Newsletter for Fall 2008

In this issue…

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Message from the Chair

Dear alumni, students, and friends,

First, I would like to welcome our entering class of CS majors, the future class of 2012. It is already late October, and your first semester at Boston University is well underway. A special welcome also goes to our returning alumni who are attending the October Alumni Weekend activities. As part of the weekend, one of our CS alumnae, Alicia Cannon Mullen (CAS ’83), will receive a distinguished alumna award. We are delighted to welcome Alicia back to campus, and her professional accomplishments make our department — and indeed Boston University — very proud.

A great deal has happened in the Department since our spring newsletter.

Shang-Hua Teng and his long-time collaborator, Dan Spielman of Yale, were awarded the 2008 ACM Godel Prize for their landmark paper on Smoothed Analysis of algorithms. Congratulations Shang-Hua and Dan! Kudos also go to doctoral students Hany Morcos and George Atia, and their advisors Azer Bestavros and Abraham Matta who won a best paper prize for their paper “An Information Theoretic Framework for Field Monitoring Using Autonomously Mobile Sensors,” which they presented at the International Conference on Distributed Computing in Sensor Systems in June.

Faculty members were successful in landing a number of new research grants. The NSF funded Leonid Levin’s grant Randomness, Non-determinism and Symmetry Breaking. Assaf Kfoury, Azer Bestavros, and Abraham Matta also garnered NSF support for a new project: Genericity in Network Software: Using Type Systems to Harness Diverse Theories and Calculi for Scalable and Safe Compositions of Network Services.

Particularly noteworthy are the three new grants that were awarded to support collaborative research involving BU CS faculty and our alumni. Feifei Li (GRS ’07), who is now an Assistant Professor at Florida State, has teamed up with George Kollios and Leo Reyzin in a project on trustworthy database systems. Vassilis Athitsos (GRS ’06), who is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, will work with Kollios on an NSF-funded effort to develop methods for subsequence matching in very large time series databases. And Paul Barford (GRS ’00), who is now an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has teamed up with Mark Crovella and others to develop a measurement platform for the NSF Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) Project.

Details about these and other news items are given below. I think you will share the pride we have in the achievements of our students, alumni, and faculty.

With best wishes,

Stan Sclaroff, Chair
Department of Computer Science
Boston University

Congratulations Class of 2008!

The 2008 CS Convocation ceremony was held in the College of Fine Arts Auditorium and featured well-received speeches by our alumnae Rebecca Norlander, our student Szu Han Chang, and our Director of Undergraduate Studies Prof. Margrit Betke. After the speeches, Michael Mallon was awarded the “College Prize for Excellence in Computer Science.”

Rebecca Norlander graduated from BU with a BA in CS in 1991 and then joined Microsoft as a developer in the Excel team. Over the years, she has established herself as one of the most capable technical leads at Microsoft, often assigned to some of the company’s most critical development projects. More recently, she served as the Technical Strategist for Ray Ozzie, who succeeded Bill Gates as Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect in June 2006. Rebecca gave an inspiring speech that underscored the importance of believing in ones ability to “change the world for the better through software and technology.”

Szu Han Chang received both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Computer Science at the ceremony. Han is well known among our students because, as a student in the BA/MA program, he took most of the classes offered in our department. During his speech, he showed the web pages and course projects of a few of the courses he had attended and commented them with lots of humor.

Pictures from the convocation ceremonies are available at

Congratulations Class of 2008, and welcome to the BUCAN community!

Alicia Mullen Inducted in the Collegium and Academy of Distinguished Alumni

Alicia Mullen was inducted in the Collegium and Academy of Distinguished Alumnia on October 24th during the 2008 Alumni & Reunion Weekend. The photo shows Alicia (on the left) receiving her award from CAS Dean Sapiro.

After becoming the first woman to receive a bachelor’s from the Computer Science department, Alicia Cannon Mullen started a Wall Street career in J.P. Morgan Bank’s training program. Subsequently, she joined First Options of Chicago, a major clearing firm for professional traders, as a management information systems project manager. In 1990, she was promoted to CIO to oversee all technology and telecommunications for the company. Then in 1995, she joined the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the world’s largest futures and options exchange, as senior vice president and CIO of all systems development efforts.

In 1996, she was named one of the Top 100 Women in Computing by the McGraw Hill Companies – publisher of Business Week. Subsequently, Ms. Mullen took a career hiatus to raise her three children and join the leadership of a variety of nonprofit organizations. Most recently, she was president of Redmoon Theater, where she supported bringing exciting large-scale visual spectacles to public sites. Drawing on her technology management background, she recently founded Washing Pond Ventures, which is committed to helping select entrepreneurial businesses to establish new market opportunities.

In her acceptance speech, Alicia recounted her fond memories of her education at BU, crediting her parents for encouraging her to leverage her love of Mathematics by pursuing a career in computer science, and crediting the rich liberal arts traditions in the College of Arts and Sciences and the diversity of programs and offerings at BU for preparing her to excel in the fast-moving field of Information Technology. Alicia is the second CS Alumni to receive this honor. J Allard received this award in 2003.

Congratulations to Alicia!

Shang-Hua Teng Wins Godel Prize

DanShanghua_t.jpgLast July, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computing Theory (SIGACT) bestowed one of its most prestigious awards — the Godel Prize — to Shang-Hua Teng and his colleague Daniel Spielman of Yale University for their groundbreaking work on “Smoothed Analysis” of algorithms, published first in a 2001 paper that explained a problem that eluded mathematicians for over fifty years: why practical instances of the Simplex method take polynomial time when traditional complexity analysis suggest that the it would take exponential time. Since then, smoothed analysis has been used as a basis for considerable research, confirming its importance to scientific computing.

The Godel Prize, which includes an award of $5,000, is named in honor of Kurt Godel, who was born in Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic) in 1906. Godel’s work has had immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century. The award recognizes his major contributions to mathematical logic and the foundations of computer science.

For more coverage, check the ACM press release and the BU Today article on this award.

Congratulations to Shang-Hua for this extraordinary recognition!

Can you Trust Outsourced Services? Reyzin /Kollios May Have Answers!

With the emergence of technologies involving Cloud Computing and Software as a Service (SaaS), the security of outsourced computation becomes of paramount importance. How could a client authenticate the results that it gets from a system to which a particular functionality or service has been outsourced?

Take a distributed database system as an example. To improve efficiency and reliability, a system may outsource the service of at least some of its queries to distributed servers located throughout a network (i.e., in the cloud) close to the querying clients. To do so in a cost-effective manner, such servers are likely to be operated by third parties that possess both the necessary resources, in terms of computation, communication, and storage, and the required expertise to provide efficient data management and query functionalities to data consumers. This way, data owners delegate their database management needs to servers and are freed from the high costs of purchasing, training, and maintaining data centers that are not the core of their business focus (called database outsourcing). Clients may enjoy better services when the database is administered by a third party with extensive experience and specialized strength in managing database systems. Because of the servers’ ubiquity, the logistics associated with fully securing them may be prohibitive; moreover, when the servers are run by third parties, the clients may not trust them as much as they trust the original data owners. The administrators that manage the servers may be subject to coercion and bribery, or simple incompetence. The servers’ equipment may be compromised, or their software hacked. The database system running on the servers may simply have software bugs. Thus, the authenticity of answers provided by servers in response to clients’ queries must be verifiable by the clients. Clients need to be assured not only that the responses they receive are actually contained in the database, but also that no responsive records have been omitted from the result, and, in the case of dynamically changing data, that the result is with respect to the freshest version of the database available.

The above example is precisely what research by George Kollios and Leo Reyzin is addressing — research that the National Science Foundation (NSF) recognized as important, funding their research along these lines for the next three years at the tune of $250K. In their work, cryptographic approaches are used to establish trust in the query results returned by third-party servers, for specific types of queries.

Major Media Outlets Report on ASL Research

Since we reported in the last BUCAN newsletter on the American Sign Language research at Boston University, a number of media outlets have run stories on this line of research, spearheaded by Stan Sclaroff, his colleague Carol Neidle in the Linguistics Program at BU, and his former student Vassilis Athitsos, now a faculty member at the University of Texas, Arlington.

Coverage included Associated Press features that appeared in news outlets and newspapers such as MSNBC, > CNN , and The San Diego Union-Tribune. The Discovery Channel featured a video segment in which Stan Sclaroff demonstrated some of the project software. Check them out!

The Sound and the Fury: Suing Students won’t Cure RIAA Blues

In its perspectives column, Bostonia Magazine ran an article on the on-going saga of litigations by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against students on a number of campuses, including about 100 students at BU, for illegal music downloads. In that article, CS Faculty Azer Bestavros and Leo Reyzin, who had participated in a number of on-campus events and panels on that subject, expressed their concerns not only about the effectiveness of the RIAA tactics, but also about the reliability of the evidence used by the RIAA against students. The article also recounted the experience of CS Student Paul Sawaya (CAS ’10), who was pursued by the RIAA for developing a “Jukebox” application for Facebook, which allowed people to post a playlist of links to music hosted on another site. “The RIAA played on my ignorance of the law, hoping that I would just shut down my site,” Sawaya said, noting that after seeking legal advice and finally tracking down an RIAA representative, he learned that he could keep the application active if he deleted links to songs that the RIAA listed as protected by copyright.

Nominations Sought for BU/CS Distinguished Alumni Award

It is now time to solicit nominations for the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award! All alumni are invited to submit nominations. Nominations will be accepted via email sent to A nomination must include current contact information for both the nominator and nominee, and a short (1-2 paragraph) justification. Self nominations are welcome.

The CS Distinguished Alumni Award was established in 2008 to recognize CS alumnus or alumna who has excelled in his or her professional career. Rebecca Norlander received this award in Spring 2008.

Boston University Winterfest and Discoveries Series

Boston University’s fourth-annual Winterfest weekend will take place from February 28 to March 1, 2009. The weekend is open to all alumni and their families. The weekend offers a wide range of events and activities, including a Terrier Tailgate and hockey game, tours of campus, Alumni College classes, an ice-sculpting contest, ice skating, and other activities just for kids.

A detailed schedule will soon be available on the Winterfest Web site:

It’s your world. Take a closer look and dig deeper into issues that matter with BU’s best minds by participating in Discoveries — a series of dynamic learning opportunities for the Boston University alumni community. The following are the events planned for the remainder of this academic year.

  • Thursday, December 11, 2008: Forgiveness: In War, Peace, Ordinary Times, and Extraordinary Circumstances, by Professor of Philosophy Charles Griswold.
  • Thursday, February 5, 2009: Cuba’s 50 Years of Castro, by Professor of Sociology & International Relations Susan Eckstein and Assistant Dean of Students Darryl Deluca.
  • Thursday, April 16, 2009: The Bailout, Six Months Later: Where Are We and What Lies Ahead? A Panel Discussion with BU’s Economic Experts.
  • Thursday, May 14, 2009: The Road to Sloogle: Building a Video Lexicon of American Sign Language, by Professor of Computer Sciences Stan Scarloff and Professor of Linguistics and French Carol Neidle.

More details will be posted on the BU Alumni Web site at