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A Professor Only a Programmer Could Love?

Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

USU computer science faculty member Curtis Dyreson

Curtis Dyreson, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Utah State University.

What good is a filing cabinet if documents are just randomly thrown in? Being able to put your finger on that birth certificate or proof of warranty the moment you need it requires some thoughtful placement ? grouping information in some kind of order or hierarchy.

Data in the virtual world is no different. Curtis Dyreson, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Utah State University, thinks about this more than some may care to know.

But he cares. A lot.

And programmers around the world should be thanking him for that because they are the ones who will benefit the most from his research. But then so will anybody who ultimately desires better search engine results.

Dyreson has recently submitted a National Science Foundation proposal to find a new way to query data through virtual hierarchies.

It seems that data take shapes, depending how it’s organized. For example, computer coding sequencing commonly uses XML ? Extensible Markup Language. It is basically a tree-structured language. So, for example, looking at data about books, you would see bibliographies at the top with a book folder branching out and within each book, a title and then an author and within that folder something else and so on down the line.

What Dyreson wants to do is break away from a set structure and allow programmers to dictate what shape they want the data to be in. If they want authors at the top instead of bibliographies, they can do that, and below that titles and names, and so on.

Ultimately this flexibility will result in searches that provide better ranking in terms of precision — how accurate the search is — and improved recall — relevant information returned in the search, he says.

Yes, Dyreson did find it a bit challenging to try and explain all of this — using language that probably began to take the shape of a circle. Suffice it to say, giving programmers this freedom comes with a price: the possibility of information loss since not all data shape transformations preserve information. If they transform the frog into a prince, they also need to get him back to a frog. It’s called reverse transformation.

“That’s really what I want, that’s the gold standard,” he says.

That is what will take him and his two graduate students some time to work through as they forge ahead. He is determined to figure out a way to reach that standard while giving programmers around the world new empowerment to dictate how they want to view data — basically the reinterpretation of data.

“It will help programmers to write all kinds of programs by allowing them to switch between shapes at will,” he says. “In this sense, we are trying to make it easier for them to write their programs.”

Programmers out there: ya gotta love this guy!

Related links:

USU Computer Science Department

USU College of Engineering

Contact: Curtis Dyreson, (435) 797-0742,

Writer: John DeVilbiss, (435) 797-1358,

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