Monthly Archives: September 2005

Transitway Six

Thumbnail: Transitway

On days like this, it’s better to wear light clothing, and throw on a hooded windbreaker. The rain outside is just a drizzle, so it’s comfortably cool. Pay no attention to the hydraulic hiss of the windshield wipers, or you won’t be able to help hearing them through the quiet parts of every song. Window seats are prime. There are fewer distractions from people walking down the aisle.

The 95 goes from one end of the city to the other, straight through the heart of Ottawa. Every stop is a memory. Old haunts. Past lives.

Here was your first apartment. Sometimes you’d find Christie waiting for you here on the benches between classes. How long ago those days seem, how immature and relatively innocent. The next two stops are on the edge of the university campus, four years of scattered truancy. Two stops later is where you use to buy a medium caramel corretto every morning after an exhausting night with Louise. Your old government office is another two on. The concrete building looks so foreign now, and you wonder if the same people are still inside. Another few stops is your last apartment, before buying the house, the end of bus rides home every day.

Music never meant so much.

You pass by construction sites, finished buildings, see the evolution of the city.

Every stop can be traced to a different point, a different girlfriend, a different path in your life.

Six years of experience, six years of shifting, ever-changing anima.

Six years passed.

Six years lived.

Six years grown.

Awakening: The Reborn Dreamer

I wake up every day looking at Death, and you know what? He ain’t half bad.

—Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp

Its not until you lose everything that you are free to do anything.

—Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I used to take pride in the fact that I felt like I could die satisfied any day. I was at a place in my life where I couldn’t ask for more, and there was a tremendous sense of overall satisfaction. I had everything that I deserved. After that, all I had left to experience, every fall morning caught or tear shed, was a bonus. Of course, the closest I had ever come to death was a minor case of pneumothorax, which I imagine is as fatal as pinching one’s skin between two Lego pieces while building the Death Star, so this feeling was never actually put to the test. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I ever came frighteningly close to the end of my life, although just how much remains a mystery.

Perhaps this grew from a cogent sense of frailty, perpetuated by all the stories of freak accidents echoed throughout the media. The student who impaled his heart on a number 2 pencil while trying to catch a football in the middle of class. The general who drowned in a pool of his own blood from a nosebleed on his wedding night. Even the president of the United States almost choked to death on a pretzel. To distance myself was the only way I could deal with it.

The problem, I’ve only recently discovered, was that this left me alienated and unattached. I have no dreams, nothing to live for. Not even a goal to work towards. During high-school, the goal was to get into a university. After university, the goal was to get a fulfilling job. After the job was the house. Now that I own a house, it feels like the rest of my life has been laid out in front of me. No risks, no surprises. I appreciate everything that I’ve been given, but it feels like it’s been a little too easy. Even my most significant goal was rather suddenly accomplished this year. As Logan Pearsall Smith once wrote in his book Afterthoughts, “How many of our daydreams would darken into nightmares if there seemed any danger of their coming true!”. A simultaneous fulfillment and dissatisfaction.

I presented this problem to Pat, and from his infinite wisdom (at 24, no less) I realized that one should never live for what might happen. Otherwise, a person would go crazy. Of course, to truly live this way, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit of a fatalist. Having this belief means that one can only do the best that they can, and to go means that it was meant to be.

For now, I’ve been keeping myself occupied, until I can figure out what I want in the last rest of my life. Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime and too sleepy to worry at night. It’s only now that I’ve discovered that I need a few dreams to survive.

And I can only hope to never reach them.

The Awakening Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Cause
  3. The Reborn Dreamer

Just Forget

Jeff: I can tell you feel the same
dar: do you still talk to her?
Jeff: no…I actually specifically told her not to talk to me again
Jeff: cause of some creepy stalker shit she was doing
dar: hahaha
Jeff: and she still e-mails me
dar: damn..
dar: she’s going to kill you in the dark
Jeff: hahahahahahahahahhahahaaaahh
dar: she prob. knows where u live
dar: and watches you

In university I met Mike, half-heartedly doing his biology homework in my cryptology class to hang out with his old high-school friend, the latter of whom was one of my clique. Mike has an odd charisma. His outspokenness means that he exudes confidence, and the girls love him for it. I’m never really sure if his mild chauvinism is a serious attitude, or just something he projects around other guys to fit in. One of those sexist assholes the girls can’t seem to resist.

He once confessed, “I have this Korean chick following me. You know, the kind you have to kick off your leg like a dog”.

Those girls are only in the movies, I thought to myself. The dorky ones with the glasses who have impossible crushes on the main characters, who, in turn, are completely blind to the awkward advances. The girls who sacrifice their chance at happiness, because they love him so much and just want him to be happy, martyring themselves in the minds of teen audiences everywhere.

But they do exist. Those stubborn girls who still try to keep contact after you tell them you never want to speak to them again. The girls who continue to check your blog at an average of twice a day, some sick voyeuristic fascination.

Those girls you wished would forget about you, so you could forget about them.

Awakening: Cause

Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow — it empties today of strength.

—Corrie ten Boom

It started with a single panic attack, at work, in the middle of the day.

Heart racing, difficulty breathing, paralyzing terror, fear that I was about to die.

If you’ve ever had a bad trip off psilocybe, or magic mushrooms, the effects are very similar. Not that I’ve ever had a good one. Half an hour into ingestion, I start to feel nauseated. At the back of my head there’s a creeping sense that something is wrong. My hands start to tremble, my mind feels like it’s shuddering. Eventually, there’s a complete uneasiness in the body, both physically and mentally. Around that time, the body reacts quickly to rid the stomach of whatever is causing these symptoms, and violently ejects them in the form of vomiting. Stems and caps come out as dark brown flecks, and you wonder how eating something so small thing can make you feel so terrible.

But with a panic attack, there’s no explanation. No sense of prevention. No floating fungus in the pool of your toilet you can point your finger at and say, “I’m never doing THAT again”.

It comes without warning, without obvious reason. All you want is to end the attack. To crawl into a corner and hide. To tear off your strangling clothes. To die.

Afterward, you’re not wondering what you’re going to listen to on the way home, or how to get the attention of that cutie in the porcelain department, or when you’ll have time to go buy more shampoo. All you’re thinking about is when the next one will happen. All you’re left with is a bunch of questions and a sense of instability. I have my suspicions, but I’ve chosen not to write about them until I’m certain, something which I believe will come in time. There’s no simple diagnosis, no easy answer.

Recently, scientists have discovered that the word “wheeze” can activate asthma attacks in asthmatics. The mind triggers an associated emotional response, and the body manifests the reaction. It’s the same after a panic attack. Sometimes, people with panic disorder can bring on an attack just worrying or thinking too much about it.

Not that I have a disorder. The fear of an attack isn’t detrimental enough to stunt me socially, and doesn’t prevent me from functioning as what the DSM IV would consider “normal”. It was only a single episode, but habit of constant self-evaluation means that the threat of it happening again is always there. It’s in the back of my mind whether I’m at work, or playing games, or cooking dinner. Every minute of every day becomes a struggle not to think about it. And when you know you feel like dying during an attack, you start to wonder whether it’s worth living at all.

People face this question when they’re diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Told that they have only have a few years left, they live more in those numbered days than they do in their entire lives until then.

They awaken.

The Awakening Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Cause
  3. The Reborn Dreamer

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.