Home Schedule Policy Assignments

Term Paper: During the class you will be required to produce one paper.

Details and hints on the paper are now available here. Guidelines on how the papers will be evaluated are here. Be sure to read these carefully. Topics for the paper are listed below.

Topic: Pick any one of the four paper topics posted below.

Q1: Identify several key points of the hacker culture as developed at MIT during the 1960s. Show how these have influenced subsequence developments, with close reference to one of more of the following: open source software, programmer culture, videogames, internet development or virtual communities.

Q2: Pick two of the many different technology-related cultures explored during the course. Compare and contrast them, paying particular attention to the ways in which they shape computer technologies, or are shaped by computer technologies. Among the things you may wish to consider are high and low status activities, how people are recruited, cultural norms and values, rituals and their relationship to specific technologies.

Q3: Outline the development of the Internet, from its origins in the ARPANET to the New Economy phenomenon of the late 1990s. Your answer should cover the whole period, but pay particular attention to EITHER

a) The technical and social features of the original network and the ways in which each was retained or discarded as it evolved. OR

b) The assumptions made about the Internet and the things people expect from it during the 1990s as it was commercialized and became the center of new kinds of business.

Q4: It has often been suggested that computers and the Internet are brining about an "Information Revolution" on a global scale. Discuss this concept, addressing the issues of what changes this revolution is brining about, what social groups are suffering or benefiting, the implications for US society as a whole, and how people's daily lives are changing. Be sure to state whether or not you consider these changes to be truly revolutionary, and why. Among the specific topics you might want to consider are: new kinds of on-line community, changes in privacy and intellectual property, spam and file swapping, digital divides on national or international levels, and broad cultural shifts. 

Midterm: The midterm will be given in class and last for 50 minutes. It will start promptly at 2:30, so make sure you are in the classroom and ready to start writing at that point. The midterm counts for 20% of the overall grade for this course.

It consists of two sections:

Section A: Quiz type questions. 20 questions, each addressing a specific point from a single lecture or reading. Answer all questions, each is worth two points. Each can be answered with a single phrase or one sentence. Five additional "extra credit" questions will be included in this section. These follow the same format but are a little harder.

Section B: Short answer questions. 5 questions, of which you should answer any three. Each question is worth 20 points. Each question is broken into several subsections. The number of points available in each subsection, and what you have to do to earn them, is clearly indicated.

All questions in section B can be answered using bullet points or short sentences. Each fully correct part of an answer will receive the specified number of points. e.g. a sub section might be described as "6 points, 2 for each correct answer". That tells you you should give at least three separate bullet points (or sentences if you prefer). Once you have made your point move on and make another one. Waffling will not get extra credit. Partial credit will be awarded for partially correct bullet points, or those that largely overlap with points you already made.

There will be more correct answers to each questions than you will need to give to receive full credit. Extra credit will be given for particularly good answers.

Here is an example question from section B, along with a model answer. The answer given would receive substantial extra credit.

Sample Question

Several of the readings have dealt with different groups involved in programming projects.  These include the consulting information system developers in Close to the Machine, the Microsoft developers in Microserfs, the original MIT Hackers in Hackers, and the open source developers of The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Pick any two of these groups. For each of these, explain:

a) The kind of software they were developing. (4 points: 2 for each group)

b) The kinds of coding practices and/or tools used to perform this work. (6 points: identify three characteristics for each group)

c) The motivations or goals of the people involved. (6 points: identify three motivations for each group)

d) Give a benefit and a limitation of each approach in terms of its results. (4 points: identify at least one benefit & 1 disadvantage for each group)

Model Answer:

We chose: The Microserfs and The Open Source developers

a) Microserfs: Standard, mass-market office applications and operating systems for commercial sale

Open source developers: A variety of operating system components and utilities (applications also discussed in lecture) for free distribution 

b) Microserfs

  • Source code never released externally
  • All debugging performed internally
  • With specialized, paid testers
  • Personnel assigned to project by manager
  • Infrequent, major release of finished product
  • Microsoft tools used for development

Open Source developers

  • Source code always released externally
  • Most debugging performed externally
  • Users are also debuggers
  • Personnel volunteer to take part in project
  • Frequent, incremental releases of unfinished products
  • Variety of tools for development; personal choice

c) Microserfs

  • Get rich from stock options
  • Get promoted and become powerful
  • Impress Bill Gates personally
  • Ship product (and get a lucite slab)
  • Keep deadlines and make success for team

Open Source

  • Prove personal coding skills to self
  • Solve a personal problem (in many cases)
  • Help save the world from evil commercial software (e.g. Microsoft)
  • Win recognition from peers as superior developer
  • See own design and code being used in the world

d) Microserfs:
Benefit: Microsoft can make money / can set firm deadlines / software is more likely to be usable by ordinary people and have documentation, help, etc.
Limitation: Development process is expensive / results may lack technical elegance or security / users cannot make changes or improvements to final product

Open Source:
Benefits: resulting software is free / earlier access to preliminary versions / constant improvements / users can fix problems themselves
Limitations: software may never be finished / documentation, help and interface may not be suitable for ordinary users / some kinds of software may not appeal to open source developers e.g. accounting

Page copyright Thomas Haigh -- email    Home: Updated 08/31/2003.