2020 Census and the “Privacy Budget” (aka Differential Privacy)

Pegasus Librarian - Iris Jastram - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 10:00am

Maybe I’m the last one to know about this, but just in case… Did you know that the Census Bureau is changing what and how it’ll release data the 2020 Census? I mentioned this in passing in my last post, but here’s a little more, most of which you can find by reading the posts and presentations on the Census’ Disclosure Avoidance and the 2020 Census page.

CC-BY-SA image by Salix alba posted at Wikimedia Commons

The data scientists at the Census Bureau have been experimenting for the last few years, and it turns out that they were able to reconstruct private information about individual citizens using a process not unlike solving a Sudoku puzzle or one of those grid logic puzzles. They only release de-identified data, but if you know what you’re doing you can figure out a goodly percentage of the identifications. It’s called Re-Identification or Database Reconstruction.

One way to solve this problem is to never provide 100% accurate results to queries on the database. Without 100% accurate query results, no clever data scientists can take the answers from query 1 and fit it next to the answers from queries 2 through x, or put it next to their dataset of bank loan applications or whatever, and know for sure that they have accurate answers to those queries and therefore reconstruct the database. Adjusting results by a privacy parameter, which will probably be a very very tiny parameter, is at the heart of what’s called Differential Privacy (and here a big shout out to Dr Steven Wu from the University of Minnesota, whose recent talk at Carleton helped me understand the math behind this process). The Census is presenting this parameter or set of parameters as their “Privacy Budget.” Once they’ve disclosed everything in the budget, they can’t disclose more without doing harm.

As of the presentation from October 1st, 2019 that’s posted to the Disclosure Avoidance and the 2020 Census page, the Census hasn’t yet quite decided what this privacy parameter will be. It sounds like they’re thinking it’ll vary depending on exactly how sensitive the information is or the amount of other information that’s been requested. But of course the main question is exactly how accurate the disclosed results have to be in order to allow people to do the work they need to do to run the country and distribute aid and know about our population. The more accurate the disclosures, the more risk of privacy problems. The more obscured the results, the more risk that we’ll struggle to know what we need to know in order to do what we need to do.

If this is a topic you’re interested in or care about, there are a bunch of things published by the Census statistician John Abowd that I found while exploring this topic with data-interested faculty here at Carleton.

  • Abowd, John. 2016. “Why Statistical Agencies Need to Take Privacy-Loss Budgets Seriously, and What It Means When They Do.” Labor Dynamics Institute, December.
  • Abowd, John M. 2016. “How Will Statistical Agencies Operate When All Data Are Private?” Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality 7 (3).
  • Abowd, John M., and Ian Schmutte. 2017. “Revisiting the Economics of Privacy: Population Statistics and Confidentiality Protection as Public Goods.” Labor Dynamics Institute, April.
  • Abowd, John M., and Ian M. Schmutte. 2019. “An Economic Analysis of Privacy Protection and Statistical Accuracy as Social Choices.” American Economic Review 109 (1): 171–202.

I’m really curious to see how this plays out, not least because it’ll impact all the researchers I work with who use census data in so very many of their research projects. But I’m also curious to see how this and similar efforts bleed out into other Big Data conversations in my world, like Learning Analytics for example.

Categories: Citizens

Dakota County’s Atkins: Is our drinking water at risk? Plus a “stinky” lawsuit, scary storms, scams & a new survey

KYMN Radio - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 9:27am

Halloween week is a good time for this e-update, because it concerns some issues that have scary consequences if not handled well. This update contains a new survey, an announcement of an upcoming town meeting, and news about the following topics: RISKS TO OUR DRINKING WATER. About 90% of Dakota County residents rely on groundwater as

The post Dakota County’s Atkins: Is our drinking water at risk? Plus a “stinky” lawsuit, scary storms, scams & a new survey appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Mary Jo Prinsen

KYMN Radio - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 9:13am

Mary Jo Prinsen, Founder and President of the Bundles of Love Charity, talks about the organization which is an all-volunteer charity making newborn items for families in need. There will be a Fall and Holiday Craft Fair with many homemade items on Saturdays, November 2 and 9 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 1101

The post Mary Jo Prinsen appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Beth Kallestad

KYMN Radio - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 8:43am

Beth Kallestad from the City of Northfield discusses pumpkin recycling and composting. On Saturday, November 8 from 8 a.m. to  noon, there will be a dumpster at the city street shop and citizens are encouraged to dispose of their pumpkins there so that they can be composted.

The post Beth Kallestad appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Arc Minnesota Human Services honors Collman

Northfield News - Mon, 10/28/2019 - 8:00am
The Arc Minnesota Southeast Region honored several area residents, including Northfielder Katherine Collman, during its Oct. 11 annual meeting and awards dinner. Collman received its Human Services award.
Categories: Local News

Tuvimos el taller sobre economía en Northfield

KYMN Radio - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 8:25pm

Cuatro días de taller de economía en Northfield con el equipo de NEDA de St. Paul. Preparando acciones para mejoras en los edificios de los Dallas (Northfield News).

The post Tuvimos el taller sobre economía en Northfield appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Fine Tune archive #296 think 27 Oct 2019

KYMN Radio - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 6:15pm

This week show features an episode that first aired four years ago: Fine Tune 10-25-15 #296 Ry Cooder / I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine Fred Eaglesmith / Thinking About You Joe Ely / Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown The Get Up Johns / Wishful Thinking Buddy H0lly / Think It

The post Fine Tune archive #296 think 27 Oct 2019 appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Energy tour — NUCLEAR!

Carol Overland - Legalectric - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 11:00am

Here’s the Kewaunee nuclear plant, owned and operated by Dominion. “Dominion was attempting in 2008 to put together a network of second-hand nuclear plants to produce electricity for the wholesale market. However, the plan was thwarted by cheaper natural gas prices that allowed electric producers to cut rates to big customers, making the Kewaunee plant too expensive to continue operating.”

No plans yet for Kewaunee nuclear power plant land, officials report

What struck me driving by was the 60s Jetsons’ like look, the blue paint on the reactor and other buildings.

My photo doesn’t show it off as well as those above. But for the record, as I was taking photos, a guard (?), security person, staff of some sort came rushing out and was most upset that I was taking photos! I immediately introduced myself and handed him my card, he wrote down my license plate number, and even said, “Well, you could be ISIS!” Right… 63 y.o. old fart attorney, I mean really, ISIS? Paranoia… if I was going to blow up a nuclear plant I would have done that ages ago, before spending 25 years dealing with nuclear and other sorts of energy, DOH!

He wanted to know what I was taking photos of, well, the plant, he was concerned about the substation, and, well, I just took a photo of the plant, and of the Dominion sign… here that is below:

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? We continued south to Pt. Beach, but it’s way down “Nuclear Road” and hidden behind trees and a long way down a road from the plant.

As you can see, the sun was setting, getting too dark for photos, so I’ll get back to Two Creeks Solar another time. But the sunset was amazing!

So let’s be clear, the most I’ll do is enlarge these nuclear photos, and not blow them up!!!

Categories: Citizens

Faribault man injured when bus pulls into traffic

Northfield News - Sun, 10/27/2019 - 7:57am
A Faribault man was injured Saturday afternoon when a motorcoach bus pulled out in front of a pickup truck headed south on Hwy. 3 in Northfield, according to a Minnesota State Patrol report.
Categories: Local News

Bowles cuts wrestling program, citing small rosters

Manitou Messenger - Sat, 10/26/2019 - 3:47pm

The 2019-2020 wrestling season will be the program’s last. Athletic Director Ryan Bowles announced the cancellation in an Oct. 18 email, citing the team’s size as a primary issue for the program’s viability.

With only 11 members, St. Olaf’s wrestling team is significantly smaller than competing programs, whose rosters generally range from 20-30 student athletes. The demands of this smaller roster “do not meet our standards or provide a sustainable model of excellence,” Bowles wrote in the Oct. 18 email. 

Bowles made the announcement early in the year “to give our current student athletes an opportunity to transfer to another institution should they so choose,” he wrote. The decision to end the program has been met by heavy backlash from members of the team, especially the five first-years whose college careers are now threatened to be cut short.

Wrestling team member Jack Ridgway ’22 said the team’s small roster can be easily explained. During the 2017-2018 season, head coach Sean Ahrar was called to active duty with the military, missing the season.

“While he did not want to leave his team, his loyalty to his country is immeasurable,” Ridgway wrote in an email.

During Ahrar’s year of absence from the program, the interim coach failed to adequately recruit a full incoming class, Ridgway wrote. Upon Ahrar’s return the following year, he successfully recruited a freshman class of five wrestlers, putting the program back on track to field a full team. The last time the wrestling program featured a full roster was 2016, when star player Garrett Beaman ’20 was named a freshman All-American.

Bowles said he doesn’t see the trajectory of the program improving from Ahrar’s return.

Members of the team argued the decision to end the program disregards Ahrar’s military service and his efforts to restore the program to its former success. When asked for comment on these allegations, Bowles reiterated his reasoning for ending the program.

Members of the team also cited Bowles’ limited financial support as a primary obstacle in recruiting. Even without compensation, Ahrar has travelled as far as Florida to recruit student athletes to the program, Ridgway said. He has already nabbed a recent commit for next year’s class from East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Minn.

Ahrar has been offered a position in the athletic department as an athletic operations assistant, a role he has declined.

Following Bowles’ announcement, rumors circulated that other athletic programs at St. Olaf might be cut, such as the alpine skiing team. The athletic department has “no such cuts planned,” President David Anderson ‘74 wrote in an email.

Categories: Colleges

Southbound I-35 concrete repairs completed from Elko New Market to Faribault

Northfield News - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 3:34pm
Southbound Interstate 35 concrete pavement repairs were completed Friday, Oct. 25 between Elko New Market and Faribault, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Categories: Local News


Carol Overland - Legalectric - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 2:37pm

It’s that day again, October 25, 2019. Paul Wellstone died 17 years ago… how can that be?!?!?

If you haven’t read Powerline: The First Battle of America’s Energy War, by Paul Wellstone and Mike Casper, go to this LINK, and buy it at

Categories: Citizens

Faribault PD nabs man suspected in over a dozen burglaries; Nfld asks for $2.25M for Mill Towns Trail; Randolph woman opens her yard to Shoe Box Mission; Nfld Promise selected by KaBOOM! for “quality, imaginative play space” for all kids

KYMN Radio - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 11:02am

By Teri Knight, News Director  Yesterday, Faribault Police detectives executed a search warrant at a Faribault residence in relation to numerous burglary investigations. 28-year-old Austin Steven Veal was arrested. In a post-Miranda [warning] interview, Veal admitted to committing several of the burglaries. Over the past two weeks, Faribault officers have responded to numerous burglaries of

The post Faribault PD nabs man suspected in over a dozen burglaries; Nfld asks for $2.25M for Mill Towns Trail; Randolph woman opens her yard to Shoe Box Mission; Nfld Promise selected by KaBOOM! for “quality, imaginative play space” for all kids appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Missing vulnerable adult

KYMN Radio - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 10:29am

MN BCA ALERT at 12:42pm Cancel Missing Person Alert for John Michael Stone. He was located safe in Iowa. Thanks to all who helped look for him. The Orono Police Department is looking for assistance to locate John Michael Stone, age 77. Stone was last seen at his residence at 8:30 pm on October 24th,

The post Missing vulnerable adult appeared first on KYMN Radio · Northfield, MN · AM 1080 & FM 95.1.

Report recommends access to capital, further outreach to minority-owned businesses

Northfield News - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 10:29am
A consultant on Thursday recommended the Northfield Economic Development Authority provide access to capital and employ enhanced outreach and awareness to minority- and immigrant-owned businesses in the community.
Categories: Local News

Residents call school board member a cyberbully, ask for his removal

Northfield News - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 10:15am
A Northfield resident has asked the School Board to remove one of its own, saying he’s bullying others online.
Categories: Local News

Betsy DeVos

Carletonian - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 9:36am

Winner of this year’s Pumpkin Pageant Carving Contest. Spookiest in Show.

The post Betsy DeVos appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

Human efforts beneath the natural look

Carletonian - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 9:31am

Before the snow starts to cover the ground, why don’t we go take a walk in this late fall, enjoying the fall leaves and golden prairie? While you are walking on the trails and taking in the nature, consider that much of the “natural” landscape in our Arb is actually artificially restored with tremendous management efforts, and in some places not until recently.

Before Carleton owned the land that is now the Arboretum, it was farmland. During European settlement, many natural forest and prairie habitats were converted into agriculture fields. The loss of habitats has been decimating the abundance and diversity of species in Minnesota.

Since Carleton decided to restore the natural landscape and to provide habitat for declining animal and plant species, various procedures and a huge amount of effort have been in play. To restore the forests, saplings are planted, as you might have done as an incoming student. The saplings also need to be protected from browsing herbivores (mostly deer). As the forests develop, we need to keep the invasive species such as honeysuckle and buckthorn away by manual removal, or fire if the planted trees are mature enough. For more mature restored forests, we also need to reintroduce native flowers. The end-goal of forest restoration is more than tree planting; we are restoring the whole ecosystem. To restore prairies, we manually collect seeds from our Arb as well as near-by prairies. Other than seed collecting, there are other tasks including soil preparation, seed cleaning, fire management, woody species removal, invasive species removal, etc. All these tasks require effort from the Arb staff, student Arb crew, and volunteers.

The next time we look at the exuberant forests and wide-open acres of prairies, let’s take a moment to absorb the wonder of the nature, and then take another moment to appreciate the human effort across space and time beneath our amazing Arboretum.

The post Human efforts beneath the natural look appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges

Halloween costumes you shouldn’t make sexy

Carletonian - Fri, 10/25/2019 - 9:29am
  1. Sexy Trader Joe’s Cashier
    Who am I kidding, is it even possible for this not to be a sexy costume? They’re just so caring, and attentive. You make small talk as they swipe your items, and for once the words come naturally. You like who you are around them. There’s a moment where you consider asking for their number, but then you remember: this is just a job for them. The chemistry isn’t real. It never is.
  2. Sexy Liberal Arts College President
    I’m not naming names, but let’s all agree that this doesn’t need to happen. Ever.
  3. Sexy Gallbladder
    This organ does some serious heavy lifting during the digestive process, and it’s best we just leave things how they are.
  4. Sexy Bob the Builder
    It would be so easy to turn Bob the Builder into a steamy sex symbol. But resist the urge, because no preschooler wants to see his favorite cartoon character throwing up into a trashcan after downing six four lokos.
  5. Sexy the Dad from Good Luck Charlie
    I don’t know his name but his eyes always seemed to leap out at me through the screen… no… I have to repress these feelings… the guys on the football team can never find out…
  6. Sexy SWA Dog
    Is nothing sacred?
  7. Sexy Moses
    The only thing Moses should be parting is the red sea. Do you hear me young man!
  8. Sexy Ms. Frizzle
    Teachers in America rarely get the credit they deserve, and none are harder working than this beloved science teacher. Her reputation doesn’t need to be tarnished.
  9. Sexy Mater from Cars (2011)
    Nothing about Mater’s tow hook or rusty hood screams sexy, and it’s probably for the best it stays that way.
  10. Sexy Schiller
    Although he is the most desired bust on campus, he just doesn’t have that “come hither look.”

The post Halloween costumes you shouldn’t make sexy appeared first on The Carletonian.

Categories: Colleges
Syndicate content