This course ended
on December 10, 2013

FSEM 142: The Algorithmic Life

   Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
   Hobart and William Smith Colleges

   Fall 2013.

   Instructor:  David J. Eck  (

   Course Handout:

   Monday, Wednesday, Friday
   12:20–1:15 PM
   Room Stern 217

   Office Hours, Lansing 313 (or check the computer lab, Lansing 310):
         Monday, Wednesday, Friday:  1:30–2:50
         Tuesday:  12:30–1:50
         (I will usually also be available MWF 10:00–12:00.)

First Meeting: August 23

We meet for the first time as part of First-Year Orientation, on Friday, August 23. We will meet from 2:45 to 3:45 PM in room Eaton 110. (This is not our regular classroom.)

You do not have to do anything to prepare for this meeting, but please bring any questions that you have about the course, about your classes, or about HWS in general.

First Week: August 26, 28, 30

I will hand out readings for the first week of classes, so you won't need to buy the books for the course immediately. You will need to get a copy of 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future by the weekend, so that you can do the assigned reading for next Monday. See the syllabus for a schedule of readings.

Don't forget that you should show up every day this week (and most days when we discuss a reading) with a short, one-page writeup about the reading! See the section of the syllabus titled "Reading and Writing for Discussion" for more information. The first reading/writing assignment will be due one the first day of class!

I will distribute the first major writing assignment for the course on Wednesday, and I will ask each of you to make an appointment with me sometime in the next week or so to discuss your plans for the paper (and also to get to know you a little better).

As an example, here is my version of an appropriate daily writing assignment for the first reading, from Hackers:


Second Week: September 2, 4, and 6

In the second week of the course, we get a little more technical as we look at the general idea of computer algorithm and as we start looking at some of the specific algorithms that make the Web work. The reading for Monday is Chapter 1 of 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future, and for Wednesday is the second chapter of that book. On Friday, I will lecture on making web pages, and we will spend next Monday in a computer lab where you can work on a web site.

You should write the usual summary and discussion points for the reading on Monday. However, that will be the only thing that you need to turn in this week.

Third Week: September 9, 11, and 13

On Monday, class meets in Gulick 208 for a computer lab in which you will work on making web pages. At lab, I will give you the password that you need to sign on, along with a copy of the

Lab 1 worksheet

For Wednesday, you should read Chapter 2 of 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future. You should write up a summary and discussion points, including your understanding of the page rank algorithm.

Remember that the first writing assignment is due on Friday! You should bring a print-out of the paper with you to class.

Fourth Week: September 16, 18, 20

This week we will put aside 9 Algorithms that Changed the World for a while, and we wills start reading The Filter Bubble. For Monday, the reading is the Introduction (pages 1–20); and for Wednesday, Chapter 1 (pages 21–46).

I expect to return the first paper on Monday. The rewrite is due on Friday. On Friday, we will start a new writing assignment and we will prepare for a visit to the library on the following Monday.

Click here for the second writing assignment.

Fifth Week: September 23, 25, and 27

On Monday, the class will visit the library for a session on Web search led by research librarian Michael Hunter. We should all meet at the front entrance of the library at 12:20. You should be able to work with your partner on research for the second writing assignment for at least part of the lab.

The reading for Wednesday is Chapter 2 of The Filter Bubble, and the reading for Friday is Chapter 6 of the same book. Note that we are skipping Chapters 3, 4, and 5, but you might want to read them on your own.

In addition to discussion on Wednesday and Friday, part of each class will be lecture on programming in general and on the JavaScript programming language in particular. This is in preparation for another class in the computer lab next Monday.

Sixth Week: September 30; October 2, and 4

Class on Monday will be a computer lab in Gulick 208. The lab is an introduction to some basic JavaScript programming, including drawing on an HTML <canvas>.

Click here for the Lab 2 worksheet.

The reading for Wednesday is Chapter 7 of The Filter Bubble. (This is a change from the original schedule on the course syllabus. The quiz that is listed on the syllabus for Wednesday is moved to Monday of next week.)

The second paper is due on Friday, and we will spend the day working with the papers.

Seventh Week: October 7, 9, and 11

There is a test/quiz on Monday.

Click here for a study guide for the test.

Also, on Monday, the second paper will be returned with comments. Your rewrite of the paper should be turned in on Friday for grading.

For Wednesday, you should read and be prepared to discuss Chapter 6 from 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future. However, you should not write a summary of this reading.

The third and final writing assignment was handed out on Friday. You will be working on it for the rest of the semester.

Click Here for Writing Assignment 3

Eighth Week: October 16 and 18

There is no class on Monday, October 14 because of Fall Break.

Over break, you should read "The Library of Babel," which will be handed out in class on friday, October 11. However, you should not write a summary of this reading. We will discuss at the beginning of class on Wednesday. The rest of Wednesday's class will be a lecture on programming that will cover basic loops and if statements. For Fridays class, we will meet in Gulick 208 for our third computer lab.

Click here for the Lab 3 handout

I have revised the schedule for the next few weeks of the course. Originally for this week, we were going to have presentations about the topics of the second writing assignment. Those presentations have been moved to the following week. In preparation, you and your partner should get the one-page summary of your topic to me no later than noon on Thursday so that I will have time to copy them and distribute them to the class on Friday.

Here is the revised—and still somewhat tentative—schedule for the next few weeks:

Ninth Week: October 21, 23, and 25

On Monday and Wednesday, students will be doing presentations and discussions about the topics of their second paper. A handout with a summary of each topic was distributed in class on October 18, and that handout is the reading for Monday.

The reading for Wednesday is Cognitive Surplus, Chapter 1, pages 1 to 29. You should write a summary of the reading. Try to limit your summary to one-half page, and avoid talking about specific details of the chapter. Instead, you should try to summarize the main idea or argument that the author is trying to get across to the reader.

On Friday, the class will meet in the library for another session with reference librarian Michael Hunter.

Tenth Week: October 28 and 30; November 1

We will spend the week mostly on Cognitive Surplus. Read Chapter 2 for Monday, Chapter 3 for Wednesday, and Chapter 4 for Friday. (And that will be the end of the reading from that book.)

Don't forget that you also need to finish Lab 3. You should have it finished and available in your www directory by Saturday morning, November 2.

You should also be working on finding sources for your final paper. A written bibliography and statement of topic is due next week, on Monday or Wednesday.

Eleventh Week: November 4, 6, and 8

There is a test on Friday, November 8.

Click here for the Test 2 Study Guide

The reading for Monday is Chapter 4 of 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future. You should not write a summary of this material. On Wednesday, we will review for the test, including some programming examples, with while loops and if statements.

Two longer-term assignments are due this week. You should have computer lab 3 finished no later than Wednesday. And you should turn in your final paper thesis statement and bibliography in class on Monday or Wednesday or when you come in for your advising appointment.

Twelfth Week: November 11, 13, and 15

We are moving on to a new book this week: Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle. You should read the Introduction, pages 1 to 20, for Monday, and you should read Chapter 1, pages 23 through 34, for Wednesday. Remember that we have stopped doing summaries of readings.

If we have any extra time on Monday and Wednesday, I'll ask people to talk abou their work on their final projects.

On Friday, we will spend the day preparing for the fourth and final computer lab.

Thirteenth Week: November 18, 20, and 22

On Monday, we have the fourth and final computer lab in room Gulick 208. Please remember to go there for class.

Click here for Lab 4

The reading for Tuesday is Alone Together, Chapter 8; and for Wednesday is Alone Together, Chapter 9. You should select a short fragment of the reading and be prepared to read it in class, to comment on it, and to try to get some discussion going about it.

Don't forget that final papers are due next Monday, November 25!

Fourteenth Week: November 25

Because of Thanksgiving, our only meeting this week is on Monday. Your final paper is due on Monday. I will return it next Monday, with a grade. You have the option of submitting a revised version any time up until the final exam. You should be prepared to talk about your paper in lab. There is no other work due this week.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Fifteenth Week: December 2, 4, and 6

This is the final week of the semester. In addition to discussing the final readings for the course, we will spend some time looking back on the course as a whole and thinking about the implications of the ideas that we have encountered. (Also, you will have to fill out a ridiculous number of course evaluation forms.)

Final papers will be returned on Monday. You can rewrite the paper to try to improve your grade. The last day for turning in the rewrite is Tuesday, December 10, the day of the final exam.

Your work for Lab 4. should be completed and ready for grading in your www directory by no later than Wednesday morning.

The reading for Monday is Chapter 14 of Alone Together (pages 265 to 277). For Wednesday, you should read Chapter 10 of 9 Algorithms that Changed the Future (pages 174 to 198), but you should not expect to understand it completely. The reading for Friday, which will be handed out on Wednesday, is a short story from The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, "Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal."

Final Exam: Tuesday, December 10

The final exam is at 8:30 AM on Tuesday, December 10, in our regular classroom.

Click here for the final exam study guide