Name Surfer

Nick Parlante,, Stanford University SIGCSE Nifty Assignments, 2005. (Back to Nifty Assignments)
Summary Name Surfer is a program that reads in and displays data from the Social Security Adiministration on the 1000 most popular baby names every decade for the last 100 years. The code is fairly straightforward, but the program enables access to a pretty entertaining data set.
Basic coding: loops, abstraction, reading data from a file, storing objects in a collection, basic GUI controls and drawing. There are many layers of iteration at work, although good abstaction isolates much of it. The logic to draw the line for one name is probably the hardest algorithmic part -- getting the scaling and the decade markers and everything looking right.
Late CS1 or anywhere in CS2
Medium difficulty and size. Algorithms involve looping over moderately complex data, but nothing super complex. The project is too big to be done in 1 week -- maybe allow 2 weeks in CS1, maybe due in two parts.
The coding is straightforward but the baby-name data the program brings to life is fun to play with. The project has an "Astrachan's Law" strength, where their code slices and dices through such a mass of data, it makes the whole thing fun. Shows off a basic sort of MVC structure, where the model contains the mass of data, and the view draws a subset of the model.
The project is not small. Maybe have it due in 2 parts? We use a handout that lays out the overall structure for them. It does not require especially complex algorithms or decomposition.
Works fine in Java, and would work in any GUI system -- just does ordinary things.
In this version, the data is presented in a single text file. In reality, the data is buried in HTML tables at the SSA site. Could make the students parse the raw HTML. Could provide the GUI code to them, although the drawing itself is the hardest part, so if that's provided there's not much left. Could hook up with the IMDB for data mining -- try to find trends in baby-names that match-up with actors or characters in movies of the day. Could


NameSurfer loads in historical data on popular baby-names for the last 100 years. You can type in a name, and it graphs the rank of that name over time. A high ranking, like 5, means the name was the 5th most popular that year (top of the graph), while a low ranking like 879 means the name was not that popular (bottom of the graph).


Try out the -- download and unpack the .zip. The names-data.txt file contains the raw data. Double-click the NameSurfer.jar file to run the program.


The handouts we use at Stanford desribe a possible solution strategy in some detail and in particular lay out the rough MVC structure we have them use: handouts

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