CS 130 Lab #1: Computers and Information

Due on Mon 30 January

Introduction to labs

Since we don't have much in the way of technical knowledge under our belts (yet!), our first lab will be more of a venture in reading and on-line "research", along with a few open-ended questions for you to think over and respond to in your demo. This lab is also intended, however, to introduce you to the mechanics of the lab sessions.

In a typical lab session, you will find a write-up such as this one, linked in from the home page for the course, but the work set out will usually be more of a technical nature (techniques for performing calculations in binary, perhaps, or for writing in a particular computer language). You will be presented with some descriptive text and graphics, as well as links to on-line background material about the topic at hand and then asked (in the text) to complete various exercises.

You are welcome to begin reading and working on the lab anytime you like (once it's posted) and are encouraged to work outside the lab if you need more time to finish the reading or exercises. The purpose of scheduled lab time is two-fold:

  1. to give you time when the instructor is available to answer questions, and

  2. to provide time for you to demonstrate (or "demo") your work.

A "demo" is an informal session in which you present the work you've done to the instructor in an interactive fashion, i.e., answering questions and perhaps even making changes to your work as you go. It is specifically intended to make the lab grading process more personal, informative and enjoyable. But note that you are expected not only to present answers to the exercises, but to answer questions that verify your understanding of the material.

A special note about on-line references

Especially because we are not using a textbook this semester, we will depend for a lot of background information on various on-line references. One of these is the free Wikipedia site. You should realize that material presented at on-line web sites does not generally go through the sort of rigorous academic review process which is typical of textbooks and journals, much less the sort of standard editing process which is typical even of informal magazines. Wikipedia in particular, for example, allows any reader to originate or modify the text of articles that appear there. While this sort of authorship model may be revolutionary, it carries the danger of spreading mis-information. I will do my best to steer you to well-written articles describing widely accepted ideas (unless specifically noted otherwise), you should take this information with a grain of salt (and a larger-than-usual one at that). For example, it is easily possible, even likely, that many of the sites I reference will change during the course of the semester, making an authoritative assessment difficult at best.

Introduction to today's lab

We have discussed in lecture a number of different dimensions of computing, including the following: We have also spent a little time discussing on-line virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Read the following articles on the history and nature of computers from Wikipedia. Using these as references, along with the understanding you have developed in class, answer the exercises below. Note that you may want to follow reference links or search on-line for other information: the answers you seek may not be directly included in these cited articles.


Exercise #1

Find examples of two other technological bases for computing, besides digital, mechanical and hydraulic (either used in the past or anticipated for the future). What advantages or disadvantages might these technologies have, relative to current electronic ones?

Exercise #2

Read about the each of the following computing devices and classify them according to the dimensions listed above (i.e., analog/digital, electronic/mechanical, and special/general purpose). Be prepared to defend and discuss your answers.

Exercise #3

As we discussed in lecture, Jacquard's automated loom used punched cards to represent information about weaving patterns, whereas early electronic computers used them to store programs. For what information-storage purpose did the US government use punched cards in the late 1800's? Also, see if you can discover an artistic/entertainment use to which punch-hole technology was put; was this a symbolic use (i.e., discrete, digital) or an indexical one (i.e., continuous, analog), or both? (If you can't find specific support for your answer, see if you can make an educated guess.)

Exercise #4

A fellow by the name of Turing developed a computer in Britain during World War II which bears his name. What is especially unusual about this computer, relative to the ones we use everyday? What "threshold capability" did it have?

Exercise #5

In late 2004, an island in one virtual world sold for more than U.S. $25,000. See if you can discover who bought the island, in which virtual world, and what motivated them to spend so much. Someone also paid $100,000 for some other property in the same world: see if you can find out what sort of property they bought and what they were going to use it for.

Please have your answers ready for demo by the end of lab on Monday 30 January.

End of exercises