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Team 'FrontDoor' fronts up at Android Hackathon

17 May 2016 - 09:11 in Achievement

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We asked third year Bachelor of Engineering Honours student Divya Patel to tell us about the recent Android Hackathon held for VUW students. Divya, a Software Engineering major, was excited to share her experiences of being part of ‘FrontDoor’, the team that won second place at the final prizegiving...

What was the Android Hackathon?

The Google-sponsored Android Hackathon was a ‘hackfest’ for students where we had 48 hours to develop an Android app using a programme called Android Studio. We also had the chance to make connections with each other and with industry mentors.

How did you get involved?

Word of mouth! I found out about the hackathon through a friend, and I had always wanted to learn how to make an app, so I signed up. I enjoyed working with my team members David Barnett, Daniel Braithwaite and Jack Bannister Sutton.

What was your team name and why?

We called ourselves ‘FrontDoor’. The name came up as a joke when we were discussing ideas with our mentor. It suited what we were trying to achieve, which was to connect to networks directly without knowing the passwords.

What happened across the weekend?

We presented our ideas for apps and then formed teams by choosing the projects we were most keen to develop. Next, each team decided on a plan of attack and split the tasks among team members. My job was to work on the front-end of our app, creating the front page and implementing the display.

Tell me about your app.

The app we created is a network hacker. It scans for wireless networks in the area, and for each network found, attempts to connect to it by trying the passwords on the ‘100 most common passwords’ list.

What is the purpose of the app?

It’s basically an academic research tool to gather interesting information. The app wirelessly monitors and probes network connections. It helps to point out how vulnerable some passwords are, and also identify gaps in security that individuals and organisations need to be aware of. The information gathered could also be used to educate the public on how to pick strong passwords.

What were some of the other apps that grabbed your attention?

There was one to control robots which was pretty cool, and another to make Metlink travel information like timetables and updates more accessible. Considering I often travel by bus, having that information available offline would be very handy.

Was there a grand prize?

The winning team ‘WeLoveKids’ made an app to teach children maths through fun, interactive games. Each of their team members won a Google Developer License to pursue the project. The licence allows them to publish their app publicly to the Google Play Store.

What was the whole experience like for you?

It was a great opportunity to learn how to do something I’d never done before. It was so rewarding to make our idea a reality over the course of just one weekend.

Would you attend another hackathon like this in the future?

Yes, definitely! It’s a lot of fun and you learn so much in such a short period of time.

What advice would you give to other students interested in getting involved?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any experience with the technology because it’s supposed to be a learning experience. Everyone is in the same boat so it’s ok to ask the mentors for help. Just go for it!

Bringing Google to life at VUW

09 May 2016 - 11:14 in Achievement

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This year’s Google Student Ambassadors are a passionate and organised bunch. We asked Joanna Rubi what makes her and her fellow ambassadors Bianca Fraser, Mayur Panchal and Charlene Leong tick...

What is the Google Student Ambassadors programme?

It’s a bridge between Google and the University. We act as the voice of Google on campus, promoting the products and services that Google has to offer, and keeping the university updated on all Google-related news.

Is this a global initiative?

Yes – there are approximately 1000 student ambassadors across 65 countries. It allows universities from countries across the world to connect with Google and with one another.

What makes a good Google Student Ambassador?

A good Google Student Ambassador is someone who is passionate about technology and who is actively involved in their university and wider community.

How did you get this opportunity?

I went to several Google events and found out about the programme. It was a dream of mine to work for Google so I applied online and my dream came true – this is the best thing to happen to me since Gmail!

Who is on your team and what do you do?

I work with my fellow students Bianca Fraser, Mayur Panchal and Charlene Leong. We host events to champion Google’s products and programmes on campus. We also manage a Facebook page called ‘Google at VUW’.

What are the perks of the job?

We get the chance to improve our leadership and communication skills and add the experience to our CVs.

What do you guys hope to achieve this year?

We want to promote Google as much as we can by creating fun, informative and helpful events for Victoria University students.

What was the ‘Google on Campus’ event?

Some Googlers from the Sydney office came to Victoria recently to promote opportunities for students including their graduate programme and other internships and scholarships. They also ran a Code Lab where students created a real-time web chat app.

How did it go?

The Googlers told us we had the biggest turn out they’d ever seen - our 300-seat lecture theatre was overflowing!

And what about the ‘Android Hackathon’ event recently?

Our students spent a weekend hacking together a basic Android app. They had to pitch their idea, design the app and then build the code as a team. Most importantly this event was to promote our upcoming AdMob challenge.

So what is the AdMob challenge?

If you’re a student with a great idea for a mobile app, this is your chance to build it, learn how to make money from it - and win awesome prizes. The Grand Prize winner will score a week-long trip to San Francisco, including a visit to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View.

What other kind of events will you host this year?

We hope to host a big mix of events including educational seminars and social events. Students always flock to get the free Google gear and pizza. Like us on our Facebook page ‘Google at VUW’ so you don’t miss out.

What would you say to our ECS students thinking of attending your events?

Get ready for heaps of fun and also to learn lots about how Google can help make life easier for you and your community.

And finally, what would you say to someone thinking of becoming a Google Student Ambassador?

Just get yourself out there and do it!

Wellington ICT Graduate School #open4bizness

04 May 2016 - 11:12 in Achievement

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The new Wellington ICT Graduate School has been declared open for business.

The school is a partnership between Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington Institute of Technology and Whitireia Polytechnic, with strong collaboration from key players in the ICT industry.

It will support the rapidly growing ICT sector and deliver industry-focused education and graduates with work-relevant, business-focused skills and was officially launched by Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Steven Joyce.

“Wellington is home to some highly successful technology-based companies, and the Wellington ICT Graduate School has the strong backing from the ICT industry who are represented on the governing board, and thriving relationships with local companies and networks.”

The launch event on Tuesday 3 May in central Wellington was attended by over 200 people, including local and national government officials, academics, and key players in the lCT industry.

“The success of the event illustrates the value that the Wellington region places in its rapidly growing ICT industry,” says Rees Ward, Director of the Wellington ICT Graduate School.

Industry leaders have identified the need to grow the ICT workforce in New Zealand.

“The Wellington ICT Graduate School will address this gap by exposing students to the industry as they undertake their study, to ensure they join the workforce attuned to the latest trends and practices. Industry partners will be able to connect with students through scholarships, mentoring opportunities, internships and project work,” says Mr Ward.

Professor Mike Wilson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculties of Science, Architecture and Design and Engineering at Victoria University, is welcoming the launch of school.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Wellington and we are excited to join with WelTec and Whitireia to leverage our existing networks, resources and education capabilities to develop a school that will lead to a pool of ICT talent and collaborative research partnerships.”

In 2016, the Wellington ICT Graduate School will offer five Master’s-level degrees, with graduates becoming experts in software development, business analysis and engineering—vital disciplines for the ongoing growth of the regional and national ICT sector.

http://www.wellingtonictgraduateschool.ac.nz

Cyber security short courses for professionals

04 May 2016 - 09:10 in Event

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Victoria University of Wellington is offering Software Engineering Institute (SEI) certified cyber security courses in New Zealand for the first time.

Cyber security is seen as one of the greatest commercial threats to New Zealand. With the increasing imperatives for New Zealand business and government to be protecting themselves in the cyber space, the short courses will provide specialised training opportunities.

The courses are run at Victoria’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, in partnership with Total Risk Management.

Total Risk Management has recently become Asia-Pacific’s only Carnegie Mellon University SEI Partner—one of only nine partners worldwide in the last 30 years.

The SEI is a not-for-profit Federally Funded Research and Development Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, specifically established by the United States Department of Defense to focus on software engineering and cybersecurity.

SEI courses are the recognised industry standard for the best continuing education and credentialing for engineering and software professionals in government, industry and higher education.

The courses at Victoria range from one to five days, and are crucial professional development for anyone from CEOs and CIOs wanting to understand the cyber security risks around information, through to IT professionals managing and dealing with cyber security incidents.

Offered in Wellington and Auckland, and run in-house for organisations, the five key courses cover assessing information security risks, overview of incident response teams, creating and managing incident response teams, and incident handling.

The full course outline, registration details and dates can be found online at http://ped.victoria.ac.nz/course-catalogue/27-cyber-security

A winning visit for international design student

22 Apr 2016 - 10:52 in Achievement

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A visiting PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington has been recognised with an award in a national structural design competition.

Judyta Cichocka spent 14 months at Victoria carrying out research between the Faculty of Architecture and Design and School of Engineering and Computer Science, during which she entered a project in the Art in Structure competition.

Art in Structure, supported by Easysteel, challenges entrants to express their concept of space using metal construction materials in a new way, showcasing the versatility of steel.

Judyta was awarded runner-up in the Emerging Designer category for her design Hiriwa Pavilion.

“My design is an experimental structure which endeavours to reinterpret the function of steel, and uses steel as textile or fabric. The perforated steel plates form a lattice membrane for a small outdoor pavilion,” says Judyta.

“Taking second place in this category is a great distinction for me. The winners were chosen by the public during a pop-up virtual sculpture park in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter earlier this month. Some will be fabricated to a finished product and auctioned to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities.”

Judyta travelled to New Zealand from Poland’s Wroclaw University of Technology in December 2014 as part of the Thelxione: Erasmus Euro-Oceanian Smart City Network exchange programme. She carried out interdisciplinary research around architectural design optimisation with evolutionary algorithms, led several workshops in parametric design, and was a member of Victoria’s Evolutionary Computation Research Group.

“My time at Victoria was priceless. I am mainly grateful for my supervisor Dr Will Browne, who taught me a lot and established this fantastic collaboration between the Faculty of Architecture and Design and School of Engineering and Computer Science,” says Judyta.

Judyta, who has now returned to Poland, also worked with Master’s student Zach Challies on a 3D printed eyewear design project, which earned them an honourable mention in the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology competition. Judyta and Zach received the award and presented the project in Rome in October 2015.

http://www.artinstructure.nz/

http://www.youreshape.com/reshape-15-winners/

New Computer Graphics programme looks to the future

06 Apr 2016 - 11:38 in Achievement

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Victoria University of Wellington has launched a new Computer Graphics programme that will educate students to develop the next generation of tools in a rapidly-growing and in-demand industry.

The first cohort of undergraduate students have started classes for the new Computer Graphics major, offered as part of Victoria's Bachelor of Science degree.

"Our major is focused on providing a deep understanding so that our graduates can develop novel tools and ideas for use in films, games, medicine, simulation and more," says Programme Director Professor Neil Dodgson. "We've recruited a strong team of world-class researchers to teach the programme, and propel our students into future thinking."

Professor Dodgson, former head of the Graphics and Interaction Research Group at the University of Cambridge, moved from the United Kingdom to head the programme.

The content and structure of the programme was developed with input from Weta Digital and other local digital technology companies.

"Computer graphics is an exciting field that offers students an opportunity to explore both the art and science of creating digital imagery," says Joe Letteri, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Weta Digital. "We are looking forward to working with a new generation of students and helping them turn their formal training into professional experience."

Wellington has the highest concentration of web-based and digital technology companies in New Zealand. A recent Victoria University report found that more than 20,000 people—or 10 percent of the region's work force—are in digital sector roles.

Professor Dodgson says there has never been a more exciting time to study Computer Graphics.

"There are increasing job opportunities in film, television, gaming, virtual reality and simulation—there are even jobs that don't yet exist as the industry is constantly evolving. The high demand for skilled graduates led Victoria to develop the Computer Graphics major, building on our existing expertise in computer science, mathematics and design.

"The strong industrial base in Wellington, the interaction between companies and Victoria, and the synergy within the University between the Schools of Computer Science and Design makes for an unbeatable combination in this subject in New Zealand."

Students will also be able to continue to Victoria's postgraduate study options in Computer Graphics, including Master's and PhD programmes.

Being an active participant in enabling a digital future is one of Victoria's key areas of focus for the future.

For more information on the Computer Graphics major please see http://www.victoria.ac.nz/study/programmes-courses/subjects/computer-graphics/ or contact Neil Dodgson on 04 463 6922 or neil.dodgson@vuw.ac.nz

ECS staff excellence rewarded

30 Mar 2016 - 08:57 in Achievement

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Staff Excellence Awards: (L-R) Vice Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford, Teaching Award winner Dr Ciaran Moore, Provost Professor Wendy Larner.

Two highly-respected academic staff from the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to Victoria University in teaching and research.

In Victoria’s Staff Excellence Awards for 2016, Dr Ciaran Moore received an Early Career Teaching Award and a $5000 grant, while Professor Mengjie Zhang received a Research Excellence Award and a $10,000 grant.

The Awards are designed to acknowledge staff who have gone over and above the call of duty and are also a tangible way of promoting excellence at Victoria.

Dr Moore, a lecturer in electronics and maths, says his teaching responsibilities have included re-designing first-year engineering maths papers, and encouraging peer-led learning among students.

“I delivered a series of labs to show how maths can be used in an engineering context”, he says. “I also organised self-paced labs and student-led tutorials. Students learned a lot from each other and got to see their learning in action”.

Dr Moore’s techniques had a great effect on overall engagement and achievement in his courses. He says it was a “wonderful feeling” to be recognised for his efforts and plans to use the grant to attend an engineering education conference in the United States in October.

Colleague Professor Mengjie Zhang also has plans for his grant. The Professor of Computer Science and Associate Dean (Research and Innovation) for the Faculty of Engineering was recognised for superb research leadership, especially in Evolutionary Computation, including several international awards.

“I will use the money to support staff and students’ research”, says Professor Zhang. “I would like to help more people within our Group and Faculty to play an international leadership role in their areas, and to attract high-quality students from overseas”.

Vice Chancellor Professor Grant Guilford agrees that acknowledging exemplary staff contribution is a crucial step for Victoria.

“In order to achieve our goal of being a world-leading capital city university, we need to ensure we foster and support excellence for the world-leading people across our organisation”, he says.

This year Professor Guilford presented 22 staff excellence awards, including several to teams. He says, “These accolades are testament to the work of all the people who make our capital city university tick”.

ECS professor wins international programming prize

18 Mar 2016 - 09:32 in Achievement

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A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has won an international prize for work that makes it easier for students to learn coding.

Professor James Noble, from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, has won the 2016 AITO Dahl-Nygaard Senior Prize for his contributions to computer programming languages.

The international prize is considered the most prestigious in object-oriented Computer Science, and last year was won by Bjarne Stroustrup, the designer of renowned programming language C++.

Professor Noble is part of an international group of researchers who created Grace—a language specifically designed to help novices learn programming in a simple way.

Simple, object-orientated programming languages are sought-after, says Professor Noble.

“Grace emerged from a conference in 2010, where it became clear there was a need for a new, more easily digestible programming language,” says Professor Noble.

“People can find programming languages daunting or frustrating, but they shouldn’t. Grace has flexibility—that is, students can be introduced to it in stages, and can grow to the full version at their pace.

“I’ve been working to make the syntax and semantics of Grace as easy to learn as possible, and engaging with students to lower any barriers.”

One of those students is Sam Minns, a professional musician who turned his attention to studying Software Engineering five years ago.

During his studies, Sam developed a web-based music library which allowed him to use Grace to programme music live.

“I can create and perform music by writing code live in front of the audience or dance floor,” says Sam. “This shows just how useable Grace can be, and how different people can get value out of programming.”

Sam—who will graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in May— works as a Software Developer at Powershop. He also presents the Friday Nite ‘Flava’ show on Radioactive.fm, and was a core performer and producer for percussion ensemble Strike.

“Grace can help novices in their forays into computer programming,” says Sam. “It helps to minimise that discouragement when programmers are first starting out, and create code with greater ease.”

Outreach Coordinator lights up young minds

29 Feb 2016 - 09:05 in Achievement

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John Barrow is enthusiastic about his mission for 2016: to connect with New Zealand's young people and get them excited about technology.

“We have to show it to the students, let them play with it, encourage their crazy ideas and help them to make it a reality”, says John, the newly-appointed School of Engineering and Computer Science Outreach Coordinator.

Outreach combines student workshops and personal development for schoolteachers with tours of the Victoria University campus and support to hold events. The aim is to encourage students with a passion for computing, technology, science and maths into tertiary education by showing them the diverse range of courses and careers available to them through the University.

John began in the temporary position of Outreach Coordinator in 2015 and has now signed on permanently. He brings an interesting mix of real world IT and teaching experience to the role and has 24 industry-related exams behind him. So what drew John to the Outreach job?

“The University offers a great working environment and capable colleagues, not to mention the latest technology and support to make things happen”, says John. “The best part is seeing young students click on to a concept and get enthusiastic about the opportunities open to them.”

In 2015, John visited a number of schools up to Hawke's Bay and hosted hundreds of students at Victoria. He also attended a national robotics competition for children called Robocup and worked alongside school staff in Canterbury and Otago.

“It was a real eye-opener to experience first-hand the technology buzz happening in our communities”, says John.

And if that wasn't enough, John delivered a successful technology pilot programme at Avalon Intermediate. Topics covered included Scratch (a programming language for children), drones, graphics and cryptography (the art of writing and solving code).

“It was nice to have regular contact, build relationships and see the students really grab the technology and play with it”, says John. “At the Kapiti Robot competition I was really impressed to see year 10 students making robots to navigate a maze - that's what we get our first year university students to do!”

Now John's goal is to develop lesson plans to support teachers who deliver digital technology standards in schools. This means teachers can strengthen students' core maths and science skills by delivering a set of ten lessons, a resource that follows on from John's introductory workshops.

John also plans to set up more events and competitions, such as involvement in Wellington's LUX light festival, and encourage technology education in school productions, code clubs, robotics clubs and 'extra for experts' sessions.

“Technology will be a big part of their world, so let them own it and make it brilliant”.

Governor-General stops by Engineering and Computer Science

22 Feb 2016 - 10:23 in Research

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The Governor-General Lieutenant General The Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae recently paid a visit to Victoria University and stopped in at the School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS).

Staff and students from ECS presented some of the exciting projects taking place around the School.

Senior Lecturer Dr Taehyun Rhee introduced the Governor-General to his team’s research into 4D entertainment. The project, which involves a multi-disciplinary team from New Zealand and Korea, is looking at how computer graphics and emerging interactive technologies can be combined to create new, immersive, home entertainment experiences.

Postgraduate students Andrew Chalmers, Kieran Carnegie, Thomas Iorns and Chris Dean each showcased their specialisations and gave Sir Jerry a chance to get up close and personal with the technology.

The students talked about their research into making virtual reality a more enjoyable and realistic leisure activity including finding ways to mimic what the human eye sees to reduce simulator sickness.

As part of the presentation Sir Jerry tried out the Oculus Rift, a cutting-edge virtual reality headset, to explore an underwater scene. Later a scan of his face was taken to create a 3D digital model.

Dr Ian Welch, Dr Bryan Ng and Master’s student Matt Stevens spoke about the progress of the Software Defined Networks research group, formed in 2014. Recently the group signed a three-year research agreement with Google to embark on SDN development, maintenance and teaching.

The agreement provides a platform for Victoria to grow its profile in SDN teaching and research, with the goal of bringing more students into this emerging field and partnering with other academic and commercial organisations.

The School of Engineering and Computer sciences was the third stop on the Governor-General’s tour of the University. As part of his visit to Victoria he was also treated to a sneak peek at 'No Man’s Land', a production co-created by Professor John Psathas that will premiere at The New Zealand Festival, and he was part of a round table discussion on the state of Antarctica’s ice sheets and rising sea levels.