17 August 2011

The new semester starts in a few weeks and like last time I’ll be studying two courses. The first is Computer Architecture and the second is Internet Information Retrieval.

The Computer Architecture course is really designed for people who don’t have a first degree (that is a bachelors degree) in computer science or who haven’t studied computer science topics at master’s level. My master’s degree is in Information Technology and the modules I took didn’t really go into great depth on this topic. As someone who spends every day looking for ways to make his code more efficient, a detailed understanding of computer architecture is pretty much essential. It’s not so much that I don’t know about the topic but more that I am self taught and so there are likely gaps in my knowledge; gaps that I really need to fill!

Internet Information Retrieval should be pretty interesting. Data mining the Internet is extremely challenging. Most pages on the world wide web exist to show pretty content to humans. Of course we can look at any site and intuitively understand it. However a computer doesn’t know about context, can’t make leaps of faith or intuition and generally has great difficulty doing many of the things we do without a second thought.

Therein lies the problem. People can easily extract the information, but they are limited by how fast they can read. In other words people don’t scale very well. If you have twenty thousand pages to process and only one person to look at them, it’s going to take a very long time. On the other hand computers are extremely fast when it comes to data crunching and scaling is relatively painless. At least it would be if you could figure out how to get the computer to find the data that you’re interested in. That is what this course is all about.

I’m also hoping to complete the Ethics module this semester. I’m not really sure what the content will be and I’ve found previous attempts at “ethics training” to be somewhat sub par. For example, having to sit a compulsory training course where half the things it tells you are actually illegal in the UK but you have to answer correctly (or is that incorrectly?) in order to pass, is really not that impressive. Besides ethics training can usually be summed up as:

If it benefits you, your family or someone you know - it’s unethical.

Job done. However, I was also skeptical about the English for Research test that I had to take. Being a native speaker and one who has published several books, I figured that an English test was somewhat pointless for me. However as it was compulsory and I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it I went along. It turned out to be a lot more involved than I thought and specifically targeted academic writing and how to properly find, use and cite content from extracts that have been provided. Not quite the walk in the park that was initially anticipated.

So as far as the ethics training goes, I’m going to keep an open mind; I’m always willing to be pleasantly surprised…

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