Intro to Semantic Information Processing Fall 2001

This was written by Marko and is not very official, but it is as official as you will get.

Larry Birnbaum does not provide students with the syllabus. I don't know why he does not like them, but I can tell you why I don't. Students come to classes to learn. At least that is the only reason why we should bother with classes. Syllabi have nothing to do with learning, they serve the purpose of enabling the students to game the system. Pretty soon, the number of points becomes more important than the subject matter. I could not care less how many points a given student gets in a course. This is not a video game.

OK, you skipped that paragraph, and now you are looking for the grading section, but, traditionally, I have to discuss topics first.

Because the class is taught by Larry, and because it is taught in discussion format ,there can be no set order of topics. However, here are some of the topics covered:


 Order of Presentation:

The topics will be constantly revisited and elaborated upon. The topics are related and will be explored iteratively. 


The professor and the TA meet at the end of the quarter and discuss each student individually. We never use this discussion to bring someone's grade down, only up.

Late policy:

Assignments that are more than a day late are worth half the points. Assignments that are more than two days late are worth nothing. This means that you have a day after the deadline, and after that you loose half of the points. The next day you lose everything.  Of course, we will take any serious excuse in consideration, provided that the excuse reaches us before the official deadline which is posted next to the assignment. A day ends at 5 AM the next day. This is because some hackers  like to work late.

Hand In policy:

You have to hand in assignments BOTH in hardcopy and by email. The hardcopy should be the printout of the file attached in the email. Those two submissions should be completely redundant. The email has to get in by the deadline, and you can place the hard copy in my mailbox (krema) when you come for the  next class or before. One exception is the Ambiguity assignment that can be handed in hardcopy only.

Email submissions to with the subject line "Assignment #x" where x is the number of the assignment. 

You should attach ONE document containing your entire assignment to the email. The document name should be Axlastname_firstinnitial and whatever extension is appropriate. x stands for assignment number. So, for assignment 3 I would send an email with the subject line "Assignment #3" containing the file A3krema_m.doc. 

I take 5 points off  all the submissions that do not follow these rules. So think a bit before you send.  

Plagiarism policy:

Cooperation and working in pairs is encouraged. All the parties have to willingly participate in the cooperation, and you have to indicate all the people that helped you or that you helped. Helping means explaining and clarifying, not sharing code. The only time that two people can share the code or text of an assignment is when they work in pairs together. Any borrowing that does not satisfy the previous conditions is considered plagiarism. If you do it, you will fail the class and have a very unpleasant interview with the dean. Because of the open ended nature of most projects, it is very hard to plagiarize undetected. 

Historical Note:

This class did not use to have a late policy and we did not take attendance. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way that many undergrads need to be protected from themselves even when they are sober. If it is any consolation, I hate both taking attendance and the late policy.

And now, on to the more important things: 


Is good. This class is an exercise in managed confusion. Confusion is necessary for changing the way you look at the world. Larry will confuse you and you will ask questions. Eventually you will be less confused about things that are clear and more confused about things that are confusing. Hopefully, more clear than confused. There are kinds of learning that do not require confusion. Those kinds of learning also do not require Northwestern University. You could just read a book. It's much cheaper, and you can do it in bed.


The projects are hard and seem annoyingly unrelated to the topics. This is not the case. It is your job to figure out how they are related.

I want an A. What's my strategy?


That's all? Yes. 

5. seems hard. Oh, no, the TA is easy going and really just desires to discuss topics from the class with you. 

2. & 3. Seem hard. They are, but they are also interesting. No pain, no gain.

How to enjoy this class:

If you are uninterested in the topics covered in this class, or if you are very uncomfortable with ambiguity and confusion, there is nothing you or I can do to make this class enjoyable for you. Drop.

If you are comfortable enough and interested in the class, great! Read on.

Larry can always be distracted. Steer the discussion towards something that interests you. 

Write the projects on something that interests you. Most of them have a programming portion and a content portion. The content portion can be on anything you like.

Start early on assignments.

Disagree with Larry.

Disagree with the TA. He doesn't count anyway.

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