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UW waives indirect cost on cloud services

logosThe University of Washington has waived indirect cost on cloud services.

This decision removes one of several bizarre disincentives to the rational selection of research computing and storage options – disincentives that plague universities nationwide.

Federal guidelines waive indirect cost on purchased equipment – so purchasing a $100K cluster costs a grant budget $100K, despite the fact that this equipment must be housed, powered, cooled, backed up, replaced …

Meanwhile, indirect cost is charged on outsourced cloud services – so purchasing $100K of AWS or Azure services costs $157K, despite the fact that the only actual overhead is paying an invoice.

UW IT and the UW Office of Research have now decided to unilaterally waive this nonsensical charge.


Read more here.

July 27, 2015

Kurtis Heimerl to join UW CSE faculty

lanternWe are thrilled to announce that Kurtis Heimerl will be joining the UW CSE faculty in early winter 2016. Kurtis’ research interests span information and communication technologies and development (ICTD), human-computer interaction, and networks and systems. He was recognized with a 2014 MIT Technology Review TR35 Award for his work on Community Cellular, a low-cost, low-power system for providing small-scale, locally-owned cellular networks to rural communities that lack existing cellular coverage. After building the first network in a small village in Papua, Indonesia in 2013, Kurtis co-founded Endaga, a startup company that brings independent cellular technology to remote regions of the world.

Kurtis joins UW CSE following an M.S., Ph.D., and postdoc at U.C. Berkeley, followed by 18 months at Endaga. His UW CSE connections are extensive. To note a few:

  • Kurtis received his Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering from UW CSE in 2007.
  • His Berkeley graduate co-advisor was 2007 UW CSE Ph.D. alum (and UC Berkeley Associate Professor) Tapan Parikh.
  • His fellow UW CSE Bachelors recipient and Tapan Parikh Ph.D. advisee Kuang Chen – founder of ICTD startup Captricity – was also a  2014 TR35 recipient. (Tapan himself received a TR35 award and was named the TR35 “Humanitarian of the Year” in 2007.)

We’re excited to have Kurtis back home at UW CSE!

(We had previously announced the recruiting this year of Ras Bodik, Zorah Fung, Sham Kakade, Sergey Levine, Dan Ports, and Katharina Reinecke.)

July 27, 2015

UW CSE’s Mike Ernst talks to BBC News about the gamification of cyber-security

Mike ErnstNormally, we don’t play around when it comes to cyber-security. But according to UW CSE professor Mike Ernst, playing around may be just what we need in order to better defend against hackers and cyber-criminals. BBC News reported this week on the Verigames project – part of DARPA’s Crowd Sourced Formal Verification (CSFV) program – which harnesses the power of citizen science to make software less vulnerable. Mike talked to the BBC about engaging players of casual games, including those developed at UW CSE’s Center for Game Science, to make formal software verification more efficient – and help make the world a safer place.

From the article:

“[A]s software is critical in the running of almost everything these days, from national energy networks to police drones, air traffic control systems to emergency services, formal verification is an essential process….

“The problem is that formal verification – providing mathematical proof that a piece of software is error-free – is a complex business.

“‘Formal verification is wildly expensive and very difficult,’ says Michael Ernst, a computer science professor at the University of Washington who is involved with the DARPA project.

Center for Game Science logo“‘That’s because you usually need a highly skilled, highly paid software engineer to carry out the process.’”

Verigames is helping to speed up that process by enlisting a “volunteer army” of players who solve puzzle-based games that aid in the formal verification of an underlying piece of software. Other efforts to promote citizen science through gaming, led by the Center for Game Science, have been useful in advancing synthetic biology research and helping scientists to better understand diseases such as the Ebola virus and AIDS.

Read the BBC News article here. Learn more about Verigames here, and try your hand at Paradox, one of the games developed by UW CSE’s Center for Game Science, here.

July 25, 2015

UW CSE’s Chris Diorio named Innovator of the Year at 2015 ACE Awards

ACE Chris Diorio RFID tagsUW CSE faculty member Chris Diorio, who co-founded the RFID company Impinj based on technology developed here at UW CSE and at his Ph.D. alma mater, Caltech, was named Innovator of the Year at the ACE (Annual Creativity in Electronics) Awards by the EDN Network and EE Times.

Chris was honored for “his pioneering work in advancing next-generation UHF RFID technology,” and for being a “tireless promoter of RFID’s potential since entering the industry in 2002.” In addition to his role as CEO of Impinj, Chris serves as chairman of the RAIN RFID Alliance, which promotes universal adoption of the UHF RFID technology.

Read more in this nice article about Chris’s work (and car racing!), courtesy of EDN.

Congratulations, Chris!

July 25, 2015

UW CSE’s resident car-hacking expert, Yoshi Kohno, in the Washington Post

Yoshi KohnoUW CSE professor Yoshi Kohno was quoted in this week’s big, scary story in The Washington Post on hacking and the Internet of Things, inspired by his past research on the vulnerability of motor vehicle systems.

Last fall, Yoshi and a team of students were featured in this segment that aired on 60 Minutes in which they remotely took control of a car driven around a UW parking lot (a deserted UW parking lot!) by correspondent Lesley Stahl. Recently, another team of researchers demonstrated the ability to hack into another make and model on a public highway – once again bringing the topic of motor vehicle security in an increasingly connected world to the fore.

Noting that the cars on the market today are “computers on wheels,” the article, “Hacks on the Highway,” explains what makes them so vulnerable:

“Once inside, most computer systems on modern vehicles are somehow connected, if only indirectly. Researchers who have hacked their way into computers that control dashboard displays, lighting systems or air bags have found their way to ones running transmission systems, engine cylinders and, in the most advanced cars, steering controls. Nearly all of these systems speak a common digital language, a computer protocol created in the 1980s when only motorists and their mechanics had access to critical vehicle controls….

“Scientists from the University of Washington and the University of California at San Diego reported in 2010 that, with physical access to a car, they could control almost any computerized system within it. When some critics questioned the realism of that scenario — if you were in the car, you could simply turn off the engine or hit the brakes yourself, they said — the researchers found a way to do many of the same things remotely….

“’We can do this from a thousand miles away,’ said Tadayoshi Kohno, one of the University of Washington researchers who worked on the project, published in 2011.”

The article provides an in-depth look at the factors that make automobiles vulnerable and how regulators are trying to address the threat. It is definitely worth a read if you drive a car (particularly if you drive a Jeep). Check out the full article here, our past blog post on the 60 Minutes demonstration here, and the 2011 article by The New York Times on the UW and UCSD research here.

July 24, 2015

UW’s SideSwipe featured in IEEE Signal Processing Magazine

Matt Reynolds and Shwetak Patel

Matt Reynolds and Shwetak Patel

Research led by UW CSE and EE professors Matt Reynolds and Shwetak Patel that will enable “command by gesture” for smartphones is the topic of a special report on human-machine interfaces in the July issue of IEEE Signal Processing Magazine. The technology, known as SideSwipe, relies on a phone’s own wireless transmissions, using small antennae to read changes in the signal caused by different hand motions.

From the article:

“Smartphones have become increasingly affordable and more widely used over the past several years. Yet smartphones and their applications are difficult to control in situations where the user lacks direct access to the touchscreen, such as while driving a car, cooking a meal, or exercising. While voice recognition technology promises a partial solution to the problem, such systems are far from foolproof and particularly unreliable in noisy environments.

“In an effort aimed at creating an alternate ‘hands off’ control technology, University of Washington researchers have created a new type of low-power wireless sensing technology that promises to allow users to ‘train’ their smartphones to recognize and respond to specific hand gestures….”

Read the full article here, and check out past CSE blog coverage of SideSwipe here and here.

July 23, 2015

UW CSE’s Franzi Roesner co-authors study of computer security practices and pitfalls for journalists

Franzi RoesnerUW CSE professor Franzi Roesner, graduate students Polina Charters and Tobin Holliday of UW’s DUB Group, and Susan McGregor of the Columbia Journalism School have released the results of a new study examining journalists’ computer security practices in an age of widespread data collection and surveillance.

The researchers analyzed the security habits of 15 working journalists, including how they communicate with sources and what tools and strategies they use to protect sensitive information that they receive in the course of their work. They found that the method of communication is often driven by the source rather than the journalist, and that journalists often use personal mobile devices and cloud-based systems to transmit or store information — practices which could compromise security despite the journalists’ best intentions.

From the UW news release:

“‘The way people try to bridge gaps can introduce security issues,’ said UW senior author Franziska Roesner … ‘If you use your iPhone to translate speech to text, for example, it sends that information to Apple. So if you record a sensitive conversation, you have to trust that Apple isn’t colluding with an adversary or that Apple’s security is good enough that your information is never going to be compromised …’

“’The flip side is that it’s not just a matter of giving journalists information about the right tools to use — it’s that the tools are often not usable,’ Roesner said. ‘They often fail because they’re not designed for journalists.’”

The team hopes its findings will help members of the computer security community to better understand the needs of journalists. These insights will help them to develop security solutions that protect journalist-source communications without hindering the journalistic process.

Read the full new release here and the team’s detailed findings, which will be presented at the 24th USENIX Security Symposium next month, here.

July 22, 2015

Tech.Co: Which universities produce the best tech talent?

CSElogo2text_1000Our rule-of-thumb for evaluating the veracity of rankings:

  • If we look good, it’s authoritative.
  • If we look bad, the methodology was garbage.

Here’s Tech.Co‘s authoritative assessment of “the best public and private universities that produce the best-equipped graduates to make an impact in the world of technology.”

The methodology involved “a composite of the rankings from US News and World Report for Computer Science, LinkedIn university rankings for Software Developers and Software Developers at Startups, and finally the number of companies being run by their respective alumni according to AngelList.”

How can you possibly argue with that?

Check it out here.

July 22, 2015

The Master Algorithm


The latest book by UW CSE professor Pedro DomingosThe Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World, is available for pre-order from Amazon. Amazon says:

Algorithms increasingly run our lives. They find books, movies, jobs, and dates for us, manage our investments, and discover new drugs. More and more, these algorithms work by learning from the trails of data we leave in our newly digital world. Like curious children, they observe us, imitate, and experiment. And in the world’s top research labs and universities, the race is on to invent the ultimate learning algorithm: one capable of discovering any knowledge from data, and doing anything we want, before we even ask.

Machine learning is the automation of discovery—the scientific method on steroids—that enables intelligent robots and computers to program themselves. No field of science today is more important yet more shrouded in mystery. Pedro Domingos, one of the field’s leading lights, lifts the veil for the first time to give us a peek inside the learning machines that power Google, Amazon, and your smartphone. He charts a course through machine learning’s five major schools of thought, showing how they turn ideas from neuroscience, evolution, psychology, physics, and statistics into algorithms ready to serve you. Step by step, he assembles a blueprint for the future universal learner—the Master Algorithm—and discusses what it means for you, and for the future of business, science, and society.


If data-ism is today’s rising philosophy, this book will be its bible. The quest for universal learning is one of the most significant, fascinating, and revolutionary intellectual developments of all time. A groundbreaking book, The Master Algorithm is the essential guide for anyone and everyone wanting to understand not just how the revolution will happen, but how to be at its forefront.

(As soon as there’s a Kindle edition, we’ll order it …)

July 20, 2015

“The doctor is in (your phone)” – UW’s ApneaApp featured in Scientific American

ApneaApp sonar graphicThe August issue of Scientific American profiles several new smartphone apps that help diagnose and manage disease. Among those featured in the article is ApneaApp, which was developed by UW CSE professor Shyam Gollakota, UW CSE Ph.D. student Rajalakshmi Nandakumar and Dr. Nathaniel Watson of the UW Medicine Sleep Center to enable wireless diagnosis of sleep apnea.

The article noted, “An initial laboratory trial has shown ApneaApp to be just as effective as hooking up patients to tracking instruments in a sleep clinic.” The next step will be to test the app in patients’ homes.

Read the full article in Scientific American here. Read UW’s news release and view a video demonstration of ApneaApp here and read past CSE blog coverage of the app here.

July 20, 2015

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