Impresario Work in Progress

IMPRESARIO [im-pruh-sahr-ee-oh, -sair-]:  any manager, director, or the like.

Informatics (my major of choice) is one of those departments that require you to participate in a sort of culminating project called a capstone. We are tasked with identifying a real-world information problem, and setting out to solve it. Solutions to problems a team identifies can range from mobile applications, interactive web sites, pen and paper designs, entire information systems, or security auditing work. That list is only a short sampling. There are quite a few other things Informatics students at the University of Washington (UW) can leverage to solve information based problems.

My group of four decided to tackle a problem involving National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents. These documents are created when a federal government agency decides to undertake a project that could affect the environment. NEPA documents fall into two categories: Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA). As is required by law, these documents are produced, but not necessarily produced to a high standard of quality. These documents can be fairly large (50+ pages), and contain information from multiple people. They are often called up in courts when there is a perceived violation, and that is when their true usefulness shows. Our work is the offshoot from the research done by Daniel, a master’s student in the School of Forest Resources (also at UW) which identifies various shortcomings of these documents.

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Feats of MySQL and Impresario

I am currently working with three other teammates to develop a collaborative template-driven document creation tool, awesomely named ‘Impresario’. I will post more on what it is and what it looks like later, when the next iteration of the user interface is completed. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of the back-end work that we have done. We are using a MySQL database to store every user, document, comment, etc. If you don’t know what MySQL is, or have never heard of a relational database, feel free to just take in the beauty of a picture of it:

Impresario Database Map

Impresario Database Map

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Bad Design

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Although I didn’t intend to start this blog off on a negative note, this is a topic worth mentioning.

Bad design is everywhere, and this week I found it sitting on my head. I’m talking about my Sennheiser RS 120 Wireless headphones. I won these back in the spring of 2010 in Yahoo’s Hack-U competition, so I don’t feel bad in the slightest by criticizing them. They retail for around $75 online (Amazon, Newegg) and I’m sure they were more expensive when I first got them. Sennheiser is a company known for both personal and professional audio devices, so I expected these headphones to be of good quality and more importantly, of excellent design.

This appears not to be the case.

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