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.