On the 2008 American Community Survey

This year’s release of the American Community Survey felt like the opening act for the big show to come. In about six months, every American household gets its decennial Census form, and the release of that data in late 2010 and spring 2011 will open new realms of analysis and visualization. Not to mention effort. Downloading, massaging and understanding reams of data on deadline needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

So, the 2008 version of the ACS was a good warm up. It saw the Census Bureau add questions on health insurance and the number of times a person had been married, among other tweaks. The release also came in the midst of the country’s economic woes, so journalists everywhere were on the lookout for how the data would reflect the recession.

We are fortunate at USA TODAY to have Paul Overberg on our team, one of the smartest Census analysts in the business. We began planning early and scrambled through a busy weekend to put together four stories, an interactive state map and assorted print graphics. Here’s what we did:

Immigrant population dipped last year, Census says
Driving habits alter during recession, Census reports
Housing is getting even less affordable
Census: 76% marry just once; new count for same-sex couples
State-by-state maps on foriegn born, other indicators

Data redundancy saves lives

After a longer-than-usual commute this morning, I was glad to get out of the car and behind my desk. I had an app to code — a project I’d been mulling during the weekend and was itching to try. But my anticipation deflated pretty fast when I realized my desktop PC was offering me nothing but a silent, black screen. I rebooted three times, hoping that something somewhere would come unstuck. No luck.

“I think it’s the motherboard,” one of our IT guys told me. “I might be able to get it back to you tomorrow.”

After he carted away my PC — as if he were towing away a dead car — I realized I needed to make do with the only resource I had left: my laptop. If this had happened a year ago, I’d have had to spend most of the day reconstructing files and my working environment. But I was up and running in about 10 minutes, working on my project with minimal pain. Here’s why: