Saturday, November 18, 2023

Dec{}de 2023: Resilience Rising Experience

Trend Micro's annual cybersecurity conference DEC{}DE is in person again this year with the theme "Resilience Rising".  ICS have participated in this free conference in the past. This year, there were 8 participants from ICS. In addition to the main security tracks, we also attended the Cybersecurity ConnectED event where Trend Micro presented how academic institutions can partner with them to bootstrap or enhance cybersecurity courses. We sure learned a lot from the conference and we are excited for the conference next year. This year is memorable for me because I was able to ask a question during the plenary session. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

MS Computer Science (MSCS) program at UPLB (Part 1)

(Last update: 19 January 2024)

If you are considering applying to the Master's Degree in Computer Science program at UPLB, here are some things you might want to know based on my experience and observations.

Who should take this degree program?

"The Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) degree program addresses the need for advanced formal training of professional leaders in Computer Science. Candidates are expected to acquire a broad knowledge of the discipline and be able to undertake critical inquiry and independent research."

This program is ideal for those who want to become professors or researchers. The MSCS program can also be treated as a 'bridge' program if you want to get into a PhD program. If you are an industry practitioner, you might want to take the Master of Information Technology(MIT) program (non-thesis) instead. As much as possible, you should have good grades during undergrad to increase your chances of getting accepted and completing the regular program. 

What prerequisite knowledge is required? 

This program requires that you've completed a BSCS/BSIT/BSIS program from a 'recognized' HEI. Here are some of the courses you should have good grades in (2.0 or better).

* Discrete Mathematics
* Statistics
* Data Structures and Algorithms
* Programming Languages
* Databases
* Operating Systems
* Computer Networks
* Automata and Language Theory

You should also be proficient in programming.  Web programming is a must if you plan to minor in IT. 
Being proficient in Linux and Python is a plus. 

If you are interested to join our group, I prefer students who have good background in machine  organization/architecture and low-level programming (assembly and C), operating systems admin/internals, and computer networks.

Program requirements

The program requires at least 34 units to complete, divided into the following.

* Core Courses (12 units) - required
- Programming Languages, Advanced Computer Systems, Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms, Computational Complexity Theory

* Major Courses (6 units) - select two(2) from the following courses
- Databases,  Automata and Language Theory, Scientific Computing, Digital Image Processing, Management Information Systems, Parallel Processing, Special Topics

* Minor Courses (9 units) - select three(3) courses from one of the following graduate programs
- Mathematics, Statistics, Economics, Agriculture, Forestry, Information Technology, Environmental Science

* Seminar (1 unit)

* MS Thesis (6 units) 

In addition to passing the courses above (with a grade of 2.0 or higher), you also need to pass the Comprehensive Exam. 

Who are the professors currently teaching the graduate CS/IT courses?
(as of Academic Year 2023-2024)

Patrick Albacea (Programming Languages, Operating Systems)
* Fermin Roberto G. Lapitan (Web App Dev)
* Marie Art Antonette Clarino (Modeling and Simulation, Data Structures, Algorithms)
Joseph Anthony Hermocilla (Cybersecurity, Modern Distributed Systems)
* Concepcion Khan (Information Systems, Knowledge Management)
Val Randolf Madrid (AI/ML, Machine Vision)
* Danilo Mercado (Enterprise Systems, Cybersecurity)
* Jaderick Pabico (AI/ML, Parallel Programming)
* Reginald Recario (Databases)
Jaime Samaniego (Data Structures, Algorithms, Computational Complexity Theory, Automata)

Part-time or full-time mode?

If your home institution, funding institution, or employer will allow it, choose full-time. The advantage of full-time mode is that you can focus on the coursework and still have plenty of time to research.

Choosing your adviser/supervisor

Use your first semester, or even before applying to the program, to scout for a suitable adviser. Ask other students. Visit research group websites of professors. Check the publications of professors. Attend talks. Talk directly to a possible adviser via email or in person. 

Note that you will be assigned a temporary registration adviser upon admission to handle enrolment/registration matters. If a professor has accepted you as advisee even before admission, then he/she will automatically be your registration adviser.

Choosing your adviser is a tricky task. The following are some guidelines on how to select an adviser (based on my opinion).

* Choose an adviser who 'specializes' in the area that you are interested in.
You want an adviser who can guide you in your research. Some advisers are generalists, but choosing a specialist is best.

* Choose an adviser who is 'easy to work with.' 
Some advisers can be challenging to work with. Some are too intimidating and too demanding with unreasonable expectations. Some are not even available for regular consultations.  

* Choose an adviser who has connections outside of ICS or UPLB.
If your adviser is active and visible in the research/scientific community, it will enlarge your network and open up opportunities for collaboration. Some advisers are also involved in externally-funded projects, which can be a good source of a thesis topic.

Choose an adviser who is ethical.
Your reputation will also be affected if your adviser is involved in unethical research/publication practices.

You also need to select 2-3 professors who will be part your Guidance Committee, with one member from your chosen minor field.

Choosing your minor

Most students choose Information Technology(IT) as their minor. However, it is actually up to you, based on the research area that you want to pursue. For example, a Forestry, Environmental Science, or Economics minor is best if you are interested in Modeling and Simulation or Machine Vision. A Statistics or Mathematics minor will be excellent for a Data Science or AI/ML track. 

How are the classes conducted?

Lectures and assignments make up most of the classes. Some IT courses have a separate laboratory class. Unlike in undergrad, reading research papers and writing reviews are incorporated into the class activities. I often hear current students complain about too much readings in their classes. Do not apply to this program if you do not like reading and reviewing research papers. Individual/group programming projects and reporting are required in some courses. A midterm exam and a final exam are also used for assessment. Remember that you need to get a grade of 2.0 or higher. Unlike in undergrad, you must be motivated to study independently and not depend on the professor. Some professors don't give lectures at all and only assign readings and programming assignments.

What are other skills you need to develop?

You will need to develop the following:
* Oral and written communication skills, especially scientific/technical writing
* Critical reading of  research papers and writing reviews - one way to do this is by maintaining a blog 
* Reporting and presentation skills
* Learning new tech stacks and programming languages
* LaTeX 

Another important skill that you need to develop is networking or in general socialization. In addition to your adviser, you need a kind of support group where you can bounce off your ideas and not feel alone.

Comprehensive Exam

Once you've completed the coursework, you will take the Comprehensive Exam. The exam will cover the following areas: Theory, Systems(my specialization), and Applications. Questions will come from professors who taught or specialize in the particular area. 

Your first semester

You should spend your first semester to familiarize yourself to the graduate school environment. You will take at least two core courses during your first semester of first year: Advanced Computer Systems  (CMSC 215) and Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms (CMSC 244). If you are a full time student, you can take additional courses (up to 12 units). As mentioned above, scout for a possible adviser during your first semester. Also choose your minor and look for Guidance Committee members. I recommend that you attend a research methods class even if it is not required to develop your research skills. 

How long will it take to finish?

It usually takes 3-4 years to complete the program, especially for part-time students. Sometimes it will take longer because of the thesis (I will have a separate post to discuss it). That is why I recommend the full-time mode. The UPLB Graduate School has a proposed 'optimistic' timeline below. This timeline may be possible in other disciplines. However, this is quite difficult to achieve in MSCS.

Facilities and resources for students

We have a shared GS Room where graduate students can stay and work. There are iMacs available, but bringing your own laptop/device is better. Some professors have their own lab space where you can work if they are your adviser. Our main graduate teaching laboratory is PC Lab 1, with 16 Ubuntu boxes. We have a few servers for running compute-intensive tasks. The UPLB Main Library has access to a wide collection of research resources, including those published by ACM and IEEE. Technical reports from ICS are available at Peak-One.

How to fund your study?

The tuition fee is currently PHP 1000.00/unit. For the tuition fee alone, you will need at least PHP 34,000.00! If you have enough money, you can fund your study on your own. You can also avail of financial assistance.   

Additional information 

* The GS Policies, Rules & Regulations Document:

* Tuition and other fees:

How to apply?

Now that you know something about the MSCS program, visit

Closing Thoughts

Be sure that you really need/want the MSCS degree!!  If you did not finish your undergrad from UP, you might be 'shocked' by the academic environment here.  You need to spend some time adjusting and focusing.  Your classmates will probably be instructors from ICS, and they will be really good in your classes.  Do not be intimidated by them.  Just do your best and excel.  Most of them are friendly and fun to work with in group projects.  Choose your major adviser and Guidance Committee wisely.  In Part 2, I will talk about the thesis, research, and publications.

(Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash)

Sunday, March 19, 2023

How to succeed in group programming projects?

Group programming projects will test a student's technical skills and ability to work in a team. This post will discuss how to succeed in group programming projects. 

The Answer: Choose an excellent group leader!

In group projects, the role of the group leader is very important. Although technical expertise is a desired quality for a group leader, leadership skills, project management skills, and communication skills are more important to ensure the success of the group project. (I am speaking from experience here because I've always been selected as the group leader when I was an undergrad :) ). 

Common issues in group projects

* Technical skill level gap - some members are already good in programming, others are not
* Communication - team members have different expectations(one member wants a 1.0 while others want 1.25 only), work habits(night owls vs. early birds), etc.
* Schedule - cannot find a common time to meet and work on the project
* Code management - did not use git (When I was in college there was no git. I maintain the authoritative copy of our project source code on floppy disks :) )
* Procrastination - can cause delays, some group members are not working on tasks assigned to them (though everyone procrastinates)

Role of the group leader

In general, the role of the group leader is to handle the issues mentioned above.

* Set goals and processes - provide a sense of direction for the successful completion of the project, includes setting up the project code repository and project management tools
* Facilitate communication - identify channels of communication, set meetings, follow up, etc.  
* Assign tasks - based on the abilities of the members, members should be honest about their technical skill level
* Monitor progress - updates from group members, can be done through tools
* Provide assistance - technical, etc.  
* Manage conflicts - need to make decisions at some point
* Seek help(of prof) if needed
* Trust and respect the group members 
* Maintain a work log

Character of the group leader

A group member should not accept the nomination as group leader if he/she does not possess these qualities.

* Effective communicator 
* Collaborative - group leader should ensure that every member of the team can contribute, no matter how small the contribution is
* Adaptable - be able to make adjustments based on circumstances
* Positive and cool attitude 
* Accountable - and responsible
* Empathetic - "not everyone is as good(or bad) as you"
* Organized
* Accept the fact that a low project grade may be given because some group members did not deliver
* Accept the fact that a group member may be more technically skilled than he/she is - ask for suggestions, set aside the "ego" associated with being the group leader
* Must not expect that everyone in the group will be able to contribute 'equally' with the same level of 'complexity' of output 
Role of the group member

Of course without the contribution of group members the project will not move forward.  (May not always be true because a highly technical, grade-conscious, and introvert group leader may 'make buhat' the group but secretly fail everyone else in the team in the peer eval :) ). 

* Trust and respect the group leader - the group leader is doing a lot more stuff than group members
* Accept tasks that he/she is willing to commit to
* Commit to work on the assigned tasks
* Communicate with the group leader and other group members 
* Seek help(of prof) if needed
* Maintain a work log
* Accept the fact that a low project grade may be given because the group leader and other members did not deliver
* Accept the fact that the group leader and other members may not be technically skilled than he/she is - make suggestions, volunteer to work on more complex tasks
* Not be a freeloader

Appendix: Example work log

(Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)

Thursday, November 24, 2022

UPLB Student Registration Systems: 1996-2022

(Please note that this post is just based on my recollection of events. Here's my 2012 post about UPLB student registration.)

I have been part of UPLB for more than 20 years already, both as a student and as a faculty member. I have witnessed two main modes of the student enrollment (aka registration), manual and automated. In this post I'll try to discuss the different systems I observed and experienced. I will not be specific about dates since I am not good with it. Let's get started.

Simply put, the registration process enables students to select the subjects they will take for the incoming semester. The official document that contains this is the Form 5. One interesting aspect of the registration process in UPLB is that there is no guarantee that a student will be able to get all the subjects he/she needs for the incoming semester. This is due to a lot of factors, e.g. limited number of slots per section, schedule conflict with other subjects, and seasonal subjects.  

When I was a student in the mid '90s, there was a hybrid enrollment process. Students submit a Write-In paper form that contains the subjects and sections they want to enroll for the upcoming semester. The Write-In form will be encoded to the computer and used as input to a FORTRAN program called REGIST, which was developed by Dr. Ricolindo L. Carino of the Institute of Computer Science (ICS).  To my knowledge, this process was in place until I graduated in 2002.

After graduation, I became an instructor in ICS where my colleague Rodolfo N. Duldulao Jr. (Duldz) started developing an in-house system to track enlistment to Computer Science subjects. The system used the Apache-MySQL-PHP tech stack for web apps. This in-house system became popular and was extended to provide an online mechanism for the Write-In process in the entire UPLB. This online system became SystemOne (S1). More features were eventually added to S1 which was deployed during registration period. Note that the initial course assignments in S1 were still generated by REGIST. 

REGIST attempts to "solve"  course/student assignment (or student sectioning problem as I formulated it in my MS thesis). It became an academic research topic for a few MSCS students. Approaches such as Tabu Search, Ant Colony Optimzation, Simulated Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, and Multiagent Systems (my study) were tried but they never really replaced REGIST.

S1 evolved to become the main system for online Write-In and eventually for enlistment of courses to serve the entire UPLB students. After Duldz left UPLB, another colleague, Rommel V. Bulalacao (Bulacs), took over the development and operations of S1. Bulacs was a volunteer developer of S1 while he was still a student. REGIST however remained to be the main system for automagically assigning students to classes. Several improvements were also made by Bulacs for S1v2. Dr. Carino still provided support, though limited, for REGIST through the Registrar's office. I also coauthored a short paper which identified the performance bottleneck in S1v2 prompting its rewrite to a more modern tech stack, Node.js. This rewritten version (S1v3) however was short-lived. 

When Alfredo E. Pascual became UP president, he initiated the e-UP program. There was a strong push to deploy a unified enterprise system to support all university operations, including registration. This led to the deployment of the Student Academic Information System (SAIS) in UPLB. Key persons in SAIS deployment in UPLB were Dr. Jaime L. Caro(ITDC) and Dr. Myrna Carandang(UPLB Registrar). SAIS is still the current system being managed and operated by ITDC with a local team in UPLB housed in the Registrar's Office. SAIS is more of a "shopping cart" application where students "add to cart" the subjects they want to enlist. There is no global course demand prediction as with the case of REGIST. This resulted to a lot of problems. One of which is that regular students were unable to enlist in subjects because there is no "hard constraint" to prioritize them. Another is that departments were not able to properly predict course demand to adjust their course offerings. 

I also recall a system being deployed in Graduate School by a team led by Mr. Li Bolanos. I don't have the details  about the system though but I think it was written using PHP and MySQL. 

More recently, under UPLB Chancellor Dr. Jose Camacho Jr., an ad hoc committee was formed to oversee the development and implementation of the UPLB DX Academic Management Information System to replace SAIS. The committee is chaired by my colleague who is also the University Registrar, Prof. Margarita Carmen S. Paterno (Marge). Other colleagues involved are Prof. Danilo J. Mercado (ITC Director), Prof. Reginald Neil Recario, and Prof. Monina Carandang. Mr. Li Bolanos is also a part of this team. A version of DX AMIS for Teacher's Prerogative (using PHP-Postgres on VPS) was deployed during the First Semester AY 2022-2023. However, SAIS is still the main app for registration.

All deployed systems, from S1 to DX AMIS, encountered availability problems during peak hours of the registration period due to large amount of network requests.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Thoughts on Learning and My Teaching Philosophy

I've been teaching in UPLB since 2002 (that's >20 years already!). I haven't really put into writing my thoughts about learning and my teaching philosophy.  Here are some items (which will be updated from time to time because things happen and change): 

  • Since this is UPLB, I assume that my students are really smart (but some will be "slow"). Of course, some students will be smarter than me. This is one reason I like teaching here.
  • Since I teach Systems subjects, I want my students to work on hands-on activities and experiment (build, break, and rebuild stuff).
  • I don't believe in "learning styles". I believe that students can learn any topic (no matter what their learning styles are) if they really give time and effort to learn the topic. They can always ask for help on difficult topics. Even if I am a boring lecturer, for sure they will learn something.
  • My role is just a facilitator of learning (and possibly a source of inspiration), not the source of knowledge. Students are free to explore other knowledge sources outside the syllabus and the classroom. Using AI Tools is welcome in my classes.
  • I don't tolerate academic dishonesty. It is better for students to fail (then retake the subject) than to cheat in graded activities such as exams. However, I don't police students on this matter. For me policing is a waste of my time. I have  high respect for students who fail because they did not resort to academic dishonesty. Also, a student can just drop the course if he/she is failing rather than resort to academic dishonesty. 
  • High grades matter only if students will apply to grad school or apply for a teaching position after they graduate. Students should aim for the "learning" and "mastery" as well as skills development. High grades will just be an end result in the pursuit of "learning" and "mastery". 
  • Some students are "grade conscious" (or GC) which means they want/beg for a grade of 1.0! If they want high grades, sure I can give it to them as long as they turn in excellent work. This is the reason I give bonus points, though some students don't avail of these bonus points. 
  • Feedback is not just the score students get from graded activities (wrongly termed as "learning assessment"). If students code worked on the given test cases, that is already feedback. If a student wants feedback, he/she needs to talk to me directly during class and consultation hours. The only way I can help "slow" students is if they intentionally ask for my help. Otherwise they are on their own. 
  • Not all students currently taking BSCS are really interested in computing(or a Nerd) . I am biased towards students who are passionate about computing. Thus course materials, difficulty, and delivery are more geared towards challenging these passionate students to the best of my abilities.
  • I want my classes to be "world class", thus I try to adhere to the ACM curriculum recommendations when creating and delivering course content. I also consult course websites of other top universities and incorporate topics and approaches in my syllabus.
  • I try to focus on teaching the fundamentals. However, computing is a rapidly evolving field so I try to teach the state of the art given the resource constraints and bureaucracy.
  • Textbooks are important in my classes. I prefer to use free or open source textbooks. I give paper readings from time to time to encourage students to do research.
  • I encourage students to ask questions, even the simplest or 'stupidest' questions. 
  • I prefer to create videos that are more than 15 minutes. TL;DR/TL;DW is not for me and should not be for my students. I don't want my students to take 'shortcuts'.
  • I want my students to do great work without desiring for my validation. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

DevStack on Ubuntu 20.04

I need a small IaaS cloud infra for my CMSC291: Modern Distributed Systems class this semester so I decided to set up an OpenStack instance on one of SRG's servers running Ubuntu 20.04. I have used OpenStack in the past so I'm quite comfortable using it.

What is DevStack?

"DevStack is a series of extensible scripts used to quickly bring up a complete OpenStack environment based on the latest versions of everything from git master. It is used interactively as a development environment and as the basis for much of the OpenStack project’s functional testing."


[1] I thought the process will be straightforward but unfortunately minor tweaks were needed. Below is the configuration of the host.  

[2] This is the commit hash that worked for me, make sure to checkout this particular commit : d9e2d10d28ebc70129ed90ac9afe11591e7bb7d3

[3] Get the IP address of the host (using ifconfig) and export it as HOST_IP environment variable. Let's say the IP address is

        $export HOST_IP=

[4] Prepare the local.conf file as described in the doc.

[5] Edit lib/neutron_plugins/ovn_agent

Change OVS_RUNDIR=$OVS_PREFIX/var/run/openvswitch 
to OVS_RUNDIR=$OVS_PREFIX/var/run/ovn

[6] Unstack and Clean.

        $sudo apt install neutron-metadata-agent
    $sudo apt install neutron-openvswitch-agent
    $sudo pip install uwsgi
[7] A few directories need to be removed as well as do some other stuff:

    $sudo rm /var/run/ovn/openvswitch
   $sudo /usr/share/openvswitch/scripts/ovs-ctl restart
    edit tools/dbcounter/

[8] Stack. This may take a while so grab a cup of coffee.

    $sudo rm -fr /var/run/ovn
A successful installation after ~12 minutes!

[9] Launch an instance.

[10] TODO: Configure Floating IP addresses and add glance images.