Computing Takes Centre Stage in Queen’s Alumni Review

The most recent issue of the Queen’s Alumni Review features a number of stories by and about people in the School and the work they do. The issue includes articles about our very own Wendy Powley and undergraduates in the Sudo community initiative (Annabel Kramer, Karina Kim, Jessica Dassanayake, Melissa Mangos, Daisy Barrette, Cara Falcon, Callum Tomkins-Flanagan, Emily Crawford, Omar Toutounji, and Shubhi Sharma); an article by Director Selim Akl about natural computing; and, of course, a cover story about the Human Media Lab.

Check out the whole issue on the Alumni Review website.

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Roger Browse Bench Dedication Ceremony

On Friday, May 26, faculty, staff, students, along with friends and family of Roger Browse, gathered outside Goodwin Hall to remember him and dedicate a bench in his honour. The bench will sit along Union St for years to come as a place to remember him. Speakers included Robin Dawes (friend and colleague), Max Garcia (4th year Cognitive Science undergraduate), and Brian Butler (co-founder of the Cognitive Science program), who shared a touching eulogy reproduced below. After the ceremony, children Jenn and Robert shared a song written and recorded by Roger as a touching tribute to their father.

 

 

A Eulogy for Roger

By Brian Butler

Roger would have hated a eulogy.  In fact, I suspect he would have liked to sneak away so that people simply said, “Oh yeah, Roger-what’s-his-name.  Whatever happened to him anyway?”  However, Roger doesn’t get to vote so this is the eulogy I would have given if I had been asked which I wasn’t but that’s OK.

I knew Roger but I did not know him well until what we called the “Eddy Campbell incident.”  Eddy was assistant Dean and he discovered that the Ontario government under Mike Harris had instituted something called the ATOP program.  This was special financial assistance to university departments through their “Access To Opportunity Program” and rewarded departments for increasing their enrolments in technical programs like Computing.  Queen’s had received lots of money with promises to increase their enrolment – but hadn’t increased their enrolment.  Eddy said, “Get the enrolment up or you will be nothing but a great smoking hole in the ground!”

Great smoking hole in the ground?  OK, let’s boost Cognitive Science.

The program had been there before.  Roger and Doug Mewhort devised it in 1983 and dragged me kicking and screaming to a meeting where it was approved.  And it was very successful.  Most of our students went on to PhDs or extravagantly paid CEO positions in industry but it was small and we had to build it up.

How to build it up?  We invented COGS 100.  We listed a whole bunch of things that we thought were fun and put them into a course.  And we found a textbook by a guy who was as crazy was we were: a philosophy professor who had a laboratory.  It worked.  We used what we called tag-team teaching.  We’d both show up but one would give the lecture; the other would periodically interrupt with counterarguments.  Students loved it and some to this day think we really were at odds with each other.  One student comment said: “They bicker like an old married couple!”  Another said, “My profs are George Lucas and Michael Caine!”  Did Roger really look like Michael Caine?  Well, he had this soft-spoken way of saying “Brian, you’re an asshole.”

Two years after we started COGS 100 – and the course was now up to 100 – we had our usual coffee and a muffin afterwards.  I asked without thinking, “so where did you do your undergraduate?”

Roger said, “Well, I did one year at UNB.  And it’s funny.  There was a guy who compulsively cleaned off the table when he met his friends at the student centre.  His friends would dump ashtrays and other crap on the table just before he got there.”

“Damn it, Roger!  That was me!”

It turned out we had both spent the same year at U.N.B.  I was part of a folk group called the “Newcomers” and our main rivals were another group that included Roger.  In fact, we were both at a party hosted by Bunny Coull and her brother Steve.  We had actually met 40 years before at U.N.B.  — and let me add for further irony — Eddy Campbell is now the principal at U.N.B.  Small world, isn’t it?   Well, it is with academia in Canada.

Roger wasted a year at U.N.B., although it may have been quite effective from a social point of view.  He moved to McGill, got serious and got a degree.  Then worked as a programmer and had a very promising career.  He applied to U.B.C. and got a very good supervisor, Alan Mackworth.  Mackworth’s father, Norman, was famous as a British psychologist who pioneered attention and eye movement studies.  Roger worked with Alan and moonlighted as a programmer for Anne Treisman and Daniel Khaneman’s lab.  Khaneman received the Nobel Prize in 2002. Thus, our LISP expert was slowly lead toward Cognitive Science.

Roger did not mention a lot about his time at U.B.C.  He did mention looking out his apartment window one day and seeing people crawling slowly across the lawn.  Asked, “Why?”, they responded, “Magic mushrooms, man!”  Then there was the Volkswagen.  Like all good students, Roger owned one but it was dying.  He was driving it to the junkyard when a woman rearended him and knocked off his bumper.  He just picked up the bumper, threw it in the back, and said, “Not a problem.”  I’m sure it made her day.

Roger arrived at Queen’s in the early eighties and, oh my, we did need him.  Computing and Information Science (CISC) needed him as an expert LISP programmer and he was.  He could take a 1000 line Fortran program and reduce it to 20 lines of LISP code – maybe 16 if he worked overnight.  He immediately got a cross-appointment to Psychology because he was one of these new-fangled Cognitive Scientists.

In 1985, our mutual friend, Doug Mewhort, was invited to Germany for a year as an international scholar.  They planned a conference on attention and Roger and I were the only Canadians that Doug could think of.  So we packed up and went to Bielefeld, West Germany, by quite different routes.  Roger landed in Amsterdam and rented a car, the only one available at the conference site.  I was desparate for cigarettes so Roger drove me into Bielefeld.  It was a large highway and at one point he said, “Look out.  I’m going to do a Ducarie three lane crossover.”  I was not born in Pointe Claire but I knew what he meant; a brief moment of highway hijinx and we got in the right lane.

In the late eighties, and most of the nineties, Roger settled into a period where his family mattered more than anything else.  He became – I’m sure he’d hate the word – a homebody.  He had children and they were the center of his life.  He told stories of getting up when the children were babies but keeping one eye closed so it would stay dark-adapted while he took care of them.  And changing the lyrics to “Alice’s Restaurant” to “Jennifer’s Restaurant” while he played guitar and sang to her.  Robb and Jennifer were the center of his universe…

… but something happened.

Roger never mentioned the reason for the split in his marriage nor once uttered a word against his ex-wife.  He did complain about lawyers but, like, who doesn’t, eh.  I have no idea of who was right or who was wrong and I always felt that Roger wasn’t sure either.  I do know that the separation from his children was painful.  He moved to Manotick then moved back and all of us, his friends, worried about him.

The big compensation in his life was the expansion of the Cognitive Science program. It started small with 20 – 30 students in COGS 100.  But, damn, what good students they were.  We couldn’t mention anything but one or two of them hadn’t already been on the web checking it out.  Lectures became discussions; discussions became arguments – and students figured “Hey, here are two guys who are enthusiastic about this shit; maybe it’s hot.”

We played it by ear but, damn, it worked.  We showed students what we thought was interesting and they thought it was too.  Our 20 -30 students expanded to 240.  We were one of the stars of 100 level courses.  Why?  A lot of it was our enthusiasm; we liked what we studied and it was contagious.  Another part, we refused to follow a textbook; we did what we thought was important and fun.

We were never ever unfaithful to our discipline but we showed how it could be fun. We argued in front of students to show them there were two points of view.  I remember two Pre-Med students coming up to us and asking, “OK but what is the right answer?”  And we both nodded and said “I don’t know.”  Somewhere in Ontario there are two doctors going, “I still don’t understand!” but there are twenty COGS grads going, “Yeah, I don’t either!”

It is easy to underestimate what Rog and I did.  We taught five COGS courses; COGS 100 and 300, we did as tag-team teaching; COGS 200 was my domain while COGS 400 was his, and we shared COGS 499.  Our dynamic convinced some of the most brilliant computing students to look seriously at cognitive science.  We had fun but, meanwhile, we conveyed that fun to computing and linguistics and, on occasion, a psychology student.  Students to this day rave about the dynamic we created.

In 2014, we both shared a teaching award in the School of Computing for teaching.  Roger had earned it well.  He sent several students to UBC, his alma mater, and they have thanked him for that.  He is credited for inspiring so many students that it make me jealous. But they are right.  Maybe a student had screwed up a few courses – Roger could see that (he had done that!) – so he set them on the straight course. He was good at that.

It was a privilege to work with Roger.  He was not easy; when we disagreed the arguments were hot and heavy – and so much fun!  And there were two occasions when I convinced him I might be right – notice: might – and that was a triumph.  I never did convince him I was right about the Mr. Smith problem but that is for a second lifetime.

He is revered by his students.  I only hope I get a “nice prof

When he got ALS we had a deal: muffins. He liked Tim Horton’s “fruit explosion” and I would order five for him and a Carrot-Wholewheat for me.  I loved dropping over for muffins and we would chat about the damnest things.  Like Bunny Coull’s party and why he got pissed off at the Dean.  He was always true to his values and to his children.  I always asked, “How are the kids?” and it was his time to brag about Robb and Jenn.  Sorry guys, but I have to tell you, you were his world and he loved you so much.  His last words to me were bragging about you both.

I loved your Dad very much but I am not alone.  All his colleagues on the School of Computing website have added their sentiments.  He inspired students and challenged colleagues.  He did his job well and we all love him for it.  I only thank everyone for the ability to express this.  Roger was special.

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Ninth Annual School of Computing Awards

On May 14, 2017, School Director Selim Akl hosted the Ninth Annual Queen’s School of Computing Awards ceremony. The awards were created to recognize excellence in various forms of endeavour, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of those in the school who distinguished themselves through their exceptional work, and as an opportunity to say thank you to those who made a difference in School life.

This year’s awards also recognized the lifetime service of retiring Undergraduate Program Assistant, Irene Lafleche, and 10-year outgoing Director of the School, Selim Akl. This year’s other recipients were:

  • Howard Staveley Teaching Award in Recognition of Teaching Excellence: Wendy Powley (with honourable mention to Robin Dawes)
  • Excellence in Teaching Assistance Award: Matthew Rodgers
  • Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award: Chris Keeler
  • Ph.D. Research Achievement Award: Matthew Holden and Peter Chen
  • Graduate Student Distinguished Service Award: Eric Rapos
  • Ian Macleod Graduate Student Award: Eric Rapos
  • Distinguished Graduate Supervision Award: James Cordy
  • Research Award: Cor-Paul Bezemer
  • Award for Outstanding Contribution to School Life: Zach Baum and Vinyas Harish
  • Distinguished Lifetime Service Award: Irene LaFleche and Selim Akl

 

Photos by Doug Martin

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Queen’s Graduate Computing Society Conference (QGCSC) 2017

Congratulations to the QSC graduate students on their successful edition of the Eighth Annual Queen’s Graduate Computing Society Conference. The event was superbly organized and professionally executed. It included research presentations, a poster session, and invited keynote speaker, Dr Ron Smith from the Royal Military College.

Thanks to the organizing committee, Emese Somogyvari, Si Jia Li, and Eric Rapos. Thanks, too, to all volunteers, participants, and attendees on an excellent QGCSC 2017!

 

 

Photos by Doug Martin

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2017 ECOO and QSC East Regional High School Programming Contest

The School of Computing played host for the fourth time to the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s East Regional High School Programming Contest on April 29th. Nineteen teams of up to four student programmers each participated, attempting to solve four challenging programming problems in the span of three hours. The top five teams from Saturday’s contest are eligible to enter the final in the ECOO programming contest series next month in Toronto. Thanks to all the teams and their coaches for participating.

Congratulations to the winning team from Colonel By Secondary Team 1. Honorable mention to second place Nepean High School, third place St. Patrick’s Catholic High School, fourth place Canterbury High School, and fifth place Colonel By Secondary Team 2. Thanks to School of Computing organizer, Richard Linley, to ECOO’s Chris Kulenkamp who acted as principal score-keeper, to School of Computing Manager, Tom Bradshaw, and to the School’s Karen Knight and Doug Martin.

 

Photos by Doug Martin

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Dr. Gabor Fichtinger, and to Dr. C. J. Engel (Surgery) Receive CIHR Collaborative Health Research Projects Grant

Congratulations to Queen’s School of Computing Professor, Dr. Gabor Fichtinger, and to Dr. C. J. Engel (Surgery), as well as to their team of researchers, on their successful application to the CIHR Collaborative Health Research Projects (NSERC Partnered) for the project “Real-time Breast Cancer Surgery Navigation”.

The team will work towards eliminating positive margins in breast cancer surgery through biomedical computing research and development.

Well done!

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Creative Computing 2017

Hundreds of interested faculty, students, and staff gathered at the Biosciences Complex on Thursday April 6th for the Queen’s School of Computing’s annual Creative Computing Showcase. The event highlighted the work of the School’s undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on demos, presentations, and posters from a selection of our courses, with topics including Game Design and Game Technology, Computing and the Creative Arts, 4th year projects, and more. Congratulations and thanks to the organizers and participants.


Photos by Doug Martin and Dave Dove

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2017 Invitational High School Programming Contest

Congratulations to Team 1 from St. Theresa Catholic High School, and coach Mr. Daniel Tie Ten Quee for the team’s win in this year’s School of Computing Invitational High School Programming Contest. It was a nail-biting finish as the team slipped into the lead at the very last minute. Thanks to Mr. Tie, and to coaches Mr. Jon Swaine (Sydenham High School), Mr. Matt Smith (Brockville Collegiate Institute), Mr. Jeff Wills (Frontenac Secondary School), and Mr. Robert Chatelain (Leahurst College) for bringing teams to compete in this year’s very successful contest in which 32 students in 8 teams tried to solve four programming problems in three hours. The top teams from the April 3 contest will compete in the Educational Computing Organization Of Ontario’s East Regional Contest, which is also being hosted by the School of Computing, at Queen’s on April 29. Thanks and well done to contest organizer, Richard Linley, to Lynda Moulton, Aaron Visser, Doug Martin, and to School of Computing Manager, Tom Bradshaw.


Photos by Doug Martin

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Congratulations to Two of our Outstanding Undergraduate Researchers!!!

Congratulations to two of our outstanding undergraduate researchers: Rachael House and Anna Ilina. Both students are the recipients of Ontario-Baden-Württemberg Summer Research Program scholarships. Ms. House will be based at the German Cancer Research Center and Ms. Ilina will be based in the Medical Faculty Mannheim.

Both Rachael and Anna are former recipients of the Selim Akl Scholarship in Computing (2013 and 2014, respectively).

Best wishes for a fruitful and enjoyable summer in Heidelberg!

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New Tenure-track Faculty Position Announced

The School of Computing in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Queen’s University invites applications for a Tenure-track faculty position at the rank of Assistant Professor with specialization in Foundations of Computer Science including Theory of Computation, Computer Systems, Database and Big Data, and Programming Languages. Exceptional candidates in other areas may be considered. The preferred starting date is July 1, 2017.

Candidates must have a PhD or equivalent degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering or a related discipline completed at the start date of the appointment. The main criteria for selection are academic and teaching excellence. The successful candidate is expected to play a major role in the delivery of undergraduate and graduate programs at the School of Computing. The successful candidate will provide evidence of high quality scholarly output that demonstrates potential for independent research leading to peer-assessed publications in one of the foundational areas of Computer Science. A commitment to secure external research funding, as well as strong potential for outstanding teaching contributions at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and an ongoing dedication to academic and pedagogical excellence in support of the School’s programs are requirements for this position. Candidates must provide evidence of an ability to work collaboratively in an interdisciplinary and student-centred environment. The successful candidate will be required to make substantive contributions through service to the School, the Faculty, the University, and/or the broader community. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.

For more information, please see the full announcement here.

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