Monday, November 2, 2009

Conference Trip

I just got back from a trip to Villanova University to the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges - East conference. It's a great place to see what people from campuses similar to ours are doing in their classrooms. There were faculty from other state system schools, liberal arts colleges, and the Penn State branch campuses. You can see what kinds of things we talked about at

I was presenting the work we've done on using video phenomenography to study how student's problem solving strategies mature throughout their education. I was most pleased with two other sessions. One was by an alumnus of ours, Jeff Stone, who is teaching at Penn State Schuylkyl and is exploring what effects student's perceptions of computer science as a discipline and the other was by the Philadelphia Area Computer Science Teacher's Association and how they are working toward certification of high school computer science teachers. I agree!

I was very pleased to see that we continue to have more flexibility in our curriculum and our research as a result of the generosity of our alumni. I spoke with a colleague who was hampered in an interesting project for his CS1 students because his administration didn't have $100 for some equipment. I agree that times are tough, but our alumni continue to help us sustain a strong program that involves our students in lots of interesting project and I am grateful for that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our Programming Team Rocks!

In preparation for the ACM regional competition, our programming team competed in an internet contest last night. Our first team (Philip Diffenderfer, Keith Porter, and Casey Boone) solved five problems in 227 minutes coming in first place! Our second team (Logan Kennedy, Robert Koch, and Emily Bruckart) also solved five problems but took a slightly longer 312 minutes coming in second place. Our third team had two members who were competing in their first competition ( Philip Hagar, Brendan Johnston, Steve Jurnach) but still solved two problems.

Our first two teams beat Dickinson, Millersville, University of Delaware, and Washington College. We'll see them all again on November 7th at the regional competition. Here's hoping we beat them there, too!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

P =? NP in the NY Times!

Yesterday, one of the classic computer science problems was discussed in the New York Times. They give a reasonable description of the P =? NP problem and why it is fundamental challenge in computer science. However, there are some errors that come from trying to explain the problem in general terms. Can you find them?

The source of this article is an article in the Communications of the ACM which gives a much more clear description of the problem. It's an article every computer science student should read! Let me know what you think!

Friday, October 2, 2009

More lab improvements!

We have recently made a number of improvements to our subnet. After getting single-sign-on to work for our Linux machines, Macs, and servers, we have started to work on improving off-campus access for our students. With that in mind, we have installed OpenVPN to give our student virtual private network access to our machines. This means that, even when they are at home, it can feel like they are on our floor (behind the campus firewall). We've even made that work with our single-sign-on configuration so that credentials are automatically retrieved.

Even on our floor, VPN access can be beneficial. The wireless points on our floor are connected to the campus network - not our subnet. This means that access to our servers isn't direct and you run into firewall issues. Using the VPN access bypasses those problems. Therefore, my Mac laptop always has TunnelBlk (the mac Open VPN client) on. And, as a great side benefit, that makes my wireless connection a secure connection even though we don't have secure wireless access points.

Students can read more about how to take advantage of these features by reading about them on the "Equipment Support" website on the accounts.

We are working hard to continue to improve our infrastructure. If you have ideas for other changes we should make, please let us know!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Computer Engineering

We are preparing to propose a new computer engineering degree. As it stands, it includes:
  • 39 credits of computer science including much of our embedded concentration
  • 19 credits of math (calc 1, calc 2, differential equations, discrete math, and statistics)
  • 23 credits of physics (phys I and II, electronics, semi-conductors, and others we are still specifying)
We are hopeful that this will build a bridge between our degree and physics much like computer graphics created a bridge between us and the art programs. In addition, physics is considering revising their applied physics degree to include some of our embedded courses. We think building a stronger relationship with physics will strengthen our programs. What do you all think?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Game-related Clubs

The final word is: there are TWO game related clubs!!!!!

The mission of the Game Development Club is "to learn how to integrate various skills and talents through the development of video games . . . much attention will be paid to graphics, audio, and game-play." You can find them on facebook and they meet in MCT 165 on Fridays from 2 to 5.

The Game Programming Club in interested in the programming aspects of creating a game including artificial intelligence, networking, physics, graphics and game control. They meet Wednesdays at 6:00 in MCT 165.

Feel free to join the one that interests you more - or join them both!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tutoring News

Over the past couple of years, we have used a graduate assistant to provide tutoring for all of our 100 and 200 level courses. This year is not exception. You can find Sarah Joseph in the office behind the seminar room throughout the week. We've posted her hours all around the floor, so you should be able to find her. She's finished all of our undergraduate degree, so she can help with most upper division courses, too.

However, this year is special! The Learning Center has hired Tristan Dalius to also be a tutor for our 100 and 200 level courses. He's a great choice for that position and we are very excited that the Learning Center is helping.

It's important that we talk about the role of tutoring in our department. Our faculty work hard to teach their classes well and are always available to give help during office hours. You should avail yourself of those opportunities. However, sometimes you need a different perspective on a topic to understand it well. That's where tutors come into play. Since they are students, they can offer a different take on the material. In addition, they can give you studying tips and practice problems with you. They can be a great help in many ways.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meeting times for fall

Fall semester is well under way and our student organizations are getting organized. I thought I'd give some pointers to what they are up to.

Programming Team is planning on meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:00 in MCT 165. EVERYONE is welcome! In particular, freshmen should consider attending. We know that you don't know much about programming, but the things you see there will give you another perspective on the material you see in CS1.

Our WiCS team will be meeting on Mondays at 6:30 in the cuboid. This semester they are working on building a computer controlled water fountain which will be WAY cool!!!

I'm still waiting to hear from Game Development Club about their meeting times, but I'll keep you posted when I hear . . .

Monday, August 31, 2009

Department Faculty Retreat and Academic Day

Last week's preparations for class went well.

On Thursday, our faculty met for a daylong meeting off campus. We reviewed assessment data from all of our classes from last year and made some revisions to the curriculum. In particular, we changed the learning objectives to CSC 110, CSC 211, and CSC 220. In addition, we initiated review of CSC 371 Database Management Systems and CSC 350 Computer Graphics. Our big curricular goal for this semester is to propose a Computer Engineering degree. I'll keep you posted.

While we were retreating, the freshmen were moving in. In addition to lots of facebook posts about bingo, on Friday, they participated in an Academic Day conference. I gave two talks on Google in Academia that were well-attended and I was happy that students asked questions and talked about other talks they thought were interesting.

Now, on to classes!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Folding@Home Update

This summer, the macs, the PCs in room 162, one play station and a couple of individual machines continued to participate in Folding @ Home. At this point, we are 172nd out of 158008 teams and we continue to make progress. We're hoping to move up even faster once we get the machines in 164 going (had to turn them off when the air conditioning was turned down for the summer). The goal: to beat NC State (where I got my PhD) so that I can gloat!!! They are currently 92nd. We can do it! If you want to join us, you can find instructions for how to set your machine up at Let us know when you join!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Preparing for Fall

Our new freshman class is due to arrive in less than two weeks. With that in mind, we're busy preparing. We are creating new email accounts, setting up accounts on clipper, creating course websites and finishing up some other details. We're on schedule and we'll be ready to go as they arrive.

Returning students will notices some significant improvements in the setup of our labs and servers. We've created a google site for information about a variety of technologies we've deployed. You can find it by logging into you email account, clicking "sites" and clicking "Browse . ." We've even made it so everyone can edit those pages - add your wisdom and we'll all be better informed.

This year, the schedule for academic day has been changed and there are some interesting seminars throughout the morning. I'll be running a couple on "Google for Academia" and one on advising. Check out the schedule by logging on to

One goal for this year: one blog entry every week. Nag me if I miss!!!!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Folding@Home Milestone - AGAIN!

Today we broke another Folding@Home milestone! We are now 295th out of 157,000! Last week we added a PS3 to our team, but we can always use more power. If you're interested in joining the team or learning more, check out

Monday, April 27, 2009

Folding@Home Milestone

Matt Geiman has set up our labs to participate in an important distributed computing project; Folding@Home is a project run by Stanford University that is studying how proteins fold. This research has the possibility of helping us understand how protein folding affects many diseases. You can read more at

Our big news is that, of 157,000 participating teams, our team has broken into the top 1000! We are currently 905th! Check our progress with up-to-date statistics.

However, we can do better than that! If you'd like to set up your machine to be a part of our team, it's really easy:

There are folding clients available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS's, as well as Playstation 3's. So even if some people don't leave their computer on but they have a PS3, its easy enough to let the game console fold.

Our team name is Shippensburg University Computer Science Department
Our team number is 163348

The Folding@Home site is here:

It can be a little hard to navigate, so here are some useful links that can take a while to find:

To register your username so that no one else claims your work as their own, you can get a passkey emailed to you here:

You can check if your desired username is in use here:

I'll keep you posted on our progress!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Programming Team Rocked Slippery Rock

This weekend the programming team traveled to Slippery Rock to complete in the annual PACISE programming contest. This is where the teams from the state system schools compete. We took three teams. Dane Howard, Logan Kennedy, and Rob Koch were the only team to solve 6 problems and came in first. Casey Boone, Phil Diffenderfer, and Brian Lindsay were the fastest team to solve 5 problems, so they came in second. Tristan Dalius, Matt Hydock, and A.J. Marx were the fasted team to solve two problems and came in fifth.

For our first team, this is a dramatic improvement over the contest at Dickinson the previous weekend. A couple of strategic mis-steps caused us to fall from first to fourth place in the last 30 minutes of the competition. It's a great example of how strategy plays a roll in these events.

Our second team gives us great hope for the future; it includes a freshman (Brian) and a sophomore (Phil) who, if they keep practicing, hold great potential for regional competitions over the next couple of years.

I'll work on getting a picture - took the camera and forgot to use it!