Significant Bits

Election Data: One Picture is Worth…

November 14th, 2014 in Significant Bits.

Tech professionals who work at election offices have pretty full calendars these days; but Albert Grimes, CIO at the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance, took time out of his busy schedule to chat about how the office handles the flood of political contribution data that comes in shortly before Election Day. Grimes spoke at Boston University’s Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering along with Paul Clark, a data analyst and disclosure business architect with the Federal Elections Commission.

Commenting on this event, ComputerWorld Sharon Machlis notes:

One key, he says, is making sure that people who want to know who’s financing the various candidates have easy access to that data. That constituency includes voters, the media and political enthusiasts, as well as candidates and their organizations.

What’s the most interesting thing he and his team are working on? Data visualization, Grimes said, so it’s easier for people to understand trends in where money is coming from to back various politicians and policies. It’s one thing to get a whole series of reports back on who’s contributed to a politician or political committee, he noted.

[Read more]

BU Expanding Its Ranks of Data Scientists

November 10th, 2014 in Data Science News, Significant Bits.

November 10 2014 from BU today

BU plans to hire up to six data scientists—the intellectual miners extracting applicable information from the mountains of Big Dataover the next three years

Data scientists use mathematical models to analyze voluminous data and draw knowledge from it that can be used in a variety of applications, from health care and business to design and communications. The University provost’s faculty hiring initiative aims to bolster BU’s ranks in a burgeoning field and also to advance the University’s focus on interdisciplinary research.

“It’s not like we don’t do data science. But we don’t have enough data science scholars to address the need for data science by lots of other disciplines,” says Azer Bestavros, director of BU’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering. Current data science is done by handfuls of professors in “small islands of collaborations,” he says, “two or three faculty working together.…We need to do a lot more.”

[Read More]

TripAdvisor to Personalize Data for Travelers

November 3rd, 2014 in Significant Bits.

Azer Bestavros, Institute Founding Director and professor of computer science, was quoted in a Boston Globe article discussing TripAdvisor’s decision to personalize travel recommendations for its users:

Amazon Inc. pioneered personalized searches more than a decade ago, and now “it’s hard to find a website that doesn’t do it,” said Azer Bestavros, director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering at Boston University.

Bestavros said TripAdvisor probably spent a lot of time trying to understand the context of each click users made, and how to use that information to improve browsing and search results.

“It’s a big undertaking because of the market research they would have to do,” Bestavros said. “What is the impact on how people use the site?”

[Read more]

Rewards and Risks of Big Data for Smart Cities

October 1st, 2014 in BU News, Data Science News, SCOPE News, Significant Bits.

USS.Open City.Panelists

The inaugural BU Initiative on Cities (IoC) Urban Seminar, The Open City, examined a key question facing urban communities: How can cities take the massive influx of raw data, turn it into knowledge, and turn that knowledge into a better city?

Speakers from Boston University, Northeastern University and the City of Boston, explored the ways in which big data can be leveraged to improve the very communities from which it originates. Sucharita Gopal (Professor of Earth & Environment, BU),  Nigel Jacob (Executive in Residence at Boston University; Co-Founder, New Urban Mechanics), and Dan O’Brien (Director of Research at the Boston Area Research Initiative and Assistant Professor at Northeastern), participated in a moderated discussion led by Seminar Co-Chair Nathan Philips.

[Read More: “Why”, “How”, and “Lessons Learned” from the IoC]


Hariri Institute Spearheads NSF-Funded “Smart City” Cloud Project

September 23rd, 2014 in BU News, Institute News, MOC News, SCOPE News, Significant Bits.

Boston University’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering today announced it has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a “smart-city” cloud platform designed to streamline and strengthen multiple municipal functions. Called SCOPE (A Smart-city Cloud-based Open Platform & Ecosystem), the project will pursue research that aims to improve support for and catalyze innovative solutions for transportation, energy, public safety, asset management, and social services in the City of Boston and across Massachusetts.

Read the Press Release and visit the Project Web Site for more information.

Mass Big Data Tech Trek Draws 39 Boston University Students

September 18th, 2014 in Significant Bits.

Thirty-nine BU students, from math, computer science and entrepreneurship “trekked” to local big data companies to meet with company founders, hear from leading data scientists, connect with other students, and experience incubation lab environment. Organized by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, BU students joined close to 100 other juniors, seniors, and grad students from leading computer science, math and business programs in Massachusetts,. Read the the Boston Business Journal article on the event.   With a long wait list, MassTech is considering a second week of trekking in October.

Hariri Institute Fellow Goldberg Featured in First Gitner Lecture

September 12th, 2014 in BU News, Institute News, Significant Bits.

Event date: September 18, 2014 5:30-6:45 PM ET

  Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave

The first annual Gerald and Deanne Gitner Family College of Arts & Sciences Lecture will feature Hariri Junior Faculty Fellow and CS Assistant Professor Sharon Goldberg. The lecture is about  “Advancing the Human Condition: An Agenda for Research and Education” and will feature a panel of CAS experts.

This event is free and open to the public, no registration required. If you are interested in other events happening during Alumni Weekend 2014, click here for details.

Rosella Capella, Department of Political Science
Sharon Goldberg, Department of Computer Science
Joseph Harris, Department of Sociology
Lucy Hutyra, Department of Earth & Environment
Jeremy Menchik, Pardee School of Global Studies
Henrik Selin, Pardee School of Global Studies

Virginia Sapiro, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences
Adil Najam, Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies
Anthony Janetos, Director of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future


More information, click here or check the calendar please.

Hariri Institute Researchers Use Big Data to Find Safer Urban Paths

September 9th, 2014 in Data Science News, Institute News, SCOPE News, Significant Bits.

Boston University and University of Pittsburg researchers are utilizing Big Data to find urban walking paths that factor in both distance and safety. Esther Galbrun, a postdoc at BU working with Hariri Faculty Fellow Evimaria Terzi of the Computer Science Department, presented a paper titled “Safe Navigation in Urban Environments” at the 3rd International Workshop on Urban Computing in conjunction with KDD2014. She described a set of algorithms that analyzes the shortest path, the safest path, and alternatives in between to provide options for a person walking through a city while addressing concerns that people face everyday. As cities release more data and researchers like Galbrun find new ways to analyze it, people living in cities can potentially enjoy an improved quality of life.

[Read more]

BU Today: Securing the Cloud

August 2nd, 2014 in BU News, Institute News, MOC News, Significant Bits.

BU Researchers on Team to Move Cybersecurity from Theory to Practice

The Massachusetts Open Cloud (MOC), a one-of-a-kind marketplace model for customizable public cloud offerings now being built a team of researchers from BU and several other universities, may soon claim another first: a modular cybersecurity system built from smaller, separate functional components, each asserting its own security individually. As a result, the security of the system as a whole will be derived from the security of its components, rather than from a single firewall, as is currently the case with most cloud systems.

Ran Canetti, Director, Boston University Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security, Massachusetts Open Cloud, MOC, Modular Approach to Cloud Security, MACSThe cutting-edge approach will be designed by researchers from Boston University, MIT, the University of Connecticut, and Northeastern University with funding from a five-year, $10 million Frontier grant from theNational Science Foundation,$5.3 million of which will go to BU. The effort, known as the Modular Approach to Cloud Security (MACS), will be led by Ran Canetti, professor of computer science at the College of Arts & Sciences and director of the BU Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security.

“Our goal is to build a cloud with clear and transparent security properties,” says Canetti. “If successful, this project will transform the way we currently build and argue about secure systems.” Canetti says the goal involves more than developing hardware and software: it depends on understanding new ideas. Still, he says “we hope to build an actual system.”

Azer Bestavros, a CAS professor of computer science and the founding director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, says that, to date, people have talked about modular security in a theoretical sense, but making it a practical reality remains “a dream.”

“The problem with typical security on a cloud is that there is no way to check everything,” says Bestavros. “The systems are too big, and there are too many different technologies. Trying to secure the whole thing is a lost cause.”

To understand the MACS modular approach, says Bestavros, imagine making a house secure by securing every room and then combining all of the secure pieces. “It’s a very difficult problem,” he says. “We hope to take it from theory to practice in a real cloud.”

Among the many challenges and needs presented by the project are hardware with built-in secrecy and integrity properties; small and versatile operating systems that offer minimal functionality but are simpler and easier to analyze; privacy-preserving and verifiable memory access for outsourced applications; and algorithms for privacy-preserving, verifiable outsourced computations and database systems.

In addition to Canetti and Bestavros, the BU team working on the project includes Jonathan Appavoo, assistant professor of computer science at CAS; Sharon Goldberg, assistant professor of computer science at CAS and Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow; George Kollios, professor of computer science at CAS; and Orran Krieger, a research professor in the department of computer science and Director of the Hariri Institute’s Cloud Computing Initiative.

Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, MGHPCC, Massachusetts Open Cloud, MOC

The MACS project will use as a test bed the Massachusetts Open Cloud now being built in a collaborative effort by researchers from BU, Harvard, UMass Amherst, MIT, and Northeastern University, as well as the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL). Software developers will interpret early research results and code them into a privacy-preserving solution to allow users of the MOC to share systems data, a capability that will offer more choices for researchers conducting experiments on cloud computing and allow them to build high-performance systems at a fraction of the current cost

Bestavros says BU’s work on MOC helped the University win the latest Frontier award from the NSF. “That kind of work enables us to be competitive for things like this,” says Bestavros. “It really puts BU in the leadership of computing research.”

The MACS project includes an education component, which offers programs that familiarize technology professionals with cybersecurity and its central role in our society and economy. It will also support new programs that will introduce K–12 students to cybersecurity and to computer science more broadly. The K–12 program will target students from demographic groups that are under-represented in the sciences as well as students with exceptional academic potential.

Improving Living Conditions in Developing Countries

July 17th, 2014 in Significant Bits.

A cross-disciplinary team, including researchers from the BU School of Public Health, Department of Computer Science, and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering were awarded the BU Social Entrepreneurship Award at the BU Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll (TDRR) event on July 15, 2014 for their project titled, “Project SEARCH: Scanning Ears for Child Health.”

The research studies ear biometrics’ potential for solving patient identification challenges in global field settings. It involves undergraduate and graduate researchers and multiple course projects on science and technology that have potential to have significant impact on living conditions in lesser developed countries.

The team consists of:

In addition, the comparative study and development portion of this project has been done as a course project last spring for the courses:

  •  CAS CS 585 Image and Video Computing taught by Diane Theriault
  •  CAS CS 542 Machine learning taught by Peter Chin (CS Research Professor and Hariri Institute Visiting Fellow)

Christopher Gill, Elizabeth Ragan, and Courtney Johnson created the system and conducted initial feasibility studies using mouse clicks on images of ears.  Fatih Cakir, a Computer Science doctoral student, heard about the project through Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Muhammad Zaman. Cakir subsequently followed up with a discussion of the past literature he had surveyed on ear biometrics. When Cakir served as the Teaching Fellow for CS 542 this past spring, he encouraged a team of students in CS 542 to develop the SEARCH ear scanning prototype for the iPhone in their course project. The result is promising, and the team plans to port it to the Android platform and conduct field testing soon.

For more information, visit the website or watch the video.