Sunday, March 4, 2012

SIGCSE 2012: Robots, Mobile Apps, Visualization & More

Oh, wishing once again I could have been in several places at the conference at once! Perhaps someone out there can develop a Conference Clone. Saturday, although only a 3/4 length day, was as packed with events as the prior days. The torrential downpour in the morning played in my favor, as, in spite of sleep deprivation, by the time I walked the .8 mile to the convention center I was happily soaked and feeling full of life. Nature has a way of doing that.

First up were the presentations by finalists in the Undergraduate Student Research Competition. There were 5 students and all of them had done very nice work and made equally nice presentations. One of them was about "green computing" and energy consumption. The student was Stephanie Schmidt (Sonoma State University) and her research title: "Modeling the Power Consumption of Computer Systems with Graphics Processing Units (GPUs)". Another excellent presentation and body of research was presented by Elizabeth Skiba from SUNY Geneseo : "Experimentally Exploring Algorithmic Descriptions of Three-Dimensional Geometry". I had visited her poster the day before. Although I know very little about the subject matter (some serious physics here) I was able to follow her talk quite well and was not at all surprised when she subsequently won 2nd place in the competition. I believe Elizabeth is graduating soon - I hope she gets some great job offers.

Due to the lack of that Conference Clone, I was unable to attend the paper presentation "Mobile Apps for the Greater Good: A Socially Relevant Approach to Software Engineering" by Victor Pauca (Wake Forest University) and Richard Guy (University of Toronto) but I read the paper and was very excited by its contents. They write words close to my heart  about the potential for exciting more students about computing and career possibilities by presenting them with real life socially relevant projects to tackle. Strange coincidence, but the day before I left for the conference I turned in my next Inroads Magazine column (it will appear in about 3 months) which specifically targets mobile devices for innovation in the classroom. The SIGCSE paper discussed the authors' implementation of a software engineering class where students created assistive technology iOS apps for people with disabilities; student teams used the Scrum methodology in their projects for real clients. The authors bring up the challenge of intellectual property questions, which was also a hot topic at the conference (see yesterday's post about Hal Abelson's talk). Their work will be something to keep an eye on, especially if you teach and are interested in developing socially beneficial curriculum.

There was the Robot Circus which was so much fun!!! One of the little robots (shown here on the left) kept crossing over the official boundary and heading straight for my feet. Somehow, it always turned at the last moment. But then it came back. I think it liked me :)

If you were at the conference and attended Saturday lunch you heard the fascinating talk about data visualization by Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg from Google. They are interested in lay uses of visualization and visualizations as social catalysts. An interesting point they made was that the visualizations are not an end in themselves. Creating a fascinating visualization of wedding invitation data for example, is not just for observational purposes, but leads to action on the part of the wedding planners. I have virtually no formal musical training, but when they showed how their visualization tools could extract structure from musical scores I was able to immediately grasp complex differences between Led Zeppelin, Scott Joplin, Beethoven, John Coltrane and Clementine (yes, that simple little folk song!). And then there was the eye opening visualization of personal ads written by men. You would be amazed how often "I am married...but" "I am married...and" appear!

The conference is over and I am already looking forward to attending next year!

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