Martin's technology blog – February 05, 2009

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How not to enable fuzzy string matching in Postgres

posted by Martin Rubli at 14:23

I have ranted previously about people not being able to read attentively when they're trying to solve problems. Here's another one:

A few years ago I helped teach a class on information systems, namely I was in charge of the fun part - a project where students had to write their own web application.

Because lack of documentation was always the part that bugged me most about projects when I was a student myself I spent a great amount of time writing the project material and how-to guides for the software we were using. After the class I mirrored the material on my own website. (Yes, I'm proud of the project being a success.)

Now, for some reason one of the how-tos shows up quite high if you search Google for words like "postgres fuzzy string matching". At one point it tells students:

[...] if you want to use these functions in your database please send a quick e-mail to Martin so we can activate it for your databases.

And they do! Today is the second time I got an e-mail from some random person (this time a student, last time a post-graduate!) asking me to please enable fuzzy string matching in their database. It looks something like this:

Dear Mr Martin Rubli,
I want to use fuzzy string matching in my database. Can you activate it for my database ?.
I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you.

There are several things that strike me here. The first one is that it should be pretty clear from both the URL and some of the text that this is class material, not some generic tutorial. Then, why do those people think I'm running a charitable Postgres fuzzy string matching activation service instead of just posting the simple instructions on my website? And finally, let's assume I had such a magic service, am I supposed to guess the server addresses and the access data?

I think the message is clear here: If you want me to enable fuzzy string matching in your Postgres database, for god's sake include some IP addresses and credentials, so that I can have some fun with them! :-)