James Cassell's Blog

Monday, September 08, 2008

Never Let Windows XP Touch Your Partition Table

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , ,

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.)

Labels: , ,

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.

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: , , , , , ,

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.

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: , , ,