That said, you can approximate an IS-A relationship between tables, but it's cumbersome and prone to mistakes.
This statement seems contradictory to your idea about a separate table for optional attributes. That is merely a further generalization of the approximate IS-A relationship, and is equally cumbersome and prone to mistakes, if not moreso.
How is it more cumbersome to have the tables
Than to have the tables you are proposing?
You said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake; well, this could be it, sweetheart.
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