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)

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

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).

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Evolving Banner Blindness

Banner blindness is a phenomenon where people grow to ignore ads on web pages. It started out as just ignoring flashy colorful banners. Recently, I noticed that I have developed a banner blindness to Google text ads. While this banner blindness can improve efficiency in browsing the web (if such a thing can be considered efficient), it can also lead to overlooking legitimate information.

The other day, I downloaded Sabayon Linux to see what it was all about. When I was running the live media, I was about to click "next" when I said to my self, "Hey! What's a Google ad doing in a live distribution options dialog?" I then realized that it wasn't a Google ad, it was simply a table of features and descriptions of those features.

There are two possible conclusions that I could draw. The first would be that I should never format information such that it could be mistaken for an advertisement. The secound could be that I should try to curb my banner blindness so as to not miss legitimate information formatted in this way. Perhaps, both conclusions are correct; they are not mutually exclusive, as far as I can see.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fedora 9 Beta

Yesterday, the beta of Fedora 9 was released. Overall, I am very impressed. The live CD, which actually fits onto a CD this time, booted with no problems on all of my systems. I was very pleased to see that they fixed a bug where one couldn't get 1920x1200 resolution. Everything works pretty seamlessly.

Having said that, it is obvious that this is a beta release. There are many bugs that need to be worked out, but the overall functionality is there.

One of the main problematic places for bugs is in SELinux policy. Many things that I try to do get blocked by SELinux, including updating the system. Of course, this will be worked out before the release, but it is an annoyance at the moment.

I am definitely excited for the upcoming release of Fedora 9, even though it is a whole month away. One thing that is interesting is that Microsoft will wait for 3 months after they have completed their code to release it to the general public, while that is half of a release cycle for Fedora.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Super Man-Like Hearing Abilities

The other day, I noticed something interesting -- our brains have the ability to filter out noise interference. My ThinkPad speakers aren't very powerful. When I decided to listen to some music while riding in the car the other day, the speakers seemed pitifully mute. The noise of the car greatly overpowered the sound of the speakers.

I left the music on despite this, and about 20 minutes later, I realized that I could hear my music just fine; I hardly noticed the noise of the car. Two things are true here -- the car didn't get any quieter during the ride, and my music didn't get any louder. This indicates to me that my brain selectively filtered out the noise of the car, and allowed me to better hear the music coming from my ThinkPad.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cheating at Rensselaer

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

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

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

[tagged for clean-up]

Labels: , , , ,

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.)

Labels: , , ,

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.)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Correlation Between Font Size and Screen Brightness

Over the course of the day, I began to realize that there exists a strong inverse relationship between the size of the font on the screen and the light required to comfortably read it. I noticed that when I am in class, I have my laptop screen on the dimmest setting so as to allow my battery to last longer. At this low brightness setting, in a bright classroom, I blow up whatever I am looking at to nearly double its native size to be able to read it comfortably.

At the other end of the spectrum, I significantly decreased the font size in Eclipse, my programming environment, so that I could see more of my code at once. After doing this, the first thing that I did was turn up the brightness on my screen, which allowed me to see my code much more easily.

I am sure that this trend has its limits in either direction; if you get too dark, you won't be able to see the text, no matter how large you make it. Since the human eye only has a certain level of precision, if you make the text too small, increasing the brightness will not do enough to make the text readable. I am fortunate to have good enough eye-sight for this observation to hold for a relatively large range of brightness levels.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Qualifying Statements

The art of qualifying statements is something that nearly every politician has mastered. I have used it myself, notably in my Thoughts on Harry Potter before reading Book 7. Nothing I said in that post turned out to be incorrect. I referenced things such as "the apparent [emphasis added] murder of Albus Dumbledore," and argued that Snape was "not as [emphasis added] evil as it would seem."

In the first case, my "apparent" qualifier was warranted; it is revealed in The Deathly Hallows that "murder" is a bad characterization of what happened. In the second case, it turns out that my qualifier was not needed at all, and my proposition was completely correct.

I was having a conversation with my friend the other day, and he asked me a question about where technology was going. My response was so well qualified that, if examined closely, it conveyed no information at all; at most, it may have conveyed an opinion, but nothing more. I find it interesting how anything can be said truthfully as long as it is properly qualified.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rodney McKay

When I was watching Stargate Atlantis the other week, I realized that I was very much like the character Rodney McKay with the major exception that I know how to keep my mouth shut. The episode I was watching when I realized this was "Trio." McKay believes himself to be able to do anything and thinks very highly of himself. He also has a bit of trouble relating with other people. The major difference between the character McKay and me is my knowledge of when to hold my tongue and my choice to hold it much, much more often than does McKay.

McKay and Dr. Keller are quickly becoming my favorite characters on the show. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite quotes comes from a dialog between the two:

Keller: McKay! I've been trying to reach you.

McKay: Well, you know, trying to save the city and what not.

[several minutes later]

McKay: You're a genius.

Keller: Well, you know, trying to save a life and what not.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Context in Perception of Scents

I noticed something interesting just now. How you perceive a scent depends heavily on where you believe the smell is coming from. Someone sat down next to me, and I thought he smelled like a dead animal. This was quite disconcerting. Shortly thereafter, I looked over and saw that he was eating a turkey sandwich. Immediately, the odor of a dead animal was gone, and the smell of a turkey sandwich was present.

I think it is interesting how the brain interprets the same odor differently depending on where it believes it originated. I would imagine this is somewhat similar/related to how taste is heavily dependent on smell; you can't really taste anything if you have a cold or a stuffy nose.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

2008 Presidential Candidates

Finding Out About the Candidates

It's pretty late into the candidate-selection season to be posting this, but I am finally getting around to doing so. My initial research into the candidates happened around Thanksgiving. I watched a Republican debate and liked only two of the candidates. At that time, I didn't register in my head the names of these candidates, only their positions on the stage and possibly their faces and voices. I grew somewhat apathetic towards the whole thing until I noticed a surplus of articles on Digg bashing Mike Huckabee.

After noticing this, I asked myself, "who is this Huckabee fellow, and why should I care?" I went on an Internet fact-finding mission. I found out that Huckabee was a God-fearing man, and that his political positions were, for the most part, in alignment with mine.

By this time, it was Christmas vacation. I began asking people close to me who they thought would make the best president. I didn't really get any definite answers. I would get answers along the lines of "someone else," or "I haven't looked into it." When I asked my dad, he said that he thought Alan Keyes was the best, but that Keyes didn't have a very good chance at winning.

Alan Keyes: The Best Man for the Job

At this, I did my research on Alan Keyes. I found Keyes to agree with Huckabee on many issues, but there were also disagreements. Keyes is the most conservative of the candidates. He is very strong on all the moral issues as well as all other issues. He is not afraid of being somewhat politically incorrect in expressing these views. After researching Keyes, I was fully convinced that he was -- and still is -- the best candidate for the White House.

There was only one thing on Alan Keyes's issues page that I initially disagreed with. As I started to read his argument for the importance of the family farm, I disagreed with what I was reading. I recalled the lessons I learned in my economics class last semester; economically speaking, family farms are of no benefit; large corporate farms would be more economically efficient. As I continued to read, however, Keyes acknowledged this and stated that family farms have an "indispensable value in sustaining our nation's strong moral character." I can agree with this point. I believe that one of the most threatening problems with this nation is its rapidly corroding respect for godly morals. If it hasn't been made clear, I believe that Alan Keyes is most certainly the best candidate for the presidency.

Mike Huckabee: A Strong Second

Sadly, Alan Keyes is greatly under-represented. In Iowa, his name wasn't even on the ballot! At some point in the near future, I fear that Keyes will find it impossible to win the Republican nomination. If he were to run as an independent, it would only serve to fracture the conservative vote and ensure that a Democrat won the election. (The Democrats have a frighteningly bad reputation with regard to moral issues.) Since Alan Keyes is basically out of the running based on the current state of things, this leaves me to fall back on the candidate I was initially interested in: Mike Huckabee. His positions on the issues are very solid and have not wavered throughout the campaign. One thing that differentiates Huckabee from your typical conservative candidate is his position on the environment. He asserts that we have not been good stewards of our environment, and that we need to do better. Now, this is all well and good with me until he decides to use my tax money to make it happen, or alternatively, to cause the prices of goods and services to go up due to government regulations on such things. Thankfully, this does not strike me as too-large of threat to deal with.

McCain would be a distant third choice for me, but my second choice is an order of magnitude better, and my first, an order of magnitude better that. Recently, with the exit of Romney from the scene, Dr. James Dobson gave a half-hearted endorsement of Mike Huckabee. At this point, I think that the best thing would be for Huckabee to win the Republican nomination, (which at this point is a stretch,) and for Alan Keyes to be on the ticket for Vice President.

The Democrats?

In choosing from the Democrats, it's a choice between the lesser of two evils. Because of his positions on the a few of the technological issues, I would prefer to have Obama as president over Hilary Clinton. In addition to this, the prospect of having Hilary Clinton as president is downright scary. The same is true with Obama, but to a slightly lesser degree. Strategically, I think Clinton would be easier to defeat in a general election as it would be easier to convince people to get out and vote specifically against her. This does lead to a conflict of interest; one would rather have the lesser of two evils on office, but the worse of the evils would be easier to defeat. I don't have a solution for this problem.


Alan Keyes is undeniably the best candidate. With him, you can have your cake and eat it too! Since Keyes doesn't really have a chance of winning, Huckabee comes in second as the best candidate with any chance of winning. On the Democrat side of the house, Obama is the lesser of two evils, but Hilary Clinton would be easier to defeat in an election.

Labels: ,

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.)

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Communism in Open Source Software

At first glance, in the area of technology, and more specifically, in open source software, it appears that there exists a thriving communist community. Now, everything that my other opinions point to would say that, in practice, communism is doomed to failure, and is a very bad thing (e.g. Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union.) My initial thoughts on this issue told me that technology is an exception to my previously-stated opinions of how things should work. Upon further observation, I realized that the notable examples of open-source software successes have always had the backing of some corporation.

For example, Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution, is financially backed by Canonical. Another example is Firefox, which is backed by Mozilla who relatively recently formed a for-profit entity so that they could legally make a profit from Firefox. (Much of their money comes from advertising partnerships with Google.)

Additionally, you have the open-source database, MySQL, which makes money by selling licenses to use their software to commercial entities. MySQL was recently acquired by Sun.

An example that is closer to home for me is Fedora. This is my preferred distribution of Linux (and the one I am using to type this post). Fedora is backed by Red Hat who sells another commercial distribution of Linux.

Perhaps, the two most successful open-source projects of all are the Linux kernel itself, and the Apache HTTP Server. The Linux kernel has many financial backers, many of whom are mentioned on the Linux Foundation Members page. The Apache server is the most commonly used HTTP server on the planet. It also has many financial backers who are featured on the respective Apache Thanks page.

This post is turning out much differently that I initially thought it would. Don't get me wrong; I think that free open source software is an excellent thing, and that all that people can do to promote it should be done. Having been using free open source software almost exclusively for about three and a half months, I will say that it has reached a point where it poses a legitimate threat to Microsoft; it offers a viable alternative to Microsoft software to the average user. I could have used many more examples of open source projects that are financially backed by corporate entities, but I think what I have gets the point across. Even in the area of technology, communism does not work.

Having said all this, I have seemingly left out all the open-source developers who have donated much their time to improve the quality of open-source software. I would like to thank all those who have done so, and encourage them to continue their good work.

P.S. I initially had this as a rather large section of my previous post under the heading "Technology".

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 11, 2008

Briefly: Politics

When looking at the things that each of the major political parties stand for, it amazes me that there are people who are in the middle of the road regarding the parties' views. The two parties core beliefs are almost perfectly out of phase -- that is, they almost perfectly contradict each other. The Democratic Party has very liberal views while the Republican Party has very conservative views. Though I have no data, it seems to me that these few-and-far-between people who are politically in the middle of the road are the people who decide the results of an election.

I happen to know at least one of these middle-of-the-road people, and, at least for this election cycle, we're both rooting for the same candidate. I will leave the issue of my personal political positions for another post as I am writing this between classes and am operating on very little sleep. (For the same reason, this post may not be as coherent as I would like it to be.)

Labels: ,

Friday, February 01, 2008

About this Blog

I started this blog back in 2003 shortly after reading How Blogs Work. I was, at the time, trying to read every article on How Stuff Works, a goal I never accomplished. I find it interesting to read back over my old posts -- they are, for the most part, short and dry, and have grammar mistakes that I would be embarrassed to make today. The most annoying of these mistakes is my improper usage of "who" when I should have used "whom."

I generally stuck to the policy of never mentioning anyone explicitly -- I will often say "the network lady," or "my best friend," avoiding names. This is an artifact of my being told (by well-meaning parents) that one should never use names on the Internet. In reading through my old posts, I found two violations of this policy.

Recently, my posts have been written as a one-sided conversation. Sometimes, there is a spoken conversation that inspires a post. However, more times than not, my inspiration to post has been my having a topic I wished to discuss, but having no one at hand who would be interested in such a topic. Sometimes, I will post specifically because it would have been helpful to me if someone else had posted on the topic. An example of this is my MATLAB R2007b on T61 with Vista.

Another thing that I have tried to do is to include helpful links in-line when appropriate (never using text similar to "click here" as the anchor). I have also encoded the expansion of any abbreviation or acronym in an <abbr> tag so that when one hovers an abbreviation with a mouse, a tool-tip shows the expanded version. Also, in all of my more recent posts, I have tried to choose a descriptive title. Sadly, I was too lazy to do this with my earliest posts. Additionally, for brevity, I will often use "he" when I speak of the third-person singular. This is what I was taught to do when I was in the third grade (which was before the modern advocacy of the more politically-correct "he or she" variation.)

In very recent years, I have tried to use proper grammar and spelling. These things are technical, and I have no excuse for getting technical things wrong, especially when I expect and want others to get them right.

This post will probably end up being my "about page" for this blog.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.)

Labels: , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, October 26, 2007

nVidia Quadro 140M

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

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

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thoughts on Harry Potter before reading Book 7

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) this afternoon. I decided that I would write my thoughts before reading the final book. I may mention events through the end of Book 6, so here is your Spoiler Warning:

Spoiler Warning!!!

The major event in Book 6 was the apparent murder of Albus Dumbledore by Severus Snape (Harry's most-hated teacher). The second chapter of the book tells of Snape making an Unbreakable Vow to Draco Malfoy's mother, promising to complete the task that Lord Voldemort has planned for Malfoy to complete, if it appears that Malfoy will be unable to complete the task.

Throughout the school year, Harry is convinced that Malfoy is up to something evil, but is not able to figure out what it is. Harry and Dumbledore go one night to attempt to obtain and destroy one of Voldemort's horcruxes. When they return, Dumbledore is severely ill due to the mission they had just been on, and to Harry's and Dumbledore's horror, the Dark Mark is over the highest tower of the Hogwarts castle. Harry and Dumbledore go at once to the tower where Malfoy manages to disarm Dumbledore. It is then revealed that Malfoy's task was to kill Dumbledore. Malfoy hesitates, and is then surrounded by several Death Eaters (Voldemort's followers). They want to do away with Dumbledore, but one of them reminds the others that it is Malfoy's job. Snape, whom Dumbledore trusts completely, arrives on the scene. He then moves to kill Dumbledore. Dumbledore is now dead.

If you read the book, it is undoubted that you will notice something I left out, but this was a short summary. Anyway, I will argue that Severus Snape is not as evil as it would seem. There was no escape from the situation in which Dumbledore died. If Snape had not killed Dumbledore, one of the other Death Eaters would have done so. By doing so himself, he further deepened his cover with the other Death Eaters, giving them no reason to doubt that he was on their side. It should be mentioned also that Snape would have died himself if he had not done so because of the Unbreakable Vow. Snape is now very deep under cover, and can provide more information to the Order of the Phoenix than anyone else.

Who will be in charge of the Order now that Dumbledore appears to be gone is something of which I am unsure. I do believe that the Order will continue, however. One more piece of evidence that Snape is not as evil as he appears is that when one of the Death Eaters started to torture Harry, he stopped him, stating that Harry was Voldemort's to finish off. Additionally, I don't believe that Dumbledore would make such a devastating mistake as to trust Severus Snape if he were not in fact trustworthy.

I find Dumbledore's demise to be disappointing and an unlikely outcome, but seems pretty firm that he is in fact, dead.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 20, 2007


My how time flies! I only have three weeks left until I have to head off to RPI. I am no doubt excited about this, but there are some things that I wish to accomplish first.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, I want to finish off my work on the NHS web site. The work that remains to be done consists mostly of completing the system for updating the site via a web interface. I have done virtually no work on it so far this summer.

The next thing my queue of things to complete is a Beowulf cluster that my friend and I have been working on over the summer. We have been gathering older computers, and are attempting to get them to work together in parallel to perform computing-intensive tasks. We are doing it as mainly a proof-of-concept and to gain some additional experience.

Less importantly, but possibly unwisely high on my list, I am re-reading the first six Harry Potter books. As I type this, I am paused at the end of the fourteenth chapter of the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I am re-reading the first six books so that the story line will be fresh in my mind when the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes out tomorrow. I have ordered a boxed set of the entire series in hardcover, but it won't arrive until October according to Amazon.

Getting back on topic, I have recently noticed that there is too little time. There are all of the things mentioned above that I want to do, and more, but time seems to be flying. It is already Friday, and it feels as if Monday were yesterday. I notice that I am probably about a quarter of the way through my life, supposing I live to be seventy-six years old. There are several other things to be done this summer. For one, I need to start getting in shape for next month when I will go up to Rensselaer for the ROTC program. I also want to, some time in the future, watch the entire series of Star Trek Voyager. I watched an episode of it the other day on television, and it reminded me of how good the show is. I have watched the entire series of the following shows: Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, 24, and Smallville.

Anyway, back to reading Harry Potter -- if I don't fall asleep first, that is.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Monday, July 09, 2007

MP3 Quality vs. CD Quality

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

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

Labels: , ,