CS 105

Computer Systems
Fall 2015


Geoff Kuenning, HMC Olin 1277, x71610, geoff@cs.hmc.edu
Savannah Baron
Alex Ozdemir
James Saindon
Tutoring hours (all tutoring is in Beckman B102/B105 unless otherwise specified).
Saturday: Savannah, 2-4 PM
Sunday James, 2-4 PM
Sunday: Alex, 7-9 PM
Thursday: Savannah, 7-9 PM
Joyce Greene, HMC Olin 1260, x18225

Getting Help

If you need help with assignments, send mail to cs105help "at" cs.hmc.edu. This alias is preferable to mailing the professor directly, since it also goes to the TAs (and it causes the mail to be sorted into a higher-priority box).

Class Meetings

Lecture Times:
Tuesday/Thursday 2:45-4:00 (Beckman B126)
Lab times:
Friday, 1:15-2:30 (Beckman B105)

Course Description

This course provides a programmer's view of how computer systems execute programs, store information, and communicate. It enables students to become more effective programmers, especially in dealing with issues of performance, portability and robustness. It also serves as a foundation for courses on compilers, networks, operating systems, and computer architecture, where a deeper understanding of systems-level issues is required. Topics covered include: machine-level code and its generation by optimizing compilers, performance evaluation and optimization, computer arithmetic, memory organization and management, processes and concurrent computation, and networking technology and protocols.


The text for the course is Computer Systems, A Programmer's Perspective, 3rd Edition, by Randal E. Bryant and David O'Hallaron, Prentice Hall, 2015, ISBN 978-0134092669 (hardcover). Unfortunately, earlier editions of the textbook will not be usable for this course. If you buy the book from amazon.com via the preceding link, it will generate a commission for the Computer Science Department, which will be placed in the CS student activities fund. The money will directly benefit students, NOT the faculty or the department. Using the link to order any other book will also generate the commission.

Other Related Texts

The C Programming Language, Second Edition, by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie, Prentice Hall, 1988, ISBN 0-13-110370-9. You can buy it from amazon.com.

The Joy of C, 3rd Edition, by Lawrence H. Miller and Alexander E. Quilici, Wiley, 1997, ISBN: 0-471-1233-X. You can buy it from Amazon.com.

What is This Course About?

There are many ways to approach the subject of computer systems. This course will investigate computer systems from the viewpoint of the (application) programmer.

The lectures WILL ASSUME that you have read related material from the text and that you thus come to class with questions and some knowledge. We will end many sections from the book with a quiz. These quizzes are worth points and have no makeup (except for legitimate reasons). Thus, consistently coming to class unprepared will be reflected negatively in your grade no matter how you do on the other coursework.

Requirements and Grades

We have made great efforts to encourage you to submit material on time. Make sure to read the late policy. The relative weighting scheme will be as follows:

Participation: 5%
Quizzes: 5%
Labs: 20%
Midterm: 30%

Don't be misled by the fact that labs represent a lower fraction of your grade. The labs are REQUIRED to get a passing grade in the course. If you blow off the labs, you'll shoot yourself in the foot two ways: first because the lab grades do matter, and second because if you don't do the labs, you won't know what you need to know to pass the exams.

Obviously, the exams are the major component of your grade. Normally, most students get a top or near-top grade on the labs, so the exams are what distinguish you. If you do well on the exams, you'll do well in the course—and vice versa.

Grading Formula

Labs and quizzes are graded numerically, weighted appropriately, and added into the overall grade. (Note that this means some labs are weighted slightly more than others.) Exams are graded numerically, curved to an A-F scale, and then reconverted to numbers before being added to the final total. Participation is letter-graded primarily on lab attendance and incorporated into the total as a number. The overall total is then re-curved and converted back to a final letter grade for the course.


The laboratory exercises in this course are fun and challenging. Lab time will be used to get you started on the various experiments. We DO NOT intend you to complete the labs during the lab time, but will establish some ground rules on the time you should spend on each lab. The Web pages for the labs will be updated as the semester progresses.

We use pair programming for all the labs. BE AWARE that if you let your lab partner do most of the work, you will score poorly on exams and thus in the class. Be sure to participate fully in the labs, as that is where a lot of the learning takes place.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When choosing a partner, we suggest that you select someone with a compatible schedule and similar ability. We also suggest that if you have NOT had CS 70, you partner with someone who has, especially for the first part of the course. You will find that it is much easier to work in the C language if one of you has previously used C++. Moving to C from Java is much more difficult.

We will reshuffle the pairs after Lab 3. By then, you will probably have a better idea of who in the class is a good match. Changing pairings is required after Lab 3.


There will be two exams, a midterm and a final. The tests come from the class lecture material. Historically, the tests have been the major differentiator in assigning grades because the labs are usually finished by all teams. However, the grade is not determined solely by tests, and it's quite common for the quiz and lab grades to have a visible effect on the final result.


Quizzes will be given after class presentation of major subject areas.

Collaboration Policy

Collaboration is encouraged. This means that you may discuss approaches to solving problems with anyone in the class, including the professor and the graders. However, COPYING solutions from any source (person or book) is DISALLOWED. All students are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the Harvey Mudd Honor Code. If you have any questions about what is appropriate or inappropriate collaboration, please talk to me.

Web Page

Obviously, you should check the Web page regularly. Your primary source of timely information is the class calendar. Changes to the calendar page will NOT be announced via e-mail; it is your responsibility to keep an eye on it.

Major changes to other Web pages will be announced to the class mailing list.

List of Topics

The following is a rough outline of the topics we will be covering (not in this order, and not all of every chapter—see the calendar):

© 2015, Geoff Kuenning

This page is maintained by Geoff Kuenning.