Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

I don't know about you, but daylight savings time seems to be ending very late this year. Actually it does end later than most of us remember as kids. (A federal law changed the end date from the last Sunday in October to the first Sunday in November starting in 2007.) This year the end of DST falls on Nov. 1. That's the earliest it can be (though it still seems really late this year.) But just wait until next fall: you'll have to wait til Nov. 7 to get relief from the morning darkness.

Here's a handy chart showing dates for the start and end of daylight savings time for years 1990 through 2015. It's compiled by the California Energy Commission which also provides an interesting article on the history and rationale for the time change.

California's Central Valley continues to be the bread basket of the nation, but lags behind the rest of the state and nation in the economic recovery. That's the conclusion of a new report just released by the nonprofit think tank Great Valley Center. State of the Great Central Valley: The Economy (Third Edition) provides a statistical snapshop of the 19-county region stretching from Bakersfield to Redding. The report examines the Central Valley's economic health with 21 indicators organized under five general categories: population, income, and housing; business vitality; agriculture; transportation; and Federal and nonprofit spending. Based on these updated numbers, the GVC offers five broad strategies for improving conditions in the state's inland counties.

census.jpgThe U.S. Census Bureau is promoting the upcoming decennial survey of the nation with the launch of a new web site. Census2010 is a slick, multimedia resource directly mostly at average Americans to encourage them to fill out the census questionnaire that will be mailed to every residence next year. Part of the web site is intended to address some of the myths and concerns circulating about the survey process. But the overall aim is to remind people of the political, social and economic importance of an accurate count for communities, states and country as a whole.

The 2010 census will depart from prior ones in that the Bureau will distribute only one short survey form with 10 questions. In the past there have been two questionnaires: the so-called "short form," that everyone received, and the "long form," that went to a sampling of households. The long form has been replaced by the annual American Community Survey that asks many of the same questions about income, education, ancestry, marriage status, commuting, etc. The 2010 abbreviated form is restricted to a few basic demographic factors: age, race, gender, children and whether the residence is owned or rented.

The recent death of a first-grader has prompted officals to close two Vacaville schools. Tests indicate the student had swine flu (H1N1), but the virus has not been confirmed as the cause of death.

The California Department of Health continues to update statistics on the H1N1 pandemic online. As of Oct. 17, there have been a total of 3,556 hospitalizations, ICU cases and fatalities in the state. There have been 233 California deaths. This table shows the extent of the disease in each county. Los Angeles County leads in number of hospitalizations and deaths, 331 and 33, respectively. Sacramento County comes in with 161 hospitalizations and eight deaths. Beginning Sept. 27, the Health Department committed to posting fresh stats every month.

school.JPGThe California Demographics Unit (the state equivalent of the U.S. Census Bureau) just unveiled their annual Public K-12 Graded Enrollment and High School Projections by County -- 2009 Series. This is a useful set of spreadsheets tracking elementary and high school student populations out to 2018. The main table breaks down past and future enrollment numbers by county and grade for the school years 1974-75 through 2018-19.

For most counties you see the K-12 population dropping slightly in the early 1980s and then steadily growing from that point on. Statewide the student demographic is expected to expand only 3.5 percent in the next 10 years. But on the county level the 10-year percent change varies widely from -14.3 percent in Nevada County to 39.9 percent in Riverside County. Placer County comes in second with a projected change of 32.0 percent. El Dorado, Yolo and Sacramento will grow moderately at 11.0, 9.8 and 9.4 percent, respectively.

[First grade class at Heron Elementary School in North Natomas reads a poem. Sacramento Bee / Renee C. Byer]

The College Board released its annual report on higher ed costs which says (despite the recession) that the average tution at 4-year public colleges rose 6.5 percent to $7,020 between this school year and the last. California public colleges rose an average of 10.3 percent to $5,996. That puts California 34th among the states in terms of the cost of tuition, but eighth in terms of growth (percent change) of such costs from 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The cost of two-year college tuition in California is the cheapest in the nation ($817), so it's not surprising that it rose the most in the past year (28.9 percent).

Recipients of federal stimulus contracts, grants and loans have begun filing reports on how they are using government funds. These initial reports include the total amount of money received between Feb. 17, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2009, the total amount expended, the number of jobs created or saved, and a description and location of the project. Prime recipients and sub-recipients have filed a total of 112,219 reports, reflecting 8,927 contract awards, 102,901 grants, and 391 loans. 

According to, California received the third largest number of jobs saved/created from federal contracts (2260.05). Detailed information about each contract is available on the government site, but it's difficult to analyze in the aggregate. So the investigative journalism group ProPublica has complied contractor and subcontractor data in two manageable spreadsheets. The categories in these files are somewhat cryptic, but you can browse them by agency and business name, state, city and ZIP code. A cursory look at the Sacramento region shows 31 contract awards totaling some $14.7 million and creating or saving 63.7 jobs.

Where on the Web do you go for credible information on, say, the odds of someone having a heart attack? Or a spouse having an affair? Or the probablity of hundreds of other things occuring in everyday life?

One place is The Book of Odds -- an online database of probability statements intended to inform, educated and entertain readers. It covers hundreds of serious and less-than-serious topics arranged under four broad categories: accidents and death; daily life and activities; health and illness; and relationships and society. The odds statements are fully sourced -- though some of the research behind these numbers is pretty old. Aside from browsing the database by category, you can search by keyword or numerical odds.

Some examples:

1 in 5,533,000 / The odds a person will be killed by lightning in a year.

1 in 8.14 / The odds a female will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

1 in 41.67 / The odds a man 18-70 has a phobia of snakes.

1 in 24.56 / The odds a registered vehicle in Hawaii has vanity plates. 

rain.JPGFor me it's always a bit of a surprise to experience the first rain in Sacramento after months of no precipitation. And yesterday's storm certainly started the wet season with a bang. About 3.04 inches fell on downtown Sacramento in 24 hours -- from 4 a.m. Tuesday to Wednesday morning. But that was hardly a record. According to the National Weather Service's Climate of Sacramento record book, the most rain that ever fell on the city in a 24-hour period was 7.24 inches (April 19-20, 1880). That document also contains a chart showing "excessive storms" since 1903. (An "excessive storm" is one that produces 2.5 or more inches of precipitation in a 48-hour period.)  You can see the dates and amounts for record rainfall in 48-hour, 24-hour, 2-hour and 1-hour periods.

[UC Davis students on First Street near the campus, Oct. 13, 2009. Sacramento Bee / Manny Crisostomo.]

Yesterday The Bee published its package of stories and illustrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The lead story was written by Marjie Lundstrom (who incidentally wrote the Bee's first-day lead story on the quake in 1989). This current package includes the best YouTube videos, important external links and historic photos, as well as a look at the science of earthquake prediction and illustrations on the seismic and liquefaction hazards in the Bay Area. Bee data guy Phillip Reese contributed a statewide interactive map displaying the 2,190 bridges retrofitted since 1989.

Quake history junkies should also check out the 20th anniversary remembrance published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Modern Language Association created a nifty interactive map that displays the number or percentage of foreign language speakers in the country. The map is color-coded to to show density of speakers of a particular language in a geographic area. You choose the language from a drop-down list and zoom down to the state, county and Zip code level. The data behind the map is derived from the 2000 Census that asked respondents about languages spoken at home other than English.

These stats are also accessible through MLA's interactive database that allows you to choose a geography and call up a list of languages and number of speakers (over the age of five). In Sacramento County, for example, the top languages beyond English are Spanish, Hmong, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalong, Russian, Ukranian and Hindi, reflecting our diverse immigrant population.

The Bee's M.S. Enkoji and Phillip Reese report that despite the recession (or maybe because of it), fast-food and coffee chains are doing well in the Sacramento region. They looked closely at five franchises: Starbucks, Subway, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Carls Jr. who collectively have 317 stores in Sacramento County. And through the magic of GIS software, Reese was able to determine the percentage of properties located within two miles of at least one store. The results show a high degree of saturation with the winner being Subway at 91 percent, followed closely behind by Starbucks at 90 percent.

Blogger and artist Stephen Von Worley has done something similar, but on a national scale. He plotted every McDonalds restaurant in the lower 48 states to show there is virtually no place in the country not close to the Golden Arches. You have to go to northwest South Dakota to find the "Mcfarthest Spot" -- 107 miles as the crow flies from any McDonalds (145 miles by car).

facebook.jpgCan you track a population's collective level of happiness over time like you do the unemployment or inflation rates? The folks at Facebook seem to think they can. They've come up with the Gross National Happiness index, a way to measure group feeling by analyzing the thousands of "updates" posted by Facebook users on any given day. An overall number is derived by counting the number of positive and negative emotion words found in the FB postings. Positive words include terms like "happy," "awesome," etc. Examples of negative words are: "sad," "tragic," etc.

The result of all this textual analysis is a longitudinal GNH graph displaying the peaks and valleys of the U.S. state of mind (or at least of the population of FB users). You see the GNH peaking on holidays, as well as during big media events such as the Super Bowl and the inauguration of President Obama. The GNH can also nose dive -- supposedly correlated with sad events like the deaths of celebrities Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger.

arson.jpgToday the Bee reported the third arson in a week, this time at a restaurant on Northgate Blvd. That seems like a lot of fire-starting in a short period, but arson is more common a crime than one might expect. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, 210 arsons were reported by the Sacramento Police Department in 2008. That same year, 195 such crimes were reported by the Sacramento Sheriff's Department. You can also get a sense of where arsons occur in the region but using the Bee's CrimeMapper database. With it you can plot specific reported crimes within a radius of a specific address. (This data is supplied by local police and sheriffs agencies.) There were 1,021 arsons within 30 miles of the State Capitol reported from Jan. 2006 through July 2009.

Among the Census reports derived form the recent American Community Survey is a look at 2007 earnings by men and women. Nationally, full-time male workers earned median wages of $45,556. Female full-time workers earned $35,471, or 77.9 percent of men's earnings. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, women's median earnings is less than men's. The wage gap varies from 64.3 percent (Wyoming) to 88.0 percent (DC). California has the smallest gap of the 50 states with 84.9 percent.

In the Sacramento region, median earnings for males is $37,258; for females, $28,379. That's a wage gap of 76.1 percent.

The Census Bureau today released a report on parents who stay home with children under 18. Most stay-at-home parents are women who tend to be younger and are more likely Hispanic or foreign-born. In 2007 (the year of the study) some 61.5 percent of households with children under 18 had both parents in the labor force. (Stay-at-home fathers numbered 165,000 in that year.)

The report has state-by-state breakdowns. South Dakota and Vermont lead the states with the percentage of family households in which both parents work -- 77.9 and 77.3 percent, respectively. Arizona and Utah are at the bottom with 53.0 and 53.4 percent. California was fourth from the bottom with 55.4 percent.

About Data Surfer

It's all about information -- statistics, documents and data of all types that help us understand the world, make informed decisions and monitor government. It's about empowering citizens with tools and sources so they can conduct their own investigative research. This blog is a place to discuss information that's available on the Internet. What's relevant, useful, valid and accurate -- and what's not.

We know the Sacramento region is home to knowledgeable people who use online information in their respective fields. We want to hear from you. Please tell us what you think of the data we use in stories and post on The Bee's website. And share tips about online resources you think are valuable to this blog's readers. Post comments on this blog or contact Pete Basofin directly at

June 2010

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