Blog Category: Education and outreach

What made you (continue to) want to write a book?


Many people have asked me why I decided to write a book. A better questions is: “When you realized that writing the book was going to be orders of magnitude harder and take much longer than you thought it would, what made you decide to continue writing the book?”

My co-author, Wolfgang Polak, and I recently received a book review of the sort that is the dream of every author. A dream review is, of course, positive. But more importantly, it praises the aspects of the book that were most important to the author – the reasons the author kept going after other books on the subject came out and the author had a more reasonable (but still too optimistic) estimate of the vast amount of  effort it would take to finish it. (The review appeared in Computing Reviews, but is behind a paywall. Excerpts appear on the book’s Amazon and MIT press web pages.)

In our case,  one of the things that kept us going Continue Reading

A Gentle Introduction

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Quantum Computing: A Gentle Introduction by Eleanor Rieffel and Wolfgang PolakOur book, Quantum Computing: A Gentle Introduction, has been out for a little over a month. So far, it has received as much attention from weaving blogs as science blogs, due to the card-woven bands on the cover.

MIT press takes pride in their cover designs, but warns authors that  “schedules rarely allow for individual consultation between designers and authors.” They do, however, ask authors to fill out a detailed questionnaire that includes questions asking for the authors’ thoughts with respect to a cover. It was the third question “What would you like the viewer to think or feel when they see the cover?” that prompted me to think that a fabric with abstract, colorful designs would suggest a “gentle” introduction to an abstract and colorful subject. Continue Reading

A magical way to learn computer science

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Former FXPAL intern Jeremy Kubica’s Computational Fairy Tales is a fresh new entry into the blogosphere that introduces a unusual way to learn computer science: read a series of charming fairy tales. Each post contains a few sentences of introduction to a computer science concept followed by a fairy tale illustrating that concept.

I particularly enjoyed Loops and Making Horseshoes which illustrates Continue Reading

Technology and education

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Scott McLeod’s MindDump blog featured a set of pie charts reflecting professors’ use of technology. The charts are reproduced from a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and is based on a survey of about 4,600 professors from 50 Universities, collected in the spring of 2009. The piece cites, but does not link to the actual study results. Some poking around turned up the FSSE site, but I was unable to find the cited data there. The closest I found was a page reporting on the use of communication technologies, which seemed to reflect different numbers of respondents.

Nonetheless, assuming that the data are not bogus, we can ask some questions about what this means.

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Gaming learning

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If you’re in the business of conveying information to people, you might be interested in engaging their interest to cause them to seek out more information and to deepen their understanding of the data. That’s the premise that Nick Diakopoulos is trying to explore with some interactive visualizations of demographic data.

Nick (a former FXPAL Intern) is exploring the design space of interactive, semi-automated visualizations that can be put together quickly and yet leverage the kinds of interaction design characteristic of computer games.

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Tablets for learning

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I recently found an interesting collection of student literature review/position papers from Umeå University related to a range of CS and HCI issues, including mobile technology, ubiquitous computing, table-top displays, etc. Among them was a paper by Alan Larsson that examined the role that slate-like tablet computers can play in education. It examined requirements for such devices both from the instructor’s and from the students’ perspective, analyzed them on several dimensions, and then compared three devices — an iPad, a (perhaps soon to be released) Android tablet, and an older-generation tablet computer — for their fit to the various tasks.

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User Interface Design @Berkeley

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Yesterday I attended an evening presentation session of student projects created in several courses related to HCI at UC Berkeley. The show was organized by Bjoern Hartmann and Maneesh Agrawala, and featured presentations by teams from four courses from three different disciplines: CS, SIMS, and  Art/Anthropology. Each presentation took 2.5 minutes, and there were over 30 presentations total. Most of the work was around the design of mobile applications, and some creative constraints (e.g., don’t design for students; focus on specific populations) stipulated at the beginning of the projects ensured a great diversity of designs.

I cannot possibly do justice to the effort and to the results here, but fortunately all presentations and many associated videos are available online. Some presentations stood out, however, and deserve special mention.

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Summer intern position in privacy preserving computation

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This is the third of a series of posts advertising internship positions at FXPAL for the summer of 2010.  A listing of all blog posts about our 2010 internship positions is available here.

Significant privacy issues arise when personal data is stored and analyzed. This issue is exacerbated when part or all of the storage and analysis is outsourced to a third party. To support such analysis in an awareness system, while addressing the privacy concerns, we are building into our system a facility that supports computation of simple statistics on encrypted data. This facility can be extended in a number of ways to support a greater variety of computations. There are a wealth of research questions related to designing such a system to support the types of computations useful to our application while choosing the best tradeoffs in terms of storage, bandwidth, division of labor between the third party and the clients, computation time at encryption, time to compute the statistics, and time to decrypt.

Prospective candidates should be enrolled in a PhD program and have significant experience in privacy and security, particularly computation on or search of encrypted data.

The intern will be hosted by Eleanor Rieffel.  For more information on the FXPAL internship program, please visit our web site.

Mathematical and Musical Adventures

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The next talk in the Bay Area Mathematical Adventures series is this Friday. Robert Bryant, the current director of MSRI, will speak on “Rolling and Tumbling—The idea of Holonomy.” It sounds like a fun talk; he’ll illustrate his talk with “everyday and some not-so-everyday toys.”

I’ve posted the slides from my Bay Area Mathematical Adventures talk last month on From Photographs to Models: The Mathematics of Image-Based Modeling. I blogged about that experience here. I had hoped to post a link to the video at the same time, but it isn’t ready yet. I never feel that a talk is fully captured from just the slides, especially one that was designed to be interactive. I will post a link to the video once it is up.

I’d be tempted to go to Bryant’s talk except that I’m singing that night. Two FXPAL folks, Bill van Melle and I, sing in the 40 voice Bay Choral Guild. We have concerts Fri, Sat, and Sun at various Bay Area locations. Come if you are in the area and would enjoy a concert of festive Baroque choral works performed by our excellent group together with an outstanding group of soloists and musicians!

My dream virtual (almost) reality exhibit

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the SIAM/ACM Joint Conference on Geometric and Physical Modeling and heard a lovely talk by Richard Riesenfeld. Riesenfeld and his wife Elaine Cohen were this year’s Bézier award winners for their work in computer aided geometric design (CAGD). He spoke about his correspondence with Bézier and showed us many of the letters they sent back and forth in the early days of CAD/CAM, with their many hand drawn diagrams and the typed text with the math symbols added in by hand. I spent the time marveling at how they managed to have an effective collaboration over such an impoverished communication channel. But even with all of the wonderful 3D rendering capabilities we have today, it is still hard to communicate about 3D objects and spaces over a distance. Having a visual rendering is not sufficient. Spatial reasoning requires more. Riesenfeld mentioned Bézier’s view that “touch is more discriminative than eyes.”

This theme reminded me that I’ve been meaning to describe and send to the math factory folks  a suggestion for an exhibit in the math museum. Instead, I’ll first write about it here.

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