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  • CSE Professor, Research Affiliate Accept HPCwire Awards for WIFIRE Project

    The WIFIRE project led by the University of California, San Diego has triumphed with three top 2014 HPCwire Awards. All the awards were announced on Nov. 17 at Supercomputing ’14 in New Orleans.

    With a multi-year $2.65 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the WIFIRE project is a partnership led by San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) researcher Ilkay Altintas, a CSE academic-instructor. Altintas and WIFIRE co-PI and CSE Prof. Larry Smarr received the three awards in New Orleans.  All three awards cited WIFIRE “for building a cyberinfrastructure to better monitor, predict and mitigate future wildfires.”

    “These awards are truly wonderful news for the entire WIFIRE team,” said Altintas, director of SDSC’s Workflows for Data Science Center of Excellence. “We all are very grateful to HPCwire’s editors and readers for recognizing this project and the impact that it can have not only here in California but anywhere where wildfires can be a threat to the local populace and environment.”

    In the category of Best Application of Big Data in High Performance Computing (HPC), the San Diego Supercomputer Center, UC San Diego and the University of Maryland tied for the #1 spot for Readers’ Choice with a PayPal deployment to improve customer shopping experiences.  In the separate category of Editors’ Choice for the best application of big data in HPC, the same project, WIFIRE, took top honors as selected by a panel of HPCwire editors.

    In the broader category of Best Data-Intensive System (End-User Focused), the WIFIRE project also came in #1 as the Editors’ Choice.  (The Readers’ Choice in this category went to NASA’s Earth Exchange platform, which supports dozens of data-intensive projects in Earth sciences.)

    According to CSE’s Smarr, WIFIRE is a logical progression in the fight against wildfires. “We are all based in southern California and wildfires represent one of the most intractable environmental threats we face on a regular basis,” said the Calit2 director. “The technology we deploy for WIFIRE will make a substantial difference in our ability to detect, track, and respond to wildfires going forward.”  

    In recent years, the number and scale of wildfires in the U.S. has risen, threatening cities and forests, and at times forcing large-scale evacuations. The NSF grant allowed WIFIRE participants to begin cataloguing and integrating large, data-intensive sets related to dynamic wildfire models from a variety of resources, including sensors, satellites, and scientific models, and creating visual programming interfaces for using that data in scalable wildfire models.

  • Building a Better Baby Monitor

    A team led by a CSE graduate student is joining the ranks of new startups accepted into the Moxie Center incubator. The Moxie Center announced three new startup teams this quarter, bringing its total number of startups to 36. The latest CSE-based startup is called Cocoon Cam, led by CSE grad student Pavan Kumar Pavagada Nagaraja, who also leads software development for the startup. Pavan expects to earn his M.S. in computer science next spring, and he met his current teammates through earlier hackathons: Sivakumar Nattamai (hardware and firmware engineer), Rubi Sanchez (product manager), and Alexander Leung (business development). CSE Research Scientist (Research Assistant Professor) and Lecturer Nadir Weibel is advising the team. [Pictured at right (l-r): Pavan, Siva and Rubi]

    Prior to enrolling in CSE in 2013, Pavan was a software engineer with NetApp, where he worked on storage systems monitoring software. He did his undergraduate work at M.S. Ramaiah Institute of Technology in Bangalore, India. His interests include data-center infrastructure, computer vision, machine learning and entrepreneurship.

    The big idea behind Cocoon Cam is to create a camera that uses computer vision and other capabilities to monitor the health and activity of a baby, but without requiring that the baby wear an activity tracker.  "Wearables are a thing of the past," notes the startup's website. "We're hard at work on the next-generation baby monitor." Using the latest advances in wireless hardware, computer vision, and video analytics technology, Cocoon Cam transmits and records live respiration rate, heart rate, temperature, sound and video, allowing parents to ensure that their baby is safe, day or night. The team built a proof-of-concept of the Cocoon Cam at MedHack 2014 in San Francisco, and the judges voted it the winner in the "most practical solution" category. So what's next? "Going forward, we are going to complete a functional prototype by the end of December and begin initial testing in January," says Pavan. "We plan to approach investors to raise funding to begin manufacturing our product at a larger scale. We also want to establish contracts with hospitals and negotiate software licensing deals with companies."

  • Ph.D. Student Explains Plans for Future of CodeSpells Game

    Now that the team of CSE Ph.D. student Stephen Foster and recent CSE alumna Sarah Esper have over $15,000 in the bank from a successful crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform, the video game industry media are starting to take an interest in the team's CodeSpells game. According to a Nov. 10 article in the e-magazine, Games+Learning, "CodeSpells is a 3D RPG [role playing game] that teaches coding by using magic spells to solve problems." The magazine spoke with Foster about his plans for taking the game to the next level.  "Minecraft is our model in terms of the way the game functions – not the art or mechanics per se – but it does some things that are really cool, in that it's all procedurally generated and the multiplayer is very grassroots," explained Foster. He went on to say that the next version of CodeSpells will allow more complex spells to explore in game play, as well as multiplayer options. It will also include a simpler coding language to make the games more accessible.

    According to Foster (at left), the magic in the early system was rudimentary, but the cash infusion through Kickstarter is allowing the team to build out the game. "You had the power to lift things up and catch things on fire, but now you can do a lot more," Foster is quoted as saying. "Our programmer is very interested in physical systems and simulating physics and there are lots of ways to apply forces to things to get objects to do interesting things."  The  CodeSpells team also decided to switch the programming language from Java, which was more difficult for beginners, to Blockly, a drag-and-drop programming language. As for the future, Foster tells Games+Learning that the team will continue to keep development costs down. Explains Foster: "One thing that won't be in the game is a storyline, for example, or characters that talk to you, at least not yet, because those require a high level of design effort." CodeSpells will be multiplayer, but it won't be a centralized multplayer game like World of Warcraft. Again, he and his co-developers hope to continue following the Minecraft model. The alpha version is expected to be released this December.

  • Global TIES That Bind

    Software engineer and CSE computer engineering alumna Debbie Lu (BS ’06) took a few minutes out of a busy day to talk about her time as a student at UC San Diego. The project that made the biggest impact during her time at UC San Diego was working on the team that created a digital health record system for St Paul’s Senior Homes & Services. The project, and the class that initially drew her into the project, were part of the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Team in Engineering Services (TIES). TIES, which has since gone international and is now known as Global TIES, marks its ten year anniversary this academic year. Lu worked on one of the early projects before graduating and taking a job at CareFusion, where she worked for eight years. Lu is currently a software engineer at Cogent Road in San Diego.

    Lu (at left) was part of a UC San Diego student team tasked with creating an electronic version of the 24-hour nurse’s log for St. Paul’s Senior Homes & Services. The goal of the log was to enable nurses to manage patient information via an easy-to-use computer interface. The existing log was a hand-written document shared among all the nurses and used to track changes in the condition of St. Paul’s assisted living facility residents. Read more about the project here.

    Computer science was hard. It was very discouraging sometimes. TIES let me see that I had skills that made me stand out; and TIES also built my confidence in my core software engineering and coding skills. Ten years later, I’m still a programmer. TIES helped me find my niche in the software programming world. While still in school, getting a taste of ‘Oh I can do this’…that really helped me a lot…it made a big difference. I think programs like Global TIES are a good way to confirm your career decisions. I can see them encouraging a lot of people to stay on track and not give up on engineering so quickly.

  • Computer Scientists Find Wireless Devices Used by Casual Pilots Vulnerable to Hacking

    A new class of apps and wireless devices used by private pilots during flights for everything from GPS information to data about nearby aircraft is vulnerable to a wide range of security attacks, which in some scenarios could lead to catastrophic outcomes, according to computer scientists at the UC San Diego and a CSE alumnus now teaching at Johns Hopkins University. They presented their findings Nov. 5 at the 21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Scottsdale, Ariz.

    Researchers examined three combinations of devices and apps most commonly used by private pilots: the Appareo Stratus 2 receiver with the ForeFlight app; the Garmin GDL 39 receiver with the Garmin Pilot app; and the SageTech Clarity CL01 with the WingX Pro7 app. The devices and apps allow casual pilots to access the same information available to the pilot of a private jet--at a fraction of the cost. All the instruments in a high-end cockpit can be valued at more than $20,000. By contrast, the systems the researchers examined are available for $1,000. All have to be paired with tablet computers, most often an iPad, to display information.

    The devices researchers examined receive information about the aircraft’s location, the weather, the location of nearby aircraft the and airspace restrictions, which they display on the tablet computers via an app. “When you attack these devices, you don’t have control over the aircraft, but you have control over the information the pilot sees,” said Kirill Levchenko, a computer scientist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, who led the study.

    In addition to Levchenko, co-authors on the paper are UC San Diego computer science Ph.D. students Devin Lundberg, Brown Farinholt, Edward Sullivan and Ryan Mast, UC San Diego computer science professors Stefan Savage and Alex C. Snoeren, as well as Johns Hopkins computer science professor and UCSD CSE alumnus Stephen Checkoway (Ph.D. '12). Lundberg is the first author on the paper.

    ForeFlight, which pairs with the Appareo Stratus 2, is one of the top 50 grossing apps in the entire Apple App Store—ahead of Apple’s own Pages app, among others.

    The team hoped that exposing the systems’ vulnerabilities would increase awareness among users and lead to demands for change. Researchers include several recommendations at the end of their study for safety improvements.

    The FAA has the authority to regulate these systems but chooses not to because they are not an integral part of the aircraft, the researchers said. In commercial aircraft the FAA only allows static information, such as maps, to be displayed on tablet computers, cautioning pilots to rely on instruments to fly.

  • Wireless Center at UC San Diego Organizes Forum on Future of 5G

    Wireless technologies have revolutionized almost every aspect of our lives: the way we work, interact, and socialize. Global adoption and emerging applications are fueling expectations and debate about so-called fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technologies, and the expectations, needs, and directions for 5G are not as clear as those for the previous digital generations (3G and 4G). The Center for Wireless Communications (CWC) at the University of California, San Diego is organizing and hosting the 5G Forum on Next-Generation Wireless Systems and Applications, bringing together key experts from industry, government and academia to present and discuss their vision and research roadmaps for 5G.

    The 5G Forum will take place over two days, Thursday, November 20 and Friday, November 21, in the Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall on the UC San Diego campus.

    “Over the next five to 10 years, the communication industry will conceive, design and implement 5G wireless systems,” said CWC incoming director Sujit Dey, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. “The fundamental overhaul of the communication technology and infrastructure will enable orders-of-magnitude increases in connectivity, capacity and speed.”

    [Pictured at left: Timeline for 5G research, development and rollout]

    “As early as 2020, 5G will play a powerful role in health care, education, energy and transportation,” said CWC’s outgoing director, Alon Orlitsky, who has joint appointments in the ECE and Computer Science and Engineering departments. “As an industry-supported research center, CWC has been at the focal point of innovation in the wireless sector almost from its beginning in the San Diego area. So we recognize the importance of bringing together the best minds from industry and academe to explore the technical barriers to overcome and new commercial opportunities that 5G will open up.”

    CWC itself has been around since 1995 – less than a decade after Qualcomm was incorporated by its co-founders, led by former UCSD professor Irwin Jacobs. While he no longer runs the company, Jacobs remains the unofficial patriarch of San Diego’s wireless industry, and on Nov. 20, he will give a talk after the dinner (which Irwin Jacobs will attend with his wife, Joan Jacobs).  

    Keynote speakers scheduled for the first session on Thursday will be ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg, and Phil Fleming, Chief Technology Officer for Nokia Networks in North America. Fleming will specifically spell out Nokia Networks’ 5G research strategy.

    Other sessions on the first day of the forum will include one on multimedia, the Internet of Things and cloud-driven innovations in 5G, followed by a session on 5G spectrum and radio technologies. Companies represented in the two sessions will include InterDigital, Brocade Communications, Samsung, Qualcomm and Keysight Technologies (which, as of November 3, is a spinoff of the electronic measurement equipment division of Agilent Technologies, which itself was a 1999 spinoff from Hewlett-Packard).  Speakers on Thursday will include CWC’s Sujit Dey, “The Silent Intelligence” author Daniel Obodovski, Samsung R&D America President Farooq Khan, as well as Rangam Subramanian, lead technology and spectrum policy strategist in the spectrum policy division of the National Telecommunications Information Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and others.

    [Pictured at right (l-r): Irwin Jacobs and keynoters Mark Dankberg, Phil Fleming, Rajesh Pankaj and Ken Stewart]

    Keynote speakers on Friday will include Qualcomm Senior VP of Engineering Rajesh Pankaj on the future of wireless, and Intel’s Chief Wireless Technologist Ken Stewart. Stewart is also an Intel Fellow, and he will talk about the “Wireless Device of 2020.” Other sessions will focus on: innovations from CWC faculty, including professors Peter Asbeck and Bhaskar Rao; 5G perspectives from mobile network operators, including Japan’s NTT DOCOMO and the China Mobile Research Institute;  and a panel of diverse 5G perspectives from representatives of Yahoo!, Google, Ericsson, and L-3 Communications.

  • A Freshman Journey

    CSE freshman Kaiser Pister (pictured) was featured in an article about a unique program at Miramonte High School. He recalls interning at TweedleTech, a computer game design company in the Bay Area, while he was still a senior in high school. In the Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE) program, now in its 12th year at Miramonte, Pister and other WISE members got to spend the second semester of their senior year off-campus "pursuing their passions," according to the article in the Lamorinda Weekly.  While some students chose to fulfill passions ranging from flying planes to flying on a trapeze, Pister wanted to learn about game design. Doing an internship made sense, allowing him to develop valuable business contacts that may come in handy after he graduates from college. But he also took time to learn about computer security by auditing a course on the subject at UC Berkeley. He enrolled at UC San Diego knowing that he wanted to major in computer science, but unsure whether security or game design would be his eventual profession. Or, for that matter, academe. After all, his father, Kris Pister, is a well-known professor at UC Berkeley, best known for coming up with the idea of "smart dust" -- packaging a mobile sensor platform inside a cubic millimeter. The older Pister also developed Dust Networks, which builds wireless sensor mesh networks, and where he spends his spare time as Chief Technologist. Pister père may also be a role model for his son at UCSD for another reason; he also did his undergraduate degree at UC San Diego (B.A. '86), though in applied physics rather than computer science. As the younger Pister surmises in his blog about his "WISE experience," he found that he had "developed so many more useful skills since the end of first semester [of senior year]... I understand computer security much better now... WISE really has been such an important part of my year." 

  • UC San Diego Computer Scientists Triumph at Data Processing Competition

    After a two-year hiatus, a team from the Center for Networked Systems (CNS) at the University of California, San Diego came roaring back to set three new world records in a data processing competition for industry and academe. CNS associate director George Porter (at right), former CNS director Amin Vahdat (now at Google), and Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Ph.D. student Michael Conley (immediately below, pictured at the Fall 2014 CNS Research Review) set a world record in the 100 Terabyte Daytona (think speed) GraySort category. They outperformed everyone else, sorting 100 TB in less than 23 minutes, but tied with the startup company Databricks (which sorted the same amount of data in 23.4 minutes). Both used the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

    “They used 10 percent more processors to achieve very close to the speed that we did,” said Porter. “But under the rules, it’s the speed must be substantially faster, so we tied for first place and we’re fine with that.”

    This week organizers of the Sort Benchmark competition also announced that the UCSD team clinched two other world records in the first-ever 100 TB CloudSort competition. Entries were required to do all of their data processing on publicly-available cloud services instead of on dedicated computer clusters. Porter and Conley were the unequivocal winners in the two new cloud categories.

    “The results underline our growing emphasis on creating experimental artifacts that advance the state of the art in practice based on research done at UCSD,” observed CSE chair Rajesh Gupta. 

    For Porter and Conley, the wins were particularly nostalgic because they and Vahdat were part of the original CNS team that clinched multiple back-to-back world records in the data-sorting challenge in 2010 and 2011, working with then-graduate student Alex Rasmussen (Ph.D. ‘13). Conley and Rasmussen developed what was, at the time, the world’s fastest sorting system, called TritonSort, which achieved record speeds by focusing on per-disk and per-node efficiency.

    Ironically, in the 2014 competition, China’s giant web services company Baidu was the winner in the 100 TB Indy GraySort category, but as Porter noted, “the plot thickens … they ran TritonSort!” Baidu scientists reimplemented the system developed in 2011 at UCSD, but they renamed it BaiduSort and ran it on a cluster of nearly 1,000 servers (compared to the 52 machines in the CNS cluster at the Qualcomm Institute that produced the 2011 record).

    CNS didn’t enter the competition in 2012 or 2013 because their dedicated computer cluster was no longer sufficient to win records. “We had maxed out our ability to continue setting records unless we were willing and able to spend millions of dollars to expand the cluster itself,” recalled Porter. “We were up against very well-heeled competitors, so throwing money at the problem was not going to work.”

    While Conley had been working on big-data processing since 2009, he and Porter revved up for this year’s competition starting last January. Their goal: to transition from data sorting using the CNS dedicated cluster (which yielded their earlier record speeds) to the new world of cloud-based data sorting.

    When organizers of the data-sorting competition announced the new cloud-based categories, the CNS team – and Conley in particular – focused on finding ways to be better than the competition. And not just against their rivals. “We wanted to prove that we could do as well with cloud resources as we had been able to do when we set a world record using the dedicated cluster,” said Conley. “In the end, our speed was nearly ten times faster, and we were able to almost double the efficiency from our 2011 record. In my opinion, that is our big victory – improving our efficiency compared to our own previous record.”

    Topping the previous record also reinforced the dramatic new cost paradigm in cloud computing. In the final competition, the UC San Diego team calculated that the winning entry used only $451 worth of Amazon EC2 computing time, in contrast to the dedicated, multi-million-dollar cluster the team used to set their 2011 records. (Pictured above right: Conley et al. at the Fall 2014 CNS Research Review)

    “What’s changed and what’s different is that you are starting to see a lot of companies, large and small, research organizations and the federal government are moving to cloud computing because there is no capital expense, you just have to pay for what you use, and that’s a very different set of assumptions than what we’re dealing with,” said Porter, adding that it’s different in two fundamental ways. “The first is that we don’t control it anymore. You’re on the highway with all of these people and some are good drivers and some are not-so-good drivers, and there are potholes and lots of other problems. The other challenge was more subtle: the actual functionality that the cloud providers give you is a function of the least common denominator functionality that their customers want. The cost of the cloud factors in lots of stuff, not just hardware, factors such as management, infrastructure, cost of electricity, and so on. So it’s really hard to figure out what components you need to make the most efficient system.”

  • CSE Alumnus Deals with Driving Storage Demand at Facebook

    A UCSD CSE alumnus is set to give the keynote address at the 14th annual Storage Visions Conference (SV 2015) in early January in Las Vegas. Jeff Qin (Ph.D. '03) is a senior storage engineer at Facebook, and his topic will be "Facebook's Storage Infrastructure: Past, Present and Future." According to an abstract of his talk, Qin will talk about why Facebook's most valuable asset is its user data, and how that data is "growing big and growing fast." In his talk, says Qin, "we will share our experience on how we have scaled our storage infrastructure to make our users' data available anytime and anywhere, while keeping the cost low." Qin will also lay out how Facebook can scale its storage capacity, while controlling costs even better with advanced technologies, notably with Blu-ray storage libraries.

    Jeff Qin has worked on all the major storage services at Facebook, including Haystack, Cold Storage, and most recently Hadoop. He is also a capacity and performance engineer responsible for all storage services. Before joining Facebook, Qin was an engineering director at Synopsys. "Facebook has been a pioneer in cost-effective, open-source storage technology and a strong advocate of the development of storage in the cloud to meet the needs of its social network," said SV 2015 organizer Tom Coughlin. "We are glad to have the company talk to us about how they developed this storage architecture and how they will build cost-effective storage systems to support the phenomenal growth of user-generated content." SV 2015 will be held in connection with the Consumer Electronics Show (the largest of its kind), also in Las Vegas.

  • CSE's Halicioglu Featured in Business Insider and

    Who were the first non-founders at today's top tech companies, like Apple, Google and Facebook? Business Insider magazine tracked some of them down, noting that "some made millions, others saw fortunes slip through their fingers, and some have joined or founded other startups." As published on the Nov. 1 issue of, UC San Diego alumnus Taner Halicioglu (B.S. '96) was Facebook's first "real" employee outside of the founders. "He juggled a bunch of operations roles," notes the magazine. Indeed, Halicioglu worked for Facebook from 2004 to late 2009. He had many roles to juggle but was a senior software and operations engineer when he left. The article goes on to say that "after Facebook, Halicioglu (at left, attending the Fall 2014 CNS Research Review) joined Blizzard Entertainment as a lead reliability engineer. Halicioglu is now a computer science and engineering lecturer at UC San Diego. He is also an angel investor and startup advisor." And, the magazine could have added, a major philanthropist. And CSE alumni board member.

    Read about Halicioglu's counterpart first employees at Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and more.

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