30 November 2008

My Favorite Class in my 1st Semester of College: Introduction to Informatics

Drew at computer in fall 2000 at IUIn my first semester of college at Indiana University eight autumns ago (yeah, I'm dating myself), my favorite of my five classes was Introduction to Informatics, taught by Professor Gregory Rawlins. Not only was it my first semester, but it was also the first semester of both this particular course and the Informatics program at IU.
For those unfamiliar with informatics, the IU website describes it as follows - "Informatics develops new uses for information technology, is interested in how people transform technology, and how technology transforms us."
At the time, on my IU student website (which expired sometime after I graduated, thus there is no hyperlink here), I wrote
The School of Informatics is the first of its kind. The class is an experiment and we are kind of roaming around trying to identify where this course is and ought to go. The topics we are covering are very interesting. Professor Rawlins has an extensive experience with computer science so he is kind of used to teaching facts and so forth with computer science, so this approach is new to him.
I think what was particularly neat about this course for me was thinking differently about many things (both computers and otherwise). One instance is the following (from my notes* (that I wrote in class and typed up afterwards (before the ubiquity of laptops (yes, I'm dating myself again))) of 10 October 2000's class):
Reification - To make an abstract thing real.
If it wasn't for reification, it would be impossible for humans to do anything humans think.
In the following class (12 October 2000), he described the difference between software and hardware:
Facetious definition: "Anything that if you drop it on you, it will hurt."
Real definition: "Anything which is tangible."
Computers are about reifying thought
With computers, hardware becomes software.
Firmware - software which has been reexpressed through hardware
To demonstrate the aforementioned, he used the example of how hotels operate:
hotel=office building + beds + showers + cafeteria
What makes them different are their operations, which are not physical.
There is no procedure for checking into an office building, but there is one for checking into a hotel.
The procedures differ.
The structure is not just physical but also procedural.
Throughout our lives, we have been acquiring software to know how to function as a university student.
I really liked that line about what the difference between an office building and a hotel.
Anyways, this class was on my mind recently and was looking through the notes and thought I would share it with the blogosphere.
*Disclaimer: I am not saying that these notes are necessarily verbatim what Professor Rawlins said or everything that he said, so please don't judge him harshly for these notes of mine from eight years ago.
PS I just found this set of slides from an Informatics class that seems good.

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