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CSE News

  • Moxie Center Stages Open House and Pitchfest

    CSE students with an idea for a new app or business venture may want to attend the Moxie Center for Student Entrepreneurship's Open House this Thursday, Jan. 15. The center is also inviting CSE and other UC San Diego students to participate in a PitchFest during the Open House, delivering a maximum 60-second pitch for a business idea. The Open House starts at 11:30am in room B210 in the basement of the CSE Building. The Pitchfest begins at 12 noon.

    The event will give students an opportunity to meet fellow entrepreneurs (or entrepreneurs-to-be), including representatives from many of the 40 startups now part of the Moxie Incubator. (All teams in the incubator are allowed to compete for the annual Zahn Prize, which awards up to $20,000 to winning startups.) No applications or sign-ups are required for the Thursday event, but attendees are invited to deliver a one-minute pitch with the idea for a startup. According to the Moxie Center, "a business pitch is not about technology, but the value it would bring to customers." Attendees are also allowed to sit back and watch the pitches, then vote for the audience favorite (who is awarded a $50 prize). The judges' selection will walk away with $100. The event is open to students, staff, faculty and community members, but the Pitchfest competition is limited to UC San Diego students only.

  • UC San Diego, CSE Alumni See Value of their Education in Mid-Career

    According to a new survey of salaries earned by college graduates early in their careers and in mid-career, computer engineering and computer science are among the top-10 highest paying degrees for both undergraduate and graduate degree holders. But there is a big gap in earnings that clearly shows the value-added of a graduate degree. Nationwide, the average mid-career salary (roughly 15 years after graduation) for someone with a terminal bachelor's degree in computer science is $103,600 (but for UC San Diego computer science alumni it is $115,500). Meanwhile the average alum with a Ph.D. degree in computer science earns roughly 37 percent more, pulling down an average salary of $140,600 by mid-career. 

    The 2014-2015 College Salary Report from also lists UC San Diego as the 11th best public university in the U.S.for the average mid-career salary of alumni (the campus statistics are for all majors, not just computer science). The UCSD average is $102,100 per year. The same report also names UC San Diego the 15th best public university for its return on investment for alumni who are California residents (i.e., people who paid the lower in-state tuition when they were in school). Calculating the net gain in income over 20 years by a UC San Diego graduate versus a high school graduate, estimates the extra earnings to be nearly $550,000. The return on investment -- what students pay to attend versus what they get back in lifetime earnings -- is just over 9 percent. tabulated the earnings data based on information supplied by alumni who completed the company's salary questionnaire. Based on responses from recent graduates, the average starting salary of a UC San Diego alum with a bachelor's degree is $50,600, but for those with a computer science degree, it's closer to $70,000 within two years (their so-called early-career pay level).

  • Alumna Receives Best-Paper Award in Vision and Learning

    Catherine Wah is a recent CSE alumna (Ph.D. '14) and now a software engineer at Google. She was front and center at the recent Winter Conference on the Applications of Computer Vision (WACV). The 2015 conference took place January 5-9 in Hawaii, where Wah presented a paper on "Learning Localized Perceptual Similarity Metrics for Interactive Categorization" in the session on Vision and Learning. The paper was jointly co-authored with University of Massachusetts-Amherst assistant professor Subhransu Maji and Wah's former doctoral advisor, then-CSE Prof. and current Cornell NYC Tech Prof. Serge Belongie. Wah's research interests are in computer vision, machine learning, and human computation.

    According to the abstract for Wah's prize-winning paper, "current similarity-based approaches to interactive finegrained categorization rely on learning metrics from holistic perceptual measurements of similarity between objects or images. However, making a single judgment of similarity at the object level can be a difficult or overwhelming task for the human user to perform. Secondly, a single general metric of similarity may not be able to adequately capture the minute differences that discriminate fine-grained categories. In this work, we propose a novel approach to interactive categorization that leverages multiple perceptual similarity metrics learned from localized and roughly aligned regions across images, reporting state-of-the-art results and outperforming metheods that use a single nonlocalized similarity metric." Wah and her co-authors used examples of bird images compiled by the Caltech-UCSD Visipedia project, including a dataset that Wah herself helped create in hopes of determing a method for computers to recognize different species of bird exclusively through computer vision, or including an element of human crowdsourcing, which could eventually be extrapolated to more robust computer vision systems.

    Read the paper "Learning Localized Perceptual Similarity Metrics for Interactive Categorization."

  • Info Session Opens Door to Possible Research Internship in Japan Next Summer

    Recent CSE graduate Allen Nguyen (pictured at left) spent last summer, and fellow CSE alumnus Jesus Rios the previous summer, in Japan working on the interactive visitor app now deployed in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park. Want to follow in their footsteps?

    CSE undergraduates are invited to attend an information session that could lead to doing research in Japan this summer as part of the NSF-funded Pacific Rim Experiences for Undergraduates (PRIME) program.  PRIME will host the info session  on Wednesday, January 28 at 6:15 p.m. in the International Center (IC) Dining Room.  The session follows the 2014 PRIME Poster Session, which will take place from 5-6 p.m. in the IC Lounge. PRIME students from last summer's session will present their research findings.  Instead of inviting applications to work at research institutions in multiple countries in the Pacific Rim region, in 2015 PRIME is only accepting applications for students hoping to perform cyberinfrastructure-related research at PRIME's Japan sites, including Osaka University and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology.

    In previous years, many PRIME students also successfully applied for UC San Diego Undergraduate Research Scholarships. In 2015, all PRIME applicants must apply for and receive a UCSD scholarship to help support their PRIME internship. Their success in being awarded scholarships helps PRIME by allowing the program to include more students in the PRIME experience. Scholarships also provide the students with important recognition by the campus, and additional funds to enhance their research experience while abroad. The application cycle for Summer 2015 Undergraduate Research Scholarships has already opened, with a final deadline of  February 9, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. to submit applications. The deadline for PRIME applications will be announced at the Jan. 28 info session.

  • CSE Faculty-Affiliate Rob Knight Joins Department’s Bioinformatics Team

    A leading expert on microbiomes and bioinformatics, Rob Knight will be devoting some of his time to doing collaborative research in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department at the University of California, San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. The department confirmed Knight’s joint appointment in CSE as a Faculty Affiliate, following the Jan. 5 announcement from the UC San Diego School of Medicine that Knight has joined that school’s faculty as a professor in the Department of Pediatrics. The CSE appointment was effective Jan. 1, 2015. [Photo at right courtesy Casey Cass, University of Colorado]

    In making that announcement, Dr. David Brenner, Vice Chancellor, UC San Diego Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine, cited Knight’s “pioneering work at the University of Colorado at Boulder [which] helped reveal the astonishing diversity of microbes living in and on us.”

    Knight is widely renowned for his early and innovative investigations of the symbiotic relationships between microbial life and humans. He has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist, a TED speaker and co-founder of the American Gut Project, an ambitious effort to sequence the microbial population of the human gut using crowd-sourced samples and data.

    In Pediatrics, Knight and his lab will continue to investigate how the human microbiome develops and how microbial variation impacts an individual’s health and susceptibility to disease. To do so, Knight aims to sequence the mass of genes from microbial communities and develop new computational tools to count and compare species. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Earth Microbiome Project.

    “Rob Knight is a welcome addition to our faculty as CSE builds upon its existing strengths in bioinformatics, computational and systems biology,” said CSE chair Rajesh Gupta.  “Going forward, we see professor Knight working in close collaboration with faculty advancing the presence of bioinformatics at UC San Diego, including professors Pavel Pevzner, Vineet Bafna, Nuno Bandeira, and Larry Smarr.”

    “Working with excellent CSE faculty was a major draw in deciding to choose UC San Diego over other institutions,” said Knight. “Pavel Pevzner’s book on ‘Computational Molecular Biology’ was a huge influence on me in graduate school, and we plan to adapt our tools to interface with Nuno Bandeira’s computational tools.”

    CSE’s Smarr, who also directs the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), notes that Knight is bringing with him a group of more than two-dozen students and researchers. Given that his own work in quantitative health has moved increasingly into the study of microbiomes, Smarr says that he plans to unify his microbiome work with Knight’s much large microbiome team.

    “Calit2's Qualcomm Institute looks forward to collaborating closely with Rob Knight's group,” said Smarr. “The cyberinfrastructure for Big Data that Calit2, CSE and the San Diego Supercomputer Center have been pioneering will find a strong application driver in Rob's frontier microbiome research.”

    “UC San Diego’s new microbiome initiative provides a unique combination of tools to read out the microbiome and analyze the resulting data, including DNA-based analysis and metabolomics, germ-free mouse facilities, high-throughput culturing, oligosaccharide profiling, immunological profiling and high-performance computing,” said Knight. “So the prospects for advancing the field as a whole, and for making truly significant progress on connecting the microbiome to human and planetary health at UC San Diego, are immense.”

    Knight has previously used these technologies in distributed collaborations, especially those examining the role of the microbiome in obesity, malnutrition and inflammatory bowel disease. Now, having all such facilities located in one place, together with the ability to collaborate closely with local companies such as Illumina and MO BIO Laboratories, and to work with algorithm, database and systems experts in CSE, will dramatically accelerate microbiome research.

  • Professor's Star Turn in 'Grad Student' Music Video

    Professor Geoffrey Voelker has amassed all of the various visual assets from the CSE holiday party and year in review, to make them available in one place on the Internet .

    "I put together a page that collects all of the pictures, the video of the live skit performances, and all of the individual videos from the various skits," he alerted CSE colleagues this week. Those assets included the final version of what was going to be the pièce de résistance of the party – this year's music video "starring" professor Ranjit Jhala. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in Hollywood, the final cut was not completed in time for the December event. It took some additional work over the break, and it finally premiered on YouTube January 5 to rave reviews from CSE students, staff and faculty.

    Click here to watch the "Grad School" video, starring Jhala (at right), directed by CSE research scientist Kirill Levchenko from the Systems and Networking group, and edited by Karl Koscher (a collaborator at the University of Washington).

    Set to the Taylor Swift mega-hit "Blank Space" from the album 1989, the song's lyrics have been customized for Jhala's CSE audience. He warns incoming grad students "it's gonna be for six years, or it's gonna go down in flames, you can tell me when it's over, if the degree was worth the pain, got a long list of ex-students, they're gonna tell you I'm insane, because you know I'll overwork you, and you.. have.. no... life."

    Wistful humor was in evidence in the faculty skit, which featured two students and their advisors, Sorin Lerner and the aforementioned Geoff Voelker. The video urged students this holiday season to "give your advisor the gift they've always been waiting for. GIve them your commitment. Give them your devotion. Give them your... dissertation."  The final punch line: "Graduation is forever. Don't let it take forever." Click here to watch the faculty skit video.

  • Recent Alumni Launch Crowdfunding Campaign for Rubik's Cube-Solving Robot

    Their robot won’t break the world record speed for solving Rubik’s Cube, but William Mutterspaugh and Daryl Stimm (at right) have an even more ambitious goal: using it to get thousands of girls and boys interested in science and technology.

    The two recent graduates from the University of California, San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering are already building Ruku Robot, a kit that students in middle school or high school can assemble to get hands-on experience with the fundamentals of robotics, computer science and engineering. [Click here to watch Ruku in action.]

    “We built it to be the perfect robotics kit for any STEM classroom,” says Stimm, referring to school programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “It’s a fun, interactive teaching tool for every school’s STEM workshop or after-school STEM program. Our robot is a great way for kids to involved.”

    Most school robotics clubs tend to focus on so-called battle bots or race cars, both of which tend to attract primarily boys. “When we did a demo in a middle school, more girls came up afterwards to ask questions,” recalls Mutterspaugh. “That’s when we realized that Ruku could fill a gap because it is equally attractive to female and male students – give both girls and boys a fulfilling STEM experience.”

    Hoping to get the Ruku Robot kits into homes and schools as soon as possible, the two alumni launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform last week, and on Dec. 19, their campaign got a seal of approval in the form of a Kickstarter Staff Pick. So far, backers have contributed nearly $4,000 to the $50,000 goal, with 26 days to go in the campaign. 

    The team hopes to use any crowdfunding proceeds to convert from building the kits piecemeal using 3D printing to converting to injection mold-based manufacturing to reduce the cost per kit so after-school programs can more easily afford to buy them.

    “We started the Kickstarter to hopefully get a bulk order and drive costs down,” added Stimm. “We’re not looking at making money; we’re looking at increasing the number of schools that can have access to our kit, because we want to get these into as many schools as possible.”

    Stimm, whose day job is at GoPro, came up with the original concept. In senior year he enrolled in a project-based course on embedded systems, Computer Science and Engineering 145, taught by CSE professor Ryan Kastner. He teamed with electrical engineering major Mutterspaugh and computer engineering senior Jonas Kabingting, and they built the first Ruku in just eight weeks using the Prototyping Lab in the Qualcomm Institute.

    “We wanted a project that would use computer vision and robotics, which was my interest, and needed William’s knowledge in electrical engineering,” said Stimm, who finished his computer-science degree in June (B.S. ’14). “We also wanted to use a Raspberry Pi platform to serve as the brain of Ruku.” The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized, single-board computer.

  • CSE Celebrates 2014 with Party, Festive Skits by Staff, Students and Faculty

    The 2014 end-of-year department potluck holiday party (right) and CSE Holiday Skits took place Friday, December 12, and the mood was predictably festive. After the party in CSE, faculty, students and staff crowded into the Calit2 Auditorium to watch their colleagues poke fun of the department, Chez Bob (redubbed CHE Bob in honor of the late great Che Cafe), and above all, two recurring themes: the variation in temperatures throughout the CSE Building (primarily freezing), which necessitated establishment of a faculty Committee on Really Cold Conference Rooms; and the impoliteness of groups who continually interrupt previous groups because their conference room reservation time has expired.

    The staff portion of the event was the CSE Staff Pop Medley 2014. The nicely produced video featured staffers smiling, dancing (sort of) and singing off-key to hip-hop lyrics highlighting the difficulties everyone faces in getting their work done in the hurly-burly atmosphere of a dynamic academic department. Special kudos to Jennifer Folkestad who opened the video singing and playing her ukulele -- but her lips and strumming were out of sync, so it looked like a badly dubbed Bollywood film (without the dancing), but it set an irreverent tone that the rest of her staff colleagues echoed.

    The second set of skits were put on by CSE students -- some of them wearing faculty masks. "Alex Snoeren" and "Lawrence Saul" sat on a Ph.D. dissertation committee where the goal was to get five signatures on a piece of paper so the student could get his degree. It took a while, but after admitting that none of the panel members had listened to the candidate, they were finally impressed that he had a slide deck prepared. This, even though the Accomplishments slide included three bullet points, for which only the third bullet was filled in: "Think of three accomplishments".

    Finally, real faculty members took the floor for a CSE News Network evening news program with anchor Hovav Shacham, introduced by Stefan Savage. It started with a "Gupta Mea Culpa" by CSE Chair Rajesh Gupta, in which he confessed to excesses highlighted by the Graduate Student Association Report on Enhanced Education Techniques. The apologia was followed by a series of guests interacting with Shacham, including recent hire Julian McAuley, who showed up in a UCSD basketball jersey, literally flexing his (not quite convincing) muscles to demonstrate why the CSE department must forget about Big Data, and focus its research effort instead on... Humongous Data. Hovav Shacham also reported on a decision to create new television programming that can make computer science sexy for mainstream America, featuring shows with titles such as "Non-Volatile Storage Wars", "CSE Pawn Stars" and a primetime drama, "Class of Thrones".

    As usual, it was the flubs that got the biggest laughs, except for when they announced that the Jacobs School had decided to switch from three different versions of Single Sign-On, to implementing for CSE and other departments. Savage also got a big laugh when he announced that the department will implement an alternative to tele-presence videoconferencing. The new Tele-Absence technology will allow faculty to miss meetings with students -- and to do so remotely. Pictured on-screen: a video feed of an empty chair in the professor's office.

    At the end of the skits, professor Ranjit Jhala was scheduled to do a video spoof, but at the last minute the video was still being edited. The video will be posted here before the campus holiday closure. 

    Download photos by Keita Funakawa from Flickr.
    Watch a video of the live event.
    Or, click here to watch  the final version of the Holiday Gift video.

  • Combined Grad, Undergrad Courses Yield Solutions for Locked-In Syndrome

    Imagine only being able to communicate with your eyes. That's a fact of life for people with Locked-In Syndrome, and eight teams of CSE students spent the fall coming up with ubiquitous computing solutions that could enable better communication for patients with the neurological disease that allows patients to use only their eyes to communicate. 

    On Dec. 16, the "experiment in running a hybrid graduate and undergraduate class" bore fruit. According to CSE Research Scientist and Lecturer Nadir Weibel, the combined classes of CSE 118 (Ubiquitous Computing) and CSE 218 (Software Engineering) involved separate curricula, but the students teamed up for their final course projects. The resulting eight teams were typically made up of six or seven undergrads working with two or three M.S. or Ph.D. students. The graduate students were urged to take a leadership and management role in their team projects, and the projects involved design and implementation of a ubiquitous computing application based on one or more of the three devices selected for the course: Google Glass; Microsoft Kinect; and/or the EyeTribe eyetracking device (pictured at left). Each team was allocated one of each device, courtesy of the Moxie Foundation. 

    For the final projects, which were presented in CSE 1202 and recorded for on-demand viewing via YouTube, students were given a common challenge. "They were tasked with using a variety of technologies to design and implement solutions to improve the quality of life and enable better communication for people with Locked-In Syndrome," said Weibel. The teams opted for team names such as EyeTalk, Eyelluminati (pictured above), OcuHub, Mye Play and more. 

    A select group of students (grads and undergrads) will continue their research in the winter and spring quarters, combining ideas from the eight teams and interfacing with a Locked-In Syndrome patient (who was the inspiration of the project idea). "We will fly out to Connecticut where he lives and study his everyday life, collect data on his particular eye movements, and discuss with him and family members any possible applications of the prototype solutions," noted Weibel. "Then we will hopefully implement and test a system."

  • CSE Student Elected Chief of Staff in Graduate Student Association

    As if she needed more work to keep her busy, hard-working CSE Ph.D. student Natalie Larson has taken on new duties, after being elected Chief of Staff of UC San Diego's Graduate Student Association (GSA). "I will help facilitate communication between the GSA, department staff contacts, and the graduate student body," says Larson. "Many students don't know the ability the GSA has to influence campus-wide policies regarding, for example, health insurance, transportation, housing, and funding for student groups. I hope that I can help increase awareness of the work the GSA does, so that everyone who wants to can have a voice in these decisions and take advantage of GSA's resources."  Larson will also oversee the GSA's undergraduate student workers during her tenure as Chief of Staff through the end of the 2014-'15 school year. While she is the sole CSE person on the GSA executive board, Larson is one of four CSE student representatives in GSA (the others are Gautam Akiwate, Gina Tuazon and Kashyap Tumkur, with alternate Dorothy Yen).

    Larson (at right) is so busy that she recently had to turn down an invitation to speak at a European Union conference in Brussels  on Internet measurement and net neutrality. She just participated in the December 10-11 5th Workshop on Internet Economics, organized by UC San Diego's Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) and MIT, which took place in the Institute of the Americas. Participants included researchers, commercial Internet facilities and service providers, technologists, economists, theorists, policy-makers and others with a stake in emerging regulatory and policy debates, and how they can be informed by the hard empirical facts that Larson and others are studying to measure Internet activity.  For her part, Larson is working on an ongoing CAIDA-MIT project to map Internet connectivity and congestion (the primary focus of her Ph.D. work) with CAIDA director and CSE faculty-affiliate K.C. Claffy, and she is co-authoring a white paper on Internet policy for the European Parliament (jointly with a graduate student from the Oxford Internet Institute).

    Larson doesn't have to worry about how to pay for her education. Last year she received a prized Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Fellowship from the Department of Defense. To repay that support, she committed to work two summers and then three years in a DOD research facility. The Ph.D. student may take time out next spring for an extended stay at Grinnell College, her alma mater. "Grinnell has invited me back as an Alumni Scholar this spring," notes Larson. Indeed, she is currently featured on the home page of Grinnell's computer-science department -- even though her 2006 degree from Grinnell was in art, not computer science. Larson earned a second undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt, majoring in both mathematics and computer science, graduating in 2012, just before coming to CSE for grad school.

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