Other universities should follow Stanford's example

I was less than impressed with most of the Computing Sciences courses I took during my degree at the University of Alberta. I found the majority of the courses either too boring or too out-of-date. Or quite often both.

Maybe the image I had in my head about what university would be like was just plain wrong. I always thought that universities were on the cutting edge, with lots of cool stuff happening. I thought I’d be exposed to some really interesting research, like that of Jonathan Schaeffer who worked on Deep Blue and teaches at the U of A. Sadly, my classes never ever reflected that image.

Today I was reading some blogs, and came across this article that says Stanford University is going to be offering a course this fall called Creating Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook. I’m very interested and very jealous:

Students will build applications for Facebook, then gather and analyze detailed information about how Facebook users actually use them. Students will focus on using detailed numerical measurements to guide software iterations, just like developers do on thousands of existing Facebook applications.

They’ll be graded based on how many Facebook users they can get actively using their applications.

I wish I had been able to take classes like that when I was in university.

It’s important to learn about hard technology problems, such as searching, but I think it’s equally important to study the technology that people use every day, like Facebook. Kudos to the CS faculty at Stanford for taking a chance on Facebook and venturing into the relatively new area of Human Computer Interaction.

Read: VentureBeat

DARPA Race Won!

Post ImageMaybe the title should say “finished” instead of “won”, as DARPA’s race for robots has never before been completed. At least three robots have now completed the harsh race:

Stanford University’s Racing Team has accomplished a historic feat of robotics, finishing first in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a 131.6-mile driverless car race that no artificially intelligent machine has ever conquered before.

“We had a great day,” said Sebastian Thrun, director of Stanford’s artificial intelligence lab and head of the racing team. Stanford’s “Stanley,” a modified Volkswagen Toureg with sensors and radar mountings, crossed the finish line within eight hours and 14 minutes, under the 10 hour requirement, according to times posted on the DARPA race Web site.

Director Dr. Tony Tether had this to say in the press release:

“Its incredible what Stanford and the two Carnegie-Mellon teams did today, and what the
other two teams can still achieve,” Tether said. “We had anticipated from the beginning that we might
have to carry the competition over to a second day.”

“When the Wright Brothers flew their little plane, they proved it could be done,” Tether
continued. “And just as aviation took off after those achievements, so will the very exciting and
promising robotics technologies displayed here today.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I remember how difficult it was to get our robot to move when we were building it, so I have great respect for all the entrants of this competition. I can’t imagine how much ingenuity it would take to build a robot that can travel that distance, all by itself.

Read: CNET News.com