James Cassell's Blog

Friday, January 01, 2010

Learning Piano

This past summer, I decided to start learning to play piano. I found a video course called "Learn and Master Piano with Will Barrow." Will Barrow teaches the lessons on DVD, starting out with simple lessons and getting a bit more advanced as the lessons progress. He even sneaks in a bit of music theory as he teaches, covering major/minor/augmented/diminished chords among other things.

I had quite a bit of time to spend the first part of the summer, since I didn't have a job or anything else happening, so I went through the lessons pretty quickly. I got to the point where I could play "Amazing Grace" when I decided I wanted to play a real song. I spent the rest of the summer learning the "Feather Theme" from Forrest Gump, by Alan Silvestri.

I can't read music as much as I can decipher music; i.e., my sight-reading skills are non-existent. When learning a new piece, I will have memorized the music long before I can actually play it.

After I had mastered the Forrest Gump theme, I started learning Pachelbel's Canon in D major at the suggestion of my aunt. I had learned about the first page and a half when I went to school. Once at school, I didn't have any time to devote to piano, except for when I would occasionally sit down and play the songs I already knew.

I still know exactly what I knew when the Fall 2009 Semester started. So, right now, "I don't actually play piano; I just know how to play one or two songs."

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mother of All Stressful Semesters

So, I had an incredibly stressful semester. Part of it was that I ended up taking 27 credit hours. I learned the hard way that this was a very bad idea.

The beginning of the semester started off quite well. I got to sleep before 11 P.M. every night for about a week and a half, before some assignment required me to be up later than that. Also, at the beginning of the semester, I actually did assigned readings, which I found to be very helpful. As the semester went on, the amount of stuff I had to do increased quite a bit. I moved from getting things done "slightly early" to "on time" to "before the end of the class they were due," and at the end, I had stuff being late, which is not good for grades.

Just about every minute of my week was spoken for. I had Drill Team , Ballroom, Officer Christian Fellowship, as well as team meetings, classes, etc. At one point, the Drill Team commander asked me if I actually had time to do Drill Team. I said that if I hadn't already put it into my schedule I wouldn't be able to do it. I was also on the mailing lists of several clubs for which I wished I had time to spend.

I ended up not doing too bad GPA-wise. The main thing that I am disappointed about is that I got a C in Electric Circuits, when I understood the material at a level worth at least a B. The thing that bothered me about the course was the exams; the only exam that I actually finished was the first one. On all of the others, there were at least 2 problems that I didn't finish (and theses are 7-problem exams.)

The other grade about which I wasn't terribly pleased was American Government. I got a B-, which isn't too bad considering that the exams were essay-based, on which I have a history of doing poorly. The class was certainly interesting. We would discuss current events and have opinionated discussions. I had a nice contrast between this class, where the professor was liberal, and my Leadership and Management class, where the professor was conservative. The latter I found to be refreshing, as I have conservative viewpoints.

The only class in which I was certain of an A was Music Theory I. I got A's in the rest of my classes, but only by the skin on my teeth, or in reality, due to the mercy of my professors and classmates (in those classes in which I had peer evaluations.)

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Peer Evaluations

In classes that have group projects, peer evaluations often comprise a certain portion of one's grade. I have had several such classes during my time at RPI. I don't know what standards most people use in making peer evaluations, but I'll list mine for anyone who might be interested.

In general, as long as each person contributed a reasonable amount to the project, I give everyone the maximum amount of credit possible in peer evaluations. If someone caused the group some trouble, I might give just under the maximum points, depending on how much was contributed despite the trouble. In the worst case, if someone greatly impedes the progress of the group and doesn't make up for it in some other way, I will seriously consider giving a negative peer evaluation.

The reason I do evaluations this way has a lot to do with the golden rule found in Luke 6:31. "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." I understand that people are human and that they generally try to pull their fair share of the weight. I would like other people to have the same attitude when completing their peer evaluations. Only in cases of severe lack of participation should a peer evaluation be negative.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Stressful Fourth Semester at RPI

Overview

So, this was my most stressful semester, that's for sure. I always had something that was eminently due. My most stressful course, by far, was Material Science. Biology was a pain, but not quite as much as I had feared. Continuing the trend, Models of Computation was more trouble than I had expected it to be. My other classes were a cake walk compared to these. Operating Systems was my favorite class, by far, with CANOS (Computer Architecture, Networks, and Operating Systems) coming in second. As a departure from other semesters, my Navy class, Ship Systems, was just above the middle of the stack (rather than being closer to the bottom.)

...Posting yet another post unfinished -- maybe I'll finish it later...

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Finding a Good Church in Troy

Backstory

As of today, I have been to four different churches in Troy. The first three were within walking distance of RPI. When I had initially searched for a church here, I only looked at churches that were within walking distance. None of these used the King James Version of the Bible.

When I was home for Christmas break, I really appreciated being at my own church where all was right with the world. I even delayed my return to school so that I could go to church on the last Sunday of vacation.

The Search

Due to my desire to have a church where I would feel at home, I decided to broaden my search for a good church in Troy. Instead of only searching for churches within walking distance, I broadened my search to include churches within bus distance. I did a Google search for "Baptist Churches in Troy," which brought many results, many of which were eliminated due to not being within bus distance. There were a few that had websites. The first one whose website I visited had an out-of-date and stagnant site, and didn't give very much information.

A Possible Find

The second site I visited was that of Grace Baptist Church. Their site indicated that they were a conservative Baptist church. Of note, on their home page was the inflammatory tag-line: "If you don't have a King James Bible, you don't have a Bible!" At the time, I thought this was a bit harsh, and I was a bit cautious. I decided that I would visit this church the next Sunday.

Roadblocks

With the help of Google, I figured out an itinerary on which I could get to this new church. Based on my past experiences with the public transportation around here, I got to the bus stop 2 minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. I waited twenty minutes, but the bus never showed. I took this to mean that the bus had come early. I didn't make it to church at all that day.

The following Sunday, I approached the bus stop about 6 minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. As I was approaching the stop, the bus blew past, and again, I missed church. Today, I was determined that I wouldn't miss the bus. I arrived at the stop fifteen minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. The bus arrived almost exactly ten minutes ahead of schedule. I've speculated that this is due to low ridership on Sunday mornings, and therefore, fewer stops the bus has to make along the way.

I was now on my way to this new church. I got off the bus, and headed to the address that Google had given me as the address of the church. As I approached it, I saw there was a sign posted stating that they had moved. I walked about 7 blocks to the new location.

Grace Baptist Church

Upon entering the church, I went through two sets of doors before I saw anyone (which was slightly unnerving.) Lo and behold, the first person I saw was none other than my NROTC Unit XO, whom I mentioned in my previous post. He was there with his family, and pointed me to where the sanctuary was. I found a seat, and was greeted by several people.

The service started with several traditional hymns, and continued with a very good message about family. Between the opening hymns and the message, the pastor called me out, and asked my name and how I heard about the church. Normally I don't like to be put on the spot, but the friendly atmosphere there made it such that I wasn't bothered.

The thing that impressed me the most was that I was actually asked, and asked by two different people, if I knew for certain whether I would go to heaven were I to die today. Both times, I replied, "yes," and both times, the person who asked followed up asking how I knew. Of the other churches I had visited, I don't recall once being asked such a question.

After the service, the XO offered to give me a ride back to RPI, but I declined. The bus schedule worked out such that I could catch the bus shortly after the service was over.

The King James Bible

The statement on their website regarding the King James Bible as the only Bible piqued my interest. I spent all afternoon reading up on the history of different translations, and the controversies surrounding them. It seems to boil down to this: The King James Version is translated from the "Received Text," which can be traced back to Antioch. This text is where 95% (a large majority) of manuscripts agree. All other modern English translations are based on the "Majority Text," which can be traced to Alexandria. This happens to be a picking-and-choosing of texts, and isn't what its name would imply.

I also found my answer to the question of whether the new English Standard Version was an acceptable version to use. It is marketed as being a replacement of the King James, but is based on the line of manuscripts from Alexandria, rather than the line from Antioch. (I was also shown a few perversions present in this version.)

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Incensed by Culture

I'll preface this post, by mentioning that I have several other half-written posts that haven't been published, due to my busy-ness with school and other things, but this one was pressing enough for me to write and publish.

Today in drill, someone from the health center spoke to us on the topic of "protecting oneself," and how to do so properly. This could have been done in a much better manner than it was. In her manner of giving the presentation, the lady doing doing so legitimized sodomy and many additional immoral acts. In the scenarios she proposed, she made it seem as if the things she was encouraging us to do "safely" were things that were perfectly normal to do.

The Unit XO was a single voice of reason in this mess. After the lady from the health center left, he gave an 8-minute spiel about abstinence, and didn't bother hiding his disapproval of the presentation we were given.

(I tried to keep this G-, or at most, PG-rated)

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Fall 2008 at Rensselaer: Outcome

At the beginning of the semester, I had written a brief summary of my classes. The fact that I took all technical classes may have helped me have my most successful semester so far (GPA-wise, at least.) I always had lots of work to do, though, so didn't really have time to have much fun.

Computer Organization was my favorite class, and the only one in which I had been certain I was going to receive an A. We learned, from a logical standpoint, how a processor works. For our only real project, we wrote an implementation of a mutual exclusion lock for use in multi-threaded programs, and benchmarked it against several other implementations of locks. I found this quite enjoyable, and probably put 40 hours of work into it. Near the end of the class, however, the things that we were going over were just minute details specific to the hypothetical processor that we had watch be designed for us. I wasn't particularly interested in it anymore. I bombed the last two quizzes, not due to lack of understanding, but due to lack of time to complete them; if I had memorized the layout of the hypothetical processor, I would have been able to complete them in the allotted time. Due to this, I ended up with a B in the class.

LITEC, or "Laboratory Introduction to Embedded Control," was a slightly interesting class, where we did a very small amount of circuit-building, and a lot of microcontroller programming. We learned about what features the microcontroller offered to us, and how to access them. In doing this, we were able to program a small remote-controlled, or more accurately, a self-controlled car. We also got to program a blimp. In the end, though, we were racing the clock to get everything done, and the last few class periods were stressful. I fully deserved the A that I received, based on the amount of work I put into this course.

Unfinished Post

So, I got really busy and never got around to finishing this post. I probably told several people the story in real life, and got it out of my system or something. I'm publishing this even though it's unfinished. Maybe I'll finish it later.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Corrupted Vista Registry

Problem

About a two months ago, I had a problem with Windows. I got the following error: "Windows could not start because the following is missing or corrupt: \Windows\System32\config\SYSTEM" I went to the Help Desk at the VCC, and surprise, surprise, after several hours, they weren't able to fix the problem.

About a week later, solved the problem myself, and am documenting it for you here.

Solution

So, the solution is to boot into a recovery environment, and to copy the file at "C:\Windows\System32\config\RegBack\SYSTEM.OLD" to "C:\Windows\System32\config\SYSTEM", making sure to back up the old "C:\Windows\System32\config\SYSTEM" first, just in case. As far as "recovery environments" go, I just booted into Linux, though a Live CD, or even the Windows installation disc would work just as well.

This same problem happened to me about two weeks ago, and this same procedure saved my system again.

There is a Microsoft KB article that describes how one could solve the problem for Windows XP, but that wasn't much help for the same sort of problem on Vista.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Never Let Windows XP Touch Your Partition Table

The other day, I decided to re-install XP. I have a triple-boot system; on my ThinkPad, I have Vista, XP, and Fedora. I told the XP installer to delete the partition that had my old install of XP, and when I told it to put a new one in its place, it told me that I already had four primary partitions.

My partition table was a follows: first primary partition: Vista; second primary partition: XP; third primary partition: boot partition for Fedora; fourth primary partition: extended partition which holds: 2 encrypted partitions for Fedora.

After the XP installer touched my partition table, the I could only boot into Vista. GParted saw my entire disk as "uninitialized," or basically, empty. At this point, I was in a slight panic; I had a lot of important stuff in my Fedora partitions.

My eventual solution was both tedious and dangerous. I basically edited the partition table by hand, using the command line tool sfdisk. I did this using the Fedora 9 Live CD. This time, I had gparted create an empty NTFS partition, and I told XP to just use that, and I let it format it when it asked, which turned out to be a mistake. This caused it to mess up my partitions again, and I had to use sfdisk to set them straight. I now have a working setup, as I had before re-installing XP.

The moral of this story happens to be the title of this post: Never let Windows XP touch your partition table.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Broken Ctrl and Shift Keys

I have been having a very intermittent problem in Linux where my Ctrl and Shift keys would stop working. This prevented me from typing a question mark, as well as preventing me from entering my passwords when they were required. (All but my most insecure passwords require the use of the shift key.) Additionally, this breaks many, many keyboard shortcuts. I had noticed that this problem seemed to show itself whenever I used a program that captured the mouse and keyboard, such as a remote desktop application, or a virtual machine application.

Today, after having failed many times in the past, Google helped me find a solution that didn't require rebooting my machine (which was my only-known solution previously.) In a forum somewhere, someone said that fidgeting about with setxkbmap could sometimes help. It turns out that he was correct. If this happens to you, you can type, "setxkbmap dvorak; setxkbmap us" (without the quotes) into the command line. It worked very well for me, but your mileage may vary.

(Now, if only someone were to make a post like this whenever they solved an obscure computer problem. It would make Google's job much easier.)

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

An Unexpected Adventure

This past Saturday, I woke around noon to the sound of my cell phone. Strangely, it wasn't a telemarketer calling to tell me that the non-existent warranty on my non-existent car was about to expire. One of my friends was having a computer problem, the likes of which I had never heard before. One thing that I have noticed semi-recently is that it is difficult to troubleshoot an unknown computer problem over the phone. (If it's something I've run into before, that's a different story.)

Technical Aspect

Not that it will interest the reader, but I'll describe the symptoms of the problem anyway. (Maybe someone who has a solution will post it in a comment.) Windows Vista would boot fine to the login screen. After typing the password was when the problems started appearing. The "Welcome" message would show for a few seconds, then, when the desktop should have appeared, only a royal blue background appeared. At this point, the mouse was functional (i.e., it moved around,) but there was nothing to click on. It seemed as if explorer had never started. All of the normal approaches to diagnose such a problem (e.g., Ctrl+Alt+Del, Ctrl+Alt+Esc, etc.) were useless. I asked on IRC, but no one had any solutions. Neither did Google. As a side note, it would boot into safe mode.

Eventually, we were able to get the desktop to come up by going into msconfig and disabling all of the startup items as well as all of the (non-essential) services (as defined by msconfig.) Upon re-enabling the services, we were able to get a functional desktop for about one boot, but when we rebooted, the initial problem re-appeared.

I didn't want to try the same solution again because, as Einstein said, it is insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. My next suggestion would have been to get the computer re-imaged. We had been working on this problem for over five hours by this point, and I didn't want to send my friend away having wasted so much time. Since the Help Desk wouldn't be open until the following afternoon, I proposed another solution. Last year, I had taken a backup image of my computer the day that it was issued. I still had this backup, (that consisted of six DVDs,) and proposed that we do a restore from this image. We did so, followed by downloading all of the updates that had been released since. This second option took about six hours. The system was now in a pristine state.

Human Aspect

As can be inferred from the above, this ended up being an all-day event. Some may exclaim, "what a boring way to spend one's Saturday!" I look at it differently. In addition to the fact that "...we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..." (Romans 8:28, KJV), I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday than getting to better know my friends. In case you know nothing about humans, people don't sit and stare blankly at one another for more than eleven hours, while waiting for a computer to do its thing. Another of my friends joined us about half-way through, and hung out until the end. I met both of these friends at Silver Bay, where, many will agree, the best times since heading off to college, have taken place. This opinion was voiced several times through the day.

While this day may have been a bad day for the victim of the computer problem, it was one of the best days that I have had since returning to Rensselaer. The only thing that I would change about the day is my allowing the conversation to be steered to my planned activity for the day: sleeping into the late afternoon. This caused my friend to feel bad for waking me, and, in turn, made me feel guilty for causing this bad feeling. This could become a vicious circle. Aside from that, I'd say that the day was an excellent unexpected adventure!

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beginning of Sophomore Year Classes

This semester, I am taking 23 credit-hours. An interesting thing is that they are all technical classes, which could turn out to be a bad thing, or a good think. I don't know yet. These are the classes I'm taking:

  • Introduction to Engineering Design
  • Embedded Control
  • Computer Organization
  • Computer Components and Operations
  • Data Structures and Algorithms
  • Navigation

Navigation is my Navy class, and I have a feeling that it will be the easiest Navy class that I will have the chance to take, given its technical nature. We actually have a civilian taking the class because that which is taught also can be applied in the civilian world. (Not that that isn't true for the other Navy classes; it is simply more obviously true for this class.) So far in this class, we have started with the "Rules of the Road," which is basically how to drive on the water.

Introduction to Engineering Design looks like it will require the most work out of me this semester. This is a "design" class, which means that everyone has to design and build something, which, in this case, happens to be a robot (for which we haven't received the requirements. There will be a project done on an individual basis as well as one that is done as a team, the latter of which will count for most of our grade. I found out the answer to a requirement oddity the first day of Introduction to Engineering Design: Professional Development 1 is part of the course. In the requirements for my major, "Professional Development III" was listed as a requirement, but I and II weren't.

My Data Structures and Algorithms teacher has a very heavy accent, and is quite difficult to understand. This will almost certainly be my most difficult class in terms of subject matter. From what others who have taken the class say, it requires many hours of work, and the concepts are somewhat difficult to fully grasp. This difficulty combined with my instructors heavy accent will probably make this class a difficult challenge.

One interesting thing that I noticed between the three other classes, Embedded Control, Computer Organization, and Computer Components and Operations, through yesterday, they were all teaching us the same material, in an attempt to get everyone to a common baseline. This material was, for the most part, the binary and hexadecimal number systems as well as a discussion of number systems in general. Having built a calculator from scratch as a high school freshman as well as my geek mentality, I already knew this material (as did many in the class, to an even greater extent than I.) The school administrator at the time told me that I was doing college-level work, and, low and behold, in one of these classes, we will be doing a project very similar to my winning high school science fair. This easy-going spurt ended abruptly for me today, as each of the classes started on new material, and diverged to cover material specific to that class.

In Embedded Control, we will be programming micro-controllers, and messing with electronic hardware. By the end of the semester, we will have automated things that range from RC cars to small blimps (which have been provided to Rensselaer by BAE Systems.)

Computer Components and Operations looks like it will have the most material with which I am already familiar, discussing how computers do what they do. I had explored this topic somewhat deeply during my high school years.

Computer Organization -- actually, I'm drawing a blank for any specifics of this one. I'm pretty sure that anything that was covered, I already knew, and dismissed as "no need to re-learn this." (Which reminds me of a "sea story" from the beginning of last semester, but I'll tell that another day, if someone asks me in person.)

Update: 1 Sep 2008 @ 1832 EDT (UTC -0400): Now that I have gone back to the class, I remember what it is. The professor has set up a Linux server for us to complete our assignments. The first topic that we are covering is an Introduction to Unix and C. Both of these I am familiar with to a certain degree, which is why I was drawing a blank earlier. (This strongly goes along with my aforementioned "sea story.")

Overall, this semester, no one class looks like it will be particularly hard; my only concern is that they will present a very large amount of work.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Small Dorm Room

Last Spring, there was a "lottery," where the order in which students would get to choose their rooms was chosen. I didn't get too bad of a number, but by the time my turn came around, my preferred choices for a room were gone. (These were Davidson, or Nugent Halls.) I ended up with a small single in the Quadrangle, otherwise known as "The Quad." One thing that I declared to be a requirement for my room was air conditioning. The Quad does have air conditioning, which I am happy about.

When I first got into my room, I was really disappointed at how small it really was. There was almost no room to move around. I had planned to mitigate the small space by lofting my bed, and placing my desk underneath. This turned out to not be an option for a couple of reasons. First, my bed has drawers built-in under the mattress, which loses me two feet of vertical space. Second, the ceiling is only eight feet high, and the regulations state that there must be at least three feet of clearance between the top of the mattress and the ceiling. The combination of these two would have left me with only about three feet under the bed, which is insufficient to fit a desk. Another peculiarity of the room is that it is more narrow than it is tall.

When I got into the room, the bed and the desk were parallel, with about 2 feet between. This was not sufficient space to pull my chair out from the desk and comfortably sit in it. What I ended up doing was to re-arrange the furniture in the room. I rotated the bed ninety degrees, which was in and of itself a challenge, as the room wasn't wide enough to properly do so. I pushed the bed as close to the window as I could, which was several feet away because the air conditioner kind of got in the way. I have my servers as well as printer in this space between my bed and the window. Now that I have done all this re-arranging, I have a consolidated floor space, where I can comfortably pull out my chair to sit in.

At this point, I am satisfied with my room, and my initial concerns have been mitigated. I am really enjoying the air conditioning.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gone Are My Teen Years

Today, I am no longer a teenager. This makes me somewhat sad, but looking at the definition of teenager, and especially the lower realm of qualification, I'd say that I don't really fit the description. I'm not sure that I really ever was the stereotypical teenager. I don't remember behaving as stubbornly as I see some of the few teenagers in my life behaving.

At any point in my life, the "level" above (or ahead of) me seems to be quite far off. When I look at the "level" behind me, (or rather the people that could represent this "level,") they seem to be very young. When I look back at myself when I was at that level, not much seems to be different than the current "level"; it seems as if my "level" is a constant that is just being redefined as I go through life.

Along the same lines, my grandfather recently said to me that he thought that I had "matured very nicely" (or something to that effect.) Now, I don't know what the proper definition of "maturity" in this context is, but it doesn't seem to me that my thought processes have changed much in the past several years. Rather, I think that I have just discovered ways to speak my mind without causing controversy (which is probably known as rhetoric), and have chosen to hold my tongue much more often that I had when I was much younger. (I can think of at least one prominent time that I should have held my tongue, but this particular instance was more than a decade ago.

Notice: I started this post on my twentieth birthday, but never got around to pressing the "Publish" button until now, three months later, 28 Aug 2008 @ 2057 EDT (UTC -0400).

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Questions for Me

These are questions I have been given to answer over the summer.

  1. What do you want to do:
    • In the Navy?
    • In Life?
  2. What do you want to get out of a M.S. in Computer and Systems Engineering?
  3. What do you aspire to be next year in the NROTC program?
  4. How can you balance the requirements of a M.S. and the NROTC program while maximizing the benefits of each?

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