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Showing posts from March, 2009

Programming Haiku

Today in my graduate course we discussed the Berkeley snlog system. This is a declarative programming language for sensor nets, based on Datalog, and derived from the authors' previous work on P2.

Mike Lyons, one of the Ph.D. students in the course, made an interesting observation. He pointed out that programming in these very concise, domain-specific languages is like "writing haiku." The idea behind these various languages is to make programming sensornets simpler by abstracting away details and making the code tighter and easier to grok. Mike observed that he'd "rather write 10 pages of C code than 10 lines of Datalog," which is a very good point -- and one that speaks to a number of projects that equate "fewer lines of code" with "ease of programming."

A number of projects, including several of my own (Flask, Regiment), have focused on simplifying programming for sensor nets. The idea is that building up complex distributed behaviors f…

I heart Kindle.app

Amazon recently released a free Kindle e-book reader for the iPhone, and I love it. Normally I don't shill products, but I was pretty skeptical about this one and have been pleasantly surprised at how good it is. I've been reading Denis Johnson's Tree of Smokeon my iPhone over the last couple of weeks -- mostly at the gym but also during a few long flights. It's a long book -- over 600 pages -- and having it in my pocket at all times has made it much easier to read bits and pieces whenever I get a chance.

The app is dead simple to use: you simply flick left or right to turn pages, and it automatically remembers your place so that when you relaunch the app you are back where you left off. In the current version, you have to buy e-books via the Web, and the next time the app launches it downloads the content to your phone. I guess this is not so great for spur-of-the-moment purchases while getting ready to board a flight, but my understanding is that a future version will…

Visit to Utah

I had a great visit to the University of Utah this week, and gave a distinguished lecture on "A New Era of Resource Responsibility for Sensor Networks." I had never visited Utah before, and am pretty impressed with their CS department overall. The folks there seem to get along very well and have considerable strength in graphics, languages, and embedded systems in particular. Their Scientific Computing Institute could be a model for what we've been doing at Harvard with the Initiative in Innovative Computing.

Of course, Utah is famous for the Flux research group, led by the late and great Jay Lepreau. Jay was one of my role models and I admired his approach to building real systems and getting others to use them (our MoteLab testbed was heavily inspired by Emulab.) I'm sorry that I never got a chance to visit Utah while Jay was still with us.

One thing that struck me was that the group is built around full-time research staff, which has enabled them to build substantia…

Top Prof

The success of reality TV shows that feature creative professionals in competitive situations has convinced me that it is time for a reality show for CS professors. Let me propose TOP PROF -- a new Bravo series featuring 12 junior CS profs all competing for the ultimate prize -- tenure at a top department, say -- in which each week one professor is voted out of the department until only one is left. The judges would include recent Turing award winner BarbaraLiskov, the irascible but highly respected Andy Tanenbaum, industry bigwig and firebrand Al Spector, and (for comedic relief and 80's throwback cachet) the voice of WOPR from War Games.

Each week the contestants would have to face a different challenge that tests their ability to be the Top Prof. For example:
Review 25 conference paper submissions in 72 hours flat;
Prepare an undergraduate lecture on a topic you haven't seen since sophomore year;
Write a multimillion dollar grant proposal with six Co-PIs from three other univer…

Corporate sponsorship in Computer Science research

Luis vonAhn came up with a great idea to bolster research funding in an ailing economy -- corporate sponsorship of professors wearing logos while they teach. I wholly support this idea, especially since I currently wear t-shirts from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Intel for free. These companies really should be paying me for my advertising their brands to my students, given my ridiculously high degree of influence over them.

The recent New York Times article about drug company ties to medical schools got me thinking about why there isn't a similar controversy with corporate sponsorship of computer scientists. After all, many of us get research funding from companies, and much of that funding comes with an explicit (or implicit) assumption that we will leverage that company's technology in our work. For example, Microsoft gave my group a research grant last year to link our CitySense system into their way-cool SensorMap platform. This was clearly a blatant attempt by Mic…