Labs Update: December 2011


It’s the most wonderful time of year… Montgomery County property tax payment time! It’s also the holidays, which are quite nice as well. Things are wrapping up here in the Labs before we head off for winter break. We have a lot going on right now and even more big plans for next year.

In tangentially related news, Scott Weiland released a holiday album. I can sense your blank stare from here… please don’t let it distract you from reading the rest of this post.

Influence Explorer

The Data Commons team has launched a redesign of Influence Explorer that greatly improves navigation on long, complex profile pages. As you scroll, the navigation bars stay with you so that you know which data set you are currently viewing and can jump between them quickly. The year selector also follows you so that you can easily switch to different year views.

Ryan and Lee have been working closely with Ethan to dig through the data stored in Influence Explorer. Interested in reading up on lobbyist bundling for the Super Committee? How about the political ties behind Zuccotti Park? Want to find out how lobbying can reduce your tax rate?

In addition to all this lovely work, the team has been acquiring more timely campaign contribution data from the FEC, exploring the federal regulatory process and upgrading the server infrastructure.

Open States Project

James and contributors have been knocking out the states, bringing us ever closer to 50 + DC. Kentucky, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas and Nevada have all graduated from experimental status based on several months of stability. North Dakota and South Carolina were also recently added to the API.

James has been prepping the Boston Sunlight office, new home of the Open States Project. He just hired a new developer and has secured office space. I patiently await an invitation to the opening party.

Congress for Android

Eric released a major update to the Congress App for Android that includes a visual redesign and information on what’s coming up in the next couple of days on the floor of Congress. This is a really great release and Eric did a lot of great work on the new redesign. He’s got many plans for new features that will be included over the next year, so stayed tuned!

The section in which I post Chris’ update verbatim

Chris wishes that there was a more eloquent and loquacious manner in which she could describe her continued work in the mobile game app and the 180 Project. Alas, these projects defy description as the day-to-day minutia of design eventually amounts to: move this there, rinse repeat. However, Chris is pleased to report that the completion of the 180 Project is in her sights, barring any timeline disrupting events. She is coding, thus all is well.

Team Sysadmin

Tim has been involved in the long and arduous process of upgrading our office network. As it currently stands, the new fiber connection is a frustrating 15 feet from the office. Tim can see it from the ceiling tiles above our server room, but it is caught up in insurance, contractor and building management turmoil. To ease his mind, he’s been configuring our new Juniper Junos EX-series switches. It’ll be like a cute little ISP here in Sunlight’s office!

Team C-Level Executive

Tom is freshly back from the TAI Bridging Session and News Foo. Aside from that he’s been working on filling our open positions and some end-of-year planning stuff.


  • Expanding on the Sunlight Labs Olympics, we’re participating in the Sunlight Foundation Olympics *right now*. Results will be posted shortly!
  • We now have 40 instances running on Amazon EC2. I’m sure we know what’s on each of those boxes, right?
  • Drew has been lending a hand to reporting to keep their projects running while we search for someone to fill the open position.
  • Capitol Words is out! And without Dan going insane and killing anyone! This might sound like a low bar, but this project has been an arduous one, and the fact that Dan (and before him, Aaron) didn’t resort to murder is a sign of their consummate professionalism.
  • Eric and Andrew began a project on gathering the data to connect bills and laws to the regulatory process. This effort should yield lots of bulk data over the next month or two for the legal and legislative communities to use.
  • Kaitlin has updated the video endpoint in the Real Time Congress API to support some upcoming changes to our Roku apps.
  • Upwardly Mobile is coming together nicely. There will be lots of great things to show early in January.
  • Renaissance man Luigi Montanez authored How can software engineers help make government better? in the latest issue of the ACM’s XRDS (Crossroads) magazine.
  • The hottest Labs holiday gift this season is Well Dressed’s El Gordo burrito.

When working with raw meat for your holiday meals, remember: though Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, bleach is better.