The Fall 2009 Harvard Extension Bi-Semester Review!

I highly recommend The Midnight Meat Train. It's a horror flick that gives you everything that you would expect in that genre, including a huh(?)-ending.

Now let's get onto the fun stuff. If you've been following my blog you know that I'm currently taking three classes: CSCI-E 131b, CSCI-E 168, and CSCI-E 207. It's highly likely that if you're thinking about the ALM program that you will be taking one of these classes. Since we are at the halfway point, let me share my grades and a few thoughts.

Computer Networks and Internet Protocols
So far I've turned in two problem sets. They both took a bit of work and I'd like to share some of my research in later blogs. If I had to guess how long each took, I'd say about a good 10 hours of writing each. In the end they both consisted of 10 pages including diagrams.

  • HW 1 : 19/19

  • HW 2: Not yet graded

  • HW 3: Just started, seems pretty difficult


I find the flow of this class right on. It's not too difficult or easy for me, but I don't have a ton of computer network experience. Learning about protocols is kind of what you'd expect it to be. It can tend to be really dry. Fortunately, Professor Evenchik and the Teaching Fellow "Joe" are pretty awesome when it comes to explaining the material. I find it interesting to talk about and difficult to read about.

Should You Take It
In a single word, yes. Not being much of a network/systems guy myself I feel much more comfortable understanding how the Internet works. It's been enjoyable. Heck, I even know the implementation details behind traceroute.

Web-based Software with Ruby on Rails
We've had three programming assignments. It's hard to describe how difficult or easy they were. To be honest, at first they were incredible hard. For some reason it's hard for me to decipher the assignment objectives (example: Assignment 2). But after spending a few hours understanding what you're supposed to do, it's not that bad.

  • Assignment 1: Ruby One Liners: 97/100
    This was actually a fun assignment. I spent a weekend working on this for 8 or so hours the first day it came out. If I waited long enough, Professor Norman will cover each answer during class. Thus, the longer you wait the easier the assignment will be.

  • Assignment 2: Classes and Methods: Not yet graded
    Again, this was fun. We build upon a game that Professor Norman and his staff created. It's a command prompt game that's similar to pong and the game of life. Basically all you need to do is to implement the missing methods and build a few objects of your own. I thought it would be cute to add blood-thirsty zombies and vampire slayers. I spent 10 hours on this.

  • Assignment 3: Active Record: Not yet graded
    You're assigned to save the state of your game in the database and restore it. A good two hours or so got the job done.


I really, really like John Norman and the Teaching Fellow "Keith." Really cool and smart guys. For the most part, the flow is okay. I've never taken a class like this so its hard to say. I think I had different expectations. The class could be more accelerated if there was more trust that the students were capable of learning on their own. Maybe that's a good thing as everything in class is served on a silver platter. You'll definitely learn in this class. But thank god I'm swamped with my other classes and part-time jobs.

Should You Take It
If you really want to learn Ruby on Rails, then sure. People recommend this class all the time. Plus, the documentation and tutorials on R/o/R are so good it's very easy to teach yourself. Being more comfortable with Ruby, I respect it now as a language. Rails on the other hand... It's not my favorite framework. I'd like to learn more about the other Ruby frameworks. I'm bitter that Python and Django is not getting the hype that it deserves.

Formal Systems and Computational Theory
Five problem sets and a mid-term. That's almost one problem set every week. How long does a problem set take you ask? About twenty hours.

Working on them is probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. Just ask anyone else in the class. They agree. One out of every one students will confirm that this is tough-cookies. The assignments are posted on the web, take a look.

  • PS 0: Does not count

  • PS 1: 61/62, average 50.69

  • PS 2: 52.5/56, average 41.63

  • PS 3: 61.95/64, average 50.55

  • PS 4: Not yet graded
    Sadly, I totally muffed one of the problems w/ about a page and a half of work. Gosh, it was a 15 pointer also.

  • Midterm: Not yet graded
    The midterm wasn't too difficult. I spaced out the first five minutes and I think I was way too anxious. I got really nervous and just read every problem about 3 times. Then I tried to calm myself down and breathe slowly. Out of seven or eight questions, I was only kind of confused about one of the problems. The problem was a memory based one, where you either knew the definition or not. I'm hoping that I beat the average here.

  • PS 5: Just started!

The class consumes you. It gnaws on your toes and spits out your nails. Be prepared to work and you must devote a large block of time to this class. You can only take this course and feel overwhelmed. Luckily, I only work part-time but combining this with two other classes is very difficult. I've stayed up til 4~5 A.M. several times this semester already.

I HATED this class around Week 4. But since this class takes so much time away from everything you can possibly think of -- the class becomes you. And you become a theoretician. And you realize that something is missing when you're not working on problem sets.

Should You Take It
One should ask oneself if he/she is masochistic.

  1. gravatar

    # by rajat - October 25, 2009 at 5:07 PM

    nice 207 grades, you braggart!

  2. gravatar

    # by Markus - October 26, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    Love that picture!

  3. gravatar

    # by SergeyZ - December 15, 2009 at 8:50 AM

    Thanks for a nice review of the classes you take. I'm starting my ALM in IT in January so it's nice to see reviews of the classes I will be taking soon. I'm taking E-256(Spring), E-131b(Summer) and Ruby(Fall). I got my undergrad degree in IT so I'm comfortable with programming, databases and networking, but I also work full time so I have some concerns regarding E-131b during summer semester(6 weeks). Do you think it is doable? Also what are your thoughts about taking 2 courses per semester while working full time?
    Thanks, again

  4. gravatar

    # by Donnie Demuth - December 15, 2009 at 9:19 AM

    Hi Sergey, it all depends on the class and the difficulty varies greatly. However, e-131b is very manageable an d the professor is not out to fail anyone! Six weeks is a short time for all that material but it should be fine. The book TCP/IP Illustrated Volume 1 helped me out but you can find most of the material online. And with experience in the Ruby class, you should be able to maintain a good quality of life. Of those two classes, I think you would be able to take both during one semester and juggle a full-time job. Unfortunately, I hear some of the other classes require a far greater time commitment, such as those related to algorithms and or theory.

  5. gravatar

    # by SergeyZ - December 15, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    Donnie, thanks for a quick reply. Have you taken any other classes? Are you doing SE concentration or MIS? I'm doing MIS(at least working on it). My plan is to take the following classes in the next 15 months: E-12, E-131B, E-168, E-256, E-170, E-4170, E-64, E-153, E-132. Let me know if you have any feedback regarding any of these classes. Thanks again

  6. gravatar

    # by Ron Newman - January 5, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    How was the rest of E-168? DId you stick with it?

  7. gravatar

    # by killkolor - January 7, 2010 at 3:50 AM

    puh... I was thinking about taking this class next fall as the required TMF course for the ALM. Luckily I decided to take CSCI E-181 this semester. well, at least I hope it's luck... I'll let you know.