From Monster base to RID to IDEA

Mark Pottenger

Written 11/3/1992 for publication by ISAR

Several members of ISAR met intermittently in Los Angeles starting in the summer of 1981 to try to develop a system for coding and storing information for use in astrological studies. Feedback from conference attendees and others outside the working group was also solicited. The project went on for several years and resulted in a description of a possible database coding scheme which was too large and comprehensive for anyone to implement. The last formal revision of that structure was Version 1.1 on February 8, 1984. Some of us nicknamed this project the monster base.

At a meeting on October 26, 1985 a decision was finally reached to use a list of codes based on data Lois Rodden had already collected and categorized instead of trying to implement the monster base. This allowed us to begin actual implementation of a database on computer. Much of the basic outline of the RID (Rodden/ISAR Data bank) was set at that meeting.

After some delays from an unfinished attempt by another board member to get data entry set up on Apple II systems, data entry was actually started in 1987 with some quick and dirty programs set up by Mark Pottenger, research director of ISAR. As much data entry as possible was done by volunteers (especially massive amounts by Marguerite dar Boggia), and the rest of the data entry was paid for by ISAR.

The first version of the RID was available and the first catalog finished on February 14, 1988, with an announcement in the Winter 1987-1988 Kosmos. Data from the RID is primarily available in the form of printouts, although it can be ordered on disk in a few formats. The data stored and the printouts include basic birthdata (including Lois' rating of accuracy), codes for the categories assigned to the person or event, codes for related records in the database, alternate birthdata or notes about the data, and brief text notes about the person or event. The data includes many public figures and even more people collected for membership in a particular occupation or other category. (Much of the category data has a category label instead of a person's name.) Data ordered by category is priced at a few cents per record, since one of our aims is to promote the use of the data in research. Data ordered by name is more expensive, since it is more work for us to process and less likely to be used for research projects. The RID catalog includes a list of all category codes used, counts of people in all categories, and a list of all names and category labels in the database.

Lois has continued to add new data and corrections and additions to old data since the RID was first released. At the beginning of each calendar year, we have established a year's version of the RID and updated the catalog to match it. The first version of the RID in 1988 had 17,151 category code entries in 302 categories for 7,465 people. The current (1992) RID and catalog has 29,837 entries in 305 categories for 14,130 people and events. (Catalog ordering information is on the inside front cover of Kosmos.)

The programs used to maintain and use the RID are still somewhat modified updates of the quick and dirty programs thrown together in 1987 to get the project out of a stall. Those programs are written in BASIC, with no database indexing or other access conveniences since they were not originally designed for much more that data entry and checking. Since the database has almost doubled in size in the meantime, performance of those programs has gone from slow to painfully slow. Since a complete rewrite was obviously needed, in 1991 the ISAR board discussed other changes we might want as well. The result of those discussions is a plan for the next generation: IDEA.

IDEA (International Data Exchange for Astrology) is intended to be an updated and expanded successor to the RID. ISAR will contribute the entire RID, with all the thousands of dollars of data entry and checking and all the unpaid volunteer effort that went into it. The board of NCGR has agreed to join in as a sponsor of IDEA, and their research director, J. Lee Lehman, is writing new programs with a proper database management system. When the IDEA programs are ready, ISAR will also buy a computer for the data to be kept on. Each organization will promote IDEA to its membership, both as a source of already available data and as a central database to which anyone can contribute data. Contributors of at least 1,000 people's data can receive royalties from IDEA (if anyone orders from that data). People who don't contribute enough or who don't want royalties can assign their royalty credit to an organization such as ISAR or NCGR. First contributors will always get royalty credit, so don't expect much if your data duplicates what someone else has already done. Corrections will get royalty credit, but discrepancies will have to be resolved with documentation. Anyone interested in more details of the current draft of the IDEA proposal can write to ISAR. Anyone interested in contributing data in machine-readable form should contact Lee for details of what formats she can handle and what the minimum required data is. We hope to publicize IDEA more than we have publicized the RID and draw many more contributors and users. Look for the first release of IDEA in 1993.

2019 P.S. IDEA was implemented and available for a few years, then the data was passed on to a commercial product called AstroDatabank, which lasted several more years before it folded. By then, computers and networks had developed tremendously from what was available when we started in the 1980s, and other astrological databases are now available.

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