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  • Theory of Computation Expert to Give Inaugural Talk in New Lecture Series

    On Friday, Jan. 30 at 11am, CSE Profs. Mohan Paturi and Russell Impagliazzo will host computer scientist and mathematician Avi Wigderson, one of the most prolific and influential researchers in the theory of computation. Wigderson was invited to speak in the department's colloquium and Distinguished Lecture Series. His topic: "Randomness". The talk is aimed at a general scientific audience. Wigderson is a professor in the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study, best known as the longtime intellectual home of Albert Einstein in the U.S. (from 1933 until his death in 1955), located in Princeton, NJ.

    According to the abstract, "Is the universe inherently deterministic or probabilistic? Perhaps more importantly - can we tell the difference between the two? Humanity has pondered the meaning and utility of randomness for millennia.  There is a remarkable variety of ways in which we utilize perfect coin tosses to our advantage: in statistics, cryptography, game theory, algorithms, gambling... Indeed, randomness seems indispensable! Which of these applications survive if the universe had no randomness in it at all? Which of them survive if only poor quality randomness is available, e.g. that arises from "unpredictable" phenomena like the weather or the stock market?" 

    Wigderson goes on to note that a "computational theory of randomness, developed in the past three decades, reveals (perhaps counter-intuitively) that very little is lost in such deterministic or weakly random worlds. In the talk I'll explain the main ideas and results of this theory." 

    Wigderson has made fundamental contributions to circuit complexity, parallel algorithms,cryptography (in particular, to zero-knowledge proofs and private multi-party computation), the role of randomness in computation, proof complexity, and connections between complexity and combinatorics. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science at Princeton University in 1983, studying with Prof. Richard Lipton.  He was a professor at Hebrew University from 1986 to 2003, and has been on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study since 2003. Among many other honors, Wigderson is the recipient of the Nevanlinna Prize (1994), awarded every four years for outstanding contributions in mathematical aspects of information sciences; and the Gödel Prize (2009), jointly with Omer Reingold and Salil Vadhan, for their work on the zig-zag graph product. In 2013 Wigderson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. 

  • Déjà Vu: CSE's Vianu Passes the Test of Time... Again

    For the second time in five years, CSE Prof. Victor Vianu is the recipient of the ACM PODS Alberto O. Mendelzon Test-of-Time Award. The annual award goes to the author or co-authors of a paper published in the proceedings of the Principles of Database Systems (PODS) ten years earlier. The award goes to the paper that had "the most impact in terms of research, methodology, or transfer to practice over the intervening decade." After winning the Test-of-Time Award in 2010, Vianu will be honored at the 2015 SIGMOD PODS conference in Australia this May, when he accepts his second Test-of-Time Award.

    The 2015 award will cite Vianu's influential 2005 paper, titled "Views and Queries: Determinacy and Rewriting." The paper explores a scenario that is not uncommon in query processing, security and privacy, data integration and query pricing. "The paper considers a seemingly simple question," explains Vianu, who will share the award with co-author Luc Segoufin from INRIA. "Suppose you know the answer to a query Q on a database and you wish to answer another query R. Does Q provide enough information to answer R? If so, how can the answer to R be obtained from Q?" According to Vianu, the problem turned out to be unexpectedly challenging even for the simplest queries used in relational database systems, and some of the basic questions raised in 2005 remain open today.

    [Editor's Note: Vianu is not the first CSE professor to receive two test-of-time awards from the same conference. For two years in a row, the International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) gave its Influential Paper Award in 2010 and 2011 to simultaneous multithreading-related papers by Dean Tullsen and colleagues 15 years earlier. The papers originally appeared in ISCA proceedings for 1995 and 1996.] 

    There is little doubt that Vianu's paper from ten years ago had an out-sized impact in the research arena. "This first paper spawned a whole line of follow-up research on this and related problems," says Vianu, noting that this year's Best Student Paper awardee at the 18th International Conference on Database Theory (ICDT) contributed to the same line of research (and cited Vianu's 10-year-old paper). "I think our paper received the award because the questions it raised were novel and widely relevant, and some of the answers it provided challenged conventional wisdom by going against widely accepted 'folklore' assumptions."

    (The Best Student Paper Award at ICDT 2015 will be awarded this March to "Asymptotic Determinacy of Path Queries using Union-of-Paths Views," by Nadime Francis, a graduate student at France's École Normale Supérieure de Cachan. Francis is also a collaborator with Vianu's co-author, Luc Segoufin, from the PODS paper.)

    In 2010 Vianu and his co-authors Dan Suciu and Tova Milo won the Mendelzon Test-of-Time Award for their work a decade earlier on type-checking for XML transformation languages. Vianu's paper studied the problem of checking whether or not an XML transformation is well-typed -- which would be essential for manipulating XML documents. The paper proved that typechecking for k-pebble transducers is decidable and, consequently, it could be performed for a broad range of XML transformation languages.

    Victor Vianu received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Southern California in 1983 and joined UC San Diego in 1984. Aside from UCSD, he has taught at the Ecole Normale Superieure and Ecole Nationale Superieure des Telecommunications in Paris, as well as the Sorbonne. He has spent numerous sabbaticals as an invited professor at INRIA, where he now holds an International Chair. Vianu's interests include database theory, computational logic, and Web data. His most recent research focuses on specification and verification of data‐driven Web services and workflows. Vianu's publications include over 100 research articles and a graduate textbook on database theory.

  • CSE Society Stages CSE Day 2015

    The Computer Science and Engineering Society (CSES) and its members turned out in force on Thursday, Jan. 22, for the 2015 version of the society's annual CSE Day event. Organizers estimate that roughly 250 students consistently attend at least one of the day's events (depending on their class schedules). Talks, activities and panel discussions throughout the day aimed to "inform students about the paths available to them in the computer science field by having them interact with students, alumni and faculty in the CSE Department, and members from industry." Sponsors of the event included Qualcomm, Microsoft, Google, ViaSat, and Visa (which also supplied one of its forensic investigators, John Camacho, to deliver a Tech Talk on enterprise-wide, risk-based security).

    Computer security was also on display when Prof. Stefan Savage (pictured at right) delivered a talk on "Buying Drugs for Science: Addressing the Economics of Cybercrime." Savage focused on the social and economic forces driving today's Internet attacks and deconstructing the underlying value chain for attackers. He sketched a picture of "economically-motivated, advertising-based e-crime." Savage and his collaborators spent roughly a year getting permission to use research funds to purchase $50,000 worth of counterfeit drugs and other merchandise sold through a patchwork of entities that make up the cyber-criminal ecosystem. The study, which included 600 orders of illicit drugs, turned up amazing evidence of the role that one type of pharmaceutical plays in the ecosystem: "Erectile dysfunction counterfeit drugs account for 75 percent of e-crime demand," said Savage, "and 80 percent of revenues." Tellingly, he added, between 20 and 40 percent of all sales of Viagra are ordered from consumers' spam folders, i.e., those consumers had to go into their spam folder to click on an offer of Viagra (usually at 20 percent of the regular price in the U.S.). The professor, who also directs the Center for Networked Systems, showed CSE students an example of ingenuity in packaging: the researchers received a shipment from Bangladesh that was supposed to have been for counterfeit RU-486 abortion pills. Instead they received an ornate woven textile that looked like a miniature carpet. With a little effort, they split apart the textile at the seams, only to find the pills stitched into the fabric.

    Other activities during the day included Startup 101, a panel on the growing phenomenon of computer science and engineering-based startup companies. Speakers included Moxie Center executive director Jay Kunin, who mentors students in the 40 companies already admitted to the Moxie Incubator, as well as two student entrepreneurs: Chesong (Daniel) Lee, co-founder of the earphone company called Hush, which raised nearly $600,000 on Kickstarter versus the $100,000 they were seeking; and Joseph Le, a second-year computer science student whose company StudentHero connects high school students to summer internships.

    Another popular session was the Alumni Panel, which gaves current students an oppportunity to ask the alumni for tips on interviewing, presenting, seeking internships, and so on. Speakers included: Patrick Johnson (BS '07), now a software engineer at Google; Qualcomm staff engineer and CSE lecturer Garo Bournoutian (BS '05, PhD '14); McKenzie Velia (BS '13), who parlayed a summer internship to a year-long internship and most recently, a full-time job working on network security, all at ViaSat; and CSE Alumni Board member Justin Allen (BS '10), who recently joined WebAction, a Palo Alto-based company in the real-time data streaming space.

    Among their recommendations in response to student questions:
    - Go to career fairs.
    - Get involved in student organizations (and student government, as Garo Bournoutian did as president of the Graduate Student Association).
    - Make yourself known to faculty members; they are often asked to recommend a student for hire.
    - Participate in the Jacobs School's Team Internship Program (like McKenzie Velia did at ViaSat).
    - Attend any event where you can get feedback and critique of your resume.
    - Consider studying a year abroad, preferably as a sophomore. (Justin Allen spent his year abroad in Scotland, and it was invaluable.)
    - Become a CSE Tutor: it's rewarding and looks great on your resume.

  • 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 PayScale.com 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, PayScale.com 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.

    PayScale.com 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).

  • Jan. 15 Midnight Deadline for I-Corps Applications

    The von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center is entering the second year of its I-Corps program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This winter 15 teams interested in starting their own company will have the opportunity to explore the commercialization potential of their ideas and receive up to $50,000 in funding for prototype development. In the process, they will also gain valuable mentoring support by seasoned entrepreneurs. 

    Thursday, January 15 at midnight is the hard deadline for students applying to the I-Corps program. According to Jay Gilberg, who runs the program, there are several openings for the upcoming I-Corps entrepreneurism course that will involve six evening sessions (6-8pm) starting January 29 through March 12 . He encourages applications from students who have a "technology worthy of commercializing" and want to explore the market potential of their business ideas. But the brief online application must be submitted no later than midnight on January 15. Those accepted into the program may qualify for $1,000 in proof-of-concept funding, and can go on to compete for another $2,000 in funding through UCSD competitions. The most promising teams, however, may eventually be referred to other funding opportunities, including the NSF's own I-Corps fund that awards $50,000 grants. Gilberg notes that concepts for commercialization are the focus of the I-Corps program, whereas pure software ideas, especially apps, are more appropriately targeted for programs run by the Moxie Center (see below).

    Fill out the online application for the I-Corps program.
    Learn more about the NSF I-Corps program at UC San Diego.

  • 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."

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.



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