James Cassell's Blog

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Stressful Fourth Semester at RPI


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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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


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.


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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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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Monday, March 24, 2008

Why Not Silverlight

Recently, Microsoft has been pushing its relatively new Silverlight web technology. Microsoft is posing it as a competitor to Adobe's Flash technology. I don't like either of these technologies due to their proprietary nature. Flash has been around for quite a while, and is nearly ubiquitous. It has become so prevalent that it is very annoying to browse the Internet without it. I am not going to help Microsoft create the ubiquity of another such proprietary technology.

Microsoft is trying to push out Silverlight via Windows Update. On all the computers I keep updated, I have specifically opt-ed to not install this update. There is an open source implementation of Silverlight being written, but even if it is written to spec, Microsoft's will inevitably have bugs, and their implementation will become a de facto standard, similar to how the rendering engine of Internet Explorer 6 was, for a long time, the de facto standard of how web pages should be rendered.

The same holds true for Flash; there is an open-source implementation, but it does not work nearly as well as Adobe's implementation. This continues to be a point of annoyance as Linux distributions generally don't come with proprietary code on the install disc.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Churning Mind

Last night, I went to bed at the decent hour of 2200 (10 P.M.) I was planning to almost get a full night's sleep, and to do my homework this morning instead of last night. Unfortunately, at around 0220 this morning, I was rudely awakened by the fire alarm. Apparently, someone had used the fire extinguisher, and there was smoke; I don't really know what happened. At any rate, we all had to go outside and wait for the fire department to get to the dorm and check it out.

This all lasted for probably 45 minutes or an hour. We were allowed back into the building. When I went back to bed, I couldn't immediately go back to sleep; my mind was flying in a million directions. I laid awake for nearly an hour before going back to sleep. At one point, I remember thinking of something that disengaged my mind, kind of like a clutch. I remember thinking, "well, that's interesting; now I can go to sleep." Shortly thereafter, I fell asleep. Sadly, I don't remember what it was that caused my mind to disengage, but it sure would be useful for times when I want to get to sleep in the future.

There have been a few times when I laid awake for the entire night. Needless to say, this is quite a waste, and if I could predict these times, I could use the time to do work. As Murphy's Law would predict, these difficulties of getting to sleep only plague me when I intend to go to sleep. At any other time, be it in class, watching a movie, riding in a vehicle, or almost anything else, if given the opportunity, I can go to sleep.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cheating at Rensselaer

This afternoon, I was taking a test on which I was faring poorly. I had studied for a couple of hours, but not as much as I should have. Actually, I will be happy if I pass the test. When I was taking the test, I happened to notice that the person sitting in front of me was cheating. This caused me to have a silent outrage; as I saw it, neither of us were ready for the test, but he got an unfair advantage. He had a piece of notebook paper that he was keeping discreetly hidden. I can only guess that this had formulas or other such information on it.

Such things as this have always outraged me. Either I have felt that it wasn't fair that I should have studied, and they didn't have to; or I hadn't, and neither had they, but they get the grade as if they had. This being college, the stakes for getting caught are much higher, but as I found out today, cheating still happens. I don't know why I had assumed that I wouldn't see cheating here at RPI, but for some reason, I did.

It makes me sad that such things happen here at Rensselaer. I do believe that these people eventually get what's coming to them. It is just frustrating now when it seems to be benefiting them so well.

[tagged for clean-up]

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Great Sadness over a Trivial Concern

As the title may have indicated, I am very sad right now. I woke up this afternoon (as I do on most Saturday afternoons after catching up on sleep). I saw on my phone that I had missed several calls because it was on silent and I didn't hear it. I saw that both of my parents had called me several times, and that there were several messages. It turns out that, today, my father and sister were visiting the Military Academy at West Point, which is less than a hundred miles from here. They had been trying to get a hold of my because they were going to stop by and visit briefly.

By the time I got their messages, they were already on their way home, having not been able to reach me. I called my dad, and my sister answered and told me as much (that they were on their way home.) My verbal response was, "oh, well," as is my response in any situation where a loss on my part can in any way be considered my fault. I must say that this displeased me greatly. I realize that, in the long run, this annoyance has very little meaning. Despite this, I am very sad.

I decided to go get some food where I believe that at least two people wished they hadn't said, "how's it going?" in passing. They had to listen to my recount of why today is a bad day.

To make matters worse, today would have been an ideal day for them to have visited as there are "Winterfest" activities going on all weekend on campus. I must say that I haven't been this sad since shortly after leaving NYLF/tech. It seems to me that I had a legitimate concern in the case of NYLF/tech, but I will see my family again in a few weeks during spring break.

Well, I'm glad that is out of my system. I feel much better (and have my composure back as well.) I am considering not publishing this post, but I have a feeling that that would undo the "getting it out of my system" that has been done by writing it.

P.S. If you're clever, you can read the redacted part of this post.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Validating Input

When writing code, always validate the input. This may seem like common sense -- and it is under most circumstances -- but in one particular case, it is not. In the case of a computer science class when the instructor guarantees proper input, it is very tempting to not validate the input and simply assume that it is correct. This will save you a little time on each assignment, but is not worth it in the long run. I found this out today. I had a computer science project due at midnight last night. I didn't have it done on time, so I had to waste my remaining late day on it. I spent nearly 24 hours trying to debug my program that should have been working.

When I was debugging, I kept seeing things that could go wrong with improper input, but remembered that I only had to deal with proper input. My program seemed very brittle; the difference between a segmentation fault and the program running fine (but exiting early) was the difference between a break; and a continue; statement. It was at this that I randomly noticed that there was one line of the input was causing the crash. The input was improper despite assurances of the contrary the instructor.

I checked on-line to verify that I didn't mistakenly modify the file. Sure enough, the file on-line was correct, but the date on the on-line file was more recent than the date on my file. Apparently, the teacher noticed (or was informed of) the mistake, and updated the files on-line. What he did not do was send a general notice of the mistake and subsequent correction. Because of all this, I wasted nearly 24 hours of my time as well as a "late day" for turning in homework.

The moral of the story is that one should always check his input even if it has been guaranteed that it will be correct. The benefits of checking the input greatly outweigh the costs. Besides this, it is simply good practice, especially for any code that will be used in production. I had to deal with this when I was writing the contact form for my site; most of my time was spent writing the validation code to prevent any security problems.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Awkward Situations

Everyone has been in an awkward situation at one point or another. No one likes them, but I think they are a part of life. (It is weird how as I just start to write about a topic, I change my thesis as I write the first sentences.) One of my most harsh criticisms of the Harry Potter movies in their deviations from the books is in their side-stepping of awkward situations. When watching the each movies for the first time, I would cringe when an awkward situation was just about to happen. Just then, the scene would change, and the situation would be avoided entirely. The movies would have been immeasurably better if they had not chickened out by cutting (or never filming) these scenes.

This brings us to my life. I absolutely hate awkward situations. When faced with an awkward situation, my default reaction is to disappear as quickly as possible with as few people noticing as possible (preferably, no one.) Obviously, this is an undesirable solution to an equally undesirable problem. Therefore, I try to learn from my mistakes. After encountering such a situation, I think back try to determine how to diffuse the awkwardness.

Two situations I experienced (is that the right word?) recently, neither of which I shall mention here, were of this awkward type. For the first situation, upon careful consideration, I was able to come up with a solution. I have since had several opportunities to test this solution in practice, and can say that it has worked flawlessly.

The second such situation that comes to mind has given me more grief. The only diffusing solutions I could come up with would require one or more additional awkward situations, which I despise so greatly. I wish I could come up with a simple solution for every problem, but I am simply not omniscient. My temporary (or rather semi-permanent) solution for this second type of situation is to carefully watch out for and identify its potential occurrence, and to steer clear (physically, if possible) of its occurrence.

P.S. Some time in the future, I may update this post with the specifics of these situations, but, at this time, they are too pertinent and sensitive for me to mention (considering that this is a publicly-accessible medium.)

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Soreness from Lifting Weights

This semester, someone decided that my squad in ROTC was going to exercise an additional time in the week separately from the rest of the battalion. (In reality, each of us is supposed to do additional exercise on our own throughout the week.) Yesterday was the first of these supplemental exercise sessions. My squad went to the Mueller Center, which is just off the Armory here at Rensselaer. We went to the lower floor where the weight room is. We were instructed and shown what we were supposed to do.

In doing the exercises, I could feel that my right arm is much stronger than my left arm. For some of the exercises, I couldn't complete all the repetitions. After the weight workout, we jogged a few miles, which was pretty easy. After finishing, my arms were only slightly sore, and I thought nothing of it for the rest of the day.

This morning when I got up, my arms were in pain -- it hurt to even lift them. My left arm, is especially sore, and the regular yawning-stretch thing I do when I'm slightly sore does little to nothing to help. It is slightly painful to make my left arm go all the way straight, and the inside of the elbow feels somewhat like it does after having blood drawn. After doing the lifting exercises yesterday, we were told that we would be sore the following several days since we weren't used to doing the exercises. Hopefully getting used to these exercises doesn't take too long as I'm not thrilled to feel consistently sore.

I experienced similar soreness when I first started track and cross-country in high school. In that case, it took about two weeks to get used to the routine, and not be sore after practice.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

File Server From Scratch

Back Story

Back in early December before Christmas break, my desktop computer, which had been serving as a server, was running very low on disk space. My immediate solution was to buy another hard drive. I ordered a 750-GB hard drive from NewEgg. As Murphy's Law would predict, my roommate's LCD TV, which I had been using when I needed a screen on my desktop, bit the dust (stopped working). I had no way to tell the BIOS that there was a new disk, and to keep booting from the old disk. I tried to reconfigure the BIOS from memory without any visual feedback, but only managed to make the system unbootable.


Fast forward a few weeks to the middle of vacation. I had, by this point, decided that I was going to build myself a storage server with RAID-5 redundancy. I had several decisions to make, the first and most important of which was whether I should go with Intel or AMD. This would dictate my selection of motherboards, as Intel motherboards and AMD motherboard are mutually exclusive. My second major decision was whether I would go with hardware RAID or software RAID. Obviously, hardware RAID is the better option if money is not a factor, but software RAID cost is very low. In reality, software RAID is not free as it appears to be, but rather, the cost is hidden in the fact that motherboards with many SATA ports are significantly more expensive. As far as the choice of processor manufacturer, there is always a battle going on between Intel and AMD. AMD had been winning until Intel released their Core 2 platform. Since then, AMD has come back with their Phenom processor, which is marginally better than the Core 2, but not enough so to justify the premium price.

While considering the previously mentioned choices, I decided to go ahead and order a case to put everything in. I was initially considering a traditional rack-mount server case, but found them to be prohibitively expensive. I ended up ordering a Cooler Master "Ammo 533" case that was on sale and has subsequently been discontinued. This arrived at my house about a week before I ordered any other parts on-line.

My best friend informed me of a computer show that was going to be taking place at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia, so I decided that I would look there for computer parts, hopefully at greatly-discounted prices. He and I drove out there to have a look. For the most part, prices were not particularly competitive with on-line retailers. The prices were often within $5 or so, but I think that is worth being able to return an item in the case of failure or DOA. I actually ended up buying a power supply at the show (in addition to some canned air). Later, I found out that I had paid way too much for the power supply and that it was missing some parts that should have come in the box. My friend and I have subsequently decided to boycott the show as the only purpose it serves is to rip people off (or rather to trick them out of their money by offering them sub-par merchandise).


By this time, it was about a week before I had to go back to school, so the urgency of the project went up significantly as I would have little to no time to do it once school was back in session. I finally decided to build an Intel-based machine. I looked briefly on eBay for good prices on the processor as I had done when upgrading my Alienware notebook. No such luck -- it's very hard to compete with NewEgg. I decided to go with the Core 2 Duo: E6750 for the processor as it seemed to be the best balance of price and capability. I went with the Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3P Rev 2.0 motherboard as it had plenty of SATA ports and mostly good reviews. For the memory, I went with the G.Skill 4GB(2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 Dual Channel Kit. I went with the slower memory because the faster stuff was prohibitively expensive. All that was on one order, and I paid for rush processing. I must express my displeasure with rush processing -- it didn't speed up my order at all. They didn't reimburse me the rush-processing charge, on the notion that they shipped the same day I ordered, when in actuality they only got out the information to the carrier the same day (it was around 2300, 11:00 P.M.). The carrier didn't actually get the package until the next afternoon.

If you've ever built a computer, you may have noted that the pieces that I have bought to this point don't form a complete system. I decided to buy neither an optical drive, nor a video card. My reasoning was that a server doesn't really need these things as it is primarily accessed over the network. I also had two optical drives in my older desktop computer, one of which could be transferred to the server. For the time before I returned to school, I was just going to borrow an optical drive and the video card from my mom's (aging) desktop. The day after placing my initial order (the one for the processor, motherboard, and memory), I decided to order a 750-GB hard drive so that I could have an operating system up and running. I now had two of these drives (the second was back in my dorm), which were made by different companies to reduce the chance of simultaneous failure. I just needed a third to have a RAID-5 setup.


My two orders arrived on the same day, and I set out building my first home-built computer. I first put the power supply into the case, which was a no-brainer -- just screw it in. Next, according to the directions that came with the processor, I was supposed to install the processor and heat sink onto the motherboard. I was surprised that the processor didn't have any pins. It had flat contact points, which are called "lands" -- thus, why the socket type is called LGA: Land Grid Array. With this setup, the protruding contact is part of the motherboard. After I had inserted the processor, another decision came up. I had to decide whether to use the thermal interface material that was pre-applied to the stock heat sink, or to use my premium Arctic Silver 5 that I had left over from my when I upgraded my Alienware notebook's processor. After some brief Internet research, I decided to go with the Arctic Silver 5. I used some alcohol to get rid of the stock thermal compound, and applied the Arctic Silver 5. Next, I snapped the heat sink onto the motherboard. This was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole process -- when I pressed down on the clips, the entire motherboard bent terribly from the stress.

The next thing to do was to install the motherboard in the case. There were several stand-offs designed to screw into the case, and the motherboard into them. I came across a minor snag here (for which the internet gave me no solutions). Two of the stand-offs were slightly different from the others -- most of them had a flat top, but two had a pointy top. It turns out that the pointy-topped ones serve to help line up the rest of the stand-offs with the holes in the motherboard -- the pointy ones sink into the holes slightly such that having two of them provides rotational momentum for the whole motherboard. My recommedation for these pointy stand-offs is simply to make sure they are relatively far apart from one another. After getting the motherboard lined up, the task of screwing it in remained. This was rather simple (tightining screws can't get that complicated). After the motherboard was in, I installed the memory, which was as simple as pushing until it clicked. I proceded to connect all the connectors from my case -- such as power and audio among others -- to the motherboard.

Next, came time to connect the power supply to the motherboard. There were two points where I thought I had an unusable power supply; the first was when I realized my power supply had a 20-pin connector and the motherboard had a 24-pin connector. Thankfully, the 20-pin fits, leaving 4 pins without a connection. There was also a separate 4-pin connector that went to the motherboard. The second time I thought I had a bad power supply was when I plugged in the system, flipped the power switch, and nothing happened -- thankfully, it was a silly mistake on my part; I never pushed the regular power button on the front of the case. I installed my hard drive with ease due to the tool-less design of the case. I also temporarily installed the borrowed optical drive and video card, also with ease.


Now came the moment of truth (it was also around 0300 or 3:00 A.M. by this time). I inserted my 64-bit Fedora 8 live DVD, and watched the system boot. I was ecstatic! The system booted perfectly with no glitches, whatsoever! I may sound over-excited here, but with every one of my systems (all notebook computers, granted), it took some labor to get Fedora to work properly. Everything worked seamlessly. I immediately installed Fedora to the hard drive so that I would have a fast-booting system and downloaded the updates. The next thing I did was run SpinRite on the drive to make sure it was in decent shape. Since it takes many hours to do its thing, and because it was getting late, I went to bed at this point.


One thing I really like about my case is its tool-less design. After the initial install, all upgrades (excluding a motherboard upgrade) are tool-less. Expansion cards can be swapped out thanks to a clever latching mechanism, hard drives and optical drives can be swapped out by simply sliding them in until they click, and the case opens with thumb-screws. Of course I showed off my build to my family (including aunt, uncle, and cousins) in addition to my best friend. People seemed most impressed with the tool-less design of the case.

I still need to purchase the third 750-GB disk to complete the RAID-5 configuration, and will probably do so when there is a good deal on NewEgg for one made by a third manufacturer. The grand total for the build comes out to just under $1200.

I would say that building my own computer from scratch was a very good experience and would recommend for anyone to do it himself for his next computer. The exception is if one is looking strictly bottom-end. These are the only computers that are a better deal if you get them from some place such as Dell or Wal-Mart.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Guess What I Did

So, I decide to finally get out my Alienware notebook computer to watch some Stargate Atlantis. I fire it up, and look in my bag for the power adapter. I don't find it and eventually realize that I left it at home.

Anyway, I called my mom and she confirmed. She's sending it to me.

I guess I left for the airport in such a hurry that I didn't take the time to double-check that I had everything.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

End of the First Semester

The first semester of college is now over, and I am on Christmas vacation. Actually, a quarter of it is already gone. Anyway, my grades are in, and they aren't as good as I wish they were, and in the case of my Introduction to Engineering Analysis class, worse than I expected -- worse even than my slightly pessimistic estimates. For some reason, I got an A- instead of an A in the class, which is the difference between a 4.0 and a 3.6 grade points. I only needed a 93.8 on the final exam to get an A, and I was quite sure I had done well enough.

I ended up with one "S" for satisfactory (this was a pass/fail class, which is graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory), a B, a B+, an A-, and 3 A's. This left me with a 3.6 GPA. This makes it impossible to get a 4.0 overall, which makes me sad. I actually had an A+ in Computer Science 1, but there is no such thing in the way RPI does things.

When I took my exams, I felt as if I had done well on 2 of them, and poorly on another. When I took my calculus exam, I was fine for the first four questions, but when I came to the last, my mind was blank as to how to solve it. I asked the teacher for a hint, but got none. If she had only said, "lambda," I would have remembered how to do the problem. I got nearly a perfect grade on the computer science final. I felt as if I did well on the IEA final, but apparently I did not, since I didn't get an A in the class.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Coming Home for Thanksgiving

I got my plane ticket a little over a week ago. This morning, I was waiting for a shuttle to the Airport that was supposed to leave the school at 8:00. It was not there at 8:00, so I asked the person in the transportation office if it was coming. She assured me that it was. I asked her again a couple times in 10-minute intervals. Finally at 8:30, I asked her to call and get an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) for the bus. She called, and they claimed to have been there at 8:03. There were 6 of us waiting for the shuttle. My flight was at 9:30, so I had to get there very soon.

I called my friend who had a vehicle, and asked him if he had left yet, and if he hadn't, if he could drive me to the airport. He was just leaving, so he drove me. I got to the airport with little time to spare. I checked my bags, from which I had to remove my laptop computer to carry on since it made the bag too heavy, and went through security. I arrived at my gate 15 minutes after the boarding process was supposed to start, so was quite concerned as the the door was closed when I arrived. I asked the lady at the counter if my flight had boarded yet, and she said that it would be in a few minutes.

I flew from Albany, connected in Philadelphia with a 3-hour layover, finally arriving in Baltimore. The flight from Albany to Philadelphia was an hour long on a propeller plane, and the flight from Philadelphia to Baltimore was only 20 minutes on a small jet.

I actually spent more time in traffic getting home from BWI than I did in the air. Anyway, I'm happy to be home. It's good to see my family.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

MATLAB R2007b on T61 with Vista

A week or so ago, I tried to install MATLAB R2007b. The program seemed to install without a hitch, but when I went to run it, the splash screen would pop up for a fraction of a second, then it would close, and the program would not be present in memory. I tried many things to get it to work, none of which were successful. The people at the computer help desk also had no idea how to get it to work. The good news is: I just figured it out.

The solution is to install MATLAB R2007b, then uninstall both Java 6 and Java SE Development Kit 6, restart the computer, then re-install them. This will usually require re-downloading the installation files.add an environment variable called "MATLAB_RESERVE_LO" with a value of "0" (zero). After doing that, MATLAB R2007b should run perfectly well.

I hope that someone finds this useful. The computer I'm running on is the Lenovo ThinkPad T61, issued by RPI.

Update (Oct 31, 2007, 01:23 EDT): Apparently my initial solution was a fluke, and only worked by some random chance for me. After I rebooted, it no longer worked. I found this new solution from a thread where someone else was having the same problem. Apparently, it affects "Centrino" processors, which I expect means that it affects Intel's mobile processors newer than, and including, the Pentium M. I would not be surprised if the problem also affected the desktop Core 2 Duo chips as well. One would think that they would catch these things during testing before they ship, since the setup is so common.

Update 2 (Oct 31, 2007, 01:39 EDT): MathWorks, the company behind MATLAB, has an official bug report and work-around. Unfortunately, you have to create an account to see it, but the same solution (though without an explanation) is provided both here, and in the thread I referenced earlier.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

nVidia Quadro 140M

When trying to play a 720p video file on my ThinkPad this afternoon, I found out how bad the graphics card inside really is. It would not play the file well. It would play with a very low frame rate, and the sound was jittery because of trying to stay synced with the video.

I really wish that they had included a better video card (as well as higher screen resolution, i.e. 1920x1200). I haven't yet played any notable video games on my ThinkPad.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

The One Reason to Hate Windows Vista

I decided this evening that I wanted to watch a movie. I went to the library, and checked out a DVD. When I tried to play it, I got the following error message:

DRM: Data Restrictions Management. The one and only reason to hate Vista. If I had tried to play the DVD on an XP machine, it would have worked fine. There is no reason this message should be coming up. I could be somewhat understanding if it were an HD movie, but it's just a standard DVD. This was one thing that I had been worried about through the development of Vista. It was and still is a concern for many other people.

Vista is definitely a huge improvement over XP. There have been several occasions where I have asked someone why they haven't switched to Vista yet, and their response is simply, "DRM."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A More Difficult Second Day of Classes

Today was much more difficult for me than yesterday. First thing this morning, I had to get up at 5:00 for PT (Physical Training), then change into my white uniform to wear during the school day for ROTC. When wearing the uniform, we are required to carry our stuff in our left hand, and not on our backs. This is partially so that we will be able to salute senior officers and midshipmen as well as Air Force cadets.

My first class of the day was Introduction to Economics. It was a pretty good class, but it is going to require some work on my part. The professor said that the third edition of the text book would be sufficient, even though the current one is the fourth. I am going to return the new one I got from the library, and have ordered the third edition from eBay for $30 instead of over $100 for the new one. The subject matter of the economics class is somewhat interesting, but a lot of it seems like common sense. I am also happy that the professor is somewhat conservative rather than liberal.

Multi-variable calculus was slightly confusing, but I should be able to do fine in it. I don't have as good of a teacher as I did with Calculus 1 and 2, but I don't expect to ever have such a good teacher again, anyway. After hearing from my economics professor that the older version of the textbook was adequate, I decided to ask my calculus teacher if the older version of that book would also be adequate. She said that older versions would be fine since most of the questions aren't out of the book. I plan to return the books for this class and order the older versions for it also.

I have been enjoying being able to type my notes in class on my Rensselaer laptop. It has encouraged me to actually take notes -- something that I rarely, if ever, did in high school. The program that we were given for this task is Microsoft's OneNote. It is like a virtual notebook/filing cabinet with sections. It is quite easy to keep notes organized. Whenever I have taken notes on traditional paper with a pen, they would all get mixed up and I couldn't locate any of them. (I actually opened up my virtual notebook to refer to while writing this post; I have both laptops running side by side.)

My third class, and least favorite to this point, was Introduction to Engineering Analysis. I believe that the main reason for this is that the professor has forbidden the use of laptops in his classroom. The subject matter to this point (only the first day so far) has been physics, except that we have to use the English system of units, which I greatly despise for its complexity. We also have to hand in class work at the end of each class period in addition to homework. So far, this class seems to be the one that will be the most work.

Overall, the day was more difficult than yesterday, but I'd say that if this is as tough as it gets, I'll do fine.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

End of Orientation

This has been an interesting two weeks. By far, the best part was the Adventure Quest at Silver Bay. Since returning from Silver Bay, life has been mostly uneventful.

Several days a week, movies are shown in an auditorium on campus. Tickets cost $2.50, but there were two free movies this week to whet our appetite for them (my reasoning there). The first one, Music and Lyrics was shown on Wednesday. If I had seen the first five minutes of it on television, I would have instantly changed the channel, but I sat through it, and it wasn't too bad of a movie. The second movie, Disturbia, was shown last night. I thought it was a pretty good movie, and kept you guessing until near the end.

Today, people on my floor finally got our Rensselaer laptops. It is a decent computer, but mine is faster. I still have the same gripes that I have mentioned previously. I plan to install Fedora on the Rensselaer laptop alongside Windows. One thing about the laptop that is better than was advertised, but not unexpected to me, is that it has Office 2007 Enterprise edition rather than Professional edition.

Later this afternoon, we had a "Convocation" ceremony where many of the important people of the college were introduced, and a few spoke. At the end, Rensselaer's a cappella group, The Rusty Pipes, sang the Alma Mater. I believe that I was one of very few freshmen who already knew it. I downloaded it a few months ago, and have heard it enough times to know it by now.

Classes start tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes. My first class is at 8:00 in the morning.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter won't be on the New York Times Best Seller List

I came across an article today that mentioned that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows won't be on the New York Times Bestseller list. This is because they decided that "children's" books should have their own list. I checked the New York Times web site, and Harry potter has been banished to the "Series" section of the "Children books" list. This kind of bothers me, but I don't know why. Anyway, here is the article that I was referring to: Why Harry Potter Won't be a Bestseller


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rensselaer Student Orientation

I recently attended the student orientation at RPI. I learned a little about the school that I didn't know about the school before, but not very much. Most of what I remember from Student Orientation was arguing my case with the registrar's office about receiving credit for Calculus 2. I took Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 at Germanna Community College this past school year, and expected to receive credit for both at RPI. They only wanted to give me credit for Calculus 1 because there were some things that weren't in the course description for the course I took at Germanna as opposed to the course description for Calculus 2 at RPI.

When I registered for classes, the system wouldn't let me register for Multi-variable Calculus. I asked the person who was helping with registration to over-ride the system, who did so after my explaining the problem. I still had to go to the registrar's office, and convince them to give me credit for Calculus 2, which they grudgingly did. They said that they would give me the credit, but put a not in the file that there were possible holes in the course I took at Germanna. I am satisfied that I got the schedule that I wanted for the first semester. Hopefully, all will go well.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

MP3 Quality vs. CD Quality

I was just ripping a CD to my computer when I decided to listen to the quality of the CD compared to the quality of the created MP3. I rip my CDs at 320 Kbps (Kilo bits per second), the highest that I can. Anyway, when I listened to them right after each other, I must say that MP3 sound quality is vastly inferior to CD sound quality. The CD sounded much better than did the MP3.

This concerns me quite a bit. I have been spending $20 per month on an eMusic subscription where I can download albums in MP3 format. (If you sign up using that link, I get some credit from eMusic.) I am surprised just how much better the CD sounds. I may have to re-think how I get my music. It may be very expensive to replace my music with the CD-quality version, as I have spent over $200 on the music I have obtained from eMusic.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rensselaer Laptop

The specs for the laptop package that Rensselaer will be offering were released late last week. It is a very decent computer, though I do have a few complaints. The specs are as follows:

  • ThinkPad T61
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7300 processor at 2.0 GHz (4 MB L2 cache, 800 MHz FSB, 64-bit CPU)
  • 2GB RAM
  • 15.4" WSXGA+ (1680x1050) TFT display
  • 160GB 5400RPM hard drive with Intel Turbo Memory hard drive cache
  • 128MB NVIDIA Quadra NVS 140M graphic processing unit
  • CD writer/DVD writer (dual layer)
  • 10/100/1000 on-board Ethernet and 56K modem
  • 802.11a/b/g/n integrated wireless
  • Ports: 3 USB 2.0, Docking/Port Replicator, External Display, Headphone / Line out, Microphone / Line in
  • PC Card Slot, ExpressCard Slot, Media Card Slot
  • UltraNav (touch pad/TrackPoint) pointing device
  • Fingerprint Reader
  • Bluetooth
  • Firewire (IEEE 1394)
  • 9-cell Lithium-ion battery (one-year warranty)

My main problem with the computer is that the resolution is not as high as I would like. It is 1680x1050, but I wish it were 1920x1200. Also, I would have preferred 256 MB of video memory rather than 128 MB. Finally, I would have preferred a faster (i.e. 7200 RPM) hard drive.

What this breaks down to is "I like everything about the RPI laptop package except where it is not as good as my current notebook computer." Based on that statement, I guess I will also mention that I wish it had 4 GB of memory rather than 2 GB. I will end up buying the package anyway because obtaining the required software legally would be prohibitively expensive.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Spell Checking in Blogger

It seems that spell checking in Blogger now works. I had complained about it previously, but am glad that they now have it fixed. Logging in and writing a post is still full of bugs in Opera, but I can manage, though I do hope that they fix it.

One thing that kind of annoyed me is that Blogger thought that "Rensselaer" was misspelled, and didn't offer any logical replacement. On the RPI message boards, there is an entire thread on misspellings of Rensselaer.

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Resetting an iPod Nano that has Locked Up or Frozen

Microsoft software is notorious for locking up, crashing, or hanging. Today, I was going to add some music to my brother's iPod Nano when the screen froze. I tried plugging it in several times, and Windows said that the device had malfunctioned, and should be replaced.

Obviously, replacing the iPod was out of the question, as my brother had won it as a prize. I searched Google for a solution, and eventually found one around the fiftieth result. I found instructions to reset a broken iPod. The site didn't mention the Nano, but the instructions for the others did work.

Here is how I did it:

  1. Make sure the hold switch is in the off position
  2. Move the hold switch to the on position, then back off
  3. Press and hold both the "MENU" button and the center select button together for 6 to 10 seconds until you see the Apple logo
  4. Turn the iPod back on
  5. Enjoy the no-longer-hanging iPod Nano

Many people think of Apple and everything they make as perfect, but as evidenced by my experience with the iPod Nano hanging, and similar experiences of others, even Apple products are imperfect, and malfunction.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Blogger not Working with Opera

My goodness! Blogger is not working with Opera. It is really getting on my nerves! I just had to jump through a lot of hoops to get to the page where I can make a post. A significant number of people use Opera because it is a great browser. The least that Google can do is to test their services and make them work in Opera as well as other browsers.

If they had the same problems with Firefox or Internet Explorer, there would be outrage, and they would get a lot of bad publicity. A lot of people use Opera because it is a great browser. It is a huge pain when something like Blogger doesn't work. The old Blogger worked fine with Opera. I don't know what they did that made it break in Opera, but I hope that they fix it soon.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

URL Change

I had been putting off the changeover to Google accounts from the old blogger accounts. Google finally made it mandatory, and in the process, I seem to have lost control of my old address, jamescassell.blogspot.com. When that address is visited, is says, "This blog is under review due to possible Blogger Terms of Service violations and is open to authors only." The only reason this concerns me is that anyone looking for this blog at that address will not find it. A while back, I said that I was transitioning to JamesCassell.com. That never quite happened, but now it has, though not by my choice. Anyway, if anyone wants to find me, they can do so at this new address.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Restrictions at School

I hate when a few misbehaving individuals abuse privileges and get them taken away from the whole group. Today when I entered the library, I was informed that I would not be able to leave until the bell rang at the end of lunch. I regularly use the library during my lunch period to use the computers. I then leave about two minutes before lunch ends so that I can beat the crowds to get to my next class. Apparently, some kids were skipping class and doing other unspecified activities that caused "administration" to create this new rule. This type of thing has happened to me on several occasions. When I worked at Sam's Pizza and Subs, some people abused the free food by getting very expensive meals. My boss said that because of this, the only free food that we could get would be sandwiches. There was a similar incident in school this year; kids who ate in the courtyard outside didn't pick up their mess and caused the privilege of eating outside to be revoked. It has gotten on my nerves each and every time. I believe that the librarian is not particularly pleased with the new rule, but she must enforce it. I hope that this new rule will be relaxed. I'm thinking that the issue could be forced if everyone who used the library during their lunch periods were to stop doing so until the rule is revoked, but I think that the chances of this happening is virtually zero.

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