Computer Systems and Programming (CS 367)
Syllabus - Fall 2020

1 Course Basics

1.0 Course Overview

CS367 provides an introduction to the field of Systems Programming. This is an area of programming wherein the software written generally provides services to other software. Examples of Systems Programming are Operating Systems, Game Engines, Embedded Systems Programming, Industrial Automation, and Networking.

This course will prepare you for CS471 (Operating Systems), CS465 (Architecture), CS455 (Networking), and various other courses with systems level programming.

Topics for this semester will include.

  • Data and Number Representation
  • Machine Level Representation of Data and Programs
  • Processes
  • Exceptional Control Flow
  • Linking and Loading
  • CPU Architecture
  • Virtual Memory and Caching
  • Dynamic Memory Allocation

1.1 Schedule

  • The planned course schedule can be found on Blackboard under Schedule.
  • All courses will meet online at the times listed in the following section using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
    • Your Professor will contact you with information about both the live class sessions and asynchronous classes.

1.2 Professor and Section Information

Lecture Professor Email Class Time Class Location
Prof. Yutao Zhong
yzhong (at) gmu (dot) edu TR 9:00am - 10:15am
Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
002 Prof. Kevin Andrea kandrea (at) gmu (dot) edu MW 12:00pm - 1:15pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
003 Prof. Bo Han
bohan (at) gmu (dot) edu MW 3:00pm - 4:15pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
Prof. Yutao Zhong
yzhong (at) gmu (dot) edu
TR 12:00pm - 1:15pm
Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

Your lecture Professor will be responsible for all lecture and course material, as well as grading your quizzes and examinations.

Recitation Recitation Time Recitation Location
301 F 9:00am-9:50am Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
F 10:00am-10:50am Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
303 F 11:00am-11:50am Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
304 F 12:00pm-12:50pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
309 F 1:00pm-1:50pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
306 F 2:00pm-2:50pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra
308 F 4:30pm-5:20pm Online - Blackboard Collaborate Ultra

Your Recitation Instructor (GTA) will be responsible for grading both your recitation exercises and the course projects.
Their Contact Information and Office Hours will be available on Piazza (link in section 1.7).

This is a 4-credit course.

1.3 Office Hours

Office Hours locations and times are available on Piazza (link in section 1.7).

You may visit any Professor or GTA for questions about course material.
  • For Exam and Quiz Grading Questions, see your Professor
  • For Recitation and Project Grading Questions, see your Recitation GTA

1.4 Prerequisites

The prerequisites are automatically and strictly enforced.

  • Grade of C or better in MATH 125, and
  • Grade of C or better in CS 262 (or CS 222), and
  • Grade of C or better in CS 110

1.5 Course Outcomes

The CS department has identified these outcomes as ones that must be met throughout the semester.

  1. Demonstrate understanding of data representation at machine level, including binary numeric encodings, data structures, and Boolean operations.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of program representation at the machine level using assembly language, including control flow, procedures, and file linking.
  3. Demonstrate practical techniques of system tools to understand low level behaviors of programs, including debuggers.
  4. Understanding of basic CPU design including circuits, pipelining, and digital logic.
  5. Demonstrate understanding memory concepts including virtual memory, caching, and dynamic memory layout.
  6. Demonstrate understanding of computer processes, including its lifecycle and communications with the system.

1.6 Required Textbook

Computer Systems: A Programmer's Perspective (3rd ed.). Randal Bryant and David O'Hallaron (Prentice Hall).

  • You can access our textbook in the Gateway Library (JC), by using the call number QA76.5.B795 2016 .
  • Note - we've updated to the third edition, which is a significant update to 64-bit throughout the text.
  • Do not get the Global Edition (or Paperback Version)
    • The sample problems are wrong and their answers are wrong. 
    • Link to Author's Warning: Author's Errata
  • This is one of those text books that can actually make a big difference in a pivotal course; actually read it!

1.7 Piazza

  • All correspondence will go through Piazza. You can send private messages to the instructors (professors, GTA, UTA) as well as post public questions visible to all students, collaborate on responses, and tag everything by topic.
  • Assignments will be posted to Blackboard.
  • 1.8 Blackboard

    • All digital work is submitted to Blackboard by the given deadlines.
    • Grades are posted on Blackboard for all assignments.

    1.9 Computer Accounts

    • All work must compile and run on Zeus. This is the reference machine architecture and all projects will be tested and graded on the Zeus server.
      • Zeus is an x86-64 Architecture server running Linux (CentOS 7.6).
    • All grading occurs on this system; other systems might be more forgiving for memory errors, and you don't want to find that out with your grade!
    • To access Zeus from off campus, you will need to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
    • Instructions for accessing Zeus in general, and from off campus, are in the following link.

    2 Grading

    The course will have one midterm and a final. Much of the work during the semester will be completing projects, as well as regular recitation activities (written and digital).

    In general, all grades should be available about one week after turning it in.

    2.1 Semester Grades

    Weighting of Assessments:

    Category grade % notes
    Projects 36% Four Projects (P0 - P3)
    Quizzes 7% Approximately 14 Quizzes
    Recitation 7% Participation-based
    Final Exam 30% Cumulative

    Project grades will be normalized for even distribution.

    For example, with four projects, each project will be worth 9% of your course grade.

    2.2 Grading Scale

    Grades will be assessed on the following scale:

    Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off Grade Cut-off
    A+ 98 % B+ 88% C+ 78% D 60%
    A 92 % B 82% C 72% F 0%
    A- 90 % B- 80% C- 70%    

    Grades will not be rounded prior to assessing the letter grades.

    2.3 Calculating Semester Grades

    • You should always be able to calculate your semester grade at any point in the semester with the weightings and the scales above.
    • There will be no make-up or extra-credit assignments at the end of the semester; your grade should be a measure of your semester-long progress.
    • This is not a course that receives a magic, gigantic curve at the end. Wherever your grade is headed, that is the outcome you should expect after continued efforts.

    2.4 Projects

    • All project grades are normalized (your project score / project possible points) and each contribute to your final grade evenly; there aren't many of them.
    • Projects are more involved than in previous classes.
      • Start your projects early. You will need extra time to design your solution before programming.
      • You will need time to design test cases for your projects as well. Test cases will not be provided.
    • Projects are due at a specific time on a specific day.
    • No work is accepted 48 hours after the deadline (even if you're using late-day tokens!)
      • Submit your projects early and often.
      • Do not wait until the last minute, submission may take extra time at the deadlines.
      • Always submit at least a few minutes before the deadline.
    • Late work (with no late tokens left) incurs a 25% ceiling penalty each 24-hour period entered after the deadline.
      • example: one day of penalty would mean:
        RecordedGrade = min(75, Raw_Score)
    • You begin the semester with three One-Day-Late tokens available that each add 24 hours to the deadline of a project.
      • These are automatically applied to late work. 
        • Any submissions after the deadline will use one of these tokens automatically.
      • Since no work is ever accepted more than 48 hours after the official deadline, you can use at most two tokens on a project.
    • The final project might not be allowed to be turned in late at all, to facilitate grading by the deadline.
    • Code that doesn't compile will likely get a very, very low score. It specifically must compile on the zeus server.
    • Turning it in on BlackBoard: You can submit your work an unlimited number of times to BlackBoard, and only the last version (within 48 hours of the posted deadline) will be graded. Tokens are automatically used based on submission timestamps. You should also download your submitted attempts, and verify that you turned in a working copy and what was intended to be submitted.
      • Turning in the wrong files will likely result in a zero.
      • Backup your work! Catastrophic computer failure will not be cause for an extension.
        • Use a backup service such as DropBox (or any cloud service), emailing yourself, storing to a USB drive, whatever it takes.
          • Just don't put it in a public git repository where others can find it (this has happened before).
        • Every semester multiple students' computers die, are stolen, or otherwise 'lose' programs and digital work. Don't be the student who forgot to (frequently) back up your work!

    2.5 Recitation

    • All students are registered for an online recitation as well as their lecture.
    • The recitation sections are mixed between the lecture sections, so you may see different students there.
    • All lectures and recitations are coordinated.
    • There will be work to complete either during recitation or by some short duration after recitations are complete.
      • The work and their solutions will ultimately be provided following each recitation.
    • Attendance and effort are the main components of your recitation grade - this is where you practice and get the most feedback.
      • Your effort will contribute to the course recitation grade. 
      • You may miss one recitation during the semester, however, you are still responsible for the material covered in that recitation.
      • If you show up late or do not participate, you will not get any points for that recitation.
    • You will be given a score between 1 and 3 for each recitation submitted. This is for your feedback only, you will receive the same number of graded points regardless of how you score on the recitation itself, for any recitation in which you participate during the recitation meeting.

    2.6 Quizzes

    • There will be weekly quizzes, to bridge the gap between recitation-level work and test-level work.
    • The quizzes will be on Blackboard. 

    2.7 Tests and Final Exam

    • There will be one Midterm and one Final Exam.
    • All exams will be adminstered online.
      • Details will be provided by your Professor ahead of any exam.
    • If you know you will miss a test, let your Professor know as soon as possible to coordinate an alternate time.
      • The reason for missing a test must be verified with documentation and may not be automatically granted.
    • If you miss a test (without prior approval), and a valid reason is verified with documentation (ER visit, traffic accident, etc.), we may elect to allow the final exam to count the extra amount to give you a sort of do-over. This policy is not automatic, however.
    • If you miss the final, there is very little I can do for you. Don't miss the final!
      • The Dean has to approve any requests to take missed final exams.
      • This is only granted for medical or other extraordinary circumstances.
    • The final can not be given early. You are starting the course with knowledge of the schedule (see GMU's Final Exam Calendar for the latest schedule, updated as weather events require).

    2.8 Contested Grades

    • If you feel points have been incorrectly deducted, contact the grader.
      • Tests and Quizzes: Contact your Professor.
      • Recitation Scores and Projects: Contact your Recitation Instructor.
    • If you have not initiated contact within one week of the grade being made available, it is permanent.
      • No grade-hunting in the last couple of weeks!
    • We strive to grade each student's work fairly and uniformly, often through specific test cases and grader-group-discussions, which might even be automated as part of the grading process.

    2.9 Course Repetition

    • There is a limit of three graded attempts for this course.
    • A Withdrawal (W) does not count as a graded attempt.
    • Please see AP. 1.3.4 in the University Catalog and consult with your academic advisor if you have any questions.

    3 Safe Return to Campus

    • All students taking courses with a face-to-face component are required to take Safe Return to Campus Training prior to visiting campus.
    • Training is available in Blackboard ( Students are required to follow the university's public health and safety precautions and procedures outlined on the university Safe Return to Campus webpage (
    • Similarly, all students in face to face and hybrid courses must also complete the Mason COVID Health Check daily, seven days a week. The COVID Health Check system uses a color code system and students will receive either a Green, Yellow, or Red email response.

      Only students who receive a "green" notification are permitted to attend courses with a face-to-face component. If you suspect that you are sick or have been directed to self-isolate, please quarantine or get testing. Faculty are allowed to ask you to show them that you have received a Green email and are thereby permitted to be in class.

    4 The Honor Code

    The honor code at George Mason is an important part of our academic culture. A degree from this institution should be a direct measure of your own progress and abilities, and as such at all times we must ensure that all work that should be your own is your own.

    We take the honor code quite seriously. Any attempts at copying or sharing code, algorithms, or other violations of the honor code simply will not be tolerated.

    As seductively simple as it may seem to just copy and paste work from a friend or online source, remember that it is just as easy to compare your work electronically, and discover the similarities. We use automated software to flag suspicious cases, and then review them by hand to find the cases that must be submitted to the Office of Academic Integrity. Repeat to yourself: it's not worth trying to cheat. We will catch it, and sadly but surely, we will turn it in.

    The penalty for cheating will always be far worse than a zero grade, to ensure it's not worth taking the chance. The usual recommendation is failure in the course. It's a pretty sure-fire way to lose a semester and lose some implicated friends; please don't put yourself through that experience!

    4.0 General Rules of Thumb

    • You are not allowed to use code from the Internet.
      • This includes Stackoverflow, Chegg, or any other site with code.
    • You are not allowed to discuss any implementation (code) or design decisions with any other student.
      • This includes prior students and students from other sections.
    • You are not allowed to share or use any code from any other student.

    4.1 Some Specifics and Links

    • All students will abide by GMU's Honor Code.
    • All work must be your own. If you are caught cheating, you and every other involved student will be turned in to the honor court.
    • See the CS Honor Code Policies to understand better what constitutes cheating in the CS setting. It clarifies some scenarios that are unique to our sorts of assignments.
    • Here are Prof. Snyder's thoughts about the Honor Code in a CS classroom.

    5 Inclusion

      Every student in this class is exactly where they belong and it is our honor to welcome each of you to join us in learning throughout this semester.  Every student in this class, regardless of background, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, class, political affiliation, physical or mental ability, veteran status, nationality, or any other identity category, is an equal member of our class.

      You have the right to be called by whatever name you wish, to be referred to by whatever pronoun you identify, and to adjust these at any point.

      If you feel uncomfortable in any aspect of our instruction that results in any barrier to your inclusion in this course, please contact your professor directly.

    6 Learning Disabilities

    • Students with a learning disability or other condition (documented with GMU's Office of Disability Services) that may impact academic performance should speak with the professor ASAP to discuss appropriate accommodations.
    • We are quite happy to assist as is appropriate, but it must be documented ahead of time by ODS.
      • Bringing the paperwork with you to a scheduled exam or at the deadline for a project or an assigned quiz is far too late!
      • Even if you don't know if you plan on utilizing the accommodations ahead of time, it's in your best interest to prepare them ahead of time.

    7 Sexual Harassment and Interpersonal Violence

    • As a faculty member and designated "Responsible Employee," I am required to report all disclosures of sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and stalking to Mason's Title IX Coordinator per university policy 1412. If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please contact the Student Support and Advocacy Center (703-380-1434), Counseling and Psychological Services (703-993-2380), Student Health Services, or Mason's Title IX Coordinator (703-993-8730;

    8 Privacy and Email

    • Students must use their Masonlive email account to receive important University information, including communications related to this class.
      • I can not respond to messages sent from or send messages to a non-Mason email address.
    • To protect your privacy, I also cannot list your Masonlive email address on any public forum or provide it to any other students.
      • You may, of course, give your email address to any other students.
    • Video recordings of class meetings that are shared only with the instructors and students officially enrolled in a class do not violate FERPA or any other privacy expectation.

      All course materials posted to Blackboard or other course site are private; by federal law, any materials that identify specific students (via their name, voice, or image) must not be shared with anyone not enrolled in this class.