Friday, March 19, 2010

Nearctic Spider Database Dead

With great sadness, I will no longer be serving the Nearctic Spider Database unless something remarkable happens.

On March 17, 2010, the power supply sparked in my server, shorted out the motherboard and as a consequence, the hard drives seized up. While I of course have back-ups, unbeknown to me the incremental drive image for the applications portion of the server was corrupt. The latest working drive image was January 2007 - hardly useful to rebuild the server. This means I have to reconstruct the server from bare metal, which would be a significant financial hit and a significant consumption of time away from family.

The website currently serves a flat html page where one may download the code and data until March 31, 2010 at which time it will evaporate.

I estimate it would take a solid week to re-install and iron-out the kinks. But, if it takes that long, surely it would be better to have a fool-proof system. And, in particular, one NOT dependent on Microsoft software.


google said...

Hi David,

Sorry to hear about the problem with the flawed backups -- been there, done that, as the saying goes.

I've sent you a note via e-mail with some ideas already, but it occurs to me that you might want to talk to some more people in the arachnological community to see if they are interested in picking this up. Or, possibly a commercial interest (SpiderPharm comes to mind) that might want to provide at least the database as a public service. (Or one of the natural history museums.

Just a couple ideas, as well as those already in your mailbox.

-Kevin P.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

This is bad news indeed. The Nearctic Spider Database was my primary mechanism for getting information out there about DMNS holdings. Would it be possible for you to work with either the Arctos folks or someone hosting Specify to transfer the collections data that was input into NSD into one of those databases?

Paula C.

google said...

Specify looks interesting. If I wasn't already happy with my own customized Filemaker solution for my personal collection, I might look at it. According to their site they will provide data conversion services to signatory institutions. But the institution has to have its own installation (regardless of location), so DMNS would have to set up (or contract) its own Specify installation. Or so it would seem to me. The Arctos screen shots I saw are really ugly (not that this says anything about their database structure or approach).

I liked the consolidation of collection data that the NSD offered. Don't know when/where/how that will happen again. Was also useful for small/private collections that wanted to make specimen data available.

-Kevin P.

google said...

Oops, I see it pays to keep reading: "Specify 6 also support collections-based research databases which contain specimen records from multiple institutional sources. "

Ken said...

Yikes - I'm so sorry to hear about this very bad news. I loved using the NSD for my small private collection and communicating with Kevin and the other members via the CAF. I hope that it will be possible to resurrect something similar elsewhere... Thanks for keeping this up as long as you could, David.

David Shorthouse said...

Thanks for all the comments. This is by no means an easy decision. Just to clarify, all the data are not lost; this includes the images and files. What I have lost (or rather, no longer have) is the time required to assemble it from scratch. Nevertheless, I plan on estimating how long it would take to migrate the data into MySQL and the classic asp code into PHP (possibly Drupal for starters).

Paula- I'd be reluctant to use an off-the-shelf specimen management package. The database worked as pointed out here because I sandboxed every participant's tables, combined them all into one large table on a nightly basis, then ran the web site off that. Plus, the reverse geocoding and names look-ups were key to this consolidation.

Jeff said...

Hi David,

What a tragedy! I'm sorry to hear that the server exploded. As you know, I don't work on spiders but I have regularly enjoyed using your mapping program and pointed many others towards it. If you have a copy of the html pages that you used for that, I would be happy to host it on the CNC site.

Jeff Skevington

Nina said...

Just to repeat what I said in email -- oh no! what a hearbreaking disaster.


David Shorthouse said...

Jeff - as it happens, the folks at the AMNH were also interested in a mapping application as part of their Planetary Biodiversity Inventory grants and commissioned me to make a much better application for them; the kind I really wanted to make! If you want more details, I can get you in touch with Norm Platnick.

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

Arctos isn't exactly an "off the shelf" solution, and collections can customize most things to address any perceptions of ugliness.

Have a look at, and feel free to contact us if you'd like to know more.


Anonymous said...


My condolences. I know you put thousands of hours into this project and I just want to thank you for all the hard work you put into it. Hopefully someday this can be brought back.

All the very best,

Anonymous said...

That's a shame, I had only just discovered the place and this happens. It must be a horrible feeling after so much time devoted to the maintenance and setup.

Wouldn't it be fairly straightforward getting the forum back up and running though even if it's hosted offsite?

Sounds like there's a potentially large amount of work involved in migrating the database itself though.

Burr Williams said...

You may not have time to answer...but it sounds like what you had designed would be useful for creating bioregional biodiversity databases, including both images and ability to add locations on a map. I am hoping to find someone that can develop such a prototype, so that students (from upper elementary to college) could participate in creating such a database. Some folks with Children Nature Network, North American Association of Environmental Educators, and Texas A&M are interested in the idea, too. (kids getting outside and doing real science by recording what is local.)

Joey said...

I'm so sad to see it crash. Sadly it seems that is the way on may internet resources.
I realize the massive time commitment to get it up and going. Has there been any institutional interest in supporting it? Such as an institution what needs an online data server and has an archnologist?

Oh, well. Very sad for the loss.


David Shorthouse said...

Joey - indeed, there has been some institutional interest, but as I expressed to all those who put up their hands to help, revival has a lot to do with rejuvenating from a hand-crafted environment to one that may better withstand tests of time. And, at a minimum, the rejuvenation ought to have the capacity to handle individuals' and institutions' specimen data independently from one another (i.e. not off one large table, but off dozens of smaller, identical tables).

Edson said...

Hi David- I am very sad at the loss of the NSDB.It has been my principal resource, and I used it daily. I am not well versed in computer matters,and I wonder if the service could be rescued if enough users could contribute to the cost of reviving the database. I would certainly contribute such an arrangement.Barring some rebirth, I want to thank you for the great benefit it has brought me.Edson

Anonymous said...

i'm very sorry to hear that, the site was a fantastic tool for its wonderful collection of information and distribution data!
These things make you reflect about the fact that things don't born on Internet, but there's the work of somebody behind them that ask nothing for that...
But if i understood correctly, the data are safe, it's the structure of the site that get lost?
if this work was splitted among user of the site, it could help in rebuilding it? i'm sorry if i'm making a silly question, i'm not an expert in site building...
Anyway, thanks for the work you did so far and good luck for your next projects!

Luca, from Italy.

David Shorthouse said...

Edson - your comment drew me to tears. It made me stop to think about why you were using it on a daily basis and why I failed you. The simple and most obvious answer is a microscope and what you have beside you when you put a name on something or when you want to find a publication with a hand drawing. If you have a biodiversity informatics project and don't have these things, just what the heck are you doing?