Where in the world is Dr. Csizmar Dalal?

The title of this post is inspired by something my Mom often posts on Facebook in response to status updates that indicate I’m off and about somewhere (and that she has no idea where I am and what I’m doing.  Really, I am close to my Mom.  We just don’t talk as often as we should.  Mom, I owe you a phone call!).  I’m sure readers of this humble little blog have been asking the same question since there’s been a lot of radio silence here lately.  Let’s just say it’s been a busy few months.  In fact, since the end of January, I

  • submitted a grant
  • served on an NSF panel (luckily, unlike last year, I was not snowed in there this year!)
  • hired 13 student researchers in 2 different programs (and coordinated the hiring process in both)
  • presided over 9 oral exams of our Compsing seniors
  • met with all my advisees (we take advising seriously here around these parts, so this is a nontrivial task)
  • got 2 Comps groups ready for their final presentations
  • co-hosted, along with my colleagues, our annual Comps gala
  • attended (and chaired a session at) SIGCSE (my first time attending!)

in addition to the teaching/researching/mentoring/grading/service-performing aspects of my job that regularly happen….oh yeah, and the end of the term too, with all the grading that entails.

So yeah, you could say I’ve been busy.

In the midst of all this busy-ness, I continue to be completely inspired by what my students can achieve and accomplish, so I want to take some time to highlight some of that in this post.

My Intro class recently handed in their final projects (write a simulation or a game).  As part of their projects, I have them do a science fair-style presentation:  during the finals period for the class, we all meet in the computer lab, I bring snacks, and they all show off their projects to each other.  It’s a very casual atmosphere—everyone wanders around, tries out everyone else’s games/simulations, and talks to each other about their projects.  This is hands down my favorite class period of the term.  I love that the students get to show off their hard work, and the atmosphere leads, often, to some great conversations and suggestions among the students for improving the projects.  I also award a few (small) prizes to the best projects, as voted on by the class.

Here’s what the scene looked like:

Playing Battleship

A spirited game of Battleship vs. the computer. The AI on this was pretty good! (The co-author of the capture the flag project, in the next picture, is sitting at the computer.)

Cultural references are common in the submissions

This project, a Capture the Flag game, was voted "most creative" by the class. The student in sunglasses is one of the authors.

Mille Bornes, a card game

This project, a version of a card game called Mille Bournes, was well-liked by many of the students. I have to admit I spent a lot of time playing---er, grading---this game! (The author of the Battleship project is on the left.)

Frog chasing a fly game

This project, an event-driven game in which a frog chases a fly (controlled by keystrokes by the player), was voted "most artistic" by the class, and was also highly addictive. The author is the student on the right, in blue. This shot also shows a bit of the science fair atmosphere in the lab. The author of the card game from the previous picture is the student in green in the background.

In addition, my Comps group was busy finishing up their project—a “robot tour guide”.  While the robot won’t be ready to lead any campus tours any time soon, the students did an impressive job getting the robot to recognize where it was (via some pretty nice image processing) and to get it to travel to a pre-set destination within our building, while correcting for course drift along the way.  Here’s an example of the robot traveling from one of the computer labs to the CS student lounge.  (The robot is a Surveyor SRV-1.)  In the video, you can see the robot correcting itself—it uses a combination of knowledge about the distance between two rooms along the path and blob detection of the orange tape borders.

It’s so easy in this job to get worn down and burned out:  there’s so much to do, so many demands on our time, and not enough time to do it all or do any of it well.  These students, and their hard work, dedication, and creativity, are what keeps me motivated and inspired.  Every term, I am so proud of what our students accomplish, and every term, I am amazed at how far they come.  This is exactly why I do this job.