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U.S. Census Bureau plans to use the Web for the next major Census

us census bureau

Covered by The Washington Post earlier this week, the U.S. Census Bureau is slowly shifting from paper census questionnaires to options that will allow respondents to fill out the survey using laptops, smartphones and tablets. After finally launching an option to fill out the questionnaire over the Web during January 2013, approximately half of the 250,000 households that received the questionnaire over the last three months have opted for using the Internet to fill out the survey rather than filling out the document by hand and returning it through the postal service.

1940 Census

The Census Bureau has spent two years researching how people responded to questions based on how the questions were laid out on the screen. Specifically, the group studied eye movement when choosing answers in order to create an optimal, simple experience when filling out the survey. The Web version of the questionnaire takes approximately 40 minutes to complete and requires pin numbers as well as special codes in order to access the secure page.

Spurred by Congress due to budgetary constraints, the push onto the Web is motivated by the rising costs of printing, mailing and indexing the paper questionnaires. For instance, the 2010 Census cost an average of $96 per household. The Census Bureau also has to spend money on printing the surveys in a variety of languages as well as using temporary employees to check physical addresses and follow-up in person as needed. 

According to the new process, a household that has been chosen for the Census will receive a letter letting the homeowners or renters know that they can access a Web version of the questionnaire immediately. If the household hasn’t responded over the Web within a few weeks, the Census Bureau will send out the 28-page paper questionnaire. However, collecting responses over the Web could allow the Census Bureau to cut back on the staff of temporary employees used during the collection process and simply send out remainder emails prior to the survey deadline.  

In addition to the Web version, the Census Bureau is looking into developing a version for mobile users on smartphones and tablets. Beyond email, the organization could also attempt to use text messages to send out reminders about filling out the survey, assuming the respondent already supplied that information. The Census Bureau is also considering investing in an educational campaign that encourages Americans to pre-register for the survey by providing an email address. The campaign would also educate the public on the benefits of using the Web version over the printed copy of the survey.

In any case, the Census Bureau will continue to work on the technology that delivers the survey over the next five years and lock a system in place approximately two years before the 2020 Census. Regarding new technological developments that occur prior to the 2020 Census, associate director Frank Vitrano said “The census is always going to look a little out of date. There will be a time in 2017 or 2018 when we have to lock in decisions. Something new will come in 2019, and our technology is going to look obsolete.

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Mike Flacy
By day, I'm the content and social media manager for High-Def Digest, Steve's Digicams and The CheckOut on Ben's Bargains…
U.S. State Department spends $630,000 to boost Facebook ‘likes’

What could you do with $630,000? Take care of your mortgage, pay bills and student loans, a car and house have to be high on that list, too. How about spending over half a million dollars on a Facebook campaign to attract more followers? Well that's what the U.S. State Department did. 
A desperate State Department wanted to boost its Facebook following so badly that to get from 100,000 to more than 2 million followers during the two years between 2011 and 2013, the Department spent $630,000 on its Facebook strategy. The State Department employees described the social media strategy fairly simply: “Buying fans who may have once clicked on an ad or 'liked' a photo but have no real interest in the topic and have never engaged further,” a U.S. State Department report stated.
Defenders of this plan argued that Facebook Page discovery is difficult enough to merit the use of Facebook ads “to increase visibility.”
OK, so the State Department may be content that after its six figure investment each of its four Facebook pages had 2.5 million fans that were acquired through advertisements and viral photos, but a funds-rich social media strategy doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve acquired loyal fans. The rate of engagement would be the judge of that.
No surprise here: Just two percent of fans were found to be engaging with these Facebook Pages, which means that few people are actually paying any attention to the U.S. State Department's Facebook presence. And that has to sting, given that the department felt they were worth spending quite a bit of cash on.
“Engagement on each posting varied, and most of that interaction was in the form of 'likes.' Many postings had fewer than 100 comments or shares; the most popular ones had several hundred.” 
The State Department acknowledged in the report that buying fans wasn't a terribly worthwhile investment. Maybe that will be a lesson to everyone buying Facebook fans out there: The state department shelled out and look where it got them. Apparently you really can't buy popularity.

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Will the next 9/11 be digital?

Just as our everyday lives depend on the Internet, the backbones of nations increasingly rely on the Internet for communication, coordination, and financial transactions. But relying on the Internet also exposes those core functions threats from anywhere in the world. Need examples? Two weeks ago, some 30,000 systems at South Korean banks and broadcasters were wiped out in a coordinated attack - it might have come from North Korea, but investigators are still chasing basic details. Last week, a cyber-brawl apparently between Spamhaus and CyberBunker has caused localized collateral damage and may have shaken some top-tier Internet providers.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper offered an assessment of current worldwide threats to the United States. The list included terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, competition for dwindling natural resources, and even pandemics. But the first item? Cyber threats.
Why are online threats now the top priority for U.S. national security - the first time they've outranked terror networks? And how could the U.S.'s heightened stance impact everyday use of the Internet?
States and governments

The United States loosely categorizes online threats as cyber espionage and cyber attacks. Cyber espionage is about information: things like usernames and passwords but also classified data, intellectual property, and financial details. Cyber attacks, conversely, cause disruption and/or damage. Agents behind both kinds of can vary from so-called "hacktivists" and organized crime to traditional terror networks and - perhaps most significantly - governments.
"State actors continue to top our list of concerns," said General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Cyber Command, before the Senate Armed Forces Committee this month.
However, the elevation of cyber threats doesn't mean the U.S. believes a major cyber attack is imminent.
"We judge that there is a remote chance of a major cyber attack against U.S. critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services," wrote Mr. Clapper. "The level of technical expertise and operational sophistication required for such an attack […] will be out of reach for most actors during this time frame."
So why the elevated concern? What could a cyber attack do?
One example often offered is the 2003 northeast blackout that disrupted electrical service to an estimated 55 million people in the U.S. and Canada for as long as two days. The outage was famously traced to a single software bug that prevented a beleaguered Ohio utility from spotting a local failure - and things spiraled out of control. It might sound like the plot of a bad movie, but imagine if those events had been triggered by an attacker halfway around the world?
"Our critical infrastructures are all identifiable: they've been probed, and they've been mapped," said Frank Cilluffo, Director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University last week in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. "They have not necessarily been looked at from a computer network attack perspective, but the fact they've probed these systems– what other motive could they possibly have? It's not espionage, it's to come up with a potential battle plan in the future. Big concern."
"They've probed these systems – what other motive could they possibly have? It’s not espionage."
The United States plays this game. Attacking industrial and control software dates back to at least the Reagan era– although it was probably considered counterespionage, not a cyber attack. More recently, the 2010 Stuxnet worm was crafted (probably by the U.S. and Israel) to damage and destroy industrial control systems in Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. The related Duqu worm seemed to be all about gathering intelligence in the Middle East, as was the far more-sophisticated Flame malware detected last year – then killed by its operator.
Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea have all been implicated in persistent online espionage and attack activity. Last month security firm Mandiant fingered the Chinese People's Liberation Army as brazenly running cyber operations out of a 12-story building in Shanghai – alleging this "APT1" unit is one of dozens of hacking outfits run by the Chinese military. Iran is believed to be behind persistent denial-of-service attacks against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and U.S. government sites during 2011 and 2012, as well as a destructive attack against Saudi Aramco and Qatar's RasGas last year where malware wiped out more than 30,000 workstations. North Korea seems to be behind major disruptive attacks against South Korea in 2009 and 2011, and maybe this month's destructive attack against banks and broadcasters.
Follow the money

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1940 U.S. census goes digital: How to search America’s past
1940 Census

At 9am ET this morning, the National Archives posted the entire 1940 U.S. census online. It is the first time that the information has been made available to the public since the population study was originally published 72 years ago.
Consisting of 3.8 million digital images, made from scanned microfilm, the 1940 census offers historians, data miners and curious individuals the ability to see just how much the world has (or has not) changed in the last seven decades. For instance, in 1940, the United States had just 132 million people. That number is now 309 million. As the population increase, so has the average annual earning. In 1940, the average income for a man was $956 — per year. As of 2010, that number is now $33,276.
Though the trove of data is now available to the public, finding out exact information remains a burdensome task: the archive is not yet searchable, at least in the way most of us think that means. To find information about specific people or places, you must go through the following tasks:
1. Know the address of the person or people you are trying to find. You will have to know at least the state, county, and city of the address you're searching for.
2. Find the "enumeration district," a two-part code that was used to divide the US map into 147,000 distinct geographic locations.
3. Once you have all this information, you're ready to start browsing.
Note: The National Archives also have a brief "Census Research 101" page, which will give you a better idea of how to find what you're looking for.
From our tests, you can still find a lot of interesting information simply by typing in any address, and clicking around. We found some cool maps, and data on our hometown neighborhood in just a few minutes.
To get in the mood for your 1940s data fest, watch the U.S. Census Bureau's handy "introduction" video below:

[Image via National Archives]

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