ECE 1: Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering


Behrooz Parhami: 2007/06/19  ||  E-mail:  ||  Problems:

Other contact info at: Bottom of this page  ||  Go up to: B. Parhami's course syllabi or his home page


On June 19, 2007, Professor Parhami's UCSB ECE website moved to a new location. For an up-to-date version of this page, visit it at the new address:

This 1-unit freshman seminar (to be offered for the first time in spring 2007) was proposed, and is being developed, by Professor Parhami. The main goal of the seminar is to expose incoming students to challenging computer engineering problems, faced by practicing engineers and research scientists, in a way that is both entertaining and motivating. The course is useful because CE students have very limited exposure to key concepts in their chosen major during their initial studies that involve mostly foundational and general-education courses.

Spring quarter 2007 offering of ECE 1

This area is reserved for important course announcements:  Presentations for lectures 1-9 have been posted below, in PowerPoint and PDF formats.


ECE 1 – Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara, Spring Quarter 2007, Enrollment Code 53348

Catalog entry:   

1. Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering. (1) PARHAMI. Prerequisite: open to pre-computer engineering only. Seminar, 1 hour. Gaining familiarity with, and motivation to study, the field of computer engineering, through puzzle-like problems that represent a range of challenges facing computer engineers in their daily problem-solving efforts and at the frontiers of research.


Behrooz Parhami, Room 5155 HFH (Engineering I), Phone 805-893-3211, E-mail


W 5:00-6:15, in Phelps 1260


Open office hours, held in Room 5155 HFH (Engineering I) – T 2:00-3:30, R 10:00-11:30


Whether they work in the industry or in academic research settings, computer engineers face many challenges in their quest to design or effectively employ faster, smaller, lower-energy, and more cost-effective systems. Most computer engineering students do not begin tackling such problems, and more generally are not exposed to specific challenges of their field of study, until they enroll in upper-division major courses. Meanwhile, during their freshman- and sophomore-year experiences with foundational courses in mathematics, physics, electrical circuits, and programming, they wonder about where they are headed and what types of problems they will encounter as working professionals. This course is intended to provide an introduction to day-to-day problems and research endeavors in computer engineering via their connections to familiar mathematical and logical puzzles.


Open to pre-computer engineering and computer engineering majors only.


Textbook – None.

Presentations All lectures will be posted in PowerPoint and PDF formats to the course's Web page.


Pass/Fail grading is based on attendance and class participation. There will be no homework or exam.

0 or 1 absence: Automatic “Pass.”
2 absences: “Pass” if you had prior approval for your 2nd absence or else had strong participation in class or out of class (via e-mail).
3 absences: Can earn a “Pass” by taking a final oral exam covering the three missed lectures.
4 or more absences: “Fail.”

Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class period. If you arrive late, it is your responsibility to see the instructor after class.


Topics for class discussion have been scheduled as follows.


Subject of Discussion

Lead Puzzle

Special Notes

W 4/4   

Easy, hard, impossible! 

Collatz conjecture

W 4/11   

Placement and routing

Houses and utilities

W 4/18   


Making change

W 4/25  


Secret messages

W 5/2 

Byzantine generals

Liars and truth-tellers

W 5/9 

Binary search

Counterfeit coin

W 5/16  

Task scheduling


W 5/23 String matching Word search

W 5/30 

Sorting networks

Rearranging trains

W 6/6   

Malfunction diagnosis

Logical reasoning


The following PowerPoint presentations (up to 2+ MB each), and equivalent PDF files, are updated periodically by the instructor. Note that any animation in the PowerPoint presentations is lost in the pdf versions.

The following additional topics may be included in future:

  • Geometry with pixels

  • Loss of precision

  • Secret sharing

  • Amdahl's law

  • Search algorithms

  • Circuit value problem

  • Maps and graphs


Return to: Top of this page  ||  Go up to: B. Parhami's course syllabi or his home page


Dr. Behrooz Parhami, Professor

                     Office phone: +1 805 893 3211
E-mail:                 Messages: +1 805 893 3716
Dept. Electrical & Computer Eng.                  Dept. fax: +1 805 893 3262
Univ. of California, Santa Barbara                Office: Room 5155 Eng. I
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9560 USA                      Deliveries: Room 4155 Eng. I