Summer 2003
Far from Normal
A man on a mission
Alma Matters
Memīries Sweet
Riff Ram
Class Notes
Back Cover
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TCU Magazine "Academe"

Home, smart home

Computer science students are developing technology that we won't be able to live without in the houses of tomorrow.

Lisa Burnell can visualize the home of the future. She walks in the door, speaks a few commands and magic happens. The stereo cues her favorite compact disc, the television clicks on her usual news station and the lights dim. All she has to do is relax, maybe put her feet up.

In the kitchen, the pantry is stocked because last week the computer reminded her what was running low and started a grocery list. For tonight, the oven is preheated and a couple of suggested recipes for the evening meal are printed out and ready to be prepared.

Welcome to the "smart" home of the future, where appliances and electronics are interconnected, voice-activated and programmed to remember entertainment, dining and lifestyle habits. Even George Jetson never had it this good.

"Basically, smart home technology adapts to you, not you to it," says Burnell, an assistant professor of computer science. And it's all coming in the not-too-distant future because of students like Burnell's who are developing the technology. For the past two years, teams of two to four undergraduates in her Computer Science Senior Design class have devoted their senior year to writing programs for speech and graphic interface and intelligent learning modules to control household electronics and manage parts of a house.

The twist is that the project is simply too large for a single year. Or two. So each year, students reach a stopping point at the end of the spring semester and leave the work for the next class to resume. By project completion, dozens of students will have added pieces to the whole.

"It's great training for real life," Burnell says. "Not only do they have to pick up and understand someone else's project and read the programs, they also have to find solutions for problems they inherited and advance the project in a way that the next group can understand it."

In 2001, four groups developed the first two projects from scratch -- the smart entertainment control system (SECS), and Morpheus, a program employing infrared signals, a speech interface and a limited learning function to identify users' patterns. Accessed through a PDA or personal computer and a user can control a television from anywhere.

This year, two groups advanced the smart home project. One combined SECS and Morpheus to create the glorified house controller (GHC), which can operate multiple electronic devices, and reprogrammed the speech interface. Along the way, the team debugged the learning module, enabling it to remember more user patterns.

"Now, it will identify that you watch The Simpsons every week and will immediately turn the TV to the right channel when that program comes on," says computer science senior Camille Wall, who got a head start on the class at shared research sessions at the University of Texas at Arlington last summer.

Another measurable step was an improved 3-D visual simulator, which helps students see how their technology will react in a house. "For example, as we develop sensors that detect movement in the house, they'll be able to distinguish between a husband and wife," Wall says. "And we can test to see how the software is supposed to work before the hardware is built."

The second group began creating a smart home module for the kitchen. It uses a graphical user interface, such as a PDA, to help with inventory control, storage, reordering, recipe access and meal planning. The smart kitchen also has a learning function that will recall food preferences, allergies and ratings.

"Let's say your spouse calls and says the boss and his wife are coming home for dinner," says computer science senior Joshua Chlapek. "You know he is on a salt-restrictive diet and she is lactose intolerant, so you can ask the smart kitchen to retrieve a menu plan that satisfies those constraints."

As the computer science department grows, so will the smart home projects, Burnell says. It has already received a grant from TXU, which pays for two research assistants to study different methods for predicting inhabitant behavior, and another from the National Science Foundation, which funds two student researchers who will study how to fit the smart home projects under one umbrella system.

The NSF grant, shared with the UTA computer science and engineering department, also will be used to develop curriculum for advanced smart home courses.

The ultimate goal, Burnell says, is a collaborative technologies course that could be co-taught by TCU and UTA through distance education. "Obviously we're interested in the cool engineering and a project leading to an actual product that can be taken to the marketplace. But even more important is the learning opportunity. These projects don't have an easy solution.

"The teacher doesn't have all the answers. But that's part of the fun. The students get to figure it out."

Contact Burnell at

Woman's world

In developing economies, women entrepreneurs are on the up and up.

Think entrepreneur. Do famous men come to mind? In the United States, they do. But management professor Stephen Mueller finds that in developing countries it's the women who are most likely to tackle entrepreneurial endeavors.

A recent study conducted by Mueller explored the motivating factors for women and men in starting a business. He analyzed survey results from university students in 17 countries for the characteristics that lead people to start businesses, including "propensity to take risks, innovativeness and feelings of being in control of one's fate."

In industrialized countries like Canada, Belgium and the United States, men were more likely to show entrepreneurial traits. Not so in countries with developing economies such as Croatia, the Czech Republic and Russia.

"The research really doesn't answer why there seems to be a bigger gender gap in many developed countries," Mueller said. But he noted that women in countries with developed economic systems must contend with "well-established networks of business relationships in which being an independent business owner is still perceived as primarily a male role."

Developing countries have fewer business traditions and "career stereotypes," so women and men entrepreneurs seem to start on equal footing, he said. Women in developing countries also have more freedom to "make their own history."

Mueller's work was recognized with the inaugural Best Women's Entrepreneurship Paper award by the Center for Women's Business Research, a national organization devoted to increasing the understanding of cultural and gender issues in entrepreneurship.

Contact Mueller at

To catch an e-thief

Fighting online crime is as big as, well, the Internet.

The long arm of the law doesn't quite reach online crime, according to a new study. The growing use of online shopping, auctions and investing services has made online fraud an increasingly serious problem. Unfortunately police often lack the resources and jurisdiction to effectively investigate and prosecute the offenses.

Ronald Burns and Keith Whitworth of TCU's department of sociology, criminal justice and anthropology did some investigating of their own and found that "those involved in investigating and prosecuting Internet fraud feel they lack the staff, tools and training to do their jobs effectively," said Burns. The professors surveyed more than 2,300 law enforcement agencies nationwide to determine how prepared they are to deal with crimes involving online fraud.

The study, supported by the National White Collar Crime Center, revealed that a question about who is going to lead the fight exists among law enforcement agencies, according to Whitworth. Because online crime can take place in multiple cities and states, "there is a strong feeling that federal law enforcement should be dealing with these crimes," he said.

Burns and Whitworth's study concluded that the attack on the problem is being conducted "in piecemeal fashion," Whitworth said. "We need to address jurisdictional issues É and provide the necessary resources at the state and local levels."

Contact Burns at and Whitworth at


Lights, camera ... Library!

Got a hankering for an old movie? A classic cartoon? An obscure foreign title that no one's ever heard of? Then drop by the Gwendolyn P. Tandy Memorial Film Library, home to more than 11,500 titles in all formats.

Founded 20 years ago by a gift from TCU parent and film fanatic Jesse Upchurch, who continues yearly support, the library has grown into one of the most complete collections of its kind. Feature films, documentaries, TV shows, animated films and commercials make up the library's extensive collection of VHS, DVD, laser disc and 16-millimeter films.

Each year curator Joan McGettigan, an RTVF assistant professor, adds current titles and buys recommendations from specialists in the department. But her passion is searching out obscure titles. "I look everywhere," she said, "from eBay to the individual collector. It's exciting to find the exceptionally rare ones."

The library is a vast resource for students and researchers, offering more than 100 academic and professional journals and an auditorium equipped with state-of-the-art video and film projectors. There are also basic reference works in film and television history, theory and criticism and a collection of master scene scripts.

It's all great fun for the film buff, but it also has a practical aspect, McGettigan said. "Students in RTVF classes can view films on reserve if they miss class or just want further knowledge of certain film makers or techniques."

While items in the collection are not available for loan, visitors can view films anytime in individual carrels. The department also presents a free Thursday-evening series featuring films from the collection. The library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday during the academic year.

Call 817-257-5273, or contact McGettigan at

What a find!

Hidden amongst the 11,500 titles in the Tandy Memorial Film Library, you'll find these gems:


Berlin Alexanderplatz. This 15 1/2-hour mini-series by German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder is considered a major work in the New German Cinema of the 1970s and '80s.

Dim Sum (A Little bit of Heart). One of the earliest films by director Wayne Wang (made in 1984), whose latest movie is Maid in Manhattan.

Our Dancing Daughters (1928). One of Joan Crawford's major early films.

Blood on the Moon (1948). An important post-war western starring Robert Mitchum.

The Big Parade (1925). A major anti-war film of the silent film era.


Hollywood. A 13-part series on U.S. filmmaking in the silent era (made in 1980 by film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill).

Sinatra: Very Good Years. A five-part documentary on Frank Sinatra's impact on popular culture.

The Secret Life of Machines. A 12-part series from New Zealand that explains how everything works, from vacuum cleaners to VCRs.


A set of TV programs featuring Edward R. Murrow, pioneer of radio and TV news programming.

Films currently available only in altered forms

New York, New York (1977). Martin Scorsese's musical. A widescreen version is available on laser disc.

Some Came Running (1958). Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. A widescreen version exists on LD, but currently only the pan-and-scan VHS version is available.

It's Always Fair Weather (1955). A significant post-war musical starring Gene Kelly. Widescreen version on LD; currently only the pan-and-scan VHS version available.

Touch of Evil. (1958) A "restored" version recently released on DVD and VHS that differs dramatically from the version originally released, which is no longer available. Original release version on both LD and VHS.

Fun stuff

Three LD boxed sets of 210 Looney Tunes cartoons. Looney Tunes have yet to be released on DVD, and many were never available on VHS.