15110 Fall 2011 [Cortina/von Ronne]

Lab Assignment 1 - Thursday, September 1

In this lab you will:
  1. Learn about the history of computation.
  2. Learn to use gedit to create a text file.
  3. Use gedit to record the answers to some questions about the history of computation.
  4. Learn to use handin to submit a zip file containing a text file.

The Computer History Museum

Click the following link to open up another window so you can browse the Computer History Museum: http://www.computerhistory.org.

Creating and Editing a Text File

Start the text editor gedit, which can be found under "Accessories" in the "Applications" menu in the lab machines. This will create an empty "Unsaved Document 1". Save this file naming it lab1-museum.txt. By default, the file will be stored in your "home directory". A directory is analagous to a folder on Windows and Macintosh machines; the home directory has the same name as your account name).

Some Questions

In this text file, please write the following questions along with your answers to them.

  1. Take a look at the Museum and Exhibits Overview.

    1. List the major online exhibits at computerhistory.org .
    2. What is the relationship between the online exhibits and those of the physical Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA?
    3. Which of the 12 online exhibits would you say is least like the others? Why?

  2. Take a look at the Timeline of Computer History.

    1. In your own words, briefly state two significant contributions to the field of computing during the year of your birth.
    2. In your own words, briefly state two signficant contributions to the field of computing during the year of birth for one of your parents.

  3. Take a look at the Babbage exhibit.

    1. Blown to Bits makes the point that representing all information digitally (e.g., pictures are actually stored in the computer as whole numbers encoded as bits) is transforming society in profound ways. Although Babbage's machine used decimal digits instead of bits, it is also digital. Who realized that one could use Babbage's machine to process symbolic information (such as words or musical notes) as well as numerical information?
    2. What were the reasons for Babbage's failure to construct his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine?

  4. Take a look at the Mastering The Game exhibit.

    1. Who developed the fundamental programming ideas behind all chess programs and where did they work? (Hint: There is a building named after two of them here on campus.)
    2. Chess playing was considered one of the grand challenges of the subfield of artificial intelligence. At Bell Laboratories, a custom chess playing computer named Belle was developed that used a specific strategy. What strategy did Belle use? Is this, in your opinion, real "intelligence"? Why or why not?
    3. Besides the novelty, why were researchers interested in writing programs that play chess?

  5. Take a look at the Internet History exhibit.

    1. What was the original name of the Internet?
    2. What is ASCII?
    3. Who picked the "@" symbol for email addresses? Why was this a problem initially?
    4. When did Time Magazine name the computer its "Man of the Year"?
    5. How many original hosts were on the Internet in 1968? How many were on the Internet by 1990?

  6. Now that you've "walked" through the museum, what is the most interesting thing that you learned about computing that you didn't know before? What was the most interesting thing your neighbor(s) learned?

When you are done, save the file again, and exit gedit.


This semester, we will be using an electronic handin instructions for the weekly programming assisgnments as well as some of the labs.

The handin system only allows you to submit a single file for each assignment. Since in some of our programming assignments, there will be multiple files to submit, we ask that you bundle the files for each assignment into a single zip file and then submit that zip file. For this assignment, you will create a zip file called lab1-museum.zip that contains lab1-museum.txt, which in turn, contains your answers to the questions above.

One way to create such a zip file is as follows. First, open up your home folder (from the "Places" menu"). If you get asked whether you want to use "Nautilus" or "Thunar" as your file manager, choose "Nautilus". Next, in your home folder, select the file(s) you wish to zip (i.e., lab1-museum.txt), and then select "Compress" from the File Browser's edit menu. This will open a dialog box; ensure that the filename is "lab1-museum" with an extension of ".zip" (it will probably default to an extension of ".tar.gz", so you will need to change this to ".zip"), then press "Create".

Submit your lab1-museum.zip using the electronic handin instructions.