equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
08 Sep 05

This Little Chip

Thumbnail: BIOS chip

This tiny chip almost had me with­out my com­puter for at least a week.

It stores the BIOS, or Basic Input / Output System, in flash mem­ory on my moth­er­board. The very first thing that hap­pens when a com­puter is booted is the decom­press­ing of the BIOS into main mem­ory, which then ini­tial­izes the com­put­ers hard­ware com­po­nents, includ­ing crit­i­cal devices such as disk dri­ves and I/O ports. This allows a user to recieve feed­back (through video), input com­mands (through a mouse or key­board), and install or run oper­at­ing sys­tems (from a hard drive).

Without a BIOS, none of this would be pos­si­ble. In the past, moth­er­board man­u­fac­tur­ers have made it a has­sle to fool around with the pro­gram burned onto the small chip, because improper steps in the repro­gram­ming process could poten­tially ren­der the chip use­less. To update the BIOS, one would have to boot to DOS with a floppy and run a flash pro­gram off the disk. Modern moth­er­boards now offer the flex­i­bil­ity to update through spe­cial soft­ware in Windows, although this process is nowhere near as sta­ble as run­ning through DOS.

Which is some­thing I had to learn the hard way last night.

Recent ran­dom reboot­ings had given me rea­son to start run­ning the lat­est BIOS ver­sion. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a floppy drive (I opted not to buy one with my new com­puter because I haven’t used a floppy in years), which meant that I was stuck with the Windows flash soft­ware. The soft­ware hap­pened to crash at a very early part of the flash­ing process, which meant that I didn’t even have basic bootup code to get a drive run­ning. At next boot — noth­ing. No BIOS POST beep, no screen sig­nal, no response from the key­board. I quickly pur­chased a floppy drive at the near­est dealer, scram­bled to find a disk, put a boot sec­tor on it, but to no avail. There wasn’t even enough code burned onto the chip to get power to the floppy drive.

Normally, when some­thing like this hap­pens, such as the power going out or the floppy being removed dur­ing a flash, the BIOS gets cor­rupted and the chip is dead. The options are to get the moth­er­board RMA’d, which means send­ing the board back to the man­u­fac­turer before they send a new one back, or pur­chas­ing a new BIOS chip with a good BIOS image on it, which means spend­ing more money and wait­ing for a replace­ment. Both choices would take at least a week, if lucky.

Neither option was sat­is­fac­tory. I couldn’t wait until who-knows-how-long for some­thing to be sent back to me. Being with­out my com­puter is like being with­out my com­fort zone, the place where I can lis­ten to music and write, play games to get away, com­mu­ni­cate with the rest of the world, or even work on my busi­ness with Aaron when I feel so inclined. I looked around the net for a faster solu­tion, and dis­cov­ered some­thing called hot flashing.

Unfortunately, faster also means riskier. Hot flash­ing involves swap­ping two BIOS chips while the com­puter is run­ning. All that’s needed is a healthy chip, an iden­ti­cal moth­er­board (which I have at work), a boot disk with appro­pri­ate flash­ing software/image, and nat­u­rally, the cor­rupted chip. A com­puter is booted to floppy with a good BIOS chip, and after get­ting to a DOS prompt where a BIOS flash can be per­formed, the cor­rupted chip is swapped and re-flashed. As a per­son who’s already squea­mish about run­ning a com­puter with just a side panel miss­ing (in case water may hap­pen to splash into the case and cause a short, or a for­eign object falls in and jams a fan), this was an extremely daunt­ing process. Playing around with chips while a com­puter is hot means that there’s the risk of elec­tro­cu­tion, or short cir­cut that could per­ma­nently dam­age the other com­po­nents. Theoretically, after the BIOS is fin­ished run­ning, the board stops sup­ply­ing power to the chip since it’s no longer needed.

I decided to my faith in such a the­ory. Going on this faith meant that I could pry the chip out with a pair of mod­i­fied paper clips with­out hav­ing to worry too much about caus­ing a short (spe­cial PLCC-socket tongs are avail­able, but rare, and would prob­a­bly take just as long to arrive after pur­chase as get­ting a new board). After a few prac­tice pulls, which, I dis­cov­ered, loosens the socket and gets pro­gres­sively eas­ier, I seated the good chip with just enough pres­sure to make the con­nec­tions in the socket. After boot­ing suc­cess­fully, I pried the chip off the board and ran the flash.

The first attempt was unsuc­cess­ful, and after try­ing to boot with a cor­rupted BIOS, some­thing unex­plain­able hap­pened. The LED on the moth­er­board that shows that there’s a con­nected power sup­ply wouldn’t go out. I pulled the power plug, turned off the ATX switch, undid both the 24-pin EATX and 4-pin 12-volt con­nec­tors, and even pulled out the CMOS bat­tery, but the light refused to turn off. My only guess was that the capac­i­tors still had enough energy stored to keep the light on. After reset­ting the CMOS, and another hot flash attempt, the com­puter booted with the cor­rupted chip run­ning the lat­est BIOS. My Windows instal­la­tion was fucked (it wouldn’t even boot into safe mode), but after a recov­ery install, every­thing was up and run­ning again.

I was down for less than 24 hours.

06 Sep 05

Awakening: Introduction

Sharpen a blade too much
  and its edge will soon be lost
Fill a house with gold and jade
  and no one can pro­tect it
Puff your­self with honor and pride
  and no one can save you from a fall

—Verse Nine, Tao Te Ching

Every time I start to write, I’m led back to this. It would appear that it’s time to express myself. Perhaps I’m ready. It feels like I’m only scratch­ing the sur­face, try­ing to cover aspects of some­thing that I have yet to under­stand. In the shower I decided to split this into sev­eral entries of a series, and in my room the lights are all on.

There’s been more insta­bil­ity in the last month than in the last three years of my life com­bined. Everything I knew, every­thing I believed in, has been turned upside-down. Although I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out what hap­pened, the fact of the mat­ter is that there was a long, drawn-out cri­sis. This cri­sis, which appears to have passed, still affects my thoughts, my actions, and my beliefs.

Even though I don’t com­pletely have my feet on the ground, it feels like I’m com­fort­able enough to explore what’s hap­pened now. This is not an easy task. A sin­gle, seem­ingly innocu­ous thought can end up break­ing the strands of the del­i­cate web I’m treading.

If I can get it all down, I’ll know I’ve gone that far at least.

The Awakening Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Cause
  3. The Reborn Dreamer
02 Sep 05

Hurricane Katrina Left Me With Nothing

It’s Friday, and Hurricane Katrina, more than 2000 kilo­me­tres away, has thrown cold winds and scat­tered show­ers over parts of Southern Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. As I step out­side to grill some­thing on the bar­beque, the cats quickly run to the screen door. They tem­porar­ily for­get that they’re ene­mies, that they nor­mally can’t walk past each other with­out a swipe or a hiss, and sit side-by-side to care­fully smell the damp wind com­ing through.

People name hur­ri­canes after their for­mer lovers. The head­lines are always the same:

After cheat­ing with co-worker, Hurricane Camille leaves 250 dead from Louisiana to Virginia

$400 mil­lion dol­lars in dam­age and 1145 fatal­i­ties as Hurricane Gordon weaves through the Caribbean and takes half my CD col­lec­tion with him before dis­ap­pear­ing in his Camaro.

The cats know that some­thing has hap­pened. They can tell that this weather is com­ing from some­where else, and that many have been affected, the way some dogs know that their own­ers are dat­ing the wrong peo­ple and won’t stop defend­ing them with their lips drawn back in a snarl.

But all the cats can do is sit and sniff.

31 Aug 05

The Most I Can Say For Now

Between the over­time and the ven­ture meet­ings with Aaron, the rest­less nights and the early morn­ings, I try to catch my breath. It’s good to be busy, but not when it means I don’t have the time or energy to write. This is the prob­a­bly the most infre­quent pub­lish­ing period I’ve ever been through since the start of this blog. Thoughts develop in my head, but I’m not ready to get them down and hit pub­lish yet. Maybe it’s a com­fort thing, maybe it’s a front, maybe I’ve sim­ply lost the desire to doc­u­ment every sin­gle detail of my life.

Through all of this I feel myself regain­ing some sta­bil­ity, although I tread lightly, remain­ing both con­scious and cau­tious. This is the most I can say for now.

22 Aug 05

Tom And Mel's Wedding

Thumbnail: Boardroom

Thumbnail: Glass of guiness

Thumbnail: Dinner table

Even before the wed­ding began, I had already unfairly decided that I wasn’t going to have a good time. Thank god I was wrong. My ini­tial feel­ing was based on the knowl­edge that cer­tain agi­tat­ing peo­ple were going to be there — a very tan­gi­ble reminder of why we moved under cover of dark­ness for the last Bancroft farm excur­sion — but there were enough nor­mal peo­ple to dilute any creepiness.

The cer­e­mony was short and sweet. The food was the best I’ve had in weeks, although my grad­ual recov­ery from viral gas­troen­teri­tis meant that I could only have half of the por­tions served. The com­pany at the din­ner table was friendly and open enough to address every­one sit­ting (Tolstoy wrote well about such a dif­fi­culty in Anna Karenina when he describes “a small table with per­sons present, like the stew­ard and the archi­tect, belong­ing to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world, strug­gling not to be over­awed by an ele­gance to which they were unac­cus­tomed, and unable to sus­tain a large share in the gen­eral con­ver­sa­tion”). Aside from an idi­otic anal­ogy about aspara­gus, the speeches were gen­er­ally well-written; not too trite, and all the more poignant from the emo­tion with which they were spoken.

Aaron was there as my wing­man, ensur­ing a good time. Jenn was there as my date, mak­ing the guys jeal­ous. I even saw Christine, although we never had a chance to talk. Apparently, I missed every time she waved at us, so she may have thought that I was ignor­ing or avoid­ing her, which may be why she flicked my ear as she was walk­ing by my table. I still feel bad enough about miss­ing her last birth­day party.

Until din­ner there was an open bar, with Corona and even Guinness on tap, as well as a straw­berry mar­garita machine that could make them like smooth­ies. After din­ner was the danc­ing, and by the time the we were through a dozen or so songs, it was already late, so we headed home.

19 Aug 05

It Stopped Raining

It stopped rain­ing, and the grey sky has turned black with the night. The refresh­ing smell of wet pave­ment and grass drifts lazily through my win­dow, while droplets col­lect and fall from the over­hangs of every house, a dif­fer­ent sound with each vary­ing height and tex­ture. Cars drive by, and I imag­ine the spray from their tires ris­ing and falling in the light of the mild, golden street lamps.

In per­son, I’m gen­er­ally very pri­vate about my life, but I find myself open­ing up to the strangest peo­ple lately.

The most unex­pected ones seem to care.

17 Aug 05

The Power Of Freedom

I have an extremely dif­fi­cult time deal­ing with peo­ple who choose to com­plain about some­thing and do noth­ing about it. These are the peo­ple who gripe about the jobs that feed them, decry the rela­tion­ships they’re too scared to leave, pine for bet­ter lives when a bet­ter life is only a few steps away. Religious doc­trines of pre­des­ti­na­tion aside, as humans we’re the mas­ters of our fate. We con­trol what hap­pens, because we have the respon­si­bil­ity — the response abil­ity — to make change happen.

When the bad starts to out­weigh the good, then it’s time to shut the fuck up and be active in chang­ing the sit­u­a­tion. When the good is still greater than the bad, then it’s time to shut the fuck up and deal with what­ever minor prob­lems there are.

And when life hands you lemons, make lemon­ade, try to find a guy whose life has given him vodka, and have a party.

13 Aug 05

Butterball

Thumbnail: Dolly on couch

Dolly’s new nick­name is Butterball. Kat’s chris­ten­ing. She sure hasn’t lost any weight lately. Dolly, that is, not Kat.

11 Aug 05

An Odd Mood Lately

I spend my time squar­ing away every­thing in my room so that I’m com­fort­able enough to write. The extra cables are gone, as well as the ran­dom receipts and bus trans­fers that some­how end up on the car­pet. My mir­rors are all in place, mak­ing the room seem twice as big, but I when I look I only see myself, slouched com­fort­ably in my chair, hood over my head. Even Dolly has won­dered in to lay her­self flat on the empty floor. By the time I’m done clean­ing, I’m at a loss for all the things I’ve been try­ing to get into well struc­tured paragraphs.

A new episode of Trailer Park Boys is play­ing on Showcase, and I’m watch­ing it with the sound off because too much infor­ma­tion would ruin the fourth sea­son, some­thing I’m deter­mined to see in order from the begin­ning. Ricky’s in a high school, com­pletely out of place as a thirty-something man in shop class try­ing to make some hash or grow some weed or har­vest some kind of nar­cotic, and this only adds to my amusement.

I’ve been let­ting my hair grow out, à la Matt Heafy in the video for Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr. Somehow, I’ve only now dis­cov­ered that my hair nat­u­rally grows towards the front, and by brush­ing it for­ward, it still looks respectable when I haven’t had it cut in a month and a half.

I’ve been in an odd mood lately. Thoughts branch off in my mind, but noth­ing seems solid enough to fol­low through. Inspiration always comes the day after today.

06 Aug 05

Damn The Consequence

One of the keys to blog­ging is to never give a shit about what any­one else thinks. Never write for an audi­ence. Never cen­sor one­self based on what other peo­ple may say. Never be embar­rassed or ashamed to admit anything.

Otherwise, one isn’t being true to one­self. If there are those who are nosy, those whom we’d rather not have read­ing, that should never be an issue. I may have my fair share of creepy inter­net stalk­ers (one is already more than enough), but I refuse to let that stop me from say­ing what’s really on my mind.

It may be dif­fi­cult to let go, but it’s worth it. The free­dom is com­pletely empow­er­ing. Blogs are a per­sonal space, as pub­lic as they may be, and should be treated as such.

Expression is an act that should never be hin­dered by some­thing as harm­less as opinion.

03 Aug 05

More Sickness

Hence the absence from work. It feels like the long week­end burned me out, and I need another one. Thank god it’s already Wednesday.

Really, it’s prob­a­bly just a mild stom­ach bug, caus­ing my body to reject every­thing but very dry, thinly sliced toast that comes in packs of eight, named after the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell. I sus­pect that I’ll also be able to con­sume col­la­gen processed from pork skin, cat­tle bones, and cat­tle hide, but I’m still wait­ing for it to set in the freezer.

I feel so help­less when I’m like this. I gen­er­ally don’t worry about much, but health is the only thing that I can’t look at cere­brally. I’m not even com­fort­able writ­ing this. It just keeps mak­ing me think of how bad I feel. Too nau­se­ated to fall asleep. Too tired to do any­thing else.

31 Jul 05

New Computer '05

I finally got my com­puter, and have the week­end to spend set­ting every­thing up.

Let’s talk geek.

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 (Dual-Core) 4400+

Thumbnail: Large CPU heatsink

The sex­i­est stock heatsink I’ve ever seen. Notice the dense fins, and the sym­met­ri­cal cop­per heat pipes. I didn’t dare take it off the cpu for a pic­ture. One time, after I pulled the heatsink off a P4, I noticed that the proces­sor was stuck to the bot­tom while the proces­sor lock was still in place. The ther­mal paste had caked and turned to glue. The edges of the cpu were chipped and a few pins were bent, but I care­fully put them back in place and it still worked.

This one is an AMD though. It’s clocked at 2.2 GHz, with two megs of level 2 cache (one per core). Even though it can almost be con­sid­ered unrea­son­ably expen­sive, I went with a dual-core proces­sor because I wanted some­thing that could han­dle both single-threaded and multi-threaded apps. All the reviews I read said that the Pentium Extreme Edition chips were slightly bet­ter for the lat­ter but much worse for the for­mer, so this marks my first foray into the use of an Advanced Micro Devices proces­sor, at work or at home.

Read the rest of this entry »

28 Jul 05

I Bought A New Computer

The last part came in from back order today and they’re run­ning the burn overnight, so it’ll be ready for me to pick up before the weekend.

It’s the most expen­sive sys­tem that I’ve ever bought, but also the most guilt-free. At home, I spend the major­ity of my time at the com­puter — I use it to write, manip­u­late pho­tos, ren­der video, play games, com­mu­ni­cate with friends, watch movies, lis­ten to music. I could sur­vive on my cur­rent sys­tem, but I could also take advan­tage of an even bet­ter setup.

Some of the parts may be a lit­tle exces­sive, but why not go all out? I only know a few peo­ple, such as Trolley, who could appre­ci­ate a top-of-the-line sys­tem in the same way. Ever since Intel announced their lineup of dual-core proces­sors in the first quar­ter, I’ve been sav­ing my money, keep­ing track of the parts I’ve wanted. By the time AMD announced their own dual-core archi­tec­ture, I had a com­plete list of com­po­nents for my dream sys­tem. Most stores couldn’t even get their hands on the chips, so for two months I would peri­od­i­cally check for avail­abil­ity. Eventually, I ended up going through a cor­po­rate con­tact, who has his own direct con­tact to AMD. To boot, he gave me a dis­count (rang­ing on 15%, which is insane, con­sid­er­ing the tiny mar­gin on com­puter sys­tems) since I’m a busi­ness client as well.

The kicker is that my work just hap­pens to need a com­puter capa­ble of han­dling some heavy graph­ics edit­ing. The com­puter most ade­quate to han­dle this usage is mine, since it’s also the fastest in the office, so I get to give up my already ade­quate sys­tem for a bet­ter one. I got approval to order the same sys­tem that I bought myself per­son­ally. The same sys­tem that I’ve been dream­ing of, plan­ning for, and drool­ing over since February.

26 Jul 05

The Next Level, Part 2

It’s get­ting eas­ier to write again. Ideas are com­ing a lit­tle more flu­idly, and aren’t quite as strain­ing to develop any­more. Perhaps there’s been an excess of inspi­ra­tion in the last while, from the music that keeps me mov­ing, to the peo­ple I inter­act with, to the tem­per­a­ture of the sea­son, to the words in the books that I’ve been read­ing with relish.

Life is a series of sen­sa­tions that gal­va­nize, encour­age, pro­voke, and teach.

I can never seem to get it all down.

24 Jul 05

Zone

Thumbnail: Kitchen gadgets
Thumbnail: Bowls and placemats
Thumbnail: Brushed aluminum goodies
Thumbnail: Clocks and vases
Thumbnail: Coloured glass
Thumbnail: Desk clocks
Thumbnail: Stir sticks
Thumbnail: Plants with lights
Thumbnail: Salt and pepper shakers
Thumbnail: Shower curtains
Thumbnail: Wall clocks

Every time I’m in there, I want to buy some­thing, any­thing. I want uneven, hand-made chop­sticks, and wine glass iden­ti­fiers. Transparent coast­ers that form designs when stacked. Milk frothers. Sushi rolling mats. Designer veg­etable brushes. Hand-crafted Italian mar­tini glasses. Retro wind-up desk toys.

Slave to the Ikea nest­ing instinct.