Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Classes

Since my new classes started yesterday, here is a brief overview.

Higher Geometry II

This course covers affine and projective geometry. Last night we went over groups, abelian groups, and fields, which are abstract algebra concepts. (A field, which is the highest level of this particular hierarchy, is something like the real numbers - a set with two operators comparable to addition and multiplication, with associativity, commutativity, distributivity, identities, and reciprocals.) The prof (a grad student) told us not to worry if we felt like we were drinking from a firehose. He called this "Abstract Algebra in an hour."

15% of our class grade will be based on problems that we individually present in class, 15% on problems that we turn in, 25% on a paper that we have to write (15% for the paper, 10% for a presentation based on the paper), and the remainder on the three exams (no cumulative final). For the exams, we have a choice of take-home (several new problems) or oral (problems from the book or handed out in class), and we have to choose an oral exam for at least one of them.

Oral exams and all of the presentations are graded as Perfect (100%), Good (95%), Fair (75%), or Poor (35%). He suggested that he will not be very harsh with the grading and if you do a decent job you will probably get the 95%.

Principles of Programming Languages

This is an upper-division CS course, pretty standard at most schools, that discusses the different paradigms of programming languages, their features, and something about their implementation. The professor was funny and charming.

There will be 7 coding assignments that will take about 2 weeks each. These are graded pass/fail, and at the deadline we must have turned in a "serious effort." He'll give it back and if he requests additional work or fixes on it, we have a week to turn it back in with the fixes. These coding assignments are worth 7 points each for the total course grade. The remainder of the points come from 3 exams (again no cumulative final) that are worth 17 points each.

Apparently the professor used to let people turn in their assignments whenever, but he discovered (unsurprisingly) that this just encouraged students to prioritize classes that did have deadlines. So now, barring "both of your grandparents dying in a horrible blimp accident [and if anyone's grandparents have died in a horrible blimp accident I'm sorry, didn't mean to be insensitive]" he'll only accept one assignment up to a week late per student.

There is no textbook for this class. He's used several, including (many times) the most popular one, by Sebesta, but he finds that he uses them mostly to make fun of how bad and wrong they are. Also, he said that for us having a textbook just means thinking, "Oh, there's this thing I should be reading, but I don't." And that sounds about right; I haven't actually read a CS textbook yet. He plans to attempt to produce whatever materials he wants us to read, which will be necessarily brief given that he has to produce them.

It's going to be a fun but difficult, I think, semester.

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