2.5 ⁑Sample Data
This section describes the sample CSV files, Excel spreadsheet and SQL database tables that will be used in some of the examples and exercises throughout the rest of this book. This includes sample data regarding hypothetical people. These people could represent, for example, students or customers or members of an organisation. This leads on to a couple of points that aren't specific to TeX, but are of a more general nature.
If you intend to store personal data, make sure you are aware of your country's data storage legislation. For example, in the United Kingdom you need to be familiar with the data protection act and you will probably also need to register as a data controller with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), although there are some exemptions. (At the time of writing it usually costs £35 per year, but may cost £500 per year, depending on your organisation's size.) If you are an employee, check with your company's administrative office for further details.
The sample data includes both a gender and a title field. The gender is usually not required, unless you need to know whether to use male or female pronouns (for example, “him” or “her”) or where the gender has some significance (for example, in medical data). Some people view a request for their gender to be intrusive, but if it is genuinely needed, make sure you include it in the data rather than omitting it and trying to determine the gender from the person's name. Additionally, I recommend you don't use a gender field as a replacement for the title field. It's not advisable to assume “Mr” or “Ms” on the basis of gender. People's preferences are varied. Some don't like the formality of titles at all, or simply don't care how they're addressed, but some women object to being addressed as “Ms”. While it's true that some professional women prefer “Ms” as they feel their marital status is no one's business, there are, on the other hand, some women with a professional title, such as “Dr” or “Prof”, who object to being “demoted” to a “Ms”, particularly if they work in a male-dominated environment and they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that their male colleagues are being shown more respect professionally. There are, of course, plenty of other titles as well, such as “Rev”, so I think it's best to find out how people prefer to be addressed. If the data is collected by a third party (such as an online store script) and it doesn't provide you with the person's title, you may want to consider just addressing individuals by both their forename and surname (such as “Dear John Smith”) rather than guessing a title to avoid unwittingly causing offence. (Remember there are also people, of certain cultures or age, who object to the informality of being addressed by their first name.)
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