The Unbearable Act of Creating Sample Data

July 10th, 2009 by datapig Leave a reply »

We’re coming upon the release of Office 2010 technical release.  Although it’s exciting, it means the start of a lot of work for anyone who has to update a book, a website, or any other type of training material.

I’ve always told people that it takes me an average of one hour per page when writing.  Do I have A.D.D?  Yes, but that’s not the reason it takes me so long.

It’s the sample files.  Creating sample files takes so much longer than anyone can suspect.  The difficulty comes in finding the balance between creating scenarios in the vacuum of your training scope while making sure your examples fit reasonably in a real-world scenario.  Core to this requirement is solid sample data.

If you’ve ever tried to create sample data from scratch, you’ll know that it’s mind-numbing work.  Especially if you’re creating some sort of  sample database where keys and joins have to make sense.  It sounds easy, but it’s not. Try it some time (without using actual client data).

Luckily, a few months ago, Dick Kusleika (Daily Dose of Excel) told me about an add-in he has been helping Jimmy Peña (Code for Excel and Outlook) finalize.  This add-in creates random sample data automatically.

sampledatagenerator

I’ve tried it and I must say it’s the SHIZNIT!  If you’re not keeping up with the cool slang, that means it works extremely well.

This will save me an obscene amount of time – especially since I’ve been wanting to update the stale datasets in the older versions of my books.

If you are an Excel or Access trainer who constantly finds the need to create sample datasets,  you have got to try this.  I think you’ll be  very happy.

You can find the add-in at Jimmy’s site Here.

As a bonus, he’s got an unlocked version so that you VBA gurus can customize it.

I’ve customized mine to change ‘GENDER’ to ‘SEX’.  Mainly because my brain-age is 5 and it makes me giggle.

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9 comments

  1. JP says:

    If you giggle at that, wait until you see the output! The odd name combinations, obvious male names where “sex” is listed as Female, city/state/zip mismatches. The list goes on. Thanks for the plug!

  2. Colin Banfield says:

    Mike, what’s wrong with using the Northwind or Adventure Works sample databases?

  3. DataPig says:

    Colin: I suppose nothing is wrong with the samples that Microsoft provides. But one does try to be a bit original. Although it’s hard to be avant garde with Excel training, I always get the feeling that Northwind and Adventure Works ‘has been done’.

  4. Rod Apfelbeck says:

    Love when Jason Weir called you “bacon boy” yesterday. 1 – Love the blog. I’m not an Access guy, so my vote is for you to go heavy on the Excel stuff. 2 – the link to Code for Excel and Outlook has an extra http:// in it. 3 – Please schedule your next seminar on graphing so I can attend.

  5. datapig says:

    Thans Rod. I’ll be posting the new scedule of events soon.

  6. judgepax says:

    Gotta disagree with Rod. I use both Excel and Access and love having a blog that combines the two.

  7. Al Moore Jr says:

    “Then don”t worry about it”

  8. Jordan G says:

    OMG, I know exactly what you mean! “Unbearable” is quite honestly the only way to describe coming up with fake data.

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