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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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Finding a Good Church in Troy


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 The first one whose website I visited had an out-of-date and stagnant site, and didn't give very much information.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.


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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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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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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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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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Cost of Turing Tests

The other day, I had the pleasure of visiting my aunt and uncle. When I was over there, I showed them my the website I had created for the National Honor Society at Mountain View High School, as well as my blog. We came upon the topic of Facebook. They were interested in what it was all about, so I logged in to my account, and showed them around.

One thing that arose was them wanting to click on things that would appear to other people as if I had done, and, for obvious reasons, this was undesirable. My uncle proposed that my aunt create an account, as it requires very little effort to do so. She entered the necessary information, but the page came back saying that she had typed the CAPTCHA incorrectly. At that point, she decided that she did not want to create a Facebook account -- for my aunt, the marginal benefit of having an account was less than the marginal cost of typing in the CAPTCHA.

The purpose of a CAPTCHA is to tell humans and computers apart. It is basically a Turing test. A Turing test is supposed to be a task that is trivial for a human to do, but nearly impossible for a computer to do. As it turns out, they are often onerous for humans to do, and computers have been able to do them in all cases with at least some success. In this case, Facebook lost a potential user due to the difficulty of their CAPTCHA.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Social Interactions with Friends and Family

Today, I had the pleasure of visiting much of my family. I was able to visit my cousins, my aunts and uncles, as well as my grandparents. I stopped by each of their respective houses after being picked up from the airport. While I was able to see each of these people over Christmas vacation, I was not really able to have a decent conversation with them.

It seems to me that whenever there is a large gathering of people, no deep conversation happens. With many people, if such a conversation begins, it is inevitable that it will be interrupted. Thankfully, there weren't too many people today to have some good conversations. Now that I think of it, I hadn't had good conversations with my family for quite a while.

The same holds true in conversations with friends; if there is a large group, conversations between subsets of the group will inevitably be interrupted. The most vocal of the group seem to end up being those who direct the conversation. Actually, this semester, I have not even spent much time with friends; I always seem to have things to do. The other day, I did hang out with several friends; we had a ?smoothie movie night,? where we had smoothies (made of fruits and ice cream put into a blender), and we watched a movie. It was a rather enjoyable time.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Lack of a Normal Sleep Schedule

This past week, I have pulled three all-nighters. I'm sure that this isn't healthy, but I get quite a bit of work done when I'm at the computing center. Most frequently, I seem to pull these all-nighters on Wednesday nights; Thursdays are my hardest days this semester. On Thursdays, I have class from 0600 (6 A.M.) until 1700 (5 P.M.) I really should get all of this work done on the weekends, but it never happens.

Hopefully, after Spring break, I can get into the habit of getting all of my work done on the weekends. I would then, theoretically, be able to get back to a normal sleep schedule. Since all of my things tend to be due at the end of the week, and since I have a history of procrastination following me around, I often find myself in a bad position with more work to do than can be done in an evening. I resort to pulling all-nighters that cause staying awake through my classes to be quite difficult.

I believe that this semester is so difficult for me because my typical week is unequally balanced; most of my work and classes are at the end of the week rather being evenly spaced throughout the week.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Beautiful Weather in Troy

Troy, New York is significantly colder than my hometown of Stafford, Virginia. Recently, we had temperatures as cold as -19°C (-3°F), which, believe me, is very cold. I have, for the most part, become acclimated to this cold weather. The past couple of days here, the temperatures have been above freezing. Everything is melting, and it is balmy outside. The other day, I went to my classes without my fleece, and had only my long-sleeved shirt.

I remember when my dad drove me up here in August, it was in the fifties (Fahrenheit), and we thought it was cold. I think it is interesting how one can become accustomed to a new climate.

On Tuesday, we (that is, ROTC,) even went for a nice run outside. It was actually raining today, which, while not ideal, was pretty nice compared to all the snow and sleet we had been having all winter. It seems that spring is finally coming along. I am, however, not looking forward to temperatures over 60°F. My dorm does not have air conditioning, and this provides for a very uncomfortable atmosphere. I remember all too well from the beginning of last semester what that was like.

(I have not been proofreading my posts lately, so they are of lesser quality. I will correct this over spring break, which starts in a very few days.)

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alienware Notebook

It is extremely late to be writing this post, but, I have tried to reference it on a few occasions only to find that it didn't exist. In August of 2006, I made my first major purchase (read: over $1000.) I had amassed a non-trivial amount of savings, a large portion of which I wanted to spend on a laptop computer.


After looking at some of the available options, I had formed several requirements. First, the new computer had to have a high-resolution screen, preferably 1920x1200. Second, it had to be more powerful than my existing system, which was an AMD-based desktop (that I still have and use today.) My third requirement was formed later in the game -- I wanted my keyboard to have a full numeric keypad. These requirements ruled out most of my options. Initially, I wanted to buy a bare-bones notebook which I could build myself, but there weren't many of these, and none of them met my requirements.


The numeric keypad requirement limited me to 17-inch models. The hardest requirement to fulfill was that of the high-resolution display. The only notebooks that seemed to have this were Alienware's. I priced out an Alienware, and found that they charged way too much to upgrade the processor or memory compared to how much it would cost to do so myself. I priced out and purchased a system with the upgrades in place that I wouldn't be able to perform myself; the system came out to just over $2000. The two major limitations of this configuration were the processor and memory. The system I bought had the bare minimum in terms of memory: two 256-MB sticks for a total of 512 MB. My processor was the Core Duo, T2300 clocked at 1.66 GHz. Ironically, three days after my system shipped, four days before I received it, Alienware started selling my system with the Core 2 Duo chips. The most obvious advantage of the Core 2 over the Core is its 64-bit capability. Needless to say, I wished I had waited several days before ordering.

Performance and Upgrades

I got the machine with Windows XP Media Center Edition, but, shortly after receiving it, I over-wrote XP with the release candidate of Windows Vista. Having only 512 MB of memory meant that Vista didn't run too well. I did make use of the new ReadyBoost, which made a noticeable albeit minimal improvement in responsiveness. About two months after buying the system, I got around to upgrading the memory to 2 GB. The system ran much more smoothly after that.

The machine played machines decently well; it could play Half-Life 2 at full resolution at a very playable frame rate. The video card in the system was the high-end ATI Mobility Radeon X1800. I actually didn't play too many games on it due to school and other things occupying my time, though it did play them well when given the chance.

In June of 2007, I again upgraded the memory, this time to 4 GB. Some of this was wasted potential as Vista only recognized about 3.5 GB. I upgraded my mom's newish laptop with the old 2 GB from my system as I had no other use for it. In July, I did another upgrade; I upgraded my processor to the Core 2 Duo T7200 clocked at 2.0 GHz. Again, I upgraded my mom's laptop with the older processor, bringing her to a dual core from a single core system. This left my hard drive as the least capable piece of hardware in my system; it only held 60 GB of data, and was only a 5400 RPM drive. I never got around to upgrading this part of the system.

Current Status

This leaves my system specifications as follows:

  • Alienware Area 51 m5750
  • WUXGA (1920x1200) TFT "Clearview" 17" display
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7200
  • 4GB DDR2 667MHz RAM
  • ATI Mobility Radeon X1800 (256MB) Graphics Card
  • 60 GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive

This system currently serves as my secondary system, and is my Windows machine. My Rensselaer-issued Laptop currently serves as my main machine and runs Fedora 8. My two servers run Windows Vista and Fedora 8, each serving its purpose. Perhaps this summer, I will have time to play Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal to make use of this once cutting-edge, but now aging technology. In total, I have spent a little over $2600 on my Alienware, including the initial system and subsequent upgrades.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Friends at Rensselaer

So, I'm finally getting around to writing this post. No one bothered to comment on my Proposed Topics for Discussion, but a couple of people told me personally that this one would interest them. Anyway, I'll get on with it.

Room Mate

So, first, we have my room mate -- he is the first person I met here at RPI. We are both in ROTC, we both go to RPI, and we both have slightly similar opinions on political issues, but the similarities pretty much end there. His being a good room mate in combination with my being able to get along with anyone who is not trying to not get along with me makes for a decent combination. (I suspect that I probably get on his nerves at times, but he usually doesn't mention anything.)

ROTC Friends

The several days of a hell-like experience that we fourth-class midshipmen went through together created an environment where, for the most part, we are all comfortable with each other. When I go to the dining hall, there is a high chance that someone who is in ROTC will be there. If I don't see someone else with whom I wish to sit, I can always sit with one of these people. Of course, I am closer to some more than others, but from what I can tell, any community turns out this way.

"Silver Bay" Friends

My best friends here at RPI are those whom I met on the student orientation overnight trip, or through people I met on that trip. It still holds that that trip was the most fun that I have had since coming to college. Some of the people I met there, I hardly ever see, but the few whom I do still see regularly are my best friends here.

This semester, I haven't really done anything fun with my friends; the highlight of many of my days turns out to be mealtimes spent with friends. I always have a lot of work to do (thanks, partially, to my legacy of procrastination that still follows me.)

(I was entirely lucid when I wrote this post, unlike my previous two posts.)

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Friday, February 29, 2008

57th Joint Service Military Ball

Being in Naval ROTC, I had a mandatory ball that I attended this evening. The best way to describe my experience was awkward -- for a contiguous four hours. I didn't really have enough acquaintances where I could be talking to someone the whole time, nor did I have anyone I could leach onto without making the situation worse.

There were lots of important (relatively) high-ranking people there. I didn't really care to talk to these people any more than I cared to be there. Thankfully, the captain didn't stay too long after the ceremony was concluded. (We could not leave until the captain left.) The three (including me) people in the car I was riding in did not have dates, so all of us were eager to get out of there as soon as possible.

Sadly, the time that I spent at the ball would have been better spent doing a computer science project that is due at midnight (but on which I now have to waste my final late day.) The seven hours or so I would have had to do it would have been sufficient to get it done.

(I will clean up this post at the same time as I clean up the previous; the same conditions are true as then.)

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Best Tool for the Job

I have recently become quite interested in open source software. As a matter of fact, I have made it to a point where I prefer, for example, Linux (in my case, Fedora,) over Microsoft's Windows. Given two functionaly equivalent pieces of software, one open source and the other closed, the clear choice is the open source option. Having said that, I will choose the best tool for the job regardless of whether or not it is open source.

One example of my choosing the best tool for the job is my choice to use Opera as my web browser. I like opera because it is a lightweight browser with a rich feature set. It has an integrated feed reader, mail client, chat client, as well as many other useful features.

More recently, I switched to using Sun's Java virtual machine as an alternative to the using the fully open source version that came bundled with Fedora. I am guessing that the open-source virtual machine has some unknown incompatibility with my hardware; Eclipse, my java-based development environment, had many stability problems until I switched virtual machines. I had been blaming the extremely poor performance on Eclipse and the fact that it was written in Java when, in fact, the problem was a faulty implementation the virtual machine. (This problem actually gave me a large amount of grief; my Google searches turned up no one else with the same problem, which is quite unusual for any computer-related problem.)

Another proprietary program that I decided to use instead of the open-source alternative is NX, a remote desktop solution that works on both Linux and Windows. I initialy tried the open-source version of it, but that gave much grief.

There are also a great many open source tools that happen to be the best tool for their respective jobs. Examples of these include Linux itself; Eclipse, my IDE; Pidgin, my instant message application; as well as a great host of other open source software solutions.

One tool that happens to be the best for its job is µTorrent. This is the absolute best Bit Torrent client available. Unfortunately, it is only available on Windows. This has been my stated reason for still having Windows Vista on my Alienware notebook. I have read that µTorrent can be run on Linux through WINE, but have had neither the time, nor the modivation to try it to this point.

Linus Torvalds, the mastermind behind Linux, also happens to hold this viewpoint. At one time, it came back to bite him. He had been using a proprietary solution for keeping track of the Linux kernel source code, but the company decided to not renew the free license that had been granted. Linus's solution to this problem was to write a new best tool for the job: git. Git is now the fastest, and arguably, the best tool for keeping track of source code. Linus was fortunate enough in being a genius that he could simply write the best tool for the job when the old one was no longer available to him.

(At this point, I'm just rambling as I'm very tired; I'll clean this up later.)

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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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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Briefly: Dvorak Update

I recently switched exclusively to the Dvorak keyboard layout and have been going at it for nearly six weeks. Dvorak is almost second nature to me by this point; my speed is still not as high as it was before I switched, but I expect to get there soon. I am currently typing at around 42 words per minute, not discounting for errors. This is about two thirds of my speed on the qwerty layout. My most common typing mistake with the Dvorak layout is mistakenly typing the sequence "it" instead of the sequence "ti" (e.g. as in "imagination".) I usually catch such mistakes before I publish by means of running a spell checker.

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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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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Politics: Where I Stand

In general, my position on any given issue will be conservative. My source for absolute truth is The Holy Bible -- anything that contradicts the Bible must be wrong or inaccurate. As a result of what I just stated, my opinion on any issue (excluding technological issues) will be in stark contrast to that of the Digg crowd.

Moral Issues

I believe abortion is wrong and should be illegal. By extension, I believe that embryonic stem cell research is wrong and should also remain illegal. I believe that there is nothing wrong with capital punishment. One thing that I makes no sense to me is why many "liberals" want to permit the murder or "abortion" of innocent babies, but wish to prohibit the governmental execution of murderers.

As far as marriage goes, I think that we should have a federal marriage amendment specifying that marriage is between one man and one woman. I find it absurd that such a thing is even necessary, but with the state of the world as it is, sadly, such an amendment is necessary.

Economical Issues

Taxes should be kept to a minimum. All they do is hurt the economy (also, I want to keep more of my money.) I think getting rid of the income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax is a good idea. (Granted, this introduces the problem of people spending their money in other countries, but I'm sure there are solutions to this problem.) I personally hate debt, and therefore, think that the national debt should be kept to a bare minimum. Basically, I think that the government should take less of our money and also spend less of it.

Smoking and Drugs

I believe that both smoking and drugs (for non-medical uses) should be illegal. Just because someone wants to destroy their lungs doesn't mean I should have to have mine destroyed as well by means of inhaling their crap. An article: "A Different (Conservative) Take on the Proposed Smoking Ban" expresses this very well (in relation to a proposed smoking ban in Iowa). It is argued that tobacco is a drug and should be regulated as such. My favorite quote from the article, "your liberty ends where mine begins," very well expresses why there should be such a smoking ban.

Personally, I will never smoke, nor drink (alcohol). When I see someone smoking, my opinion of him drops substantially; if someone doesn't have enough respect for his body to not destroy it, my respect for such a person is equally degraded. For some reason, I don't frown as much on people who drink with moderation. I simply have made a personal decision to never drink.

United Nations

The idea of the United Nations having any control or influence over the United States does not sit well with me. Its very existence seems to threaten the sovereignty and independence of our nation.

This actually brings up another issue: currency. There are many European nations that have given up their sovereignty by giving up their own currency and adopting the Euro as their official currency. I would like to believe that the United States would never do such a thing, but inevitably, some time down the road, either the United States will cease to be a nation, or it will buy into a global currency. I hope to not be on this planet when such a thing happens.


I believe I should be able to do whatever I want to with my technology as well as my media. The DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 severely curtailed what people are allowed to do with their media. For example, it criminalized the copying one's DVDs to one's hard drive. It basically made it illegal to circumvent any sort of DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) scheme, "even when there is no infringement of copyright itself."

Another political technology issue is software patents. Initially, such patents were not allowed because software is nothing more than math, and math can't be patented. To get around this, companies described their software as hardware, and added a footnote that the preferred implementation is in software. Somewhere along the line, software patents became accepted. I am strongly opposed to allowing software patents. They do more to stifle innovation than to stimulate it. There are companies whose whole business model revolves around collecting these patents and suing other companies for infringement. A prime example of this is the Eolas suit against Microsoft for its use of web browser plug-in technology. Eolas won the suit. The prevalence of such patents strongly discourages new entrants into the market.


As you can see, my views are strongly conservative. If I did not address an issue here, either it slipped my mind, or I found it to be so much common sense that it didn't warrant a mention. (Sadly, there are many issues that fall into this category; they are such common sense that there should be no argument around them.) If you want me to address any particular issue, just leave a note in the comments, and I will update this post (or add another) addressing the issue.

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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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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Body Heat in a Large Room

So, I was in Chemistry class today, and it was warm enough that I didn't need my fleece (thanks to one of my friends for telling me what it's called). When the end of class came, of course, everyone left. About five minutes later, I noticed that the room was getting cold. (I have three classes in a row in this room, with a 40-minute break between chemistry and Discreet Structures.) Now, my chemistry class is very crowded, with most of the seats full. I could very well be wrong, but I'm going to attribute the temperature change to the people leaving the room.

P.S. I'm filing this under "random" because it really has no point.

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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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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Dvorak Keyboard Layout

In the final week of Christmas vacation while I was waiting for the pieces of my server (about which I shall soon write) to be shipped to me, I happened to come across the Dvorak keyboard. This was not the first time I had heard of it -- I had previously seen mention of it in some Wikipedia user pages, but dismissed it as irrelevant at the time.

At any rate, somehow, I came across the Wikipedia Dvorak article. I found it intriguing and decided to look further into it. I imagine that the reader will have never heard of the Dvorak layout, so I will give a brief description. The Dvorak keyboard layout is an alternative to qwerty. The keys are laid out so as to minimize hand movement -- the most commonly used keys, including all of the vowels, are on the home row. Dvorak was designed for efficiency. DV Zine is a comic-style introduction to Dvorak and its history, in addition to its use.

Now, theoretically, one can type faster an a Dvorak keyboard than on a qwerty, but I'm not too shabby at typing qwerty -- I can, when concentrating on 100% accuracy, type 62 words per minute. This switch was going to cost me some time, as well as serve to make each keystroke several times more expensive -- from instant messages to Google searches to blog posts (which, granted, I don't do very often). About an hour after I started the endeavour (before I had learned more than the home row), I decided to see how fast I could do on a typing test. I scored a blazing 6 words per minute. It was a couple of days before I had nearly memorized the new layout, by which time the pieces for my server came, and I was distracted from this endeavor.

It wasn't until I came back to school that I picked up the effort again. I have since been using Dvorak exclusively, and have been taking hand-written notes in class so as to be able to keep up, and to not fall back into using qwerty. About a week ago (the last time I booted into windows, to be exact), I re-tested my speed. This time I was up near 20 words per minute. I am certainly improving, and hopefully, I'll be up to my old typing speed so that I can declare this endeavor a success.

There have certainly been some struggles in learning Dvorak. Some of these follow in no particular order. First, now that I am programming again, I frequently press the wrong keys for curly braces, the equal sign, and other such keys. Second, I often use the command-line text editor, vi, which has the entire keyboard mapped to special commands. It is annoying, for example, when I mean to save and close the document, but mistakenly delete the current line. Third, for some reason when I tell Fedora to use Dvorak by default, the volume control buttons stop working on my ThinkPad. Finally comes just the expected pains of switching layouts -- making many typos trying to use the qwerty key locations instead of the Dvorak ones.

I cannot yet fully recommend the Dvorak layout, but I will say that it's definitely worth a look. Once I have fully mastered the layout, I may at that point fully endorse it, but not until that day.

The two sites I used in my initial training were dvorak.nl and ABCD: A Basic Course in Dvorak. (And, of course, I typed this entire post with the Dvorak keyboard.)

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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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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Story of My Adventure on the Way Home for Christmas

The Day I Was Supposed to Leave

I told this story of my adventure-of-a-trip-home several times to my family during the holiday, and apparently, people found it interesting. I am therefore, recounting it here.

I was initially going to come home on 13 December -- my flight was scheduled for that day. So it happened: I had all my stuff packed, and headed out the door. It was snowing heavily outside, so my wheeled suitcase was acting as a snow plow, and was therefore quite difficult to pull. As I approached the bus stop, my bus was just pulling away. I chased it for about half a block before it stopped to let me on.

At this point, it was snowing pretty hard, and all the buses were running late. About ten minutes after getting on the bus, I realized that I had left my wallet, which had my ID card in it, back in my dorm. The bus driver let me get off at the next bus stop. I waited an hour before a bus came that would take me back to RPI. In this time, I found out that my flight had been cancelled, and that the later flight was full. This turned out to be a good thing as I had forgotten my ID card, and probably would have missed my flight otherwise.

Eventually a bus came that stopped relatively close to RPI. After getting off the bus I made the trip back to my dorm, but in the process, lost the belt clip for my cell phone. After eating dinner with my friends, I then called the airline and arranged to take the first flight out the next day. It looked like I was going to have to take a cab, but my roommate kindly offered to drive me to the airport. I called my mom to work out the logistics. She couldn't pick me up since it was going to be a Friday morning, and she was going to be at work. We worked out that I would take public transportation from the airport to my grandparents house, and my grandmother would drive me the rest of the way home.

At this point, it was getting late, but I decided that since I was at RPI, I would do some of my laundry. I ended up getting less than an hour of sleep that night.

The Flight

The next morning, my roommate drove me to the airport. I got there with enough time to get my baggage checked as well as to get through security. Southwest Airlines works differently than others. Instead of choosing a seat when one books the ticket, he chooses when he boards the plane. Boarding order is determined by the order that passengers check in. Since my original flight had been cancelled, my check-in time for my new flight was much later than it otherwise would have been. I still got a window seat, though it was pretty far from the front of the plane. Flight time was almost exactly an hour from the wheels leaving the ground in Albany to touching the ground in Baltimore.

The Bus and Train

After landing and getting my luggage, I went outside the airport to try to catch the bus. I had no idea where the bus was going to stop, so I just kept my eyes peeled for any sign of it. It eventually came, but stopped several hundred feet from me. I had 4 things I was carrying, but ran toward the bus with all of it since the next one didn't come for another hour. I tried to pay the $3.00 fare with a $20 bill, but the driver wouldn't break it. I therefore had to use 3 $1 bills that I had been holding on to because of their crispness and the fact that their serial numbers were sequential and ended in 001, 002, and 003 respectively.

The bus ride was about 20 minutes to the train station. I got off the bus, and bought a fare card for the amount that the chart said that it would cost to get to the station close to my grandparents house. The route I had gotten off the Internet the previous night told me that I would switch trains one time. Upon entering the first train, I was looking at the route map and noticed that I could travel a shorter distance if I made 2 changeovers. I did so, but with the overhead of the changeover time, I arrived at the destination station the exact same time as if I had taken the original route.

When I arrived at the station, I tried to call my grandmother to pick me up, but by virtue of being underground, the train station didn't allow cell phone signals to penetrate its walls. When I got to the exit, the machine wouldn't let me through. It said that I didn't have enough money on my card. I initially purchased the card with my credit card, but the machines by the exit only accepted cash, but wouldn't take cash. I was $0.70 short on my card, but only had $0.60 in change. At this point, I thought I was stranded. My only apparent option was to go back to an earlier station and hope that I could find a machine that would take a credit card. I asked a security guard if he could break my $20 bill for the machine, and he couldn't. I then asked him if he could give me a dime, which he graciously did.

The Rest of the Trip

Once I was on ground level, I called my grandmother. About 15 minutes later, I saw her car approaching, but it wasn't slowing down. Thankfully, she had her window down, and heard me when I yelled "Grandma!" She stopped, and I loaded my stuff in her car. We had nice conversation (which, incidentally, included this very story) on the way to my mom's house.

When we got to my mom's house, I had a bit to eat, and I talked to my grandma for a while before she left. She left around 2 in the afternoon, and I crashed (fell asleep) on the couch. I woke up around 2 in the morning, and since I had just gotten a night's worth of sleep, I stayed up. So began my entire vacation with a badly skewed sleep schedule.

P.S. I sporadically wrote this post over 3 weeks using the Dvorak keyboard layout, which I am now using exclusively. Also, I hope you enjoyed this anecdote of mine, and am surprised you lasted through it.

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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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Monday, October 22, 2007

Parents Weekend at RPI

This weekend at Rensselaer was parents weekend. There were several football games, for both of which Rensselaer's teams were successful. There was also a hockey game, about which I have not information. The only event that I really participated in was the Honors Convocation, in which I received the physical medal from the Rensselaer Medal Scholarship that I was awarded last year.

The Honors Convocation Ceremony was quite long, lasting about 2 hours. First, there was a procession in which all of the honorees, walked in followed by the important people of the institution. Six of the faculty were awarded some "highest honor", which sounded to me like tenure, but I didn't hear that word. After that, there were speeches. Eventually, they handed out the medals as each recipient walked across the stage, and shook President Jackson's hand. This part only took 15 minutes or so.

After the Honors Convocation was over, I took my mom and brother (who had come up for the event) on a tour of campus. My mom took a lot of photos of me, of which I may post a few here

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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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Monday, August 27, 2007

Start of Classes

This morning, I went to my first class, Computer Science 1. From everything that the professor said, I should probably take Computer Science 2 instead. Unfortuantely, when I tried to make it work with the classes I'm currently taking, it wouldn't. My ROTC drill period interferes with Computer Science 2, and ROTC will always come first since they are paying for my tuition. I'm going to see what I can work out with the schedule, and hopefully everything goes well.

The second class I attended today was a period where we would normally go over the previous lesson, so it was very short given that we haven't had any lessons yet.

My laptop is becoming more manageable as I customize it to my liking. I still haven't gotten around to removing all the suff slowing it down yet, though. Also, the RPI Scheduler java program doesn't work for some reason. I hope to get it sorted out soon, though.

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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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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Starting College Life in Troy, New York

ROTC Orientation

Last Monday night (13 Aug 2007), my dad drove me up to Rensselaer. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the way up. It was a pretty good book and finished the series well.

The first thing I did this past week was the ROTC orientation week. We were issued uniforms, and said goodbye to our parents, and were marched off. We were loaded onto buses to go to the Air Force base (I don't remember what it was called). We spent most of our orientation there.

Throughout the week, we were supposed to be memorizing information out of "Foundations" booklets. The first day shortly after arriving at the Air Force base, I lost mine in the chaos. Throughout the week, I received a lot of flack about it, and many of the times I was yelled at started because it was noticed that I didn't have it.

Though it felt like a lot of hard work, the week went fine overall, I would say. They never gave us a formal exam on the information in the "Foundations" booklet, though I did learn most of it by borrowing my roommate's. We spent the last two days of ROTC orientation at Rensselaer, and on Saturday afternoon, there was a ceremony where we took an oath, and became midshipmen.

Silver Bay Adventure Quest

Several months ago, I received a packet from Rensselaer asking me which overnight "Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond" trip I wanted to go on. I chose aviation and white-water rafting as my primary and backup choices, but didn't get either. I received a call about a month ago asking if I wanted to go on the only remaining trip. I said that I would, and I ended up going on the Silver Bay Adventure Quest trip.

Silver Bay is a very large YMCA off of Lake George in New York. It is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour bus ride from Rensselaer. The main purpose of the program at Silver Bay was team building. There were many activities where working together was necessary to successfully complete the task. Many of these included a blindfold.

My favorite part of the trip was that it allowed me to make friends with a few people who are attending Rensselaer. I probably met at least 20 or 30 people whom I will be able to recognize by sight, but there are fewer than a dozen whose names I remember. (I'd list them there, but I haven't obtained permission from said people to post their names.) Walking around campus, I have seen a few people that I recognize from when I was here in July for the Student Orientation, but I remember them by sight only, and don't know their names. (I'm terrible with names if you haven't figured out.) Anyway, back on topic, the longest activity that I did at Silver Bay was a hike that lasted from 9 o'clock in the morning to about 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

"Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond" (Orientation at Rensselaer)

Since returning from Silver Bay, some orientation activities have been going on here on campus. On Tuesday (yesterday), after we returned, there was a barbecue with all 1300 freshmen; I must say that it was a lot of people.

Today (Wednesday), everyone went on a day trip. I went on the "Precision Air Rifle Shooting" trip, which happened to be right on campus in the basement of the Armory. There is a shooting range that had been used for M1's in World War II. We used air rifles which were powered by canisters of air compressed at 3000 PSI. The ammunition was little pellet-like pieces of lead. Shooting the rifles was kind of fun for a while, but became slightly onerous, with the need to reload after each shot.

This evening, there was an event in the Student Union where many video game systems, board games, and other entertainment were set up. There are people here at Rensselaer with amazing talents. Some people are insanely good at video games such as Dance Dance Revolution; others put on a good comedic show on stage; and most enjoyable to me, some have extraordinary musical talents. There was a room with a grand piano, and several students who have been playing for over a decade were playing on it through the evening. I spent most of my time in that room listening to their amazing musical talents.

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