Sat, 13 Sep 2008

Generating Plausible Fake User Data

— SjG @ 6:45 pm

So it’s a familiar problem, where you’re developing a data-driven application, and you want to optimize the queries that will run against your database (I’ll have more interesting stuff on this later). The problem, of course, is that to really optimize those queries, you need a lot of sample data.

So I needed to do some address lookup code against a huge collection of users. But because there was the possibility of having to demo the prototype, I really didn’t want 100,000 users named “Foo McBar” living at “10101 Binary Place.” So, with the help of the almighty Internet, the all-frobnicating Perl, and the all-knowing US Bureau of the Census, I created a quick, semi-flexible script to generate people with plausible names and addresses that, if not Google-mappable, at least had agreement on city/state/zip. The city/state/zip is a collection of 250 random zip codes. If you have good zip code data, you can easily extend this to be complete! Names are generated from the most popular forenames and surnames, with a probabilistic bias towards the most common ones. The script also allows you to specify “pick one of n item” type fields, pick a number from a range, plausible email addresses, not-very-plausible phone numbers with or without extensions, and the ability to export as CSV or tab-delimited.

In principle, this should be easy to adapt to other countries, although you’ll need lists of common first names, surnames, street names, and a way of mapping cities to regions, states, districts, cantons, or whatever’s appropriate.

You can grab a copy of it here. It requires a Perl interpreter with the Text::CSV and Getopt::Long CPAN modules.

Usage: [OPTIONS]
   -t, --header : header, a colon-delimited list of column headers
   -f, --format : format string, a colon-delimited list of column contents
       data types:
         fn - first name
         ln - last name
         a1 - street address
         a2 - apartment number
         c - city*
         s - state*
         z - zip 5*
         e - email address
         pne - phone (US), no extension
         pwe - phone (US), with extension
         [a,b,c] - one of a, b, or c
         {a,b,c} - one of a, b, or c in decreasing probability
         [x-y] - a number between x and y, inclusive

         * city, state, and zip will be agree to create a valid address
           if you need multiple addresses, use the code ! to reset the
           synch. The reset works on a left-to-right scan of the format string.

   -n, --number : number of records to create

  -c, --csv : output CSV format (otherwise, tab-delimited).
  -v, --(no)verbose : verbose mode (default false)


Viajante:samuelg$ --header "First:Last:Age:Email" --format "fn:ln:[10-100]:e" -n 5 --c

or, more exotically:

Viajante:samuelg$ --header "First Name:Last Name:Address:City:State:Zip:Super Power" --format "fn:ln:a1:c:s:z:[Invisibility,Invincibility,X-Ray Vision,Flight,Likes Squirrels]" -n 5 -c
"First Name","Last Name",Address,City,State,Zip,"Super Power"
Roseanna,Best,"8821 7th Str.",Manati,PR,00674,Flight
Euna,Crawford,"8195 Lee Str.","Fort Washington",PA,19034,Invincibility
Ted,Williams,"7140 Birch Ave.",Monroe,CT,06468,Invincibility
Mariano,Miranda,"2657 1st Way",Lyford,TX,78569,Flight
Tammy,Flowers,"2135 Washington Blvd.",Duluth,MN,55806,"Likes Squirrels"


Mon, 1 Sep 2008

Baltasar and Blimunda

— SjG @ 3:56 pm

A translation of Memorial do Convento, written by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero, Harcourt Brace & Co, 1987.

I don’t really understand why Saramago’s work is so compelling. And I can’t give a pithy summary as to what this book was about. I could, perhaps, follow the example of countless others and say this book is a love story set in the still-mostly-medieval Portugal of the 18th century, but this would be inaccurate. Yes, there’s the romance between the titular characters, but one that we see as distant outsiders. We know more about the quarrying, transporting, and history of the portico-stone of the Basilica at Mofra or of the peccadillos of the Portuguese royal family than we really do of Balthasar and Blimunda’s love.

If anything, this book is less a romance than a musing on the fundamental inequities of life, a rambling explication of the abuse of power, or a celebration of the lives of simple country folk. Yet these descriptions too do poor service to the book; they leave out the fire, the lyricism, the anger and passion. It’s a powerful monument to the downtrodden and forgotten; a sneer at the Church; an idyll; a history; a tall-tale of music, second-sight, and alchemy.

And, like The Cave (the only other Saramago I’ve read), the language is challenging, funny, brilliant, and the book is hard to stop thinking about.

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