Data Surfer

Sites you need to see

The Federal Communications Commission recently unveiled its national plan to expand to broadband access to the Internet. According to the FCC, it's not enough to bring the Net to underserved populations, it's important to raise their "digital literacy," so that they may better utilize the important, if not vital, information resources that are online. 

Part of digital literacy is knowing how to judge the accuracy, credibility and usefulness of web sites. With hundreds of thousands of sources on coutless topics, it's pretty daunting for the average person (and the professional) to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here's one bit of help: The American Library Association has been compiling an annual list of The Best Free Reference Web Sites, a really good bibliography of material that is authoritative, useful and interesting. The list covers a broad range of topics: science, health, media, the arts, law, government, education, etc. The 2010 listing has just been released. And there's also a combined index of previous annual lists going back to 1999.

If you're a fan of those real-time data monitors like the U.S. National Debt Clock or the World Population Clock, you're going to love this social media tracker:

The U.S. Census Bureau this week released its latest (Oct. 2009) data on the use of the Internet by American households and individuals. The statistics are broken down by several factors: age, sex, race, Hispanic-origin, educational attainment, employment status, broadband utilization, etc.

Even after 17 years the World Wide Web has been in existence, only 68.7 percent of U.S. households have the Internet -- though 76.7 percent of them include at least one individual who accesses the Net from some other location. Over the past 12 years, the percentage of U.S. households with Internet access grew 18.0 to 68.7 percent. And in general, the younger and more educated the individual the more likely s/he belongs to a household with Internet.

California ranks 24th among the states in terms of the percentage of individuals living in households with Internet: 67.6 percent. New Hampshire is tops with 75.5 percent.

A new study by the UC San Diego Global Information Industry Center attempts to calculate the total amount of information (digital and analog) that Americans gobble in a year. According to How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers, U.S. households consumed 3.6 zettabytes of data last year. Most of that information came in the form of television and computer games. But it also includes activities like cell phone use, surfing the Internet, listening to the radio, and reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc. On average each American assimilated 33.8 gigabytes of information and 100,564 words every day.

So what the heck is a zettabyte? It's equivalent to 1 billion terabytes, or 1 million million gigabytes. (The typical PC hard drive holds about 100 gigabytes of information.)   

September 9, 2009
Follow I-Tool Tips on Twitter

twitterbird.jpgSeems like the whole world has gone crazy over Twitter. Entertainers, politicians, businesses and millions of regular people worldwide are posting to the microblogging service. Associated research tools have grown up around it. With the Twitter search engine you can use it to browse the latest "tweets" by word or phrase. Or use Advanced Search to refine your query by people, places, dates. Twittervision visualizes tweets on a world map seconds after they're posted, so it's been used to monitor local reaction to big news events in real-time. 

A few months ago I-Tool Tips joined Twitter to supplement this blog with links to the latest data- and research-centered news. Posting under the moniker Sacbee Research, the feed points to new statistical releases, surveys and other information generated by universities, government agencies, think tanks, etc. Check out the latest postings in the lower-right corner of this blog page. Or follow us on Twitter at:

Incidentally, provides a complete listing of Bee news and staff Twitter feeds

"Best of" lists are always suspect. Evaluation critieria are often fuzzy and so are the qualifications of the judges. Still, they can be fun to read and argue with.

Time Magazine just released its latest 50 Best Web Sites honors. It's a good mix of many of the most used, useful and entertaining online sites. You find the obvious giants of the Internet: Google, YouTube, Flickr, FacebookWikipedia, Skype, Amazon, Netflix. Then there are obscure but interesting items, like the music-streaming service Musicovery and the 3-D photo album, Photosynth. There are also sites that ought to interest this blog's readers:

* Wolfram-Alpha, a search engine that specializes in statistics and numbers. Plug in a place name and get demographic and geographic data on it.

* California Coastline, a photographic record of the entire 1,000-mile coast, including the lavish Malibu mansions of the stars.

* Popurls, aggregates the most popular blog, news and opinion sites into one big Web page.

* ConsumerSearch, organizes and summarizes the huge number of consumer product reviews available on the Net.


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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