[unrev-II] CITRIS Hero: Ka-Ping Yee urgently develops WTC survivors database

From: John J. Deneen (jjdeneen@netzero.net)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 11:12:04 PDT

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    Students Create Web Site to Find Loved Ones
    (The web site can be viewed at: < http://safe.millennium.berkeley.edu >)

    The Daily Californian
    Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - Following the aftermath of Tuesday's
    tragic events in New York and Washington, UC Berkeley computer science
    students moved quickly to start a Web site where people can search for
    friends and relatives who are known to be safe.

    The number of entries on the site has more than doubled in less than 24
    hours, after it launched only seven hours after the first jet struck the
    World Trade Center in New York City.

    Two hours after starting work on the site, it was fully operational,
    powered by UC Berkeley's "Millennium Cluster," a collection of 100
    computers designed to operate in parallel.

    "I think everyone was looking for some way to help. Everyone on the West
    Coast feels very isolated," said Jennifer Mankoff, a UC Berkeley
    computer science professor who assisted the students who constructed the
    site. "We came up with something to help out."

    The idea stemmed from Miriam Walker, a UC Berkeley computer science
    graduate student, who had members of her co-op borrow her phone to try
    to call the East Coast.

    Walker said she realized that the volume of people trying to phone the
    affected areas was making it impossible for anyone to receive proper
    information. The overwhelming volume of calls were also hindering
    emergency communications.

    She quickly called her friend, Ka-Ping Yee, also a UC Berkeley computer
    science graduate student, to help her program the Web site.

    "I just woke up because (another) friend called—I was walking around in
    a daze, probably in disbelief," Yee said. "I came back and found the
    phone message (from Walker). She had the idea to make this database, but
    she didn't have a programmer. I ran into her office and did it."

    Yee quickly learned PHP, a database programming language, while he
    worked in order to get the site running.

    "I was really really shocked about what happened. I didn't just want to
    stand by and do nothing," Yee said.

    Anticipating a large response to the database, Walker had contacted Eric
    Fraser, the manager of the Millennium Cluster to help set up the site.

    The Millennium Cluster is normally used to do supercomputing tasks, such
    as astrophysics research, which requires a large amount of computing
    power. The Web site is only distributed over 10 of the 100 computers in
    the cluster.

    "We thought we'd get a lot of traffic, but not this much," Fraser said.
    "On the database, we've been getting about 100 queries per second. This
    morning it had about 300,000 hits, now it's about 800,000. It's been
    steadily increasing."

    All members of the team worked diligently all Tuesday afternoon to
    publicize the site and make sure that it functioned properly.

    Each member of the team wants to help out with the disaster in any way
    possible, and are thrilled at the Web site's success.

    "I can see the impact that its had on other people's lives," Fraser
    said. "The bigger the database is, the more helpful it is. I feel really
    good about helping out in this way, using technology to do something to
    have a social impact."

    "People in my household seem to think that its a useful and reassuring
    idea," Walker said. "Yesterday it was a way for us to deal with our own
    horror and distress."
    < http://www.dailycal.org/article.asp?id=6255 >

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