University of Michigan

SI 182 (EECS 182): Building Applications for Information Environments



Winter 2011


Tues/Thurs. 1-2:30


Tues/Thurs. 2:30-4


1250 USB


Professor Paul Resnick

Instructional Aides Vidal Borromeo, Jaclyn Cohen


Course Description

Are you interested in learning how to extract useful data from the web and automatically analyze it? Or how to build interactive games or write programs to solve puzzles quickly? In previous semesters, by the end of the course students were writing programs to solve Sudoku puzzles, to create a web-based hangman game, to find the nearest Starbucks to your computer's location, to develop fractal animations, to visualize correlations between stock market prices and U.S. election results, and to display the current weather forecast using images taken from FlickR. This semester you’ll be writing programs to analyze and display data extracted from a Facebook group and then you’ll have a chance to define your own project. In the process of doing those fun things, you will learn the fundamentals of computer programming.


Where this course fits in the curriculum

This course is recommended for all students who want some exposure to computer programming and software design skills. In the information age, these skills are essential, irrespective of the degree you plan to pursue.  More specifically, this course is an appropriate prerequisite to EECS 282 (required course for Informatics concentration) or EECS 280 (required course for CS concentration). Furthermore, students in other concentrations where data analysis is required (e.g., statistics, economics, business, political science) are likely to pick up valuable life-long skills.


EECS 183 and Engin 101 are alternative programming courses to 182 – they are interchangeable as far as subsequent computer science courses are concerned.  Good programmers can pick up new languages easily (usually a few weeks of effort), once they know basic principles of programming.  EECS/SI 182 uses Python as the first programming language. EECS 183 and Engin 101 use a more traditional language, C++, which has more pitfalls for first-time programmers.


Python is a wonderful language for general applications and prototyping. It has been used extensively for data analysis (more flexible than spreadsheets), data plotting, building dynamic web sites, games, etc. It is one of the three languages used at Google. (In fact, Google hired the developer of Python!).


If you want to learn C++ later, you can take EECS 280 after 182. Alternatively, you can go on to take EECS 282 (in Java) followed by EECS 382 (in C++). While all computer languages can largely do all tasks that other computer languages can do, sometimes one language is better than another for a specific task (e.g., C programs often provide better performance but Python programs take less time to write and can be more reliable). Thus, it is useful to be exposed to multiple languages if you are going to take multiple computer science classes. Recruiters often look for experience in a variety of languages.  If you plan to take just one programming course, Python is a great language to learn. You will find it to be a very versatile language and similar in spirit to other popular languages, such as PHP, Ruby, and Javascript.


As a rule of thumb:

·         If you get an A in 182 you can go on to 280 or 282, whichever you prefer.

·         If you get a B in 182, you probably should take 282 and then go on to 280 or 382.

·         If you get a C in 182, you probably should take 183 before going on to any 200-level programming course.


Conversely, if you have already taken EECS 183 or Engin 101, and did well, you should go on to a 200-level course rather than taking 182. If you got a C in one of those courses, then 182 will give you another chance to learn the fundamentals of programming more solidly before going on to the 200-level. If you already know the fundamentals of programming in another language and just want to learn python, this course will move too slowly for you.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

·         Understand the following programming concepts:

o    Data types

o    Variables

o    Functions

o    Conditional statements

o    Iteration

o    List and dictionary data structures

o    APIs

·         Write programs in python that demonstrate understanding of all of the above concepts and that use the following features:

o    File operations

o    String processing operations

o    External modules and APIs

·         Manipulate data to

o    Extract and summarize desired elements

o    Output the processed data in .csv and HTML formats

·         Create a web site, using a web development framework, that generates pages by running python programs and gathering input from forms

Required Resources

Textbooks and Notes


Use the two Python books as references.  Zelle is better to get a quick overview of the language. Downey’s book is better when it comes to understanding the details. We will refer to both books during the course and point to the readings from the two books. In general, there is significant overlap in the material between the books. We will generally have required reading from one book and optional reading from the other one. We’ll be using parts of the Severance book later in the semester when we start doing web programming.

Hardware and Software Required for Assignments and Class Work


This semester, the instructional team is supporting a virtual environment in which you will edit programs and run them. You will need to install:

·         VMWare Fusion (mac) or VMWare Workstation (windows or linux)

·         A Mint virtual environment image that we have pre-configured with all the software you'll need


As an alternative, you may choose to install python and a text editor natively on your laptop. It's definitely doable: everyone had to in past semesters. But weeks into the semester we were finding strange differences in the environments students had set up, and it was very hard to help them when things didn't work as expected.


The instructional team is supporting only the VMWare/Mint environment this semester. If you try to run things natively, you're on your own.


If you do decide to do things on your own, we suggest NotePad++ on Windows and TextWrangler on Mac for editing Python programs. Standard text editors, such as Notepad or TextEdit, are not good, though they can be used in a pinch. Word processing programs like MS Word will not work because they add lots of unwanted formatting characters.


We will show you how to run your Python programs from a command-line and to edit and debug using Eclipse.


Please check out the resources folder on CTools for handouts on installing and using the software.


It is highly recommended that every participant in the course bring a laptop to each class session. This is not a requirement, and all of the work in the course can be completed on a desktop computer or on lab computers. However, you will find parts of the course more valuable if you can play with code examples as we demonstrate them in class. A laptop will also make it easier for you to work on your assignments and projects in your spare time. If you do not have a laptop, and are not able to borrow one from a friend, you may be able to borrow one from LS&A Instructional Support Services, But it doesn’t look like that’s very convenient.


Please contact me about making alternative arrangements if you do not have a laptop.

Getting Help - Resources

Teaching Staff and Office Hours

In addition to the Professor, there will be two Instructional Aides. Below are the office hours and contact information for us. The email address, will reach all the teaching staff.  That group address is preferred over sending email to individuals, unless you have some reason to keep your message private. It’s helpful if we can all monitor all the questions that students have, and the responses we're giving.


Professor: Paul Resnick

Instructional Aide: Vidal Borromeo

Instructional Aide: Jackie Cohen

Email ID: presnick

Office hours: Wed. 4-5PM

Location: 4344 North Quad


I will often be available during lab times as well. Ask me if you’d like to have a private conversation and we can step outside

Email ID: vidal

Office hours: Tuesdays 7-9PM

Location: 1277 North Quad

Email ID: jczetta

Office hours: Sundays 7-9PM

Location: 1277 North Quad


Please send an email request to at least 15 minutes prior to the start of any of the office hours if you are planning to be there and the approximate time you are going to show up.  If there are no such emails or all students who sent emails have been seen, the teaching staff reserves the right to not be there or to leave early! An email will ensure that we are around to meet you.

Course Web Site

The course’s public page is at  The internal site, which is what you will primarily use, is accessed via The site will require authentication using your umich ID and password. If you do not have a umich ID and password, you will need to ask me for guest access.  After that, you should see EECS (or SI) 182 in the list of your sites.  We will demonstrate the use of ctools site to you in the class and point to you where to find relevant information. All the homeworks and announcements will be posted at the ctools site.


You will be submitting your assignments via ctools as well. Also see  A Crash Course on Ctools

Course Facebook group

The best way to get help during the course will be via the Facebook group we have created. You are encouraged to respond to (comment on) other students’ messages. Don’t worry about giving wrong information: the instructors will post corrections if necessary.


If you have something of a private nature that you don’t want to share with the other students, feel free to send a message to

Giving and Receiving Assistance

The first time you learn technical material it is often challenging. We are going to cover a wide range of topics in the course and we will move quickly between topics. Because it is my goal for you to succeed in the course (and I think every student at UM could get an A in 182, with enough work), I encourage you to get help from anyone you like, especially in the portion of the course before the midterm.


However, you are responsible for learning the material, and you should make sure that all of the assistance you are getting is focused on gaining knowledge, not just on getting through the assignments. If you receive too much help and/or fail to master the material, you will crash and burn at the midterm when all of a sudden you must perform on your own. The final submission of each homework exercise must be in your own words.


If you receive assistance on an assignment, please indicate the nature and the amount of assistance you received. If the assignment is computer code, add a comment indicating who helped you and how. Any excerpts from the work of others must be clearly identified as a quotation, and a proper citation provided (e.g., in the comments of the code if it is a code fragment you have borrowed). If you are a more advanced student and are willing to help other students, please feel free to do so. Just remember that your goal is to help teach the material to the student receiving the help. It is acceptable for this class to ask for and provide help on an assignment via the Facebook group, including posting code fragments. Just don’t post complete answers. If it seems like you’ve posted too much, one of the instructional staff will contact you to let you know, so don’t worry about it.


The Engineering Honors Code will govern the course.  This code originated in the College of Engineering, and basically says that students are expected to work with honor (i.e., no cheating), according to the course policies. As students, you are expected to follow the code and report any violations of the Honor Code. As instructors, we generally trust that students will follow the code (violations are reported to an Honor Council). We will use the Engineering Honor Code in this class since the class is cross-listed with the College of Engineering. It applies to you even if you are not an Engineering student or are taking the course as SI 182.


To reiterate, the collaboration policy is as follows. Collaboration in the class is allowed (and even encouraged) for assignments – you can get help from anyone as long as it is clearly acknowledged. Collaboration or outside help is not allowed on exams, though you will be allowed to use some materials that you bring with you. Use of solutions from previous semesters is not allowed. The authorship of any assignments must be in your own style and done by you, even if you get help. Any significant help must be acknowledged in writing.

Classroom Rules

We are all here to learn. I like a relaxed classroom where everyone feels comfortable. You are welcome to bring drinks or snacks to class. You can (and should) bring your laptop to class. As a courtesy to others, be sure to put your PDA and cell phone on silence/vibrate. Coming late to and/or leaving early from class is fine as long as you don't disturb your classmates. Ask questions at any time, and if you have some expertise in a particular topic, feel free to raise your hand and share it with the class. I will not be offended and in fact like to learn new things.


Our primary purpose in the classroom is to interact and learn from each other. While non-participation (sleeping; checking email) is permitted, I urge you to consider its impact on your fellow students. Class is a lot more fun when everyone is engaged; a few visibly disengaged people can suck the energy out of a room. I reserve the right to ask you a question to try to reengage you if you seem to have checked out—I will try not to do this in an embarrassing way.

Work in the Course – Getting a Grade


There will be assignments throughout the course (pretty much every week and sometimes mini exercises during a lecture). Regular assignments allow you to learn the material in small "chunks" and to keep a close eye on how well you understand the material. In some cases, we will do part or all of the assignments during a lecture, though you will submit it later.


Generally, the Tuesday and Thursday lab times will be a chance to work on the assignments. Although you have signed up for just one lab, I encourage you to make use of both lab times. The teaching staff will be there and will circulate. You can confer with other students and the instructors. If you are not able to complete an assignment in the Tuesday lab, it will be due the next day (Wednesday), at noon. The previous assignments are typically discussed in the class on Thursday and we like some time to review your submissions. Late assignments beyond Wednesdays at noon will receive a zero. You can submit late assignments in order to get feedback, but no points will be given for an assignment that is turned in after that. There will be 12 assignments and only your 10 highest grades will be counted.


There will be a “capstone” project in the last 2-3 weeks of the semester, where you apply all the skills you have learned. You will learn debugging skills, modularity skills, and testing skills. You will have a chance to pick a project that you find interesting.


There will be a midterm and a final exam. The midterm exam is administered during the regular lecture session and the final during the final exam period. The exam dates are announced well in advance (see the dates at the end of this document). If you have a conflict, please let me know at least 2 weeks in advance so that I can arrange a different time for you.

Class Participation (Bonus Points)

Class participation, helping others, interacting on the Facebook group and answering questions, asking good questions that lead to interesting discussions, and pointing out corrections to my lectures or code will contribute to bonus points, which you can use to help boost your grade.

Python Challenge

There are optional challenge problems at . I encourage you to try to solve the problems there when you have time and discuss approaches or even code on the email list – that all contributes to class participation points. If you are not able to solve them initially, don’t worry. Treat them as optional and a fun part of the course. The good thing about the Python challenges is that once you submit a solution to a challenge, you can see several solutions to the previous challenge. It is a learning experience to see how other people approached the same problem.


If you think you need an accommodation for a disability, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Some aspects of this course, the assignments, the in-class activities, and the way we teach may be modified to facilitate your participation and progress. As soon as you make me aware of your needs, we can work with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) to help us determine appropriate accommodations. SSD (734-763-3000; sswd/) typically recommends accommodations through a Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) form. I will treat any information you provide as private and confidential.


The graded work in the course will be weighted roughly as follows to determine a final percentage grade. (Note that bonus points could allow you to get above 100%):


Weekly Assignments     



40% (Midterm: 15% and Final: 25%)

Capstone project:


Class Participation:         

Up to 2% bonus points


Grades will be awarded as follows:


A+          98%        You have to work really hard to get this

A             93%

A-           90%

B+           87%

B             83%

B-            80%

C+           77%

C             73%

C-            65%

D             55%        You also have to work really hard to get this

F              50%        Or this


Course Outline

The course effectively consists of two parts.  In the first part we march through the textbook in quick fashion.  We might even skip bits and pieces here and there so we can move quickly.  In the second part, once we have learned the basics of programming, we will focus on web applications and your projects.


I am perfectly happy to loop back and review material if it appears we went through something too quickly.  Just let me know when you need me to do this.

Success in the Course


The course is designed for students with no programming experience. If you stick with the course and invest the necessary time, you will be amazed at how much you will learn in 14 weeks.  Don’t be intimidated by the few students who already know how to program. They’re welcome in the course, but the course is not designed for them. The instructional staff is committed to helping every student get to the point where they are comfortable writing computer programs. The world looks like a very different place once you can do that, and we look forward to welcoming you into the club.


If you do not have any programming experience, some concepts will take some time to sink in. Do not worry too much if you feel like you are in a fog at times. But do come to office hours or send an email, so we’ll know you are struggling and can make suggestions. The assignments are the best way to track your progress through the material.


Usually the biggest problem students encounter in the course is trying to do everything in a few hours right before an assignment is due or right before an exam. If you only think about the course a few hours each week, you will get some of the details but they will not mesh together to provide the big picture. Programming is easy once you get the big picture. The textbook will become an easily scanned reference for you once you know what to look for and why you are looking for it.


Cramming does not work very well when dealing with the material in this course. This is because the material in the course is actually very easy once you "get it" – once you understand some basic principles. No amount of memorization will make up for not having the big picture, and that comes from sustained engagement, not cramming. Try not to get stuck on any one thing – it is all easy once you "get it." If you do get stuck on something and feel like you are going in circles, ask for help, look at something else, or come at the problem from a different direction. Remember that exams are open book. So, understanding the material is more important than memorizing it.


Good luck and welcome aboard!

Course Schedule and Important Dates





(Optional reading in parens)

Homework (due date)


Jan 5

Introduction to the Course and Computers.

Chapter  1, Zelle.


(Chapter 1, Downey)

HW1 (1/11): SW installation, writing your first program


Jan 10, 12

Quick overview of computing and Python. Operations on strings and lists.

Version control.

Chapter 2 Downey. 

Chapter 2. Zelle

Zelle., 4.1-4.4  and 4.6

Zelle 11.2 – 11.2.2



HW2 (1/18): string and list operations; setting up an svn repository



Jan 17, 19

File operations;

Iteration on sequences
Expressions and operator precedence;
More on strings;

Interactive debugging

Chapter 3 Zelle.

Chapter 7 Zelle


(Ch. 8 and 10 in Downey.)

HW3 (1/25): Count chars, words, lines in a file


Jan 24, 26


Dictionary data structure;
string output formatting

Zelle 11.6;

Zelle 4.5


(Downey chapter 5)

HW4 (2/1): Contributor counts; output as .csv files; generate charts in Excel


Jan 31, Feb 2

Functions. Parameter passing and returning values

Zelle Chapter 6


(Chapter 3 Downey)

HW5 (2/8): Refactor HW4 using functions; remove stopwords


Feb 7, 9

Indefinite iteration; nested data structure and nested iteration

Zelle Chapter 8

 (Downey chapters 6 and 7)

HW6 (2/15): Calculate likes and comment frequencies; Who is the most active liker?


Feb 14, 16

Objects and Classes

Zelle chapter 10

(Downey chapters 15-18)

HW7 (2/22): Refactor HW6 using classes—some extra methods needed


Feb 21, 23

Recap week.

Midterm Exam (approx. 30 mins. written and 1.5 hour practical)

Review.  Tuesday we will try out exercises from Downey  (Chapters 1-10) and Zelle (Chapters 1-8) to assess our understanding

Exam in class 2/23





Mar 6, 8

URL lib;


JSON processing


Tutorial on urllib2;
Zelle 7.4

HTML tutorial

HW8 (3/14) : Fetching and processing a live feed


Mar 13, 15



list comprehensions;




List comprehensions:

·         Wikipedia

·         Another explanation, with nice examples



HW9 (3/21): sorting; more data processing


Mar 20, 22

Intro to AppEngine

Severance Chapter 2;

CSS tutorial

HW10 (3/28): Create a feed processor that displays a tag cloud as a web page


Mar 27, 29

Google App Engine

Severance Chapters 4, 5, and 10

HW11 (4/4): publish feed processor on Google App Engine


Apr 3, 5

More on making a dynamic web site;
HTML forms
Django templates

Severance Chapter 4, 11

(Optional: W3Schools tutorial on HTML forms;)

HW12 (4/11):  skeleton version of project site, using an HTML form


Apr 10, 12





Apr 17

Project presentations

Final projects due 4/17

Final Exam

April 26

April 26, 1:30-3:30PM – Final exam period