Who am I?

I am an older version of the guy on the left and a Professor of Electrical and Systems Engineering (ESE) at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). I was born in  Montevideo, Uruguay where I studied and got an Electrical Engineering degree from the Universidad de la República in 1999. I worked as a systems engineer for a cellphone company until 2003 when I moved to the United States to study at the University of Minnesota (UoM) in  Minneapolis. I received M. Sc. and Ph. D. degrees from the UoM in 2005 and 2008, respectively.

In case you need either, you can access my professional bio in this link and my academic cv in this link. These two documents are prepared by the serious person I am forced to impersonate every so often. To get a sense of my research and teaching activities please keep reading. For a more comprehensive discussion visit my lab’s website which has descriptions of my research vision and provides access to the sites for the courses I teach.  I am hoping that you will find my lab’s blog to be illuminating and entertaining but if you are hard core, my list of papers is here.

I have had and continue to have the honor of working with remarkable doctoral students. Their papers have received a number of awards which I am happy to claim as my own. These awards are the 2020 Signal Processing Society young author pest paper award, the 2014 O. Hugo Schuck best paper award and paper awards at the 2020 International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, the 2019 European Signal Processing Conference, the 2017 Conference on Decision and Control, the 2016 Workshop on Statistical Signal Processing, the 2016 Sensor Array, and Multichannel Signal Processing Workshop, the 2015 Asilomar Conference on Signals Systems and computers, the 2013 American Control Conference, and the 2005 and 2006 International Conferences on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing. I also have had and continue to have the honor of working with remarkable undergraduate students. I am very proud of their recognition in the form of the 2012 S. Reid Warren, Jr. Award presented by the undergraduate student body of Penn Engineering for outstanding teaching as well as the recognition of my colleagues with the Penn-wide 2017 Lindback award for distinguished teaching.  I have also been selected as a Fulbright Scholar class of 2003 and a Penn Fellow class of 2015.

What is your research about?

My research field is statistical signal processing. For readers with a background on Electrical or Systems Engineering, this is a succinct yet sufficient description of my area of interest. For readers without such a background, saying that I am interested in “statistical signal processing” is just a way of saying that I am interested in data and information, or,  to be more precise, on extracting information from data. It’s just that I am interested in physical systems and in this context it is customary to refer to data as signals. If this still does not make sense, please accept an invitation to visit the page for my undergraduate class on signal and information processing where I elaborate on data and information.

Extracting information from data is a broad job description. My particular interest is on networks, network data, and network algorithms. More to the point, my interest is on Distributed Collaborative Intelligent Systems, namely, on groups of agents that operate autonomously in a manner that we can call intelligent. We’re far from having the ability to design such systems but my philosophical take on this problem is that the key to understanding and designing collaborative intelligence is to understand and design network interactions. This means we must redefine wireless communication networks so that they operate autonomously and in support of autonomy, that we must develop new families of machine learning methods to process data that is acquired by a network of agents and that we have to improve our ability to execute algorithms in a distributed manner without necessarily relying on central coordination. Each of these challenges maps to my respective interests on networks, network data, and network algorithms and to the three broad research themes we pursue in my group: Wireless Autonomous Networks, Machine Learning on Network Data and Distributed Collaborative Learning.

As I said above, if you want to learn more about my group’s research please visit our lab’s blog and take a look at our list of publications. The list of publications may, occasionally, drift out of date in which case a visit to my Google Scholar profile may be useful.

What do you teach?

Have a look at my junior level course on Stochastic Systems (ESE303) and my sophomore level course on Signal and Information Processing (ESE224). These courses are close to my research. This means I know quite a lot about the material we cover and it also means that I love teaching these courses. Honestly. There’s nothing a professor likes better than talking about his or her research. I am proud very proud of these courses. They are innovative and incorporate material that some are surprised to see covered in intro level classes. For example,  the Signal and Information Processing course includes modules on principal component analysis and graph signal processing.

The first time I stood to teach a college course was in March of 1995. My performance was appalling. To atone for such a sin I have been trying to figure out how to be a good teacher ever since. I am happy to report that I have reached the conclusion that courses have to be difficult and interesting. These are not separate specifications. A course can be interesting only when it’s difficult. I’d rather keep my courses easy. But if I were to keep them easy, I would be forced to make them dull. If I want to make them interesting, I have to make them difficult. I like to think that I am pretty successful at striking that balance. My students routinely complain that my courses are difficult but they also say they are interesting.

You are from where?

A personal question I am asked often from people I barely know is where are you from? The answer to that is I’m from Uruguay, which for most people doesn’t provide much of an answer. Chances are, I’m the only Uruguayan citizen you’ve met. There’s less than four million of us. That’s quite a lot less than the six million that live in the Philadelphia metro area.

To make my heritage more informative, let me tell you that Uruguayans are idiosyncratic folk. Having a working knowledge of Uruguayans means you are aware that we are obsessed with fútbol (soccer) and have managed to stay within the global top-10 despite the low population number. You are also aware that we drink mate from a calabash (a type of gourd) shell instead of tea or coffee from a mug and eat 125 pounds of beef per year. That comes at about a 6oz portion per day. Except we think a portion of beef is a full pound which means we eat beef only once every three days.

On a more serious note Uruguay is very socially liberal. It was one of the first countries in the world to enact laws for free public education, 45-hr workweeks and female voting at the turn of the twentieth center and among the first to legalize marihuana and same sex marriage at the turn of the 21st. A certain anarchist vein runs strong. We are suspicious of government and have an obstinately uncooperative attitude towards authority. We nonetheless have a very large government sector because as much as we are suspicious of government we are more suspicious of corporations. Disregard for authority extends to divine powers. Half the population defines themselves as agnostic or atheist and active practice of religion is rare. What Uruguayans call “the right” is to the left of Bernie Sanders. What we call “the radical left” in the US would still rank as the extreme right in Uruguay. Uruguayans also like to make a point of keeping a low profile. One of our presidents attained worldwide fame for living in a shack in his flower farm while driving a 30 year old car and having a three-legged dog as a pet.