Monday, May 16, 2016

What I Got From Sixteen Years of Baseball Card Collecting

Yes, sixteen years. I don't know the exact day when my grandmother first gave me a couple packs of 1988 Donruss Baseball, a small shoebox, and some rubber bands, but it was definitely some time in '88, and it helped kick something off that's still going today.

Judging by their condition, these are probably two of the first cards I got.

A lot of people my age and older talk about how reading the stats on the backs of baseball cards was the first time they really understood math concepts like percentages, averages, and ratios. When you figure out the formula to calculate a batting average or an earned run average for yourself, it suddenly makes more sense than all the dry story problems about "Suzy bought 20 apples for $1.26, 10 oranges for $1.87, 2 kiwi fruit for $4,38, and 7 kumquats for $0.68. What is the average cost of each piece of fruit Suzy purchased?"

For me, later, there would be other benefits as well. By the time I'd graduated college with my shiny new Computer Science degree, I'd accumulated a decent sized collection. Not any particular great shakes, but big enough to make tracking what I had somewhat unwieldy.

I tried using duplicates of the set checklists to see what I had (assuming the set had checklists and that I had them in the first place.) I tried using paper checklists. (Too many cards to be effective, and the lists had to be kept updated with new sets.) I tried a spreadsheet (in Excel '97. Enough said.)

But hey, I had a CS degree, I had a copy of Microsoft Access '97, and I knew databases. How hard could it be to make my own Access/SQL database to track my inventory?

As it turns out, rather more difficult than I thought. However, the protracted side development (and eventual abandonment of the project) taught me several lessons in software development that I've never forgotten. Things about scope creep, and estimation of effort were lessons that I learned before I knew the proper terms for them. Add to that some valuable SQL experience that stood me in decent stead on my resume.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll tackle that development project again. There's certainly enough things that bother me about Beckett's Organize system (and especially their barely functional iOS app) that I'm certainly tempted to roll my own again at times.

But perhaps not. If I've learned one thing over the years of trying to find solutions to this particular problem, it's that an 80% solution that you have now, is far, far better than a 100% solution that you'll have eventually, some day, maybe.

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