James Cassell's Blog

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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