Saturday, January 19, 2019

Data and Meaning Part 4: Query and Result Correctness

As we have seen in Parts 1, 2, and 3, the RDM is a formal theory adapted and applied to database management: database relations (1) preserve the formal properties of mathematical relations, but also (2) have interpretations -- carry a real world meaning assigned by a conceptual model: facts about entities, entity groups, and multigroups (i.e., their properties, some of which are relationships, specified by business rules (BR)). A relation is formally in 5NF and constrained for semantic consistency (i.e., to represent facts about an entity group).
“When we create specific domains, relations, and attributes we are constraining (restricting) an abstract logical system to a specific interpretation (meaning). Seen the other way around, an interpretation of the logical system is a representation of a specific segment of the world, and that is exactly the purpose of database design. For example, an attribute name created by the designer is assigned meaning intended by the modeler as representing an entity property, which is the very meaning of semantics. That is why full normalization cannot be achieved or assessed without reference to some conceptual model -- what attribute names mean, and how they are related to each other (i.e., their dependencies), and so on.” --David McGoveran
Yet requesting and giving design advice without a conceptual model is routine in the industry[1]. What is more, most practitioners are oblivious to the implications for correctness of queries and results[2].

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Data and Meaning Part 3: Database Design

We have seen in Part 2 that the meaning of data in a database is the conceptual model that the database is intended to represent, namely (1) the three types of objects -- entities of multiple types that form entity groups that form a multigroup -- and (2) the business rules (BR) that specify their properties:
  • Properties in context (PiC) shared by entities of each type;
  • Collective group properties (i.e., relationships among entity group members);
  • Multigroup properties (i.e., inter-group relationships).
Often somebody produces one or more tables and asks if there's "anything wrong" with them,  or "if they are in some specific normal form and, if not, how to normalize them". This reflects lack of foundation knowledge. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Data and Meaning Part 2: Types of Business Rules

Meaning is captured during conceptual modeling as information about objects of interest, specifically their properties (some of which are relationships), specified in business rules (BR). Because they are expressed informally in natural language, objects and BRs must be formalized into computable form. Data modeling (we prefer logical database design) uses a formal data model to formalize informal conceptual models as formal logical models for database representation: it assigns the meaning in the former to symbols and expressions in the latter[2]. Using the RDM:

  • Objects -- entities, entity groups, and multigroups -- formalize as tuples, relations, and databases, respectively;
  • Entity properties formalize as domains, and when associated with entities, as attributes;
  • Group and multigroup properties -- relationships among entities, and among groups[3] -- formalize as constraints on and among relations enforceable by the DBMS.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

What Is a Data Model, and What It Is Not

“The term data model is used in two distinct but closely related senses. Sometimes it refers to an abstract formalization of the objects and relationships found in a particular application domain, for example the customers, products, and orders found in a manufacturing organization. At other times it refers to a set of concepts used in defining such formalizations: for example concepts such as entities, attributes, relations, or tables. So the "data model" of a banking application may be defined using the entity-relationship "data model". This article uses the term in both senses.”
--Data Model, Wikipedia

What a True Data Model Is

Few practitioners realize that Codd invented the Relational Data Model (RDM) as the first exemplar of a data model, a concept that he formalized in 1980 as follows:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Data and Meaning Part 1: The RDM Is Applied Theory

“Fabian - With respect, maybe it's time to' shake the formal foundations' of data management, especially given the rising costs and increasing segregation of silos.”
“John, if I were to say what I really think, I would be accused of insulting, so I won't. You don't need to respect me, but you better respect formal foundations. Since they are what gives SOUNDNESS to data management practice, what you are really saying is that you don't care about soundness -- do you really intend to take this position? I would not be surprised, because the industry has long "shook" the formal foundations and lack of soundness is precisely what characterizes it. But because there is no longer proper education, practitioners are totally unaware of the relationship between formal foundations and soundness, everything is ad-hoc and arbitrary, yet they fail to recognize the consequences.”[1]
Thus an exchange with John Gorman on LinkedIn, in which he posed several questions (that I answered in the last week's post[2]), the subject being the importance of not confusing levels of representation, and, more specifically, avoiding conceptual-logical conflation (CLC)[3].

Somebody posted a link to my answers on Linkedin and in a comment on it John linked to a Richard Feynman YouTube lecture on "the general differences between the interests and customs of the mathematicians and the physicists". To which I responded that my very point is that, just like physics is not the mathematics used to describe it (a central issue in quantum mechanics), conceptual modeling is not data modeling, the latter is the representation of the former in the database -- they are distinct[4]. This brought to mind some older columns I published on the All Analytics website that no longer exists, so this series is a revision thereof.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Conceptual Modeling Is Not Data Modeling

“Ok, now that we have those two (Parts 3 and 4 of your series) 'on the table' so to speak, perhaps you would address these questions...
1. Would it be safe to say that facts expressed in a Conceptual model should be verifiable in reality?

2. Are the following facts logically equivalent or are they different:

a) The car with license number 62-JZK-6 has the color aquamarine blue
b) De auto met kenteken 62-JZK-6 heeft de kleur aquamarijnblauw

3. If a previously true fact is found in reality to be verifiably false, would that mean the Conceptual model is wrong or the Logical model, or reality?”

“I'm going to add another:

4. How does RDM handle temporal changes to the 'truth' of statement 2a) when:

a) The owner of the car paints it black.
b) The owner of the license plate legally transfers it to a truck.
c) The owner of the car replaces every single part except the chassis.”

John O'Gorman asked me these questions in a LinkedIn exchange[1] in response to my comments in another exchange on modeling[2], where I alerted to the confusion of levels of representation common in the industry, particularly conceptual-logical conflation(CLC)[3]: calling conceptual modeling data modeling both reflects and induces it.

Online exchanges are not a proper vehicle for learning, particularly foundation knowledge. Which is why I publish free blog posts, and papers and books, to which to refer interested serious data professionals. It just so happened that my just posted four-part series covers the subject at hand[4], so I referred to it, as well as other writings (the answers are already there if one cares to read them). I will not discuss the whole exchanges -- read them and judge for yourself -- but I promised to answer the questions here, where I can do them justice.

John raises primarily conceptual, not data model issues -- the latter are subservient to decisions in the former -- but then asks "how does RDM handle..." From experience, I recognize implicit doubts that the RDM can. As far as we know there is no formal data model[5] that is a superior alternative to the RDM with respect to "handling" conceptual issues (in fact, there is no other formal data model -- i.e., that satisfies Codd's definition -- period).

Since most of the issues involved are covered by McGoveran's work in progress[6] (in which my multi-part series is rooted), to ensure consistency with it I passed the questions by him. As he too pointed out, "Answers that work in all situations require highly complicated discussions and lots of time, and trying to teach someone without proper experience and educational background would be very cumbersome, or an oversimplication via online exchanges." 

Here's what's possible within the constraints of a blog post -- the serious reader is referred to our writings.