On Friday Dec. 3, 11 RIT students and Carl Lundgren began the almost 20 hour adventure to Prishtina, Kosvova. Kosovo, or Kosova as the Kosovars call it, is the poorest and newest country in Europe. They sit on a massive amount of coal and mineral resources and their dependence on it is made obvious by the smell in the air. The 12 of us were traveling all this way to collaborate with a group of students from the American University of Kosova for 9 days. We would also be meeting one of our own who is there studying abroad.
The students were seniors working on senior capstone projects that would monopolize on the amount of trash and raw resources in Kosova. We started with 8 teams, working on projects that would hopefully create environmentally sensitive business ventures. Many of the students wanted to create a complete recyclying infrastructure in Kosova. This idea came together through three teams, one recycling paper, one recycling plastic, aluminum, and glass, and the last wanting to create a large scale composting operation that would help support the agriculture in the region. Each project is interesting and shows a lot of potential. However, there were quite a few obstacles to overcome for these projects to develop. The first and most obvious was the language barrier. All of the students spoke excellent English but there were several business and engineering terms that they had never heard before. The next obstacle, was that the RIT students needed to not look at these issues through American eyes. Kosova is a unique country with a set of issues we had never even thought of and a culture that is completly different of our own.
Luckily the students were generous with their time and their local knowledge. Most evenings after a long hard day of business plan development and idea refinement. Local and RIT students would go out to adventure in this beautiful country. The city of Prishtina is vibrant and young with night life that would put most American cities to shame. The adventures also taught us a lot about the values of this young nation and the expectations people had for these young entrepreneurs. The need for recycling programs and energy production also became very obvious when outside of the university. Trash littered the streets and piled in corners and rolling blackouts and brownouts were a nightly occurrence. The shops, bars, and restaurants deal with this by setting generators outside and relying on that at night when many neighborhoods no longer get power or water after 11 pm. The city does these regular utility outages to save money, electricity, and resources. Most residents seem to not even notice it happens any more. One afternoon a few students were in a coffee shop and the power went out, conversations just continued by the light of glowing cigarettes and no one cared. The easy going nature of this country is their saving grace. If the world fell to pieces everytime their was not enough energy then their country would not be the growing place it is.
Overall, this trip was wonderful. It gave the RIT students the opportunity to see a side of the world that is completely unlike their own and the local students got their projects invigorated by the ingenuity and skill of the RIT team. The future goals of these international cross disciplinary teams is to create a launch-able business that the students can begin after they graduate. We will continue to work on these projects and they will be presented at the Winter Research and Innovation Symposium.
Photo by Qian Yi Lau Li
Typically, politics on your average college campus looks alot like a Mock Debate where the Blues, Reds, and Greens all get up on stage and trash-talk eachothers' candidates like Mike Tyson at weigh-ins before stepping into Madison Square Garden.
Here's the wonky backstory:
Professor Sean Sutton, Chair of RIT's Political Science Department, and one of this author's personal mentors, wanted to do a live blogging event on election night with his students. Andrea Hickerson, Professor of the Department of Communication Special Reporting in Politics Course, also wanted her students to be neck deep in the races leading up to and including election night. Political Science Professor and Lincoln Scholar Joe Fornieri too, wanted his students to have an outlet for their political interest on the big night as well. Between these 3 professors and the Center for Student Innovation, we put together one big election night event to provide political science and journalism students the opportunity to positively participate in the common goal of observing, analyzing, and commentating upon the Election and the processes of politics.
Once the event was established, we began reaching out to our local media outlets with the help of RIT's University News Services, and in particular John Follaco. At the same time, friend of FOSS@RIT and Local Public Radio & News Personality Rachel Ward of Rochester's NPR Affiliate WXXI, was invited to give a guest lecture in Andrea's Journalism Course. Rachel and Zack Seward met with our Programmer/Journalists, and were invited to participate in our election day coverage. Some weeks later, WXXI contacted our team about covering the election and what our students were planning on doing. The week before the big day, FOSS@RIT sent some Hackers and Storytellers to WXXI HQ, to meet with Rachel, Zack, and IT pro Steve Dawe.
As the Monroe County Board of Elections (MCBOE) and most other County's Board of Elections in New York State have switched from classic lever voting machines, to new Electronic Optical Scan Machines, we all had to work together on making use of the new electronic results. During our Primary Results Viewing earlier this fall, we got our first look at the .XML files being made public, and the Flash Results page used to provide up-to-the-minute unnofficial results from the MCBOE.
Most media outlets task fleets of interns with following results pages just like this one, to manually copy, paste, compute, and re-paste the results into .html pages to provide results via the web. This process is painful and often by the time you go through all of this manual copy-pasting and refreshing, the results are already out of date. .XML files, however, work very similarly to something like an RSS feed, and provide an ongoing stream of data to the flash site. So why not try to tap into that stream to back-end and automatically update the .html results, instead of doing everything by hand? This is exactly what WXXI was looking to implement, and exactly what FOSS@RIT's Ace Hacker, Nate Case was able to execute. After about 30 mins of phonecalls to the MCBOE, and whois'ing various IP addresses, we managed to locate the (at the time, inactive) results page for Monroe County, and another active results page put out by the same software/voting machine provider in London, Ontario, Canada. From the results on that page, we were able to prototype an .XML->.html results page that would likely work with Monroe County's results once they were live!
After a follow-up meeting on Monday and a quick tire-kicking session, we pointed Rachel at the page, and embedded it into WXXI's InnovationTrail.org.
All we could do then, was wait.
9pm rolled around, and we anxiously waited for results to start popping up on the big screen. 9:15 came and went, and I nervously tugged at Nate's shirt, asking if he was sure everything was good to go. Nate smiled slyly, and said "If they post any results, they will show up on the page. Don't worry." By 9:35, a wave of gasps went across the audience, and then a round of applause, as the screens auto-refreshed and results began upticking on the screen for the first time.
Of course, any time you are testing live code for the first time, you are going to have to make some last-minute tweaks and adjustments. Our first hiccup was when we looked at the Race for 28th congressional district and saw what seemed to be Louise Slaughter, getting Slaughtered. This was a quick and obvious indication that something was afoot, and lo and behold, we found that the folks providing the .XML file were re-using some of the IDs in the code, and that we needed to do some manual summation in our script.
Once that was tackled, a few moments later, one of the more astute students, Alexandra Howland of Computer Science House tapped me on the shoulder and said, "It looks like there have been 1.2 million votes for Cuomo, but there aren't even 1 million people living in Rochester..." She was right, and we realized that the numbers were incrementing each time, instead of just updating. So we "fixed" that incrementation bug too, only to find later that our results, though precise, were not exactly accurate. In fact, our results were exactly double the numbers coming from the MCBOE. Nate then gave the script one last tweaking, and before all the districts had reported, we had a proper reporting page, with up-to-the-minute results.
Too often, when students do projects in courses it is under some pretense or using code that is only for a class project and will never see the light of day. This collaboration, however, was quite the opposite. Nate's scraper was not only used in an actual journalistic capacity by real journalists and news organizations, but he will also be submitting it as his final project for Andrea's course.
WXXI and FOSS@RIT are already talking about next year's Monroe County Legislature Race, and helping the MCBOE test their software for next fall. Putting theory into practice, and applying the principles of computer and political science to real world situations to solve real world problems is typical of an exciting new direction at RIT, and will continue, so long as we continue to work with talented students like Nate, Justin Lewis, and Chris DesLandes, who deserve a special thanks for running the screens, writing the scripts, and keeping the wheels on the wagon during the event.
Special thanks to WXXI and Rachel and Zack for giving our students a look behind the curtain at how political reporting actually works. Thank you too, to Professors Fornieri, Sutton, and Hickerson for giving our students the opportunity to actually apply their lessons, and the Center for Student Innovation for hosting the event.
Beth Kiefer, Josh deRosa, and Carl Lundgren prepare for their presentation at the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching
They (and Jared Krichevsky, and Devin Hamilton) rocked! Attendees were "astonished" and "inspired" at the level of motivation and professionalism demonstrated by RIT student research projects.
As reported in today's University News, Xanthe, Andrea, and Michelle are taking their work to the NYC Maker Faire. Xanthe also had a great blog post today about ideas and projects in and around RIT that "challenge the status quo": fibers night in the innovation center (next one, October 22), the opening of the Vignelli Center, etc. , etc. etc.
Maker Faire is at Long Island this weekend. Innovation Center is reimbursing students for tickets (sorry, no transportation or lodging, though we did broker some ridesharing.)
See you there?
A. Sue Weisler
Xanthe Matychak (left), Andrea Handy (center) and Michelle Harris (right) will be presenting River Memoir, an interactive art exhibit, at the World Maker Faire in New York City Sept. 25-26.
Any definition of innovation needs to encompass this kind of not-necessarily-economic furtherance of human welfare through the creation and advancement of new and valuable ideas. It was very satisfying to see our students inspiring others by talking about their efforts to create new solutions for disaster and disability.
Philippe Le Hégaret heads the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Interaction Domain, which produces frontend Web technologies including HTML5, CSS3, SVG, WOFF, or Web APIs. Until July 2008, Philippe lead the W3C Architecture Domain, which produced the W3C Core technologies in the area of XML, Web Services, and Internationalization. He is a former Chair of the Document Object Model (DOM) Working Group.
Prior to joining W3C, Philippe promoted the use of XML inside Bull in 1998, also focusing on the interaction between XML and object structures. He wrote the first version of the CSS validator in 1997.Philippe holds a Master's Degree in Computer Science from the University of Nice (France).
- Date: September 21, 2010
- Where: GCCIS Auditorium, (GOL) 70-1400
- Time: 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
- Who: Philippe Le Hégaret
- Contact: Jeffrey Sonstein jxsast(at)rit(dot)edu
Hey innovators, free money and mentorship.
The Center stands ready willing and able to help you win!
- Up to $20,000
- Moving innovative products from concept to prototype and then to market.
- Proposals due December 3, 2010
- Guidelines, apply and more information
All E-Team grantees are invited attend NCIIA's VentureLab, a 5-day highly experiential workshop designed to enhance the success of your venture.
For all students: Evolve your BME design and business plan!
- Prizes of $10,000; $2,500; $1,000
- November 5, 2010: 2011 stipends deadline
- April 1, 2011; Competition deadline
Recognizing undergraduate excellence in biomedical design.
- Prizes of $10,000; $5,000; $2,500
- Competition opens early 2011
- May 13, 2011 Competition deadline
champion Richard Latham.
“I’m always in there,” Latham said with an obvious devotion as he motioned to the open workspace in RIT’s Center for
Student Innovation (CSI). From the moment he laid eyes on the goal, Latham was passionate about his work.
RITpedia is one the Center's proudly sponsored projects. As illustrated here and below, its continuing to evolve.