Can you help with some Richmond Sunlight technical needs?

Several people have e-mailed me recently, asking if there’s some way that they can lend their technical skills to help with Richmond Sunlight. And, yes, there absolutely is, and I have been remiss in not requesting such help here. These are a few things that are outside of my abilities that would be great if somebody could help out with.

  • Statistics within MySQL. MySQL offers some basic statistical analysis tools that I know could be employed very usefully. Is party membership a statistically significant predictor of voting behavior? Let’s sort legislators by their Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient and find out who toes the party line most closely. Does the seating chart of a chamber, and each legislators’ seat mate, affect legislators’ voting behavior? I’d love to just turn over a few MySQL tables to somebody to craft a few queries that pull out some of these numbers.
  • Website hosting. The site is hosted with Dreamhost, who is competent enough, but Richmond Sunlight is fairly demanding of resources, which gets expensive quickly. If the site has any fans among folks running an enterprise-grade hosting facility with Linux server space to spare, that would be an enormous help.
  • GIS. There’s an enormous amount that I’d love to do with mapping, but I simply lack the knowledge or the time to learn more. I want Google Maps of every house and senate district to display on legislators pages. And I’m using gazeetteer data to record any mention of a Virginia place name in a bill, which is interesting, but not very useful unless I can cross-reference that with districts. I want to be able to run SELECT district, COUNT(*) FROM bills WHERE legislator="Creigh Deeds" GROUP BY district to find out which districts that my senator’s bills tend to affect. Surely there’s somebody out there with knowledge of manipulating mapping data on a dynamic website.
  • Flash/JavaScript XML parsing and display. I’d love to have a few Flash or JavaScript widgets available for third parties to install on their websites that use the nascent Richmond Sunlight API to syndicate legislative data. Legislators should be able to install a widget on their website to display the latest status of their legislation and recent votes. Newspapers should be able to have a widget to display what’s up with all of the legislators in their reading area. Interest groups should have a widget to provide the status of all bills fitting a given set of tags. And so on. This would be a snap for me to write in PHP, but that’s too tough for the average end-user. I don’t know JavaScript well enough to produce something more useful, and I don’t know Flash at all. It would be brilliant if somebody could help produce something like this.

Contact me if you might could lend a hand with any of these things. I’m afraid that all I have to offer is thanks and credit but, hey, that’s all anybody gets for helping with Richmond Sunlight.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

3 replies on “Can you help with some Richmond Sunlight technical needs?”

  1. Based on the e-mail response (which has been quite healthy) plus y’all’s kind offers, I think I ought to be a bit more specific in response to the GIS request for help.

    Each district is a shape that defines a chunk of Virginia. That shape is described as GIS data (i.e., house districts. And there are many things for which we can define an absolute point in space, such as the home address of somebody visiting Richmond Sunlight who wants to know who their delegate is. What I’d like to do is take their address, define it by latitude and longitude (using an API like, and then determine what house district that they’re in.

    Conceptually, this strikes me as a very simple, very doable thing. The only way that people can find out their state representatives right now is using the legislature’s awkward, not-always-working, not-very-good webpage. What I’d like to do is a) provide this on Richmond Sunlight and b) open up the API so that anybody from any website can use lat/long data to find out the representatives for a given location.

    So, who knows how to do this? :)

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