CS 261N Homework - Spring 2020

Link to the homeworks assigned so far.

There is no required textbook. All reading will be from papers. A tentative list of these is available from the syllabus. We will definitely cover most of these topics (and primary papers), but may make some changes over the course of the semester.

Homework for the course primarily consists of writing a reflection upon each paper you read. In general you are only responsible for reading the first paper listed for a given topic. If you want to read and assess a different paper instead, clear your choice with me in advance.

Assignments should be done in pairs. It's fine to have different partners for different assignments. For a given assignment, beyond your pair it's fine to discuss the readings with your fellow students or others in order to gain comprehension, but the writeup must reflect your pair's own views and framing. I expect both students to have read the paper and contributed to the writeup.

Near the end of the course, I will ask students to (privately) comment on the degree to which they and their partner(s) "pulled their weight" on assignments undertaken together. Sustained under-contribution will diminish credit given to that partner.

Submit your writeup, via email, as plain text, or HTML, or Word. Turn in one copy per pair, with the non-submitting student cc'd. (See below about anonymizing your work.) The usual deadline for writeups of papers corresponding to a Tuesday lecture is Monday 1PM. For papers corresponding to a Friday lecture, it's Thursday 1PM. These deadlines are sharp. (Note, I may adjust them as the semester progresses.)

Typically the assignment will be for you to sketch different facets of the paper, such as:

  1. What are the paper's main contributions?
  2. What parts of the paper do you find unclear? (Optional)
  3. What parts of the paper are questionable? (E.g., methodology, omissions, relevance, presentation.)
  4. Most homeworks will include an additional specific question or sometimes two regarding the topic, such as challenging you to come up with and defend a proposed solution.

Your writeup does not need to be particularly formal, but it needs to reflect a thoughtful assessment of the paper. In addition, you should strive to write in a manner suitable for technical communications (such as for papers, or posts to public mailing lists, for example). This means write actively, clearly, concisely, and confidently.

Regarding the first part of the assignment, concise writing means you should distill what's important to know about the paper into 1 or 2 meaty paragraphs. One pitfall in this regard: avoid a "narrative" description of how the paper proceeds. Instead present a synthesis of what the paper is about and what "takeaways" it offers. In general, your audience is someone working in network security research at the time the paper was written. You describe what's significant about the paper, and along with wanting to learn about the work, your reader is gauging how astute you appear to be, and how well/clearly you express yourself. Pay particular attention to having an engaging lead sentence (and be sure it does not have any typos).

Writeups should generally aim for no more than around 2 pages of content. They can be shorter if you write concisely; if longer, that may mean you have trouble trimming your discussion effectively (a skill researchers need to develop!).

As is generally the case for academic writing, clearly call out and resources/references you drew upon for your analysis. Do not use direct discussions of the paper drawn from elsewhere (e.g., classes at UCB or another institution).

It is understandable that you may find parts of some papers baffling or inaccessible. Flag these and don't kill yourself trying to absorb them - same goes for technical fine points - but use prudence in this regard. You should be able to extract a solid amount of technical material from each paper.

In general, I try to provide feedback on homework assignments. However, the size of the class may make it infeasible for me to do always do so for each assignment. That said, if there are particular elements of your assessment for which you'd like direct feedback, indicate them at the top of your writeup.

Turn in your homework via email and as plain text, HTML, or Word, with the non-submitting student cc'd. Include the word "Homework" (not just "HW", which some students tend to use) in the subject line, lest you risk me overlooking your mail during my relentless email processing crunch. Please leave the body of your email anonymous (don't have your names appear other than in the From/Cc addresses).

Late homeworks risk losing 50% credit off the top (somewhat less if only a few minutes late). Writeups turned in after the corresponding lecture or posting of the corresponding exemplar (see below) will not receive any credit unless you have discussed this with me in advance.

In assessing your overall homework grade, I will skip your 4 lowest-scoring turned-in assignments. The minimum requirement for a turned-in assignment is a brief answer for part 1 (summarizing the paper's contributions), to ensure that you've read the paper enough to absorb its gist - important in order to follow elements of the lecture, which presume familiarity with the assigned paper. Assignments that you don't turn in at all count as 2 skips. This means that, without penalty, you can omit turning in up to 2 writeups, or skip 1 and turn in 2 minimal assignments, or turn in up to 4 minimal assignments.

If you won't be turning in a given assignment, I'd appreciate a note letting me know by the assignment deadline.

Homework "exemplars": Students can benefit from seeing examples of homework writeups that did particularly well at addressing an assignment. I will make such "exemplars" available a little while after an assignment's due date. Exemplars generally come from past offerings of the class (made available with the students' permission). Please do not redistribute exemplars. You can opt out of having your assignments considered for future use as exemplars by sending me a note at any time during the semester.