School

Want to work on Pidgin or LibreOffice this summer?

Posted by Strainu on May 15, 2011
Open Content, School, Software / No Comments

This summer, I’m going to be a mentor for a project in Rosedu Summer of Code, the local version of GSoC. The goal of the project is to create a way for Pidgin and LibreOffice users to send Romanian words that do not exist in the Romanian spelling dictionary to the maintainers of the dictionary. This is a continuation of my previous work on the issue with Firefox. It is also acceptable for the student to choose another application to work on.

Working with open source will mean learning to use the tools used in the project, as well as communicate with the other developers involved in the project by using mailing lists, wikis, IRC or any other mean used within the project.

So, if you’re a student and you want the opportunity to work on Pidgin, LibreOffice or any other FLOSS software, please apply for a place at Stagii pe Bune.

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Libertatea dincolo de software

Posted by Strainu on April 04, 2011
Open Content, Publications, Romana, School, Wikipedia / 3 Comments

Acum două săptămâni am fost invitat să le vorbesc unor studenți ce urmează “Cursul de dezvoltare liberă” despre Wikipedia și alte proiecte libere în care am fost implicat. Am decis să mă orientez spre proiecte non-software, tocmai pentru a le oferi și o altă abordare a libertății decât cea pe care o văd la curs.

Am vorbit deci despre oportunitatea folosirii limbii române în cât mai multe din proiectele la care participă, apoi despre Wikipedia și OpenStreetMap, iar în final le-am prezentat câteva informații sumare despre licențele specifice pentru bazele de date. Prezentarea este disponibilă in format odp și pdf.

Prezentarea a fost bine primită, diferența între harta OSM înainte și după importul de date CLC smulgând câteva aplauze 😛 Din păcate s-a observat și în rândul studenților prezenți acolo o lipsă de încredere în capacitatea românilor de a produce conținut de calitate, precum și dorința multora de a pleca din România. Argumentul cel mai des folosit pentru utilizarea limbii engleze în blogurile lor a fost “pot să îl prezint unui angajator de afară”.

Un oarecare interes a stârnit și ideea mea cu o aplicație Google Apps de transfer de date între OSM și Wikipedia. Voi încerca să o pun în aplicare la următorul Coding Day organizat de PyBucurești.

Sper ca din cei vreo 20 de oameni prezenți măcar vreo 2-3 să aibă curiozitate să încerce proiectele despre care am vorbit.

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Culmea nesimţirii

Posted by Strainu on January 23, 2009
Romana, School, Society / 2 Comments

De când m-am întors din Franţa mă bătea gândul să mai încerc să mai fiu asistent la Calculatoare. Am tot amânat o decizie, nefiind prea hotărât, dar azi m-am decis cât se poate de brusc: nu mai vreau să aud de şcoli şi cercetare decât dacă o să ajung muritor de foame. Mai bine zeci de ore de şedinţe şi formulare şi birocraţie decât umilinţele din şcoli!

Motivul revoltei mele îl constituie maică-mea, profesoară la un liceu din Bucureşti. A venit azi la mine să mă întrebe dacă pot s-o ajut să facă rost de MathType (versiunea profesională de Microsoft Equation Editor). De ce avea nevoie? O anumită editură i-a cerut să îi ajute cu rezolvarea (în 2-3 zile de la apariţie) a subiectelor de bac de anul acesta. Rezolvarea trebuie formatată folosind softul ăla, care costă vreo 97$ la liber şi jumate pentru şcoli.

Eu ca prostul am întrebat cât o plătesc, la care răspunsul a fost: “nimic, dar îmi apare numele acolo şi se consideră activitate de cercetare”. 😐 Carevasăzică, în timp ce editorii se umplu de bani din cărţile astea, profii care le scriu cartea şi le-o şi vând primesc… mulţumiri. Scuipa-v-aş între ochi de jegoşi!

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START Internships

Posted by Strainu on March 28, 2008
Cool webpages, School / No Comments

Remember Stagii pe Bune? It appears that with some help from Monica, the message has finally reached them. You can read their comments (and my answers) on the previous post.

Today I wanted to talk about a newcomer on this market, a program called START (the website is not functional), launched by the Government. In 2008, the project will only be available to Bucharest students, unlike Stagii pe Bune, which is also available in Timisoara, Iasi and Cluj.

I asked Vlad Posea, one of the guys behind Stagii pe Bune for an opinion. He said that his team wishes the best of lucks to START, but was pessimistic about the chances of the new project. Considering the kind of brains it takes to launch a program for students without a website, I have to agree with him.

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CS Faculty Review: The Future

Posted by Strainu on March 20, 2008
School / 1 Comment

This is my final post in the CS Review Series. I’ll talk about the changes the I consider useful for this faculty. I am aware that I will shock many people, especially teachers and/or TAs, but this is the way I see things.

In the previous parts I have already noted some ideas:

  • the final mark could be expressed out of 100 points instead of 10 points.
  • consider changing the language used in the first programming courses
  • use the mony to by computers for the students, not for the auxiliary personnel or for LCD TVs

What else could be done? Well, an idea would be to publish the budget (with more details than here). Another one would be to externalize the cleaning of the school. It would cost more, but if the contract would be well written, we would have a clear improvement in the quality of the services.

About the teaching itself, promoting young teachers and convincing graduates to remain in the faculty is essential. This can only be accomplished by offering more places in master courses while updating the master courses. On the longer term, more interesting PhD subjects and research programs could help rebuild a normal group of teachers (the current ones are either very old or very young).

There should be promotional campaigns in the high schools to attract the best students to CS. A very good argument would be the fact that here you can learn the basics of many interesting technologies and you can interact with people interested in the same domain.

In order to sustain this campaign, the school should have a coherent image, like all important universities – with guidelines on the look of the logo, templates for presentations and documents, and so on. I am aware that this would probably imply using a specialized company, which is probably difficult considering the budget limitations.

This concludes my old faculty’s review. I hope that some of the people who read this will find it useful.

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CS Faculty Review: The Marks

Posted by Strainu on March 07, 2008
School / No Comments

The grading system is one of the main problems of Romanian universities. The rounding system is pretty clear: from 0,5 points you get the mark above, below 0,5p you get the lower mark. Unfortunately, students would do pretty much anything to push that limit as low as possible. There are two very different pressure points: the top mark (10/10) and the lowest passage mark (5/10).

During my years at UPB I’ve seen students fight, beg and even cry in order to get a higher mark. I consider that kind of stuff simply disgusting. What’s worse, this kind of behavior is accepted and sometimes even encouraged by the teachers.

So what can be done?

  • the first step should be eliminating the minimum number of points for partial tests and keep only the 5/10 limit for the final mark. This will make students calmer and more confident when they enter the final exam, which in turn can lead to better overall results;
  • DON’T push the limit lower – it should be 5m not 4.5 and certainly NOT LOWER.
  • the final mark could be expressed out of 100 points instead of 10 points. This would eliminate the need for rounding and will allow for a better classification of students – one with 84 points won’t feel the need to ask for a 9 just to show that he’s better than a student with 75 points.
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CS Faculty Review: The Teachers and The Curriculum

Posted by Strainu on February 22, 2008
School / No Comments

This is by far the most extensive part of my review. My plan was to make two separate posts, but I realized I couldn’t talk about the subjects without talking about the teachers.

There was an extensive discussion with the fourth year students about what could be changed in the faculty. There were many interesting ideas, such as replacing C with Python or Alice in the basic programming course and replacing the x86 assembler course with a more general course that would allow students to program on pretty much any platform. A more radical proposed approach was to put the C in a separate course, taught after the computer architecture course.

I finally got to presenting my experience in the faculty. For those who might read this later on, I must say I have a 5 years degree. Nowadays, students only spend 4 years in the faculty and the curriculum has changed a little. In the end I will talk about the new subjects, but let’s start with the old stuff.

First year

The first year was full of non-technical subjects. Math, Physics, Culture & Civilisation or Sport were all useless courses meant to quickly go in the history’s recycle bin.

The two most important courses were Computer Programming (with E. Kalisz) and Data Structures and Algorithms (with F. Moraru). Both subjects were taught in C and unfortunately the emphasis was on the language’s capabilities rather than the actual principles. My opinion is that the choice of the language was correct, as C allows the students to familiarize themselves with curly-brackets languages as well as presenting them (the hard way) with some notions on parameter passing. Some might argue that learning C pointers just to illustrate some of the many parameter-passing techniques is just too much, but I disagree. Once you understood pointers, other similar structures will be much easier to grasp.

Second year

The second year was pretty much like the first one. 17 courses in all, with lots of electronics and little computer science. Again, I will not go in details about most of the subjects. They’re a necessary evil in my opinion, but they shouldn’t distract a student from learning as much as he can from books or tutorials on the internet.

The two programming courses were PLAS (Assembler language programming) and OOP (Object Oriented Programming). PLAS (with Prof. Lungu) was pretty much a review of x86 assembler commands. Again, too much focus on the language itself and too little about the principles of computer architectures and assembler programming. As one TA put it:

After this course, students should be able to program pretty much any device, from an ARM to an x86.

OOP is the most extensively discussed course in the whole faculty. It’s importance is beyond discussion, but the language chosen to illustrate the concepts is again at the center stage of the fight. The teacher (Prof. Moraru again) chose Java many, many years ago. Microsoft technology fans argue that .NET should be used instead, while other want a comparison between the two or C++. What I would have liked to see is a specially designed, all-object, no thrills language that would provide little more that OOP-specific properties (inheritance, polymorphism, etc.). If that was impossible, I would have preferred C++, because it offers some features abandoned in high-level languages.

Third year

This was the first year when I felt I was at the right faculty. 🙂 We had courses like Algorithms Analysis (AA), Computer Architecture, Computer Graphics, Data Transmissions, Software engineering or Communication Protocols, that reopened our taste for the faculty.

The AA course, with prof. Cristian Giumale, should have been done in the first year, not in the third. It talked in a not-so-easy-to-understand way about P/NP problems, the O, o and omega functions and so on.

The software engineering course was the first opening on the industry we had from the moment we entered the faculty. It talked about software development cycles, testing and design patters. This course, as well as the Protocols course were taught by TA’s only 3 or 4 years older than us, which allowed for easier interaction. Unfortunately, the Protocols course is misplaced, it should be taught AFTER the Networking course.

The Computer Graphics (D. Zaharia) and Data Transmissions (can’t remember the teacher’s name) could/should have been some great courses. Unfortunately, they were little more than history lessons. The same cannot be said about the Computer Architecture course (taught by prof. A. Petrescu, the father of most Romanian compuers in the 1970s and 1980s). This one started with the oldest computers but continued with the most recent technologies. Too bad the TA’s (the 4 Popescu as they were known) were not anywhere near prof. Petrescu’s enthusiasm and knowledge.

Fourth year

This year was divided in 2 very different semsters – in the first one there were more CS subjects, while the second represented the beginning of the specialization.

In the fall semester we had to pass through Operating Systems, Networking, Microprocessors and Database. The Operating Systems (with D. Zaharia) and the Microprocessors (with N. Ţăpuş) courses were yet again history lessons. Fortunately for us, the OS lab was excellent – taught by Cristina Cărbunaru after labs written by Răzvan Deaconescu.

The Networking (R. Rughiniş) and Computer Structure (E. Sluşanschi) courses were much more updated, as they were taught by younger teachers. Both had their problems though – Rughini? was much too concerned with cheating and Slu?anschi too focused on the top 500 supercomputers list.

The Database course was quite interesting (with. F. Rădulescu), but the lab sucked. A special mention should be given to Management – the only non-technical course in the faculty to be taught seriously AND in a way that was easy to understand for geeks.

In the second semester we met the famous subject that make this faculty such a feared one: Compilers (V. Palanciuc) and Operating System Design (O. Purdilă). Unfortunately, both teachers had serious problems with pedagogy and those problems shadowed their high technical skills. The labs were very interesting and the homeworks much easier than in previous years.

Other courses were Database Design (much less interesting with prof. M. Petrescu), Parallel Architectures (an introduction to OpenMP and MPI with prof. N. Ţăpuş) and Functional Programming with C. Giumale. The latter turned out to be like an Ali Baba’s cave – a totally new approach to programming, something different from what we knew before. Unfortunately, it was also very difficult to grasp, despite the teachers best efforts.

Final semester

The final semester was, as expected, the easiest one. We had 2 subjects with prof. Valentin Cristea and a Distributed Systems course (which turned out to be more like a J2EE course) with Corina Stratan.

Most of us were pleasantly surprised by the attitude prof. Cristea had towards the courses. From the older student we found out that he was pretty much uninterested and distant with the students. This year there was a whole different story. We felt that he was extremely motivated in trying to send us the maximum of knowledge. Perhaps all the changes in the curriculum actually managed to get the teachers a little more interested? Hope so…

New stuff

The most notable new entry is USO – Operating Systems Use. It teaches students on how to use a *NIX system: how to compile a program, how to secure the system, what’s a process, a thread, a I/O device, etc. The teachers are the same as in the Networking course.

Another novelty in the 4 years system is the Information Technology specialization. The way I see it, it’s just another way to squeeze even more students in an already overcrowded place.

I also noticed that the last year of study is different – you can choose subjects from other specialization branches as well as from a common pool. This is a good thing, as it allows for more choices from the students.

As a conclusion, I might say that the faculty actually begun for me in the third year. Even then, there were few subjects where both the lectures and the labs were good. Most of the time, only one of them was well-made.

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CS Faculty Review: The School

Posted by Strainu on February 15, 2008
School / No Comments

I start my look back on my years at UPB by looking at how the main campus (the one between Regie and Iuliu Maniu) has changed from 2003.

When I first entered the campus (in February 2003) it seemed like a huge, abandoned city to me. The new library building looked as is if it was just started, the roads were full of potholes and there was nobody around. 😀 I later found out that the lack of people was caused by the exams, but at that time it was pretty scary.

I entered by the lower gate (near the Dâmboviţa river) and I had to work my way to the other side of the campus, were my future faculty was. There were some signs at every crossroads, but they were so vague they turned out to be an annoyance rather than helpful.

The first image of the faculty that I remember is pretty much like this one. As i neared the buildings, though, i started to see the signs of time on the building – rusty window profiles, broken windows, etc.

Later on that year, I had the opportunity to see the interiors. Not too impressive for a future student, I must say. Old paint jobs, water leaking from the roof of the top floor, broken chairs, blackboards that looked like they were bombarded with chalk, etc. All that hasn’t put me down and I soon became a student at the faculty I’ve always wanted to study at. 😀

Unfortunately, that was like opening Pandora’s box. I soon discovered that the much publicized labs were only used by students in their last year or by teachers. For newbies, there were some leftovers – Pentium 1 computers with as little as 16MB of RAM. The bottom of the pit was in the second year when we had an assembler lab that was made out of 286 IBM PC’s. Yes, that kind of stuff (minus the color screen). They didn’t even had they’re own hard-disks, but were just terminals connected to a mainframe computer. State of the art technology… from 20 years ago.

So has all this changed? Well, some of it has. The buildings are slowly being renovated. Unfortunately, the well-known habit of handing over the works to relatives of the men in charge of the projects has taken its toll: the roof of some newly painted labs is leaking, the linoleum has already peeled off, and so on.

However, there are now 2 course halls fitted with projectors, and the doorman has another one to be used in the other halls. The “minimum” requirements for a computer has (apparently) gone up to 64MB of RAM. Impressive compared with that old 286. 😛

Some expenses are less than useful: the faculty had 2 LCD TVs installed last year, and 2 more this year. To what purpose? They only showed informations that you could easily get from the website. After some break-ins last year, there was a new security system installed. Too bad it was installed to the dean’s office and not the labs. Perhaps some people were concerned they might loose their Solitaire high-scores, who knows? 😀

And because I mentioned the new library building, I must admit I was partially wrong about it – in the first year, I said it still won’t have walls when I would finish the faculty. Well, it now has walls and a roof. Actually, it seems pretty much done on the outside, probably needs some finishing touches on the interior.

Another thing that HAS changed about the campus are the cars – like everywhere in the city, there are a lot of cars, slowly taking over the green space. The solution? Put a barrier in the middle of the campus and don’t let anyone pass except the teachers. That was probably the dumbest idea I’ve seen in this University.

So, how much longer until we’ll (or rather you’ll) have a decent campus? I don’t know. I hope for the best, but expect something much worse. 🙂

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CS Faculty Reviews

Posted by Strainu on February 11, 2008
School / No Comments

I just passed my last exam in the Computer Science Faculty of the Politehnica University of Bucharest. Inspired by Vlad, add and this thread on the Softpedia Forum, I decided to write about the last 5 years of my life. I divided my story in 4 parts; each part will appear on Friday evening (hopefully).

The 4 parts are (I’ll put the links as I write the articles):

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The IXIA CEO @ Poli

Posted by Strainu on December 09, 2007
School / No Comments

This semester I’m a TA in the Local Networks course at my faculty. The classes are held in a lab paid for by IXIA Romania. This last Friday I was at a friend’s lab when we had a surprise visit from Errol Ginsberg, the President and CEO of IXIA. He talked a little with the students and answered some of their questions. Here are some of the things that he talked about.

IXIA started in a small office in LA in may 1997. Mr. Ginsberg’s goal was to build a company with 30 employees, but now he has 800.

IXIA was lauched when the internet switching market had just started. The first testing system was built from nothing in just 1 year. In June 1998 Cisco became their first major client. In those days, ATM was still the big thing, and betting on the Ethernet like IXIA did was a big gamble. Fortunately, he was right, and the companies that were in ATM are not here anymore.

IXIA have an important office in Romania. They make software and test their devices and are trying to start some hardware design here, but for now the hardware is made in California. The other major development center is in India.

One of the TA’s asked him how old he was when he started and what do you need when starting a company. Mr. Ginsberg first said “I was 10 years younger than I am now” :D, and then admitted he was 41 in 1997. By that time, he had 17 years of experience and had already failed with another start-up because he hadn’t managed to get the right people in his company. He started IXIA because he saw a gap in the market. The first switch testers was the SmartBits line from Netcom Systems. There was an opportunity for another competitor in that space, because clients want competition. Netcom fixed the prices and were not responsive to the client’s problems.

He finished his speech by saying that nowadays it’s hard to start a networking company, but there is plenty of room for Internet companies, if you have the right financing and the right people to work for you.

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