School of Engineering and Computer Science

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18 Aug 2016 - 11:06 in Achievement

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A Victoria University student is helping local high school students learn basic computer science skills through an after-school coding club.

Software Engineering student Mansour Javaher runs weekly sessions for around 30 students in Years 9 and 10 at Wellington College.

“I really enjoy teaching. It’s great to see the students listen and respond to what I have to tell them. I try to make the classroom a friendly atmosphere so they can relax and have fun,” says Mansour.

“I recently moved to Wellington from Iran, and teaching has not only improved my own knowledge in computer science, but it makes me more confident and helps me practise my English language and communication skills. It’s been a great experience.”

In Term 2, Mansour taught the students fundamentals of programming. They’re now developing websites, and next term will learn with Raspberry Pi— mini computers that help with programming projects.

Recently the decision was made to extend sessions to twice a week.

John Barrow, Outreach Coordinator at Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, says Mansour has been an outstanding asset.

“Mansour has taken the lead and has been helping out regularly. His teaching initiatives and efforts have been excellent—we’re very proud of him.”

The students are learning some really great skills, says Wellington College digital technology teacher David Roberts.

“It’s important to show students examples of what different disciplines there are out there and what they can do. And the high amount of interest we’ve received about the club demonstrates the demand for it.”

Photo credit: David Benseman

From grad student to ECS lecturer: Introducing Yi Mei

12 Aug 2016 - 13:47 in Achievement

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Name? Yi Mei.

Born in? Yongxiu, a small town in southern China.

Lived in? I lived in several Chinese cities when I was a student, then I spent two years working in Hong Kong. After that I moved to Melbourne for three years before coming to Wellington last year.

First job? When I was an undergraduate, I worked part-time as a private tutor, just to earn a bit of extra money.

Position at VUW? I’m a Lecturer in Computer Science.

Most looking forward to? Pursuing my academic career goals in such an excellent workplace. It’s always exciting to have opportunities to collaborate on research that can change the world. I’m also looking forward to sharing my knowledge with students – it’s great to see them grow and develop.

Key research interests? I’m really interested in artificial intelligence, machine learning and optimisation. I’m particularly interested in the most challenging problems, such as scheduling and combinatorial optimisation, and how to tackle them using evolutionary computation - a stream of very powerful optimisation techniques. I’m also interested in the human-like machine learning ideas such as reinforcement learning and lifelong machine learning.

Why Wellington? I love New Zealand. Coming from a heavily polluted and dictatorial country, I enjoy the freedom, fresh air and breathtaking scenery here. More importantly, people are so nice! I don’t want to leave after making so many great friends.

Favourite movie? Forrest Gump. It taught me that life is not decided by how you were born, but by how you face it. Everyone has the chance to pursue a happy and fulfilled life.

Favourite musician? A Taiwanese singer called Jay Chou. He is so talented and has created many new musical styles. He is also brave, daring to raise awareness of issues including environmental protection, war and family violence.

Favourite food? Definitely Chinese food - I love Sichuan food!

Quote to live by? I always remind myself: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Introducing Dionysis Athanasopoulos to the ICT Graduate School

11 Aug 2016 - 15:19 in Achievement

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Name? Dionysis Athanasopoulos.

Born in? Greece.

Education? I received my PhD from the Computer Science & Engineering department of the University of Ioannina in Greece in 2014.

Work? During my MSc and PhD studies I worked as an R&D Software Engineer on several research projects (e.g., EU-funded FP7 ICT IP project, ‘CHOReOS’). I also taught at several Greek technological institutes and high schools. After completing my PhD, I worked as a Post-Doc researcher in the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano in Italy.

Position at VUW? Lecturer in Software Engineering for the ICT Graduate School.

Key research interests? Software maintenance, service-oriented and object-oriented architectures, service & schema matching, green-aware engineering of service-oriented software, sofware-as-a-service in the cloud, and software design principles and patterns.

Why Wellington? Because it is one of the most lively capital cities in the world and Victoria University is among the top universities worldwide.

Favourite movie? Good Will Hunting.

Favourite musician? Andrea Bocelli.

Favourite food? Grand tortellini al tartufo – tortellini with truffles!

Gotta Catch Em All: An Insider’s Guide to Pokémon hunting

09 Aug 2016 - 12:41 in Achievement

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Computer Graphics PhD student Kieran Carnegie has walked an extra 50 km a week since the release of Pokémon GO, so he’s the perfect person to share his experiences with other dedicated Pokémon hunters...

“I got into playing Pokémon GO as a mix of nostalgia and the fact that my lab mates were also playing. It’s a social game and running around the university catching Pokémon is a lot of fun.

I’m currently at Level 22. I walk to and from uni, so I hatch a 5 km egg every day, which really helps for getting Experience Points (Exp). I also save my lucky eggs until I have multiple eggs to hatch and then I mass-evolve Pokémon like Pidgeys to gain a massive amount of Exp in 30 minutes.

Pidgeys are useful as they are common, and evolve really easily. Eevees are also really common in Wellington which is nice – they are one of my favourite Pokémon from all those years ago.

In terms of rare Pokémon, a Ninetails got away from me in the Cotton building yesterday! Wandering around Wellington has also been good for nabbing a few other rares: I have hatched a Snorlax, caught an Aerodactyl at the hospital and, after a dead sprint across the university, caught a Charizard on Boyd-Wilson field!

One of the biggest advantages of Pokémon GO is is that it gets gamers outside. According to the in-game tracker, I walk around 50 km each week with it open. You also get to meet all sorts of people while out hunting.

The disadvantages include issues like trespass or people looking at their phones and walking into traffic. I’m not a fan of people spending their entire lives looking at a cellphone screen. Wellington has some amazing walking tracks and you don’t have to be married to your phone for the entire track!

A hardcore Pokémon GO gamer is someone who is willing to walk out of their way to find Pokémon, and who spends long days going for walks to catch Pokémon and long nights taking over gyms when no one else is awake to contest them.

Finally, here are my top tips and tricks for other Pokémon players – you’ll have to be a player to understand them!

  • If you are going to spend money on Pokémon GO, the egg hatchers are the best bet for improving Exp gain and getting rarer Pokémon – just don’t use them on 2 km eggs.
  • Take it easy! The game will be around for a long time and will be rebalanced and modified, so don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Don’t bother with Zubats. Catch Pidgeys, Caterpies and Weedles for mass evolution.
  • Combat Points (CP) values on gym defenders are irrelevant. You can take a gym that is 500CP above you with a type advantage, and 750-1000CP above you if you can time dodges well.
  • Multiple people on the same team can attack a gym at once to make it easier.
  • Team Valor is the best.
  • If you are going to use lures, the Botanical Gardens, Frank Kitts Park and Victoria University all have locations where three PokeStops overlap. These are the best lure spots - lots of people get to use them, and you get to spawn lots more Pokémon.”

All the IT in China

04 Aug 2016 - 15:26 in Achievement

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Two ECS students, Amelia Harris and Keanu Holden, recently went on a whirlwind trip to Beijing Jiaotong University in China to attend an IT Summer School. We asked Amelia to share first-hand her impressions of the trip and the intriguing new culture she discovered...

“Beijing was a totally new experience because I had never been overseas before. The trip from the airport to the university was about an hour, so I was able to take in the different landscape that Beijing had to offer. Adapting to the heat was a challenge as the first day reached 37ºC!

Arriving on the Sunday morning gave me time to adjust to my new surroundings before the two-week programme began on Monday. I stayed in an international dorm with people from outside the course. Luckily, my roommate and I met someone who spoke Chinese, and they showed us the best place to find lunch.

The class included 25 people from more than 10 different countries. Our primary focus was to build an Android application which could record and play back sound, which we did using Android Studio.

We usually had class in the morning, and then in the afternoons we’d sometimes go on fieldtrips. For an authentic cultural experience we went to Beijing Shaolin Wushu School, which is a part of the International Kung Fu Federation. Here we watched some students perform and then we were given a quick lesson of “the most basic Kung Fu”, which proved quite difficult for most of us!

We also visited some technology companies including ChinaSoft and Xiaomi, where we were given tours and the chance to test out the different products for sale.

In my free time, I explored Beijing. I visited the Wangfujing snack street, Houhai lake, Sanlitun, and Wudaokou. The weekends consisted of organised day trips where we visited the main tourist attractions including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace.

The whole trip was a very eye-opening experience for me. I learnt a lot from the course and from being immersed in a new and exciting culture.”

For more information and to register your interest for future trips to Beijing Jiaotong University IT Summer School please contact Sharon Gao at xiaoying.gao@ecs.vuw.ac.nz

Introducing Karsten Lundqvist to the ICT Graduate School

03 Aug 2016 - 12:16 in Achievement

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Name? Karsten Øster Lundqvist.

Born? Viborg, Denmark.

Lived in? I first lived in various Danish towns and cities for 29 years, then I lived in Norway for a couple of years - and after that I spent 14 years in England, 20 miles west of London.

First job? My very first job was as a kid in an industrial plant which made low-cost furniture. The first job I had that I really liked was as a Research Assistant at the University of Reading.

Position at VUW? I am a Senior Lecturer with the Wellington ICT Graduate School.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Connecting with people, getting stuck into cool research and developing the ICT Graduate School.

Key research interests? I have broad interests within eLearning, but I especially like using AI methods to improve eLearning. I have also worked in Serious Gaming in the past, which is an area I would like to grow more. Many of the things I have worked on recently have been for mobile phones, and I'd like to do more in this field too.

Why Wellington? Shortly after I got married to my wife almost 20 years ago, we discussed places we'd like to live. New Zealand was the top country. San Francisco was our top city in the world. When I came here for my interview, it became clear to me that Wellington is New Zealand’s San Francisco. You just have to substitute the 49'ers - the American Football team in San Francisco - with the Hurricanes and the All Blacks. The decision was actually relatively easy!

Favourite movie? Probably a Danish movie called "The Last Song of Mifune". My favourite English language movie would be "The Shawshank Redemption".

Favourite musician? This is a difficult one. I like many different musicians so it really depends on my mood. It is mostly "loud" though. I most often listen to music like POD, Rage Against the Machine, Rammstein, Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, Pink Floyd, The Cure...

Favourite food? Middle Eastern food. I love lamb!

Quote to live by? "To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself" - Søren Kierkegaard.

Classes kick off at Wellington ICT Graduate School

26 Jul 2016 - 12:05 in Achievement

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It’s an exciting week in the Victoria University calendar. From Monday, the first cohort of students officially begin classes at the Wellington ICT Graduate School, located in a new space on Wigan Street in the heart of Wellington’s CBD.

As our world becomes increasingly digitally-dependent, graduates with strong digital skills are more in demand than ever. The School – a partnership between Victoria University, WelTec and Whitireia – is offering four brand new Master’s programmes: a Master of Software Development, a Master of Engineering Practice, a Master of Professional Business Analysis and a Master of Information Technology.

Wellington is widely known as the ideal place to study ICT. It boasts a creative and innovative environment, with significant local digital, film and gaming industries, alongside a strong start-up culture. While New Zealand’s ICT industry is booming, Wellington is at the heart of the growth with more than 13,000 full-time ICT jobs in the wider region.

Rees Ward, Director of the School, says New Zealand’s industry leaders have identified the need to grow the ICT workforce.

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

The Master of Software Development, for example, is a one-year, 180 point Master’s degree delivered through a combination of coursework, and Research and Development (R&D) projects with industry partners. The course will also include a range of case studies from Wellington’s software development industry.

About 18 of the programme’s enrolled students recently completed SWEN131, a programming ‘bootcamp’ designed to develop their basic skills, prepare them for their coursework and give them a taste of what is to come. Students learnt to design and debug small programmes and work on larger software projects in groups while applying software development methodologies and tools.

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

“This is an excellent opportunity for Wellington and for us all to combine our existing networks, resources and education capabilities", he says. ”Our aim is to develop a school that will create a pool of ICT talent and develop research partnerships, not just for the benefit of Wellington, but for all of New Zealand".

For more information, check out https://www.wellingtonict.ac.nz/

PHD Scholarships Available in Evolutionary Computation

25 Jul 2016 - 11:07 in Research

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Join our internationally renowned and friendly research team:

- Up to eight funded PhDs (fees + stipend) available 3 times a year, 3yr duration in English, with expert supervision.

Five major EC strategic research directions:

- Feature selection/construction for classification, regression, clustering

- Combinatorial optimisation: scheduling, routing, web services

- Computer vision and image analysis

- Multi- and many- criteria optimisation

- Transfer learning

Techniques include:

- Genetic Programming, Learning Classifier Systems, Particle Swarm Optimisation, Differential Evolution, and many others.

Publish in top journals and conferences:

- Awards include Best Papers in IEEE, TEVC, CEC, GECCO, EVO

About Wellington:

- City voted as ‘Coolest little capital in the World!’

- VUW is the top-rated research university in New Zealand.

Entry requirements:

MSc/ME; GPA >= 3.5/4; research experience/publications

For more information:

- Come and find us after one of our many talks, or apply at: http://www.victoria.ac.nz/fgr/prospective-phds/scholarships

Master of Engineering Scholarship Announced

21 Jul 2016 - 13:36 in Research

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The School of Engineering and Computer Science is offering a full-time Master of Engineering (ME) scholarship (domestic tuition fees plus a 1-year stipend of NZ$20,000) to an excellent candidate to work on the "5G Internet of Things". This scholarship is sponsored by Victoria's Huawei NZ Research Programme and the research will focus on the latest 5G wireless access technologies to support massive IoT connectivity.

The successful candidate is expected to have a good fundamental knowledge of networking, especially in medium access control protocols, random access in 5G networks, and other related topics. Knowledge of theoretical performance analysis techniques, namely queuing theory, is highly desired, and hands-on experience in common network simulation platforms (e.g. OmNet++, QualNet, etc) would be advantageous.

Interested applicants please contact Professor Winston Seah via email attaching your transcripts, publications list and CV. If you are suitable, you will then be provided with the information on how to apply for admission into our ME degree programme. Contact: winston.seah@ecs.vuw.ac.nz

Waging war on hackers a daunting arms race

24 Jun 2016 - 13:41 in Research

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The following commentary by Dr Ian Welch from Victoria University's School of Engineering and Computer Science was originally published in the New Zealand Herald on 20 June:

“The Government has released its new defence policy with a budget of $20 billion. The plan covers the next 15 years and in addition to replacing hardware over that time, as you'd expect, it includes the creation of a cyber security system. This is good news—we need a cyber security system, but more importantly, we also need a lot more people learning about cyber security.

Recent US figures point to more than 169 million personal records being exposed in 2015, across the financial, business, education, government and healthcare sectors.

The now infamous Panama Papers represent the world's largest ever data breach, with 11.5 million documents that were stored in the computer systems used by Mossack Fonseca—the law firm that was a primary conduit for world leaders and corporations seeking off-shore tax havens—being leaked.

We might see this particular data breach as a good thing because of the pressure it has placed on governments around the world to address tax havens. However we might not have been so happy to see ordinary individuals' phone records or tax records being stolen and unfortunately the problems that allowed the Panama Papers to be stolen are not unique, they are found in many commercial and government systems.

So, with companies and government organisations responsible for storing so much data, why do such problems exist?

First, it is the nature of software to be insecure. Humans write software so making mistakes and introducing bugs that can be exploited is inevitable.

Second, we don't design the software to fit how humans weigh up risk when making decisions. Most of our rules for decision making are the result of the experiences of our ancestors when they lived in relatively small tribal groups. They have not yet caught up to the environment created by the online world where we have hundreds of friends on Facebook whom we have never met.

One way that these flaws are exploited by attackers is in so-called "drive-by" attacks, where hackers are able to bypass organisational defences, such as firewalls, and directly infect a victim's computer. This might be done by infecting a website known to be visited by the target users. The goal is to exploit both the trust of the users and bugs in their web browsers to install a virus allowing the hacker access to the organisation's network.

At Victoria University, my research group has been looking at this particular problem for the last 10 years, and trying to understand how attackers choose to target vulnerable users. Our goal has been to develop software that can detect infected websites. However this is such a massive problem that it cannot ever be solved by one research group—or even at all. As we develop new defences, attackers develop new attacks, which means we have an ongoing arms race.

The size of this problem means that businesses and government largely lack the expertise and resource to protect themselves. To help address this, the Government recently announced $22.2 million of funding for the establishment of a new national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to support customer organisations in dealing with cyber-attacks and cyber-crime. This is a long-overdue step and will see us join a community of over 40 other national CERTs across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

This good start isn't enough. We also need to address major shortfalls in the number of software and network engineers with an understanding of security. Internationally, experts are forecasting a shortage of up to a million trained cyber security professionals in the coming years.

These are not necessarily people whose primary job is to be a security professional but who have studied computer security and can apply this in their day-to-day jobs. We will never remove the bugs but we can make it harder for hackers by having fewer of them in the first place.”