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Computers May Thwart 2010 Census 287

Posted by Zonk
from the how-1950s dept.
smooth wombat writes "With the Constitutionally mandated census of 2010 just around the corner, it appears the Commerce Department's attempt to use handheld computers to gather census information may not come to fruition. Originally, the contract was awarded at a cost of $596 million to Harris Corporation. However, the GAO has now estimated the revised contract, now costing $647 million, could grow to $2 billion and the equipment may still not work properly. There is consideration that the paper and pencil method might have to be employed to complete the census."
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Computers May Thwart 2010 Census

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  • by pegr (46683) * on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:05PM (#22873218) Homepage Journal
    Recall that Herman Hollerith came up with punched cards for the 1890 census. He founded the company that became IBM. Here's some linky goodness [wikipedia.org].
  • by Darundal (891860) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:05PM (#22873222) Journal
    ...what accounts for the differences in the estimate and the cost? What cost(s) were underestimated?
    • The cost of government. I could probably throw this thing together myself in my spare time in a month, but when you bring in executives and contracts and managers, everything gets muddled up.
    • Anyone have any idea what accounts for the differences in the estimate and the cost?
      Um... the US government?!
    • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10linYEATSk.net minus poet> on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:13PM (#22873358) Homepage
      Government departments often have regulations that require them to put contracts out to tender and give them to the lowest bidder to prevent people handing out government contracts to thier friends.

      The problem is if they put them out for bidding as fixed price contracts they probablly wouldn't get any bids and if they did those bids would be very high. So the bids are only estimates. Of course this makes the bidding a farce as everyone tries to put in the lowest estimate they can and sponge more money later once the governement department is locked in.
      • by shadow349 (1034412) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:25PM (#22874354)

        So the bids are only estimates.
        I've done work on construction estimates that were of similar (~$250M) size that were submitted as "GMP" - Guaranteed Max Price. Yeah, Change Orders will pad that somewhat, and there is some contingency, but together they won't be more than 15%.

        Of course this makes the bidding a farce as everyone tries to put in the lowest estimate
        Which is why I've always felt that the process should pick the second lowest bid. It's trivial to shoot for the bottom ... it's impossible to shoot for second from the bottom.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dahamma (304068)
          Which is why I've always felt that the process should pick the second lowest bid. It's trivial to shoot for the bottom ... it's impossible to shoot for second from the bottom.

          Unless there are only two bidders.
    • by jo42 (227475)
      a) Sheer incompetence.
      b) Sheer greed to milk the Gooberment contracts for all they are worth.
      c) All of the above.
    • by Gat0r30y (957941)
      The impression I got was that it takes ~ an hour to get acquainted with the systems. Apparently some of the people in their test group just couldn't figure it out. And, since this is the government, instead of fixing the problem by requiring individuals who are qualified and competent to administer the census, they are gonna try to change the hardware and software of the device to I suppose fit their needs better? Yea, that sounds about right.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        ...And, since this is the government, instead of fixing the problem by requiring individuals who are qualified and competent to administer the census...

        And, what, exactly, do you have against equal opportunity?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I could buy that argument if it were possible to recruit, train, and manage 800,000+ people who have decent technical skills for a low paying, short term job. Keep in mind that that most non-response follow-up enumerators work for 2-3 months tops, make around $12/hour, are part-time, and have no particular interest in data integrity or security.

        The decennial census absolutely needs to be a turn-key operation for the tens of thousands of local recruiters and trainers. When you have an organization that exp
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Urza9814 (883915)
      True story I was just told today: Girl working in Procurement at a US Army Depot is sent a list of parts needed for a radio. The radio is supposed to cost $30 each. She brings the list to her superior officer to get it OKed, and he notices the resistors listed are +/- 5% tolerance. He decides that the army deserves the very best and changes it to +/- 2%. It then has to be sent to his superior too, who makes the same decision and changes all the resistors to +/- 1%. In the end, the radios cost $250 each.
      • by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:34PM (#22874476)

        Yay for non-technical decision makers making technical decisions!

        My favorite procurement/supply story is from a guy I worked with in the Navy; we needed a switch for some system that required replacement parts to be some super-special reliability grade, so he got the part number and called up the company from home. "Hi this is Billy Joe Ray Bob's electronics supply in Podunk, Lousiana; I need a BR-549 limit switch, how much are they?" The answer was something like $12.

        He calls back a week later as Petty Officer so-and-so from the USS Neveryoumind, and then the BR-549 limit switch costs $349. Apparently the super-special reliability grade sticker they put on it after they take it out of the bin costs $337.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214)
        That would be a bullshit story - as the Army buys complete radios, not components. It would also be bullshit because when the Army does buy components, its buys them to MIL-SPEC, no more and no less.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hadlock (143607)
          Schools also buy complete tables, chairs, etc, but that doesn't stop them from specifying X years more warranty on them than already comes from the factory. When ordering radios you say "we want them to last X amount" i.e. better transistors and the manufacturer says "sure, we can do that (for X + 45% markup)" and then charge the government for any additional holdups involved in building and testing a non-standard product.
  • Open source (Score:3, Funny)

    by Missing_dc (1074809) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:05PM (#22873226)
    The bloat is occurring because the project is not open-source, it could be done for pennies, but would take 20 years to complete.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by KevMar (471257)
      I have this gut feeling that it would only compound the issue.

      The article says they only had a 1% failure rate in field tests. I bet the crew of 20 to 30 year old tech guys had no issues with it. They under esimated the end users. Yes, some systems are very simple but you still find people that can't figure them out. Not only were more computers "breaking", the support calls would have been greater then expected.

      With electronic, you now have to pay for the support of that electronic component.
  • 1% error (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Red Jesus (962106) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:05PM (#22873228)

    He also said the computers actually are easy to use, with a failure rate of less than 1 percent when tested in the field.
    One percent of three hundred million is three million.
    • Re:1% error (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eepok (545733) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:21PM (#22873446) Homepage
      Ya, people are really bad when it comes to big numbers. I was a part of a research study as an undergraduate with the following premise:

      You're on a jury for a murder case with the scenario that a tan/brown man seen running away from a murder scene on a college campus. There was not enough of the attacker's DNA at the scene, but they were able to extract a DNA derivative that has matched that of a tan man in custody. Given that this derivative has a 99.9% successful rate, do you feel comfortable convicting the man in custody.

      I was the only one in my group of 12 to say "No, I will not convict based on this evidence." No one else understood that .1% = 1/1000. Nor did they realize that our university alone had 20,000+ people on the campus at any time let alone that it was in the middle of a city of 200,000+.

      Most people know what "fifty" is. Many know what "one hundred" is. Few understand what "one thousand" is. Too few understand the effects of millions, billions, and trillions.
      There's no way I'd convict with a .1% error, there's no way I'd accept a 1% error in the business of millions.
      • by sconeu (64226) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:31PM (#22873620) Homepage Journal
        Many people don't understand big numbers... My favorite way to get across just how big ONE BILLION (pinky-to-mouth) is, is as follows:

        A rich man wanted his wife to stop bugging him for money. So he gave her $1Million, and told her to spend $1000 a day.

        Three years later, she came back, and said she was out of money. So he gave her $1Billion.

        She didn't bug him again for 3000 years.
      • by MikeURL (890801)
        Come on now! If that is the ONLY evidence then I agree with you. However a murder case usually comes with other evidence like the tan man in question was her boyfriend and was screaming his head off the week before about how he was gonna "kill the b_tch". That 99.9% match goes a LONG way toward removing reasonable doubt. In fact, with 99.9% of the doubt removed you don't need much more evidence at all to get to the point where doubt is unreasonable.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) *
        1% is pretty good in the real world...Most hardware failure rates for hand held devices are much higher than that.

        As far as 99.9% certainty...It's almost impossible to get that good in the real world. What would be your standard for guilt? Eyewitnesses, fingerprints, photos; for the most part they're not 99.9% accurate for identification purposes.

        It's an ugly inductive world. You're never going to be 100%
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by eepok (545733)
          Of course, we'll never have 100%. I'd never expect that. But with no other evidence, it's just not enough to convict.
    • by Sciros (986030)

      One percent of three hundred million
      I see you have already conducted the census! Can I split the $650 million with you?
  • by advocate_one (662832) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:06PM (#22873240)
    of course do a more businesslike version with a larger keyboard... but the XO with custom census gathering application saving the data off onto flash drives would have been perfect... pity the timescale is a bit short now...
  • by Stanislav_J (947290) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:06PM (#22873252)
    How could we possibly do a census with paper and pencil? I mean, we've never done it that way before, right?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JonTurner (178845)
      I agree with your sentiment, however the problem with the "modern" census is, for many citizens, it goes far beyond the simple enumeration of all citizens proscribed by the Constitution and has become a multipage survey asking questions about plumbing, commute times, what languages are spoken at home, who raises your children, where you work, etc. It's so extensive, the government estimates it will take a person 38 minutes to complete the survey!
      See for yourself: http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/pdf/d02p.pdf [census.gov]
  • Are you serious? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:07PM (#22873264)
    Originally, the contract was awarded at a cost of $596 million to Harris Corporation. However, the GAO has now estimated the revised contract, now costing $647 million, could grow to $2 billion and the equipment may still not work properly.

    1.4 billion is one hell of an overrun...and after all that, the equipment may still not work properly?

    Is the Harris Corporation currently hiring? I'd like to get me some of that boondoggle.

  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:11PM (#22873338) Homepage Journal
    Between driver's licenses, utilities, medicare, social security, public school enrollment, arrests, and other records, a good statistician should be able to get an answer that is close enough. To double check the results, canvass a few dozen randomly chosen counties, then adjust accordingly.

    But there is no reason that counting people should cost over half a billion dollars.

    We should be able to contract this out. Offer maybe a mere 50 million dollars to the entrant that can produce the best results. Anyone can enter. They do their counting by whatever legal method they choose. THEN the census dept does their random counties, and whoever is closest on those counties gets paid, and their results for the whole country are used.
    BTW, I'm assuming here that a census should be just counting heads; that all of the other questions that the census people ask, such as level of education, are none of their business. The constitution requires that people be counted. The goal was to ensure proportional representation. It does not require all of the intrusive questions that they ask now.
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:16PM (#22873388) Homepage Journal

      BTW, I'm assuming here that a census should be just counting heads; that all of the other questions that the census people ask, such as level of education, are none of their business. The constitution requires that people be counted. The goal was to ensure proportional representation. It does not require all of the intrusive questions that they ask now.

      You are not required to answer any other question on the census, either.

      You can really just say "nine people live here, go away" and they will.

      All that information IS necessary for the government to provide all the services they provide today in a reasonable and efficient manner.

      Unfortunately, it would also require that those in charge be interested in reason or efficiency. All they want to do is separate you from money.

      So, I agree, but only in that the government should get their nose out of places it doesn't belong in a more general sense. Unfortunately, we could probably argue about what those things are all day.

      • by dwarfking (95773)

        You are not required to answer any other question on the census, either.

        Unfortunately not true, look at 13 USC 221 [cornell.edu], which is the current controlling law for the census.

        Unfortunately, the way the original Constitutional requirement was written said

        "[The Census] shall be made ... in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct."

        Which of course the Congress uses to basically do what ever they want, including requiring more information than just a head count.

        • by HTH NE1 (675604)

          You are not required to answer any other question [other than head count] on the census, either.
          Unfortunately not true, look at 13 USC 221, which is the current controlling law for the census.
          Okay, answer the head count truthfully, nothing else, and staple a $100 bill to the form for the maximum fine. (Assuming of course a blank answer cannot be interpreted as a false answer.)
    • by Seakip18 (1106315)

      We should be able to contract this out. Offer maybe a mere 50 million dollars to the entrant that can produce the best results
      Unfortunately, since it's a gov't contract, I believe the mark up of 300% is required. Even if it's the lowest bid.
    • Its been interpretated that an estimate is not a count. And thats what the constitution asks for.

      The Dems prefer a count while the Repubs would go with an estimate. An estimate is more accurate for people who own property.
    • by Lumpy (12016)

      It doesn't cost that much, Harris is simply trying to pull shenanigans and get some free money for a project they plan on failing already. This is the status quo for government projects.

      You should check out the screw ups that dont get press. Hell look at the overruns on the mess that is the "big dig" you cant tell me there is not some shady things going on there.
  • by easyEmu (977903)
    Is there a law that requires census workers to knock on people's doors, can we not allow people to register for a census on the internet? Would that not be easier and less expensive?
    • They already send census forms by postal mail. The door-knocking is for households that don't fill out the forms. Maybe they could increase the response rate with a website - it's probably worth trying - but there'd still need to be knocking on doors.

    • That was my thought exactly. There's nothing about a census that should require going door-to-door. At the very least, they should allow people to opt-out of the door-to-door if they voluntarily fill out a census online.
    • by Chyeld (713439)
      *sarcasm on*
      Wow, I never knew so many people lived at the public pool....
      And no one lives downtown apparently...
      *sarcasm off*

      How exactly would you be able to trust any sort of information you received via a volunteer internet based collection?
    • For example, by loosening up the definition of "citizen" only slightly, I can double the U.S. population. Every life counts.
    • Physically interviewing each person is much more accurate and much less prone to fraud.
    • can we not allow people to register for a census on the internet?

      Sure you can. I submitted my census questions via secure website during the last census in 2006...but that was in Canada. It was easier, and certainly less expensive to process (didn't save paper though, because everyone still got the mailer; you could fill it in and mail it back or log in with the information provided in the mailer).

      I'm not sure about how it goes in the US, but sending out canvassers only covers about two percent of data co
  • The problem with the computers is two-fold. One is they aren't designed to work with large amounts of data. The other is user training. Having been in college for the 2000 census, I can tell you that the government will hire any douchebag to complete the census in time. Therefore the users will be stupid. This system better be designed with a 90 great grandma in mind or it won't get results. That means it HAS to be intuitive. Furthermore the Census will always be off. If people returned the mail in form the
    • by Amouth (879122)
      i never understood this.. why not to a 2 fold system

      1) web based fill in for address
      then
      2) no spoken for addresses - mail out form
      then
      3) have postal workers get the info for the remaining addresses

      all being spaced out by a few months..

      i mean.. the post office basicly visits every location every day 6 days a week (i know not ALL but damn close percentage wise)

      really i just don't undertand why the hell it is all that fucking hard.. sure people can poke holes in what i posted.. but others can fix them.. but 2
  • Government Accountability Office, apparently.
  • I know computers are capable of doing the job, but what was wrong with paper? Paper doesn't crash, get deleted, or require technology training. Further, if someone loses a paper copy of the census, it doesn't cost that much to replace.

    It doesn't even have to be nice paper, just as long as it can be written on.
    • by stokessd (89903)
      They could use Hipster PDAs, they are all the rage and don't crash:

      http://wiki.43folders.com/index.php/Hipster_PDA [43folders.com]

      I'd be willing to provide say a million of them for a mere 20% of that projected overrun.

      Sheldon
    • It's awfully useful to have data in computer storage if you want to query it for information.

      Consider this question: What is the median income of urban black males ages 30-37?

      Now consider answering that on a computer - if the data's in an SQL database, that's like two queries. In contrast, answering that that given a warehouse full of filing cabinets is basically impossible.

  • How the hell can it be that hard to count people?
    • by compro01 (777531)
      counting isn't the hard part. the problem is finding all of them and collecting all the other demographic trivia, then collating and interpreting those findings.
  • by Tired and Emotional (750842) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:20PM (#22873438)
    Lets hope not. The population of the West Coast and the North East combined would come out at zero!
  • just take an enumeration, which is all that the Constitution allows, anyway. ("The actual Enumeration shall be made ... within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct...counting the whole number of persons in each State...")

    Without the need to gather all that other illegal crap ("How many toilets in your household?"), a census take needs little more than a cheap handheld clicker.
  • I think they should just use the post office to conduct the census. They already go to everyone's house. They could just hire some more people for the census and expand the job of the mailperson for a few months.
    • by Sentry21 (8183)
      Except they don't go to everyone's house at a time when people are likely to be home (necessarily). My mail sure as heck doesn't come when I'm home, and only when I was working graveyard shifts in the past has that ever happened. The problem with censuses is that they're not just going door-to-door, it's going door-to-door and asking questions of people over the age of 18 who live there. That's why they need census-takers.
    • I think they should just use the post office to conduct the census.

      The census is conducted by mail. The census workers are there (among other reasons) to contact people don't return the mail-in form by the cutoff date...

      Fron TFA: They would use the computers to collect and transmit information from residents who failed to return the census forms mailed out by the government.

  • Are computers just not powerful enough for the task? Are the incapable of performing the required computations? If not, I don't see how this is the poor computers fault. On another note: I am guessing a slate of Tungten Es with custom software is out of the question.
  • by Bombula (670389) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:28PM (#22873558)
    I was living in a Gulf country a few years ago when the government there conducted the census. They just sent out an army of 20-somthings with PDAs to do the surveys. I believe most of the survey was multiple-choice, but there were some numeric entries (how much I earned per month and what y rent cost, for example). You could do those with multiple-choice too, obviously, with a selection of ranges.

    The whole census survey took about 15 minutes. They collected a lot of data - I'd say there were between 60 and 80 questions. Since I'm a geeky sort of person, I asked the kid how it worked and he showed me - the PDA (a Compac Pocket PC) just ran a macro in MS Office which dumped each survey as a file into a folder. That folder synced via wireless/mobile-phone link to where the main data center was.

    The country has a population of about 4 million, and he said there were 200 people doing the survey for several months. Seemed pretty straightforward, and I can't imagine it cost that much - certainly labor and not the PDAs was the primary expense.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sentry21 (8183)
      I worked for a company that did mobile data collection software, including actual survey design (flowing questions, ask this question based on this question's answer, filter these responses, ask this set of questions once for each child listed in previous questions, etc.).

      This stuff is trivial to implement if you do it right, and all it takes is commodity Palm hardware (or PocketPC hardware running an emulation layer, or Windows tablets). It's trivial to do, syncs automatically, and can export all the data
  • Paint me Blue... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:30PM (#22873606)
    Paint me blue and call me stupid, but really, how hard is it to make a hand-held computer designed to take and store census data? It's not like these machines need to calculate pi. It's data entry and retention. Right? How could that possibly require $2 billion dollars to implement? What am I missing? (beyond the obvious corruption and inflation of budgets to line the pockets of fat cats)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:30PM (#22873612)
    Bet if you did a study, a serious one, you'd find there's an irrefutable inverse relationship between the amount of money bid for a project and the success of that project. I know it sounds like a flippant witticism, but I'm sure of it, do the research and the figures will prove a direct *causal link* between the amount of money put in and project failure.

    I mean, what is it with these large scale IT projects? They take a simple problem and turn it into a money pit. Here in the UK we've had several high profile massive budget IT failures in the last 10 years, air traffic control, national health patient record databases, in fact the more critical it is the more of a spectacular unqualified fuck-up it becomes.

    Now, if you got a couple of average hacker nerds and gave then the same specs, but didn't tell them it was for a large scale project, or for whom, they would give you a faultless solution using commodity hardware, stock methods and free software in a few months at one *millionth* the cost we're looking at here. Every one of you here knows it to be true. So, my question is, what goes wrong? How can it possibly go so wrong? Are the people involved complete idiots? Or corrupt?

    What are the factors that turn a simple software project into an impossible task? Is it the stress of high budgets? Too many crooks spoiling the broth? And more to the point, when is some bright person going to break from this pattern of failure and realise that to award a major government IT contract to *more than one* complete no-name outsiders bidding a fraction of the cost makes more sense than giving billions of dollars to one contractor and putting all your eggs in one basket?
    • by b96miata (620163)
      Awarding a contract to more than one provider ensures they all have someone else to point the finger at when it breaks. Hell, you see this even with contracts that measure in the 10s of thousands rather than the 100's of millions.
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @06:22PM (#22875696) Homepage

      Bet if you did a study, a serious one, you'd find there's an irrefutable inverse relationship between the amount of money bid for a project and the success of that project.

      I can refute it without even breaking a sweat. The Manhattan Project. The Apollo Project. The creation of the Polaris, Atlas, and Titan missiles... The creation of nuclear powered ships... Etc... Etc... Big ticket projects all - unqualified successes all.
       
       

      I mean, what is it with these large scale IT projects? They take a simple problem and turn it into a money pit. Here in the UK we've had several high profile massive budget IT failures in the last 10 years, air traffic control, national health patient record databases, in fact the more critical it is the more of a spectacular unqualified fuck-up it becomes.

      Mostly because we really don't have all that much experience building huge monolithic IT projects from scratch and to spec. The vast majority of the [truly tremendously] big IT projects to date (the telephone system, the networks big banks use, etc...) have been built piecemeal and grown from small beginnings.
       
       

      Now, if you got a couple of average hacker nerds and gave then the same specs, but didn't tell them it was for a large scale project, or for whom, they would give you a faultless solution using commodity hardware, stock methods and free software in a few months at one *millionth* the cost we're looking at here. Every one of you here knows it to be true.

      I know it's a common conceit of IT workers to believe so. I don't believe for a single second that it's true. 'Average Hacker Nerds' have essentially zero experience in building large systems, triply so for distributed ones.
       
       

      So, my question is, what goes wrong? How can it possibly go so wrong? Are the people involved complete idiots? Or corrupt?

      Or, just maybe, the projects are Really Hard in extremely specialized project domains.
       
       

      What are the factors that turn a simple software project into an impossible task?

      The persistent belief that these projects are 'simply software' and thus easy to do. Especially among people with essentially zero knowledge of the problem domain(s) and the issues involved.
  • Yeah, yeah, I know, the evil gummint. That said, this was farmed out to Harris Corporation. How could they screw up so dramatically? Every part of this project is pure COTS. Handheld computers are stock items, in the form of phones, PDAs, tablets, eeePCs, or whatever. In any of those categories one can get a device that'll run whatever software you want it to run for not much money at all. The input software on the handhelds should be trivial, and the backend is standard database. Big standard database; but
  • "A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans [wikipedia.org] and a big Amarone [wikipedia.org].

    --Dr. Hannibal Lecter
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @03:40PM (#22873734)
    I'm pretty sure MacGyver did his own 1985 census with a paperclip, a piece of scotch tape, and 3 guys he found standing outside a Home Depot in Tucson.
    • by Eudial (590661)

      I'm pretty sure MacGyver did his own 1985 census with a paperclip, a piece of scotch tape, and 3 guys he found standing outside a Home Depot in Tucson.


      No, that was his manned lunar mission. He made the consensus with a rolled up newspaper, an apple and an old rusty cookie jar.
  • There is consideration that the paper and pencil method might have to be employed to complete the census.

    Dear Commerce Department, See: Why OldTech Keeps Kicking [slashdot.org]

  • Countee: [waves hand] "These are not the droids you are looking for...hee hee!"

    Counter: [pulls out pencil and checks 'dork']

  • projects like this are not just put out for bid, but offered up like an X Prize. For a mere 10 million dollars they would probably end up with a device agnostic system that works with wireless and not, and compiles statistics for serving up to the web automatically. I can see the Google mashup now.

    Ferchrisakes, this is WHAT GEEKS DO all day long.

    Add a blind double check security login so that people can be counted at home on their computers. Then only check those with addresses and no data as well as addres
  • Just extrapolate or approximate by using a smaller census and count the number of employed and schoolgoing kids and just add the number of unemployed, homeschooled, and births to get a number that would have about a 90% confidence interval? Is a 95% confidence interval really worth that many billion dollars?
  • This is what happens if contracts are awarded to companies that have CEOs with connections to politicians. Politicians clearly have no fucking clue what it's involved so they simply accept the status quo from these leeches!

    The fact of the matter is this job could be done with this setup:
    -Each hand held machine would collect data as it's received and store locally.
    -Once back at the office they would be connected to the LAN with an Internet connection to a main server at census offices with an SSL encryption
  • by mkcmkc (197982) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:07PM (#22874134)
    One thing that 20+ years in the computer industry has taught me is that if you don't need a computer for a task, don't use one.

    Coincidentally, my first paying job was working as a US Census enumerator for the 1980 census. Paper worked fine. The real problems were with my fellow citizens who didn't want to be enumerated (which I can understand, though calling the police on me seemed like overkill).

    Finally, apropos of this topic, I recently discovered that the best "organizer" in the world is an empty file folder (or perhaps several) and a supply of sticky notes. Portable, easy to reorganize, no problem if you run your car over it, easy to back up, etc.

  • by Sloppy (14984)

    Tech issues aside, the mere fact that we are spending half a billions dollars on the equipment alone, should be enough to tell us it's a rip-off. Whoever gave out that porky contract should be tarred and feathered.

    As for tech: Technology is all about giving more bang per buck. When it gives you less, then you shouldn't call it "high tech." It sounds like these computers are lower technology than paper and pen; i.e. an engineer would look at the problem, say, "aha! I have an idea!" and propose upgrading

  • by LordEd (840443) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:13PM (#22874198)
    Our last census had the option of filling out the census forms online. I didn't find out how many actually did it, but they were originally estimating 20% usage. Instead of getting the full booklet to fill out, you got an access code.

    http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/04/27/online-census060427.html [www.cbc.ca]

    While searching for a reference article, i found that there were some issues with Linux users, although they attempted to correct it.

    http://www.linux.com/articles/54366 [linux.com]
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:29PM (#22874406) Homepage Journal
    So how does yet another Republican boondoggle contract for an essential government service mean that "computers" will thwart the 2010 Census? Are these incompetent Republicans really just a computer simulation?

    Maybe this really is all just some kind of Y2K bug VR nightmare. Would someone please reboot Gore, so I can go back to watching _the Simpsons_ when it was still funny?
  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @04:32PM (#22874450) Journal
    This is not new and pioneering technology. There are companies [acnielsen.com] that take similar surveys for market research purposes. Have you ever been asked to take a survey at a mall? Have you ever been at a bar when a beautiful woman with a tablet computer asks you to take a survey about cigarettes? I have. The Government is wasting billions of dollars to develop technology that has existed for years.

    Why doesn't the government just outsource the whole census to a market research company and be done with it?
  • Break the Law (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @05:20PM (#22875012)
    Census data was used to round up japanese-american citizens for interment camps during WWII:
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-03-30-census-role_N.htm [usatoday.com]

    With the current "war on the unexpected" who knows how current census data will be used to abuse citizens like yourself.
  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Wednesday March 26, 2008 @05:21PM (#22875022)
    They could have purchased hundreds or thousands of off-the-shelf PDAs and had a company develop a basic piece of census-tracking software for a mere fraction of what this project costs. Instead they'll argue they need some elaborate, over-priced piece of hardware under the pretense that only something so fancy can reliably handle the government's needs. The best part is that the devices might not even work properly. What in the hell are these companies doing that even with this much money thrown at them they can't do anything right?

    Still, that doesn't excuse the government's stupidity. It's like that stimulus package. As if enough money hasn't already been dumped into that some halfwit decided they needed to send out letters informing recipients that they were going to be receiving these checks. In many cases these notices will be arriving barely a month before the check arrives. Sending these letters out has cost the government over $40 million.

    It's time the government's budget were capped at the rate of inflation making allowances only for population growth. It's time they learned how to manage their expenses like the rest of us have to.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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