Conceptualizing the dataset
The most useful paradigm I found was the idea of an ndimensional space. This paradigm involves thinking of each field in a database as one dimension. The ndimensional space is most easily understood through building the number of dimensions from 1. In a 1dimensional space we can move forward and backward. In a 2dimensional space left and right is added. In a 3dimensional space, up and down is added. The next step is to move away from space as a metaphor of dimension to a generalized idea of dimension. A dimension is now simply movement through the data on one field be it temperature, easting or time for example. Using this paradigm does not change the database itself but, more significantly my way of thinking about it changes and I can construct queries based on this idea.
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