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Jennifer Shen


NEWS 4/9/14 12:49pm

Rice contracts with box.com to provide staff cloud storage

Rice University has teamed up with Box, a company that provides online file-sharing and storage services, for a cloud storage and sharing solution for research and collaboration among faculty and staff, according to Barry Ribbeck, director of Systems, Architecture, Infrastructure, Cloud Strategies and Initiatives.




NEWS 2/11/14 6:00pm

Student creates new app for RPC crush party

Rice Program Council switched this year's Crush Party survey from using a company to a student-built application in response to students' complaints that last year's survey did not allow for students to be matched with both genders, according to RPC President Aisha Jeeva.Those who hope to find their potential soulmates through the Rice Program Council's Crush Party matches may have noticed that the program for the survey was created by a student this year, instead of by a company in previous years."This was due to a limitation of the company that created the survey," Jeeva, a Martel College junior, said. "Unfortunately, the company we had always used to create the survey was unable to [make the change] due to the nature of their program."Due to RPC's continual efforts to be more receptive to student feedback, the committee started looking for alternatives, according to Jeeva.RPC finally ended up outsourcing the program to Duncan College sophomore Matthew Schurr because of the other successful apps he created, including the website used for Screw Your Roommate, another popular RPC event.Schurr said RPC contacted him about making an app for the Crush Party."I saw an opportunity to help improve a campus wide event, and I decided to go for it," Schurr said.Schurr said he created the app in less than a day's work. Although he wrote the code for the application, RPC came up with the questions used to match students, according to Schurr.To calculate matches among students, a score is calculated between every pair of participants that has matching gender preferences, said Schurr. For most questions, a constant is added to the total score if both participants chose the same answer, and none is added otherwise. However, some questions whose answers can be converted to a scale, such as the one regarding purity score, are scored based on how close the pair's answers are to each other on the scale.Schurr said he plans to publish some aggregate statistics to see patterns in people's responses."I think it will be interesting to see which questions had a fairly even answer distribution and which questions had most of the students choosing between one or two choices," Schurr said.Brown College senior Rachel Wong said she liked having the option to be matched with either or both sexes. "I'm glad that they were considerate of the LGBTQ community at Rice," Wong said. "I think that the survey was more comprehensive than in past years, but the music options were kind of limited."Lovett College senior Sunny Kim said she liked the new survey but saw room for improvement."It's definitely more convenient ... because they can email you the result, so people don't have to go all the way to the RMC to get it," Kim said. "But I think it's still under construction. The authentication system wasn't working for me on the phone."Jeeva said that apart from the change in the survey's program, Crush Party will run as usual on Feb. 13, when students can head to the Grand Hall Lobby to collect their survey results and try to meet their matches at Willy's Pub."The event has long been a [students' favorite], and so we have worked hard to maintain this," Jeeva said.


NEWS 1/20/14 6:00pm

EtherNest allows space for innovation

A crowd of more than 50 people gathered Friday, Jan. 17 to celebrate the launch night of EtherNest, a room in the Abercrombie Engineering Laboratory that will serve as a collaborative space for students to explore creative uses of technology.EtherNest's main organizer Reed Jones said EtherNest was born out of a conversation with associate professor of computer science Lin Zhong, electrical and computer engineering department chair Behnaam Aazhang and professor of computer science Joseph Cavallaro near the beginning of the fall semester."Initially, [we] were interested in finding a way for engineering students to pursue projects that were not academically related," Jones, a McMurtry College senior, said.Zhong said he thought of the idea for EtherNest while reading Walter Isaacson's biography Steve Jobs. In the book, Isaacson describes the electronics hobbyist community where Jobs met Steve Wozniak."I saw that when you get like-minded folks to mingle and challenge them, great things can happen," Zhong said. "I felt there was a need for such environments at Rice, especially for students who are interested in building things with computers and electronics."As the plan developed, the organizers wanted EtherNest to be available for all students who are interested in experimenting with technologies, Jones said. Students who complete a 30-minute orientation process will be able to access the space. The dates of the orientation will be available on EtherNest's Facebook page and through its mailing list.EtherNest will provide hardware tools such as soldering irons and launch pads, most of which are currently funded by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Jones said EtherNest is seeking additional funding from companies, and Texas Instruments has already donated some tools.Zhong said he helped to get funding from the ECE department because he wanted ECE majors to get exposure to hands-on projects early on, in addition to getting more students to do fun things with electronics and computers regardless of their majors.EtherNest will host workshops in the coming weeks to get students started, Jones said. Planned activities for these workshops include teaching students how to put programmable lights on bags and bicycles.Jones said the name EtherNest came from a 4 a.m. brainstorming session when they were sitting next to an Ethernet port."We wanted something that conjured images of a creative technical space without being too abstract," Jones said. "We liked the name partially because Ethernet is a networking technology, which to me evokes collaboration."Former president of the Rice chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Richard Latimer said he is excited to see where EtherNest is going."I had the opportunity to help form the IEEE Dr. Bill Lounge, and I witnessed how this location became a hub for Elec culture," Latimer, an electrical engineering graduate student, said. "Similarly, EtherNest is going to be a major hub for innovation and creativity at Rice."Martel College junior Julia Hossu said she appreciated the ease of accessing EtherNest compared to the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, which has more tools but can be hard to get permission to use and can be intimidating for non-engineering majors."I feel like EtherNest is a good mix of cool things, hangout space and accessibility for students with more tech-heavy interests," Hossu said.


NEWS 12/3/13 6:00pm

Rice students win HackTX software challenge at UT

Students can now put their whistling skills to the test with Whistle Hero, a web application similar to Guitar Hero designed by a team of five Rice University students that placed first among 64 submissions at the annual HackTX hackathon Nov. 15, according to team member Xilin Liu.According to its website, HackTX, which is in its second year, challenges teams to build software prototypes within 24 hours. The competition is hosted by two student organizations at the University of Texas, Austin: Hacker Lounge and the Technology Entrepreneurship Society.HackTX and Hacker Lounge co-founder Vivek Karuturi said he started HackTX with the goal of bringing people together. According to Karuturi, around 500 people from multiple schools in Texas participated this year. The top three prizes were awarded based on uniqueness, design, usability, personal challenge and usefulness."[Whistle Hero] was chosen [for the top prize] because ... the presentation was really good," Karuturi, a senior in computer science at UT, said. "It looked really fun to play, and I don't think many of us had seen anything similar to that built for whistling before."The team that built Whistle Hero consisted of Liu, Abdelrahman Nimeri, Daniel Reiter, Jonathan Wilson and Matthew Schurr. Liu, a Duncan College sophomore, said the team had competed together before in HackMIT, a hackathon hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earlier this semester."I think hackathons in general are a really good way to not only better yourself at coding but also meet a lot of cool new people and ideas, and see these ideas develop, or crash," Liu said. "For example, we're looking to take our whistle game further. We're also going to PennApps which is the UPenn hackathon in February, and the HackRice at Rice in January."The team was able to come together due to the support of the computer science department, Wilson, a Hanszen College senior, said."We are thankful for the [computer science] department for sponsoring us to go to the MIT hackathon," Wilson said. "It was our first experience as a team."Nimeri, a Duncan senior, said he came up with the idea of making Whistle Hero by observing the winners at HackMIT."At HackMIT, we noticed that ... if you make a game with buttons, it's extremely hard to impress people," Nimeri said. "All the successful games have novel methods of input."Wilson said he thinks the team's presentation was the key to their win."During our demo, we had [Reiter] actually whistle 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' [to the game]," Wilson said. "We got a big round of applause."According to Nimeri, the entire project was built in JavaScript and HTML. Nimeri said the most challenging part of the project was balancing the game's difficulty."The microphone can be a little too sensitive," Nimeri said. "You had to pretty much not breathe in the beginning."Reiter, a Duncan senior, said the team members had to whistle so much in the testing process the team sitting next to them eventually asked them to move. The team won $6,000 and $1,000 worth of credit for Amazon Web Services, Nimeri said.Nimeri said he bought a smartwatch with the money they won, and Schurr, a Duncan sophomore, said he is considering using the AWS credit toward a web development class he will be teaching.Students can test their whistling abilities by visiting whistle.riceapps.org.


NEWS 11/18/13 6:00pm

Computer science team places second in region

A group of computer science students put their skills to the test earlier this month to compete in a programming competition. The team from Rice placed second out of the 57 teams that competed in the USA Southwest Central regionals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest.Two other teams from Rice also competed in the competition and placed 11th and 42nd, respectively.According to its website, ICPC is a team-based programming competition first held at the ACM Computer Science Conference in 1977. Participants are given eight to 12 problems to solve in five hours. Each problem lays out a real-life scenario, for which participants must identify the underlying topic and develop algorithmic solutions in Java, C or C++. The participants for the world finals last year were chosen from over 2,000 universities and 91 countries.The Southwest Central regionals included schools from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and the competition was held Nov. 2 at Baylor University, Louisiana State University and LeTourneau University simultaneously. The winning team, from the University of Texas, Brownsville, will represent the region in the world finals in Ekaterinburg, Russia in June 2014.The second-place team consisted of Sid Richardson College senior Jeff Arenson, Hanszen College sophomore Derek Peirce and computer science graduate student Marcus Shen, all returning participants in the competition. The team completed seven of the eight given questions, according John Greiner, a lecturer in computer science who coached Rice's teams."I originally got involved during sophomore year, when one of the competitors dropped out at the last minute and I took his place," Arenson said. "I met a bunch of amazing people - both from Rice and from the schools we competed against - and decided to go back. I almost didn't get involved, but I'm really glad I did."Arenson, who serves as the student organizer, said he organized the three teams that represented Rice this year by experience. He said the participants started preparing for the competition soon after the semester started."[Arenson] led weekly practices for the participants, doing practice problems and talking about common issues that come up within the contest," Greiner said.Rice has participated in the competition before, according to Greiner. Many members of the current computer science faculty had competed and represented Rice in the world finals, including Greiner and professors of computer science David Johnson and Joe Warren."[Rice's participation in the competition] goes back decades, although more recently the participation got restarted in 2003," Greiner said. "The best [we've placed] is second in the world ... [by] Johnson in 1981."Greiner said he has served as the coach since Rice began competing again in 2003, when a student came to him after Rice stopped competing for four years."A student came to me and said, 'Hey, I want to do this,'" Greiner said. "And I said, 'OK, let's look for some volunteers.' We ended up having two teams that year."Arenson said the three members on his team were the only returning participants this year, but he said he has high hopes for Rice's future performance in the competition."We had tons of interest from new freshmen and sophomores, and they all did really well," Arenson said. "I think the contest has gotten far more publicity and new blood this year .... Next year and the year after have a lot of potential."