Robbert van Renesse leads the 2nd Annual High School Programming Contest

Chronicle Article By Bill Steele:

Teams from two downstate schools took top prizes in the second annual Cornell University High School Programming Contest April 7. First and third prizes went to two teams from the Dalton School in New York City. Second prize went to Byram Hills High School in Westchester County.

The contest presented seven problems to be solved by writing computer programs, including translating English into Pig Latin, calculating the grade you would need to get on a final exam to pass a class, and counting the guests at an imaginary party thrown by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White.

Modeled on the Association for Computing Machinery Intercollegiate Programming Contest, the competition was created last year by Cornell principal research associate Robbert van Renesse, Ithaca High School math and computer science teacher Frederick Deppe and Daniel Fleischman, a graduate student in the field of operations research and industrial engineering. Seventeen teams from eight schools across New York participated.

Each team was provided a computer workstation and could work in any of several programming languages; every team chose Java, which van Renesse said is the most widely taught in high schools. Teams were given pencils and paper and a calculator, but were not allowed to use other electronic devices or access the Internet.

The programs must run correctly on the judge’s computer within a set time limit. The “judge” is actually a computer program that compares the output of the submitted entry with the expected result. No human ever sees a team’s code. The winner is the team that solves the most problems in the allotted three hours.

Some problems are easy and some very hard, but all are worth the same and are presented in random order. Part of the challenge is to decide which problems can be solved most rapidly. Two teams solved all seven problems, one team solved six, one team solved five, three teams solved four, five teams solved two, four teams solved only one, and one team solved no problems. Participants will receive feedback on their failed attempts, Van Renesse said.

Over a break for lunch, David Bindel, assistant professor of computer science, gave a talk on how to calculate pi to many decimal places, and the insights that offers into numerical computing. The talk was beneficial, Van Renesse explained, to show the students that computer science is about more than just programming.

The first-place team from Dalton was composed of juniors Karina Shah, Cal Lavicka and Remy Young. The second0place team from Byram Hills was made up of Greg Carlin, Brian Singer and Noah Koster. The third-place team was Dalton High senioirs Andrew Milich, Dillon Azzam and Zah Buttenweiser.

Organizers also gave prizes to the first three teams to solve any problem: First (17 minutes), Webster Schroeder High - Alex Mechler, Nathan Connor, Michael Edwards.
Second (tied at 23 minutes), Dalton High Juniors - Karina Shah, Cal Lavicka, Remy Young; Byram Hills High -  Greg Carlin, Brian Singer, Noah Koster. Winners received smartwatches.

The contest is open to any high school, anywhere. In addition to Dalton and Byram Hills, entrants were from Ithaca High School and Rochester-area schools Brighton High School, Fairport High School, McQuaid Jesuit, and Webster Thomas and Webster Schroeder high schools.

Date Posted: 4/20/2015

Danfeng Zhang & Andrew Myers received Paper Award from PLDI

Graduating PhD student Danfeng Zhang and Andrew Myers, along with collaborators Dimitrios Vytiniotis and Simon Peyton-Jones from Microsoft Research, received a Distinguished Paper Award from PLDI 2015 for their paper "Diagnosing Type Errors with Class", which describes effective localization of type errors in the rich type system of Haskell.

The annual ACM SIGPLAN conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation (PLDI) is a premier forum for all areas of programming language research, including the design, implementation, theory, and efficient use of languages.

Date Posted: 4/20/2015

Chronicle article on Doctoral candidate Zhiming Shen lands IBM Fellowship

Chronicle Article By Bill Steele:

Zhiming Shen, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Computer Science, has

received a 2015 IBM Ph.D. Fellowship Award to support his graduate studies.

Students are accepted for the highly competitive awards based on their overall

potential for research excellence, the degree to which their technical interests

align with those of IBM, and their academic progress.


“My research interest is in cloud computing, which aligns with IBM's future

strategy: they attach great importance to the cloud market,” Shen said. “I think

all these factors played an important role while they were making the decision

to give me the award.”


Shen works with Hakim Weatherspoon, assistant professor of computer science, and

computer science principal researcher Robbert van Renesse on methods to make

cloud computing faster and more secure. Van Renesse nominated him for the



The award provides a one-year stipend covering tuition and fees with additional

research funding, and may be renewed each year for up to three years. Fellows

are matched with an IBM mentor according to their technical interests, and are

strongly encouraged to participate in at least one internship at IBM while

completing their studies. Shen has done a previous internship with IBM Research,

doing work that resulted in a patent for a system to eliminate duplication in

cloud storage by merging duplicate blocks while preserving data that may exist

in only one of two versions. For his next internship, he plans to spend a summer

working with IBM Cloud.


Shen and his Cornell advisers collaborate frequently with a research group at

IBM Watson Research Center headed by Hani Jamjoom, M.Eng. '97 and including Dan

Wiliams Ph.D. ‘13.

Date Posted: 4/20/2015

Time Magazine names iPhone app by Tim Novikoff and Fly Labs one of the 5 best of the week

Fly Labs has scored another award: their iPhone app Tempo was named one of Time Magazine's Best 5 iPhone Apps of the Week. Tempo, billed as the ultimate app for SlowMo & Timelapse, "gives you just enough control to make your clips more interesting. You can select parts of your video clips and edit them either to speed up or slow down playback by varying degrees" while they play in real time.

Fly Labs was founded by CEO Tim Novikoff (Cornell PhD '13 in applied mathematics), who teaches iPhone programming at Cornell in his spare time.

Date Posted: 4/15/2015

CACM: Juris Hartmanis, pioneer in the field of computational complexity theory, reflects on his career.

CACM has published a fantastic retrospective in the form of an extended interview with Juris Hartmanis, in which the pioneer in the field of computational complexity theory reflects on his career.

Excerpt describing the beginning of Hartmanis' collaboration with Richard Stearns, which would result in their joint Turing award: "[we] started working together during the summer and hit it off really well. When he finished his Ph.D. and joined the [G.E.] research lab as a research mathematician, we worked day in and day out together, sitting and staring at each other in his office or mine, shouting and hollering about the other's ignorance for not understanding the subtlest points of computability."

Condensed and edited version preview (full edited version behind ACM paywall):

Full text of the oral-history interview (behind paywall):

Date Posted: 4/15/2015

Google's FaceNet draws on work by Kilian Weinberger

Google's FaceNet, which has been described as having almost perfected the recognition of human faces, draws heavily upon work by Kilian Weinberger and, more generally, research by Thorsten Joachims. Associate Professor Kilian Weinberger was recently hired by Cornell and will move his lab to Ithaca this summer.

The system involves an adaptation of Weinberger's Large-Margin Nearest-Neighbor (LMNN) classifier to deep neural networks. It learns a new representation of facial images, in which two images of the same person are close together and two images of different people are far apart. This learning is facilitated through image triplets. Repeatedly (millions of times) two images of the same person are pulled together while simultaneously an image of a different person is pushed away. Joachims pioneered the use of such triples for learning.

The lead author of the Google CVPR 2015 paper on FaceNet, Florian Schroff, was formerly a postdoc with Serge Belongie.

Image below: Illustration of what LMNN does, represented as a cake made by Cornell CS alum John Blitzer ('02).  the green dots represent faces of the same individual, which all move closer together. The blue and red dots represent faces of different persons, which move away from the green dots.

Date Posted: 4/09/2015

Nate Foster wins the 2015 POPL Most Influential Paper Award

Nate Foster, Michael Greenwald, Jon Moore, Benjamin Pierce, and Alan Schmitt
were awarded the 2015 POPL Most Influential Paper Award for their paper
"Combinators for Bidirectional Tree Transformations: A Linguistic Approach to
the View Update Problem" from POPL 2005.

This award is presented annually to the author(s) of a paper presented at the
POPL held 10 years prior to the award year.

Award citation:
The "view-update problem" is a classic problem in databases: when operating on a
partial view of a data structure, how should updates to the view be propagated
to the original data structure?  This POPL 2005 paper was instrumental in
bringing the view-update problem to the attention of the programming languages
community and demonstrating the broad relevance of the problem beyond
databases.  The immediate contributions of the paper were (1) to introduce a
general mathematical space of well-behaved bidirectional transformations called
"lenses," and (2) to develop a specific instantiation of this framework in the
form of a domain-specific language of combinators for tree transformations,
which served as the basis for subsequent tools for editing XML and HTML.  More
broadly, the paper sparked a great deal of follow-on work in the area of BX
("bidirectional transformations"), leading to a fruitful collaboration between
the worlds of databases, programming languages, and software engineering.

Date Posted: 4/09/2015

CRA Undergraduate Researcher Award 2015

CS seniors Kevin Lee and Christopher Yu  both received honorable mentions in the prestigious Computing Research Association (CRA) Outstanding Undergraduate Award 2015 competition. There were only seven honorable mentions given in the PhD-granting institution/Male category.

The Computing Research Association's Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers Award recognizes undergraduate students in North American colleges and universities who show outstanding research potential in an area of computing research.

Date Posted: 4/09/2015

David Steurer wins best paper award at STOC 2015

David Steurer and his coauthors have won one of the three best paper awards at the STOC 2015, the 47th Annual Symposium on the Theory of Computing.

The paper is entitled, "Lower bounds on the size of semidefinite programming relaxations", written together with James R. Lee (University of Washington) and Prasad Raghavendra (UC Berkeley).  Among the many consequences of their results is that no family of polynomial-size semidefinite programming relaxations can achieve better than a 7/8-approximation for MAX 3 SAT.

Date Posted: 4/09/2015


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