Williams Professor Receives Grant from National Science Foundation for Work on Software Errors

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Stephen Freund, assistant professor of computer science at Williams College, has been awarded a five-year, $400,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to research "Hybrid Atomicity Checking," a method of searching for bugs in software systems. The grant will enable Freund to develop the infrastructure necessary to carry out his research and support research collaborations with students. This is a Faculty Early Career Development Program grant, the National Science Foundations' most prestigious award in support of early career development, and is awarded to scholar-teachers who most effectively integrate research and education. "Software bugs -- mistakes made by engineers in a program's source code -- plague virtually all computer systems. The effects of bugs can range from relatively minor inconveniences to catastrophic failures," said Freund. "One particularly difficult kind of bug to identify and fix is an atomicity violation." Atomicity violations are caused when separate pieces of a software system improperly access shared resources, such as data or files, at the same time. Such errors do not occur at predictable times and are difficult to recognize and repair during testing. Freund's NSF project, "Hybrid Atomicity Checking," will develop automated tools to find such atomicity errors in software systems. As hybrid checkers, these tools will both inspect software source code and also monitor running programs. The hybrid approach improves their precision and ease-of-use over existing tools, and the overall result is a more cost-effective way to find atomicity bugs. This project builds on earlier atomicity checking work by Freund and his collaborators, which was funded under a joint NSF/NASA program. Freund teaches classes in introductory computer science, advanced programming, principles of programming languages, and compilers. As part of this grant, he plans to integrate recent advances in software engineering, concurrent programming, and software analysis into the courses he teaches. Freund received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University. Before coming to Williams, he was a member of the research staff at the Compaq Systems Research Center.
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Williamstown Decides to Clear Out Water Street Lot

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A long-time de facto parking lot on Water Street will be closed to vehicles as of March 1, the town has announced.
 
The 1.27-acre dirt lot that was most recently the site of the town garage has been used to park cars for decades. But the town has never formally considered it a parking lot, and it is not paved, lined or regulated in any way.
 
The town manager Thursday said that concerns about liability at the site led to a decision to place barriers around the lot to block cars this winter and for the foreseeable future.
 
"Over the fall, we kept an eye on it, and what we were seeing was upward of 160 or 170 cars on any given day," Bob Menicocci said. "It got to the point where, because of its unregulated nature, the Police Department was getting calls for service saying, ‘I'm blocked in. Can you tow this car?' that kind of thing.
 
"It was becoming an untenable situation."
 
The town's observation of the lot found a high percentage of the cars belonged to people connected to Williams College, mainly students who used it for overnight parking. That conclusion is borne out by the way the lot tends to be a lot emptier during college breaks.
 
In the fall, the school's student newspaper ran an article describing the lot as, "a perfectly legal spot to stash a car, and thus, [where] it seems that College students have lucked into a free, convenient parking lot."
 
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