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Friday, August 16, 2002

  • More about the Microsoft alliance
  • 'The current language of the day'
  • Anthology accepts story from UW
  • A few notes for the weekend
Chris Redmond

25 songs that sum up Elvis

More about the Microsoft alliance

UW leaders are being asked for some answers -- and some answers are already coming -- in the wake of Wednesday's announcement that UW will receive $2.3 million from the Microsoft Canada Academic Innovation Alliance, some of it to be used to introduce Microsoft's C# programming language at UW.

"Let me assure you that the University of Waterloo has and will continue to make its own decisions regarding the curriculum," says a memo from UW president David Johnston, issued last night as an answer to e-mail he had been receiving on the subject.

"There is a long and robust history of this university (and others) accepting funds and other resources from the corporate world, making good use of them, but continuing to assert intellectual independence. That independence is not for sale. . . .

"I also want to be clear that our agreement with Microsoft Canada is not an exclusive one. We have close ties with many corporations and other organizations, and would welcome any others that will benefit our research and teaching."

Johnston said UW "has chosen to use" the C# programming language -- released by Microsoft two years ago -- as a part of a pre-course for incoming electrical and computer engineering students as a way to bring their programming skills up to speed. It will also be used in E&CE 150, a first-year course. "The goal of this course is to introduce students to programming, algorithms, and data structures so they are prepared to use several languages in the remainder of their undergraduate career. C# is one tool that allows us to do the job effectively. By no means is it the only tool that will be used to educate our students."

The news site UWstudent.org, which received hundreds of comments about the Microsoft announcement yesterday, said both Johnston and Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg had agreed to answer "the 10 best questions" posed by readers.

'The current language of the day'

[Vannelli] Tony Vannelli (right), chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering, yesterday responded to criticisms, including a Federation of Students news release that said students are "disconcerted" about the Microsoft deal.

In the release Ryan O'Connor, vice-president (education) of the Feds, noted that "Donations to the university community from external organisations are usually welcome. However, today's funding announcement sets a dangerous precedent -- this illustrates that when external organisations offer the university money, they can effectively purchase their way into the curriculum. The academic autonomy of the university has been compromised."

Today in ZDnet . . .
Globe and Mail
Similar comments were made not only on UWstudent.org but on the internationally known Slashdot. One Slashdot reader charged that UW "is willing to sacrifice any sort of appearance of propriety in order to squeeze a few bucks out of Microsoft".

Said Vannelli in reply: "The focus on curriculum is to add C# to C, C++, Java -- three languages that E&CE students learn throughout their tenure at UW and more importantly through their co-op jobs. As for E&CE 150, it has had the current language of the day as long as I can remember -- Pascal, C, C++. So it will evolve with the future.

"The more multilingual an individual is, the more opportunities they create for themselves, whether it's a spoken language or computer language. Our students inherently recognize this fact. We have a responsibility to expose the students to all the state-of-the art languages. C# is now becoming a standardized language just as C, C++, Java before them.

"These other languages saw their start in companies, primarily AT&T and Sun. The effort we are doing in E&CE is to make our students more multilingual so that they can solve associated engineering problems with the right tools. More important, we want to enhance the experience for the students in many lab-related courses. Students should have more quality lab experiences when they can properly prepare with the intended online additions to the courses. The intent is to make the overall educational experience richer, not narrower!"

Vannelli said the new non-credit course, to be called E&CE 050, "is intended to help high students to understand the appropriate computer programming background that they have to have coming into IT programs. It allows these highly motivated students to have a taste of this wonderful future life. No high school or university curriculum has this planned level of programming exposure as we envision in E&CE 050."

Vic DiCiccio, director of the Institute for Computer Research and a key figure in negotiating the Microsoft alliance, commented that C# "has certain pedagogical advantages over other languages in some areas. As with all choices, there are trade-offs in the selection of a computer language to teach introductory programming concepts. An important factor is that each language differs somewhat in complexity of individual features."

He pointed out that the E&CE courses involved "are only one part of this agreement with Microsoft Canada Co. We are deriving great benefit from the on-line access to E&CE labs for eight courses in second, third and fourth year, and from the sponsorship for the research project on mathematics for the Tablet PC."

He also noted that C# is being introduced just in the E&CE courses, not for computer science or software engineering. "Therefore, Waterloo should not be branded a C#-only school. We teach introductory concepts in programming using a variety of languages.

"The choice of languages among programmers is a very heated debate, with overtones of chauvinism and an almost religious-issue fervour. I dare say that the same critics would be silent (or even bored) if we were discussing E&CE's adoption of a vendor-specific integrated circuit design system or a vendor-specific microwave propagation modeling tool."

E&CE lecturer Carol Hulls wrote about the programming course -- E&CE 150 -- on the newsgroup uw.general yesterday, and described some of the deficiencies of the language that's used now, C++. Said Hulls:

What is needed is a more beginner-friendly language, and a more beginner friendly environment that is also widely and cheaply available. The actual language itself isn't really all that important -- it is only for playing with the concepts of programming. Is C# the most suitable candidate? Well, at least it does bounds checking. My impression is that there is a wide range of opinions on this among department members.

Anthology accepts story from UW -- from the UW news bureau

The New Quarterly, a magazine of new Canadian writing published out of St. Jerome's University, has again had a story selected for inclusion in the Journey Prize Anthology, an annual collection of the best writing from Canada's literary magazines.

A dozen stories are chosen each year from more than 80 submissions across Canada. A short-list will be announced in October, from which the winner of the $10,000 Journey Prize will be selected.

The chosen story, "Cogagwee" by Toronto writer Mike Barnes, is sub-titled "Walks Around the Life of Tom Longboat", the legendary Canadian runner. It was one of several stories published as part of a feature on Barnes's work, all of them experiments in point-of-view.

"Cogagwee is a wonderful human story," said editor Kim Jernigan, "but it's also an interesting stylistic experiment, a patchwork narrative, written in what Barnes calls first person historical. Much of it's told slant, through newspaper clippings and the like, with one section from the grave."

This is the third story by Barnes to be accepted into prize anthology, all of them published in TNQ. "We're hoping three's the charm," Jernigan said.

A lengthy e-mail interview in the magazine last summer inspired his first novel, The Syllabus, forthcoming from Porcupine's Quill Press. The narrator is asked by a psychologist friend to contribute to his research project on memory, and he does so in lengthy e-mail riffs through which he slowly recovers the shape and feel of his often-troubled adolescence. Barnes read from the book on campus last winter and subsequently visited Jernigan's class in the short story, providing an impromptu writing tutorial for her students.

"He's a wonderfully inventive writer and a generous person," Jernigan said, "and not a stranger to prizes. His poetry collection, Calm Jazz Sea, was short-listed for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry and his story collection, Aquarium, won the Danuta Gleed Award for best first story collection. We believe in this writer. Our fingers are crossed."

A few notes for the weekend

The Clarica Scholars who have been on campus this week -- high school teachers and students working together on learning technology -- will give a "showcase" of their work this morning in the Flex Lab on the third floor of the Dana Porter Library (it started at 8:45, actually). Visitors are welcome.

"It has been 25 years since Elvis's death, but his influence is still strongly felt," writes Rob Daniels, who hosts and produces a weekly show, "Visions in Sound", on UW's student-run radio station, CKMS. "This week I take a look at the music from some of Elvis's better-known films." He'll be on the air -- and on the web -- starting at 3:15 this afternoon.

Participants in something called the Sunset Coast Sports Management Hockey Camp, about 40 of them, will be arriving at the Ron Eydt Village conference centre tomorrow; they'll be on campus for a week. Pulling in on Sunday will be about 35 performers getting ready for the Waterloo Busker Carnival to be held next week.

And here is a rundown of things that will not be operating normally in the next couple of days:



August 16, 1993: Prime minister Kim Campbell visits campus.

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