Re: what are keys and surrogates?

From: Marshall <>
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2008 11:50:59 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <>

On Jan 9, 6:23 pm, David BL <> wrote:
> On Jan 10, 1:22 am, Marshall <> wrote:
> > On Jan 9, 8:07 am, David BL <> wrote:
> > > On Jan 9, 1:25 pm, Marshall <> wrote:
> > > > This issue goes away if we relax 1NF and allow attributes that are
> > > > lists or relations. This gives us nested structures. (Nested relations
> > > > are not particularly controversial around here.)
> > > In addition to my previous post, I wish to add another comment
> > > regarding my suspicion with RVAs. The tuples of a relation are
> > > supposed to represent facts, but what does it mean when a relation
> > > merely represents a value?
> > The question is meaningless. The distinction you are drawing
> > does not exist.
> In what sense do tuples of an RVA represent propositions in *the* UoD?

Propositions and tuples and so forth are abstractions of the real world. They all do the same thing, which is try to capture some subset of reality. Why is nestedness a problem for you?

Suppose we wish to model what children someone has. (Using int ids for the sake of brevity.)

{(parent=1, child=2), (parent=1, child=3)}

Suppose we do it this way:

{(parent=1, child={2, 3})}

Why should either of these two ways raise any philosophical issues?

Suppose we have a predicate

  Person x has children y

and the proposition

  Person 1 has children {2, 3}

Where's the problem?

Another angle on the same thing: in ZF set theory, there is nothing in the universe *other* than sets. The theory doesn't have ur-elements or scalars or whatever. This theory is wildly successful. Sets containing sets is utterly unremarkable. Likewise relations with attribute values that are relations should be considered utterly unremarkable.

> > > Isn't the RM meant to have some close
> > > association with FOPL?
> > Yes.
> > > It seems to me there is a fundamental difference between
> > > a) a large collection of propositions relevant to a particular UoD;
> > > and
> > > b) a composite data structure such as an AST which simply
> > > "is what it is"
> > This is an illusion. There is no difference.
> Hmmm. Unfortunately you didn't respond to my last paragraph
> which was more tangible.

I beg your pardon.

> I don't believe the distinction is an illusion. I'll have a go at
> providing an objective measure on a given relational database d...
> Let B(d) equal some measure of the amount of information in d,
> quantified as the total number of bits required to store all the data
> (accounting for "compressibility").
> Let P(d) equal the total number of tuples across all (top level)
> relvars. Do not count tuples in nested relations. This is a measure
> of the number of propositions on the UoD.
> Now take the ratio bpp(d) = B(d)/P(d) to give the "average bits per
> proposition".
> An alternative measure could account for the number of attributes to
> give bpa(d) which is an "average bits per attribute", for the
> attribute values that appear in the top level propositions on the UoD.
> In a conventional use of the RM, where attributes are "reasonably
> atomic" bpa(d) will be relatively small. However for an
> unconventional use of the RM (such as the representation of source
> code using nested RVAs) bpa(d) will be very large. An extreme
> example is the representation of a single AST and P(d) = 1.
> Now for the part you won't agree with: I think bpa(d) provides an
> (inverse) indicator of how "relational" the DB is.

I was given to understand you were going to address your "fundamental difference" between a) and b) you described earlier, but I don't see how any of this does that at all.

Marshall Received on Thu Jan 10 2008 - 20:50:59 CET

Original text of this message