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CSE News

  • A 'Street Tacos' Approach to Mobile Programming

    In CSE instructor Ganz Chockalingam’s CSE 190 course, instruction over the winter was, as he puts it, more like “making street tacos.” Instead of asking students to follow a specific recipe, Chockalingam urged them to come up with their own app ideas and use the tools and programming environments they prefer. 
    Chockalingam (at right) says his goal for the 50 students in his CSE 190 “Mobile Programming” course was to “get down and dirty with the code and arm them with real-world, practical skills” for building mobile apps. (Some 70 more students were on the waiting list for the popular course.) To achieve this, he spent the first month of the course providing instruction – leaving the rest of the quarter to lab time, when teams of six students concocted ideas for apps and then built their apps with a server component (hosting them in the cloud on the Amazon EC2 platform.) “That, by itself, is a valuable skill,” says the principal development engineer in Calit2’s Qualcomm Institute (his ‘day job’). 
    In the quarter just ended, the students designed and implemented a number of compelling apps, including an augmented-reality app that allows the user to stand in any location on the UC San Diego campus, point his or her phone at a building, and bring up the name of the building as a text overlay. Another app, Roast, functions as a sort of Yelp for coffee connoisseurs (Roast team member Alex Kissinger, at left, presents the app during final presentations). Another team developed Triton Unlink as a twist on TritonLink that offers a “more useful way” for finding class information. A fourth team built a mobile app that allows the user to monitor, in real time, the pH levels and watering schedule for hydroponic plants -- they even set up a hydroponic lab in the Jacobs School of Engineering Moxie Center for Student Entrepreneurship to test out the app.  
    Although Chockalingam teaches programming for Android devices in class, he says many students want to learn iOS programming for Apple devices, “but IOS requires that you own a Mac, and departments don’t always want to enforce that as a requirement for students,” he explains. But Chockalingam meets Apple fans halfway by allowing them to work with tutors in the CSE computer lab to learn iOS programming. 
    Students appreciate the course. “Mobile app development is exploding in growth,” says Daryl Stimm, a former student who TA’d the winter course. “This course offers a way for groups of students to make useful, fun and interesting apps. In 10 weeks you design, storyboard and develop an idea into a fully working application. The course really allows you to use your creativity and make an interesting, fun app that solves real problems.  I believe this course gives students real-world skills that will benefit them when they are looking for a career in industry.”
    “I love teaching these kids,” observed Chockalingam. “I just have to point them in the right direction and they figure out the rest. My job is really easy.” He is teaching the same course in Spring 2014 to 48 undergrads.
  • CSE Professor to Moderate Cyber Security Symposium with Industry Representatives

    Organized by the UC San Diego Office of Research Affairs (ORA), the Innovation Trends (iTrends) Cyber Security symposium is scheduled for 5-7pm on Tuesday, April 8. The goal: to introduce graduate and especially undergraduate students to industry trends and job opportunities in the emerging field of cyber security. The symposium is organized by ORA's Sandra Ponting and moderated by CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner (right).

    The Cyber Security symposium will expose students to industry leaders in the fast-growing field. Executives from Sempra Energy, ESET North America, iBoss Network Security and SPAWAR will discuss market trends and needs, innovative technologies, entrepreneurship, sustainability of businesses, workforce needs, and more. Students who are interested in technology or business are urged to attend the free symposium to explore careers in the fast-growing industry, and students from all majors are welcome to attend.

    Cyber Security is the second iTrends symposium. The series gives students an awareness of innovative industries and corporate leaders so that students are informed about career opportunities. Professor and moderator Ryan Kastner is co-director of the Wireless Embedded Systems Master of Advanced Studies program and he also co-directs the Engineers for Exploration program. His current research interests in CSE are in areas of hardware acceleration, hardware security, and remote sensing. Kastner will moderate a one-hour panel including: SPAWAR CTO Stephen D. Russell, who is Head of the Science and Technology Department at the SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) in San Diego; UC San Diego alumnus Paul Martini, CEO of iBoss Network Security; ESET North America VP of Operations Chad Nelly, who has been involved in the 'Securing our eCity' effort since its inception, working to develop the foundational curriculum on which the outreach program is built; and Jeff Nichols of Sempra Energy. Nichols is the Director of Information Technology and Information Management for Sempra's utilities (including SDG&E). His organization provides key IT services, including cyber security, for 12,000 employees in the utilities, covering enterprise architecture, cyber security, compliance management, data management, and predictive analytics.

    The panel discussion will be followed by a networking reception. Food and registration are free, but seating is limited, so attendees are invited to register online at For further information, visit the symposium website at or contact Sandra Ponting, Ph.D., at

  • PayScale Estimates Return on Investment of an Undergraduate CS Degree at UC San Diego

    UC San Diego undergraduates majoring in computer science can look forward to a solid return on their investment, especially if they are from inside California. The 2014 PayScale College Return on Investment Report tracks the estimated return on investment (ROI) at public and private U.S. universities. The survey found that the average cost of a four-year, in-state education at UCSD for computer science majors was $122,100 in 2013. But the survey also estimates that the 20-year net ROI is estimated at $1,090,000 – an annual ROI of 12.3%. Among all public universities in California, UCSD ranked #3 for in-state computer science majors, after UC Berkeley and UCLA. UCSD also ranked third for out-of-state CS majors, but the higher cost of out-of-state tuition means that their net ROI is only 9% on an annualized basis. Looking at all universities in California, public and private, UCSD ranked #6.

    The PayScale survey ranks San Diego overall as the 15th best public university for its return on investment (ROI) for alumni who are California residents. A caveat: the PayScale numbers reflect responses from individuals with undergraduate degrees only. Anyone who went on to earn a graduate degree at UC San Diego is not covered by the PayScale report, so the real average earning potential of CSE grads is therefore much higher than what this particular survey indicates.

    Learn more about the 2014 PayScale College ROI Report.

  • Distinguished Teaching Award for CSE Faculty Member

    If the selection by the Academic Senate awards committee is confirmed  by the AS Representative Assembly in late Aprill, CSE Prof. Sanjoy Dasgupta will receive one of Senate’s Distinguished Teaching Awards for the 2013-14 academic year. It is only the third time since 2000 that a CSE faculty member has won the award for Senate members, following Geoffrey Voelker in 2010-11, and Joseph Pasquale (2002-03). In the non-Senate member category, Rick Ord won in 2013.

    “Teaching here has been a pleasure since the day I got here,” observes Dasgupta. “The CSE undergrads as a whole are bright, hardworking, eager to succeed, and appreciative of faculty, and this makes teaching a very satisfying experience.”

    Only one professor from each department can be formally nominated each year by the department chair. “Sanjoy Dasgupta has stepped up and taught very large classes with over 400 students in the Fall 2013 quarter alone – and he taught them well,” says CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. “That is in an environment where all CSE faculty taught 182 courses in the academic year, against a total rated capacity of 142 courses, including all lecturers at 100 percent capacity.” He went on to say that Dasgupta is a prime example of faculty who “stepped up to teach extraordinarily large classes and multiple sections.”

    “I’m fortunate to have been assigned one of the most central courses in the Computer Science curriculum: Algorithms,” said Dasgupta. “I am grateful to be able to teach such fundamental material.”

    Up to five Senate members can be selected for the award. Dasgupta and his fellow winners will receive their $1,500 stipends at an Awards Ceremony on May 27 at the Faculty Club. 

  • CSE Faculty in Big Data Conversation with Experts

    CSE was well-represented on a March 12 panel at the Qualcomm Institute titled "Big Data: A Conversation with the Experts," organized by UC San Diego Extension. CSE Prof. Stefan Savage (seated far right), who also directs the Center for Networked Systems, spoke about the inherent security risks associated with big data. Unrelenting threats – from pranksters and criminals alike – are out there. “We are building an enormous structure of stored big data, and that centralization creates risk,” Savage warned, pointing to revelations of massive data leaks from Target and, more troubling, from the National Security Council, as prime examples of big data’s vulnerability. “Security is very much a data-driven field. The goal is to understand the environment better, faster and more efficiently than your adversaries.”

    “When you hit ‘Like’ on Facebook, there are five billion of those each day around the world,” said CSE Prof. Larry Smarr (at left), director of Calit2, opening the event. “This is a totally new world, in which the generation of big data has gotten out of the hands of researchers and exploded across the planet to our society as a whole… Never in our history have we had a sustained period of this kind of exponential growth [in computer science]. What we’re talking about is something humanity has never tried to deal with before.”

    Other speakers with connections to the CSE department included San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) director Mike Norman, and moderator Natasha Balac, a researcher in SDSC who leads its Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence and its Boot Camps for dealing with big data. The big data event was co-sponsored by UCSD-TV, which recorded the proceedings for later broadcasting on the TV network.

    Read the full story.

  • CSE’s Paturi Receives Faculty Excellence Award for Community Service

    On Thursday, March 20, six UC San Diego faculty members were honored at the 40th annual Chancellor’s Associates Faculty Excellence Awards for going above and beyond to make a positive impact in their teaching, research and service. CSE Prof. Ramamohan Paturi (at right) is one of this year’s honorees, for Excellence in Community Service. On the faculty since  1986, Paturi was cited for his role in creating a program for incoming students from academically and socially disadvantaged schools to develop their passion for computer science and to provide a smooth transition to college. The Summer Program for Incoming Students (SPIS) employs individual attention, experiential learning and rigorous academics to help students succeed and realize their full potential.

    “Ramamohan Paturi has put great effort into developing SPIS from scratch on a purely voluntary basis,” said CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. “Utmost on his mind is to show students that UC San Diego is committed to providing them with the best educational opportunities and the tools to ensure success.” UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla congratulated Paturi and the five other honorees for their commitment to the campus and service to the community. “These faculty members are exceptional educators, scholars and civic leaders,” noted Khosla, “and their passion for advancing knowledge and dedication to positively impacting our society is remarkable.”  

    Read the full news release.
    Learn more about the SPIS program.

  • CSE-Led Team Wins Most Innovative Category at Better Buildings Competition

    A team of environmental engineering students and a Ph.D. student in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department at the University of California, San Diego has won an award in a high-profile government competition to showcase fresh approaches to making better, more energy-efficient buildings. Representing UC San Diego in the contest for the first time, the team won the Most Innovative award for their proposal “Picking up the PACE” at the 2014 Better Building Case Competition.

    Since its launch in 2012, the competition has supported the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings goal of reducing energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020 in commercial and industrial buildings across the U.S.

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division stages the annual competition to engage “the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers to develop creative solutions to real-world energy efficiency problems for businesses and other organizations across the marketplace.” Overall, this third annual competition includes 27 university teams made up of more than 230 students who developed solutions to six contemporary problems to increase the scalability of clean energy implementation..The DOE invites teams from U.S. universities to formulate solutions no more than 10 pages in length. On March 14, they presented to a panel of industry experts at DOE headquarters in Washington, DC.

    For the 2014 competition, the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering team – dubbed Team Green Dinosaurs – was assigned two cases where students grappled with (a) Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, and (b) greening the grant for research labs. CSE third-year Ph.D. student Bharathan Balaji (pictured) acted as the ‘senior statesman’ of Team Green Dinosaurs, consisting primarily of environmental engineering undergraduate students from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. The team members, including Dung (Yung) Nguyen, Wan Yin (Wendy) Cheung, Sandeep Dey, Michelle Tang and Sze Wun (Edwin) Wong, were pulled together through an on-campus organization, Association of Energy Engineers (AEE).

    Team Green Dinosaurs’ winning proposal discusses the increase in utilization of the PACE program for commercial buildings, which are designed to help property owners obtain low-interest, long-term financing for high-cost energy efficiency and renewable energy measures (particularly for long-term capital improvements). The primary challenge of this real life scenario was how to scale up a local city PACE commercial program to a statewide program serving at least seven cities. To support growth of the program, the UC San Diego team proposed an innovative financial structure, intensive technical support system, and streamlined application process to be included in the business plan while addressing the barriers faced by key stakeholders.

    “We proposed to utilize innovative tools such as automated online applications forms and a database management system, allowing replicability at a larger scale,” said Balaji, a student in the Synergy Laboratory of Prof. Yuvraj Agarwal and CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta. Balaji has worked primarily on solutions for sensing and actuation for energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

    In addition to the an streamlined application process, innovative financial structure and resourceful technical support, the UC San Diego proposal outlined strategic marketing techniques targeting specific class of buildings for phased expansion.

    According to Team Green Dinosaurs, their “Picking up the PACE” proposal for the state-wide program would allow it to “reach the critical loan volume to ensure the program’s sustainability and growth.” Specifically, the proposal estimates that the plan could push loan volume in the state PACE program to beyond $50 million – sufficient to make the program both self-sustaining and strong enough to be replicated in other states.

    Better Buildings Case Competition 
    Computer Science and Engineering
    Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering
    Association of Energy Engineers
    Synergy Laboratory

  • From Bitcoin to Botcoin and Back

    Two CSE researchers from the department’s Systems and Networking group are quoted in a March 16 article from the Thomson Reuters news agency. Posted from Singapore, the piece explores “why the underworld loves bitcoin” and may have made off with up to half a billion dollars’ worth of the cryptocurrency since its creation in 2009. Bitcoins are created through a ‘mining’ process using a computer’s resources to perform millions of calculations. For a while, CSE research scientist Kirill Levchenko (at left) is quoted as saying, “criminals added malware to their botnets to turn infected computers into bitcoin miners. This triggered predictions of doom for bitcoin – that the criminals would take over the mining of bitcoin through botnets and bring the whole currency crashing down.” However, said Levchenko, it became harder to mine (because an algorithm slows down their production the more people try to create them), so going the botnet route has proven less profitable.

    In the same article, CSE third-year Ph.D. student Danny Huang (at right)  is quoted as saying that “few botnets are mining bitcoins now,” adding that they have turned to stealing bitcoins from digital wallets and, more lucratively, from exchanges. The Thomson Reuters article mentions that this may be a major factor behind the closing of nearly half of the known bitcoin exchanges, most notably Mt. Gox. Huang and Levchenko are two of the co-authors behind a February paper on “Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles,” presented at the Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium in San Diego.

    Read the full Thomson Reuters article. 
    “Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles” 
    Visit Systems and Networking group of CSE. 

  • NSF Highlights CSE-Led Project’s ‘Far-Reaching Consequences’

    In its budget request for fiscal year 2015 presented to Congress on March 10, the National Science Foundation (NSF) notes that its funding is particularly critical to basic academic research in computer science – a field in which NSF accounts for 87 percent of total federal support (whereas NSF accounts for only 40 percent of federal support for engineering). Indeed, computer scientists rely more on the NSF than any other group of scientists or engineers doing basic research. Against that background, NSF’s budget request for FY15 calls attention to just three ongoing projects funded by the agency as “Research and Education Highlights,” including the Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) led by CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell (at left), who is currently on sabbatical at a research university in Dijon, France. TDLC’s “interdisciplinary team of scientists and educators includes more than 40 individuals at 17 partner research institutions in three countries and several San Diego schools,” according to NSF. “The center’s projects are diverse and cutting-edge.” The center explores how humans learn and how the element of time is critical for learning. For its part, NSF says that TDLC is tackling questions whose answers “could have far-reaching consequences.”

    Learn more about TDLC. 
    Read the summary brochure of the FY2015 Budget Request.
    View the full NSF FY 2015 Budget Request to Congress.  

  • Computer Engineering Now #11 in Latest U.S. News Rankings

    The 2015 U.S. News rankings of graduate engineering programs in the U.S. are out, including some of the ‘specialty’ rankings of how well the schools are doing in specific fields. While the overall trend for the Jacobs School of Engineering and computer science at UC San Diego was flat, one specialty area clearly bucked that trend. In the past three years, computer engineering in the Jacobs School rose from #17 in the 2013 rankings to #12 last year and to #11 in the just-published 2015 rankings. “Computer engineering is one of our areas that has seen the most growth, with faculty hires including Michael Taylor, Steve Swanson, Ryan Kastner and Tajana Rosing,” said CSE chair and (and fellow computer engineering professor) Rajesh Gupta. “We created a very hands-on learning program, launched the Embedded Systems Lab in 2010 that supports many Computer Engineering courses, and rolled out the MAS course in Wireless Embedded Systems. This highlights the success of our strategy to increase experiential learning.” (Pictured: Prof. Rosing at right, with former CSE computer-engineering grad student ZhongYi Jin (Ph.D. '10), now a Principal Researcher at Nokia in Berkeley, CA.)

    Overall, the assessment score for computer science at UC San Diego was essentially unchanged: its 4.0 average is the same as last year’s. However, the program dipped from #14 to #15, where CSE is now tied with its counterparts at Columbia University and the University of Maryland, College Park (with identical overall scores). U.S. News also did specialty rankings for “Computer Science: Theory” and “Computer Science: Systems” for the first time since the 2011 rankings. For Theory, CSE ranked #14, one notch better than four years ago. In the same period, the Systems group was unchanged at #11.

    It was plus ça change for the Jacobs School as a whole. In the 2015 U.S. News ranking, the school is again ranked #14. It shares that place with the graduate engineering program at Columbia University (coming in ahead of UCLA by a whisker).

    Prof. Stefan Savage believes the key to improving CSE’s position in the rankings probably depends on the peer assessment scores. “I think that getting our perception score up to the 4.2 level would put us in the top 10, or in striking distance of it,” said Savage. “This is going to require both growth and having several groups that are out there grabbing the broad attention of the computer-science community.”

    CSE faculty leaders note a substantial lag in surveying, especially for the specialty areas. “Programming Languages is one of the most successful groups in our department of late in terms of student placement and faculty visibility, yet it did not rank in the top ten in that category,” noted Prof. Alex Snoeren. “U.S. News also published the top programs for Artificial Intelligence, which has grown in CSE, but it didn’t make the cut. Our recent strides in these areas are not yet reflected in U.S. News.”

    For his part, Savage also points to other indicators of how well CSE’s graduate program is doing. “We are now routinely placing our Ph.D. students in choice academic jobs,” he said. “That’s particularly true in Security and Programming Languages.” Among the universities hiring recent CSE students for faculty positions fresh from receiving their Ph.D.’s:  the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Wisconsin, Columbia and Cornell University. “Driven by the success of our Inspiring Imaginations Initiative in the past years, we are only getting started. The changes we are implementing now are designed to improve learning outcomes and expanded research initiatives. These are bound to reflect in these and other rankings in future,” according to Chair Gupta.

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