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CS 101 - Frequently Asked Questions, Advent 2013


  • Most programming languages use an array of characters we type, but before that, the characters are recognized through binary code. How were computers first able to recognize binary and react to that input, and who figured our how to assign binary to each of those characters so a computer could compute?

    The early history of computing is messy - different groups designed different computers in their own way, and they were not compatible with each other. Eventually, the encoding known as ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) won out. But prior to taking data directly from keyboards, computers were programmed with wires, switches (up=1, down=0, for example), and punch cards.

  • I thought you had to pay to have a website? How is it that we can create these websites without needing to pay for the link?

    Sewanee does pay for our Internet access. Part of your tuition, probably. But we provide our own webserver computer and software for storing the files used for your webpages.

  • Who are some of the people that created the language of html? And how did they first program a computer to understand programming languages without using those languages to do so?

    Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML in 1990. HTML is not a programming language, it is a markup language, and can be implemented in many different programming languages. This technology, together with the HyperText Transport Protocol and the first Web browser (developed by Robert Cailliau and others collaborating with Berners-Lee, including Dan Connolly), made the World Wide Web possible.

  • How is html different from a programming language?

    HTML is a markup language, specifically designed to describe the content of a web page Programming languages are used to build the software applications executed by computers, but also to modify the way existing programs (including web browsers) work.

  • Why is it possible to easily modify desktop pcs (new graphics cards, sound cards, etc) but not laptops? Is this a marketing ploy or is there a legitimate tech reason? I've never understood the idea of buying a gaming pc when it's nearly impossible to upgrade it.

    Laptops are limited by their reason for existance: a portable machine light enough to carry around with you. You can modify them indirectly by buying cards/devices that plug in via USB cables, Firewire, and other ports built into the laptop.

  • Is it possible to gain malware of some sort without downloading anything?

    STUXNET, a very notorious malware designed to damage the nuclear capability of Iran, was spread via USB zip drives. Some websites use loopholes in the design of web browsers to automatically download malware onto your computer.

  • How does the internet works? How could anybody come up with the idea of a virtual web?

    We'll cover the basic ideas behind the Internet (and networking in general) during the semester.

  • Is HTML code set in stone? If no, how does change occur in the language? What are the benefits that result from this?

    HTML is standardized, but the standard evolves in response to ideas for improving it. We are currently on HTML 5, which added many things, for example tags for embedding audio and video, a canvas object for drawing on (which Processing takes advantage of), etc.

  • Does cloud computing differ all that much from regular computing? Are any specific processes differentiated from our traditional view of a computer?

    Yes! Moving both applications and data 'into the cloud' has the potential for many changes in the way companies and people use computers, including making it possible to "lose the desktop PC" in favor of tablets and other devices with less power and storage capacity.

  • What is applet and how do you export an image using one.

    Hopefully we've figured this out by now! But an applet is just the term used for a Java program (such as that produced by Processing) that runs in a web browser.

  • When digital artist make art with code, is their code more complicated then what we use in class? Or is it on a whole new level of computing?

    Generally speaking, the code is more complicated, but it need not be a "whole new level" because many artists are relative novices as coders, but they bring a different aesthetic to what can be done with code.

  • Who do you believe has made the most significant contribution(s) to the computer science field, and why?

    If you had asked me that in 1990, I would have said something completely different, and if you ask me that in 5 years, my answer will probably change, because the field changes so much. It's a very hard question! Some possibilities: the Internet, high-level languages, miniaturization of transistors, multiprocessing, the Xerox Alto, Doug Englebart.

  • What is the fastest computer in the world? What makes it fast? What is it used for?

    See TOP500 Supercomputer Sites

  • Where does an internet company get their connection to the internet? Would it not make more sense for everyone to have a direct connection instead of having to buy it from a provider? Why could I not have my own internet connection without Comcast, Version, or AT&T?

    We'll cover the basic ideas behind the Internet during the semester. The short answer is that Internet Service providers can leverage economy of scale (and existing communication systems) to bring the Internet to households cheaply, while an individual would have to pay a huge amount to build the connection required from house to an access point, and be trained as an engineer to set it all up!

  • What's the difference between hardware and software and what do each of them do for the computer?

    We'll cover the differences during the semester.

cs101/faqadvent13.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/23 11:57 by scarl