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CPSC 110: 1a

Published 13 December 2020 at Yours, Kewbish. 1256 words. Subscribe via RSS.


Introduction

Racket, so far, has been an interesting language - lots of parentheses matching and prefix notation mistakes. It’s unlike what I’m used to (which is rather cobbled-together Python) but it’s also quite fun to use. Also, because people keep asking: no, I didn’t just decide to learn Racket for my own amusement, though I’ve certainly got a lot out of the few short weeks I’ve used it. I’m planning on taking CPSC 1101, which uses Racket extensively, and I’d like to do the course first. (Why does it feel like I’ve said this before? I don’t know.)

I’d initially tried to take the open edX version of it, but I got a bit sidetracked with rack8, my Chip-8 emulator, and ended up letting it time out. It wouldn’t let me into the course after a month, which was rather unfortunate.

However, I managed to finagle myself into the actual CPSC Edge (private edX platform, I think?) that’s used. This contains the current problem sets and labs, as well as having a lot more final exam practises than on the public version. Fun! (Also, this won’t time out until the end of the semester in late April, so I’ll definitely be good on time.)

In this sort-of-series, I’d like to document my progress through CPSC 110 (which should be the same as if on the public version anyhow). I did something similar last summer with CS50, so hopefully I’ll be more motivated to complete everything in a timely manner. Here’s the first post: notes and thoughts on part 1a, in which Kiczales guides us on a scenic tour of BSL (Beginning Student Language).

Notes

Like my CS50 posts, I’m generally going to put my personal notes here. Skip to the reflection if you wish.

A Short Reflection

As an aside, it feels kind of weird to take notes on this, especially as some of it’s stuff I’ve muddled my way through via experience with rack8. However, I have a feeling I’m going to forget the specifics if I don’t at least try to record it, and perhaps this will serve as some sort of guide for others who are also investigating CPSC 110 or Racket.

Also, a brief note on setup. It’s entirely possible to do Racket and most of what’s done by Kiczales in a different IDE than DrRacket. Is it recommended to use Vim just because one feels like it? Probably not, but I couldn’t be bothered to set it up while doing rack8, and now also cannot be bothered to set it up, since everything already works fine(ish) in Vim. I won’t get the image functionality, or the REPL (though I could do that in VimScript or an extension), but I’m alright with that.

I think I prefer Kiczales’s teaching style to Malan’s (see CS50 posts), or at least the course organization overall. CS50 lectures were very long chunks of information, and I find CPSC 110 is sort of like watching all of the CS50 shorts with questions in between.

That shorter cycle has been a lot more helpful, especially with the way the Edge course sticks a bunch of questions in some very innovative formats2 in between each video. Kiczales’s videos are nicely clear and concise, and theywork even when not using DrRacket or listening fully. Also, kudos to whoever had to edit and put in those arrows and annotation diagrams - they’re super helpful, but were probably extremely painful to animate and put in.

Conclusion

Section 1a of the course has mostly been basic material that I’ve covered on my own, but I think it’s still valuable to review, especially the finer minutiae of evaluation ordering and what exactly is expected style-wise in autograder submissions. I’m looking forward to section 1b, which is more on ‘how to design functions’. From what I’ve researched on my own, there seems to be a pattern recipe of some kind involved, but we’ll see more about that in the next CPSC 110 post.

On the more logistics side of things, I don’t think I’ll be able to churn through a section a week (or maybe I will - who knows? Winter break is coming up-), so I’ll try to break things up with some thought-chain posts. Those will be the HCI ones, like the one I made recently regarding persisting context in annotations. Hopefully that’ll give me some more time to absorb and process the CPSC 110 material, as well as explore some of the thinking I’ve been doing on my own regarding HCI. I’m looking to finish this course sometime before the summer, hopefully so I can challenge the course right after I graduate, or sometime in the first term. We’ll see, but for now, I’ll be going back to BSL, and more Racket.


  1. UBC’s introductory course on designing programs that all students pursuing some form of CS will have to take some form of. I could take 103 + 107, but that’d be 2x more courses for roughly the same material, according to certain sources. Also, I can challenge the exam, which will save me a good amount of time and effort. ↩︎

  2. I was not aware the question could see what part of the screen you were clicking on, which enabled some interesting question formats. Think along the lines of ‘identify a parameter in this function call code block, put this green dot over it.’ ↩︎

- Yours, Kewbish


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