The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

21 March 2008

Don't count on these

The Bureau of the Census was hoping to go "virtually paperless" in 2010, but it's not gonna happen:

This month, the Government Accountability Office reported [link goes to PDF file] that the bureau's plan to use handheld computers for much of the 2010 census is in trouble. The GAO noted cost overruns and project management issues that it has pointed out for years.

But the big problem is a single device: the custom handheld designed to be used by 525,000 "enumerators" temporarily hired to track down the estimated 100 million Americans who won't return their census forms.

Geez. What sort of gizmo is this?

The device, made by HTC Corp., is 6 in. long and weighs most of a pound. It contains a GPS locator, maps, Wi-Fi, a cellular device to transmit encrypted census data, an iPhone-size touch screen, a fingerprint sensor for security and an extra-large battery to run it all.

In short, it's big, heavy and stuffed with gadgetry — not exactly what you'd choose for the retirees who will make up the majority of those half-million enumerators.

Yes, but did it actually work?

Data uploaded too slowly. Too-big data files wouldn't upload at all. The handheld's security software locked users out for 15 minutes when their fingerprints weren't recognized. Some users quit during the test last year — too complicated, they said. Pretty much all the testers had trouble making the devices work.

I think we can take that as a "No."

So what's the backup plan? Apparently it's a strange and wondrous substance called "paper." To quote Director Steve Murdock [link goes to PDF file]:

[G]iven various issues related to handhelds, we would simultaneously evaluate the feasibility of a paper-based back-up plan for nonresponse follow-up should the next FDCA [Field Data Collection Automation Program] dress rehearsal not succeed.

Let's see if we have numbers by the 2012 election.

Posted at 8:24 PM to PEBKAC


Charles, would that be the same
HTC corporation,
23 Hsin Hua Rd., Taoyuan 330,
Taiwan, R. O. C. ?

I think I may see the problem...

Posted by: localmalcontent at 9:01 PM on 21 March 2008

Sounds like the right folks. HTC makes a lot of handhelds under a variety of names, and apparently some of them don't come with proper drivers to make their fancy hardware work the way it's supposed to.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:31 PM on 21 March 2008

Meh. I just get used to fire and the wheel. Now this?

Posted by: Jeffro at 9:54 PM on 21 March 2008

I know, Jeffro -- paper!?

Give me good old clay tablets any day.

Posted by: McGehee at 8:26 AM on 22 March 2008