SENG 475 and ECE 596C — Advanced Programming Techniques for Robust Efficient Computing (With C++)

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Table of Contents

  1. What is the Course About?
  2. When is the Course Offered?
  3. Prerequisite Knowledge and Requirements of Course
  4. Registering for the Course
  5. Accessing Course Materials
  6. Software Development Environment (SDE) for the Course
  7. Accessing the SDE on the Lab Machines (Fully Supported)
  8. Accessing the SDE via Virtual Machine Disk Images (Only Partly Supported)
  9. Accessing the SDE by Installing From Scratch (Not Supported)
  10. Instructor
  11. Office Hours
  12. Tutorial/Marker Teaching Assistants (TAs)
  13. Course Outline
  14. Tutorials
  15. Course-Materials Bug-Bounty Program (CMBBP)
  16. Feedback on Course/Teaching
  17. Important Dates
  18. Required Texts/Materials
  19. Optional Texts/Materials
  20. Video Lectures
  21. Assignments
  22. Project
  23. Final Exam
  24. C++ Book/Lecture-Slide Supplements
  25. Miscellaneous Handouts and Documents


What is the Course About?

Motivation Behind The Course

Collectively, the programming-related courses offered by various programs in the Faculty of Engineering tend to go for breadth of coverage of programming languages rather than depth. That is, students are typically exposed to several programming languages at a relatively basic level, with no one language being covered in great depth. While there is certainly considerable value in breadth of knowledge, not knowing at least one programming language commonly used in industry in depth places the student at a significant disadvantage when seeking employment and can also limit the scope of projects that the student can reasonably undertake as part of their studies. The course SENG 475 (which is crosslisted as the graduate-level course ECE 596C) is intended to address this problem.

The Course (SENG 475 and ECE 596C)

The course SENG 475 (which is crosslisted as the graduate-level course ECE 596C) studies advanced programming techniques for robust efficient computing in the context of the C++ programming language. The course affords students the opportunity to apply, in depth, the concepts learned over a number of courses in the context of a single programming language commonly used in industry (namely, C++). For a variety of programming concepts, the student will learn in detail how each of these concepts maps into particular features of the C++ programming language and how to use these features in an effective manner. Although SENG 475 carries the "SENG" designation, the course is open to any students in the Faculty with the necessary prerequisites.

In order to accommodate graduate students, SENG 475 is crosslisted as the graduate-level course ECE 596C (Selected Topics in Electrical and Computer Engineering).

If you would like an approximate idea of what subset of the material from the lecture-slide deck will be covered in the course, a list of the slides covered when the course was last taught can be found in the following document:


When is the Course Offered?

SENG 475 (which is crosslisted as the graduate-level course ECE 596C) is typically offered in the Summer (May-August) term. The course is planned to be offerred in the Summer 2019 term. Please check this section periodically for updates in case this schedule might possibly change. For information about which courses are being offered by the ECE Department in the current year (such as SENG 475), please refer to the Courses section of the ECE Department web site. Incidentally, if SENG 475 (or ECE 596C) is not offered in a time frame that is feasible for you to take it, you might find the course ECE 486/586 to be of interest.


Prerequisite Knowledge and Requirements of the Course

Prerequisite Knowledge of C++

The course SENG 475 is taught using the programming language C++. It is important to understand, however, that this course does not attempt to teach rudimentary C++. It is assumed that the student already has a basic working knowledge of C++. In particular, it is assumed that the student is familiar with the following aspects of C++:

If you are lacking such knowledge, please read the section below titled "What To Do If You Are Lacking the Prerequisite Knowledge of C++". (I have been led to believe that CSC 116 uses C++ and recent offerings of that course cover much of this material, but I cannot make any guarantees about this as I did not teach that course myself.) If SENG 475 were to devote a significant amount of time to teaching rudimentary C++, no time would be left to cover advanced programming techniques, which is the true purpose of the course. This said, however, some limited time in the lectures and/or tutorials will be devoted to discussing some common problems/misunderstandings about the basics of the language (e.g., const correctness and temporary objects). These discussions will be done under the assumption that students already have basic familiarity with C++, however.

What To Do If You Are Lacking the Prerequisite Knowledge of C++

In order to accommodate students with strong programming skills but no prior knowledge of C++, detailed video lectures are available that cover the necessary prerequisite material. In particular, numerous video lectures related to C++ can be found at:

The material that is assumed as prior knowledge in the course is covered by the lectures in the following video-lecture categories: The material in the following video-lecture categories would also be helpful to know, since students are required to learn this material in the first week of classes for SENG 475 (by watching these video lectures): As long as the student is able to attain a basic understanding of the C++ material in the above video lectures by (approximately) lecture 4 of the course, this should be adequate. The first (approximately) 3 or 4 lectures of the course are structured in a way that any dependency on knowledge of C++ is minimized. After this time, however, the course will plunge deeply into C++, and any students not yet up to speed with the language will have great difficulty (and possibly suffer permanent emotional scarring as a result). In order to avoid unnecessary stress, it is strongly recommended that the student learn this material in advance of the term in which they plan to take the course instead of cramming in the first week of the term (which may not be possible to do).

Since it is impossible to learn C++ without writing code, you are strongly encouraged to write, build, and test code as part of the learning process. If you need a software development environment for learning C++ prior to taking the course, several possibilities exist (listed in decreasing order of desirability):

  1. Using virtual machine disk images that contain the Software Development Environment (SDE) for the course. See the section Accessing the SDE via Virtual Machine Disk Images for more details.
  2. Using the Software Development Environment (SDE) on the machines in the lab used by the course. If close enough to the term in which the course is taught, the software may be available on the lab machines (even though the course has not yet started). See the section Accessing the SDE on the Lab Machines for more details.
  3. Using various departmental/faculty computer labs. Most Linux systems in the ECE Department (and likely the CS Department as well) tend to have the GCC C++ compiler installed (which is accessible via the g++ command).


Registering for the Course

SENG 475 is expected to have relatively high enrollment, as the course is quite popular with students. Since the instructor runs the (computer-based) tutorial himself in addition to his regular teaching load, it is only feasible for the course to have a single instance of the tutorial (i.e., the tutorial must be scheduled at the same time and location for all students in the course). This limits the enrollment of the course to the capacity of the lab in which the tutorial is held (which is about 45). For this reason, it is recommended that students register as soon as possible for the course in order to avoid the possibility of being placed on a long waitlist. If a student is waitlisted for the course, there is always some chance that the student will able to register. Of course, the chances are much better if the student is near the start of the waitlist, rather than the end. Students who are waitlisted often ask if they will be able to register later. Unfortunately, it is impossible to answer such a question. Due to the fast pace of the course, however, it is probably not advisable to register too much after the start of the term, even if possible to do so.


Accessing Course Materials

Some of the downloadable course materials associated with this web page may be stored in a private (i.e., secure/protected) area. Two levels of security are imposed on this area:

  1. First, this area is password protected.
  2. Second, this area is only accessible from machines on the university campus network.
Typically, links to password protected parts of the web site are marked by a padlock. Password Protected

In order to access the private area, you will need to know the appropriate username and password to use (for the web server). If you are taking this course, you should know the correct username and password (which were announced during the first lecture). Note that this username and password are not the ones for your Netlink account. If you would like to access the private area from outside the university campus network, this can be accomplished by using the UVic VPN.


Software Development Environment (SDE) for the Course

A highly-customized software development environment (SDE) has been setup for this course by the instructor. The SDE includes very recent (usually the most recent) versions of software such as:

It is critically important that all students use the SDE and not the system-installed versions of various software, as the non-SDE versions are too outdated (or have other compatibility issues) and will not function correctly for the purposes of the course. The SDE will be used for the grading all programming assignments in the course. So, it is absolutely critical that student code works correctly in this environment.


Accessing the SDE on the Lab Machines (Fully Supported)

Lab and Lab Machines. The SDE is only available on the machines in the computer lab used for the course, namely, the ECE Undergraduate Linux Lab in ELW B238. Since it is possible to remotely login to the machines in the lab via SSH, it is still possible to use the SDE without physically being present in the lab. The machines in the lab can be accessed by remotely logging in (via SSH) to the generic hostname ugls.ece.uvic.ca. Specific lab machines can also be accessed via the hostnames ugls1.ece.uvic.ca, ugls2.ece.uvic.ca, and so on (up to something like ugls46.ece.uvic.ca). Is it recommended, however, that the generic hostname ugls.ece.uvic.ca be used in order to take advantage of potential load balancing (i.e., ugls.ece.uvic.ca will get mapped to the specific machine that is currently least loaded).

Initializing the SDE. To access the SDE (on one of the lab machines), you should run the following command in your shell:

This command will start a new subshell that is correctly configured to use the SDE. Only this new subshell will be configured in this way, however.

Do not try to use the SDE on machines in the ECE Department other than the machines in the lab for the course, as this will not work properly. Although you will be able to access the sde_shell script on most ECE Department machines since the directory /home/frodo/public/ugls_lab is accessible on most ECE Department machines, the software installed under /home/frodo/public/ugls_lab will only work on the machines in the lab. Extremely bizarre failure modes are very likely to be encountered if the SDE is used on machines outside the lab for the course. Such failure modes include, amongst many others:

In order to use the SDE on a machine outside the lab, you would need to install the SDE yourself (from scratch) on that machine. Since installing the SDE is a very time-consuming and tedious process, it is not recommended that students attempt to do this.

Common Problems With the SDE

The most common problems with the SDE are as follows:

  1. Attempting to use the SDE on a machine with a configuration different from the ones for which the SDE was built (i.e., attempting to use the SDE on machines outside the lab for the course). The SDE was built on the lab machines and therefore can only be guaranteed to work correctly on the lab machines. It is almost guaranteed that the SDE will not work if used on machines outside the lab for the course. For information about the lab and the hostnames of the machines in this lab, see the information above.
  2. Failing to initialize the SDE. The SDE is not enabled by default. If you do not initialize it, you will not be using it. For instructions on how to properly initialize the SDE, see the information above.


Accessing the SDE With Virtual Machine (VM) Software (Only Partly Supported)

Note: The use of virtual machine disk images is only partly supported.

Although the most-recent version of the full SDE is only available on the lab machines, some other options for accessing most of the SDE functionality are also available. Of these options, the only one that is recommended for a typical student is the one based on virtual-machine (VM) software, as described below.

A virtual-machine (VM) software application allows one operating system (called the guest operating system) to be run as an application program on another possibly different operating system (called the host operating system). Some popular VM software applications include:

If your computer runs Linux with secure boot enabled, it is recommended that you use GNOME Boxes (to avoid the hassle of having to cryptographically sign the kernel modules used by VirtualBox). Otherwise (e.g., if your computer runs MacOS, Windows, or Linux with secure boot disabled), the use of VirtualBox is recommended, as it generally works well and has a less restrictive license than VMWare Workstation Player. If you are using VM software for the first time on your computer, you may need to enable virtualization in your computer's firmware (sometimes called BIOS), as VM software typically requires hardware support for virtualization to be enabled and this support is not always enabled by default. In order to enable this support (if required), you should look for firmware configuration settings that relate to virtualization. For example, for 64-bit Intel x86 processors, Intel-VT (Intel Virtualization Technology) support must be enabled, and for 64-bit AMD x86 processors, AMD-V (AMD Virtualization) support must be enabled.

VM disk images are available that contain an installation of a relatively recent version of the SDE without the SENG475 Assignments package (i.e., the software package that contains the assignment definitions for the course). If you have VM software on your own computer, you may find these disk images to be helpful. Please note, however, that these disk images do not include the SENG 475 Assignments package. Consequently, programs like assignment_precheck are not functional in these disk images. For this reason, these disk images cannot be used as a complete substitute for the lab machines.

The following VM disk images are available for download:

The files with a ".gz" extension are compressed using Gzip and will need to be decompressed before use. If the VM software tool directly uses the disk image file (rather than making a copy of it), ensure that the file is both readable and writeable. The particular format (of disk image) that should be employed will depend on the specific VM software being used. Some VM software tools support multiple disk image formats. VirtualBox supports the VDI format (and possibly others). Many VM software tools on Linux support the QCOW2 format. VMWare supports the VMDK format (and possibly others).


Installing the SDE from Scratch (Not Supported)

Although the SDE is only officially supported on the lab machines, a student can certainly try (if they would like) to install the SDE on their own computer. If a student would like to install the SDE on their own computer, the SDE is available from its official Git repository, hosted by GitHub. The home page for the SDE on GitHub can be found at:

The Git repository has the URL: Installation instructions for the SDE can be found in the file README.md in the top-level directory of the repository.

The instructor only officially supports the SDE on the lab machines. So, if a student encounters problems when attempting to install (or use) the SDE on their own machine, the instructor cannot provide assistance. The SDE will only work on Unix-based systems. It should have a reasonable chance of working with Linux distributions that are fairly complete and stay current with recent software versions. For example, it is known to work with recent versions of Fedora and CentOS. It will probably not work for Mac OS X (due to Apple using older versions of some software in OS X and not including other software at all). Note that installing the SDE will likely take several hours, since building software like GCC and Clang (and downloading TeX Live) is very time consuming.


Instructor

Michael Adams
E-Mail: mdadams (append "@ece.uvic.ca" for the complete address)
Office: EOW 311

For more sordid details about the instructor look here.


Office Hours

Regular (Non-Final-Exam) Office Hours

My regular (i.e., non-final-exam) office hours will be posted here as determined in the first lecture.

Final-Exam Office Hours

My final-exam office hours will be determined closer to the end of the term and will be posted here at that time.


Tutorial/Marker Teaching Assistants (TAs)

The teaching assistants (TAs) for the course will be posted as soon as they are known.

Information on which TAs marked which assignments can be found in the following document:


Course Outline

The course outline is distributed in hardcopy form during the first lecture. The course outline is also available via the following link:


Tutorials

General Comments About Tutorials

The tutorial is run by the instructor, not a teaching assistant. Since the instructor runs the tutorial himself in addition to his regular teaching workload, it is not feasible to have more than one instance of the tutorial. Tutorial attendance is mandatory. An explanation of why this is so is given below.

The precise manner in which the tutorials are to be used depends on factors that are impossible to predict in advance of the start of the course. Such factors include the specific needs of the students taking the course as well as the need to address any unexpected issues that arise during the teaching of the course. Although the precise manner in which tutorials will be used cannot be specified in advance of the start of the course, some possible uses can be identified. In particular, the tutorials may be used for a number of purposes, including (but not limited to):

  1. presentations by the instructor to fill (unanticipated) gaps in student knowledge relevant to the course
  2. presentations by the instructor to further clarify more difficult topics in the course
  3. in-lab office hours for the instructor
  4. software (or other) demonstrations by the instructor
  5. time for students to work on programming assignments or exercises
  6. student interviews regarding code submitted for programming assignments (to guard against plagiarism)
For some of the above uses of the tutorial, it is extremely important that all students be in attendance. This is why tutorial attendance is deemed mandatory.

Scheduling Conflicts with the Tutorial

If a student is considering taking the course, but has a conflict with the tutorial, they should contact the instructor for guidance in advance of the start of the course. When contacting the instructor, such a student should provide the following information:

In anticipation of conflicts with the last part of the tutorial timeslot, the instructor will try to prioritize more important content earlier in the timeslot. In some cases, however, the full timeslot will likely be needed, in which case a student who leaves the tutorial early would miss potentially important course content.


Course-Materials Bug-Bounty Program (CMBBP)

By participating in the Course-Materials Bug-Bounty Program (CMBBP), you can earn extra marks in the course. If you are interested in obtaining extra marks, then read the following document on the CMBBP:

The following document lists all bugs reported to date as part of the CMBBP:


Feedback on Course/Teaching

Feedback on the course and teaching is always most welcome! The instructor will never hold any of your comments against you, but please be constructive in your criticism.

Several options are available for providing feedback. You can provide feedback through:


Important Dates

The following important dates should be noted, which include submission deadlines for assignments and the project (proposal and software):


Required Texts/Materials

The required texts/materials for the course are listed on the course outline handout. All of these items are available from the University Bookstore.

The lecture slides are available in PDF format from:

Note that multiple versions of the lecture slides are available. So, be certain to obtain the correct version for the course.


Optional Texts/Materials

The optional textbook for this course is the following: It is critical to obtain the fourth edition as earlier editions do not have coverage of C++11 features.


Video Lectures

Numerous video lectures are available on topics related to the course materials. The video lectures focus primarily on the C++ programming language, the C++ standard library, and a variety of software development tools. Students may find some of these video lectures to be helpful at various points in time. In particular, the video lectures are expected to be extremely helpful to students who have no (or very limited) prior experience with C++ and need to quickly get up to speed with this language prior to the start of the course. Note that the vast majority of topics covered in the course are not covered by these video lectures. So, it is critically important that students attend in-class lectures and not attempt to rely solely on the video lectures for learning the course materials.

The following handouts are available for the video lectures:


Assignments

Weighting of Assignments in Assignment Component of Course Mark. As mentioned in the course outline, the assignments are not necessarily equally weighted in the calculation of the assignment component of the course mark. Each of Assignments 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 carries an equal weight, but Assignment 0 only carries one-quarter the weight of each of the other assignments. This difference is due to the fact that Assignment 0 is simply an exercise in using some of the software tools for the course and does not involve any real programming per se (i.e., no code needs to be written).

Solutions to Programming Exercises. Since there is typically no one correct solution to the programming exercises, solutions to such exercises are not posted. If you would like to see the instructor's solution to any of the programming exercises, the instructor would be more than willing to show his solution to you (and explain how it works). He will not provide a copy of his code, however.

Marking Issues. If you have any concerns about the marking of an assignment, please directly contact the TA who marked the assignment. Contact information for TAs and a list of which TAs marked which assignments can be found in the Tutorial/Marker Teaching Assistants section.

Handouts and Related Information. The following downloads are available for assignments:

Marking Information. The following documents are available regarding assignment grading and solutions for non-programming exercises:


Project (Graduate-Level Version of Course Only)

The project is a component of the course only for students who are registered in the graduate-level version of the course. Students who are registered in the undergraduate-level version of the course do not do a project!

The following handouts are available for the project:

Some links to the presentation videos from past student projects are as follows:


Final Exam

Information about the final exam will be made available here later in the term. Stay tuned.


C++ Book/Lecture-Slide Supplements

Some additional revisions have been made to the lecture slides for the course since the time that they were published (e.g., to correct errors, improve explanations, and add clarifications). The more significant of these changes are made available through supplements to the lecture slides, which contain collections of. revised/new slides. The following lecture-slide supplements are currently available:


Miscellaneous Handouts and Documents

The following handouts were associated with the first lecture in the course: