Working on OrgPedia

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

This semester I’m helping Xian Li with the OrgPedia organizational transparency project. I’m working on adding semantic information to the site’s person pages, pulling data various open data stores. I’ve so far been trying to get RDF data from Freebase, so that we can then parse it and figure out what sort of information we want to present, as some of the data available is superflous. I haven’t worked very extensively in PHP before, so I’ve been experimenting with the cURL library, which allows users to connect to servers with various protocols. Using cURL I can connect to Freebase and request RDF+XML data as opposed to standard HMTL that the site would normally return.

The OrgPedia project has been really interesting so far and I look forward to working on it more.

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Summer Internship 2011

September 28, 2011 1 comment

This summer I spent eleven weeks interning in the Washington, D.C. office of US Representative Mike Kelly. The internship was a great chance to explore my longstanding interest in government, though I was also able to work with policy issues in information technology, web science, and computer science, including federal IT reform, open government data release, and cybersecurity.

While most of my work was traditional intern tasks, sorting mail, writing letters, answering phones, and running errands, I did get to spend a substantial working with issues more pertinent to my studies. As Representative Kelly serves as Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform, he was involved with legislative work addressing technology issues. At one subcommittee hearing on federal IT reform and government transparency I was able to see former US CIO Vivek Kundra testify on his work, alongside CIOs from Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, and Department of Veterans Affairs. While waiting for a quorum of two congressmen so that the hearing could start I was able to approach the witness panel and speak to Kundra for several minutes, discussing my interest in his Data.gov project and my involvement with the Tetherless World Constellation, which he was well aware of. At the hearing Kundra testified about the benefits of open government data and noted the value of data “mashups”, many of which have come out of the TWC. In preparation for the hearing I discussed IT issues with Representative Kelly, including federal data center usage, free and open source software, cybersecurity, and Semantic Web for open government data. I explained Semantic Web as being a way of linking data and information in such a way as to give it computer-understandable meaning.

Cybersecurity was an important issue this summer, and I was able to attend hearings addressing the matter from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Homeland Security Committee. I also represented the office at two think-tank hosted briefing sessions on the matter for government and industry officials, where I was able to hear from officials including the former CIO of the US Air Force, the Legal Counsel for the newly formed Cyber Command, and Senator Harry Reid’s senior advisor for defense issues.

Through regular lectures for interns hosted by the Committee on House Administration I was able to hear from and interact with a number of important government figures and public intellectuals including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who I asked about the Executive Branch’s decision to classify cyber attacks the same as they would any other military attack; New York Times editorialist David Brook, who I asked about the role of digital distribution in his work; and Ralph Nader, who I spoke to one-on-one with about “humanistic” uses of information technology and computer science.

Overall, I had a great time and learned a lot at my internship, and I did far more than I ever expected to. The experience was invaluable to me as someone with interests in government and technology.

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May 5, 2011

May 5, 2011 Leave a comment

This semester at The Tetherless World I wasn’t able to get as much as I planned done, due to a very heavy course load, but I learned a lot. One really powerful idea I had for the Health Search web app that I am helping Dominic Difranzo with is the ability to do a ‘diff’ on two different zip codes. Seeing information on one is powerful, but having a side by side comparison of two regions would make the app especially powerful. I edited the code so as to be able to display the information of two zips, though I did not have the time to change the interface so that a user could do a query for two. Implementing this should be trivial though. Giving users a percent difference between two zips should also be trivial, as all the numbers are available.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, in March I worked with Bharath Santosh on a project with Facebook Profiles and FOAF. That project really stands out to me now as one of the funnest experiences this semester. We worked all night from 8 PM to 8 AM, coming in with nothing and leaving with a finished project. Aside from the semantic web aspect of what we did, the actual code work behind it was a lot of fun. We had Colin Rice on Ubuntu working in Python, Bharath on Windows with Java, and I worked in C on Mac OS X. While I’ve worked in C++ for my classes here at RPI, it was my first time using C, and while not radically different from C++, it was a good memorable learning experience.

I’ll be back a the TWC next semester with some new ideas to blog about.

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April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

While it looks like Data.gov may be shutdown, I am still working with Dominic Difranzo on his project on his zip-code search based health information program. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to concentrate on it as much as I would like to due to a very heavy course load, but am I looking into new useful and interesting data sets in the US Department of Health & Human Services Community Health Status Indicators program. The program’s massive dataset provides users with a very wide range of useful data about health on a local level all across America. Currently the health search includes a nice set of statistics surveying given zip codes, but there is an enormous amount of additional data waiting in the CHSI dataset that can really enrich the quality of the the search program. I hope to blog again soon about some of the interesting data points that I find.

Also, before March Break I worked with Bharath Santosh on a project using Facebook’s graph API.

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Working With Health Data

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

In my second semester at the TWC I am working more closely with Dominic Difranzo on a project to provide users with information about health information on a zip code basis. The app draws on multiple government semantic data sets to generate it’s output, and we are planning to expand it to include even more data sets. Data.gov just opened a new portal for health data sets, and over the coming days I will be combing through it and picking out interesting sets that would be useful to the health search app. We are also looking into ways to add information about source of the data found in the sets as well as ways to explain the meaning of the data to users of the search – some figures that may appear shocking could in fact be normal, and in other cases the data is completely meaningless without explanation. By adding in this additional information the health search app could made much more useful. I’m very excited to see how this app is evolving, and how it will hopefully turn out.

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Fall 2010

December 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the course of my first semester at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute I have had the wonderful opportunity to get involved with the new undergraduate lab at the Tetherless World Constellation. I am very interested in semantic web technologies, so I jumped at the chance to join the undergraduate group at the TWC.

My first project with the lab was supposed to be helping Dominic out with a semantic web app he’s working on. The app lets the user input a zip code of interest and then provides them with a myriad of government data on the health conditions in that area. The data comes from several different government sources, and the amazing power of the application is the fact that it takes that and compiles it into one place. I was supposed to help Dominic put the final touches on the app, basically just using PHP to output the data points that had already been fetched from the various databases with a SPARQL query. Unfortunately, before I had the chance to get the job done Dominic was forced to quickly do the work so that he could present his app at a conference. I know that there are plans to expand the app with more zip-code specific information as well as information from DBpedia, so I hope to get more involved with the project next semester.

Recently David and I decided to get together to work on a research paper about the application of so-called “human flesh search engine” techniques to online disruption and troublemaking in the Western world. We are still in the process of planning out the paper and its concepts, and we plan to work on it over our winter break and the spring semester.

While my first semester at the TWC did not produce much output, it was very exciting to see all the interesting projects other people are working on, and helpful in getting me acquainted with the lab. I want to get more involved with research next semester and over the future of my undergraduate career.

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