Informatics Core Course I

Instructor: David G. Kay, 5056 Donald Bren Hall (DBH) (

Teaching assistant: Joel Ossher ( Reader: Wiwat Ruengmee ( Lab tutors: Jordan Speer, Grace Uchida, Tracey Dao, Sandra Yang.

Quick links: Textbook Assignments Email archive Past quizzes References Final Exam

Course goals: This course is the first of a three-quarter sequence introducing the field of informatics—computer science with an emphasis on software and systems design and the human, organizational, and social context surrounding what we design. This course will not only broaden your technical horizons but also focus on systematic problem solving. We welcome you and we hope you enjoy it.

Prerequisite concepts: This course does not expect any previous experience in computer science or computer programming. If you do have some experience, you will find some topics familiar but many others will certainly be new to you.

We do expect each student to be able to navigate the Windows XP systems in our labs, to navigate the World-Wide Web, to download and read documents in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format, and to read and send electronic mail. Some of our assignments will require these skills. If you need to pick these skills up or sharpen them, do it in the first week of the quarter; speak with us if you need a hand.

Meeting place and times: Lecture meets six hours each week: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 12:20 and also from 2:00 to 3:30 in ICS 174 (room subject to change). Each student must enroll in one of these lab sections:
1. Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 9:00 to 10:50 a.m. in ICS 189
2. Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 1:00 to 2:50 p.m. in ICS 189

None of these hours are optional. Most of your lab work will be done in pairs, so the scheduled lab times are the best times to work with your partner.

Office hours: You are welcome to drop by my office at any time. If I'm there and not immersed in something else, I'll be glad to chat about the course material or other topics. I will definitely be in or near my office during these scheduled hours, during which course-related matters will have first priority: Tuesdays from 1:00 to 1:45 and Fridays from 11:15 to 11:45. I may adjust these times at the end of the first week. Of course emergencies may come up, but I will try to give advance notice of any change. I'll also be happy to make arrangements for other times during the week; "making an appointment" is no big deal (but if you make one, don't blow it off without getting in touch). The quickest and most effective way to reach me is by electronic mail, as described below.

Questions and announcements: You can usually get a response to your course-related questions within a few hours (a bit less frequently on the weekends) by sending electronic mail to the ID This goes to all of us, and whoever reads it first can respond. If you need to reach one of us individually, use our individual IDs listed above. I will never intentionally ignore a message, so if you don't receive a response, write again; sometimes overactive spam filters snag a legitmate message. Using course-specific subject lines and your UCInet Email address will help your messages get noticed.

We may also send course announcements by Email to the official course mailing list, so you should check your Email daily. Note that this mailing list goes to the Email address that the registrar has for you (your UCInet ID). If you prefer to read your Email on another account, forwarding instructions appear below. Don't let this slide; if you miss official announcements, your grade could suffer.

This course's web page is at and official course Email is archived at

Textbooks and software: How to Design Programs, by Felleisen, Findler, Flatt, and Krishnamurthi. We will follow the text closely, but you don't have to buy a copy because you will also find the full text of the book on the web at The on-line version is slightly more current than the print version, but many people find it tiresome to read long technical material on the screen.

The DrScheme software we will use is part of the PLT Scheme package, which is available free for all major platforms at

Fluency with Information Technology, Second Edition, by Lawrence Snyder. This text covers the non-programming content of the course. We won't use it for specific assignments, so we've designated it as optional, but some students have found it useful in the past. Its web page is

At is a list of supplementary references on course topics. These are not required reading (unless we tell you otherwise later).

Labs and lab hours: Of course you will need to do some of your work outside of the scheduled Monday/Wednesday/Friday lab hours. Students in Informatics 41 may use any of the school's instructional computing labs except for times when another course is scheduled in the lab exclusively. See for lab hours and other information. Note in particular that all ICS labs are closed on university holidays, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving (but not the Saturday and Sunday).

Please remember that programming tasks always take longer to complete than you think they will, no matter how much experience you have. You must account for this as you plan your time; we cannot accept busy schedules or time mismanagement as an excuse for late or incomplete assignments.

Course structure:
Weekly homework assignments and lab assignments (25% of the course grade). All the assignments will be available at
Class participation: Based primarily on participating consistently and effectively in the lab, including turning in a partner evaluation for each lab assignment (10%).
Weekly quizzes: Given in lecture every Tuesday morning at 11:00 (30% together). The previous years' quizzes are available on the web at; they're an excellent way to prepare and review (but they won't perfectly mirror the form and content of this year's quizzes).
One final exam: On Tuesday, December 8, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (35%).

We determine final grades neither on a formal curve (with equal numbers of As and Fs, Bs and Ds, and so on) nor on a fixed, straight scale. Scores on the scale shown below will get the grades indicated, but in the past the actual cutoffs have often been lower; this means that you should not assume your grade will be as low as the scale indicates. If you're concerned, check with your TA or the instructos. The basic scale is: grades in the A range (A-, A, and in exceptional cases, A+), 90% and above; grades in the B range, 80%–90%; grades in the C range, 70%–80%.

Your TA has primary responsibility for evaluating your work; see the TA first for any questions about grading or scoring. If that does not resolve your question, then see the instructor. We will be happy to correct any errors that do occur, but we must ask that you bring us your grading questions within a week after the item is returned; the course moves quickly, and we simply can't deal with assignments long past.

We're required to say that in unusual circumstances, these criteria could change, but we do not expect that to happen.

Special needs: Any student who feels he or she may need an accommodation due to a disability should contact the UCI Disability Services Center at (949) 824-7494 as soon as possible to explore the possible range of accommodations. We encourage all students having difficulty, whether or not due to a disability, to consult privately with the instructor at any time.

What to do this week to get started in Informatics 41:
If you do not have a UCInet ID, get one (see
Learn how to read electronic mail sent to your UCInet ID (see If you prefer to read your electronic mail on an account other than your UCInet account, redirect your mail at
If you do not have an ICS account for access to the Windows network in ICS, get one. See
On the Web, go to, log in with your UCInet ID, choose "Course Listing," click "Go" next to Informatics 41, and then click "List me for this course." You'll submit some of your work electronically; this step is necessary to set that up.
If you aren't already subscribed to the Informatics Student Association mailing list, INSA-News, subscribe now at You'll receive notice of student events, company visits, research opportunities, curricular anouncements, and more; you'll miss important things if you're not on this list.
Get a lab printing key-card if you plan to do any printing in the lab.
Give a snapshot of yourself (with your name written on the back) to your TA. This will help us learn your names quickly. (This is not just for funit's a course requirement.)
Complete the survey at

Good advice and helpful hints: Make every effort to attend each class meeting; we will often cover material that isn't directly in the textbook. It's not fair to ask the TA simply to repeat lecture material you missed, though of course the TA will always answer questions about it.

Attend your lab section, too; assignments will be checked off there, you will do most of your lab work there, and you can hear a different perspective there than you hear in lecture. Don't hesitate to ask your TA to cover things that will help you. Since most of your work will be done with a partner, your partner also depends on your consistent presence.

Check your electronic mail regularly; this is an official channel for course announcements.

Keep up with the reading; you'll need it to do your assignments, and the quarter system goes so fast that a few missed pages can quickly become a few chapters if you're not careful. You will want to read the assigned sections early so you can ask us about parts that aren't clear.

The assignments, like all technical specifications, require careful and thorough reading and re-reading. Expect to refer back to the assignment often, and check it first when you have questions about what's required or how to proceed. Before you come to lab, be sure to read the assignment to get an idea of what's required.

Start each assignment early. Assignments will be due weekly, but you'll need to spend some time on them nearly every day. Programming always takes longer to complete than you think it will, even if you have previous programming experience. By starting early, you'll have time to ask in discussion section about problems you encounter.

If you find yourself having trouble or getting behind, speak with your TA or the instructors. We have lots of ways to help. But never take the shortcut of copying someone else's work and turning it in; the consequences can be far worse than just a low score on a lab assignment. ICS takes academic honesty very seriously; for a more complete discussion, see the ICS departmental web page covering academic honesty issues (

Turn in whatever portion of an assignment you have completed on the due date. It's much better to turn in something rather than nothing; zeroes are hard to make up. In some circumstances you may arrange with your TA to work further on an assignment after the due date, but you must turn in whatever you have when the official due date comes. Likewise, don't skip any quizzes; zeroes (especially more than one of them) significantly lower your overall score.

Always keep your own copy of each assignment, both electronically and on paper; if an assignment should get lost in the shuffle (or if a file server in the lab should crash, which has happened), we'll expect you to be able to supply a replacement easily.

Approximate course outline:

Week Date Topics (and chapters in the HtDP* and Fluency texts)
0. 24 September Introduction to the course and computing (F1,2) • Information, data, and functions (H1-3)
1. 29 September Designing functions, compound data (H4-6) • Abstraction, models, and problem solving
1 October Function definitions and expression evaluation • Internet organization (F3)
2. 6 October Unions and Lists (H7)
8 October Lists and list processing (H9,10)
3. 13 October Working with lists
15 October Numbers and recursion (H11-13) • Internet services, the web and searching (F5,6)
4. 20 October Lists and trees (H14) • Human-computer interaction
22 October Data definitions and program design (H15,16) • Information systems and stakeholders
5. 27 October Complex list processing (H17,18) • Social impact of computing
29 October Extended example
6. 3 November Algorithmic abstraction (H19, 20)
5 November Higher-order functions (H21, 22, 24) • Basic processor operations (F9)
7. 10 November Recursive algorithms (H25, 26, 27.1-27.3, 28.1) • Processor operations continued
12 November Program performance (H29) • Machine-level and high-level languages
8. 17 November Accumulators (H30-32) • Memory organization and data representation in memory (F8,11)
19 November State and assignment (H34-37) • Operating system functions
9. 24 November Extended example • Representing graphics. • Data compression • Secondary storage and peripherals
26 November Thanksgiving holiday: no class meeting —
10. 1 December Social and legal issues
3 December Looking back and looking forward (H Epilogue)
F. 8 December Final exam, Tuesday, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

* Note that some chapters are called Intermezzos. Intermezzo 2, for example, occurs between Chapter 12 and Chapter 14, so it's the same thing as Chapter 13.

David G. Kay,
Tuesday, December 1, 2009 1:15 PM