Saturday, October 27, 2007

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November

I've noticed a clever fund-raising campaign by the republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul.

Referencing the movie V for Vendetta, the Ron Paul campaign has fairly explicitly compared their candidate to the character "V" from the movie, who compares himself to a historical British revolutionary named Guy Fawkes, about whom the following rhyme is recited in Britain:

Remember, remember the fifth of November,

The gunpowder, treason and plot,

I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

The implication is that Ron Paul intends to overthrow the government, though not by an act of terrorism as his counterparts attempted(they both attempted to blow up the British parliament building, but "V" succeeded). He intends to use his massive underground movement to raise $10 million on November 5th and send a shockwave through the mainstream press.

Will it work? We'll see...I'm tempted to give $100 myself to be a part of it, because in my opinion the US government has gone too long without a thorough shake-up. I'm also tempted to register Republican(I've always registered independent) so I can support him in the primary.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gutsy Gibbon

I recently installed Ubuntu 7.10, which just came out on the 18th of October. I'm quite impressed with it. I'm writing from a blog posting applet integrated into Ubuntu. :-)

Monday, July 09, 2007


I have found that I lack the will/courage/nerve to confront practically anything in my life. It's very interesting. This trend goes to the extent that I have trouble even forming opinions about things. Or rather, I find most anything for which one could have an opinion to be agreeable to my liking and generally have to be shown otherwise.

Most of my opinions that I do form seem to center on the logic of the matter. I feel rather like Mr. Spock of Star Trek sometimes, recently. It doesn't really matter to me if I actually agree with some action/belief. But if there is a logic I can formulate around how the action came to be completed or the belief came to be believed, then I am OK with it, and I might even like it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dell And Ubuntu, Sitting In A Tree

Today, Dell released their first line of computers preloaded with the Ubuntu operating system. This most promising alternative to Windows is used by Michael Dell himself on his primary computer.

The importance of the release goes beyond the benefit of having a choice of operating system when you shop at Dell. The importance lies in the fact that Dell has a mighty influence over hardware vendors. One of the greatest stumbling blocks for Linux has been the lack of hardware support, since there is no financial incentive for hardware vendors to support an operating system with no major OEM support. And if there's no hardware support, then the major OEMs have no incentive to provide Ubuntu.

If these systems sell to expectations, and Dell can continue producing new models preloaded with Ubuntu, Dell will(and already is) leverage its influence to force hardware vendors to fully support Linux in its hardware driver software.

The downside of their current offering is that Dell isn't preloading media codecs that require royalties to be paid(MP3, DVD playback, etc.). This means any normal user who wants to use these common media formats will have to acquire them illegally. Dell is working to be able to offer these codecs eventually, though.

Lastly, the new systems are not available through the main website links, but you have to go to in order to find these systems. Dell explicitly states that they intend the current offerings for people who already know what they're doing. Hopefully, as the system-wide support becomes comparable with Windows, they will simply include Ubuntu in the drop-down list of available operating systems.

Here here! Hooray for Dell and Ubuntu!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Farewell to a Hard Drive

A week ago, my computer's hard drive stopped booting. I ran out to Best Buy immediately and bought a new Western Digital Scorpio Hard Drive with 120 GB capacity(double the capacity of my ailing 60GB Hitachi Travelstar) and I loaded a fresh install of Ubuntu Edgy Eft on it. I happened to have backed up my data about 6 months ago, so I got my old stuff back immediately. But, as I have some mission critical data that was not backed up, I had to retrieve this data.

If you've never had this happen to you, it's quite nerve-wracking. As you may know, most all of my productive work takes place in coordination with my computer, and thus, a hard drive on that computer. If the hard drive dies, I must retrieve what's on it, because I've spent countless hours developing my projects and will reuse the resources from them in the future.

I took the drive to a computer repair shop that has been helpful before, and tends not to charge me anything. After a few days with them, they were not able to recover my data, since the drive would not boot. Oh crap, what was I going to do about this? A professional repair shop can't even get my hard drive to boot, so what hope do I have that won't cost me an arm and a leg? Oh well, at least they didn't charge me...

But, I had one trick up my sleeve yet! I read on the web about a certain technique of hard drive data recovery that involves placing the hard drive in the freezer for an arbitrary but significant amount of time. The principle behind it is that if some part in the hardware is out of alignment, the cold temperature will cause the metal to contract and possibly snap back into alignment.

So, having nothing to lose, I put the HDD in the freezer for an hour. No effect! I put it in again for three hours. Still nothing... Then I left it in the freezer for about twelve hours over night. When I tried it again, the motherboard wouldn't even recognize the hard drive!(until the drive warmed up again)

Well, that didn't work... But I remembered one comment I'd seen in reading forums about this freezing technique, and that one person had had success with the opposite technique: heating up the hard drive, thus causing the parts to expand. I have this little space heater that I use when it's cold. So I decided to give the heat idea a try. What I did was to put the heater on its back, so it pointed at the ceiling, then place the hard drive on top and put a towel over the whole thing. Then I plug in the heater and heat the hard drive for 3 minutes on each side. You have to be very careful and pick up the drive with a towel, because it's like touching a pot that's been on a stove.

So, after doing this, the hard drive got a little further! I couldn't believe it! It still didn't work, but it encouraged me to keep on trying to heat it up. After another round it actually tried to boot up! But then as it got cool it stopped working again. But after I heated the drive another time, I was able to get the drive to boot and look at all my data! I was able to then copy my most important stuff to my flash drive and upload the rest to a school server. I had to upload to the server because the drive stopped wanting to be written to after a few minutes of being booted up, and wouldn't mount my flash drive or my new hard drive. Occasionally I had to hold my computer over the space heater when it started to lock up again.

Hopefully this will help some people who are at their wits' end about recovering their hard drive :-)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

We Won SemEval!

Actually, I'm not sure how we won, but we did...we've been getting a lot of congratulations from professors in our department and such, but I still don't know how we had the best system. It seemed so last minute and ad hoc. We had 1 1/2 months to code our system, and there were 13 other teams from around the country(and in the UK).

Also, I am excited about Feisty Fawn, the next version of Ubuntu, which is being released on the 19th of April. If you haven't tried out Ubuntu yet, this is your chance! It's supposed to have the state of the art in networking and will include many multimedia codecs by default.

Friday, March 30, 2007

SemEval 2007

Picture: Christmas 2005, Rachel's Aunt Amy's house in northwestern Ohio.
From left: Erin Drum(Rachel's sister), me, Rachel Drum(my fiance), Kevin Drum(Rachel's brother), Pam Drum(Rachel's Mom), Bruce Drum(Rachel's Dad)

I thought you might be interested to hear about a project I've been working on :-)

This semester I'm taking a seminar in which we are competing in a sort of academic task called SemEval 2007. SemEval offers the oppourtunity for participants(mostly teams at universities, like ours) to attempt a variety of tasks related to automated semantic evaluation. The professor who is teaching the course, Roxana Girju, helped to organize one of the tasks, and so of course we are working on that one. It is task 4, "Classification of Semantic Relations between Nominals".

So, what does that entail? Basically, we're given a bunch of sentences with two nouns marked on each sentence, and most of the time the exact meanings of the marked nouns. We must write a computer program that automagically determines whether or not the two marked nouns have a particular semantic relation. There are seven semantic relations that we have to sort out, so it's not too bad. Here's an example of what we get:

001 "The period of [e1]tumor shrinkage[/e1] after [e2]radiation therapy[/e2] is often long and varied (mean months)."
WordNet(e1) = "shrinkage%1:11:00::", WordNet(e2) = "radiation_therapy%1:04:00::", Cause-Effect(e2,e1) = "true", Query = "* after radiation therapy"

The first line is the sentence, which has "tumor shrinkage" and "radiation therapy" marked. The second line is a reference to the exact Wordnet definition, or "sense", of each marked noun. It also displays the relevant semantic relation, Cause-Effect, which in this case is labeled as a true relation between the two nouns. That is, radiation therapy causes tumor shrinkage, which is straightforward enough for anyone to understand, and this is what is meant by Cause-Effect. The Query indicates a Google search that led the task moderators to this sentence, which comes from the web.

So what's the point of doing this task? A primary application is as an aid to question answering computer programs. For example, suppose you're a doctor and you want to know what shrinks tumors. Suppose there's this amazing program where the doctor can just type in a question and out comes the answer: "radiation therapy". In order to get this answer, the program can search the web, find a sentence like the one given above, and somehow figure out that "radiation therapy" is in a Cause-Effect relationship to "tumor shrinkage". To figure out this "somehow" is the goal of this task.

The deadline for submitting our results is Sunday, so I'll let you know how we do!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why Is The Study of Art Important?

My love Rachel is an artist of a particular sort where she is encouraged to pursue her art explicitly and even formally. She works to make her art a truer expression of herself, ever expanding her modes of expression in order to come to a closer understanding of herself and her world around her.

But what is the importance of this pursuit? Why would someone choose art as an intellectual life pursuit, rather than the other two fields of intellectual pursuit: philosophy and science?

All three of these areas are essential to any human's life. You cannot have a healthy pursuit of any of these without the other two. But are they really on equal ground? Our society certainly puts the highest value on science.

I will make the case for art. What is it? Art is the expression that is in harmony with God's creative purpose. The ideal of this expression is to use the full potential of the human mind and body to express the "naturalness" of humanity, in whatever way. We are not perfect, and we do not use our full potential, so we do not possess this ability to its utmost extent, nor can anyone fully attain it.

This is why one must work at artful expression their whole lives in order to gain a proficiency with it. This is also why it is a special thing when someone is recognized for their "artistic abilities". What is really being recognized there? It is the ability of someone to use their human potential of expression.

But what is the purpose of art? It is the same as all other academic pursuit(philosophy and science), when pursued intellectually. The purpose is to find truth, to fill ourselves with knowledge of the world. How does art do this? By expressing ourselves more fully, we uncover the state of the world in profound ways. Things that are unclear to people become clear. We can view how people from different cultures see the world, compared to our own. We can see the human body and mind do something it was not known to do before. By an artist's interaction with the natural world truths about the close connection between certain things in nature may be revealed where scientists and philosophers may have overlooked these things up until now. The beauty of it all reveals a knowledge that God meant for us to be able to reach this potential, even if we ourselves are not able to do what the artist does. Because of this we see God's purpose in creating us, the goodness He has in mind.

The painter, the comedian, the computer programmer, the martial artist, the musician...great people in all these pursuits have shown new horizons of human potential, and have revealed truths of the world that have spurred on the scientists of today.

Would scientists bother to study harmonic physics if it were not for the musicians first expressing the possibilities of creating beautiful sounds?

Would scientists have bothered to consider the possibility of a theory of human evolution without the painters and sculptors first expressing our close relation to other animals in art of most all cultures?

Of course, I don't know for sure, but it seems plausible that in these and many other instances, it is artists that first stumble upon truths about the world, and proceed to inspire philosophers and scientists to make a pursuit of it themselves, in their own ways.

We need artists everywhere in the world.
Artists make us less ignorant of our world.
Artists make the world more peaceful.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jorge Cham Visits UIUC

This evening I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by the creator of the web comic known as Piled Higher and Deeper. This comic, if you haven't read it, is a very inspiring/depressing/comedic take on the life of a graduate student(that is, my life). What I enjoy about these comics is that I can relate precisely to many of them. Jorge Cham has indeed been through grad school at Stanford, has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and understands the plight of the grad student.

The gist of a Jorge Cham talk is to use many comedic devices shown through his various cartoons and a fairly well-reasoned argument why procrastination is healthy for grad students. Supposedly 1 in 200 graduate students makes an attempt at suicide O_O How lovely, indeed. That's what happens when you don't procrastinate! No, really! :-P

A few highlights. In his talk, Jorge brought up that only 4 Hollywood movies about grad students have ever been made. These are: Hulk(2003), A Beautiful Mind(2001), Real Genius(1985), The Seniors(1978). In the question session following his talk, I asked approximately: "Since you brought up the scarcity of movies made about grad students, would you ever consider turning your comic strip into a movie?" His answer was, roughly: "Well, that would be very interesting to try, and since I live in Pasadena, which is right near Hollywood, you pretty much have to be working on a screenplay. So maybe I'll give it a shot." Pretty promising answer I think :-)

An undergraduate Linguistics student I know, Ben Lawitts, found me after the talk and told me he was going to try and get Jorge to go to The Blind Pig and have a drink with the Linguistics grad students who meet there every Thursday night. Jorge wasn't against the idea, but methinks he won't end up there tonight. What was funny is that this Ben Lawitts just got his head shaved, and had Jorge sign his head! Jorge was a bit taken aback at first, but drew a lightbulb and signed Ben's head, giggling the whole time. The director of the Graduate College asked to take a couple pictures of Ben, which I was promised to receive in due course, so you will get to see this. A funny quote from Jorge after agreeing to sign Ben's head: "This doesn't mean you'll be in my comic!"

Lastly, a school newspaper journalist interviewed Ben and me about the talk, and I expect my comments will appear in The Daily Illini tomorrow. ^_^

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Drew's Wedding

A week ago I served as my friend Drew Foerster's best man at his wedding in DC. Drew is the friend I've known the longest, since about 3rd grade.  Our birthdays are 4 days apart.
We never went to the same school, though we both participated in day camps during the summer through the rec & parks system in Howard County, MD.  In high school, Drew got me interested in Linguistics, in which I'm pursuing a PhD currently.  Drew is excellent with languages, having profficiencies in Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, and soon Armenian ;-)  Currently, Drew serves in the Air Force teaching Mandarin to airmen in Nebraska.

He is a very good friend to me and he will also be my best man in my 
wedding as well, which is going to be on July 28th in Florida ^_^
Drew married an Armenian girl named Yeva who is very cute and sweet.  She is a piano student at Fresno State University, although I believe she has transferred to a university in Nebraska.

I have a couple pics from the ceremony for your gawkment.  The first is me walking with Drew's younger sister Ellen.  The second is Drew walking with his wife Yeva.  And yes, Drew's family has a height advantage on most of the world.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Wedding Plans!

Rachel and I have put together a wiki page for our wedding plans.  
What this means is, if you're involved in the planning of our wedding, 
or otherwise have something constructive to add, then you can freely edit our site :-)

We'll be working on it continuously until the wedding day, and probably afterwards, so
bookmark the page and make sure to check back regularly :-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I've been watching a nice Japanese cartoon series called Gilgamesh. It's about some kids who were born with a paranormal power(highly flexible telekinesis, telepathy) and a catastrophe that happened in which the whole lower atmosphere was covered with a mirror-like magnetic field, so no one could see the blue sky. The magnetic field also has the effect of disrupting all electronics equipment, so none can be used, and a sort of steam punk effect is brought out in a creative way. The catastrophe, called Twin X, named for the date it occurred, 10/10, is linked to the finding of the tomb of Gilgamesh and the source of the great catastrophe, which is also somehow linked to the children's power.

In my opinion the plot is well put together. It has a gothic feel to the animation and action flow. The characters are all developed well and with some complexity. There is a fascination with pianos in this series, as a sort of comfort zone for various characters. It's interesting. Also, issues of scientific ethics such as cloning and other DNA modification are explored.

I only have 3 episodes left to go, so I hope it ends well!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rachel's Art

Rachel sent me some way cool pics of her latest art project!

Let me show you guys:


 So this piece is a pair of shows into which Rachel etched the words "I can't even look at that!", echoing the words of her least-favorite teacher in her art department during her most recent review. She then stamped the shoes with black paint all over her studio and a little bit outside her studio.  Supposedly it left one of her teachers speechless ^_^  It expresses her frustration at the callous and inconsiderate expressions some of her teachers have made to her while doing a critique of her art.  

I really like this piece, and I hope you do too :-)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Portabella Cheese Steak

6-inch sourdough roll
1 yellow onion
1/2 portabella mushroom
3 slices muenster cheese
4 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp olive oil

Dice an onion.  Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a skillet.  Put the onion into the skillet and sautee until brown. Heat olive oil in a skillet.  Cook the portabella mushroom in the skillet until cooked on all sides.  Put mushroom and cheese into the skillet with the onions and sautee until cheese is melted.  Slice the roll lengthwise in half but do not separate the two halves.  Fill a large pot with an inch or two of water.  Place a collander over the pot and put the roll into the collander.  Cover with the pot's lid and set water to boil(You may of course use a proper steamer if you have one).  Once the water boils bring it to a simmer until the roll is moist and soft.  Put the roll onto a plate and carefully empty the contents of the skillet onto the roll.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Video of Engagement

Rachel and I put together a documentary of our engagement.  
Hope you enjoy it! 

My favorite band right now is Page France.  They have a great innocence to their sound, and the lyrical composition of Michael Nau is genius.  They love to use objects from nature as symbols and occasionally personify them.  They love to use circus analogies. They love to talk about playing instruments, clapping hands, and singing.  The lyrical style is what one might call "random", but they're all well-constructed metaphors.  They use xylophone and organ and a strummy accoustic guitar extensively and bass and drums and electric guitar sparingly.  The female vocals of Whitney McGraw are inserted subtly and give the music the air of a children's song.

Oooo, and they seem to be coming to Champaign in March ^_^

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I got engaged!

On Christmas Eve, I got engaged to a lovely girl named Rachel Drum.  
She writes about it in her blog. I took Rachel to Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky, while we were visiting my Dad's side of the family in Lexington.  I gave to her a Gelin Abaci tension ring holding a white sapphire stone.

We will get married in late July or early August, likely somewhere on the east coast.