Williams Professor Wins Award for New Research in Computer Science

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Stephen Freund, professor of computer science at Williams College, received the 2019 Most Influential Paper Award at this year's Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation, the premier forum for researchers, developers, practitioners, and students to present research on computer programming languages.

This award recognizes research that has pushed forward the state-of-the-art, opened new research directions, and had a significant practical impact on the computing field as a whole over the past decade.

Freund and his co-author Cormac Flanagan (University of California, Santa Cruz) published the work leading to this award in 2009 in a paper titled "FastTrack: Efficient and Precise Dynamic Race Detection." The research in that paper developed a new technique for finding data race conditions, a particularly harmful type of computer bug.

"Race conditions occur when two threads running at the same time on a multi-core processor or multi-processor system manipulate a shared memory location without proper synchronization," Freund said. "The negative impacts of race conditions can range from data corruption to catastrophic system failure, and developing effective ways to detect when a race condition bug occurs has been an active area of research for several decades."

Freund's paper addresses the limitations of prior techniques to find race conditions, which have typically been too time-consuming to use or report too many false positives. False positives are problematic because they require programmers to invest time tracking down errors that do not actually exist. 

"Our work on FastTrack changed that," Freund said. "We developed an algorithm that was efficient enough to use even on very large systems while still never under-reporting or over-reporting problems."

FastTrack was quickly and widely adopted within the computer science research community and industry, and the insights behind FastTrack have led to further advances on a number of other program-checking and verification problems.


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Mount Greylock's Williams Gift Keeps on Giving ... Fodder for Debate

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Whatever decision the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee makes about how to spend the remainder of a $5 million gift from Williams College, this much is undeniable: The vote will not be made in a vacuum.
 
More than three years, countless hours by several committees and thousands of dollars worth of professional planning have been spent developing plans to apply the proceeds of the gift, given in early 2016 to help the district pay for things not covered under the Massachusetts School Building Authority's building program.
 
Shortly before member towns Lanesborough and Williamstown approved the $64.8 million project that March, the college gift gave the School Committee some cushion to pay for things the MSBA would not, including: a parking lot; repairs needed to make the school's playing fields compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX; and a new home for the central administration that ran Mount Greylock and its two feeder elementary schools, Williamstown Elementary and Lanesborough Elementary.
 
Eventually, Mount Greylock's School Building Committee decided it could keep the parking lot in the building project and pay for it with proceeds from the money borrowed by the district at 3 percent interest, keeping that nearly $1 million in the Williams College Endowment, where returns historically eclipse that 3 percent figure.
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