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CSE News

  • 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’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 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-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.

  • 'Teaching Data Science' at Research Expo 2014

    It’s that time of year… time for the Jacobs School of Engineering Research Expo. The Thursday, April 17 event will feature a roster of speakers – one from each of the six departments – and Computer Science and Engineering will be represented by Prof. Yoav Freund (at right), who is set to speak at 3:10pm in the Price Center Forum on the fourth floor. His topic: “Teaching Data Science.” The topic dovetails with “Big Data Analytics,” the CSE 291 course that Freund will teach in Spring 2014. 

    Research Expo is primarily a major showcase for graduate students, who will be presenting their research projects with over 200 research posters and a networking session where they can rub elbows with alumni and industry partners.  A searchable list of all CSE grad-student posters is already up at the Research Expo website, but only registered attendees can view the poster abstracts. 

    Visit the 2014 Research Expo website. 

  • Recent CSE Alumna Makes Waves – Without a Favorite Photo Filter – at Instagram

    CSE alumna Brina Lee (BS Communications ’08, MS Computer Science ’13) was the first full-time female engineer hired at Instagram, and while she still works there, she is now playing in a much bigger pond following Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. In the latest edition of the magazine ELLE, Lee is quoted as saying, “It’s great now that Instagram is a part of Facebook, so we can leverage all the women here!” After an undergraduate degree in communications, she worked in marketing, eventually at Yahoo! She taught herself HTML, and in 2010 began enrolling in classes through UC San Diego Extension. ”I decided to enroll in part-time classes to build a foundation in computer science by learning Java,” Lee wrote in the Huffington Post in October 2013. “I was surprised I was pretty good at it, but more importantly – I liked it.”

    CSE lecturer Rick Ord remembers Lee as a “pesky Extension student trying to get me to sign her Concurrent Enrollment through Extension add card for a CSE 11 that was full with a wait list.” Lee needed the course on her resume, because she had decided to apply to CSE for graduate school. She passed muster successfully completing the core CS undergrad coursework while volunteer tutoring several undergrad classes, and she was accepted into the Master's program. She eventually earned her Master’s degree in 2013, after TA’ing several undergrad classes and doing her main project with CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner. For her project, Lee built a “slouch detector” called Droop (pictured below), a wearable device to help identify bad posture.  “It was 100% Brina’s idea, and it spanned several CS topics, including embedded systems, human-computer interaction, and mobile computing,” says Kastner. “It also showed how computing can make an impact in everyday life.”

    While working on her MS degree, Lee did internships at Google and Facebook before getting her full-time engineering position at Instagram last April. She credits her degree and a Grace Hopper Scholarship Award for reinforcing her resume when applying for software engineering jobs. Lee regularly also attends the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and she speaks out about the fact that women make up only 13% of all computer science graduates – a fact that is more powerful because it comes from a software engineer who did not get an undergraduate degree in computer science because of one “boring” class on coding in high school.  Lee hopes more women will become engineers and computer scientists, and she expects it will become easier for women to get ahead in the tech world as more of them climb the corporate ladder. In her Q&A in ELLE magazine, Lee cited Jocelyn Golfein. “She’s one of the highest engineering directors here at Facebook, and because Sheryl’s at the top,” said Lee, “I think all the male engineers here do look at women differently and allow us to go up the ladder.”

    Meanwhile, CSE faculty point out that in addition to enrolling more high school students in computer science, the department must find more ways to make it possible for late converts to change their majors and get into necessary courses if they need to catch up – especially when the department is dealing with an impacted major. Brina Lee is one reason “why I am a strong advocate to keep spots open in our impacted major for those who do not come in as a declared CSE major and find religion (computer science) later on,” notes Ord. “They more often than not become some of our best majors.” “It's never too early or too late to switch majors or careers,” wrote Lee in the Huffington Post, “especially if it's what you're meant to do.”

    Oh, and if you’re wondering which Instagram filter for photos is the CSE alumna’s favorite, she says none. But she does have a favorite video filter, it’s called Vesper.

    Read the full Q&A in ELLE magazine.
    Read Brina Lee’s op-ed piece in the Huffington Post.

  • Ph.D. Student Teaches Extension Course on Minecraft

    The course began March 1 and is full, but here’s a heads-up for students who may be interested in future classes. It’s a course in UC San Diego Extension taught by CSE Ph.D. student Stephen Foster and built around the game Minecraft. The students are learning how to set up Minecraft servers and build Minecraft mods. In the process, they learn about client/server architecture, network security, operating systems and computer programming. The project-based course follows the broad outline of Foster’s talk in late January on “why we use Minecraft to teach computer science (and why you should too).” Foster is also the CEO of student startup ThoughtSTEM, and co-creator of CodeSpells, a game to teach programming in Java to students aged 8 to 18.

    Read the Jacobs School blog post. 
    Watch Stephen Foster’s Minecraft presentation on YouTube. 

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