Summer 2009

Editorial note: This is a special farewell edition presented in a letter format with click-as-you-read links to articles and web pages.

Chair J Moore Bids Farewell After Eight Years of Service

This is the final newsletter that will come out while I'm Chair of the department, and I want to take this opportunity to say farewell. I've served as Chair for eight years—two 4-year terms back-to-back.

I took the Chair's job with one main goal: to get us the space we need to remain competitive among the top CS departments in the country. I would have liked to see the new building under construction before stepping down. We haven't reached that stage and so, in a sense, I'm disappointed.

But in a much deeper sense, I'm quite proud of what we've achieved during my chairmanship: creation of a Chair's Advisory Committee, designation of our building and endowment campaigns as College and University priorities, approval by the University and the Board of Regents to build a new CS complex when $120 million has been pledged, designation of a building site in the heart of campus (one of the most important steps), and procurement of two magnificent lead gifts bringing us half way to our target. I'm especially happy with the identities of our lead donors: Michael and Susan Dell, and Bill and Melinda Gates. Surely no other names on our buildings would so clearly convey what we do and why it's important.

To achieve this, I became the ambassador for the department, taking every opportunity to tell people our story and spread the word of how critical we are to the economy ($8.7 billion per year in strategic impact) and how our ideas are changing the world. I feel like I've spent more time outside the department than in it! But to do that and "keep the trains running on time,'' I reorganized the department to free the Chair for that activity, and I believe that reorganization is among the best things I've achieved. To lead we must be engaged with all the other actors on the stage, we must be seen as critical to their success, and we must somehow be creative and innovative but also efficient, agile and professional. Our success shows we've achieved those goals.

Of course, the main focus of the department has been the education of our students and making the research breakthroughs that will change the world. We've encouraged our students to get into research and engage in entrepreneurial activities, and they have won more than their share of recognition and success for both. The faculty has also excelled at teaching and research, with numerous distinguished teaching awards—including the election of two CS faculty members to the University's Academy of Distinguished Teachers—and exciting discoveries in microprocessor design, compilation techniques, programming language design, algorithms, robotics, vision, security and many other areas. You've read about some of these in recent newsletters, and I'm sure you'll read about others in the future. Here I want to focus on our administrative activities because those are most often initiated and implemented by the Chair.

While I've been Chair, we launched the pre-CS program to control undergraduate admissions, the Turing Scholars honors program and the First Bytes summer camp for high school girls. These three initiatives were well along in the planning stages when I took over from my predecessor, Ben Kuipers. But now all three are well established and integral to our program. Turing Scholars is a signature program now and makes us competitive for the best students in the country. First Bytes is popular and growing—we hosted 60 girls on campus last summer—and I'm pleased that we've been able to find funding to continue it and also to create a similar camp for high school computer science teachers. We've also revitalized the Women in Computer Sciences organization and helped them assemble a CS Roadshow that they've taken to dozens of high schools across the state to show students and their teachers what computer scientists do and how we change the world. We've also recently won funding for Breakfast Bytes, a once-a-month Saturday morning CS club for middle school students and their parents.

Another major project has been to reach out to Hispanics and other minorities. This is of surpassing strategic importance to the department in a state that will become majority Hispanic in a decade or two. We were one of the founding members of the Empowering Leadership Alliance, and we've set up exchange programs with Tec de Monterrey in Mexico and with the University of Cordoba in Argentina. Seventeen percent of our undergraduates are Hispanic—by far the largest Hispanic enrollment among the top-10 CS departments.

This focus on outreach relates to the hardest problem I've faced as Chair: the precipitous drop in CS enrollment nationwide. With the dot-com bust and fear of off-shoring in 2001 and 2002, CS enrollment nationwide crashed to less than 50% of its 1999 level. With that crash came a similar decrease in that part of our budget generated by tuition and fees. Nevertheless, throughout this period the department has been dynamic and growing, from 35 tenured and tenure-track faculty members to 45 today. The Dean has committed to growing the faculty to 60 tenured and tenure-track over the next ten years.

To accommodate the greatly enlarged scope of computer science, we've undertaken the first major revision of our undergraduate curriculum in two decades. We plan to launch it in Fall 2010, so my successor will be primarily responsible for seeing it through.

Another major change while I've been Chair is our thriving Friends of Computer Sciences (FoCS) industrial affiliates program. FoCS helps keep us in touch with the companies that hire our students, and it provides valuable services to the faculty. To manage FoCS and alumni relations, we set up the Office of External Affairs (OEA) which has also revitalized our outreach to alumni. Did you know that UTCS produces between 15 and 20% of all the CS Bachelors degrees conferred by top-10 departments nationally? That's an astonishing impact on the national workforce. What starts here really does change the world!

During the last eight years the department's faculty has won an astonishing number of awards, including 10 prestigious NSF Career Awards to new faculty, many distinguished fellowships, eight international ACM or IEEE awards, the first ever elections of UTCS faculty members to the National Academy of Engineering and a Turing Award in 2007 to Allen Emerson for the invention of model checking. Our research and our people have also generated a lot of media attention, which the Office of External Affairs tracks, facilitates and leverages for the department.

So it is safe to say it's been a great 8 years. And like any success story, it cannot all be credited to one person. I was Chair, yes, but our award-winning faculty, our top-tier students and our dedicated and professional staff really did the work. If I were stepping down from most other leadership positions, I'd have to say goodbye to all these wonderful people. The great thing about stepping down from the Chair's job is that I actually rejoin them.

I especially thank my wife, Jo O'Neil. There is no way I could have done the job—especially for 8 years—without her full and enthusiastic support. I have truly felt that she and I were doing the job together.

We both happily say farewell to the duties of the Chair and look forward to my being a regular faculty member again. We'll spend the Fall semester in Scotland where I will spend a semester's leave getting back into my research. But you'll find me once again in the halls next Spring, and I hope that in some not-too-distant Spring we're in new halls!

I want to thank the whole community for letting me be Chair and for stepping up to all the challenges we faced. It has been a real privilege to learn how great our community is and to be its ambassador.

Chair J Strother Moore, UTCS

Other UTCS News

UTCS Events

Enjoy a retrospective look at department events:

Ph.D. Graduation Ceremony

Good Bytes and Good Luck

Richard Stallman Distinguished Lecture

GradFest 2009

Explore UT/Explore UTCS

2009 Visions Lecture

Scholarship Luncheon

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UTCS Staff News

UTCS welcomes new employees:

Staff Service Awards:

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Major Events & Deadlines

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The articles below are also included as clickable links in the Chair's farewell message above.

Research Corner: Data Mining

Data Mining is the automated discovery of interesting patterns and relationships in large data sets, and can be used to “mine’’ data that arises in applications as varied as bioinformatics, computer systems, social network analysis and astronomy. There are two fundamental paradigms in data mining --- (a) supervised learning, where the computer has some external information about the function to be predicted, and (b) unsupervised learning, where no such external information is available.

A fundamental task in unsupervised learning is that of cluster analysis or clustering. Clustering is the task of dividing a data set into clusters or categories where data objects within a cluster are closely related to each other, whereas data objects in different clusters are less related. Note that clustering is distinct from the task of supervised classification, where a training set of data objects and their class labels is given to a user. Given a data set, clustering can be an invaluable exploratory tool in mining and understanding the data. For example, to predict the ratings of movies by users in the “Netflix Prize Challenge,” it is useful to cluster similar users and movies together in order to use this neighborhood information for better movie rating predictions.

While clustering is an invaluable task, often one needs to go beyond traditional clustering formulations to mine data in modern applications. In many of these applications, such as, analysis of text data, bioinformatics, recommender systems, market-basket analysis, data often occurs as two-dimensional arrays or matrices. In such cases, it is desirable to cluster both dimensions simultaneously, for example, words & documents, genes & tissue samples, users & movies, customers & items purchased. The task of clustering both dimensions (or even multiple dimensions in the case of multi-dimensional data) is known as the task of co-clustering or bi-clustering.

Professor Dhillon’s research group has made important advances in both the theory and practice of co-clustering. On the theoretical side, Dhillon’s group has developed novel information-theoretic formulations of various co-clustering objectives and developed new algorithms for optimizing these mathematical objectives. On the practical side, the novel algorithms have been applied to real-life problems in text mining, bioinformatics and recommender systems. As an example, the figure on the right hand side shows the outcome of co-clustering gene expression data in a bioinformatics application. The rows are indexed by genes while the columns represent tissue samples. The figure shows that the new co-clustering algorithms are able to identify (without any “supervised” information) three different types of leukemia: AML (Acute myelogenous leukemia) and two subtypes of ALL (Acutle lymphoblastic leukemia), and the corresponding genes that are relevant to the cancerous tissue samples.

by Professor Inderjit Dhillon, Associate Professor, Biological Data Mining Research Group

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Friends of Computer Sciences: Did You Know?

In addition to strategic recruiting access:

For more information, please contact Nancy P. Hatchett at 512.471.9793 or

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UTCS Alumni Reconnect

Alumni News from Conor Cunningham, (B.S., 1996)

Conor Cunningham received a B.S. in Computer Science from The University of Texas at Austin in 1996 and has worked for Microsoft building database engine technologies for over 10 years. While at Microsoft, he completed his Masters degree in Computer Science in 2004 from the University of Washington, Seattle. His interests include database query optimization and query processing theory as well as the implementation of high-scale enterprise systems. He recently joined the UTCS Alumni Steering committee.

While at UT, Conor was President of the UT ACM Student chapter. He and other members developed one of the first online resume databases and popularized company nights to connect students with companies. Conor received the Dean’s Honored Graduate for the College of Natural Sciences for contributions to the department during his time at UT. After graduating, Conor moved to Seattle to join Microsoft and work on building database technologies. Initially, he worked on client database technologies, including building a version 1.0 database engine for embedded systems. Later, Conor spent over 5 years as a Development Leadworking on the SQL Server Query Optimizer developing algorithms to improve query plan selection performance, introduce new classes of query operations and improve performance on the latest hardware. Conor returned to Austin in 2006 and spent over a year outside of Microsoft working at an Austin-based software company. He also founded his own business to work with clients from around the world to consult on high-end database deployments. In 2008, Conor resumed working for Microsoft from Austin and is now Principal Architect on the SQL Server Query Processor focusing on next-generation solutions and designs that will appear in future releases.

Conor is the author of a number of peer-reviewed technical papers related to query processing. He is inventor or co-inventor on a range of patents related to various aspects of database systems design and recently published a book chapter related to SQL Server Query Processor design and architecture.

CS Alumnus Creates LinkedIn Account

Karl Harris, UTCS alumnus, has created a private LinkedIn account for UTCS alumni, current students, current faculty, and current staff members. If you are interested in joining, please visit

Academic Outreach and Initiatives

Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Thanks to a generous grant from ConocoPhillips, the department sent 20 Hispanic students to the 2009 Tapia Celebration in Computing Conference in Portland, Oregon, April 1-4. The students attended research talks, participated in a poster session, served on panel presentations and networked with other students, faculty and researchers. One student commented, "For three days I was surrounded by very intelligent people with many diverse and interesting ideas who've inspired me to learn more and get more involved in Computer Science. Furthermore, my perception of Computer Science was utterly transformed after the conference. I've realized that Computer Science involves so much more than I thought it did, and I'm excited to see where all of this will take me."

2009 First Bytes Camp for High School Women - The department will hold its 7th annual week-long residential camp for 60 high school junior and senior women. The students learn programming and create 3D movies using the Alice programming language, listen to professor lectures, tour research labs and meet with industry. The camp is designed to dispel myths about computer science and intrigue young women with the potential of computing and the excitement of problem solving. The camp is generously sponsored by, Cisco, Google, Lockheed Martin and the Texas Workforce Commission.

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Student Spotlight

Computer Sciences Student Wins $5,000 Outstanding Dissertation Award

Computer Sciences graduate student Benjamin Hardekopf was presented the $5,000 Outstanding Dissertation Award, which recognizes exceptional work by doctoral students.

Read the complete article at:

UT Student Adapts Campus Maps and Directory for iPhone

Michael Miller developed UT iPhone application.

An application for iPhone and iPod Touch devices developed by a UT computer sciences freshman may make getting around campus just a little easier.

Michael Miller developed the Texas Directory application, allowing users to search for any student or faculty member by name, phone number, e-mail or office location at UT. It provides campus maps fit to scale for the iPhone so users can search for buildings with ease and add any person listed in the directory directly to their contact list.

“I just wanted to develop something for iPhone that I thought would be useful,” Miller said.

Miller developed the program over the course of the fall semester. The Texas Directory application was accepted by Apple and released on Dec. 22. It is now available for $2.99 on the Apple store Web site.

Miller said the application took him three to four months to develop between classes. He paid Apple a $99 fee to become part of their developer’s program, which allows the developer to test their applications on their own and 99 other iPhone devices.

After Apple reviews and accepts the application, it handles the credit card fees and takes 30 percent of the profits from sales.

“IPhone is a really great platform, because it’s really easy to find the application,” Miller said. “It is really a great resource for independent developers like myself.”

Computer sciences freshman Ben Hiller said he uses the application weekly, and it has been useful for finding his way around campus.

“I downloaded it because I thought it would be useful to find buildings and find the locations of my professors,” Hiller said.

Hiller added that you can access a map and find where the room is located without searching through the Texas Web site.

Miller said he hopes to reinvest his profits into new applications. Some of his future program ideas include an application that would allow students to manage their classes through their iPhones, an automatic alarm set to class times and an optimal schedule application based on the user’s class preferences.

Natalie Ziskind
The Daily Texan
Published: Monday, February 2, 2009

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