September 2007

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Looks like funding cuts are coming down hard on the US Census according to this NYTimes Editorial – Putting the Census at Risk

Whether the [U.S.] Census Bureau has the means to ensure the accuracy of the count — which determines everything from how federal aid is apportioned to how many Congressional seats are given to each state — will be decided this week. Right now, the portents for an accurate count are not good.

The power of Census data and access to these data to a democracy are incalculable, in Canada like the U.S. transfer funding from the Federal Government to fund health care for instance is determined according to Census counts:

An accurate count is essential to a healthy democracy.

CODATA has just released the following special journal issue –

Open Data for Global Science

Lots of great FREE articles from a variety of perspectives – Public policy, standards, case studies, etc. -  on access to scientific data.

Checking the #s

A great post on Michael Geist’s blog about really really checking the numbers! Read – Misleading RCMP Data Undermines Counterfeiting Claims.

An excellent article by CBC online today –
Mixed-race identity: The Current looks at the growing number of mixed-race Canadians.  It is a great look at how statistics and social change are ways to help us understand the composition of our societies, their increasing complexity and how this information leads to change in public policy.  The release of the 2006 Census data has fueled some great articles in the Ottawa Citizens, one on how Same-sex couples now part of tall. Seems like there are more males than females in same sex relationships, 9% of the couples have children and these are found predominantly in the two mom categories.  Toronto, Montreal, West Coast Vancouver and Ottawa have the highest population of same sex couples.  In addition seems like Married people now in the minority in Canada but that people remain in committed relationships and rear children!  According to the article this is not much concern providing that:

Canadians continue to form families that fulfill the societal functions they always have — providing economic stability, raising children, instilling values — the categorization of those relationships can be “completely irrelevant.”

But Ms. Tipper said the rise in the number of some family groupings, such as those headed by lone parents, explains part of the increase in the unmarried population and that represents a significant social and economic challenge for Canada.

Our friends at have an article about abolishing Crown Copyright in the UK. Canada suffers under the same of copyright policy on government documents and data, while in the USA, everything published by the government is de facto public domain.

The key point is:

But the problem with crown copyright as it stands, and more importantly as it’s used, is that it’s used to restrict.


There is a interesting article in the Globe today by Eric Sager a professor of history at the University of Victoria about access to the names of Census respondents of Censuses gone by and those in the future.

I consider the privacy aspects of the Census to be sacred and so does StatCan. I fill it out because I know I am anonymous and that the data will be aggregated therefore not traced back to my personal address. Many people feel the same way, recall the Lockheed Martin online Census debacle. Fortunately for Canadians we do not live in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Ukraine, or are in Idi Amin’s Uganda where Censuses were explicitly used to target, kill or expulse ‘undersireable’ populations or to mask the death tole of massive mistakes. Censuses can and have been used to trace and target people of ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, or racial backgrounds. This 2006 Census year included a question as to whether or not we would be willing to give consent to sharing our private information 92 years from now. I responded with an educated no.

Historians and genealogists argue that past census respondent’s names should be made available and that we should have future access to current censuses:

The census is the only complete inventory of our population, an indispensable historical record of the Canadian people. It’s critical to genealogy, our most popular form of history. Of all visitors to our national archives today, half are doing genealogical research. If you had ancestors in Canada in 1901 or 1911, you can find them in the censuses of those years, online from Library and Archives Canada. Your children will also be able to find their grandparents and great-grandparents in the censuses of the past century — but only after a legally mandated delay of 92 years.

Seems like our friends in the South are sharing their Census information, as the U. S. Census information is released

through their National Archives after a delay of 72 years. They apply the principle of “implied consent” — a principle well known to privacy experts. When completing their census forms, Americans are consenting to the present-day use of their information by the Census Bureau, and to its use by other researchers in the distant future. Americans do not complain about the future use of their information, and there is no evidence that public release after 72 years has made them reluctant to participate.

Spammers and telemarketers have been using “implied consent” when they send me unsolicited email garbage, drop popups on my computer or call my home to sell me stuff. I have to say there are dubious elements to this concept. I do however like the concept of informed consent and think the Census had it right by leaving it up to census respondents to decide if they wish to share their personal information to future generations of researchers or potentially less progressive political regimes (see the question and your options).  StatCan even provided a very extensive section on historical and genealogical position. See the informed consent Question 8 on the short form and Question 53 on the long form. These are perfectly legitimate questions supported with a ton of explanatory texte and is a perfect compromise to the debate.

Prof. Sager makes a compelling argument for access to this private information, but he believes we should give up our right to informed consent, that we are not smart enough to understand on our own the importance of historical and genealogical research.  I vehemently disagree with these points. He does however correctly point out the importance of the Census for research and decision making.

I would like to have free – as in no cost – access to the non-private Census data and maps in the same way we have free access to the forms and the methodological guides. Now that, along with informed consent, is what a democracy looks like!

Dam! Just-in-time delivery manufacturing meets data!



is a data visualization project which focuses on knitted garments as an alternative medium to visualize large scale data.

The production of knitted garments is a highly complex process which involves computer support at various steps starting with the designs of both the fabric and the shape of garments until they are ready-to-wear. In recent years, technical innovations in machine knitting have especially focused on the patterning facilities. The patterns are designed by individuals generally depending on the current trends of fashion and the intended target markets and multiplied through mass production. News Knitter translates this individual design process into a world-wide collaboration by utilizing live data streams as a base for pattern generation. Due to the dynamic nature of live data streams, the system generates patterns with unpredictable visuality.

News Knitter is initiated as a quest for an alternative medium to visualize live data streams. The key motive is to translate digital information into the language of the physical world.

News Knitter converts information that is gathered from the daily political news into clothing. Live news feed from the Internet that is broadcasted within 24 hours is analyzed, filtered and converted into a unique visual pattern for a knitted sweater. The system consists of software that receives the content from live feeds, another software that converts it into visual patterns and a fully computerized flat knitting machine that produces the final output. Each product, sweater of News Knitter will be an evidence/result of a specific day.

The last thing i need is more stuff, but really, data and clothing – how seductive is that!

Via: information aesthetics

Very cool! Albeit in flash and some ui issues when trying to see the map, the legend and there is no way to link to the docs or access explanations associated with the timeline at the bottom but very interesting to see an attempt at making this kind of toxic data accessible!

Superfund365, A Site-A-Day, is an online data visualization application with an accompanying RSS-feed and email alert system. Each day for a year, starting on September 1, 2007, Superfund365 will visit one toxic site currently active in the Superfund program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We begin the journey in the New York City area and work our way across the country, ending the year in Hawaii. (We will need a beach vacation by then!) In the end, the archive will consist of 365 visualizations of some of the worst toxic sites in the U.S., roughly a quarter of the total number on the Superfund’s National Priorities List (NPL). Along the way, we will conduct video interviews with people involved with or impacted by Superfund.


I wish I could find more Canadian examples!

A NYTimes Editorial What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You, discusses the real cost of not having information and the politics of the US Census.

Just before the break, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut $23.6 million from the bureau’s 2008 budget for compiling the nation’s most important economic statistics. A cut of that size would result in the largest loss of source data since the government started keeping the statistics during the Great Depression, impairing the accuracy of figures on economic growth, consumer spending, corporate profits, labor productivity, inflation and other benchmark indicators.

This is a bit off-topic, but spiritually related to the mission of … From the “about”:

Your content and data should be yours to manage and do with as you please. Your images, writing, tags, profile, blog entries, comments, testimonials, video, and music should be yours to download and move anyplace you want.

We will help ensure that no website ever holds your data hostage.


I have not played with it yet, but I love the idea.