Fri, 30th Aug 2013, 02:54

A student writes:

> Hi Dr. Patt!
> I was just wondering if you would like your students to print out the
> problem set page, fill it out, and turn it in, or if it'd be ok to just
> write their answers on a separate sheet of paper without having to print
> out a physical copy of the problem sets.
> Thanks!
> <>

In class yesterday, I noted that one of the major differences between natural
languages that humans use with other humans (like English, French, Chinese,
etc.) and mechanical languages (like C++, JAVA, etc.) that we use to
communicate with computers is ambiguity.  That is, the computer can not deal
with any instruction that can be interpreted more than one way: everything
must be unambiguous!  (There is a strong research effort to change that
with respect to computers, but that is well beyond our interests in EE 306.)

So, yes, English can be ambiguous.  So, I try very hard to make my instructions
unambiguous, although I do not always succeed.

However, in this case, is there anything ambiguous about the instruction:
"Please print this form, fill it in, and turn in with a current photo..."?

...and yes, I do have a reason for wanting you to actually print the form.

Sorry to waste everyone's time with this, since I hope most of you found the
statement unambiguous.  But it did give me an opportunity to emphasize an
important difference between natural languages and computer languages, so
perhaps I was not wasting your time afterall.  :-)

By the way, the student asked if I wanted him to print out the problem set
page.  I assume he meant the Student Information page, since nowhere in the
assignment does it say anything about printing the problem set page.

Have a great weekend.