Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Census and computing

The US census brings to mind one of the reasons computers advanced.

The 1880 census took 8 years to tabulate. Of course, the census is done every 10 years, so a long wait for results makes this data almost useless. The fear was that the 1890 census would take more than 10 years to tabulate, which of course makes no sense.

Enter Herman Hollerith and his fabulous mustache. He invented a tabulating machine that helped with this purpose. This tabulating machine allowed them to count survey results in one year. Of course, many early computers used punch cards, so this was one of the forefathers of those computers. I did not know (until I read a little bit of the Wikipedia article) that his company was one of the companies that would merge to form IBM in 1924. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Anyway, the 2010 census results are being tabulated, and you can already see the response rates posted for all towns. Making things more interesting is the use of data mining. We can now use the computers to not only count results, but to do projections, spot trends, and all sorts of stuff that would have been impossible 100 years ago. It looks like President Obama will get the first report by December 31, 2010. Considering surveys were sent out in March and data collection ended in July, that's really amazing turn around time. Now, if everyone just did the data entry on the computer, imagine how quickly it would go!

Anyway, here's the site with the response rates:

No comments: