Worcestershire Record No. 5 Nov 1998 p. 2 This article is outdated and remains for Archive purposes only


Martyn Hodgson

The project to computerise the Worcestershire Biological Records Centre (WBRC) data had a somewhat difficult birth. Like many apparently simple problems, ask ten people who understand the basics to devise a method, and you'll get ten different solutions. Some of them might even work. The trick is to find the best method for you, when the only reference sites have designs for their own specific situation, or the sort of budget you can only dream of.

In the end, the scope of the initial phase of the project was narrowed to cover the computerisation of the records that are currently held by the WBRC. These are on record cards, usually one per species, occasionally a bundle. Using the computer program "Recorder" as the data repository and with just myself keying data a small start was made in 1997.

Almost all databases consist of variable data (generally the information you key in), and fixed data (look up information which is set up initially and then changes little). The bulk of the fixed data the WBRC wanted comes with Recorder, in the form of its species information. However, I needed to set up Recorder so that it knew about every hectad and tetrad in the county. This would have been a big job, until Bert Reid offered me a copy of the Flora Project's database which had exactly what I needed. Bert was also kind enough to include the Flora Project's personnel list. To date, this has included about 75% of the people mentioned on the WBRC record cards.

The first group keyed in was mollusca; for no other reason than I had a particular interest in the group, and the 4000 (or so) records was a reasonable test sample. All went well, and with the confidence that the system would work within the confines of the initial scope, Richard Nicol was enlisted to help with the data entry.

Having two people working on data entry presents a significant problem. The data is going into separate copies of Recorder, as we work at home. Thankfully, the latest version of Recorder, with a facility to pass data between copies of Recorder, came along at just the right time. It's not perfect, but if you've ever tried to hack into the internals of a Recorder database to understand how it works, you'll know why I was relieved not to have to write program to do it!

Richard has the ability to backup large volumes of data on his p.c. so he has become the guardian of the definitive database. When a set of records have been completed these are copied out from Recorder and e-mailed to him. This saves time and effort as we don't have to meet up. Richard regularly updates the computer at the WBRC.

By modern standards Recorder is not a friendly program to use. Nowadays, most p.c. users expect software to conform to Microsoft Windows standards. Recorder is based on a database system that goes back to the 1960's (called Pick). I had for some time wondered about writing a dedicated program, to run under Windows, that would allow anyone to key in WBRC records. This became possible with Windows 95 (yes, I'm the person for whom it was worth upgrading), because of the way it runs DOS programs. The resulting program means that our third data entry volunteer, Patrick Taylor, can key in records without a copy of Recorder.

At present, we have about 18,000 records entered. Currently the groups being worked on are Moths, Beetles and Butterflies. There are some very big groups not yet started, but it is only by quietly plugging away that this project will get completed. It certainly isn't for the faint-hearted, or the easily bored. A draft set of guidelines for entering data is being circulated for comment at the moment. Once these are agreed, we will be looking for other volunteers to key in data. Apart from the obvious requirement to be interested in the project, you also need:
A p.c. running Windows 9x or NT (I can support Windows 3.1 if you wish).
At least 3 to 4 hours per week to spare.
An e-mail address that supports binary data transfer. If you don't know about, this get in touch and we can check it.
To be able to meet up with John Meiklejohn to collect and return record cards.
I am aware that people have made enquiries in the past about helping with the project. I'm sorry if your offer of help has apparently been ignored. It's been a long slow process getting the project to this stage where we can support more people keying data. However, hopefully we can now start to expand.

If you have any enquires about the project please get in touch. If you are interested in the program being used to key data without Recorder, I am happy to supply either the program or the source code (written using Visual Basic version 6). If you can, please use e-mail, to martyn_hodgson@compuserve.com.

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