Posts about computer science

Leslie Lamport Receives 2013 ACM Turing Award

Leslie Lamport, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, has been named as the recipient of the 2013 ACM A.M. Turing Award for imposing clear, well-defined coherence on the seemingly chaotic behavior of distributed computing systems, in which several autonomous computers communicate with each other by passing messages. He devised important algorithms and developed formal modeling and verification protocols that improve the quality of real distributed systems. These contributions have resulted in improved correctness, performance, and reliability of computer systems.

ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) announced that the funding level for the ACM Turing Award is now $1,000,000 (to be provided by Google). The new amount is four times its previous level. It seems to me the 14th of November 2014 is a bit late to announce the 2013 award winner, but for an extra $750,000 I would gladly wait a year (or a decade for that matter).

The new award level brings the computer science award to the level of Nobel Prizes and the Fields medal.

Leslie Lamport’s 1978 paper, “Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System,” one of the most cited in the history of computer science.

Read more about the work of Leslie Lamport.

Related: Barbara Liskov wins Turing Award (2009)Donald Knuth, Computer Scientist (2006)Google 2006 Anita Borg Scholarship2008 Draper Prize for Engineering

No Surprise: Engineering Graduates Continue to Reign Supreme

If you want a high paying job upon graduation choosing to major in engineering is a great choice, for those that enjoy it and are able to meet the challenge. This data is for the USA. My guess is that similar results would show up in most locations, but I am just guessing, I don’t have any specific data.

The top average starting salary paid USA under-graduates by major:

major
   
2012 salary
computer engineering $70,400
chemical engineering $66,400
computer science $64,400
aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering $64,000
mechanical engineering $62,900
electrical/electronics and communications engineering $62,300
civil engineering $57,600
finance $57,300
construction science/management $56,600
information sciences and systems $56,100

NACE salary survey

This continues a long term trend of engineering major being rewarded: Engineering Majors Hold 8 of Top 10 Highest Paid MajorsEngineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree ProgramsS&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopCareer Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive.

Overall starting salaries were up 3.4% to $44,455. Engineering major starting salaries increased 3.9%, to $61,913. Computer science is the 2nd highest paid broad major category at $59,221 (up 3.8%). Next is business at $53,900 (up 4.2%). At the bottom of both average pay and increase was humanities and social sciences with $36,988, up 2%.

The highest-paying industry for Class of 2012 graduates in this report is mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction; employers in this industry offered starting salaries that averaged $59,400.

The mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry also has the top-paying occupations for Class of 2012 graduates. Mechanical engineering graduates hired as petroleum, mining, and geological engineers received starting salaries that averaged $77,500.

As I have said before, I believe it is foolish to pursue a career in a field that doesn’t interest you. Pay doesn’t make up for doing something you don’t enjoy. But if you enjoy several things somewhat equally pay is worth paying attention to.

Google Lets Servers Stay Hot, Saving Air Conditioning Costs

The electricity to run huge server farms is enormous. One of the significant cost is air conditioning to cool down the server rooms.

Too Hot for Humans, But Google Servers Keep Humming

Google’s data center in Belgium, which was the company’s first facility to rely entirely upon fresh air for cooling, instead of energy-hungry chillers.

For the vast majority of the year, the climate in Belgium is cool enough that this design works with no problems. When it gets hot in Belgium, the temperature inside Google’s data center warms beyond the facility’s desired operating range

During these periods, the temperature inside the data center can rise above 95 degrees.

“We’ve had very few excursion hours, and they don’t last long, so we let the site run right through them. We ask our employees to go in and do office work. It’s too warm for people, but the machines do just fine.”

Google’s experience is the latest affirmation that servers are much tougher than we think. Many data centers feel like meat lockers, as servers are maintained in cool environments to offset the heat thrown off by components inside the chassis. Typical temperature ranges in data centers often range from 68 and 72 degrees.

In recent years, rising power bills have prompted data center managers to try and reduce the amount of power used in cooling systems.

The temperatures in Fahrenheit obviously. I was surprised that the servers don’t seem to need to be chilled to perform well.

Related: Saving Energy with Smart SoftwareNew Server Uses 75% Less Power and Space

Increasing the Undergraduate Study of Programing and Software

There is a role for computer science. It also seems to me there is a much larger role for some study of computing (programing, databases, software, technology) that isn’t actually computer science. Where exactly this should go into an undergraduate school, I am not sure. But it seems to me, an understanding of computing is extremely important to those that want to lead in the next 40 years and we should be able to put more of that into undergraduate studies.

Computer Studies Made Cool, on Film and Now on Campus

The number of computer science degrees awarded in the United States began rising in 2010, and will reach 11,000 this year, after plummeting each year since the end of the dot-com bubble in 2004, according to the Computing Research Association, which tracks enrollment and degrees. Enrollment in the major peaked around 2000, with the most degrees — 21,000 — awarded four years later. The number of students who are pursuing the degree but have not yet declared their major increased by 50 percent last year.

To capitalize on the growing cachet of the tech industry, colleges nationwide, including Stanford, the University of Washington and the University of Southern California, have recently revamped their computer science curriculums to attract iPhone and Facebook-obsessed students, and to banish the perception of the computer scientist as a geek typing code in a basement.

Even universities not known for computer science or engineering, like Yale, are seizing the moment. The deans of the Ivy League engineering schools recently started meeting to hatch ways to market “the Ivy engineer.”

The new curriculums emphasize the breadth of careers that use computer science, as diverse as finance and linguistics, and the practical results of engineering, like iPhone apps, Pixar films and robots, a world away from the more theory-oriented curriculums of the past.

I think the basic thrust of this move is good. I am not sure if it is really right to expand computer science to make it more attractive or to instead create something else. Computer engineering would seem to be one option, but I am not sure that is really right either. We do need computer scientists, but frankly we need maybe 100 or 1,000 times more programmers. And we need many other UX designers, program managers that understanding technology and programing, database administrators, system administrators… and really these people don’t need computer science backgrounds.

On a separate topic we also need better ways for everyone to understand technology better. We need good course for those majoring in economics, business, philosophy, English, political science… Understanding technology and how it works is fundamental to managing in the world we live in today and will live in.

Related: Programming Grads Meet a Skills Gap in the Real WorldHow To Become A Software Engineer/ProgrammerEngineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree ProgramsWant to be a Computer Game Programmer?software programming posts on my management blog

Webcast on Finding the Missing Memristor

Very interesting lecture on finding the missing memristor by R. Stanley Williams. From our post in 2008:

How We Found the Missing Memristor By R. Stanley Williams:

For nearly 150 years, the known fundamental passive circuit elements were limited to the capacitor (discovered in 1745), the resistor (1827), and the inductor (1831). Then, in a brilliant but underappreciated 1971 paper, Leon Chua, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted the existence of a fourth fundamental device, which he called a memristor.

Related: Demystifying the Memristorposts on computer sciencevon Neumann Architecture and Bottleneck

HP Makes Progress on Revolutionary Memristors

H.P. Sees a Revolution in Memory Chip

Memristor-based systems also hold out the prospect of fashioning analog computing systems that function more like biological brains, Dr. Chua said.

“Our brains are made of memristors,” he said, referring to the function of biological synapses. “We have the right stuff now to build real brains.”

In an interview at the H.P. research lab, Stan Williams, a company physicist, said that in the two years since announcing working devices, his team had increased their switching speed to match today’s conventional silicon transistors. The researchers had tested them in the laboratory, he added, proving they could reliably make hundreds of thousands of reads and writes.

That is a significant hurdle to overcome, indicating that it is now possible to consider memristor-based chips as an alternative to today’s transistor-based flash computer memories, which are widely used in consumer devices like MP3 players, portable computers and digital cameras.

“Not only do we think that in three years we can be better than the competitors,” Dr. Williams said. “The memristor technology really has the capacity to continue scaling for a very long time, and that’s really a big deal.”

Related: Demystifying the MemristorHow We Found the Missing MemristorSelf-assembling Nanotechnology in Chip Manufacturing

Siftable Modular Computers

Pretty cool. I must admit I don’t really see how this would function outside of specifically designed situation. I can imagine it could be very cool for education, especially of young kids. Siftables act in concert to form a single interface: users physically manipulate them – piling, grouping, sorting – to interact with digital information and media. David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi originally created Siftables at the MIT Media Lab and have formed a company to commercialize the product and have received a grant from NSF to continue the work.

Related: Cool Mechanical Simulation SystemVideo Cat CamArduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareWhat Kids can Learn

Low-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard Using Wii Remote

Using infrared (IR) light pens and the Wii Remote, it is possible to create very low-cost multi-point interactive whiteboards and multi-point tablet displays. Johnny Chung Lee, Carnegie Mellon University. Download the software. Great stuff, it is wonderful to see what people can create with technology.

Related: Very Cool Wearable Computing Gadget from MITBuild Your Own Tabletop Interactive Multi-touch ComputerWhiteboard Mechanical Simulation System (from MIT)How Do Wii Game Controllers Work?

Researching Direct Brain Interfaces for Text Entry

Adam Wilson posted a status update on the social networking Web site Twitter — just by thinking about it. A UW-Madison biomedical engineering doctoral student, Wilson is among a growing group of researchers worldwide who aim to perfect a communication system for users whose bodies do not work, but whose brains function normally. Among those are people who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), brain-stem stroke or high spinal cord injury.

The interface consists, essentially, of a keyboard displayed on a computer screen. “The way this works is that all the letters come up, and each one of them flashes individually,” says Williams. “And what your brain does is, if you’re looking at the ‘R’ on the screen and all the other letters are flashing, nothing happens. But when the ‘R’ flashes, your brain says, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Something’s different about what I was just paying attention to.’ And you see a momentary change in brain activity.”

The system still is not very quick. However, as with texting, users improve as they practice using the interface. “I’ve seen people do up to eight characters per minute,” says Wilson.

Read full press release

Related: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairRat Brain Cells, in a Dish, Flying a PlaneThe Brain Hides Information From Us To Prevent MistakesRoachbot: Cockroach Controlled Robot
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Dennis Bray Podcast on Microbes As Computers

Carl Zimmer interviews Dennis Bray in an interesting podcast:

Dennis Bray is an active professor emeritus in both the Department of Physiology and Department of Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. He studies the behavior of microbes–how they “decide” where to swim, when to divide, and how best to manage the millions of chemical reactions taking place inside their membranes. For Bray, microbes are tiny, living computers, with genes and proteins serving the roles of microprocessors.

Related: E. Coli IndividualityWetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell by Dennis Bray – Programing BacteriaMicro-robots to ‘swim’ Through Veins

Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest Pay

The PayScale salary survey looked at both starting and mid career salary. Engineering topped both measures. Of the top 10 mid career salaries, 7 were engineering degrees – including the top 4. The survey is based upon data for full-time employees in the United States who possess a Bachelor’s degree and no higher degrees and have majored in the subjects listed above.

The top 11 paying degrees are:

Highest Paid Undergrad College Degrees
Degree Starting Median Salary Mid-Career Median Salary
Aerospace Engineering $59,600 $109,000
Chemical Engineering $65,700 $107,000
Computer Engineering $61,700 $105,000
Electrical Engineering $60,200 $102,000
Economics $50,200 $101,000
Physics $51,100 $98,800
Mechanical Engineering $58,900 $98,300
Computer Science $56,400 $97,400
Industrial Engineering $57,100 $95,000
Environmental Engineering $53,400 $94,500
Statistics $48,600 $94,500

Related: Engineering Graduates Paid Well Again in 2008High Pay for Engineering Graduates in 2007Engineering Graduates Get Top Salary Offers in 2006posts on science and engineering careersposts on engineering education

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