SHCC WYSIWYG Article from April 2010

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This article was written by Don VanSyckel, the club president, as a part of "The President's Pen".  This article appeared in the April 2010 WYSIWYG newsletter.

Another Pitch to Use Databases for Lists

by Don VanSyckel

So let's say you have quite a few items for sale on eBay, how are you going to track all the details? There's the name of the item, manufacturer, purchase date, original cost, asking price, when submitted to eBay, an eBay tracking number, auction number, auction end date, sale price, sold to (and their address and other contact information), special shipping info about weight and / or size, and the list goes on. It could be done in a document such as MS Word or Open Office Write. This would be very difficult to search through looking for specific details or even just scanning for new auction to close, or total dollars if all items sold for target price, or special packaging required.

OK, you think, right you are, so I'll use a spreadsheet. Well this is certainly better than a document but spreadsheets also have limitations. Spreadsheets are first glance have an easier or possibly I should say straight forward manner of presenting your information. Spreadsheets are very What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) so you can arrange the data in a manner you want to wee it. Where spreadsheets really fall down in this type of use is in their ability to easily manipulate your data and filter it for display. For instance you want one list of stuff you have not sent to eBay yet, another list of auctions that are currently open, and a list of items you have to ship out. While some newer features of spreadsheets will assist to a point with these and other reports, you'll have to use about every feature in the spreadsheet toolbox and then still have to juggle data around. I find sorting data in a spreadsheet tedious. More than once I've have a section of a spreadsheet selected and did a sort. This sorts the data in the section selected, not the data on the entire sheet. I don't like this; I like both simple and fool proof.

Your list of items would be better handled in a database for a variety of reasons. One thing that discourages people who use spreadsheets from using databases is the data doesn't appear formatted in the form you ultimately want to view it in. Before going farther let me define a couple of terms. A database stores data in records and each record is made up of fields. A database record is roughly analogous to a spreadsheet row (or column depending on how you have it arranged) and a filed in a record is analogous to a spreadsheet cell. In a database your information is viewed in two basic ways. The first is interactively in forms. You define the form to allow you enter and view your data for one record. The second viewing method is reports. Many reports are meant to be printed. The great thing about reports is each report can be set up to output a particular set of information, and without thinking or manipulation. Just double click and you have the list of current auctions or double click another report and you have the list of items not sent to eBay yet. After the initial set up of the forms and reports the day to day usage of the database is much easier than that of a spread sheet. To help you get started databases have wizards to help set up both forms and reports. What could be simpler.

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