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Focus 1997

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Vol. 8, No. 1
Spring 1997
UBC Technology Flies High with Space Station
Technology developed at UBC has
become a critical enabling tool for
ground-breaking research being conducted in space.
Vibration isolation technology that
originated in Tim Salcudean's lab at the
Department of Electrical and Computer
Engineering (ECE) is now being used
aboard the Russian space station Mir to
isolate experiments from high frequency vibration on the orbiting space
platform. The Microgravity Isolation
Mount (MIM) is working so well, another unit is slated to be delivered this
summer to the international space station via the space shuttle Discovery.
Zero Gravity Experiments
According to Salcudean, there is strong
international interest in conducting experiments in the zero gravity environment of space platforms. Experiments
involving fluid flow, crystal growth and
metal alloy development would be best
carried out free from earth's gravitational field.
Creating a completely stable zero
Director's Corner 2
A Decade of Change 3
Boosting Productivity 4
Multimedia Standards 5
Better Chip Design 6
The Limits of Power 6
Visionary Robots 8
Research Engineer Niall Parker (right) & Canadian Space Agency's Bill Stewart
(left) enjoy a zero gravity moment during a NASA-sponsored parabolic flight to
test the UBC-developed Microgravity Isolation Mount. Inset: Tim Salcudean.
gravity environment, however, is no
easy task. One way to achieve zero
gravity is on parabolic flights on which
the aircraft essentially follows the same
trajectory as a thrown rock in free-fall.
But zero gravity is achieved for only
about ten seconds, and the path of the
aircraft is usually within a few feet of a
perfect parabola.
MIM technology has been developed
by Salcudean and former UBC research
engineer Niall Parker under a series of
contracts with the Canadian Space
Agency and in collaboration with astronaut Bjarni Tryggvason. The goal of the
team was to investigate magnetic lev-
itation technology to improve the stability of the zero-G environment on space
continued on page 7 Director's
CICSR to Play Vital Role
in Future Development
Research links
between CICSR
and industry partners in North
America and
around the world
continue to grow.
This issue of FOCUS describes many of
those links; it also pays homage to two
people during whose tenure CICSR was
established, and who are moving on.
They are Dean of Applied Science Axel
Meisen, and Bob Donaldson, head of
Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Both are people whom I respect and
admire very much, and who gave me
continual support before and during the
first year of my directorship.
Axel Meisen
Axel Meisen has spearheaded many
exciting new research initiatives since
becoming dean in 1985, and his vision
has helped move the Faculty of Applied
Sciences to the forefront in applied
research around the world. He created
international professional and educational links, and created new specialized
programs here at UBC. His collegial
leadership and energy is an inspiration
to those who have worked with him.
Bob Donaldson
Under Bob Donaldson's direction, the
Department of Electrical and Computer
Engineering grew very strong, vastly
increasing collaboration with industry
and external research income. Since he
became head in 1987, the number of
graduate students has doubled, and research labs have been completely modernized. He continually put the interests
of the department ahead of his own, and
I believe that's why it's so strong now.
Both can take some credit for the establishment of CICSR as a major worldwide computer systems research
facility. I'm sad to see them go, and
wish them the very best in their continuing research and teaching endeavours.
Dr. Rabab Ward, CICSR Director
UBC is poised to become a leader in the
area of software development says Dean
of Applied Science Axel Meisen, and
CICSR will play a vital role.
"I see CICSR as the lead agency in
developing a major thrust in software
engineering at UBC because it brings
together computer science, electrical
engineering and computer engineering,"
says Meisen.
Meisen came to UBC in 1969 and
became dean of Applied Science in
1985. He has seen many changes since.
"We'll also be active in intelligent
and flexible manufacturing, where companies can make a variety of products in
small runs in a profitable fashion. And I
see us becoming a leading agent in telecommunications and data processing,
because once again those industries are
Unparalleled Developments
The last decade has seen unparalleled
development in the industrial application of scientific research, Meisen says,
because computers and software are
changing the world of production.
For the Faculty of Applied Science
and for CICSR, the demand for people
with computer skills will mean providing more continuing education programs for people who work full-time
but need to keep their skills current
through evening and weekend study,
or through short day courses.
Demand for Continuing Education
"Clearly the need to stay abreast as
practitioners is very important. Over
time, I see CICSR taking on an important role in the area of continuing education, because it's an opportunity for
us to get closer to industry and learn
about its problems and use that as the
basis for research."
"It's also a potentially significant
source of revenue," adds Meisen.
Demand for continuing education
would come from engineers and scientists working in high-technology product and service development, and
Meisen says British Columbia has
Dean of Applied Science Axel Meisen
established itself as a centre for these
types of industries.
Growth and Change
Growth and change as a result of computers and related applications has affected the curriculum in the Faculty
of Applied Science in several ways,
Meisen notes, and so has the emergence
of environmental protection as an issue
of global concern.
"We see a much wider integration
and application of computers throughout the curriculum, of course, but it's
also led to specific new initiatives such
as the Option in Computer Engineering
and the Program in Electromechanical
Engineering Design.
Environmental Emphasis
"As far as the environment is concerned, all engineering programs now
place emphasis on that in the curriculum. At the BA level, there is an Environmental Engineering Option in
chemical, civil and geological engineering. Similar options are now offered at
the graduate level, and now many of the
research theses have an environmental
orientation at the graduate level." ■
Focus Spring 1997 A Decade of Change in
Electrical Engineering
Change defines the past decade for
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Department Head Bob Donaldson as he
leaves after 10 years as head. Over the
last decade Donaldson has seen his
department change its name (to include
Computer Engineering), move into new
space, increase its links with industry
and within the university, and revise the
undergraduate and graduate programs.
Stronger Links with industry
The increased interaction with BC industry is one of the more significant
changes Donaldson has seen. External
research funding has quadrupled and
80% of that is tied in some way to industry, either from direct grants, or
contracts, or from matching funds from
grants tied to industry projects. The
department now has three Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council industrial research chairs, and
participates in four of the federal networks of excellence in engineering.
"All of these networks include substantial industry sponsorship and support, and provide almost a quarter of
our external research income."
"The department and its activities
have changed markedly," Donaldson
notes. "Of our 33 faculty, 20 are new
and 3 of those are CICSR appointments."
Research Space has Doubled
And the department has doubled its research space through the addition of two
new buildings: the CICSR/CS building
and the Advanced Materials and Process
Engineering Laboratory.
Expanded Computer Facilities
Another notable development is the
substantial growth in computer network
facilities. When Donaldson began, the
department had fewer than 10 personal
computers and workstations, and virtually no networking capability. Under
his direction, the department was among
the first on campus to install an intra-
building network. And now, thanks to
CICSR, the department has more than
200 workstations and printers.
At the Forefront of Revolution
Donaldson is stepping down as department head and will return to teaching
and research. He says the future holds
unlimited opportunities for education,
research and industrial interaction. "We
are at the forefront of the information
technology revolution. The fields of
computer technology, software engineering, industrial automation, signal
processing, and advanced electric power
engineering are essential for the rapidly
growing manufacturing and service
sectors. These burgeoning industries
require skilled people and enhanced
research and development."
Delivering Professional Education
New ways to deliver courses are likely
to be added to the department's activities to meet the increased demand for
professional education. Graduate
courses are offered at times convenient
for practicing professionals, and where
warranted, at off-campus locations with
the help of the local branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers (IEEE).
Moving On
The nature of electrical and computer
engineering means the ground is constantly shifting, but Donaldson moves
on with good memories and a high level
of satisfaction with what he and the department have accomplished over the
last decade of change.
"It has been my privilege and opportunity to serve the department, the university and the community during the
past several years. The support from
colleagues, the university community,
and the external community has been
strong, consistent and gratifying." ■
< Bob Donaldson
Focus Spring 1997 Boosting Productivity on
the Machine Shop Floor
Machine shops around the world are
working more efficiently now thanks to
the work of Dr. Yusuf Altintas, a professor in the Department of Mechanical
Engineering and CICSR member.
Machining simulation software,
created by Altintas's research group,
allows production engineers to simulate
and visualize the consequences of machining tool operations before actually
machining any metal.
Productivity Gains
With Altintas's software, engineers can
analyze and model machining parameters and devise solutions that make the
machining process more efficient. Industrial users of the software have reported productivity gains of up to 30%.
"Our ultimate goal is to improve the
productivity of machining operations,"
says Altintas, a UBC professor since 1987.
PC and UNIX Versions
The simulation software comes in a PC
version and a UNIX workstation version. The PC version is user-friendly
and is used by production engineers on
the shop floor. Pratt and Whitney
Canada, the aerospace manufacturer, is
using the PC version to help improve
machining on aircraft components.
Other users of the PC version are Singapore National University, the Kenne
Metal/Hertel Cutting Tool Company in
Germany, and Ingersoll in the US.
The UNIX workstation version is
more detailed and comprehensive, and
is currently being tested at the General
Motors Research Center in Detroit and
the National Institute of Standards &
Technology in the US. They report
productivity savings of up to 30% using
the software.
Intelligent Machining
Altintas's group has also developed
software called the Intelligent Machining Module. The program, a plug-and-
play module, collects signals from
Yusuf Altintas in his lab
sensors mounted on the machine tool as
it cuts. The program allows the machine
tool operator to manipulate cutting conditions and maximize material removal
rate, boosting machining productivity.
As well, the module automatically monitors breakage, vibration and other tool
area for Altintas and his graduate students. They have developed a model
CNC that is on offer to R & D labs
around the world. Altintas is cooperating with CICSR professors M. Ito and
G. Bond in this area.
Altintas is also leading an international research project dedicated to the
"Our ultimate goal is to improve
the productivity of machining operations."
The product went to market in November in Japan, Germany, the US, and
Canada. Currently, it is in use at Pratt
and Whitney Canada's five-axis Mitsui
CNC Machining Centre.
"Pratt and Whitney report a productivity increase of 265%, so we have an
excellent relationship with them," says
Open architecture motion control and
Computer Numerical Control (CNC)
system design comprise another research
Sensor Fused Intelligent Monitoring
System for Machining Tasks. Research
partners of SIMON (as it is called) include the Machine Tool Research Laboratory at the Technical University of
Aachen, Germany, the University of
Michigan, and Keio and Kobe Universities in Japan. Some of the industrial
partners include Mitsubishi Materials,
Daimler Benz, and Ingersoll. They will
all meet at UBC for the SIMON kickoff
in May 1997. ■
Focus Spring 1997 Multimedia Standards Link
Universities and Industry
Links between university research and
industry applications are getting stronger, which is no surprise to Dr. Faouzi
Kossentini. His research area is communications and signal processing, with
a focus on digital image and video communication. He's also contributing to
several international standardization
groups working on standards for digital
and video compression.
Practical Research
"My work has always been linked to
industry because of its direct applications," says Kossentini, a professor in
Electrical Engineering at UBC since
January 1996. "My leaning toward
practical research is due to my involvement with standardization activities,
because we look for and work toward
practical real-time applications."
He's currently dividing his research
time between several major projects.
The first, sponsored by Rogers Cable
Labs Inc. and BC Advanced Systems
Institute (ASI), is called Efficient
MPEG-2 Video Coding, the main application of which is real-time coding of
interlaced video on general purpose
platforms. "If our research is successful
you'll be able to do that kind of encoding and decoding using a Pentium pro
with MMX technology."
Wireless Fax Transmission
Applications involving fax transmission
and paging could result from a second
major project, involving JBIB and JPEG
compatible image transmission. This
project is sponsored by Image Power
Inc. and ASI. He's focusing on wireless
fax transmission, which will be compatible with the upcoming JBIG2 standard
because it will have a reduced bandwidth. A third project involves building
efficient image transmission strategies
over the Cellular Package Digital Data
(CPDD) network.
The ultimate objective is to design a
CPDD-like modem that will allow faster
image data transmission over wireless
networks. Sponsors are Mobile Data
Solutions Incorporated, ASI, and the
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Standards for the Real World
As well as research and teaching,
Kossentini is active with several standardization committees of the International Telecommunication Union, the
joint technical committee of JTC1 of
"My work has always been
linked to industry because
of its direct applications."
the International Standarization Organization (ISO) and the International Electromechanical Commission (IEC).
He is also a member of the Canadian
Standards Association, and is a voting
delegate of sub-committee SC29 of
ISO/IEC JTC1, which is responsible for
the coded representation of audiovisual,
multimedia and hypermedia information. Film and TV producers felt the
impact of the JPEG/MPEG standards:
SC29 won a 1996 Emmy for its contribution to the television and film industry.
Powerful Multimedia Processing
Kossentini says the technology of the
future made possible by the MPEG-4
standard will have true multimedia
processing and entail communication
systems that handle all types of multimedia data seamlessly. Products with
these capabilities will be available by
the year 2000, and they'll only be
slightly more complicated than programming a VCR.
"Imagine having a powerful Pentium
laptop with multimedia technology such
as MMX and JAVA that you could use
to send e-mail, control your digital television, play video games, and so on. You
use the same unit to control these functions, and you are the programmer."
Kossentini is also a member of the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers, and a technical area coordinator of the International Conference on
Image Processing (ICIP-97). He and
CICSR Director Dr. Rabab Ward are
working to have that event held in Vancouver in the year 2000. ■
Faouzi Kossentini
Focus Spring 1997 Better Design
for Fast Chips
Faster chips with more features using
lower power and costing less are what
consumers have come to expect from
rapidly evolving chip technology. To
satisfy these expectations, manufacturers and engineers must achieve faster
product development even as designs
become more complicated.
That's not easy to achieve when
design processes for hardware and software are poorly integrated, says Mark
Greenstreet, assistant professor of Computer Science at UBC.
"For leading edge companies, integrated circuit design is a complex process. The complete design cycle can take
anywhere from five to seven years.
Integrating the different phases of the
design is key to reducing design time
and avoiding costly errors."
Greenstreet's current research is
aimed at developing mathematical techniques and software applications that
will contribute to this integration.
"Consider the problem of designing
a simple circuit, a flip-flop for example.
An analogue designer will see it as an
analogue circuit, modelled by differential equations, where voltages change
smoothly with time. A digital designer
will see the same circuit as a discrete
device where signals are either high or
low and change when the clock changes.
How do these two groups of designers
talk to each other?"
Currently, the interface is ad-hoc.
The analogue designers perform extensive simulations, and when finished,
hand their circuits to the digital designers. This process leaves little room for
interaction between the various specialists that could lead to faster designs.
Greenstreet came to UBC in 1992.
He first began designing chips with
Exploring the Limits of Computing Power
Computer science provides the framework for David Kirkpatrick's research,
but mathematics is the tool he uses to
attack theoretical problems in computational complexity and geometry.
"I'm interested in understanding
basic problems in computing science,
the kind of thing that larger tasks are
made up of, and understanding the
factors that contribute to the difficulty
of those problems," says Kirkpatrick.
"As computers get bigger and faster
they seem more capable, but our demands are growing, so there is motivation to understand the theoretical
limitations to computing, and this is a
mathematical enterprise," says
Kirkpatrick, a professor of Computer
Science since 1979 and associate dean
in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
"The nature of my interests leads me
to dwell on things that aren't going to
change. It's a goal of any scientific
discipline to understand what's permanent and essential. In this light, dramatic
changes are really just embellishments
of something that's been in place for a
long time," he says.
The bulk of Kirkpatrick's teaching
relates to the theoretical aspects of the
discipline. While change is less rapid
than in other sectors, the curriculum is
by no means static. Two new courses in
algorithm design and analysis were
introduced just last year. "Students are
being introduced to theoretical concepts
earlier. There's a movement of material
through the curriculum from top to bottom in that concepts that used to be
taught at the graduate level now appear
often much earlier."
Collaboration is an important feature
of Kirkpatrick's research. He is actively
collaborating with researchers around
Intel in 1980, and continued at ESL, a
TRW subsidiary in California. There, he
developed a high-speed chip set, a design on which he holds two patents. He
then spent two years at Aarhus University in Denmark teaching chip design to
researchers who introduced him to some
of the more mathematical aspects of
verification. From Aarhus, Greenstreet
went to Princeton where he completed
his PhD and continued his work on
high-speed chip design.
Currently, Greenstreet is joined in
his research by Ian Mitchell, a former
UBC graduate student. Mitchell's position is funded by SUN Microsystems
Canada and the BC Advanced Systems
Institute. SUN is interested in the applications of Greenstreet's research to
high-speed processor designs. For example, SUN has a design where the
flow of instructions and data are regulated by a circuit called an arbiter,
which acts essentially as a traffic cop.
And it can be a bottleneck in the design.
"SUN wants us to analyze the arbiter,
using the same kinds of methods as for
the flip-flop. We hope to identify where
the circuit can be optimized. If we can
find a way to build a better arbiter, SUN
could build a better processor." ■
David Kirkpatrick
the world on a dozen different projects.
He notes, however, that some of the
world's top researchers in his areas of
interest are colleagues here at UBC.
"You really ought to be interviewing
them instead," he says. ■
Focus Spring 1997 PASSING NOTES
CICSR welcomes new members
CICSR welcomes six new researchers
into its ranks.
Alan Hu's research focuses on practical ways to use formal verification to
help design complicated protocols,
computer systems, and integrated circuits. Hu comes to Computer Science
and CICSR via Fujitsu Labs of America.
Gail Murphy joined the Computer
Science department in August 1996,
after completing her PhD at the University of Washington. She focuses on
problems related to software evolution,
including source code analysis, visualization and reverse engineering, architecture, and design techniques.
Another newcomer is Michael
Feeley (Computer Science), who arrived this year from the University of
Washington. His main research interest
is interaction between operating systems, compilers, and programming
models for supporting distributed applications and managing persistent data.
Peter Cahoon (Computer Science) is
another recent CICSR newcomer. His
research interest is in scientific visualization, from algorithm development to
image capture and analysis.
Steven Wilton came to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and CICSR in December 1996
from the University of Toronto. His
research interests are in the areas of chip
design, computer-aided design algorithms, and computer architecture.
Carl Ollivier-Gooch joined the Mechanical Engineering Department and
CICSR this January, following a
postdoctoral fellowship at Argonne
National Laboratory (ANL) in Chicago,
Illinois. Carl continues the research he
undertook at ANL in tetrahedral mesh
generation. ■
Martha Salcudean wins award
Mechanical Engineering Professor
Martha Salcudean has won a Meritorious Achievement Award from the Association of Professional Engineers and
Geoscientists of BC. Salcudean won for
her research in computational fluid
dynamics and industrial processes in the
pulp and paper industries.
One of the first female engineering
professors in Canada, Salcudean was
the first to head an engineering depart
ment when she became head of UBC's
Mechanical Engineering Department in
1985. She is currently on leave. ■
Clarence de Silva wins another
Clarence de Silva has received the 1996
Outstanding Contribution Award from
the Systems, Man and Cybernetics
Society of the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers (IEEE). De Silva
was program chair of the 1995 IEEE
Annual Conference on Systems, Man
and Cybernetics. ■
ASI-CICSR lecture series
The lecture series continued on February 6 with Dan Gelbart, president of
CREO Products. Gelbart talked about
CREO's Computer-to-Plate technology,
and described the evolution of his company. The lecture, the fifth in the series
showcasing BC-developed technology,
was well attended. Thanks to Terry Ngo
(ECE) who organized the lectures and
which have been a great success. ■
CICSR welcomes Gayle Kosh
CICSR is happy to welcome Gayle
Kosh to the office as a part-time secretary. Gayle comes to CICSR from the
Recycling Council of BC. ■
UBC Technology Flies High continued from page 1
stations and on parabolic flights. MIM
designs were also tested on zero-G
flights with the experiment free-floating
within the airplane; the goal is for the
MIM to provide a perfectly stable platform despite the imperfect path of the
The MIM design and testing was
Niall Parker's main      	
project for three
years. Other UBC The 8oal IS f or
contributors, at various stages of the project, included
Harold Davis, Lab Director of Engineering Physics, who has been working
with Tryggvason on large-motion isolation for parabolic flights, Electrical and
Computer Engineering (ECE) students
Jason Boulet and Chai-Tung Chen, and
several Engineering Physics and ECE
summer students.
Using the design provided by the
UBC team, Pointe Claire, Quebec-based
MPB Technologies has built a prototype
MIM, and two more for space flight.
The MIM aboard the Russian Mir space
station is now being used to conduct
experiments, and will be in operation
for up to three years. A second MIM is
scheduled to be sent into space with
Tryggvason on the space shuttle
for sensitive instruments such as scanning tunnelling microscopes, and some
applications in the electronics industry
that require stable platforms. Salcudean
says he is actively pursuing other applications of magnetic levitation technology, especially in the areas of force-
feedback computer-user interfaces.
         In the meantime,
Salcudean is fol-
the MIM to provide a perfectly stable platform.     lowing experiments
with the MIM
scheduled for launch in July 1987. It is
fitting that Tryggvason, a professional
engineer and payload specialist, be on
the 11-day space mission transporting
the MIM since he was a principal instigator of the technology.
Salcudean, currently spending the
year in France on sabbatical, notes that
vibration isolation has many applications, both in space and on earth. Terrestrial applications include platforms
closely. He and his team consider it an
honour to have their technology
onboard the space mission as physical
space is at an absolute premium, with
every square inch accounted for. For a
piece of equipment to be carried along
as cargo, its contribution must be considered critical. The MIM appears to be
living up to its promise, allowing
ground-breaking research to be conducted reliably in zero-G. ■
Focus Spring 1997 Spinoza the Robot Sees the Light
Robots are finally beginning to see
things Jim Little's way. Little, an associate professor of Computer Science at
UBC and CICSR member, specializes
in computational vision and aritificial
intelligence, and is concentrating on the
development of near real-time vision
systems for robots. With the help of
Spinoza, a mobile robot, Little is working to construct vision systems that will
allow robots to see the world much in
the way we see it.
Real-time Vision a Challenge
The challenge is to enable robots to see
in real-time. It is one thing for robots to
take pictures and analyze them, says
Little, but it is another thing for them to
see and respond to visual information
on the fly. Building human aspects of
vision in computational form is another
challenge, and Little is collaborating
with researchers in UBC's Department
of Electrical and Computer Engineering
to give robots the ability to see the way
humans do, using motion and shape as
visual cues.
Spinoza, for example, can motor
around, recognize where it is, and process information about relative distances,
which allows it to locate itself in a room.
It can push objects around, and at some
point will have a hand or carrying case.
Other systems in Little's lab enable
Jim Little and Spinoza
Spinoza to see movements, including
one that couples the robot's stereo cameras with an arm so it can recognize
objects and pick them up.
Potential Industrial Uses
Robots with real-time vision potentially
have many industrial applications. Robots with vision could be used to manage materials in warehouses, to work on
assembly lines, and even to act as office
assistants, carrying things from one
office to another.
Another possible use is in health and
home care: robots may be able to assist
the aged and infirm who need help in
the home. Little envisions a sort of
robot assistant that helps people prepare
meals, fetch things around the house,
and generally extend people's physical
capabilities. Little is also beginning to
consider ways the same vision systems
might be used to help blind people
navigate and become more mobile.
Networked Robots
"We're only just beginning, but the
systems we've developed are very capable, and that's exciting," says Little.
"We're just learning to use teams of
robots, but in the next few years we're
going to look at how they can communicate in a networked way."
And if robots can see, Little thinks
we can find ways to communicate with
them by gesture rather than by sound.
Little and his colleagues at UBC
have formed what they call the Dynamo
Group to develop ideas, realize algorithms and test them within an embodied machine. The group is currently
building a prototype stereo vision system that will be a self-contained add-on
for robots. H
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The UBC Centre for Integrated Computer Systems Research (CICSR) is an interdepartmental
research organization made up of computer-related research faculty members in the
Departments of Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical
Engineering. Currently there are more than 70 CICSR researchers who direct over 300
graduate students and collaborate with dozens of industrial firms in areas such as robotics,
artificial intelligence, communications, VLSI design, imaging, and industrial automation.
CICSR FOCUS is published twice a year.
EDITOR: William Knight
WRITERS: Jeff McDonald, Leslie Ellis
PHOTOGRAPHY: Media Services, UBC
OFFICE: 289-2366 Main Mall,
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z4
Tel: (604) 822-6894, fax: (604) 822-9013
Contact: Linda Sewell
Centre for Integrated
Computer Systems Research
289-2366 Main Mall,
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4


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