Computer science's Andy Miner earns NSF CAREER Award to study complex
You know those games that you find in Cracker Barrel and other similar restaurants.
The one in the shape of a pyramid with pegs strategically placed in holes
throughout the board with one hole empty. The objective of the game is to
jump the pegs so that only one is left.
If you can do this you are considered by the makers of the game to be a
Andy Miner, assistant professor of computer science, remembers the game.
But he wasn't interested in playing the game for fun. Instead he used his
computer skills to solve those games.
"Back in college I liked to look at puzzles like this game or a Rubik's
Cube and try to get the computer to solve them," he said. "I would
write code to figure it out.
"The code wasn't very sophisticated. The computer would run for days
to try to find all the possible answers. Now you can solve some of these
games in a couple of seconds."
Miner's interest in the games caught a professor's interest.
"He said that we could use the same ideas to solve real world problems,"
Miner said. "It's great that the same techniques we use for fun problems
can also be used for the real ones."
While a Rubik's Cube is ever-present on his desk, Miner is more interested
these days in the analysis of complex systems such as computer and communication
networks. His work recently netted him a National Science Foundation (NSF)
Early CAREER Award. The $400,000 project runs through July 2011.
Miner develops software to analyze large stochastic models, in particular
to study the behavior of real-world computer and communication systems.
"People expect communication systems to be fast and reliable,"
Miner said. "Better analysis techniques will give system designers
a more accurate picture of how these systems will behave, before they are
Miner uses the Rubik's Cube to make his point.
"When you look at a Rubik's Cube it appears to be compact and small,"
he said. "Yet if you talk about all the possible behaviors of the system
it's very complex with a huge amount of combinations.
"Computer and communication systems are the same. You can describe
them simply yet if you consider all the combinations it gets huge pretty
Consumers want faster computers and phones. Functionality is important.
Throw security issues on top of that and you suddenly have a very complex
"We hope to develop new techniques for analyzing computer and communication
systems more efficiently," Miner said, "and then ultimately develop
Miner's research will encompass a variety of techniques, including discrete-event
simulation and numerical analysis of stochastic processes.
NSF Early CAREER Awards must also have an educational component to them.
Miner says this research program will be closely integrated with educational
efforts through assignments, projects and lectures that will be introduced
into undergraduate and graduate courses on discrete-event simulation and
analysis of stochastic processes.