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CMU profs, students launch street site

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010

Two feet of snow, canceled classes and pent-up intellect last week inspired a group of Carnegie Mellon professors and students to help people find the best roadways to get from Point A to Point B. went live Wednesday as a way for people to update the status of their streets — clear, passable or not passable. About 1,500 reports of road conditions had been entered as of this morning. The reports are recorded on an interactive map of Pittsburgh and sent out as updates via Twitter.

The concept was hatched after Prof. Priya Narasimhan noticed people using Twitter to help each find the best routes to get around Pittsburgh during last week's snowstorms.

"People were helping each other find passable roads," said Narasimhan, who teaches in CMU's Electrical & Computer Engineering Department and is president of Yinzcam Inc. "It just seemed like all that could be captured somewhere."

Also involved in the project were doctoral students Nathan Mickulicz and Shahriyar Amini, undergraduate student Max Salley and Prof. Rajeev Gandhi.

"We had nothing to do, so we figured why not help the city we love so much," Narasimhan said. "Honestly, in my heart I didn't know whether this would work or not. But it seems like the floodgates opened."

So many people flooded the Web site that the entries exceeded Twitter's limit of 150 updates per hour, Narasimhan said.

"No one wants to see someone stuck in the snow in front of their house, spinning their tires, when there is a better way around," Narasimhan said. "I think this really speaks to the spirit of the city. Everyone wants to help."

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