About the Instructor
CSC 105 - The Digital Age
My answers to the questionnaire
My name is Jerod Weinman. For this course, I prefer to be called
any of the following: Professor Weinman, Dr. Weinman, or (in
egalitarian Grinnell College style) Mr. Weinman, whichever you
I studied Computer Science and Mathematics (double major B.S.) at
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a similarly-sized school in
Terre Haute, Indiana that focuses on teaching engineering, math,
My PhD in Computer Science came from the University of
Massachusetts Amherst, where I specialized in computer vision
and machine learning. My dissertation research involved
designing algorithms for a system to help the blind navigate by
reading text from images
(such as street signs and storefronts).
In addition to this course, I am teaching the "Functional
Problem Solving in Scheme," which is an algorithmic (like this
class) introduction to computer science. I am also teaching
"Algorithms and Object Oriented Design," which covers a
different model of computation for solving problems and some
fundamental topics relating to information organization and
Unlike today, when I started with computers, it was still unusual
to be first exposed to them as a one year-old, which I was when my
dad brought home his first Apple ][. This is the same computer I
first learned to program on in junior high. (My first was a quiz
program about baseball trivia.) I was excited by the opportunity
to practice creative thinking and problem solving that could be
applied to whatever other interests were at hand. As an
undergraduate, an introductory course on image processing led me
to my research area where I am often faced with reverse engineering
a different kind of "computer"--the human visual system.
As always, I look forward to getting to know my students and
their approaches to learning about computation.
Even if you choose not to take any further CompSci classes, my
biggest concern is that you will all sense the richness of
information, its representation and processing, as well as its
social, legal, and ethical ramifications.
You can ask me about the landmark of my hometown in Nebraska, my
earlier involvement as a college radio DJ, my stint as a
frontman for a punk band in a previous life, or whether I've
managed to resuscitate my hobby of playing fingerstyle guitar,
which has been mostly dormant since writing my PhD thesis.
What questions do you have for me that have not already been answered?
- How do you feel about free software free culture?
I appreciate and sympathize with the liberties that free software
provides. We'll discuss more of this in greater detail on Feb. 14.
- What do you enjoy most about computer science?
That's a hard, but wonderful question. I love the challenge of a
good problem and the satisfaction of coming up with a model or
program that successfully answers a question or solves a
problem. It's rather like building with legos. Thinking about and
tinkering with the raw building blocks of information until you
manage to assemble them in the way that makes sense.
How did you first start programming computers? Did your dad teach you,
or did you learn from a book? And what initially got you interested in
One option at a summer camp I went to in seventh grade was a short
course in BASIC programming. The interactivity of that experience
left a big impression on me and I started to do it on my own at home
afterwards. There was no world wide web then, so I had to wait until
high school to find out and learn more in additional courses.
What was it that sparked your interest in Computer Science and what
do you think was the most interesting aspect of Computer Science
that you have encountered over your career?
Again, for the first question, it was really the notion of having a
machine do exactly what one programmed it to do. That was
thrilling for an eighth grader. One of the most interesting aspects
of Computer Science are that even when we understand what the
"rules" of a system are (because we designed them), and they can
be very simple, that does not mean we know how the system
will behave. That is a very fascinating concept to me.
- Do you like video games?
I don't dislike them, but I'm not much of a game player in general,
let alone video games.
What are a few of the most interesting books and/or articles you've
read about the social/ethical issues that have been raised by recent
I plan to read Blown to Bits by Harry Lewis and may consider
using it for the test of this course. A not-so-recent book but very
prescient of the last and coming decade is The Transparent
Society by David Brin. Getting up to speed on the latest
intellectual property Supreme Court cases has been enlightening as
well (e.g., Google AdWords and trademark violations, software patents, etc.)
What is your opinion on e-readers?
I think it's great if it increases the reading people do. Perhaps it
will stave the death of traditional newspaper journalism. For me,
however, I much prefer paper and will not own one any time soon.
What is your take on PC vs Mac? Is one better than the other?
I assume you mean the Windows operating system versus the Macintosh
operating system. (PC technically and generally refers to the
hardware, which is now shared by both operating systems). Both
suffer from unfortunate intellectual property restrictions (neither
is based on the free software philosophy). For various reasons, my
personal computer is a Macintosh. I like it because it runs a UNIX
operating system at its core, which means I can program many aspects
of it in ways that are familiar to me, because my professional work
environment is generally UNIX-based. I also just think it's pretty.
How do you feel about the state of Iowa?
Being from Nebraska originally, coming to Iowa wasn't a big stretch
geographically or culturally. I love being here. (But I still root
for Nebraska football.)
You work with A.I. Could you have a band of robots? How would that work?
I don't see why not. It probably require a combination of active
listening (like the Sony robots that dance) and perhaps
pattern-based creativity (for the guitar solo). Robotic hands aren't
quite dexterous enough to play guitar well, but some day it will be
What are some of your other interests that don't have to do with
Aside from those listed above, I really enjoy cooking (though I
don't get to as much as I used to), and especially barbecuing and
grilling on my Big Green Egg. I also like fishing from my kayak in the summer,
and (this time of year) cross-country skiing for exercise.