CSE 143 Honors Section

Honors Section #8 (Week 9)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • In keeping with our discussions about human intelligence and the brain, we talked a bit about learning and learning styles. How do you learn new concepts? Researchers have identified four "neuro-linguistic models":
    1. visual learners;
    2. auditory learners;
    3. reading/writing-preference learners;
    4. kinesthetic learners or tactile learners.
    Peter Honey and Alan Mumford have a model that includes four stages of learning:
    1. having an experience
    2. reviewing the experience
    3. concluding from the experience
    4. planning the next steps
    What type of learner are you; how do you learn new concepts the best? Do you think the majority of CSE 14x students, or computer scientists in general, are a certain type of learner?
  • We talked about the "Back to Basics" paper and about the philosophy behind UW's intro CSE courses. What are the benefits of teaching objects early? What about teaching objects late, as is done at UW?
  • We talked about the paper on factors contributing to success in an intro CSE course. Which factors were most highly correlated, and why? Why might some factors, such as heavy computer use, not be correlated (or be negatively correlated)?
  • For our next and final session, please read one of the two following articles:

Honors Section #7 (Week 8)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • We talked about Chapter 7 from Blown to Bits. Relevant issues and questions:
    • As a teen, did you face monitoring or censorship by your parents? Did they let you watch R-rated movies? Listen to music with explicit lyrics? Did they let you have a cell phone? A car? Did you have your own computer, or use a shared family computer? Did they monitor your internet usage, and/or run a site blocker to stop you or siblings from viewing inappropriate materials online?
    • Should sites like MySpace, Facebook, etc. be totally uncensored, or should they allow any content whatsoever to be posted and transmitted? What content (if any) should be forbidden? (hate speech, defamation, profanity, pornography, child pornography, drug trafficking?)
    • What, if anything, should sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. do about the problem of sexual predators and other crime that may be facilitated by their services? Are they at all liable for such events if they occur? (Are they more like a distributor/truck, a newspaper/publisher, or a library?)
    • The difference between the online filtration policies employed by CompuServe (uncensored, legally safe) and Prodigy (censored, possibly legally liable).
    • The "Miller Test" for whether content is obscene.
    • Good Samaritan laws and clauses like those that have been applied to online content providers in the past. Were these good laws?
    • Have you ever used a pre-WWW communication site such as a BBS, gopher, IRC, etc.?
  • For next week, we won't read Chapter 8 from Blown to Bits because it's less conducive to a good group discussion. Instead, please read any two of the following three articles of your choice (you can read all three if you like):
    • Learning Styles and Strategies. R. M. Felder and B. A. Soloman, North Carolina State University.
    • Back to Basics in CS1 and CS2. S. Reges, University of Washington

      (A bit of context if you decide to read Stuart's back to basics paper: "CS1" is the standard generic term for a university's first computer science / programming course; similarly, "CS2" means the second course. "ACM" is the Association of Computing Machinery, the international computer scientists' organization whose members are lots of CSE teachers, students, and industry developers. "SIGCSE" is the Special Interest Group of Computer Science Educators, the ACM sub-group of all the CSE teachers. It's basically the clubhouse for CSE teachers like me who get together for conferences and talk about effective ways to teach computer science.)

    • Contributing to success in an introductory computer science course: a study of twelve factors. B. Wilson, Murray State; S. Shrock, Southern Illinois University. SIGCSE '01 Proceedings of the thirty-second SIGCSE technical symposium on Computer Science Education. (original citation)

Honors Section #6 (Week 7)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

Honors Section #5 (Week 6)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • We talked about Chapter 5 from Blown to Bits. Relevant issues and questions:
    • We talked about encryption, along with some classic kinds of encryption algorithms, such as Caesar ciphers, substitution ciphers, and Vigenère ciphers.
    • We talked about the RSA encryption algorithm and the idea of public-key cryptography.
    • We talked about possible ways to crack encryption algorithms and how computationally feasible it is to do so. For example, RSA is based on the assumption that factoring very large integers is hard for a computer to do quickly. (The field of quantum computing my lead to algorithms that can perform factoring much faster.)
    • We compared and contrasted encryption with steganography, a form of security through obscurity, as discussed in previous sections. What are the relative pros/cons of each?
    • Users are often the weak link in a computer security system, such as by divulging their passwords. Tricking users into giving up their passwords is called social engineering.
    • Should it be illegal to encrypt data so tightly that no one else can read it? What if the government or law enforcement needs to seize your data, but you've made it so they can't read it? Should every encryption algorithm be built with a back-door for the government or law enforcement to be able to read it if necessary?
    • Does the government, or anyone else, already have a hidden backdoor that they could use to spy or read our messages?
    • We learned a bit about how the Enigma machine works, and some history about how it was broken by the Polish and by computer science pioneer Alan Turing.
  • Marty led a discussion on the basics of artificial intelligence. Just as the human brain is a "meta-mind" that is good at simulating the state of other creatures' brains, the computer is a "meta-machine" that is good at simulating the state of other machines. But real AI is very hard; many "smart" computers such as IBM's Deep Blue and Watson are skilled only at one specific task, rather than having general knowledge and ability to adapt and learn. We talked about the Turing test, including programs such as ELIZA PARRY. We talked about the relative computing power of a human brain vs. a processor. According to research, a brain runs at up to roughly 1,680,000 MHz and storing up to 100 terabytes of data. We talked about areas of computer science related to AI, such as machine learning, computer vision, and natural language processing. How long will it be until we have human-level AI?
  • For next week, we are going to read Chapter 6 of Blown to Bits.

Honors Section #4 (Week 5)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • We talked about Chapter 4 from Blown to Bits. Relevant issues and questions:
  • Marty talked about the Java feature called labeled break (more info). We saw a strange program icon UrlInCode.java with a URL in the middle of the code that still compiles and works.
  • Marty led a discussion on humanity. What makes us human? What makes humans different from other animals? Is it our use of tools? Language and speech? Our high intelligence? Our ability to invent and to create technology? Our compassion and love for each other? Our self-awareness? The fact that we philosophize, that we bother to ask this question? Does it relate to spirituality and the notion of the soul? Is it our ability and desire to tell stories? What are we discovering about this topic each year through human DNA research, and related studies such as that of the neanderthal genome?
  • For next week, we are going to read Chapter 5 of Blown to Bits. We will also talk about artificial intelligence.

Honors Section #3 (Week 4)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • We talked about Chapter 3 from Blown to Bits. Relevant issues and questions:
    • Steganography, embedding secret information in plain sight within documents.
    • Digital watermarking, the ability to mark a file to verify its identity, authenticity, or for detecting changes/tampering to a file.
    • When a hard drive is erased, are its contents really gone? What happens when a file is "deleted"? Have you ever sold a computer or hard drive, and what was on the disk at the time?
    • Non-obvious or hidden data and metadata within documents such as Word DOC files, PDFs, etc. ("track changes" feature, undoable redactions, etc.)
    • Can you be sure a digital image has not been "Photoshopped", such as this embarrassing image from a Microsoft ad in Poland? How would one detect this? Could a digital photo be used as evidence in court?
    • How long does data last on various storage media? What media will still be around in 1000 years, and will we be able to read the data?
    • Is it important what format is used to store data? Do some formats (such as "open" formats) have a better chance of surviving into the future?
    • What format/extension are the various files on your computer? For example, music files: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, FLAC, etc.?
    • What are some reasons (both good and bad) for images that look like text? Examples: CAPTCHAs, spam messages, etc.
  • Marty talked more about steganography, embedding hidden information in a text file or Java program. We wrote a program icon SecretMessage.java to experiment with its effects.
  • For next week, we are going to read Chapter 4 of Blown to Bits.

Honors Section #2 (Week 3)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • We talked about Chapters 1-2 from Blown to Bits. Relevant issues and questions:
    • Is there any info out there about you on the web that embarrasses you? That you wish could be taken down? (For Marty, the answer is yes.)
    • How much info do you give out about yourself on sites like Facebook? Do you turn on privacy settings, or do you like to give out lots of information?
    • Is it really possible to browse the web anonymously?
    • What other behaviors of ours are "watched," such as credit cards, grocery "loyalty cards, public security cameras, locators in cell phones, etc.?
    • For what purpose will the large amount of data being gathered about us be used? Will it mostly be commercial, such as Amazon.com recommending products? Legal, such as speeding tickets and catching wanted criminals?
    • How does this relate to recent laws such as the PATRIOT Act and wiretapping?
    • We talked about digital watermarking.
    • We talked about data gathered by RFID tags and its possible implications.
  • We learned the ternary operator ? : in Java (Wikipedia).
  • For next week, we are going to read Chapter 3 of Blown to Bits.

Honors Section #1 (Week 2)

This week we did the following in our honors section:

  • Introduced ourselves to each other.
  • Talked about the fuzzy questions, "What is a computer?" and, "What is computer science?"
  • Marty and the TAs (Sylvia and Allison) talked about how they came to computer science. Marty talked about why he became a teacher.
  • For next week, we are going to read Chapters 1-2 of the book Blown to Bits by Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis. The book is about the explosion of digital information and data now available and how it impacts our society, our privacy, our happiness, and our lives. It is available as a free PDF download, or the physical book can be ordered from Amazon.com and other retailers.

This information is heavily based on the honors section run by Stuart Reges. Thanks to Stuart for his help!


This quarter we are offering an opportunity for an honors experience this quarter in CSE 143. This is intended for students in the honors program and other high-achieving students. The students who participate will meet with me and one or more TAs once a week in a small group to discuss what I consider to be interesting issues, mostly issues in computer science but sometimes outside our field.

I don't believe in just giving honors students more work. In fact, I won't be asking people to write any programs for this. The main requirement is that you have to agree to show up each week and to participate in our discussions. This quarter I will also ask the students in the honors section to do some reading, either chapters from a paperback book relevant to CSE topics (that you would have to purchase), and/or from articles posted on the course web site from time to time.

Students in the honors section are graded in the same way as everyone else in the class, but their transcript will indicate that they took an honors version of the 143 class. This is most important for honors students who have to accumulate a certain number of honors credits.

In terms of what other topics we'll discuss, I expect it to be something of a grab-bag of topics that interest me. Here are some examples of possible topics we may discuss:

I usually have more students interested in the honors section than I can accommodate, so I usually have to make some tough choices. We will soon post an application form where students can apply to be considered for the honors section. The potential meeting times will be listed on the application form.