
    1113
    1114.01
    1114.02
    1115
    1115.00
    1116
    1117
    1117.00
    1118
    1119.01
    1119.02
    1121
    1121.00
    1121.01
    1122
    1123
    1124
    1125
    1125.00
    1126
    1126.00
    1128
    1129
    1131
    1131.00
    1132
    1133
    1134
    1135
    1135.00
    1136
    1136.00
    1137
    1137.00
    1138
    1138.00
    1139.00
    1141
    1141.00
    1142
    1143
    1143.00
    1144
    1145
    1146
    1146.00
    1147
    1148
    1149
    1149.00
    1151.00
    1152
    1152.00
    1153
    1153.00
    1154
    1154.00
    1155
    1157
    1157.00
    1158
    1158.00
    1159
    1159.00
    1161
    1162
    1162.00
    1163
    1163,00
    1163.
    1163.00
    1164
    1164.00
    1165
    1165.00
    1166
    1166.00
    1167
    1167.00
    1168
    1168.00
    1169
    1169.00
    1171.01
    1171.02
    1172.01
    1172.02
    1172.07
    1172.1
    1173
    1173.00
    1174
    1175
    1175.00
    1176
    1176.00
    1177
    1177.02
    1178
    1178.00
    1179
    1179.00
    1181
    1181.00
    1182
    1182.00
    1183
    1183.00
    1184
    1184.00
    1185
    1186.01
    1186.02
    1187
    1187.00
    1188
    1188.00
    1189
    119.01
    1191
    1192.02
    1193
    1193.00
    1194.01
    1194.02
    1195.01
    1195.02
    1196
    1197.01
    1197.02
    1198
    1198.00
    1199
    1199.00
    12.18
    120
    1201
    1202
    1204
    1204.00
    1205
    1205.00
    1206
    1206.00
    1207.01
    1207.02
    120702
    1208.01
    1208.02
    1208.2
    1208.22
    1211
    1211.00
    12115
    1212
    1212.00
    1213
    1214.0
    1214.01
    1214.02
    1214.04
    1215
    1215.00
    1216
    1216.00
    1217
    1217.00
    1218
    1218.00
    1219
    1219.00
    1221
    1221.00
    1222
    1223
    1223.00
    1231
    1231.00
    1232
    1232.00
    1233
    1234
    1234.00
    1235
    1235.01
    1235.02
    1236.00
    1236.01
    1236.02
    1236.03
    1237
    1237.00
    1238
    1238.00
    1239
    1239.00
    1241
    1241.00
    1241.01
    1242.01
    1242.02
    1243
    1243.00
    1244
    1244.00
    1245
    1245.00
    1246
    1246.00
    1251.00
    12603.0
    1261
    1261.00
    1264
    1275
    1351.06
    1381.09
    1405
    1407.01
    1413
    1503
    1518
    1543
    1544
    159.00
    1606.01
    1612
    1618
    17305
    1731.03
    1773.03
    1835
    1861.05
    1891.04
    1913
    1915
    1941
    2221
    30343
    3215
    44102
    4599
    8970
    Peacock

    I'm not sure what to do with this information.



  •  ...Peacock



  •  Could have been worse. They could have been entering [url="http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0046/0046_01.ASP"]Chick Tracts[/url]



  • @OldBrooklyn said:

    We have a number of old Access-based "applications" (I use that term loosely).  Typically these consist of a database, often with just one gigantic table, with a crude interface to edit the data and view reports.  We were having problems with one of these, so I was asked to investigate.  I noticed a field called "tract", which often contained a four-digit number, but sometimes held a decimal-like value.  (Its data type was set to "text", naturally.)  I did a SELECT DISTINCT tract ORDER BY tract to see what people had been entering in this field, and I got this:


    [...]

    I'm not sure what to do with this information.

    I'd try SELECT * GROUP BY tract HAVING COUNT(*) = 1. It might be enlightening.



  • @OldBrooklyn said:

    I'm not sure what to do with this information.
     

    You discover who put the peacock at the database, and make him take his peacock to some other place.



  • At my last job we dealt with mapping data. One client provided us with their data and they had never heard of domain constraints. There was a manhole table with a column for location, which is typically a domain-coded value with 10 - 20 possible selections. They had it set up as a straight text field and as you can imagine there were so many variations of each possibility. I'm pulling this from memory (actually my rectum) but I remember DISTINCTing the data and seeing something like this.

    • Middle of street
    • Street
    • street
    • STREET
    • The street
    • THE STREET
    • THE   STREET
    •    street
    • Alley
    • Aley
    • alley
    • Sidewalk
    • Side Walk
    • side walk
    • sidewalk
    • The sidewalk
    • Teh sidewalk
    • Tree

    IIRC there was approximately 900 distinct values. One of the bosses put the data into a pie chart and used it in his presentations on the importance of well-structured data. As you can imagine it was a useless pie chart and almost brought the Almighty Excel to its knees trying to render it. (We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.)



  • @Fjp said:

    I'd try SELECT * GROUP BY tract HAVING COUNT(*) = 1. It might be enlightening.

    Not exactly enlightening.  Some values were entered many times, some were entered only once.  No rhyme or reason.

    Inexplicably (or perhaps it was to be expected?), "Peacock" was entered exactly three times.

    Perhaps if I say it out loud I will summon a creature...?

     



  • @mott555 said:

    (We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.)

     

    Probably means that it was under or right next to the tree. Either the street was closed and a field took over the place later, or they put the manhole in a field to begin with. I've seen manholes like that before.

     



  • @Snooder said:

    Probably means that it was under or right next to the tree. Either the street was closed and a field took over the place later, or they put the manhole in a field to begin with. I've seen manholes like that before.
    One guy mentioned that and we decided that was the most likely possibility. However these guys were professional land surveyors with decades worth of combined experience and even they weren't sure what it meant.



  • @mott555 said:

    We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.
    I would assume it was one of the varieties of trees whose branches very nearly touch the ground. If you've got to burrow through branches to get to the manhole, it's more "in" the tree than "under" the tree. And I can quite picture someone wasting a full day muttering "where the F*CK is that manhole, it should be right around here somewhere" before finding it and wanting to save the headache for the next person who needed to find it...



  • Eight ways of representing "street"? Pfft! My colleagues and I used to compare how many ways the cities in our county were entered into our various systems (until we got both bored and horrified). I won. No less than 24 ways of representing "South San Francisco". No shitting 21 ways of representing "Redwood City" AND, sure as fuck, 11 ways of representing "Daly City". Daly City?!? Really?!? Eleven ways of typing in Daly fucking City?!? Eight fucking letters and a space. You stoopit cows really can't manage that? They even managed to spell Colma four different ways! I mean ... W.T.F.???

    (l)users. Fuck 'em.

    (/rant)

    I like the tree one, though.



  • @rudraigh said:

    They even managed to spell Colma four different ways!
    Who cares? There's no one alive there.



  • @mott555 said:

    At my last job we dealt with mapping data. One client provided us with their data and they had never heard of domain constraints. There was a manhole table with a column for location, which is typically a domain-coded value with 10 - 20 possible selections. They had it set up as a straight text field and as you can imagine there were so many variations of each possibility. I'm pulling this from memory (actually my rectum) but I remember DISTINCTing the data and seeing something like this.

    • Middle of street
    • Street
    • street
    • STREET
    • The street
    • THE STREET
    • THE   STREET
    •    street
    • Alley
    • Aley
    • alley
    • Sidewalk
    • Side Walk
    • side walk
    • sidewalk
    • The sidewalk
    • Teh sidewalk
    • Tree

    IIRC there was approximately 900 distinct values. One of the bosses put the data into a pie chart and used it in his presentations on the importance of well-structured data. As you can imagine it was a useless pie chart and almost brought the Almighty Excel to its knees trying to render it. (We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.)

    A few years ago I was working for a big telco and they were rolling out a new product on their website: ringtones. There was a specific team in charge of the search engine for the ringtone catalog and every single person in that team was dishevelled and neurotic. One day I was riding the elevator with one of them and he was mumbling something. I asked him to repeat, he looked at me with crazy eyes that I will never forget and said: "you have no idea how some people spell 'Justin Timberlake'" and he kept shaking his head silently until he left the elevator.



  • @mott555 said:

    We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.

    Didn't the database have any other information that specifically located the manhole? I mean, "Teh sidewalk" is only useful if you know which sidewalk...

    This would enable you to solve the mystery by visiting the manhole and finding out where the tree comes into it.



  • @RTapeLoadingError said:

    @mott555 said:
    We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.

    Didn't the database have any other information that specifically located the manhole? I mean, "Teh sidewalk" is only useful if you know which sidewalk...

    Which sidewalk?  TEH SIDEWALK!!

     



  • @RTapeLoadingError said:

    This would enable you to solve the mystery by visiting the manhole and finding out where the tree comes into it.
    Down! Down mind! Dirty mind. sorry, it's just all this talk of visiting man-holes and coming into them...



  • @El_Heffe said:

    @RTapeLoadingError said:

    @mott555 said:
    We never did figure out how a manhole could be in a tree.

    Didn't the database have any other information that specifically located the manhole? I mean, "Teh sidewalk" is only useful if you know which sidewalk...

    Which sidewalk?  TEH SIDEWALK!!

     

    Ah...TEH sidewalk, not TAHT sidewalk.

    Now that I understand how the location scheme works I'll visit the tree manhole and report back tomorrow



  • @RTapeLoadingError said:

    I'll visit the tree-man hole
     

    Ah.... yes.... the ent-moet... is in... a cave...



  • @dhromed said:

    @RTapeLoadingError said:

    I'll visit the tree-man hole
     

    Ah.... yes.... the ent-moet... is in... a cave...

    I have returned from the site of the manhole and it was more Evil Dead than Ent. I think the tree itself must have added that description to lure inquisitive data miners.


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