Spotlight: Daniel MossÉ, Professor
Dr. Daniel Mossé became a full Professor in the Computer Science Department in 2004. Here, he discusses how he came to the department, his love for teaching, and his (so far) fruitless campaign to squeeze more time into a 24-hour day.
You are originally from Brazil. How did you end up at the University of Pittsburgh ?
When I finished my Bachelor's in Mathematics in Brazil I decided I wanted to be a professor. My father said “If you want to be a professor in computer science, you have to search for the best education you can get.” So I came to the USA and got my PhD at the University of Maryland . I was considering two different jobs, but I chose Pitt because it offered teaching responsibilities as well as research. And I instantly liked the department.
Tell me about writing your first grant.
After my first term at Pitt, I went to Bonaire for vacation. I'd wake up before sunrise, when everyone was asleep, and write for a couple of hours. When everybody woke up, we'd play for the day. After everyone went to sleep I'd spend a couple more hours writing under the stars, with the waves rolling in. It was a very relaxing way to write a proposal, and it got funded, so I highly recommend it to anybody. Take a vacation, write a grant proposal.
You taught at Semester at Sea. Can you tell me about that experience?
It was the experience of a lifetime. It was the perfect venue to expose students to the haves and have-nots, to contrast American riches with third-world ingenuity with respect to technology. I love interacting with students, and on the ship you do everything together; eat, do Tai-Bo, play volleyball; everything. So for me it was a great experience.
What did you do during your sabbatical at Cornell?
I worked in a distributed system group at Cornell with Ken Birman. I also worked with the database group there. One of the things that we tried to accomplish was to have some real-time properties put into their systems. I also started developing my interest in sensor networks, mobility and mobile computing. I was at CU for a year, but also at Pitt, trying to collaborate as much as possible on the projects that Rami was handling at the University.
Besides teaching, what are you currently involved in?
This year I'm the Chair of RTSS, which is the premier real-time systems conference in the field. I also head the Brazilian Workshop on Real-Time Systems.
As far as research, in the last few years we've done work with power management, which is how to make the batteries of devices, such as a laptop, last longer and how to manage the hardware capabilities through software. Recently we got a grant for Secure-CITI, which is a critical information technology infrastructure, to help in emergency situations such as earthquakes and landslides.
A new project we started about four or five months ago is on cognitive computing, which tries to build a computer that will do some functions that humans can do. The A. I. (Artificial Intelligence) dream used to be to make the computer think like a brain. What we'd like to do now is try to automate certain functions that are slow for the computer to do, such as the recognition of objects. We are looking at the way memories work in the brain and seeing if we can manage them in the computers in a similar way, like fast memory and short-term memory.
What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Being able to stop and say “no.” That for me is the hardest part, because there are so many interesting things to do and only 24 hours in the day, which is too bad. I have tried arguing with higher authorities about this, to no avail!
So I grapple with the lack of time, and I work very long hours so I can do more. And that affects my personal life a little bit. I should be working less, now that I'm old (not only aging, but full Professor and all), but I still can't. So I think that's the hardest part of my job, both inside the department and outside.
What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
The interaction with the students. It keeps me up-to-date and it keeps me young. I feel a kind of fatherly relationship with the students: you have to teach them how to grow and develop. And you want to keep them around afterwards. The only difference is you don't get the empty nest syndrome—there's another student coming in next year and the year after, so it's like having an unending supply of children around.
I also particularly enjoy my research with Rami Melhem, because we speak at the same level. He was a great mentor for me after my PhD, and I'm really grateful for his guidance. I must also recognize Panos Chrysanthis, with whom I shared many a night working on papers, classes, et cetera.
I love my job, I love the department. Everybody's committed to education and committed to research. People don't spare any effort in making education at large happen, and I love being a part of it.