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  • SoCal Theory Day 2014

    Be sure to mark Friday, October 17, 2014 on your calendar. Prof. Shachar Lovett is organizing SoCal Theory Day 2014. Reviving a tradition from long ago in CSE, SoCal Theory Day will host a series of external speakers in Theoretical Computer Science, as well as "ample time for mingling and networking." External speakers from Stanford, UCLA and Caltech will include: 

    • Amit Sahai, UCLA. Advances in Obfuscation.
    • Luca Trevisan, Stanford. Spectral graph algorithms for partitioning problems.
    • Chris Umans, Caltech. Approaches to bounding the exponent of matrix multiplication.
    • Ryan Williams, Stanford. Algorithms for circuits and circuits for algorithms: connecting the tractable and intractable

    The external speakers are pictured above right, l-r: Amit Sahai, Luca Trevisan, Chris Umans and Ryan Williams. Registration is required but free of charge (including free lunch for registered participants). 

    Click here to register for SoCal Theory Day.

  • Lovett Lecture on (Log Rank) Conjecture

    CSE Prof. Shachar Lovett was at MIT on Tuesday, Sept. 16, to give a talk on "New Advances on the Log Rank Conjecture." His colloquium was part of MIT's Theory of Computation lecture series. The log rank conjecture is one of the fundamental open problems in communication complexity. According to Lovett, the conjecture speculates that the simplest lower bound for deterministic protocols, the log-rank lower bound, is in fact tight up to polynomial factors.

    "A simple argument shows that there is always a deterministic protocol which uses r bits of communication, and until recently the best known bounds improved on this only by a constant factor," said Lovett (at right) in his abstract for the talk. "Recently, two new approaches allowed for improved bounds." One new approach was determined jointly by Lovett with Technion's Eli Ben-Sasson and Noga Ron-Zewi, a Technion-trained computer scientist now at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. They related it to a central conjecture in additive number theory, showing that "if it holds, then there are protocols which use O(r / log(r)) bits," i.e., at most a constant times (or factor) more than r/log r bits. The second approach outlined in Lovett's talk was based on discrepancy theory, giving an unconditional, upper bound of O(\sqrt{r} \log(r)) bits of communication. In addition to explaining the approaches and background, Lovett sketched the proofs and outlined "intriguing connections" to other central problems in complexity theory, including matrix rigidity, and two-source extractors. The Theory of Computation group, which organizes the colloquium, is part of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), which spans two departments: Mathematics, as well as Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

    Read the complete abstract for Prof. Lovett's colloquium.

  • Single Model to Explain Visual and Auditory Precortical Coding

    CSE Prof. Gary Cottrell, Director of the multi-campus and interdisciplinary Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC), will be the next speaker in a new lecture series sponsored by Dart NeuroScience. On Sept. 24 at 3pm in the Duane Roth Auditorium of the Sanford Consortium, Cottrell will explore how "a single model explains both visual and auditory precortical coding." It's part of a year-long dialogue on "the role of time and timing in learning, across multiple time scales, brain systems and social systems." According to TDLC, the Dart Neuroscience-TDLC Seminar Series is "a means of sharing a body of excellent science with the larger UCSD scientific and educational community" as well as the communities of both TDLC and Dart NeuroScience.

    According to Cottrell's seminar abstract, "precortical neural systems encode information collected by the senses, but the driving principles of the encoding used have remained a subject of debate. We present a model of retinal coding that is based on three constraints: information preservation, minimization of the neural wiring, and response equalization. The resulting novel version of sparse principal components analysis successfully captures a number of known characteristics of the retinal coding system, such as center-surround receptive fields, color opponency channels, and spatiotemporal responses that correspond to magnocellular and parvocellular pathways." Cottrell (at left) also notes that, "when trained on auditory data, the same model learns receptive fields well fit by gammatone filters, commonly used to model precortical auditory coding. This suggests that efficient coding may be a unifying principle of precortical encoding across modalities."

    The Sanford Consortium is located at 2880 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive in La Jolla. All of the seminars in the Dart NeuroScience-TDLC series in the 2014-2015 academic year will be available as live streaming webcasts for those unable to attend in person.

    Click here to watch the live webcast of Prof. Cottrell's seminar at 3pm on Sept. 24. 
    Keep track of future seminars in this series on the TDLC website. 
    Learn more about TDLC.

  • CodeSpells Update: Kickstarter Campaign Hits Target After Seven Days

    Last week we reported on the launch of a new Kickstarter campaign by the CSE graduate students who developed CodeSpells, a magic-themed computer game designed to help teach students how to program in Java. The crowdfunding appeal aimed to raise $50,000 by early October to make the game more attractive and more fun to play, thanks to improved computer graphics and coding interface. Barely one week into the campaign, CodeSpells had supporters under its spell, putting the game and the company created by the CSE students, ThoughtSTEM, over the top. As of late Tuesday, Sept. 9, the CodeSpells campaign had raised over $58,500 from nearly 2,500 backers, with 24 days still to go in the month-long appeal that ends Oct. 2.

  • CSE Alumna Participates in Visit of Obama Cabinet Member to UC San Diego

    CSE alumna Sarah Esper (Ph.D. '14) was front and center when the administrator of the Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet (pictured at left, with Esper), visited the UC San Diego campus to announce a $50,000 grant to The von Liebig Center and Rady School of Management for their joint mystartupXX program. The program nurtures the next generation of female company founders and female-led technology startups through mentorship, education and funding. The SBA administrator announced mystartupXX is one of 50 winners of the SBA's Growth Accelerator Fund competition.

    Sarah Esper is one of the female entrepreneurs (and CSE students) who have benefited from the mystartupXX program. “The funding from mystartupXX was the first money we put into our bank account,” remembers Esper, co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, a computer science education startup. The support from mystartupXX came at a critical moment, helping Esper and her co-founders launch the company as ThoughtSTEM and getting their first game-based computer science courses for kids up and running. In the last two years, ThoughtSTEM has expanded from one location on the UC San Diego campus to two dozen locations spread across San Diego, the Bay Area and Boston.

    Read the full news release. 
    Learn more about the mystartupXX program.

  • Computer Engineering Edges Higher in U.S. News Best Colleges for Undergraduates

    The 2015 Best Colleges Guide put out by U.S. News and World Report for undergraduate programs was published Sept. 9. The Jacobs School of Engineering ranks #15 among engineering programs at public institutions, and compared to all engineering schools, it ranks #26, unchanged from last year. US News also ranked computer engineering undergraduate programs, the only specialty among CSE programs to be ranked this year. On that front, computer engineering (for both ECE and CSE majors) edged up to #15, from #16 last year.

    Looking more closely at the computer engineering ranking, UC San Diego shared the #15 spot with two other institutions: Rice University, and the University of Southern California (USC). Both are private institutions, where undergraduate tuition and fees cost $40,566 and $48,280, respectively. By comparison, in-state tuition and fees are only $13,302 at UC San Diego. Even for out-of-state students coming to UCSD, tuition and fees are $12,000 less than at USC.

    The undergraduate ranking methodology is different from what U.S. News uses for its more widely-watched graduate school rankings. To assess undergrad programs, U.S. News relies solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty at peer institutions (in our case, for universities where the highest engineering degree offered is a doctorate).

  • New Deadline for Students to Propose Venture Ideas, Enroll in Innovation Course

    Here's a heads-up for CSE students who have bright ideas that they might want to develop as entrepreneurial ventures. The von Liebig Center has extended the deadline for proposals from students who apply to be part of the NSF-funded I-Corps site at UC San Diego. The new deadline is October 9, and there will be an information session on October 7 from noon to 1pm in the Qualcomm Conference Room in Jacobs Hall.

    According to I-Corps site organizer Jay Gilberg, CSE students are particularly well suited to developing technology startups, because they typically have the ability to create a proof-of-concept themselves, without having to hire external (read: expensive) outside suppliers to build a prototype.  CSE students can also be matched with students from other disciplines who could benefit from a team member with strong programming skills.

    The I-Corps site program at UC San Diego is looking to select 10 teams for Fall 2014, then 15 more teams over the winter. For students without any business experience, I-Corps organizers recommend that students enroll (via TritonLink) this fall in ENG 201, the first in a three-course sequence in innovation and "venture mechanics" that continues in winter and spring, all taught by instructor Svetlana Eremenko. The curriculum includes the Lean Launchpad startup methodology of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank. Students in the course compete for $1,000 in funding for proof-of-concept development, plus mentoring support. At the end of the course, teams can compete for an additional $2,000, and the most promising startup teams can go on to compete for a $50,000 NSF I-Corps National award (like the one that CSE Ph.D. students Stephen Foster and Sarah Esper received to commercialize their CodeSpells game to help teach students how to code in Java.

  • Alumnus Joins Team to Assess Damage from Napa Quake

    Like most San Diegans headed for Napa, a team of researchers including a CSE alumnus went straight to a winery. But they weren't at the 100+-year-old Trefethen Family Vineyard Winery to taste the wine. The UC San Diego team included recent computer science graduate Eric Lo (B.S. '14), who joined Calit2's Qualcomm Institute on campus after being involved with its Engineers for Exploration program (which began as a partnership between the Qualcomm Institute and the National Geographic Society). Lo (below) and another E4E expert in the use of drones for aerial imaging (Physics undergraduate Dominique Meyer) joined the survey expedition led by structural engineering professors Falko Kuester and Tara Hutchinson. At the request of the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER), the UC San Diego team visited Napa following the 6.0-level earthquake on August 24 that did extensive damage in the region. Kuester's team undertook aerial and other post-earthquake surveys in Napa, which provided a unique testbed for the drone, data capture, model reconstruction and visualization research. "This was a fantastic example of our 'experience-based learning' strategy for engaging undergraduates as well as graduate students," said Kuester. CSE alumnus Lo is now a staff researcher in Kuester's DroneLab, which played a critical role in assessing damage to commercial and residential buildings and neighborhoods, lifelines (bridges, water, communication towers), as well as museums and their artifacts in the south Napa region. The DroneLab and Lo are also participating in a robotics project of the Qualcomm Institute.

    (Pictured top right: Interactive and immersive visualization of field reconnaissance data of the Trefethen winery using aerial images captured by a drone; the images were converted into a 3D computer model for viewing and fly-through on the Wide Angle Virtual Environment, WAVE, display system located in Kuester's VisLab in room 141 of the SME Building.) 

    Watch a local NBC news report about the aerial drone survey in the Napa region.

  • Two Nominees, One Winner for Best Paper on Field Programmable Logic

    More kudos for CSE Prof. Ryan Kastner's research group. At the 24th International Conference on Field Programmable Logic (FPL), two papers from the Kastner Group were nominated for the top award, and one of the CSE contributions won for Best Paper. The honor went to the authors of a paper on "Hardware Accelerated Novel Optical De Novo Assembly for Large-Scale Genomes." In addition to Kastner (at right) and first author Pingfan Meng (below left), whose research focuses on high-throughput, real-time computing systems using heterogeneous hardware accelerators, other co-authors were CSE Ph.D. student Matthew Jacobsen, former visiting scholar Motoki Kimura, and collaborators from BioNano Genomics (Vladimir Dergachev, Thomas Anantharaman and Michael Requa).

    The winning paper looked at the potential use of a novel optical label-based technology to make reliable, large-scale de novo assembly of human genomes possible. However, the new technology requires a more computationally intensive alignment algorithm if it is going to be used reliably for reconstructing the large-scale structures of human genomes. The run-time of reconstructing a human genome is approximately 10,000 hours on a sequential CPU, so the authors looked at three rival approaches to acceleration: multi-core CPU; a graphics processing unit (GPU); and field-programmable gate array (FPGA), which is an integrated circuit customized to a specific use case. The new approaches had the desired effect of speeding up the reconstruction of human genomes. The multi-core CPU design was 8.4 times faster; the speedup with GPU was 13.6 times; and by far the greatest acceleration was produced using the FPGA approach, which was 115 times faster that today's sequential CPU approach.

    FPGA acceleration was also a topic in the second paper from the Kastner group to receive a best-paper nomination at FPL. The paper explored "Improving FPGA Accelerated Tracking with Multiple Online Trained Classifiers." It was co-authored by Ph.D. student Matt Jacobsen, former Kastner group undergraduate Siddarth Sampangi (now a grad student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst), and CSE professors Yoav Freund and Ryan Kastner.

  • San Diego Union-Tribune Highlights Computer Science Jobs

    In a special Labor Day report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, science writer Gary Robbins noted that jobs for computer scientists are "hotter than a supernova" these days. He reported that the annual salaries for young computer scientists range from $86,688 to $102,288, and he profiled Computer Science and Engineering teaching professor Mia Minnes, who joined the CSE department full-time this year after spending four years as a visiting professor in UC San Diego's Department of Mathematics.

    Minnes (pictured at right) earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell University in 2008, then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at MIT for two years. As described in the UT San Diego, even before joining the department full-time, Minnes taught many of the introductory courses in computer science, and has played a critical role with CSE Prof. Mohan Paturi in developing the Summer Program for Incoming Students (SPIS), a five-week summer residential program now in its second year. She is also the faculty sponsor for the Summer Internship Symposium, highlighting connections between academics and industry projects.  In its profile, the newspaper noted boldly that, "You're almost guaranteed a job if you earn a degree in computer science. The field is hotter than a supernova due to the growth of the Internet, social media, applications and products ranging from guidance systems for missiles to larger-than-life toy robots to remotely deployed earthquake sensors."

    Those opportunities are also boosting demand from students, with undergraduate enrollment in the UC San Diego computer science program topping 2,000 students for the first time ever, more than double what it was three years ago. And as the newspaper article pointed out, the "growth has created opportunity for new professors like Mia Minnes."

    Read the full article about Mia Minnes, "Drawn to the Numbers".
    Learn more about the Summer Program for Incoming Students in CSE.

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