Member of the Week: Sandy Ressler

1. What do you do as Program Manager for NIST, and how does that fit into government sector?
I run a program called “Complex Systems” within the Information Technology Lab. It’s really a pretty basic research type of program looking at issues such as how to make the Internet run better and trying to understand how to predict the behavior of very large scale systems like the Internet. My background is really computer graphics and this is a field that’s quite foreign to me but it’s been fun getting to work with lots of wacky mathematicians and networking people who I didn’t know beforehand.
2. I saw on your website that you work with viritual technologies; How is the government sector working with these technologies? Are they using this technological tool as a bridge to close the gap between community, and government?
I used to work on some 3D graphics standards, one in particular called VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) which can be used to create virtual environments, but was meant to be a way of integrating 3D graphics with web browsers. I assume you mean technologies most typified by “Second Life” and There.com and those types of environments. Actually we did buy a Second Life island internally a few years ago to do some experiments with trying to take some projects I used to work on and create a “demo” space where people could come to get explanations of them. We never had the resources to put it together fully but it was an interesting experiment (No there is nothing public you can see 😉 The public affairs people at NIST are very interested in doing something with those kinds of environments but it’s a matter of resources and the time to put the thing together in a high quality way. The public affairs people are fanatics about putting out accurate information.

3. You stated that ” I love the fact that any software, research papers, data collections, I work on goes right into the public domain”, what specifically does this entail, and where can it be found?
It doesn’t entail anything it’s just public domain work. One set of data I particularly enjoyed dealing was a collection of data I call “AnthroKids”. It’s available at: http://ovrt.nist.gov/projects/anthrokids/ At the time I was (over 10 years ago) I was doing work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and was just getting into visualizations of anthropometry (the measurement of humans). I learned that when the CPSC issued a recall for something like a baby crib, the authoritative data they used came from this physical book which contained the results of a anthropometric survey conducted in 1975 & 1977. It blew my mind that the data wasn’t really data it was literally a physical book, there was no data base! I happened to have some spare money in the budget for a project I was running so I paid someone to literally type the numbers in. (typing was much more accurate then OCR). This was pretty early in the days of the web I think around 1997ish so I created a web site to “house” the data and it’s still there. As far as papers and general research stuff there is a somewhat out of date collection at:
http://ovrt.nist.gov/people/sressler/sressler.html which I like because in the picture there I still have a decent amount of hair 😉
What are some of the concerns you have in reference to public opinion about government employees?
I was just responding to my own perception of the country getting hyper-partisan. Public employees have always been a great whipping post but with a few recent incidents some real whackos have cross the line into violence and that concerns me. The concern isn’t so much for those isolated crazies that actually perform the violence it’s when I hear one or another talking head on TV saying something like: “That crazy guy was nuts to crash his plane into that building, no excuse for something like that…BUT I can understand his frustration” It’s the BUT part that concerns me, those are tacit justifications and subtle ways of giving the guy a pass.

5. Do you feel an upward trend in rebellion towards the government, and or their employees? If so, how can employees better protect themselves in the workplace?
A little bit, I wouldn’t overemphasise it either. It’s probably also a result of the 24 hr news cycle, where anything small get’s overblown. I don’t see a need to protect oneself any more then usual in the workplace.
6.What role will technology play in the reconfiguration of government, internally, and externally?
While I think technology can help tremendously with efficiency and accuracy, I don’t think technology alone is any sort of magic bullet. Most problems in the government and in any large organization have to do with leadership (and/or the lack thereof), people issues. If you can motivate people they will do great work, if not, all the technology in the world won’t help.
7. You have a BA of Visual Arts, and a Master of Fine Arts from Rutgers University, why did you decide to work for the government, and not an institution such as the MET, and or MOMA in New York City?
I’m really a geek. While I do have an art degrees I always did “computer art”. So I did lots of programming and computer graphics, when the field was still quite young. Before working for the Feds I did work for a video game company (now defunct) and that was great, but I try to make my job interesting and fun, so far it’s worked out pretty well.
8. Who is your favorite artist, and why?
Hmmmm that’s a tough one…I like a lot of artists from the “Dada” movement in the early twentieth century, like Marcel Duchamp and Surrealists like Dali. I really like the pop-art stuff from the 60s also like Lichtenstien and Jasper Johns also…lots of that art isn’t so much great to look at but they make you think.
9.What are your favorite viritual reality websites?
I suppose “Second Life” because it’s not a game but just a place to explore
10. What are your favorite pieces of free software on the web?
Firefox, Apache and all the GNU tools.
11. What are your projections for the future in reference to your field, and how will it improve the government sector?
Isn’t there some saying that only fools try to predict the future? 😉
Well always happy to consider myself a fool…I’d say that more and more data will become available and useful on the web leading to unexpected tools. Certainly the biggest trend these days is the “mobile web” where that device in your pocket that used to be mainly for phone calls is a very powerful computer. This should lead to more seamless government services. I should just be able to point at the bus in the street, or subway to see it’s schedule, the route and any delays. I do think that more “raw” data from trusted sources will be the lynchpin for a host of yet unimagined services; but getting that data out there and free to the public is key.

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Now the real question is “How do you feel about the fierce Ressler rivalry going on in the federal government”…The battle for sressler on all internet sites. Who will win? Who will lose? The epic battle.