In MCS178 we continue exploring the perspectives and methods of computer science, particularly abstraction. We'll first confront language issues by investigating how one might write and modify a Scheme system in Scheme, a so-called meta-circular evaluator. We'll next consider the notion of computations with changing state by looking "under the hood" at computers. We'll extend this notion of state into other areas, such as the use of state to construct more efficient computational processes than otherwise, and the use of object-based and object-oriented programming to model systems of objects with changing state. We will introduce a second programming language (Java) when studying object-based programming, and will consider object-oriented programming in the context of both an object-oriented extension of Scheme as well as in Java. Finally, at the end of the semester we'll take a look at its use in writing event-driven and concurrent programs (those that behave in response to user actions and those that do more than one thing at a time).
Prerequisite: Successful completion of MCS177.
Course Webpage: I will maintain a course homepage that will
contain links to all course handouts and some supplementary materials
such as code to use as a starting point in assignments. The URL for
this course is
which you may want to save as a bookmark in your web browser.
Text and readings: The primary text for the course will be Concrete Abstractions: An Introduction to Computer Science by Max Hailperin, Barbara Kaiser, and Karl Knight. We will cover chapters 10-15.
There's also an on-line Java Tutorial at
and copies of Arnold and Gosling's The Java Programming
Language book and Cornell and Horstmann's Core Java book in
the MCS Lab monitors' room, any of which you are welcome to use as a
supplement to the material on Java in our book.
Course structure: Classes will normally be on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and labs will normally be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, there are a few exceptions, which are clearly marked on the class schedule. Labs will be held in the OHS 326 lab, using the Linux computers.
Class schedule: I will maintain an on-line version of the schedule of classes and labs, which also contains examination dates and due dates for homework and labs. Please note that although I am giving my best approximation of the day to day topics, it is possible that I will need to revise the schedule during the semester.
Mastery homework: I have decided to try having the homework done as mastery problems this year. This is an approach (explained below) used by several other members of the department (I first heard the term "mastery problems" from Max). As such, I am going to borrow Max's approach and (with slight modifications) his explanation from one of his syllabi:
The schedule shows due dates for six homework assignments; each will typically consist of four or five problems. You must turn in all the problems in an assignment by that assignment's due date, but may turn in individual problems earlier if you wish. I will mark each problem as "mastered" or "not yet mastered," and return them to you as rapidly as I can. For those not yet mastered, I may write some brief indication of what area needs work, but you should really take these as an invitation to come talk. You may turn in a revised version of each problem however many times it takes to reach the "mastered" point, even after the original due date. The only restrictions are these:
Note that if you turn in each homework problem as soon as you can do it, rather than saving them for the assignment due dates, you will have more opportunity for revision and resubmission before the cutoff dates listed above. Particularly for the last homeworks before each cutoff date (and test), I can't guarantee you'll have time for a revision cycle otherwise.
I may also announce an earlier cutoff date for any individual problem I consider important for us to discuss in class.
The homework portion of your course grade will simply be determined by the fraction of the homework problems you eventually mastered.
Determination of course grade: I will provide you with a letter or number grade on each lab assignment and on each test, in addition to the mid-term and final grades, so that you may keep track of your performance. As a guideline, the components will contribute in the following proportion to the final grade:
Exams: The two intra-term exams will be conducted during the evening from 7:00-8:3Opm on Tuesday, March 12 in Olin 103 and Thursday, April 18 in Olin 103. Please let me know as soon as possible if you won't be able to take the tests at those times. The final exam will be as scheduled by the registrar; tentatively it is scheduled for 3:30 - 5:30 pm on Tuesday, May 28.
Quizzes: You are expected to do the reading with care before coming to class. I have sometimes had pop quizzes in order to ensure that my students did the reading. I would prefer not to do that this semester, since it is somewhat of a waste of time and it is difficult to come up with appropriate quiz questions. However, should I feel that the class has not been doing the reading, I reserve the right to institute pop quizzes. Should I do so, they will comprise up to 10% of your grade (other parts of the grade shrinking proportionately), and they will work as follows:
Promptly at start of class I will either (a) give a pop-quiz on the reading, (b) take attendance (especially if the reading was hard), or (c) do neither of the above. You'll receive 0, 1, 2, or 3 points for the quizzes (attendance or otherwise), where 0 indicates non-attendance, and a certain portion will be taken off for lateness. Depending on how often I do quizzes, I may drop a certain number of the lowest grades. You must tell me if you were ill, so that I can take that into consideration.
Attendance policy: Attendance is expected for all lab days. I will excuse up to three lab days for any reason, so you should use those days wisely. After that, I will decrease your grade in some manner proportional to the days you have missed, up to a full letter grade. I will also count off for lateness in some manner. Note: if you turn in your lab assignment early, you needn't attend the remaining days devoted to the lab.
Although I will not be taking attendance in class, I reserve the right to alter a student's grade for chronic non-attendance or lateness.
Grade changes: Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.
Late lab assignments: All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late assignments will be penalized by one "grade notch" (such as A to A- or B- to C+, or equivalently for number grades) for each weekday late or fraction thereof. However, no late assignments will be accepted after graded assignments are handed back.
If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write "late due to illness" at the top of the assignment, sign your name, and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Honor: Students are encouraged to discuss the course, including issues raised by the assignments. However, the solutions to assignments should be individual original work unless otherwise specified. If an assignment makes you realize you don't understand the material, ask a fellow student a question designed to improve your understanding, not one designed to get the assignment done. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself out of understanding, as well as to be intolerably dishonorable.
Any substantive contribution to your solution by another person or taken from a publication should be properly acknowledged in writing. Failure to do so is plagiarism and will necessitate disciplinary action.
We expect that you do your lab projects on your own. The same standards regarding plagiarism apply to team projects as to the work of individuals, except that the author is now the entire team rather than an individual. Anything taken from a source outside the team should be be properly cited.
One additional issue that arises from the team authorship of project reports is that all team members must stand behind all reports bearing their names. All team members have quality assurance responsibility for the entire project. If there is irreconcilable disagreement within the team it is necessary to indicate as much in the reports; this can be in the form of a "minority opinion" or "dissenting opinion" section where appropriate.
Style guidelines: All homework and lab reports should be readily readable, and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. In particular:
Accessibility: Please contact me immediately if you have special physical circumstances, e.g. impaired vision, which may affect the accessibility of any course components. I will do my best to facilitate necessary arrangements or resources.