COS 333: Project Ideas

Wed Feb 26 20:02:31 EST 2014

Newer item(s) are at the front.


There are many individuals and groups on campus who have really interesting problems that could be profitably attacked by folks in COS 333. Here are some of them. They have come from a variety of friends on campus. I've edited their prose a bit, but have tried to leave their ideas intact. You're welcome to approach the people listed directly, and I would be happy to act as an intermediary if you prefer, or to help you solicit more information. The first nine or ten are new; the others are hold-overs from last year, but might still be of interest to class members.

Energy conservation and display, Shana Weber, Office of Sustainability (

WattVision collects campus-wide energy data for Princeton and presents it for public, live display on the mobile-friendly website TigerEnergy has had over 12,600 individual actions on the site since launch during Reunions 2013. Company headquarters are on Nassau Street so there is easy access to the software developers.

A. One project could be to expose all of the data collected by TigerEnergy since launch in May 2013 to the students and for them to enhance the visualization of current and historical data. If the student projects are promising, they could potentially be integrated into the TigerEnergy experience permanently.

B. Another possibility with TigerEnergy could be associated with a new project to visualize live dorm energy-use. The idea is to take live dorm data (currently 16 meters) and create an interactive mobile-friendly map that color codes buildings by their current level of energy use. This would be one useful tool in shifting behavior and enabling friendly competitions. Eventually this map could include all campus buildings and also be displayed at the Frist GreenSpace kiosk.

Mobile app for HR info, Linda Nilsen, Human Resources (

Human Resources could really use a good app that integrates all health related activities, resources, and benefit plans at Princeton in a more friendly way than today, for students, faculty, and staff at Princeton. There is a Thrive at Princeton logo that could be used. This effort would utilize readily available materials, does not involve any employee/student data, and a mobile app would be seen as a great value to employees. This would also move Human Resources more in the inevitable direction of everything, including HR self-service, being available on mobile.

PUResearchConnect, Pascale Poussart (ODOC, and Christine Murphy (ODGS, cm15@exchange.Princeton.EDU)

Create an app / website to connect undergraduate students interested in research with graduate student mentors and build community based on common research interests. Phase 1 involves building an app for undergraduates to use during poster events to easily download graduate student posters of interest and discretely rate interest in research projects and collaborations with grad mentors.

Phase 2 expands on the app's capabilities to include (with accompanying website?): an events check-in function so participants can connect; a searchable research directory of grad mentors and undergraduates; a capability to match research interests and recommend collaborations; a timeline of engagement with program activities, showing past and current collaborations; a calendar listing upcoming program offerings (e.g., lab tours, departmental seminar debriefs, intersession or break-week shadowing opportunities, informal "multi-generational research meals for mentoring"); customized alerts (e.g., events, opportunities).

Tracking the spread of legal statutes, Kellen Funk (HIS)

Kellen's project tracks the spread of a particular statute (the Field Code), which is usually seen as having created the form of the modern trial. The statute was first drafted in New York in the middle of the nineteenth century, but then spread quickly elsewhere. He would like to track the spread of this law, to watch how it travelled and how it was received across the country and beyond. Almost all of the state sessions laws have now been digitized so it should be possible to do that.

Dirk Hartog says that the study of how statutes travelled and were received is a great new subject, one that will help legal historians understand a great deal about what law reform and legal change actually meant. We know that legislators copied one another and that legal ideas travelled. But how they did so remains murky. Much of the data has now been digitized. In addition to the specific statues, is there a way to construct an API that will help other projects like Kellen's?

University Health Services, Judith Oakley (UHS), 8-2680

Staff training system: UHS needs a system that allows staff to share required knowledge with colleagues in the department. Uses include topics ranging from blood-borne pathogen training to completing monthly budgets. The ease with which the training modules can be created is key to the success of this system. The system should:

  • allow non-technical staff to easily construct training modules to educate colleagues (these might include voice-over slide shows, recorded mouse movements on screen, and videos).
  • include a database of staff members with required trainings and frequency, preferably by job role (e.g. all medical staff must complete x and all managers y)
  • automatically email staff member (and their manager) when they are due or overdue for a training
  • administer training, test staff for understanding of material, allow review of material and retesting
  • log of test dates and results

    Stockroom inventory system: the current system requires staff withdrawing stock to note the details of each withdrawal on a hand written sheet. These are later transcribed for reordering. If it difficult to get a variety of staff to use this system correctly. Space limitations in McCosh Health Center require that a minimum of essential inventory be kept. The stockroom currently houses approximately 300 different items from suture sets to crutches. More accurate and timely record keeping would streamline the process of reordering as inventory falls below threshold. This project would likely make use of barcodes and handheld scanners.

    Database for the excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus, Joanna Smith (ART),

    The database for the excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus is a Microsoft Access 2003 database with an 88 MB data file and a front end of 7.5 MB. Making this database more user-friendly and enhancing its graphical capabilities would benefit both those working on publications of the excavations and students using this database for related courses (e.g., COS 496 and FRS 187). It contains seven related parts: (1) the registry of 52,233 excavated objects of special interest linked to secondary records such as conservation; (2) lists of pottery by find context; (3) raw and calculated architectural data; (4) bibliography; (5) photographs; (6) files of authorities such as trench designation and object class codes; (7) objects from Polis that were not found by the Princeton team.

    Without changing the relational structure of the database, areas that need improvement are: (1) the user interface, making transparent methods for finding and relating information; (2) methods for using and comparing images of registry and other objects; (3) a graphic way to use the spatial data and generate plots of architecture, deposits, and objects (in the 1980s and 1990s Kevin Perry had made this possible before the database was transformed into Access); (4) a web interface -- eventually to be made public but currently with a password -- that would allow all users to update and use the database without [a] generating multiple versions of the database and [b] needing to have a specific program such as Access. Any improvements to the database should maintain a format for the database that allows those running the project to update and revise data, including the addition of new sections of the database (e.g., the merging of the main database with separate systems for information about excavated deposits).

    Princeton Election Consortium, Sam Wang (MOL),

    Here is a possible project relating to the Princeton Election Consortium: tracking House election outcomes and making projections about the future. It would be composed of the following parts: Look at; note the graphs in the right-hand column.

    A Collaborative Ethnography App, Janet Vertesi (SOC),

    Now that social phenomena are distributed across the internet and around the globe, this presents new challenges to anthropologists and sociologists attempting to observe and understand human and group behavior. Help us out by writing an Evernote App ( that can coordinate among notes, documents, and other files collected by different researchers based in different locations collected at different times. A good chance to practice your app development skills and the use of languages such as Python, Javascript, or C++, with potential to extend to Android and iOS (see and release to other researchers.

    Library digitized periodical databases, Cliff Wulfman (Library),

    The Library has digitized the historical run of the Daily Princetonian, from its inception in 1876 through 2002: here. The data supporting this collection is highly structured and provides great opportunities for text mining, better search and retrieval, API development, etc. The Library hosts additional periodical collections, including The Papers of Princeton here and a miscellany of historical newspapers here. The largest and richest of these collections is the Blue Mountain archive of avant-garde magazines here, which contains over 36,000 pages in multiple languages. All of these collections could profit greatly from better interfaces both for human readers and APIs for programmatic access.

    Princeton public transportation engine, John Logan (Library),

    We need a Princeton public transportation engine, whereby you could enter your location and your destination, and then get coherent information about buses, trains, etc.? TigerTransit and other services cover the ground, so to speak, but figuring out how to get there from here reminds me of the old traveling salesman problem. And it might turn out that some of the schedules could and should be modified to make connections quicker than they are now (Friend Center to Frist to PPPL requires, or at least required last time I tried to parse the schedules, quite a wait at Frist).

    Pace Center projects, Gwen McNamara (Pace),

    "Find my fit" - a searchable database for our website (and possibly a phone app?) to help students find the right volunteer opportunity, service project, or student group within the Pace Center that's right for them. (Possibly pulling from data in our Drupal website and/or connection of custom-built student tracking database.)

    Student tracking database revamp - Re-work this database so that it is longer-living, has more functionality, and can interface with more systems

    Internship scheduling app - Create a scheduling application that can connect us with students to accurately select an internship interview time/place. Would need to interface with spreadsheets/database/student schedules and reflect real-time to avoid double-booking/overlaps.

    Something with a social benefit? Many of our student groups are working on critical social issues - hunger, homelessness, the minority achievement gap, prison education reform ... perhaps there are projects for these groups that could solve some key problems.

    A university-wide calendaring application, Lisa Herschbach (McGraw Center) lherschb@Princeton.EDU.

    We need a supported, campus-wide calendaring system. It should be integrated with existing campus systems that use Roxen and/or Drupal, and capable of receiving feeds from other calendar systems like R25/25Live but also of functioning as a stand-alone calendar that displays event information from whatever internal or external sources a user/office/department prefers.

    OIT infrastructure and maintenance reporting systems, Jay Dominick (, OIT

    1. A system to report maintenance related issues on campus at time of observation. A quick example would be that if you see a lightbulb out, you would snap a photo of it with your phone, add some location information, put the info in a database and then alert a technician. This could also used to report printer malfunctions, cluster problems, etc.

    2. A recommender system to help students navigate the information and service infrastructure of campus. This gets at the problem that "There are so many resources here for students, and the organization of the information is so poor, that students don't know what they could be doing." This is a particular problem for OIT in that we offer lots of tools and technologies for students but can't seem to communicate particularly well about them. However, some students do manage to figure it out and their expertise could be very useful to others. How do you capture what the experts know about campus and make it available (in a time-relevant manner) to other students?

    Princeton Prosody Archive, Meredith Martin (, English

    The Princeton Prosody Archive, a collection of historical texts on poetry and poetics, is looking for a redesigned interface. The Archive offers a range of historical documents, including manuscripts, manuals, articles, grammar books, and other materials all pertaining to the rhythm, intonation, and measure of language. Not a static repository of historical data, the Princeton Prosody Archive engages scholars to re-think the past and future of navigating, conceptualizing, and historicizing large amounts of data in a format that will be useful for scholars who work with many kinds of digital-text archives. The archive needs a search portal for the full text of 3,000 books, and a browser for the original page images of these books. Also possible will be a collaboration with Princeton computer science researchers on building graphical interfaces to topic models derived from these texts on poetics.

    Virtual Campus Tour: Past and Present, Shaun Ellis (, Library

    Get a tour of Princeton's campus using "augmented reality" on your Android/iPhone, including both current geolocated live tweets and historic images and names associated with locations, buildings, and sculpture that you see through your mobile phone's camera while wandering the campus.

    How? Using augmented reality for mobile devices, add a Princeton University layer in the Android/iOS augmented reality application Layar, to see two kinds of things: 1) tweets using the #PrincetonUniversity hashtag (if the tweets are geolocated so they can be nailed to a point) and 2) points of interest from a shared Google Map.

    Mash up the existing Locations and Places Web Services with Library Special Collections resources (i.e., such as the Princeton University Historic Postcard Collection) to provide some historic context, images, and name associations. The Library can work with students to add location data to the existing Digital Library Web Service.

    Library dashboard(s), Kevin Reiss (, Library

    The dashboard/visualization project I had in mind would have three components:
    1. Select some interesting metrics about the usage and performance of our library websites and library search applications. This data could be culled from the actual application logs or could be harvested from our Library Google Analytics account using the Google Analytics API. Part of this work would involve setting up some processing routines to regularly harvest data from these sources.
    2. The creation of useful visualizations based on the data selected for harvesting. This could be an opportunity for the student to explore a visualization tool such as processing.js or work with something like the Google Visualization API.
    3. The packaging of these visualizations into a dashboard environment that supports access controls. This portion of the project could be accomplished through the creation of a module for the Drupal CMS the library is transitioning or with another common web programming framework.
    If this is too expansive a project for the course we definitely could focus on just points one and two above.

    Digitization of materials, Marvin Bielawski (, Library

    Is there a way we could get full-text transcriptions of some of the handwritten manuscripts in the digital collections? It would be great to develop some tools that would allow us to "crowd source" this kind of thing. For example, imagine a competitive game among alumni to see which class could transcribe the most Trustees Minutes. From my experience in the Office of Development, they love that type of healthy competition among classes to see who can help out Princeton more. Here's an example of a great game-like interface for crowd sourcing ship logs for better climate change data: and here's an in-depth explanation.

    Marvin is also interested in data analysis and visualization tools for a variety of library systems, in effect a dashboard for the library.

    College wise calendar, Patrick Caddeau (, Forbes College

    The idea is to help students to sync up how they spend their time with their academic goals, important deadlines, and milestones in the progress from freshman to senior, and beyond. Many students struggle with how to wisely allocate their time and find management of their time to be a major source of stress. A college wise calendar would provide a map that connects how students spend time with accomplishing major goals. It would have three main features:

    (1) automatically populate with all significant university deadlines (add/drop, pdf, mid-terms, dean's date, deadlines for declaring a major, JP, etc). For some of these events, there could be an estimation of how far in advance you need to prepare for the event so you can see a bar indicating when you should begin planning -- for example 72 hours before add/drop so you have time to schedule a meeting with your professor or adviser to get an update on your status in the course, a month prior for JP deadline to make sure you have a working draft, etc.). User could add, sync, or import additional events from other calendars. If a student selects a particular major the calendar could populate with a list of departmental requirements that could be dropped into the calendar in the appropriate term -- using features of ICE perhaps? Courses that have prerequisites would prompt users for those courses when they are dropped into the calendar.

    (2) a feature that ranks or tags calendar events with relative importance to you and what type of goal it is connected with -- for example: thesis would be tied to the "graduate from Princeton" goal so it would be ranked high, while attending TH night arch sing could be given relatively low importance and tied to "relaxation".

    (3) zoom feature allowing users to see a week, month, term, year, or all four years at Princeton in a single view. Events that are ranked high in importance (for example finish thesis with a 6 month block of time) would be visible event from the highest level while events ranked lower would only be visible when viewed at a higher resolution. This would help students to think about how they spend their time as it relates to their goals by seeing long term goals and deadlines from different perspectives.

    De-duping RECAP, Marvin Bielawski (, Library

    Princeton, the New York public library, and Columbia run a joint off-site storage facility on the Forrestal campus named "RECAP." One of our longterm dreams is to do something called "de-duping," meaning "de-duplicating," meaning storing only 1 copy of a particular volume rather than 2 or 3 (one from Princeton, one from NYPL, and one from Columbia). There are many obstacles to this dream, some of which are legal (e.g., if there's one copy, who owns it?).

    But one of the obstacles is technical. To de-dupe, we would have to identify the duplicates (preferably before they entered RECAP). This can be tricky for at least two reasons. One is that, given the purposes of the research libraries, it will matter (at least sometimes) whether the duplicates are exact or not: the 2nd edition and the 4th edition are not perfect substitutes for one another. The second is that Princeton, NYPL, and Columbia all run differently configured online catalogs, so it becomes a clunky, manual process to compare records.

    This should be solvable by a Kayak-like program: if one app can search a bunch of airline websites, why not an app that combs multiple library databases?