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Hack the Census

By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

"Hacking the Census" was a collection of lightning talks on tools, tricks and codes to hack the Census and American Community Survey, ranging from introductory to advanced.

Steve Doig, professor at Arizona State University, said the Census has information about people and households, of course, but there’s also info on business, education, foreign trade, and more. The McCormick SRI project gathered speakers and taped 17 lectures of 45 minutes where each expert addressed these different facets of the data.

Ron Campbell of The Orange County Register demonstrated how to use the New American FactFinder, the new Census search tool. He showed how you can make a customizable map of ACS data in the FactFinder and export  it to PDF, JPEG, Excel and shapefile formats.

Joe Germuska of the Chicago Tribune demonstrated, an easier entry point into Census data than the FactFinder. At there is data for various geographies from tracts, to the entire US, with data from all 331 SF tables. At the site you can download the bulk data and the shapefile to upload to Google Fusion Tables.

John Blodgett of the Missouri Census Data Center spoke about data applications at The Quick Links box shows the most popular applications, which extract data and make profiles and trend reports from Census and American Community Survey data.

John Keefe at WNYC demonstrated the process for making a map for a story on changes in Brooklyn’s black congressional district, which showed an exodus of black and African-Americans from the district into other areas. He used data in Google Fusion tables, and a shapefile downloaded from the 2010 Census page along with to upload it into the table.

Paul Overberg at USA Today shared a few ways to calculate margins of error in Census and ACS data using a spreadsheet from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce or on a web interface.

Justin Myers of PBS NewsHour shared the American LinkFinder, a way to link to specific data from the American FactFinder, by saving a query file and then loading it into the LinkFinder. You can run it with command line scripts, or on your own computer.

Tim Barmann of the Providence Journal showed a way to use Javascript and jQuery to update maps. The tutorial is here

Daniel Lathrop, Dallas Morning News, showed the paper’s Census data finder where you can type in an address and find the corresponding data for that address, using a Ruby web frame called Sinatra. The site is currently down while it’s being migrated to a new server.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch is a graduate student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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