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Au Revoir Les Closures

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Being an MIT VI.3 major (that’s computer science for mere mortals), it is with a tinge of melancholy that I belatedly note the passing of the 6.001 course into the night. I had the good fortune to actually have Gerry Sussman as one of the co-lecturers.

Starting this year, though, the Course VI department is beginning to migrate incoming freshmen to the new curriculum. And 6.001 doesn’t really have a place in the new curriculum, so this is the last term that it was offered. Several years ago, Sussman said that he wanted to be the last person to teach 6.001, and so he taught it this term, taking it back from (guest blogger) Eric Grimson, the head of the department, who has taught the class for as long as any of my friends can remember.”

Despite not having much of a programming background, fairly common back in the mid-80’s, I actually found 6.001 relatively easy. Closures were just completely natural. The course was challenging, but I never felt overwhelmed like some of my peers.

Sussman blew my mind on the last lecture though. He basically described Conway’s Game of Life. Fair enough. Then he went on to explain how you could build Turing complete computation on top of Life. He elegantly described how to build wires, logic gates, arithmetic units, and registers. From there it’s just a small matter of code.

Remember, this is the absolute intro class to programming for majors. In my case, the last lecture before summer vacation. And Sussman does it all in an hour. Nobody leaves early and we give him a standing ovation.

Aside. The other professor who co-taught with Sussman, was from the Materials Science department. He volunteered to co-teach with Sussman just to learn about computation. That’s reputation.

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