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Lecture Notes]

Course Info:
  [Texts & Links]
  [HW Info]
  [Exam Info]
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HW Assignments:
  [Hw1]  [Hw2]  [Hw3]
  [Hw4]  [Hw5]

Practice Exams:
  [Mid1]  [Mid2]  [Final]


CS154 Spring 2006 Sec3 & Sec5 Home Page/Syllabus

Formal Languages and Computability

Instructor: Chris Pollett
Office: MH 214
Phone Number: (408) 924 5145
Office Hours:MW 1:20pm-2:50pm 4:20-5:20pm
Class Meets:
Sec3 MW 12pm-1:15pm in MH222
Sec5 MW 3:00pm-4:15pm in MH223


To take this class you must have taken: MA42 and CS46B with a grade of C- or better.

Texts and Links

Required Texts: Introduction to the Theory of Computation. by Michael Sipser.
Online References and Other Links: Author's Book web site.
Obtaining LaTeX.
LaTeX Documentation.
LaTeX file with many examples.
JPicEdt for editing graphics for LaTeX.

Topics and Outcomes

This course covers the basics of finite automata, context-free languages, Turing machines, computability. Finite automata are used in the lexical analysis part of a compiler, and are also used for string matching, and for simple AIs in video games. Context-free languages are used for parsing in compilers. XML is a currently trendy language for defining essentially context-free languages. Computability is the study of what it is possibility to get a computer to do. In computability theory, we use an abstract model of a computer called a Turing Machine. By the end of this course, in terms of machine models, you should be able to construct and use regular expressions, deterministic, and nondeterministic finite automata. You should know how to construct and use context free grammars and push-down automata. Finally, you should know how to construct and use simple Turing machines. In terms of what you should know how to do with these models by the end of the course you show know: how to use pumping lemmas to show non-membership in a language category, how to turn a non-deterministic finite automaton into a deterministic one, how to minimize a deterministic finite automaton, know the closure properties of the different language categories in the Chomsky hierarchy, be able to classify problems as decidable or not, and know the basics of Komolgorov complexity.

Below is a tentative time table for when we'll do things this quarter:

Week 1: Jan 25 Read 0.1-0.2
Week 2: Jan 30 , Feb 1 Finish Chapter 0
Week 3: Feb 6 (HW1 due) , Feb 8 Read 1.1-1.2
Week 4: Feb 13 , Feb 15 Finish Chapter 1. Review
Week 5: Feb 20 (Midterm 1) , Feb 22 Read 2.1
Week 6: Feb 27 , Mar 1 (HW2 due) Read Chapter 2 to PDA Section
Week 7: Mar 6 , Mar 8 Finish Ch2, Read 3.1
Week 8: Mar 13 , Mar 15 Read Ch 3 to page 152
Week 9: Mar 20 (HW3 due) , Mar 22 Finish Ch 3
Week 10: Mar 27 , Mar 29 Spring Break
Week 11: Apr 3 , Apr 5 Read Chapter 4
Week 12: Apr 10 , Apr 12 (Midterm 2) Review
Week 13: Apr 17 , Apr 19 (HW4 due) Read 5.1-5.2
Week 14: Apr 24 , Apr 26 Finish Chapter 5
Week 15: May 1 , May 3 Read 6.1-6.2
Week 16: May 8 , May 10 Read 6.3-6.4
Week 17: May 15 Review
The final will be Friday, May 19 from 9:45am to 12:00pm for Sec3 and Monday, May 22 from 12:15pm to 2:30pm for Sec5


Homeworks 40%
Midterm 1 15%
Midterm 2 15%
Final 30%

Grades will be calculated in the following manner: The person or persons with the highest aggregate score will receive an A+. The lowest scoring person with a score above 55 will be the cut-off for a C-. That is, that person will receive a C-, but no one below him will. The region between this high and low score will be divided into eight equal-sized regions. From the top region to the low region, a score falling within a region receives the grade: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-. If the boundary between an A and an A- is 85, then the score 85 counts as an A-. Scores below the lowest C- but above 50 receive the grade D. Those below 50 receive the grade F.

If you do better than an A- in this class and want me to write you a letter of recommendation, I will generally be willing provided you ask me within two years of taking my course. Be advised that I write better letters if I know you to some degree.

Homework Info

Links to the current list of assignments can be found on the left hand frame of the class homepage. After an assignment has been returned a link to its solution (based on the best student solutions) will be placed off the assignment page. Material from assignments may appear on midterms and finals. For homeworks you are encouraged to work in groups of up to three people. Only one person out of this group needs to submit the homework assignment; however, the members of the group need to be clearly identified in all submitted files. Homeworks for this class will be submitted and returned completely electronically. To submit an assignment click on the submit homework link for your section on the left hand side of the homepage and filling out the on-line form. Hardcopies or e-mail versions of your assignments will be rejected and not receive credit. Homeworks will always be due by the start of class on the day their due. Late homeworks will not be accepted; however, your low homework score will be dropped.

When doing the programming part of an assignment please make sure to adhere to the specification given as closely as possible. Names of files should be as given, etc. Failure to follow the specification may result in your homework not being graded and you receiving a zero for your work.

You are required to write up your homework solutions for this class using LaTeX. LaTeX is the standard tool for typesetting theoretical computer science articles. One point of each assignment will be that your LaTeX file compiles without errors.


The midterms will be during class time on: Feb 20 and Apr 12 .

The final will be: Friday, May 19 from 9:45am to 12:00pm for Sec3 and Monday, May 22 from 12:15pm to 2:30pm for Sec5.

All exams are closed book, closed notes and in this classroom. You will be allowed only the test and your pen or pencil on your desk during these exams. Beeper or cell-phone interruptions will result in immediate excusal from the test. The final will cover material from the whole quarter although there will be an emphasis on material after the last midterm. No make ups will be given. The final exam may be scaled to replace a midterm grade if it was missed under provably legitimate circumstances. These exams will test whether or not you have mastered the material both presented in class or assigned as homework during the quarter. My exams usually consist of a series of essay style questions. I try to avoid making tricky problems. The week before each exam I will give out a list of problems representative of the level of difficulty of problems the student will be expected to answer on the exam. Any disputes concerning grades on exams should be directed to me, Professor Pollett.


If you believe an error was made in the grading of your program or exam, you may request in person a regrade from me, Professor Pollett, during my office hours. I do not accept e-mail requests for regrades. A request for a regrade must be made no more than a week after the homework or a midterm is returned. If you cannot find me before the end of the semester and you would like to request a regrade of your final, you may see me in person at the start of the immediately following semester.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism on homework or cheating on tests will result in appropriate academic disciplinary action being taken. Information on the university policy governing academic dishonesty can be found at At a minimum a 0 on the assignment or test will be given. A student caught using resources like Rent-a-coder will receive an F for the course and be referred to University for disciplinary action.

Additional Policies and Procedures

The campus policy to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act is:
"If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible, or see me during office hours. Presidential Directive 97-03 requires that students with disabilities register with DRC to establish a record of their disability."

More information about SJSU policies and procedures can be found at the following links: