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Dear Columbia Alumni,

You probably recently received a card at home with a phone number and a code to call and update your personal information. The reason is that Columbia Alumni is compiling a 2014 Columbia Alumni directory. This operation is being performed by a legitimate 3rd party.

During the call, they will ask you to confirm all your information and provide any missing information. Most likely, you will proceed and give them the information because, like me, you want them to have your most up-to-date contact information so they can send you the Alumni magazine, contact you for events, etc. Until here, all perfectly legitimate and normal.

Now, here it comes the huge privacy violation. During the call there is never a clear statement clarifying that EVERYTHING they have in the data base will be included in this alumni directory. Considering that the directory is a compendium of the 300000 Columbia alumni around the world, publication of such information could result in almost 300000 strangers knowing your home address and personal phone number.

If you already called, call again. And if you didn’t, make sure that you tell them that you do NOT want your personal information published on that book.

I hope this will reach out to my fellow alumni and will spare them the loss of privacy. And if anyone from Columbia Alumni or Columbia University is reading this, please make sure to contact the 3rd party gathering the information so they make sure there is a VERY CLEAR STATEMENT during the call alerting that ALL the information will be published in the book.

I contacted Columbia Alumni via email and will update this post as I receive any response.

EDIT: The 3rd party company putting together this alumni book publishes in its website their Privacy Policy. This is what it says:

You have the ability to request omission of all or portions of your personal information from our directory projects, should you elect to do so. When updating information for an alumni or membership directory (whether print, CD-ROM, e-book or online versions), you will be notified that this information will be included in a directory with closed circulation (e.g., made available only to the client organization and to the alumni or members of the organization).

[3rd party name] will always abide by any request received by an individual to omit all or part of his/her personal information from appearing in any product produced by [3rd party name].

If you wish to opt out of inclusion in a product produced by [3rd party name], please notify us as follows, identifying the specific program (e.g., XYZ University Alumni Directory).

I guess that I just got unlucky and the person who spoke on the phone with me forgot to notify me that all this information would be included in the directory. However, I would not call 300000 people “closed circulation”. Also, I am personally not happy with the fact that you have to explicitly tell them what data NOT to make public. I think that it should be the opposite. Alumni should tell them what data they can publish.

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Recently, after a hiatus of about a year and a half, I started developing with OPNET Modeler again (I have been using OPNET for simulations and tests on LTE networks often for the last 2 years and a half, but not really developing at a large scale).

OPNET is a company, recently acquired by Riverbed, that offers a rather long list of products. I have to say that my experience is only with Modeler, the wireless module and many of their models (=code) for LTE, UMTS, IP, WLAN, etc. I will be using a couple more of their products soon, learning new stuff and expanding the potential of what we develop.

wireless_modeling

I started using OPNET back in 2005 when, in order to fulfill my final degree research project, I joined the Mobile Communications Research Group (Grup de Recerca en Comunicacions Mobils) of the Politechnic University of Catalunya (Telecom-BCN). I worked for a bit over a year on Common Radio Resource Management for heterogeneous GSM(EDGE)+UMTS networks. Back then, I learned how to program and develop in OPNET and I was hooked. Going back to my roots now is bringing me back so many memories. OPNET development is hard at the beginning but, once you get it, you see through the code and the GUI like Neo sees through Matrix.

OPNET is, in my humble opinion, not a very popular/widespread tool among academia. It might be because of its cost (though I know for a fact that they have free licenses for academia so the cost is literally zero… I can’t remember if there was such free licenses back in 2005). I have also heard people sometimes telling me that they do not “trust” results generated by OPNET. The reason I have been given is that OPNET models networks based on what (for example) standards say and the results could differ a lot from a real production network. I totally agree. However, the people who make this claims (and many other people too) often use other “simulation platforms” for their research, i.e. Matlab, C++, Java, Python, etc. I do not see why a simulation on another “platform” (i.e. Matlab, C++, Java, Python, etc) would be more accurate or better than with OPNET. Actually, I think that with OPNET it will probably be better because it is much easier (I can’t even imagine trying to simulate an LTE network – eUTRAN + RAN – using Python). By the way, I want to comment here that I have never used NS-2 or NS-3 so I am not trying to imply at all that OPNET is better or worst than those two.

OPNET offers a great platform to develop very realistic and efficient network simulations. I agree that the results might differ from a real production network but, using another simulation platform, in the best case scenario you’ll get results as accurate as with OPNET. The only way to improve them is to actually get your hands on a real network. In that specific case, I happen to be very lucky to work where I work and have access to such a cool lab network. However, in order to achieve realistic results at a big network scale (hundreds of thousands of mobile devices talking over a very (very) large network) one needs an unrealistically (very very unrealistically) huge lab network. In this case, I don’t know anything better than OPNET.

(Again, I have not tried NS-2 or NS-3. Maybe if I did I would change my mind. Any thoughts?)

If you are a grad student working on research related to networking, wireless, cellular or something like that, you might want to check this out (free license for academia research) and speak with your advisor.

Obviously, and as usual, the opinions I post here are my own and have nothing to do with my employer or anybody else.

This morning I read a very interesting article from the NY Times about pseudo-academia, predatory publishers and bogus conferences. I decided to do some research about it and found so much information.

I am already used to receiving emails every now and then with call for papers from suspicious conferences that look rather bogus. I get even more suspicious when I get a call for papers for this same conference every couple of days for weeks in a row. Anyhow, I am not trying to make any claims on the legitimacy of a conference or journal. This is a job that is being done by Jeffrey Beall from the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of a very interesting blog/data-base that investigates such suspicious conferences and (mainly) journals.

picture1

Based on actual data and facts, Beall describes why a journal is bogus, suspicious and sometimes even at the boundary of illegality (I can’t believe how some journals try to fool authors into believing that they are associated to legitimate and well known publishers, such as Elseviver in this exaple).

Berall’s database of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers” and the list of “potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals” are a resource one can keep an eye on. It is interesting to see that he even keeps an eye on plagiarism cases.

Just to illustrate a bit more the extent of Beall’s work, here’s a couple more examples. There are so many bogus journals out there that coming up with a brand new name is becoming difficult. And, in some cases, some of these journals offer fee waivers to authors if they cite papers from that journal. And the list goes on and on and one… including other topics, like shady publishers that fool recent graduates to give them the rights of their dissertations so the publisher can print and sell it on demand on Amazon. Unbelievable!

Reading about this topic got me in the mood of finding more. I ended up at the website of “SCIgen – An Automatic CS Paper Generator“. I had already heard about it. This tool generates fake bogus papers that look good but, if you read them, are completely senseless. By means of this tool, the authors were able to uncover a very shady conference (WMSCI 2005 – the link does not work as I expected. The “organizers” probably tried to erase all evidence from such a scam… but they cannot erase this). If you are curious, this was the “paper” accepted at the conference.

Unbelievable.

EDIT: I have been receiving some comments from people stating that are attempting to explain and comment some inaccuracies of Beall’s work and those comments and related links are being erased and/or hidden. I am not aware of any of these, but I do acknowledge that it is likely that some legitimate publishers and journals end up in Beall’s lists. On his blog he encourages these journals and publishers to contact him with information that supports their legitimacy so they can be removed, and I hope this is indeed the case. Anyhow, I sympathize with the comments and agree that perhaps, given the subject being judged, perhaps it is better to lower the bar a bit to minimize “false positives”. Nevertheless, the astonishing cases of plagiarism and journals that attempt to fool scientists into believing that they are associated to some known publisher are beyond unbelievable. It is good to have a resource like Beall’s blog to alert the scientist community from those.

I just found out this weekend that my former school in Barcelona, the School of Telecommunications Engineering at Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, is heading and coordinating a new project of the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union. The project, named FREEDOM (Femtocell-based network enhancement by interference management and coordination of information for seamless connectivity) aims to find new strategies to mitigate radio interference in Femtocell networks.

The project has set a few technical objectives to be accomplished over the next few years:

  • Analysis of the advantages of advanced interference-aware PHY techniques
  • Enhancements in the control plane procedures
  • Indications from the system level evaluation
  • Hardware demonstrator

I specially like that the project includes a final hardware-based demonstration step. The reason is that, back in 2005 and 2006, I worked in the same department – Signal Theory and Communications Department – in a project on Common Radio Resource Management for GSM-EDGE/UMTS/WiFi heterogeneous networks and everything was simulation-based using the OPNET network simulator. You can read a paper I published on that project and my final degree thesis (in Catalan) at my website.

Back to FREEDOM, at the project’s website, one can read the technical summary:

FREEDOM is an Specific Targeted Research Project (STREP) of the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission. The goals of FREEDOM are aligned with the objective ICT-2007.1.1 “The Network of the Future”. FREEDOM is a consortium of 8 partners coordinated by UPC. The planned activities target at providing a new vision of a femto-based network, giving solutions to the major concerns about the foreseen mid-term (2011-2012) massive deployment ofFemto Access Points (FAPs).

In the recent years there has been an increasing demand for mobile traffic due to the large nomadic population and the type of applications to be employed. This has motivated that the near-future 4G networks must enhance their efficiency in terms of spectrum, energy and cost. The solution addressed in this project is the use of femtocells and it is also considered by several mobile operators (e.g. T-Mobile Europe, TELECOM-Italy and Vodafone in Europe; NTT DoCoMo and Softbank in Japan; O2/Telefonica, Sprint, AT&T Mobility and Verizon in the US; and Chunghwa in Taiwan) and different standards, such as IEEE 802.16m and LTE-Advanced.

Currently, femtocells and macrocells are seen as isolated networks, competing for the resources available in the common spectrum band, at the cost of injecting interference to the whole system. FREEDOM project faces key technical and industrial concerns about the foreseen mid-term massive deployment of femtocells by adopting a new approach based on cooperative/coordination paradigms, enabled by the quality-limited ISP backhaul link. The project does not disregard the approach of isolated networks because it is met when there is not enough backhaul link connecting femtocells and macrocell.s In order to guarantee a strong focus and efficiency, FREEDOM focuses on:

  • Advanced interference-aware cooperative PHY techniques,
  • Improvement of the control plane procedures for seamless connectivity, and
  • System-level evaluation and hardware demonstrator of the proposed femto-based network architecture

A group of researchers from University of Parma‘s Artificial Vision and Intelligent Systems Laboratory – known as VisLab –  got tired of testing their autonomous vehicle in the lab. Then, they decided to leave on a 13000 km road trip all the way to Shanghai. A 3 months trip that started on July 10th from Parma and will reach its destination on October 10th, right on time for the 2010 World Expo in China.

As its known for all researchers, the way of science is full of obstacles. For this group of Italian researchers, one of the main obstacles came in the form of a Russian Policeman that stopped the car and noticed it had no driver.

You can read more about this interesting journey at IEEE Spectrum Magazine.

“When you do things in the lab, it all really works. But when you go out in a real road, with real traffic, real weather, it’s another story,” says Alberto Broggi, VisLab’s director and an engineering professor at Parma University.

That’s how the idea for their Parma-Shanghai trip, which is partially funded by the European Research Council, came about. The goal is to test, and later perfect, their vision and navigation systems, which the researchers hope to one day deploy on commercial vehicles.

Unlike the Darpa vehicles, the VisLab van is not driving fully autonomously from start to finish. That approach would require at least a rough map of the complete route, Broggi says, adding that they lack maps for locations like Mongolia and Kazakhstan. So instead of programming the trajectory ahead of time, the Italians adopted a simpler, though still challenging, approach.

Two vans travel in line. The first uses maps and GPS to drive itself whenever possible, but a human driver is in control most of the time. The second van uses its cameras and navigation system to follow the first; it visually tracks the lead van, plans a trajectory in real time, and generates controls for steering and accelerating or braking. (If a car gets in between the two vans, the second van guides itself using GPS instructions it receives from the leader.)

If you are a student at Columbia University or you are taking classes at the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) of Columbia University – like myself – , you are lucky. Over the last year SEAS has been working with CUIT and MathWorks, Inc., to make sure that every student in the Engineering School has a personal copy of MATLAB.

As of today, a free copy of MATLAB is available to every student taking courses in SEAS for use on their personal computer.

https://portal.seas.columbia.edu/matlab/

The licensing agreement with Mathworks will provide all students with a single copy of MATLAB and Simulink with the following toolboxes:

Student License:
1. MATLAB
2. Simulink
3. Symbolic Math Toolbox
4. Bioinformatics Toolbox
5. Control System Toolbox
6. Curve Fitting Toolbox
7. Data Acquisition Toolbox
8. Image Processing Toolbox
9. Instrument Control Toolbox
10. Optimization Toolbox
11. Signal Processing Toolbox
12. Signal Processing Blockset
13. SimMechanics
14. Stateflow
15. Statistics Toolbox
16. SimScape

Hooray!

ARWU (Academic Ranking of World Universities) recently published its 2010 ranking, headed once more by Harvard University. This school located in Boston has been considered the best university in the World since 2003.

The first Spanish university in the ranking is Universitat de Barcelona, ranked #201.

It is good to know that I already have a MSc from the 46th best school in the World – 36th in the US -, University of California Irvine, and very soon I will have a Master’s and MPhil in Electrical Engineering from the 8th best school in the world, Columbia University.

Check the entire ranking here.

KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), a graduate-level research university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will open its doors on September 22nd 2009. This ambitious project gathers a strong academic program along with over two dozens of faculty from all over the world and multiple backgrounds. As the name of the institution states, this is a technology university, offering multiple science majors such as Applied Mathematics, Bioscience, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

kaust

Electrical Engineering offers a wide variety of courses, ranging from classical analog circuit design, digital communications and signal processing, to much more advanced topics such as MEMS and adaptive signal processing. Overall, an interesting option for middle eastern students as well as students from all over the world who are willing to embrace a new adventure in a new institution that has everything from good faculty to excellent installations. Within some of the labs one can find Shaheen, an IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer capable of 222 teraflops and ranked 14th in the world and a visualization and virtual reality center designed by the University of California in San Diego, home of the HiPerSpace, a 286 mega pixel resolution multi-tile display, the highest resolution display in the world.

I was once a grad student. Life is different as a graduate student, different sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. I wonder how the life of a graduate student by the Red Sea is. I wonder how long it will take to have an answer to that by PhD Comics.

About me:

Born in Barcelona, moved to Los Angeles at age 24, ended in NYC, where I enjoy life, tweet about music and work as a geek in security for wireless networks.
All the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and are not related to my employer.
About me: http://rogerpiquerasjover.net/

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