A report from CDS 20 & CMS 0

All of the slides (and some videos) are now up from the Control and Dynamical Systems (CDS) 20th anniversary workshop that we held here at Caltech earlier this month.

The workshop was a huge success, and it was thrilling to see so many alums from the PhD program coming back.  It’s really amazing to see how successful the program has been, and how varied the research is that they are doing now.  CDS alums have become professors at all of the top 15 universities in the world (according to the London Times ranking), and they hold positions in a huge variety of departments: CS, EE, Control, Mech E, Math, and Bio.  So, as a result, the applications covered during the CDS20 workshop were extremely broad: from bio and physiology, to communication networks and the smart grid, to machine learning and privacy.

And, not only was the worshop the 20th anniversary of CDS, it marked the kickoff our our new Computing and Mathematical Sciences (CMS) PhD program.  We used the last session to highlight the evolution of CDS, which has resulted in the emergence of CMS.   This new program is really modeled after the tenets of CDS that have proven so successful: seek rigor and relevance, and ensure that research is student-centric. I’ve written about this new program in a previous post, but I put together a slide deck for CDS20 that I think does a pretty good job of introducing the program.  We can only hope that in 20 years we’ll have had as much impact as CDS…

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Resnick Sustainability Institute Post-Doctoral Fellowship

I’d like to announce a postdoc opportunity at Caltech for those on the energy-side of things.  The program is run by the Resnick Institute, which is the overarching center for energy research of all forms on campus.  It includes the things that we (Steven, Mani, me, etc) do in power systems, as well as lots of other activities across materials, chemistry, physics, aeronautics, etc.  So, it’s a great place for interdisciplinary work.

Here’s the blurb about the postdoc fellowship:

About the Resnick Sustainability Institute Post-Doctoral Fellowship: The Resnick fellows will have support for up to two years to work on creative, cross-catalytic research that complements the existing work of the Caltech faculty, or that creates new research directions within the mission areas of the Resnick Sustainability Institute. Eligible candidates will have completed their PhD within five years of the start of the appointment, and should have secured a commitment from one or more Caltech faculty members to serve as a mentor and provide office/lab space for the length of the fellowship. Candidates can come from any country, provided they are proficient in English. Applications consisting of a research proposal, cover letter, recommendations and CV can be submitted through our website: http://resnick.caltech.edu/fellowships-apply.php. The fellowship will provide an annual salary of $65,000 plus benefits, $6,000/year in research budget, and relocation allowance of $3,000. Any questions can be directed to rpd@caltech.edu.

Note that this is not the only postdoc program available for folks that want to join RSRG.  We also look for postdocs through the CMI program, and that call will come out later in the fall.  Applications for CMI tend to be due in December.

The Community Seismic Network: Citizen Science and the Cloud

We almost missed the chance to highlight that the cover story of the July, 2014 issue of the Communications of the ACM (CACM) is a paper by a Caltech group on the Community Seismic Network (CSN). This note is about CSN as an example of system in a growing, important nexus: citizen science, inexpensive sensors, and cloud computing.

CSN uses inexpensive MEMS accelerometers or accelerometers in phones to detect shaking from earthquakes. The CSN project builds accelerometer “boxes” that contain an accelerometer, a Sheevaplug, and cables. A citizen scientist merely affixes the small box to the floor with double-sided sticky tape, and connects cables from the box to power and to a router. Installation takes minutes.

Analytics in the Sheevaplug or some other computer connected to the accelerometer analyzes the raw data streaming in from the sensor. This analytics engine detects local anomalous acceleration. Local anomalies could be due to somebody banging on a door, or a big dog jumping off the couch (frequent occurrence in my house), or due to an earthquake. The plug computer or phone sends messages to the cloud when it detects a local anomaly. An accelerometer may measure at 200 samples per second, but messages get sent to the cloud at rates that range from one per minute, to one every 20 minutes. The local anomaly message includes the sensor id, location (because phones move), and magnitude.

There are four critical differences between community networks and traditional seismic networks:

  •  Community sensor fidelity is much poorer than that of expensive instruments.
  •  The quality of deployment of community sensors by ordinary citizens is much more varied than that of sensors deployed by professional organizations.
  • Community sensors can be deployed more densely than expensive sensors. Think about the relative density of phones versus seismometers in earthquake-prone regions of the world such as Peru, India, China, Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia.
  • Community sensors are deployed where communities are located, and these locations may not be the most valuable for scientists.

Research questions investigated by the Caltech CSN team include: Are community sensor networks useful? Does the lower-fidelity, varied installation practices, and relatively random deployment result in networks that don’t provide value to the community and don’t provide value to science? Can community networks add value to other networks operated by government agencies and companies? Can inexpensive cloud computing services be used to fuse data from hundreds of sensors to detect earthquakes within seconds?

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Graduation time

In between trips, I had the pleasure of being back at Caltech for Commencement to congratulate the three RSRGers whom we’re sending off into the world this year. So, congratulations again, Subhonmesh Bose, Matthew Faulkner, and Zhenhua Liu! As is typical in our group, all three of them have at least 2 co-advisers, with Bose clocking-in a record four!

It’s always sad to say goodbye to students, but in these cases, it’s a little easier because we know we’ll be seeing them frequently.

Bose and Zhenhua will be staying in academia, doing postdocs before starting their faculty jobs. Zhenhua will be doing a postdoc at Berkeley before joining the faculty of Stony Brook, which has become a powerhouse in performance modeling & energy now with the recent additions of Xue Liu, Ansul Ghandi, and Zhenhua. Bose will be doing a postdoc at Cornell before starting his faculty position, but he has not yet decided where that will be. Matt is taking a different route, but we’ll be seeing him frequently too, I’m sure, since he is doing a startup making use of ideas from his thesis.

RSRG does a triathlon

Our group has a history of doing athletic events during our outings over the years — hikes and even half-marathons.  But, this past weekend, we tried something a little more involved — a triathlon!  Besides me, only one person in the group had done a triathlon before (most hadn’t even done open water swimming before), but amazingly, we got six folks to do the race, and then three to put together a relay team to boot. Then, the rest of the group came along to cheer the triathletes along and have a nice picnic afterwards.  Quite a fun group event!

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Competing epidemics: Crowning a pandemaniac

I’ve already blogged once about the first miniproject of my class this term, rankmaniac, and now after a one-week break, it’s time for the second miniproject of the term: pandemaniac.

This is the part of the course that I’ve been looking forward to the most since the beginning of the term.  We’ve been prepping the infrastructure for the assignment since the Fall and now, thanks to two impressive undergrads (Max Hirschhorn and Angela Gong), we have a nice system built that will allow the students in the class to seed competing cascades and then watch them play out step by step…but, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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What makes Caltech special?

As you may have heard, Caltech has been ranked #1 in the world by the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings the last few years…

That’s nice and all, but Caltech is such an oddball of a place that to some extent, where it places in such rankings is more a function of how they normalize by size than anything else.  Caltech is simply an order-of-magnitude smaller than other places (we have only ~300 faculty institute-wide), so if you don’t normalize it suffers…

But, while rankings are always problematic, I think the feature that the THE put out about Caltech this week actually summarizes very well what makes Caltech such a special and unique place…and, of course, it comes from its size.

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