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CSE News

  • 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. 

  • Beginners Get Taste of Programming Competitions

    A total of 118 students turned out for the Winter 2014 programming competition for beginners, sponsored by Google and organized by the UC San Diego chapter of Women in Computing (men welcome too!). The contest was designed for undergraduates who are just getting started in programming. They worked in teams or on their own to answer a series of questions.

    View more photos of the beginner programmers on the Jacobs School blog. 

  • Sophomore Wins Prize to Support New App to Match Student Volunteers and Social Causes

    CSE sophomore Sneha Jayaprakash (at right) is passionate about two things: computer science, and social change. As part of the 2013 Microsoft YouthSpark Challenge for Change contest, she developed a winning proposal for a mobile app to engage students with volunteerism and social issues – and Jayaprakash walked away with a $2,500 prize to get the project going with six fellow computer science majors. The prize money is in addition to $10,000 awarded to the project by the Microsoft Imagine Fund in February, so the team is revving up to turn the idea into a successful startup. “I’ve always been passionate about global issues,” said Jayaprakash. “I wanted to show people that volunteer service is easy. You don’t have to go overseas or make a big commitment. There are simple things you can do every day to make a difference.”

    The winning idea is a mobile app called Bystanders to Upstanders (B2U). Jayaprakash’s app presents simple, service-related challenges for users to complete in order to earn rewards. The challenges are personalized to the interests and skills of the participant. In addition, users can compete with their friends and use their earned points to make real donations to a variety of nonprofits. “I thought, ‘this is something unique we can do with our computer science education,’” said Jayaprakash. “Most people don’t associate computer science with social activism.” Added Winnie Xu, also a computer science student, who worked on the B2U app. “To be able to take what I’m learning in class and apply it to something I’m passionate about is really gratifying.”

    Read the full news release. 
    Watch a YouTube video interview with Challenge for Change winner Sneha Jayaprakash.

  • Qualcomm Institute Invites CSE Proposals for Strategic Research Grants

    CSE faculty, research scientists and other researchers who are eligible to be a Principal Investigator (PI) on a federal funding award have nearly two months to submit one-year grant proposals under the Qualcomm Institute’s Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities (CSRO) program.  Two earlier CSRO rounds awarded over $1.5 million in cash and in-kind grants or graduate fellowships. In the 2012 round, three CSE professors were awardees: David Kriegman, Ryan Kastner and Yuanyuan (YY) Zhou (pictured at right).

    PIs must submit their 3-to-5 page proposals by April 30, for grants that will take effect on July 1. Each award typically provides a 50-50 combination of cash and other support in the form of Qualcomm Institute services, equipment, lab space and other resources. Any CSE PI may submit a CSRO proposal. If they are not already an academic participant in the institute, they must sign and date an online Investigator Agreement prior to submitting the proposal.

    The institute is expanding the range of research areas in which proposals will be welcomed. Two major areas for 2014 are robotics and brain science, in keeping with major initiatives already underway on campus and in the Qualcomm Institute. Projects should also be consistent with the research initiatives spelled out in the campus Strategic Plan (due to be finalized this summer). PIs will also be asked to indicate whether their proposals fit into one or more of the institute’s targeted enabling technologies (wireless, photonics, cyberinfrastructure and nano-MEMS) or application thrusts (culture, energy, environment and health).

    Read the CSRO Call for Proposals.
    Visit the Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities website. 
    Read the full Qualcomm Institute news release.
    Download and sign an Investigator Agreement.  

  • CSE Students, Faculty Eligible for Free Admission to Big Data at Work Symposium

    Two CSE faculty members will be among a handful of experts set to  explore the explosion of big data in the workplace at a symposium March 12. UC San Diego Extension and UCSD-TV are organizing the campus event to highlight the explosion of data in the workplace – and how students and staff can prepare for jobs in industry or academe.  The hour-long ‘Big Data at Work: A Conversation with the Experts” symposium will feature TED-style presentations about emerging trends in big data, including the latest developments in research, services and education. The event will take place in the Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall, and the speakers will include CSE professor and Calit2 director Larry Smarr, who will give the opening talk and focus on big data and health, and Prof. Stefan Savage (pictured at left), who will explore the world of cybersecurity and big data. Other speakers will include San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) director Mike Norman, industry speaker Michael Zeller of Zementis, Inc., and SDSC’s Natasha Balac, director of the Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence, who will moderate a panel discussion.  While organizers are charging an admission fee of $10 through March 10, or $20 at the door, CSE students, staff and faculty can get in for free. Organizers set aside 40 seats for those affiliated with CSE or the Qualcomm Institute, but RSVPs must be done in advance. CSE students, staff or faculty can respond by email to and indicate Big Data in the subject line.

    The Big Data at Work symposium is a reminder that CSE and SDSC are collaborating on a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) program in this area. If all goes well, the proposed MAS in Data Science and Engineering could kick off as early as this Fall quarter. The Big Data at Work event will be recorded for a broadcast on UCSD-TV later in 2014.

    Learn more about Big Data at Work: A Conversation with the Experts.

  • Supercomputing Conference Announces Student Cluster Competition

    Teams Sought for SC14 Student Cluster Competition in New Orleans; Deadline to Apply Friday, April 11

    CSE and other students interested in demonstrating their high-performance computing skills on a global stage are invited to form teams and sign up to compete in the eighth annual Student Cluster Competition at the SC14 supercomputing conference to be held Nov. 16-21, 2014, in New Orleans. The Student Cluster Competition is a high-energy event featuring young supercomputing talent from around the world competing to build and operate powerful cluster computers. Applications are now being accepted and the deadline for team submissions is Friday, April 11, 2014.

    Detailed information about the Student Cluster Competition can be found at Team proposals must be submitted via the SC14 submission site at Each accepted team must submit a final architecture proposal by Monday, September 29, 2014, and the proposal should contain detailed information about both the hardware being used and the software stack that will be used for the challenge. 

  • Using Stolen Computer Processing Cycles to Mine Bitcoin

    On Feb. 26 at the Network Distributed System Security conference in San Diego, a team of computer scientists from CSE as well as from George Mason University, UC Berkeley and the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) unveiled what they learned from examining more than 2,000 pieces of malware used by Bitcoin mining operations in 2012 and 2013. According to the paper on "Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles," the researchers were able to estimate how much money operators made off their operations and which countries were most affected. The six computer scientists from UC San Diego included first author Danny Huang (at right) and fellow Ph.D. student Sarah Meiklejohn, postdoctoral researcher Vacha Dave, research scientist Kirill Levchenko, and professors Alex Snoeren and Stefan Savage. They reported that the revenue of the ten mining operations they studied reached at least 4,500 Bitcoin over two years. This may not seem like much, but Bitcoin’s value increased from about $10 to about $1,000 during that period, with a peak of $1,100 in November 2013. As of late February 2014, one Bitcoin was worth approximately $618. “At the current stratospheric value of Bitcoin," said Huang, "miners with access to significant computational horsepower are literally printing money.” Greater profitability from Bitcoin mining could turn out to be great for malicious software developers, but bad for cybersecurity and society. "It could reinvigorate the malware industry," warned CSE's Snoeren. 

    Read the full news release.
    Download the paper "Botcoin: Monetizing Stolen Cycles."

  • Teaching Kids to Code

    While she has made it her calling to educate youngsters about computer science, CSE Ph.D. student Sarah Esper (at left) is taking a fresh and entrepreneurial approach to making that happen, and she has lofty ambitions. In an article that appeared Feb. 24 in the San Diego Union-Tribune ("Start early to program your next career"), Esper is quoted as saying that "we'd like San Diego to become the hub of really great computer science education." The CSE student -- who expects to receive her doctorate in Fall 2014 -- was featured for the work she is doing as an instructor for UC San Diego Extension's K-16 Programs, for which she teaches the basics of computer science to local high school, middle school and elementary students. 
    Apart from the work she does for Extension, Esper hopes to have her biggest impact through ThoughtSTEM, a company she co-founded with fellow Ph.D. students Stephen Foster and Lindsey Handley. The company does some training of computer science teachers, but its primary mandate is to enroll and teach computer science to children ages 8 to 18. ThoughtSTEM hires approximately 20 UC San Diego undergraduates each year to teach computer science courses to kids all around San Diego, or to help with developing curriculum and technologies to be used by students who enroll in ThoughtSTEM courses. "Not all of the teachers are CSE alumni," says Esper, "but we do hire a lot from CSE." Esper and Foster also jointly developed an educational software package, called CodeSpells (pictured), which takes an innovative, game-like approach to help young students learn how to write code. "We currently don't do anything with CodeSpells in ThoughtSTEM," says Esper, "but in the fall we hope to offer a ThoughtSTEM course using CodeSpells to teach Java." 
  • CSE Students Participate in IGERT Open Lab Night

    CSE students and alumni were among those participating Feb. 20 at the Open Lab Night staged by the Qualcomm Institute's Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) and the CISA3-based NSF five-year IGERT project on engineering and cultural heritage diagnostics. David Srour (right), who earned his B.S. in Computer Science in 2011, is now an IGERT Trainee in the multidisciplinary program that grooms the students to work in cultural heritage or other fields such as scientific visualization. Srour is currently juggling grad school with a programmer analyst position in the Qualcomm Institute's Visualization group, where he works on virtual-reality software R&D for large-scale display walls. 
    Another CSE full-time grad student is John Mangan (left), who demonstrated his work on using MediaCommons to display  cultural heritage in VR environments. Other IGERT Trainees (present and past) demonstrated their research at the Open Lab Night included CSE Ph.D. students Vid Petrovic, David Vanoni, and others, as well as students from other disciplines including structural engineering, anthropology/archaeology, materials science and engineering, and more. 
    On display were the latest remote exploration systems, robotics, and the WAVE visualization display (at right), which allowed students to showcase some of the content captured by the IGERT students who spent much of last Fall in Europe, primarily in Florence, with a side expedition to Calabria and delivering lectures in Greece and France. 
  • Online Course Developed in CSE Ranks #1 in International Ranking

    After all the work they put into the online course they inaugurated in the fall, CSE Prof. Pavel Pevzner and his fellow instructors, Phillip Compeau and Nikolay Vyahhi, have concrete evidence that it was a success beyond the impressive number of people who signed up for the course - over 30,000 in all. According to CourseTalk, which tracks user reviews and ratings for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on a worldwide basis, the UC San Diego-based course on Bioinformatics Algorithms (Part I) currently ranks #1 among all online courses with ratings. The rankings are based on the course's five-star ranking, and 13 superlative reviews that averaged 4.9 out of 5 points. The course just completed, and students may submit more reviews, so it's difficult to know how long the UC San Diego course will remain #1. The number-two ranked MOOC is an introduction to interactive programming in Python, which, unlike Bioinformatics Algorithms, has much broader appeal because it's a course for beginners. By contrast, students who took Prof. Pevzner's course had to already know how to program in at least one language. Indeed, students gave the UC San Diego course great reviews despite the fact that it was a difficult class, whereas positive student evaluations typically correlate to the ease and fewer hours spent studying. According to Pevzner, the reviewers were asked how many hours per week they worked on the course, and the mean answer was 12 hours and 45 minutes -- "way more than we expect from students taking regular UC San Diego classes!"
    The reviews on Coursera reflected the appreciation of students who were given access to a variety of new tools developed in connection with the course lecture videos. "Bioinformatics Algorithms includes multiple amazing resources to enhance your class experience," wrote one anonymous reviewer. Specifically, students were given access to Rosalind, a programming resource offering an introduction to Python as well as complex bioinformatics problems, as well as an online textbook. "This is one of the best courses that I've ever taken," said reviewer Eun Cheon Lim, a bioinformatics Ph.D. student at Max Planck Institute, who completed the course. Added another reviewer, Guillermo Garcia, who also completed the course: "Very well organized, very good material and CHALLENGING! I felt very satisfied when finishing the assignments." Looking to the future, Pevzner says the course will run again in Fall 2014, and it will be followed by Bioinformatics Algorithms (Part 2), which is currently under development.

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