Thursday, February 28, 2008


Registration for the main conference went live at 1:21AM this morning. Much kudos has to go out to Robert Lechte for all the hard work, late nights and constant revisions he has had to endure to make online registration a success. Some thanks also has to go out to the MSN live messaging service for its not-always-foolproof late-night conferencing abilities :-)

Main conference registration can now be made via the registration page, however, before you register there are a couple of things you need to check.
  • Visit and read over the terms and conditions. These outline everyone's responsibilities, and hopefully clarify a couple of questions people may have.
  • Check with your local contact if your department is subsidising your trip [updated at bottom of post]. Some departments are paying for registration in bulk. If this is the case then the online form won't be of much use, as it asks for your credit card information. We will be releasing information shortly to your local contacts regarding how you can register. A list of local contacts can be found on the people page.

Accommodation Subsidies

We currently have enough money in the budget to pay accommodation for all (out of town) post-grad students who have had a paper accepted. If this applies to you, you can claim your subsidy by registering before the 10th of March.

If you're a post-grad student and you haven't had a paper accepted, you still have a chance at an accommodation subsidy! When you hit the accommodation page on the registration form you will be presented with two options: book 3 days guaranteed accommodation for $150, or go on the waiting list for free accommodation. What's the difference? If you choose the first option you are guaranteed a bed at Bishop Julius Hall (provided your payment goes through), however you have to pay for it. The second option gives you a chance at free accommodation should not all paper-accepted students register before 10 March. 'Winners' will be chosen at random, and notification given on 12 March. If you choose this option and are unsuccessful, then you will be given the option to book a bed at Bish for $150 only if there are rooms free.

In short: one option guarantees you a bed, the other risks it.

We are always trying to get you more subsidies, but this is heavily dependent on sponsorship.

CSUnplugged Workshop registration will be online soon. In the meantime, make sure you have those nominations from you HOD.

We will keep the registration page updated to cover any issues or questions that arise with registration. Descriptions of the changes will be tacked on to this blog post.

If you have any questions, comments, or need something clarified please let us know:

Andrew issszzzzzzzzzz...

---- Update 3.3.08 5pm ----
We should add a big thank-you to AUT and Otago universities who have offered to pay the accommodation costs for authors from their respective institutions. It's only with their support that we've been able to offer free accommodation to the remaining authors.

If you're registering and you're an author from one of these universities, just tick the "three nights free accommodation" box---we'll then invoice your university (after validation) for your accommodation.

If your university is also willing to pay for your accommodation, please get in touch (via your local contact, or by emailing, or use your department's credit card to pay for it as you register. The more rooms that are paid for, the more students we can offer free accommodation to, making a better conference for everyone!

Jason Alexander

Monday, February 25, 2008

Going Unplugged: Teaching Computing without Computers

Dr. Tim BellAssociate Professor Tim Bell, the founder and one of the principle authors of CSUnplugged dropped by to tell us more about the project.

NZCSRSC: Tim, we are very pleased to be working in partnership with CSUnplugged to organise the Unplugged Workshop (17, 18 April) in conjunction with the NZCSRSC’08. We’re excited that NZ ICT students can be involved in this type of a project; one that has such an influence on our future generations. However, for those who aren’t familiar with this project … what is CSUnplugged? ... and where is it used?

Tim: Thank you! This conference is a great opportunity to share these ideas with postgraduate students. CSUnplugged is a collection of fun teaching materials that we used to demonstrate university Computer Science concepts to pre-schoolers so they can decide if they want to be computer scientists when they grow up instead of train drivers. Well, that's the extreme version... it gets used at all sorts of levels in education, but the most interesting point for me is when kids are around 12 years old, and aren't thinking they're too cool to have fun with new ideas, but are about to make important career decisions (like, "I might as well only scrape through in maths, since computer science doesn't use maths, right?" or "I love communicating with people, so there's no way I'd want to get involved in a loner job like software engineering, right?")

It's always easier to explain Unplugged with a video [01:43 min] example...
In English or in Swedish, or Chinese, or Korean ....

NZCSRSC: It looks like so much fun, Tim! So, why CSUnplugged? What led to the need to create this project?
Tim: It is fun! And the kids think so too. Unplugged started for me when I was asked to give a talk about computers to my son's class in the early 80's, and wanted to try to convey what Computer Science is to 5 year olds. Showing them a laptop wouldn't be particularly impressive, and how interesting would watching an O(nlog n) sorting algorithm be for kids who mainly think of computers as a games machine?

So I took the radical step of not using a computer at all. I turned some CS ideas into games and puzzles, which turned out to be (mainly) very engaging for the kids, and a lot of fun for me.

15 years later, and the collection of games has grown, but the basic material is still useful. The problem is that the way school students encounter computing these days is mainly through learning MS Office, or making web pages, or perhaps a little programming. From this they make wrong assumptions about what a career in CS would involve... and this is a large part of the explanation of falling numbers of students enrolling in CS, despite the huge growth in demand from employers.

NZCSRSC: And this home-grown project has gone international too …

Tim: Yes! In fact, in the last couple of years it surprised me as it has generated huge international interest from the CS community. Unplugged has turned up in lots of places: the ACM K-12 curriculum uses it as examples of good practice, it is used by famous universities including CMU, UCLA, U Washington and Purdue as part of their school outreach programmes, and NCWIT use it to promote IT to young women. It has been published in Korea and Japan --- in Korea it is directly influencing the national school curriculum, which is pretty cool considering it is one of the leading nations in plugged in technology. Translations into about 10 other languages are also underway, supported by enthusiasts all over the world. Google have given substantial sponsorship to Unplugged to help address the low enrolments in CS. And to drop a few names, Peter Denning is a strong supporter of Unplugged, and is using it as part of a new initiative that involves luminaries like Vint Cerf and Peter Neumann, to improve the image of CS.

NZCSRSC: Wow that’s very cool! So what are some of the future plans?

Tim: Apart from eventually making the world a happier place by replacing all computers with pen, paper, strings and sellotape, we want to publish lots more activities to cover more areas of computer science; and adapt and translate activities for into different formats... for example, there is work on activities for the disabled, video versions, a parent-and-child activity book, and an animated story version. The movie rights are still up for grabs.

In the meantime, we want to share the resources with lots of people (and get their ideas too)... which is why we're hooking into the NZCSRS conference, and offering a free afternoon, evening and morning playing with these cool ideas.

NZCSRSC: Thanks Tim! I wish we had learned CS this way! We're looking forward to experiencing more of these activities hands-on at the Workshop.

The CSUnplugged workshop will follow the NZCSRSC 2008 (17, 18 April). Register for the Workshop to attend!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Winston Peters move over.

Amali WeerasingheWhen I was thinking about taking on the role of NZCSRSC'08 Foreign Affairs Minister, some one pointed out that FA Minister is the first person to blame if NZCSRS08 is poorly attended (this is not the voice in my head, but one of my colleagues who was eying the job). I took this as a challenge and my previous experience (as the UC local contact for NZCSRSC07) has helped me lots. My main job is to keep in touch with the local organisers at each university informed where we’re at with the conference. I think local contacts play a crucial role for making NZCSRSC08 a great success, as they promote the conference within their university and also help us understand what is feasible and what is not from their ends. I feel fortunate to work with a cool bunch of people who are just as keen about NZCSRSC08 as the bunch at UC. Thank you guys and gals.

Last year when I was the local contact for UC, my biggest challenge was to get the best travel for our group at UC and Lincoln, for that I had to jump through a lot of hoops. Thanks to our UC travel agent!! Were it not for our very efficient UC travel agent, there would have been no UC contingent at the 2007 conference. My advice for those few local contacts new to the role, is to find out the procedure to book travel as early as possible specially if your university travel agent has a reputation of being difficult to deal with (like UC). Also if there’s anything you’re uncertain about, hound us until you get a sufficient answer.

Ok, a little bit about me. I'm a PhD student at UC and also a mother (of a 4-yr old girl, Ravisha); one who is finding her PhD a breeze compared to her mothering duties … Though that said, it’s still no walk in the park. My husband is also working in the computer field, as a software developer. Yes you guessed it, computer talks are off-limits at home. We’re from warm, sunny Sri Lanka. Moved to Chch about 7 years ago and loving it here.

My PhD research is about encouraging students to be more involved while using Intelligent Tutoring Systems (adaptive educational system). My project is based on the evidence that some students tend to try different answers to the problems (provided by ITSs) just to complete the task without actually thinking (which equates to no learning happening ).

Before attending NZCSRSC07, my national network of CS people were very limited. (Facebook was not that popular then :). I got to meet so many postgrads, academics and people from the industry. I realised that I am not alone going through the different stages of the postgrad life (the excitement and the frustrations etc.) Also I got a lot of great ideas from the workshops at the conference (things like effective networking, time management, publishing etc.). We also got the chance to see the CS dept at Waikato, to get a taste how things are done and how things are set up. We actually had the chance to taste a Waikato-made cup of coffee from their Espresso machine.

So I highly recommend attending NZCSRSC'08. Even if you don't have a paper or a poster submission. If you're at the early stages of a research degree, this will give you a taste of a postgrad student life (the good, the bad and the ugly).

Amali, the NZCSRSC'08 Minister of Foreign Affairs, is considering a move to politics.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Attack of the 50ft Ministry

About four score and three months ago, the conference's call for papers was broadcast in Computer Science departments across the country. In the following two months we received over 50 submissions of long or short papers - an increase on the previous year, meaning the NZCSRSC is growing steadily, and with your input, we're looking forward to a great conference in April.

Submissions closed just before Christmas, and since then everyone's been furiously writing and sending in reviews - we know because we receive an e-mail for every review sent (54 papers x 3 reviews each = enough email to fill up the inside of Lancaster Jad Christchurch's sports arena, if the emails happened to be printed on the sides of meteors). All reviews have now been received and we'll be releasing the results to the paper authors this week. This should give everyone enough time to absorb the comments and make adequate changes to their papers before camera-ready copies are due on the 7th of March.

We will open registration for the event shortly after the results have been sent out. Registration is open to everyone, not just those who submitted, so even if you didn't have the time to submit a paper, we'd still love to see you at the conference!

Some info about us, the Ministry of Justice (this is our official name; world governments and the U.N. simply refer to us as the Justice League of NZCSRSC08). Although the name evokes images of a semi-famous superhero clan, we assure you that we are devoid of special powers (except for Amanda, who has the ability to bend time; this comes in handy when deadlines are approaching. Bending space is proving to be more of a challenge, hence people will still need to find their own travel to the conference).

Our main purpose as a group is to act as the Programme Chair for the conference. Anything to do with papers and conference scheduling is either our duty, or a shared duty with another ministry. Any time responsibility is ambiguous, disputes are settled by three rounds of rock-paper-scissors, or pistols at dawn, depending on the weather and the phase of the moon.

As for the nature of the group's individuals, the Cliff's notes version begins....NOW: Jay is a postgraduate student currently in the process of finishing his Masters degree. His area is Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS), specifically tutors that teach programming. Amanda is in the second year of her PhD, also in the area of ITS. She is looking at curriculum integration of knowledge spaces into ITSs. Delio's research is in the area of network security, specifically: traffic self-similarity and distributed denial of service detection.

The conference itself is shaping up quite nicely, with four days of amazing academic activity (and alliteration) anticipated. But, alas, more conference planning awaits. To paraphrase a popular marionette-starring TV series, Justice League is GO!(ing to end this blog post now).

Making the world a safer place for paper submissions everywhere,

The Justice League thinks that it's pondering what you're pondering, but where will we find a speedboat and 3 manila folders full of termites at this hour?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Darin Graham and the NZi3

Darin GrahamDr. Darin Graham is the director of the NZ ICT Innovation Institute, an applied research institute based in Canterbury, that combines academic expertise and industry driven research. He moved to NZ in 2007 from Canada, where his previous post was President of Canadian organisations Innovation Initiators, a commercialisation company.

The NZCSRSC team recently caught up with Darin to talk about the NZi3 and his role in the organisation.

NZCSRSC: Darin, the NZi3 is all the buzz in the NZ ICT world – and for those at UC it is even making quite a physical mark with all that construction taking place! Tell us, what is the NZi3 and where do you see it fitting (its position) within NZ ICT?

Darin: First, I’m pleased to hear that NZi3 is “all the buzz” in the NZ ICT world. Hopefully as we build both the NZi3 Facility and the operational capability over the next year we will get into the exciting work of actually having a positive impact on the ICT R&D landscape. The role of NZi3 is about getting industry needs connected with academic researchers to help create a stronger economic and social foundation for NZ. By developing really effective partnerships everyone wins – the researchers now have real world problems to work on as well as additional funding sources; industry gets to tap into the outstanding capabilities of the academic community (both people and facilities); and graduate students get the opportunity to work on some really cool stuff. The i3 in NZi3 stands for ICT Innovation Institute. As such we are trying to create an entrepreneurial and collaborative environment to help move ideas from the lab to the marketplace. I also like to talk about 3 other i’s…NZi3 is all about creating Ideas (of our students, researchers and industry partners), developing Interaction (between multi-disciplinary teams), and supporting Investment (of both tangible money and less tangible people’s efforts).

NZCSRSC: You say that students are a vital part of the mix (of industry, government, and academia) in NZ ICT. How does NZi3 cater for students, and what role do they play within the organisation?

Darin: Actually, NZi3 is all about people and necessarily about technology as one might first assume. The reason for creating NZi3 was all about people – the government getting more highly-trained, world-class researchers and students; industry having access to the capabilities of those researchers and able to hire top-notch students; and graduate students getting the opportunity to work on some challenging and valued problems. If I was to choose one single stakeholder group was the most important for NZi3 to focus on it would be students. All though the NZi3 mission is to get good ideas out to industry, it is the students who do the majority of creativity thinking and work. At NZi3 we recognize that and have built our programs around students. For example, the first thing that NZi3 did was to set up a scholarships program to attract the best Master’s and PhD students. It started even before the first person (me) was hired into NZi3. Now we have 7 students supported by scholarships and hope to have 50 in 5 years. Also, the entire second floor of the new NZi3 Facility is one huge collaborative workspace tailored to allowing teams of students to tackle the industrial-driven projects. This floor, about 1300 m2, will have the latest in computer and communication systems, and will even have furniture specifically designed for collaborative research teams. To help students develop the entrepreneurial skills they need, we will be supporting business competitions, talent-development programs, industry-led workshops and bringing in business mentors.

NZCSRSC: Darin, you have had an impressive range of roles with large organisations in a diverse range of fields before you came to NZ. Why NZ? What were some of the draw cards?

Artist's impression of the front of the NZi3 building Darin: Yes, I’ve had the chance to lead some R&D initiatives in some pretty interesting and diverse areas – government research at the Canadian Space Agency, the high-tech industry in North America (including security, robotics, and ICT), assisted in starting-up and leading some new companies, and helped create some exciting programs that involve some of the top Canadian universities in generating products and creating new companies. But what I enjoy most is the challenging area that brings all three together. When the role for the Director of NZi3 came up it was an ideal fit. In fact, a close friend said that the job had my name written all over it. Several things excite me about the opportunity. All the partners really took a risk in helping create this new idea – in fact, they probably didn’t know what they were getting into in this new area of “innovation.” In addition to my experience in working directly in this space for the last 10 years, it gave me the opportunity to help the partners build something from scratch, and by learning from my own experiences help build the best concept we could. Working in another country has always interested me, and New Zealand’s culture is close enough to that of Canada that it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to someone over 40! My wife and I like the outdoors and look forward to flying around a new country in our heritage aircraft. Opportunity, risk and balance-of-life all had a hand in the decision – and NZi3 and NZ has all three.

NZCSRSC: One of the things I get from you each time we talk is that you truly strive for excellence in whatever you do. What defines excellence for you?

Darin: I have to smile a little at that question as on one hand it is simple – and on the other, not so simple. Excellence to me is striving to be the best you can be. That takes a lot of hard work and always thinking and doing things differently. My wife always says I must have extra CPU-cycles in my brain as I’m always thinking of how to make or do things better. That’s the simple part. One soon learns that excellence can’t be achieved by a single person…it requires creating an environment and culture that brings together lots of people with diverse backgrounds all trying to do better through collaboration. That’s the hard part, and is exactly what we’re trying to create at NZi3.

NZCSRSC: What are some of the future plans of the NZi3? What can we look forward to?

Artist's view of the new NZi3 building.Darin: We’ve just finished developing a comprehensive plan of what NZi3 hopes to do in the next 5-years. It includes a whole set of programs like scholarships and training mentioned previously. There are over 40 specific initiatives we hope to do – some small, some large – but all linked together to provide support for a complete innovation chain. I’ll mention two particular areas. First, over 95% of the NZ ICT industry is made up of companies that employ less than 50 people! If we want to grow the ICT economy, then we will certainly have to focus on these Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This presents some interesting challenges as these small companies don’t have a lot of spare resources to fund research…but, they do have some of the best ideas and can be much more dynamic and creative than larger companies. This presents a prime opportunity for NZi3 students and researchers to focus on. Second, NZ barely has enough critical mass to support an ICT industry. To be successful, NZi3 needs to link to other like-minded research institutions around the world. We also need to provide the conduit for global companies such as Nokia, Google, Microsoft, and RIM to invest significant research dollars. By doing so, we can continue to help create success for everyone – and help achieve the excellence we are striving for.

NZi3The NZCSRSC is proud to have Darin and the NZi3 on board as platinum sponsors of the conference.