Ben's Computer Evolution

Ben's computer evolution starts with a broken radio and reaches the Universe and beyond.

1.   A Broken Radio

Initiated by a broken radio, I became a certified radio repairman. When I was in primary school, one of my radios was out of order. I asked a friend to fix it. He could not repair it but told me that the components of the radio could be used to build other interesting electronic devices. We disconnected all the components of the radio and grouped the transistors, resistors and capacitors. We then built electronic devices with those components and new components. Building electronic devices soon became my hobby and being an electrical engineer soon became my career.

Before I finished high school I became a certified radio repairman. As my hobby I built devices such as electronic doorbells, amplifiers, radios, and wireless phones. While attending high school, I joined a special interest group and went to an evening school and a summer school to learn more about being an electrical engineer. I completed a Radio Servicing course and received a certificate.

2.   A Programmable Calculator

Initiated by programming on a calculator, I began to think about thinking machines. In the late seventies since I was interested in electronics I bought one of the most sophisticated electronic calculators at that time. The calculator had simple programming capability – having only IF and GOTO statements to control the program flow. Even with such a simple programmable device, I experienced the full power of programming. 

Before I attended college I created my first “thinking” program. In the early eighties I bought my first computer a Commodore VIC-20 that had only 5KB of RAM and used audiocassette for storage. With my prior experience on programming, in several days after I got the computer I mastered the programming language called BASIC and began writing my own games. One of my favorite games was Master Mind that was a two-player board game – one player provided a code and gave cues to the other player whose objective was to figure out the code. “Thinking” is required to play the game. I wrote a program that could act as either player and played better than its human creator did.

3.   An IBM PC

The birth of an IBM PC marked the year that I attended college (The Ohio State University) as an undergraduate student in Electrical Engineering (Computer Engineering program). Majoring in Computer Engineering allowed me to study my favorite subjects in electronics and computation. I studied all areas of Computer Science and Engineering both in hardware and software including Solid State Microelectronics, VLSI Design, Computer Architecture, Network, Operating System, Programming Language, Algorithm, and Artificial Intelligence. Some of the courses were taken during my undergraduate years and some during my graduate study. As a graduate student I conducted research also both in hardware (Parallel Distributed Computer Architecture) and in software (Artificial Intelligence).

Enjoying sharing my enthusiasm and know-how on computers, I became a computer consultant. I bought my second computer, the then three-year old IBM PC. In subsequent years I also owned several Apple Macintosh's, one more Commodore an Amiga, and several more PCs. Enjoying working with computers and people, I worked as a computer consultant providing advice and solving computer problems for faculty, staff, students, friends and family, and strangers.

4.   Airplanes and Helicopters

While I was working on my Ph.D. dissertation, I decided to “Aim High” – to reach the sky. I learned to fly. In the early nineties I became a FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified pilot. At that time I was one of the few pilots who made full use of the most sophisticated navigation system – GPS (Global Position System). I used computers to help me plan my trips and used a portable computer and a GPS receiver (a moving map system) to guide me to my destinations. I fly airplanes and helicopters. Helicopters are the most difficult to fly, but have the most fun and have the most freedom to move in any directions in the three dimensional space. I enjoy flying and enjoy taking people to fly with me. 

I also decided to “Aim High” – on my Ph.D. research. I decided to create a new learning system that can learn new information, adapt to changes, and handle inconsistent input data. The learning system must also be able to learn to do tasks that consist of sequences of depending steps. Thanks to my academic advisor, I was allowed the freedom to choose my own research topic and to conduct my own research. For electronics and computation have been parts of my life since my primary school years, I knew what I wanted and what to do. With utmost perseverance and a few inspirations, I reached my goal in my Ph.D. research and my goal of being a pilot.

5.   Bell Labs Innovations

The company that invented transistors and C/C++ programming languages that revolutionized the whole computer industry was the company at which I took my first industrial job. In the late nineties I worked at Lucent Technologies (formerly AT&T Bell Labs). With my background in both hardware and software, I was given a unique position as the System Performance Engineer in an R & D group of about 60 people. I was the person who was responsible for the overall performance of the whole network configuration management systems. I needed to analyze performance requirements, to specify hardware and software architectures to meet the requirements, and to measure and evaluate the systems based on the requirements.

Working at Lucent Technologies, I learned that effective communication skill, teamwork, and understanding the processes are as important as strong technical background. With my unique position as the only System Performance Engineer in our group, I needed to be able to communicate and work effective with all members in the group. I understood that the performance and the quality of our systems are the results of all the members. While working with so many people I made many friends. However, against the advice from my friends and financial consultants, I decided to become a Professor.

6.   The Universe and Beyond

The first academic quarter of the year 2000 (Q001) marked the first quarter I returned to academia to continue my quest for higher learning and to pass my experience to my students. I passed my working experience gained from working at Lucent Technologies to my students when I taught software design/engineering CSC230. When I taught computer architecture CSC364, I disassembled my original genuine IBM PC to show my students the inner workings of the PC that revolutionized the computer industry. With effective communication skill and enthusiasm, I am able to enlighten my students. With effective teamwork and understanding the processes, I am able to serve in committees and communities.

I continue my quest for higher learning through research. Besides seeking for research grants and conducting researches, I continue to learn more about Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) and other advancements. Researchers are now working on DNA and quantum computers. Some researchers (including myself) even stated: “The Universe is a Computer.” Let us wonder what will be next…

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A Professor’s Journey

I set my goal to be a Professor when I was a teenager. I traveled a long and exciting journey from my childhood dream to today’s reality. I have been a Professor for six years now (at the end of spring 2005) and will continue my lifelong journey as a Professor. Now is a milestone and is a time for me to reflect.

The last six years have been the most challenging and prosperous times in my lifelong journey. In fall 1999, I joined a computer science department that had only two faculty members but had over two hundred students. Despite many good reasons to quit, I did not quit. I welcomed challenges and opportunities. Instead of quitting I helped rebuild and promote our department. I eagerly involved in all aspects of our program and had often taken the leadership role. Despite tough challenges, during the last six years, I was able to maintain a high standard in teaching, create innovative research programs, and cultivate our CS program to the recognition of our college and university, our community and state, and our national and international research communities.

In teaching, I introduced entrepreneurship and innovation into Computer Science undergraduate curriculum. In CSC230 Software Engineering, I instructed students to conduct market research and to analyze the needs of customers before building large software Information Technology products. In CSC265 Digital Design, I stimulated students with state of the art topics such as Fuzzy logic circuits. In CSC364 Computer Architecture, I motivated students to be creative and to learn both hardware and software by teaching them to build autonomous robots. To excite students for active learning, I founded and organized Autonomous Robot Competitions that was featured in locate TV KNOE news, presented in Good Morning Ark-La-Miss news program, reported in locate newspapers, and finally reached national TV by sending our students to compete in “Robot Rivals” on the Do-It-Yourself network. In CSC404 Senior Capstone, I prepared students for the future advance in computer industry and academic world by engaging undergraduate students in my research and development projects. Within 10 weeks, the students completed the research and implementation of two fully working search engines, one especially designed for a computer company and one especially designed for our university.

Also in teaching, I developed whole new sets of curriculum materials and used high-tech tools to aid learning. I created over 1000 PowerPoint slides for three major areas of Computer Science, Hardware (CSC521), Software (CSC230), and Algorithm (CSC520). I initiated using pen-based computers to aid instruction and made all my course materials available on the Internet for students and for other instructors. Many instructors in other universities found my PowerPoint slides helpful and used them in their classes. Three professors in Quebec Canada (École de Technologie Supérieure) even translated some of my PowerPoint slides into French to better address the needs of their students.

In research, I have interests and publication records in many areas of computing and have involved in submitting grant proposals with most research centers. I conducted research and published results in Computational and Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Mining, Information and Knowledge Engineering, Internet Computing, Parallel and Distributed Processing, and Cybernetics. Now, I have four reports of inventions and about 20 publications, including a book chapter on Web Page Classification, two patent applications, four journal papers, and many peer reviewed conference papers. I presented research papers in conferences hold in USA, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, France, China, and Japan, and brought the names of our CS program, our college, and our university to the recognition of national and international research communities. With my broad research interests and skills, I collaborated with our research centers including IfM, CyBERS, CNSM, and TTC for submitting grant proposals and submitted proposals on behalf of CEnIT.

For external funding, I helped bring in over $1,800,000 each year since 2001. I served in a special executive committee for proposing to the State government for establishing a Center for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology (CEnIT). The committee reported directly to the President of our University Dr. Daniel Reneau and included Vice Presidents Dr. Ken Rea and Dr. Les Guice (former Dean of College of Engineering and Science), Dr. Stan Napper (present Dean of College of Engineering and Science), Dr. Gene Johnson (former Dean of College of Administration and Business), Dr. Marc Chopin (Associate Dean of CAB), Dr. Kody Varahramyan (IfM Center Director), Dr. Charles Robinson (former CyBERS Center Director), Dr. Mel Corley (IDEAS institute director), and myself. Although I was the lowest ranking person in the committee, I was the only Computer Science and Information Technology professional. I helped in all aspects of establishing our CEnIT including the initial forming of strategies, proposal writing, and recruiting new faculty members after the proposal had been approved. It has been an honor and privilege for me to serve with such a distinguished group of people and has been a great opportunity for me to contribute my expertise for forming a new center for Information Technology.

In order to continue to get funding of over $1.8 million dollars each year, I helped our CEnIT to maintain an excellent performance over the years. I managed the largest and the most visible IT project for CEnIT. I conducted research and development for the next generation of Search Engine. In terms of current IT frontier, no other project is more visible or has more potential than the search engine. For example, look at Google IPO (estimated worth of $23 billion dollars) and Microsoft’s investments for catching up with Google and Yahoo, both of which came out of university research; the next generation of search engine may come out of our university. CEnIT has encouraged me and supported me in this endeavor by providing financial supports to over 10 students working on the project during many quarters. In return, I have focused my time and effort solely for CEnIT. I am involved in all aspects of pursuing funding through Entrepreneurship including, initial innovation, patent application, prototype development, and marketing. As a result, I submitted four reports of inventions to our university, completed two patent applications, developed a fully working prototype Information Classification and Search Engine (iCSe), and negotiated with potential customers for licensing and deploying our technologies.

In service, besides having served our university in an executive committee to found a new research center, I served our State in Board of Regents (BoR). I represented our university at BoR Emerging Research Technology subcommittee for improving computing network infrastructure of Louisiana and for facilitating emerging research in universities of Louisiana system (which is the beginning of LONI, Louisiana Optical Network Initiative). In addition, I was elected by faculties and staffs to serve as a university Senator involving various businesses in our university.

Also in service, I served our college as a Leadership Team Associate and as a member in committees and search teams. I was honored to serve and to associate with the leaders of our college. I served in Graduate Studies (KSD 2 team) and CAM Ph.D. Steering Committee and administrated Ph.D. qualifying exams. I chaired a committee for overhauling the Computer Science M.S. entry sequence and the CAM Ph.D. CS requirements. I served and will continue to serve in various search teams to recruit some of the best and active peoples to join our CS program and our college.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my dear colleagues and friends. I appreciate all their help and support during the years. Many of them have, over the years, transcended from my colleagues to my friends. Together we will prosper and will bring our CS program, our college, and our university to a greater high in higher education.