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Education

Kernighan Teaches... Liberal Arts? 134

Flamerule writes "The New York Times has an article (free registration required) examining a new course Brian Kernighan is teaching at Princeton, called "Computers in Our World", aimed at liberal arts students who won't be going into the tech field. The author describes it as "a kind of intellectual smorgasbord, combining public policy - like technology's impact on privacy, copyright and antitrust matters - with large helpings of practical knowledge of how things work, from operating systems to disk drives." The K&R text is mentioned, though not as reverently as some would demand."
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Kernighan Teaches... Liberal Arts?

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  • Privacy??? (Score:1, Insightful)

    ... like technology's impact on privacy ...


    The question: do we have privacy? That that right was taken away Microshaft and the government back in the late 1990's ...

    This will be on the exam.

    • Re:Privacy??? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NewbieV ( 568310 ) <victor...abraham ... ot@@@gmail...com> on Thursday October 31, 2002 @11:03AM (#4571833)
      *sighs because it feels like I'm feeding a troll*

      Yes, we still have some privacy, and I agree that we have less than we did before, but more importantly, we have an ever-increasing awareness in the general population that privacy is important, and that some people are pushing the pendulum too far to one side in the name of: 1. security; 2. increased profits; 3. (insert your reason here).

      When people realize that there is a difference between privacy and anonymity, when people realize that they are giving away rights they took for granted, and when they (collectively) get concerned enough to complain in a loud, clear and compelling voice, then maybe we can push the pendulum back to the other side, or at least back to the middle, where it belongs.

      Teaching classes like this is a great way to empower people outside of the tech/geek population.
  • by BetterThanJimbo ( 580062 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:00AM (#4571430)
    I think this is exactly the types of classes needed out there.

    For all the people who know nothing of issues like electronic voting, DMCA, Elrdrid v. Ashcroft, the hardest thing was to get the idea out to non-computer folk. Raising awareness of complex technical issues is usually next to impossible, and this is a great start.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:24AM (#4571497) Homepage Journal
      I think this is exactly the types of classes needed out there.

      For all the people who know nothing of issues like electronic voting, DMCA, Elrdrid v. Ashcroft, the hardest thing was to get the idea out to non-computer folk. Raising awareness of complex technical issues is usually next to impossible, and this is a great start.


      It's a start, yes, but it's not enough. This is going to be a bit of rant, I'm afraid ...

      Why in God's name do students at Princeton -- Princeton, which at least used to be known as the greatest math school in the US! -- need to take only one course in "quantitative reasoning?" As a math major at a perfectly average state college [mscd.edu], I had to take quite a few classes in English, communications, history, and other liberal arts subjects. I'm not complaining about this; a good liberal education is, and should be, part of what being a college graduate in any subject means.

      But "liberal education" should include science as well as liberal arts. There's no reason at all why students "headed toward degrees in politics, history, English, art history, psychology and economics" shouldn't learn how to differentiate a polynomial, calculate Gibbs free energy, or write "Hello, World." Studying the effects of science and technology on our world is all well and good, but those studies will only mean something if they know what science actually looks like.

      I'm with Clarke on this one, not snow: there are not two cultures. There is only one culture, and if you can't discourse on the structure of a sonnet and the second law of thermodynamics with equal ease, then you're uncultured, period.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I'm with Clarke on this one, not snow: there are not two cultures.
        No, you're with Snow. He thought the art/science separation was a bad thing too.
        • No, you're with Snow. He thought the art/science separation was a bad thing too.
          Oh, okay, I guess I didn't realize that. I thought he simply made the "two cultures" observation without making any moral judgement. Does that misconception make me uncultured? ;)
      • I know you dont directly claim this in your post, but how is taking a derivative or being able to write hello world going to allow you to make decisions on/become informed about issues like digital rights management and the DMCA? I mean it takes something pretty close to a full CS degree to *really* understand the complexities of making an electronic voting system. I do not feel that if everyone had a background in CS/math/physics/whatever, that we would necessarily be better off. I spent most of my time in classes learning theory, and programming. Issues like DRM were never discussed. If I was a strictly by the books student, I would be just as clueless as my grandmother about the DMCA. Point being, is that Kernhigan's class hits the nail right on the head. It puts the issues in terms someone not familiar with concepts like hard drive firmware can understand, and even better, he actually goes a bit into the technical side of the problem. What more could you ask for? He should be giving required lectures to congress, judges, lawyers, soccer moms, anyone and everyone who will or will not listen. He should stand on the top of the empire state building with a giant megaphone and start lecturing or pirating major broadcast stations to achieve the same result. Yeah it would be wonderful if everyone could understand at the blink of an eye why preventing only german users from seeing certain sites is a fundamentally difficult and pretty much futile endeavor without putting up another great firewall of china. But, for now, this is the exact medicine we need for the problem. This type of class should be mandatory for students, even if it has to replace CSI101 in our schools.

        • I know you dont directly claim this in your post, but how is taking a derivative or being able to write hello world going to allow you to make decisions on/become informed about issues like digital rights management and the DMCA?

          I can imagine a lot of socially relevent conversations where understanding the distinction between source and object code would be a prerequisite. People who have written hello world likely understand it and otherwise would likely be lost. Not that one couldn't explain this distinction verbally, but who's going to remember this abstraction without a minimum of experience?

        • Understanding how computers are programmed will help people understand the usefulness of programs, what they can and can't do, and why certain laws are a bad idea. Look, I started out in math and CS with very little knowledge of how computers actually worked -- I was a computer-literate user, but the only programming I'd done in years was writing DOS batch files and AppleScripts. So if someone had said to me, "We should require everyone to use unbreakable copy-protection on CD's" I might have had some moral qualms with the idea -- but I wouldn't have made possibly the most important realization about the subject, which is that unbreakable copy-protection is impossible. OTOH, it didn't take me long at all once I started actually writing programs to realize how easy it is to get down to the bit level, to learn that a human being can get to any information that the computer can in a few lines of code. That's just one example out of many.

          I chose the three examples I did for a reason. Differentiating a polynomial gives people a feel for the difference between values and rates of change of values, and if nothing else that's useful in interpreting the economic numbers that politicians love to throw around. The equations for Gibbs free energy are probably the most elegant statements of thermodynamic laws ever, and are useful for understanding why creationist propaganda like "the second law of thermodynamics makes evolution impossible" is bunk. Writing "Hello, World" teaches people what a program is, what an operating system is, what the command line is, and perhaps most importantly that computers aren't magical creatures.
        • I think that perhaps you are not looking at role of math/science/sc in a liberal arts degree properly. First and foremost, a liberal arts degree is intended to be a broad based education, where the most important part of the education is THINKING. To succeed in a liberal arts enviroment, you need to be able to think, research, think some more and write.

          How does this apply to DMCA and digital rights management? Fundamentally, DMCA has little to do with the complexities of implimenting a technical solution, but with whether something like digital rights should exist. To view this issue properly (at least in context of US society) requires knowlege of political and social history, US society, and individuals legal rights. In addition to considering the historical precedents for or against digital rights management, you have to think about what precedents this may set for the future of the society and government. This is the real issue with digital rights management - not the technical details of implimentation.

          The fundamental question is not whether a drm solution can be created, but whether a drm solution SHOULD be created. Whether a solution can be created is just details - and the minimal exposure to computers that a class like Mr. Kernigan's provides should be enough to allow the students to research whether a drm solution can be done.

      • What does "liberal arts" mean anyway? Not a toll (please do not consider my handle), I really do understand the meaning. I this some qualification in studies? A certain type of study? (It says in the article "Politicans" for example)

        To stay on topic: I always have been saying that people using computers should have a minimum knowlegde on the basic principles. I'm glad that now some schools teach those instead of "Word and Excel 101". Worst thing is that the word in my language for "computer science" is unfortunately misused in high school to denote "computer classes".
        In my country I'm not proud to say I'm a computer scientist because most people relate that to "using computer".

        • "Liberal Arts" is kind of an umbrella term for stuff that isn't science, engineering, business, or fine arts. History, philosophy, political science, literature, and communications (e.g., speech, foreign language) usually fall into this category. Basically, it's the stuff that one has traditionally needed to know to be considered educated. My argument is that immensely valuable, but in the modern world, by itself not enough. I have an equally negative reaction to engineers who dismiss the value of Shakespeare and English majors who dismiss the value of calculus, myself ...
        • > What does "liberal arts" mean anyway?

          Although these days definitions vary, the origin of ther term is very exact anhd comes from medieval educational system.

          From http://www.athena.edu/intro/eidos/eidosdef.html [athena.edu]:
          Grammar, rhetoric and logic constituted the Trivium while arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music comprised the Quadrivium: combined, these fields of study were called the Seven Liberal Arts.

          Interestingly, unlike most modern "liberal arts == no science" ideas, in the original, 4 out of 3 were sciences, although classifying logic as science is shaky considering it was not the mathematical logic taught in discrete math these days.

          -DVK

      • The structure of a sonnet? The second law of thermodynamics? You must be kidding, right? Most Americans don't know what rights the First Amendment guarantees. Most Americans don't think they're a cultured know-it-all, polymath (such as yourself) who can discourse on anything.
        • Yes, I do think I'm a cultured polymath. I don't think I know it all, but I do think I know a great deal. I think this makes me a better programmer, a better citizen, and a better human being. I'd like to see the same in my fellow Americans. Do you have a problem with this?
          • You're arrogant and you don't understand economics.

            Society is more efficient when people specialize. You write programs, I build houses, my wife writes books, etc. Since I build houses, I don't need to know the structure of a sonnet (my wife is an expert on that). Since I don't program, I don't need to know how to make a computer print "Hello World" on the screen (you can do that).

            When we all work together within our specialty, the world is more efficient. We don't need polymaths as their knowledge is typically broad and shallow. Whereas specialists have narrow, but deep knowledge that benefits everyone.
            • [sigh] I understand specialization perfectly well. I also understand that if we get too specialized, we're insects.

              I also think you misunderstand what a polymath is. It's not "jack of all trades and master of none." It's "jack of many trades and master of some." This is a crucial distinction.
            • Pot, kettle, black

              When we all work together within our specialty, the world is more efficient. We don't need polymaths as their knowledge is typically broad and shallow.

              Let us see, I have degrees in electronic engineering, nuclear physics. I have designed or contributed to the design of many of the technologies that allow you to read this post.

              One of the reasons why I am a leading contributor to the development of security standards is precisely that I have in depth knowledge of fields besides computer science.

              For example all of my specifications are designed with a comprehensive business model in mind. Whether the specification is to be free or not and whether the code is to be free or not it must still offer significant value to end users. This is a considerable challenge for network protocols which typically suffer from being at the wrong end of Metcalf's law, the part where the network is too small for joining to be attractive.

              I am also familliar with contemporary trends in analytican and continental philosophy. My college tutor was Tony Hoare and so I am very familliar with the application of Russell's typed set theory and the logical positivist view of computing. I have also worked at the AI lab and so I am also familliar with contemporary philosophical thought, in particular hermeneutics. A good deal of the design of the Web is based on hermeneutics.

              So no, your assertion that bredth equals shallowness is completely false and you will find at any elite academic institutions many individuals who are making world class contributions in areas that are not joined in the traditional academic structures.

              To take yet another example, Richard Feynman made major contributions to the development of parallel computing devices - he needed them for his research. Tim Berners-Lee was also a physicist.

              Contemporary academia suffers from over specialization and from artificial boundaries introduced by considerations of tenure and prestige.

      • a good liberal education is, and should be, part of what being a college graduate in any subject means.
        I almost agree, just one minor change: a good liberal education is, and should be, part of what being a University graduate in any subject means.

        Pretty much every University's mission or charter is to provide a broad education in addition to (book) expertise in a specific field of study. I think the argument most of us have is that they need to do a better job of keeping up with the times as far as what elements should be part of this broad education, but for the most part their intentions are good.

        However, small colleges and technical schools should be able to focus specifically on one area if they choose, so students can choose that route if it's more appropriate for them. One size does not fit all.

        Society is best served if most people have broad experiences to give them perspective and yet a small percentage are allowed to focus singlemindedly on a specific field of expertise.

        Ideal world aside, I have to admit that I was pretty upset when the University I attended forced me to take some classes not even remotely connected to my major--not because I was against learning the material but because I objected to being forced to pay for it.

      • by Didion Sprague ( 615213 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @11:07AM (#4571853)
        There is only one culture, and if you can't discourse on the structure of a sonnet and the second law of thermodynamics with equal ease, then you're uncultured, period.

        Interesting. I agree with your notion about a single culture.

        But the idea that you -- or anyone -- picks a single thing out of the culture and says, well, if you don't know this thing, you're uncultured -- well, this is bad. I agree, though, in an ideal world we should be able to discourse on the structure of a sonnet and the second law of thermodynamics. But I disagree with the idea that if you don't know these two things, you're uncultured.

        This reminds me of the so-called 'culture wars' that went on several years ago. Roger Shattuck, Dinish D'Souza (sp?), Roger Kimball -- everybody was chiming in with lists of stuff. You gotta know about the Spanish Armada, about Amerigo Vespucci. You gotta know what country wrote the 'Lusiads' and why, in the history of poetry (and exploration) why the Lusiads are important.

        My concern with all this -- and I haven't yet made up my mind how best to approach it -- is that when we start talking about "lists" or about "stuff we need to know, or else", we're often blindsided by a kind of subconscious -- or silent -- xenophobia. The stuff we need to know is largely "Western" -- both in its cultural orientation and in its ... well, in its hegemonic stature. Edward Said -- much as I find his 'Orientalism' shrill and oftentimes difficult to read -- has (I think) some valid concerns about the 'Westernization' of cultural ideas and the dangers of unbidden (or uncritical) hegemony.

        So as not to venture too far off-topic, I'd say that while I agree with your general idea of diversity among the disciplines, I'd like to see it pushed even farther -- but not too far, not so far that, suddenly, the same ol' moral relativism looms and threatens to say, well, everybody's right, no one's right, and the oppressed are *really* right. I'm not sure where to draw the line.

        But I think in addition to science and math, most students (IMHO) simply need to READ more. Novels, poetry, biography. Read, read, read. Whatever. But be unrelenting in your reading. Pursue stuff in college that you never thought you'd read.

        If you're a reader, you learn how to become a critical thinker -- and this skill -- critical thinking -- is equally important across all disciplines: math, science, literature, philosophy, you name it.

        It's nice to know stuff. And it's nice to think that you know the right stuff. But unless you're equipped to think about what you know -- and play the complex game of mental-connect-the-dots -- it's easy enough to discourse on the sonnet, discourse on the second law of thermodynamics, discourse on the mystical nature of the Kaballah and not realize that all three of things and more -- you name it -- are all, somehow, somewhere connected.

        • If you're a reader, you learn how to become a critical thinker -- and this skill -- critical thinking -- is equally important across all disciplines: math, science, literature, philosophy, you name it.
          I beg to differ. That may be true in some fields, but until you learn how to solve problems in fields such as math and physics, or write programs in computer science, you will not develop particularly strong critical thinking skills as you claim. It's probably akin to the ability to write creatively in language fields.
          • Critical thinking is what contributes to problem solving. But remember, the best problem solvers are creative thinkers. Call it creative thinking, critical thinking -- whatever floats your boat. But until you learn to see both the big picture and the little picture, you're stuck in a rut. And reading -- wide, hungry, voracious reading -- is usually the key to getting the noggin' in gear.
            • Call it what you like. The bottom line is that you don't really understandmath and physics and computer science until you can actually solve problems or write programs. Reading alone does not get you there.

              For that matter, people can read a whole bunch without developing critical thinking skills. I agree that reading is a prerequisite, but it's definitely not sufficient.
      • This trend starts in Highschool. At least in Ontario Canada, anyway.

        The Ontario curriculum mandates that all students take 5 english courses while only taking 2 math courses. This has always really annoyed me...more for the fact that I found the english as useless as an english major would find math courses.

        I agree with your point. If 'math/science people' have to take arts courses, 'arts people' should have to take the same amount of math/science courses. It's only fair...and it does lead to being more rounded. I can honestly say that I enjoyed the History courses I chose for my arts credit.

        -Ben
        • The Ontario curriculum mandates that all students take 5 english courses while only taking 2 math courses.

          While I believe that a person with a broader outlook will usually do better than a narrow specialist I actually oppose most curricular mandates at University.

          There is simple no point in trying to teach people a subject they are not interested in.

          That does not mean that there should not be requirements for various courses. For example I got very pissed off with postgrad physicists who simply refused to learn how to use a computer properly. Like it or not the computer is not the primary tool of practically all science the way that the microscope was the primary tool for biologists.

          Most attempts at forcing a broad curriculum are led by narrow minded arts professors who think it is OK to be ignorant of science but that the arts are somehow more important. Learning a second language is a pointless requirement, all foreigners speak English and all journals worth a damn are published in English. I have worked at top institutions in Germany, France and the US without learning the local language.

      • The University of Pennsylvania has requirements similar to Princeton's. We do require only one course in "Quantitative Data Analysis" (formerly called "Quantitative Skills") but this is only part of the distribution requirements which also include "formal reasoning" and other sciences. The Quantitative Data Analysis requirement is to familiarize students with inferences from data, as they are made in the social and natural sciences and even sometimes the humanities. Penn now also has a new "computing certificate," not a requirement but an option, for Arts and Sciences undergraduates. This is a sequence of three courses culminating in some sort of project. It requires learning programming, but it is far less than majoring in computer science (which is in the engineering school). In sum, the Ivy League seems to be moving toward greater recognition of the importance of science, data, and computers as part of a liberal education. We, at Penn, are feeling our way. These are experiments, and they will be revised with more experience (and data!).
      • Too much math would lead to an unwanted amount of critical thinking in certain Social Science and Humanities classes.

        Many soc/sci and some humanities classes are exercises in learning a dogma. The best way to succeed in those classes is to buy into that dogma quickly and write your papers accordingly.

        In other words, many soc/sci and some humanities classes are about learning "the truth" about the area of study and have nothing to do with facilitating a sharing of ideas.

        After all, if new ideas were easily added to the mix, what would the faculty members' experience memorizing and internalizing the old ideas be worth?

        Much of this has to do with the way that many social sciences are rooted in some kind of activism. I call this "blinders with a purpose", and it accompanies the disdain felt by some social scientists for those who choose 'hard science' (aka science in which hypotheses are testable).

        Sorry to rant. My point is, great job to K for attempting to enlighten the 'enlightened'.
      • ...you might want to demand that students seeking technical degrees learn to speak and write their native language. (Not that your comment reflects a lack of understanding, but poor grammar and spelling *are* far too common among techies). The bottom line is that language skills are not mutually exclusive with analytical skills, especially when you recognize that being able to convey your meaning accurately is step one in most undertakings.
      • There is only one culture, and if you can't discourse on the structure of a sonnet and the second law of thermodynamics with equal ease, then you're uncultured, period.

        Shit, the vast majority of people don't even know
        what a sonnet is and have never heard of the laws of thermodynamics.

        You make the mistake of assuming that because you have the capability to understand certain concepts, everyone else should be able to as well.
      • first of all the QR requirment isnt the only one at princeton they are:

        Epistemology & Cognition (EC) one course
        Ethical Thought & Moral Values (EM) one course
        Historical Analysis (HA) one course
        Quantitative Reasoning (QR) one course
        Literature and Arts (LA) two courses
        Social Analysis (SA) two courses
        Science and Technology (ST) two courses (one lab course)

        thats for a libral arts degree the BSE degree is obviously much more science heavy.

        Now for why I dont want to see MORE math science in the distribution requirments. I agree with you that it would be good for everyne to better understand programing but think about the other fields that could make a similar claim, anthro could just as easily say that you shouldnt leave campus without having studied a different culture so you can better understand your own. or the arts could demand that you take one course on painting so that youll be able to better appreciate the fine arts in your later life. The english department could demand that everyone at least learns basic grammer and spelling, which you can see from most of my posts im not the best at.

        All of these are good ideas but if you throw too many of them in the idea of "Electives" and the possibility of getting a certificate (princeton version of a minor) beyond your field of major flies out the window. three courses is enough to introduce people if not toeverything at least to a variety of science and if something catches their attention there's nothing stopping them from exploring it further.

        (oh and as a side note Princeton still is the greatest math school in the US!)*

        *the above statment was completely unbiased and should be take as such,thereby mortaly insulting all memebers of other institutions.
      • I can't speak for every school, of course, but the place where I got my BA required a healthy dose of science courses for all majors. It was the science majors who got off a little easy from the arts requirements if anyone did.
      • ..is to develop thinking, reasoning, and decision-making skills and the ability to analyze things from different viewpoints. A well-informed population will not be hood-winked by PR FUD put out by sneaky corporations bent on protecting marketshare. For instance, people who have taken a programming class or two would 1)have more respect for programmers' skills who do it for a living, and 2) be much less likely to tolerate M$. When people know nothing, they seem to tolerate shoddy workmanship, but when they are informed, they are more choosey.

        Engineering skills in general make life so much more easy to deal with. It's all about not panicking about the presence of a problem long enough to solve it. I'm in a math class right now in which so many of my classmates freak out when they encounter a story problem. They can't seem to let go of that fear long enough to even TRY.

        When I was in high school, I didn't know much about computers beyond starting Microsoft Word and typing papers for classes. Computers intimidated me. At some point, though, I got really tired of feeling intimidated and confronted my fears by takings some classes in electronics and computers. I proceeded to find out how cool all that stuff was and now I am an all-around science geek.

        My point is, the more we shy away from anything that scares us, the more we lose. Geeks, that means we should confront our fears of politics and getting involved. We have isolated ourselves long enough.

        SheWhoWalksWithToesLikeCobras

      • There is a problem with your assertion: lack of time. A bachelors degree is 4-5 years of school (depend on if you rush it or take things slow). To learn everything you think I should know I would have needed to cram 30 years of class into my 5 years. There isn't time for that.

        People need a broad range fo exposure, and a specality. Thermodynamics is all well and good, but to understand it, as a side to their normal schooling, takes more time than anyone has to give. Sure you can quote the second law like a parrot, and might mention it once or twice, but to understand it enough to make it useful to know takes years of study.

        I have a large range of skills that I can do, and every day I watch people (some not as smart as me) to things that I can't do. I can change a diaper (and I don't have kids), do CPR, weld steel, hang a picture, change a tire, balance my checkbook, and many more things. Most of those are simple basics that I'd put on the list of things to know. Most people do not know CPR, few can weld, some should not hang a picture, simple as it sounds. (and they are not idiots, just no mechanicly ability). Off the top of my head: I cannot spell, do that touch your toes thing from gym. There are many more things that I can't do, but the point is that I don't have ability or time to do everything.

        You should have some exposure to basic things. Today tires are reliable enough that most people wouldn't have to know how to change one, just to replace it every few years. In the past tires blew much more often and so it was a required task.

    • Totally agreed. Having a CS qualification, and now having spent six years in the Liberal Arts, I personally believe I can argue with most people on most of these topics under the table.
      It's a funny thing. There are still those in the arts monstering about proclaiming that VR is the "next big thing" and will revolutionise the world in a sort of sadcase Wired sorta way. Most can barely even operate a mouse and have perhaps missed that VR has been and passed and the revolution *didn't happen*, and probably *aint gonna happen*.
      Or in the Journalism classes with lecurers on online journalism claiming that Altavista is the latest and greatest search engine and never having *hear* of Blog journalism and the whole gonzo paradigm shift.
      For a good giggle , try my old trick, and do a semiotics class and argue your paper using Catastrophy math... "I still don't understand why a small shift leading to a big jump is a catastrophy and WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT HORRID EQUATION ON YOUR PAGE?". Heeeee!

      But that said, most CS guys are clueless on politics too. Many of our open source community have never gotten past the simplistic RMS/ESR libertarian gone wrong politics or can see why we look like goofs arguing for small government AND small business without understanding the subtlties of arguments used against such things.

      Hands up is you "get" Rawls? What about Kants moral Imperrative? Do you understand what Foucault actually means when he talks about the Panopticon.

      Sadly the culture divide between the sciences and the humanities runs both way. Time to "deconstruct the difference folks"
      • Do you understand what Foucault actually means when he talks about the Panopticon.

        While interesting the important thing is to understand Derrida and read Foucault. Derrida is the idea, Foucault the implementation.
        • I presume you imply not to bother with "reading" Derrida! (Plowing thru 'Glas' is an exerience not unlike chewing ones own arms off)

          As for the connections between the two, I tend to think it's pretty superficial. Derrida places subjectivity on a strictly textual plane of semiosis , while Foucault tends to look for the discursive practices and techniques behind subjectivity and being. Although both do seem to take some cues from the whole post-sausarian structuralist project, really they are both arguing entirely different things.

          Eitherway, while I think Foucault has a *lot* to offer the whole debate over social construction and interaction with the net and the growing surveilance culture developing around it, trying to plug Derrida into IT is really inviting dark counsel. The only difference is that Derrida is stilll pluggin' away while Foucault rolled off the mortal coil before the whole net thing really happened (As we know it today).
    • I whole heartedly agree--perception of information whether it more fiction than fact is what he's trying to overcome.

      We need more of it versus rants about past institutional histrionics and how they have fallen from some preconceived notion of Grace.
  • by Derwen ( 219179 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:00AM (#4571431) Homepage
    "The K&R text is mentioned, though not as reverently as some would demand"
    Then they should have got Saint Ignucius [stallman.org] to write the article. ;-)

  • Depth (Score:3, Informative)

    by Omkar ( 618823 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:23AM (#4571496) Homepage Journal
    Will these students be exposed to computing in enough depth to understand the finer details? To the layperson, patenting software is always OK, but to me, in some cases, it seems like patenting a theorem in math. Another example is the RIAA's legal maneuvers. If people didn't swap mp3s, they'd probably swallow the RIAA propaganda about stealin from artists by downloading songs.

    I think a course solely devoted to the changing nature of copyright and patents today (esp. IT and biotech) could create more awareness of today's issues.
    • they'd probably swallow the RIAA propaganda about stealin from artists by downloading songs

      Well, they do swallow that propaganda but don't care too much. Often they don't even have enough technical knowledge to choose CD-R's. I noticed my sister always buying CD-R-Audio to burn her MP3's/copy audio CD's and I asked her why. Well, she actually thought you could only burn audio on such CD's. How many people out there believe exactly the same thing?
      Big surprise to her when I told her she was paying more for nothing, but I also told her: buying these kinds of CD's actually "pays you free of piracy" (which is true in my opinion - same as casettes). Now she still buys CD-R-Audio, but for a reason: it allows her to pirate without guilt.
      This has become a bit offtopic, right? Sorry...

  • by Nate B. ( 2907 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:24AM (#4571501) Homepage Journal
    As noted in the article, upon explanation of the inner workings of a computer and that it just manipulates bits really fast, one of the students said he had an "aha" revelation. This is the kind of thing that should be taught to everyone in school.

    Dinking with Word and Paint, don't de-mystify the machine. Only by having a basic (no pun intended) understanding of the machine and what it does will a person be willing to control it. So many folks that have computers are so intimidated by them that they are afraid to control the machine. Changing fundamental settings like wallpaper truly scares some people. (Insert gratuitous MS slam here)

    Equally important is the discussion and enlightenment these students will get on matters of copyright, law as it is being applied to computing, and patents. Only a well informed citizenry will prevent the spate of knee-jerk reactions to minor problems. Perhaps a well educated citizenry will clean up the ridiculous mess that is the DMCA and software patents.

    I hope This kind of course gets cloned and used in education everywhere. It's desperately needed.
    • On the contrary, dinking with word and paint are far more important than understanding how the machine works.

      I have no interest in whether the driver of the car in front of me can change the oil or clean the sparkplugs, still less whether they understand how a racing cam works. What I want to know is whether they can steer the thing and obey the traffic regulations that prevent us from killing each other.

      So comprehending the possible uses of computing power perfectly entitle joe public to have an opinion on technological law.

      (Incidentaly I assume that most people have a view on the legality of cloning without a detailed knowledge of genetics).

      The problems the world faces with respect to laws and new technology are in my opinion - actualy the problems that the individual faces when confronted by business interests. Whilst arguing the fine details of what is technically possible may persuade the legislators to adjust the laws more towards the interests of the individual in society it is unlikely. What you realy need to do is get some political buy in on the idea of limiting the rights of big business to enslave their customers.

      Sadly as the primary religion of the US is "making money is good" you havent got a cats chance in hell of getting reasonable laws.

      However I agree with you, courses which raise the issues of our times are very worthwhile to equip students with an understanding of their world.
    • "Dinking with Word and Paint, don't de-mystify the machine."

      Okay, "Don't demystify the machine." is an imperative clause. You are telling me not to demystify the machine.

      But I don't understand the first sentence fragment. "Dinking with Word and Paint." There is no subject and no verb. Dinking is a gerund, so we need to know who is dinking, and then we need a linking verb. "I am dinking..." would work. But then you wouldn't use a comma. You wouldn't say, "I am dinking with word, please don't de-mystify the machine." unless de-mystifying the machine would interfere with whoever is dinking.

      Maybe I'm missing something... Please explain.
  • cat got my tongue (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Graspee_Leemoor ( 302316 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:30AM (#4571518) Homepage Journal
    I'm mainly just writing this to see if I can, since /. seems to be borken, judging by the number of comments on each story.

    So, what to say ?

    You see a lot of "old time" computer programmers slowing down these days- it's sort of sad. It shows us that however brilliant we are at programming there will come a time when we have to slow down.

    The difference between true greats and us (if you consider yourself a "true great" then apologies, and "fuck you!") is that when they slow down they are still brilliant enough and have enough energy to change the world, either through writing, or lectures.

    Does anyone know of any great programmers who are old, say over 60 ? I would be interested. Probably some people who are really famous are that old, but I just didn't realize their age....

    graspee

    • > Does anyone know of any great > programmers who are old, say over 60 My Dad. OK, maybe not what the average geek might think of as "great" as in Knuth, K+R, Plauger etc. He co-authored 3 books, worked for a long time as a researcher and at one point had a bunch of grad students trying to prove one of his little "thumbnail" statistcal algorithms was correct (it was). Dad retired earlier this year (he turned 70 this month) and in the midst of heping him and mom move to a new house the first thing I notice is he already has his computer set up...
  • by tbonium ( 521815 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:31AM (#4571523)

    All the computing sector needs is an influx of people who think they know something about computers.

    These people get a government job, and start telling their contractors what to do and how to do it

    This courses introduction should be "Here is what real software engineers do (insert comlex UML diagram here), and this course won't prepare you to even get there."

    • All the computing sector needs is an influx of people who think they know something about computers.

      These people get a government job, and start telling their contractors what to do and how to do it

      This courses introduction should be "Here is what real software engineers do (insert comlex UML diagram here), and this course won't prepare you to even get there."


      Nice troll.

      To paraphrase, I believe it's Swift, "a little learnin' is a dangerous thing", true. However, there's "a little learnin'" and awareness raising. How many people here moan about users who can't diagnose the most basic of hardware/software related problems. It's not because they don't want to diagnose the issue it's because they've been told that their computer is a dreadully complicated beast that they can never hope to understand. So if the printer doesn't print, it must be a problem that can only be resolved by a call to tech support rather than a quick check to see if the power is on, if the cables are plugged in or if the OS is reporting an error.

      This course goes further though. It doesn't teach "howtos" -- which I agree can lead to trouble, it teaches fundamentals. What is it that makes a computer tick? How does it work? How is that mouse gestures and keystrokes make things go that then appear on a monitor. This is grand stuff to know and to teach. This isn't taught on a systems-level, but on a conceptual level. Nobody is going to come out of this thinking they can become kernel hackers.

      What are you anyway? A programmer? an engineer? Whatever it is that you do, do you really believe that you shouldn't know about things outside of your core competence? Aren't you ever intrigued by the workings of nature? physics? What if a physcist said to you, "hey now, don't go reading that quantum physics stuff, you're liable to think you know something about it and cause a disaster." Or if a chef freaked because they saw you fingering a cookbook?

    • This course[' sic]s introduction should be "Here is what real software engineers do (insert com[p]lex UML diagram here), and this course won't prepare you to even get there."

      [PEDANTIC][IRONY]
      Apparently your English course did something similar when came to use of apostrophes to indicate possession?
      [/IRONY][/PEDANTIC]
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is very true. As an example, one of my friend studied in business school and did ecommerce classes. Now he thinks he can design ecommerce systems "the programming part is pretty easy" as he exactly what he said. Now that guy got a job as a web programmer because he told that company he knew how to do this (and he wasn't saying this as a lie, he truly believed he could).

      Granted, the company was pretty stupid not to question him a little bit more to validate his claims, now their stuck with someone who never designed a database and is asking for my help with Access because it's the only thing he's able to work with. This can't be good for true programmers.

      I took a psychology class but I don't pretend to be a shrink. My first language is French and I also speak French but I don't pretend top be a professional translator.

      The only way to protect against this is professional organizations regulating some professions. In Canada, it's illegal to pretend to be an engineer if you haven't graduated from an accredited engineering university and you registered in your provincial Order (yes it's illegal for an MSCE and the like to put the word engineer on its CV or his business card).

      The Computer Scientist and Engineer profession need to protect themselves and the public a lot more as more and more people will learn a little bit and think they know it all.
      • My first language is French and I also speak French but I don't pretend top be a professional translator.

        Good thing, your translation skills would be severely limited by only speaking French!

        Although it's pretty clear you also know English. =]


  • I think this class is a good idea. RMS would be a perfect guest speaker for the class. Though a polarizing figure for some, he might be able to emphasize the importance of free software.
    • Bad idea: since RMS refuses to speak to an audience that says "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux" he cannot speak to neophytes. You know, if the layman heard of Linux, he heard of it as "Linux" and not "GNU/Linux".... so RMS would probably get a fit at the first class he'd have to speak to.
    • A polarizing figure? How about insanely stubborn and unreasonable? Not to mention absolutely huge.

      One of the things I learned in school is that there's a certain level of overall presentability required to be an effective teacher. Either you have to be good looking enough to offset how dumb you are, or you have to be smart enough to offset how ugly you are... and actual teaching skills are part of the mix, so you can't be intelligent, handsome, and a crappy teacher and be effective.

      I've seen professors who are dumb as shit, I've seen professors that have wet circles under their armpits all the time, and I've seen professors that couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag. Surprisingly enough, one of the professors I had who possessed just AWFUL B.O. turned out to be one of my best professors ever. And that I'll remember for the rest of my life - along with everything he taught in class.

      Of course, anyone can be a teacher. But from what I've seen, being effective is not always a requirement. And I don't think RMS would be effective. Sorry.
  • by Yossarian2000 ( 200994 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:38AM (#4571537)
    Sounds like an interesting class, but others have done this before. Boston College [bc.edu], for example, has had a course called Technology in Society [bc.edu] for a few years now.
    • Yeah and Stanford had it as a major when I was there (I even took a one year course in it) but the point of the article was that the K of K&R is teaching it.
    • No one is saying that he was first, but the article is missleading in that it makes it sound like this is the first time this course is offered. This is the courses' third year in it's current form, another similar course CS 111, was offered before this one, 109, took over. Im not sure how long 111 has been offered but it's been there for since 1998 at the latest.
  • Another good article is "The Elements of (Unix) Style" [meganet.net] abuot Unix as literature.

    Anyway, my point is that a lot of these Lberal Arts kids are going to be interested in knowledge about a wide area of subjets--that's the whole focus of a Liberal Arts education. Computers is another area (though, today it would be extra interesting since everyone uses them but so few know how the "magic" works) to learn about. Of course, there are always some who don't want to learn.

    I was wondering about textbooks or notes and looked up the course info at Princeton's site. It's COS 109... unfortunately they don't have many details but searching for K himself led me to his notes and problem sets [princeton.edu] (link is HTML, but notes are pdf). He obviously used cal(1) for the schedule, too.

    Enjoy!

    • I agree, both CS and the "classical humanities" (ala classics, history, languages, political "science") share a certain analytical methodology. Having majored in both computer science and English, I've heard from classmates the seeming apprehension (perhaps even disdain) each side holds. It basically stems from a type of closed mentality; a lot of CS enthusiasts and students shy from the seeming frivolous creativity and expression in classics; a lot of classical humanities majors avoid the "heavy math" of the sciences. In fact these views are misled. Granted, there's always an artistic element in studying a discipline, but one must often thoroughly understand the building blocks of various disciplines before attempting to define and explore the sinergy of "CS and Liberal Arts." An incorrect approach to "combine" or "bridge" the two camps would be to "talk down" to each discipline; you end up with dissatisfied students. You need more cross-discipline professors, as Professor K teaching a "liberal arts" seminar, or an esteemed classics professor teaching a programming languages concepts course. Unfortunately they're few and far between.
  • It's nice to see schools offering a more in-depth computer course to non-CS/CompE/EE types. Students in many of the programs at "America's Next Great University" [uky.edu] are required to take CS 101, which is mostly a mind-numbingly simple introduction to Micro$oft Office. The first lab assignment in that class consisted of finding the power button and learning how to operate it.

    The simple fact is that computers and computer-related issues are playing a larger role in the day-to-day life of the average American citizen. I'd rather have someone who's been through this course writing the next DMCA than some octogenarian senator from the deep south who has never been within 10 feet of a computer.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @09:48AM (#4571565)
    I attend both MIT and Stanford and found the MIT students to be more informed about everything than the Stanford or Harvard students. MIT requires a minimum of two years of science and math courses (most take much more), while the other two schools much less than that. You could talk about anything with MIT students at late night dorm sessions- technology, politics, literature, philosophy, social action, etc. The other places the students werent as widely knowledgeable. They would intentionally avoid technology and philosphy.
    • This is an interesting [mis]perception. I'm not about to judge how you came to such a conclusion, but my experience was quite different. I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill [unc.edu], a public flagship state university not necessarily renowned for engineering. The types of acquaintances I made were highly-educated and quite knowledgeable across the board. Certainly there was a strong current of "non-techiness" among certain student groups, but generally the students are quite well-informed.
    • Avoiding talking about philosophy shows you know more about it, not less.
    • by T1girl ( 213375 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @10:45AM (#4571746) Homepage
      I attend both MIT and Stanford
      Wow, you must have a heck of a commute!
    • I was frustrated at Stanford by the administration's efforts to make easy math and science courses for the fuzzies. They actually put together a one year math and science overview course that would fulfill all requirements for say, English majors. Yet fuzzy students still complained about the burden placed upon them. Yet techies would have to take tons of real fuzzy courses, there were no simplified language courses or dummied-down African literature course. The distribution requirements were so one sided towards fuzzy courses it was a joke. Why shouldn't fuzzies have to take a real intro to programming course (106) instead of the Logo-based 105? Why should they get to take a physics class that was so simplified that no engineering student could recieve credit towards their major for it?

      That said, I had plenty of wonderful discussions about all sorts of things at Stanford. Just because someone hasn't had two years of math and science doesn't make them inferior.

      Of course, MIT probably doesn't have that many fuzzies going there, does it? So your peer group at MIT has already self selected when they decided to apply.

      • fuzzies huh? I honestly don't know the origin of that. Anyway, I went to a liberal arts uni in the northeast, and I was an english major. Personally, I avoid math at all costs (both my parents were math teachers, and one too many afternoons of practice later...) but I enjoyed all my courses, science included. The thing to keep in mind is that these courses aren't for you, as serious majors or really interested parties to take. Well, you can start off with them, thats part of their point. But I know english (et al) majors complain about such things, but I also hear hard science complain about the english or whatever classes they are 'forced' to take. I took a couple of those too, and they're equally light- to me. The simplified courses happen to everyone, but they're there for expousure. My roommate was a chem major, and while I don't think either of us really understands why the other likes what they do, we respect each other's interests, and know ('cause we consider ourselves intelligent folk) there's depth that only motivated study would reveal. I hear that MIT has a really good humanities system (crapload of money will do that)- just that its underutilized. And that they can't write- but then, lab reports aren't thesis. The point being, its up to everyone to learn a bit from other disciplines. But one class isn't going to make experts of everyone. Still, it could be worse. I spent a semester abroad and what the Scottish considered broadening your knowledge was a chem student studying physics or english history.

      • Your viewpoint would be a lot more palatable if you didn't insist on using a derogatory term like "fuzzies" every time you refer to non-Engineering students.
        • Fuzzies and techies are terms that were freely used and considered non-derogatory shorthand where I went to school. Your experience might have varied, but I have never before heard of anyone being offended by either term.
          • Fuzzies and techies are terms that were freely used and considered non-derogatory shorthand where I went to school. Your experience might have varied, but I have never before heard of anyone being offended by either term.

            And how often were those terms used by the "fuzzies" themselves? It IS insulting, not just to the person but to the subjects. Do you really think anything not science or technology related betrays "fuzzy" thinking?
            • And how often were those terms used by the "fuzzies" themselves?

              All the time. The terms were not seen as being perjorative. I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings. It was not my intention to do so. These terms were ubiquitous were I went to school, which was a place that was considered "extremely PC". They were used as a distinction, not an insult. I am sorry if you don't know the difference.

            • The terms are sufficiently non-derogatory that Stanford uses them in their recruiting material...at least they did 6 years ago when I applied there. And Stanford being the place it is (but not quite Berkeley), they wouldn't use those terms unless there was no risk of offending someone.

              Personally, I like the terms and use them all the time, even though I declined the offer of admission from Stanford. I think they're very descriptive.
              • Well it's not in common use around here. The only time I've heard the term is on slashdot, where it often IS derogatory (whining about how computer science majors/engineers are such well-rounded, literate people as opposed to those narrow ol' liberal arts types is where it usually pops up).
  • Anyone else have a dog-eared K&R out there?

    Liberal Arts? Really? Hmmm. I've got one of them valuable degrees. Had to go back and get a Master's in Computer Science it was so useful.

    Perhaps I need to re-read an <a href="http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~mihaib/kernighan-in terview/index.html">interview with Brian Kernighan</a>

    BTW, let's remember that Brian Kernighan is not a "high creator" of C. All he did was write the book with DMR. Here's an exact quote from the aforementioned interview:
    <i>"I can't comment on the 'worse', but remember, C is entirely the work of Dennis Ritchie"</i>

    Still, liberal arts? I guess so. I remember several times thinking "crap, this could be automated" ... That said will, as the TIMES article states, students doing "<i>... projects like making their own Web pages and writing a few simple programs ...</i>" give them anything more memorable than music appreciation gave business students twenty years ago?

    Personally, I think K would do everyone a favor is he actually did send the artsy ones into the inner regions of the macines. Computers are likely to be an every day tool in their careers - but just that - a tool. The students will need to learn how to remain creative and original in spite of the conveniences of a computer automating the drudgery of composing notes, sentences, graphics, etc ...

    Just the same way we need to keep teaching elemenatary school kids their times tables - in spite of the fact that they are now equipped with solar powered calculators.

    Of course, I can't let this go by without asking the all important question "<a href="http://www.healyourchurchwebsite.com/archive s/000417.shtml">What Would Bjarne Do?</a>"

  • Anyone else have a dog-eared 1st EDITION K&R C out there?

    Liberal Arts? Really? Hmmm. I've got one of them valuable degrees. Had to go back and get a Master's in Computer Science it was so useful.

    Perhaps I need to re-read an interview with Brian Kernighan [cmu.edu]

    BTW, let's remember that Brian Kernighan is not a "high creator" of C. All he did was write the book with DMR. Here's an exact quote from the aforementioned interview:
    "I can't comment on the 'worse', but remember, C is entirely the work of Dennis Ritchie"

    Still, liberal arts? I guess so. I remember several times thinking "crap, this could be automated" ... That said will, as the TIMES article states, students doing "... projects like making their own Web pages and writing a few simple programs ..." give them anything more memorable than music appreciation gave business students twenty years ago?

    Personally, I think K would do everyone a favor is he actually did send the artsy ones into the inner regions of the macines. Computers are likely to be an every day tool in their careers - but just that - a tool. The students will need to learn how to remain creative and original in spite of the conveniences of a computer automating the drudgery of composing notes, sentences, graphics, etc ...

    Just the same way we need to keep teaching elemenatary school kids their times tables - in spite of the fact that they are now equipped with solar powered calculators.

    On a lighter note, in a paper by by Dennis Ritchie detailing the history of Unix [bell-labs.com] we get this juicy quote about K's wit ...it was not well into 1970 that Brian Kernighan suggested the name 'Unix,' in a somewhat treacherous pun on 'Multics'...

    Of course, I can't let this go by without asking the all important question "What Would Bjarne Do? [healyourch...ebsite.com]"

    • Liberal Arts? Really? Hmmm. I've got one of them valuable degrees. Had to go back and get a Master's in Computer Science it was so useful.

      That strikes me as a prime example of the same attitude that has kept computer science basics out of consideration as a component of a liberal arts education. Getting a solid liberal arts degree isn't supposed to be "useful" for a specific application, it's supposed to useful for the development of your capacity to think, reason, and understand. And the great technological divide we have in American society is partly a result not just of non-geeks lacking basic knowledge about how computers work and what the policy implications of that might be, but of geeks being unable to explain (and often uninterested in explaining) that in terms that actually render it comprehensible.

      The students will need to learn how to remain creative and original in spite of the conveniences of a computer automating the drudgery of composing notes, sentences, graphics, etc ...

      If you seriously mean to imply that you get no joy from the act of composing a sentence, then how on Earth do you think someone not particularly interested in the inner workings of a computer feels when expected to use the arcane symbols associated with computer code? One of my best friends has a Masters in comp. lit., speaks four languages fluently and is learning a fifth, and is working on a novel, yet I can't get him to understand some of the most basic concepts of computer usage. He manages to use Word Perfect, and he can look up his stock quotes and even access investment research, but you have no idea how hard it was for him to figure out where a file went when he downloaded it. And he uses AOL, unsurprisingly. Yet, how many people in the U.S. who grew up speaking English at home can't even converse, let alone write, in a language other than English? How many Americans, geeks and non-geeks alike, can barely write a grammatical English sentence, let alone an elegant one, that actually manages to convey their thoughts?

      A course like K's is meant to start building bridges. I hope those bridges carry traffic in both directions. We might not be faced with legislation like the DMCA nor with some of the more absurd software patents had computer science not grown up as a relatively isolated field of specialization. The point isn't to label non-geeks as stupid because they don't know how Java works nor geeks as stupid because they've not read Mark Twain or Plato, the point is to fit the basics of computers within the basics of a broad and, yes, useful understanding of how our world is shaped.

      Michael

  • at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. It was called Computers in Society and we covered various issues like privacy, copyright issues, security, business on the web, the impact of computers' advancement on warfare and others (we had a list of like 11 subjects that we covered during the semester).

    Class itself was kind of interesting. Rather than the teacher lecturing, we broke up into 6 groups. Each week, two groups would do presentations based on research they did into the topic. The next class meeting (we met 2x a week), the groups would face off in a debate on the issues. This was kind of tough, because invariably we all wanted to argue the same side. This approach was really good though, because it forced the presenters to do their own research and find out things for themselves. It was sometimes not so good for the rest of the class, as an incomplete presentation wouldn't give you as much information.

    The only drawback to this class was that it was a 3000-level computer science course (equivalent of a 300-level course, I guess), and so we had only comp. sci. majors in there.

    This is an excellent idea though, since it will give people a chance to really learn about topics that ordinarily they might avoid, but will certainly impact them in the future.
    • Oh, and when I was at Stevens tech, they had a whole slew of introductory courses that *everyone* was required to take. Courses like calc 1 and 2, mechanics, E&M, chem 1 and 2, philosophy, literature... and comp sci classes. The first semester had the comp sci topic actually broken into two sections. The first covered the basics of how hardware functioned, the second semester was some very basic programming in visual basic. All simple stuff, but Stevens wanted to introduce you to this, and noone was exempt except for those who went into the "advanced" versions of the course.
      • Oh, and when I was at Stevens tech, they had a whole slew of introductory courses that *everyone* was required to take. Courses like calc 1 and 2, mechanics, E&M, chem 1 and 2, philosophy, literature... and comp sci classes. The first semester had the comp sci topic actually broken into two sections. The first covered the basics of how hardware functioned, the second semester was some very basic programming in visual basic. All simple stuff, but Stevens wanted to introduce you to this, and noone was exempt except for those who went into the "advanced" versions of the course.

        Back when I was at Stevens, we were required to take a three-credit humanities course every semester (avg load each semester: 20 credits). In retrospect, it seems like it was an excellent requirement. I could have done without MGT 442, the class where they taught you what sort of tie to wear to job interviews.

        Stevens certainly did offer a well-rounded engineering curriculum. You touched on every discipline: mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical, pure physics, pure chemistry, pure mathematics. I only wish there was more in terms of practical stuff; the EE labs were typically non-challenging.

        Of course, this was back when the DEC Pro350 was what we were required to purchase :) ASIC synthesis tools weren't taught because they didn't exist.

  • For this tagline:

    from the old-programmers-are-never-free()'ed dept.

    This was probably the funniest one I've read on /. so far. Thanks for a good laugh!

  • dept (Score:2, Funny)

    by vectra14 ( 470008 )
    from the old-programmers-are-never-free()'ed dept.

    no duh, they're delete'ed.
  • I spent the last school year working on a thesis project with BWK and all I can say about his efforts teaching are that I can't think of a better way to teach these types of things. I took a course of his beforehand, and he's by far one of the best teachers at Princeton. He's probably one of the most enthusiastic and available to student teachers on campus. (He was an awesome thesis advisor.)

    The thing that he is trying to teach these students is how computer technology is not this mysterious art and that it's not really as complicated as everyone likes to think. I have lots of friends who went through his course without knowing a thing about computers and coming out with a real good idea of how things worked. Granted, they were not going to build a new computer or write an operating system any time soon -- but they knew how to write a program, set up web pages, and how lots of seemingly disconnected things all had a common base and an idea of how it all worked.

    He deserves all the praise he gets for his efforts. He's a hell of a teacher.

    -Chris
    • I agree. I took a "structured programming" course from him in 1977 at
      New Jersey Institute of Tech and it was one of the best courses I ever had. The text was his "The Elements of Programming Style" and some mimeo sheets of another book he was working on.
  • About bloody time. I did liberal arts for a while in University and I'm sick to death of articles touting .NET's 14% speed improvement over J2EE or some such nonsense. The real question, as we all well know, is how does a JVM feel when it's forced to run on a windows 2000 server? What is the sound of a single thread in deadlock with itself? And if a server with no network connection crashes, can it still seen as being down?

    More seriously, I think that the opposite of this class (one in which Technical people are given a bit of a liberal arts education) would be even more beneficial than this one. Raising awareness of complex social issues among techies might lead to a class of technical people who could communicate technical idea with the rest of the world rather than sit back and moan about how nobody in power understands the technology.

  • This made me think of the discussion here a few days ago about when the cable guy sits at your computer accepting all the EULAs of the software he installs on your PC as a condition of getting your broadband set up. Then about 50 slashdotters posted back with "When he came to my house, I told him he couldn't touch my computer, and I did it myself." I almost posted a useless "me too", until I saw somebody say that we all missed the biggger point. And we did.

    The bigger point was that maybe we see what's at stake here, but most folks can't and don't. Most folks aren't able to understand and make intelligent decisions about privacy, security, EULAs, file-sharing, and everything else we argue here. The world of computing, and especially the industry of computing, controls them because they lack the understanding and skills and proficiency to control it themselves. We can argue about the abuses by Microsoft and the federal government and the spammers (and on and on), but 90+% of computer users don't have the ability to take basic steps that allow them to do take control of their own computing, whether it means using a firewall, identifying and removing spyware on their computer, applying simple patches that reduce vulnerabilities, choosing an operating system, or even participating in the discussion.

    Or, to put it another way, informed use of technology is now a major issue for citizenship, in the broadest sense of the word. And when I went to college, I was taught that one goal of a liberal arts education was specifically an education for citizenship in this sense, to understand your own rights and those of others, to be active and engaged with the broader community and with the government.

    This article was a little light on what, exactly, is taught in this Princeton course, but it sounded like CompSci-lite to me. But, if we're going to teach technology to non-technology majors, in the context of a broad liberal arts education, wouldn't we be better off to be teaching courses in technology and citizenship? And wouldn't that go a long way toward enabling people to assert their rights and take more effective steps toward moderating the excesses of the business and government interests in technology that tick all of us at slashdot off so much, without requiring these folks to become hard core IT geeks, which just isn't going to happen anyway?

    Sorry if I rant, I guess I just believe that higher education can make a difference, when it is done right.

  • by Snuffub ( 173401 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @02:09PM (#4572904) Homepage
    Im a lab TA for this course, which means that I have scheduled hours in one of the labs where students can come in and work on the projects with someone there to give them help. What Ive seen so far is that the original intentions of the people signing up for this course is to use it as a gut, but now at the half way point their learning alot and they all have a better grasp of how the computer, and their browser in particular, works to display what's on their screen. For example for the first couple weeks most questions were just confusion about things like where the files were supposed to go, and how to open and save documents. Now everyone seems to have a strong grasp on the basics and their questions really show that they understand what's being thrown at them.

  • by xiox ( 66483 ) on Thursday October 31, 2002 @02:12PM (#4572926) Homepage
    Dr Fun [ibiblio.org]
  • Looking at my Universities Catalog for Computer Science reveals a terrible thing. A computer science degree requires about 55 hrs or CS courses, the minor in CS requires about 35 including some Junior level organization coures on computers. The scary part is that for EDUCATION majors, ie. people who might one day be teaching others, the minor only required 15 hrs of CS, mostly freshman level stuff, plus some courses that are not even available for credit for CS majors. Too often teachers at universities are taught how to teach, but never taught anything to teach. Now that is scary. This is made even more painfully aware as my wife has a BA in Education from the same University. I have often told her she has a Bachelor's of Arts and Crafts... she spent more time on Bulletin Board design than language fundamentals.
    • That's the truth.

      Education majors do work hard. Trust me, I know several of them. But all they do is busy work. Which is why they all they assign is busy work when they graduate. Which bores more students, and makes sure they don't learn anything.

      My mother, who is a principal, said that her best teachers don't have education degrees. In my personal experience, this is quite true. Their degrees are in a field related to what they are teaching.
  • I like this idea. I think of general literacy as not so much a state you achieve but a way of life. You're never done. And I think knowing something about a field is better than knowing nothing, as long as you maintain skepticism about your own knowledge and abilities. I wouldn't want, as Tbonium warned, "...an influx of people who think they know something about computers. These people get a government job, and start telling their contractors what to do and how to do it."

    As computers are now a huge part of our culture, people ought to know something about them. Demystifying is good, and if somebody has an "Aha" experience, that's great. Somebody might get interested enough to make a contribution to the field. Not everybody who has made contributions majored in computer science or engineering. Here's Eric Raymond's description of his computer education:

    "Undergraduate studies (including some graduate-level courses) in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. I have never taken any courses in computer science or software engineering."

    He must have had an "aha" experience somewhere along the line.

    And Kernighan's course will have practical applications for some of these students. I did part of a PhD program in psychology. My knowledge of simple programming, networks, and databases helped me a lot. The other students were highly intelligent, but ignorant about computers. They couldn't use the tools to make their lives easier, and their data safer. Even a bit of experience with text editors and simple programming can help you when you start SAS programming. There were people who were quite good with statistics who needed a lot of help with the computer. "Where are my files?" "Is a text file an ASCII file?" "How do I telenet [sic] to a server. And what does that mean?"

    And lots of people, once they're shown, like to use a folding programmer's editor for prose writing.

    Interesting quotes from Kernighan in an interview [cmu.edu]:

    When I have a choice I still do all my programming in Unix. I use Rob Pike's sam editor, I don't use Emacs. When I can't use sam I use vi for historical reasons, and I am still quite comfortable with ed.

    I don't use fancy debuggers, I use print statements and I don't use a debugger for anything more than getting a stack trace when the program dies unexpectedly. When I write code on Windows I use typically the Microsoft development environment: they know where all the files are, and how to get all the include files and the like, and I use them, even though in many respects they don't match the way I want do business.

    The only computer science book I read more than once, that I actually pick up every few years and read parts of again, is The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks, a great book.

    There are other books that I reread that are relevant in computing. Books on how to write, write English in my particular case, like "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. I go back and I reread that every few years as well, because I think the ability to communicate is probably just as important for most people as the ability to sit down and write code. The ability to convey what it is that you're doing is very important.

    Sometimes I do write C++ instead of C. C++ I think is basically too big a language, although there's a reason for almost everything that's in it. When I write a C program of any size, I probably will wind-up using 75, 80, 90% of the language features. In other words, most of the language is useful in almost any kind of program. By contrast, if I write in C++ I probably don't use even 10% of the language, and in fact the other 90% I don't think I understand.

  • Too often people have come to me and said, "If I had just one wish for
    anything in all the world, I would wish for more user-defined equations
    in the HP-51820A Waveform Generator Software."
    -- Instrument News
    [Once is too often. Ed.]

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