Off Duty

LoyolaAs a student, it always amused me to stumble upon my teachers outside the classroom: at the mall, in the movie theater, or even on the school parking lot.  Somehow it seemed strange to discover that our educators had lives and families outside the school property, as if they had apartments in the teacher lounge or — more abstractly — ceased to exist entirely without their class.  I would imagine Mrs. Willis and Mr. Phebus melting from the walls at the ringing of the bells, reforming flesh from discarded glitter glue and construction paper like a Terminator villain armed with copious lesson plans and graded algebra tests.

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Because they’re smarter than us . . .

Pay attention to the type of RAM!

Pay attention to the type of RAM!

On Wednesday I fried my motherboard. ‘Fried’ today being more general term for ‘damaged’ or ‘drugged,’ one should note that as I pressed the power button a smoky semi-toxic odor of burning metal emanated from my computer case — strangely recalling to mind my brother Ryan’s last bout with the grill.

Apparently despite a high similarity in spelling, DDR and DDR2 RAM cartridges are not interchangeable, and my attempts to replace the former with the latter . . . well, I won’t be using my computer anymore. In celebration I ordered a new processor and a new motherboard, toasting an early birthday with a bottle of wine and CSI: New York. Later quite drunk I emailed Dasad – the message that has little to do with this story, but which I will post nevertheless as I managed to allude to both Hemingway and Vesuvius in the same sentence:

It’s truly amazing what a few glasses of cabernet sauvignon can do to a writer. A carefree night, an open bottle of wine, and an empty glass of mine own, such opportunity need not knock twice. My tongue feels as loose as a goose in a noose. Like Hemingway, words flow forth from my soul lambasting a troubled world like fires from the pits of Vesuvius upon the walls of Pompey. The effects are marvelous. My head feels light and airy, spinning as I move my body from left to right, to right to left and back again, repeat until morning. Hopefully with sleep and kind dreams of beautiful places in between. Lands where true love and adventure find kinship and life; such is the land for me, inebriated as I am. Farewell kind sir! I will meet you again in the morning with troubled head and embarrassed blushes brought on by my current revelary . . . revalry . . . revelry. There, I got it. Whew . . . Sleep tight good friend. May the voyage of your dreams bring you round to lands as marvelous as mine own, full of good food, beautiful women, and kind song. Farewell and good night!

Anyway . . . waking sobered and focused, I passed the next two days traveling between Best Buy and home in search of the essential ingredients for a machine that does not require fifteen minutes and much keyboard smashing to open Firefox.

My parts:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor
  • Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P motherboard
  • 1 TB hardrive
  • HP DVD writer/reader
  • Geoforce video card
Faster but more delicate . . .

Faster but more delicate . . .

Frankly the only thing that surprises me more than the fact that I got all the necessary pieces to fit together without a bedside holocaust is that we reached the point where we need one thousand gigabytes of space in our desktop for our various collections of music, games, and anime music videos. One would think that 300 GB is enough for anyone’s hoard of anime fansubs without debating which episodes should be sacrificed to the recycling bin. Sadly such is not the case.

All looked very good this morning up until we had began running our Half-Life game.  Chapter one had just ended violently.  Black Mesa had exploded into an alien realm. I sent Gordon Freeman to investigate when the screen went black. We had installed XP last night and the drivers the following morning when I woke.  Everything appeared in working order when the computer suddenly shut down. Poof!

“Huh? What the hell? Kevin . . .”

“I didn’t touch anything. I promise.”

“Son of a . . .”

The same scenario haunted my last PC, which routinely died sporadically clicking off into a black screen without the courtesy of announcing I had done something stupid. Half-way through an email, half-way through my homework, seven-eighth of the way through the final demon assault in Warcraft 3 with a legion of leopard-mounted night elves at my command, the siege ends, fading into endless night.

I never did discover the source of the problem and in the end attributed it to hardware failure: a faulty motherboard or corrupted CPU. Changing the power source failed to resuscitate; the strategic use of several floor fans against the open tower did nothing but whip up a torrent of dust, benefiting my vision little and the computer even less.  Now with similar symptoms using my old tower, I wonder if it was the culprit then and now.

Diagnosing the problem . . .

Diagnosing the problem . . .

Later in day Dasad arrived to examine my sick newborn. He exchanged the RAM cartridges, performed some diagnostics, sprinkled pixy dust and prayed in binary. The computer has functioned for the rest of the evening and all of Sunday.

“The Asian genes,” he remarked, blowing on his fingers. “Machines love me.”

Like a tower of cards I should have left well enough alone; instead I foolishly chose to reorient my case away from the middle of the floor – apart from being kicked every now and then it wasn’t that cumbersome. After fishing my wires through the desk, I activated the machine again but the prima donna proved obstinate for the evening’s performance. The diagnostics scrolled down the screen and shut itself off and left me irritated and fretful throughout our nightly somnolence.

The machine righted itself the next morning after Kevin turned the case on its side, arranged some wires, crossed his fingers, and stroked the RAM in the same gentle motion Dasad had taught him before. The computer started up immediately convincing me that some issue must exist within the case and that machines detest my presence. For the time being, my new computer sits awkwardly under my desk, absorbing our legroom but working. Kevin’s just downloaded Winamp. The Beach Boys play “Surfin’ Safari” and all is right with the world.

My next project: fixing old models

My next project: fixing (or frying) old models

Lightning Crashes

Internet deprivation has once again driven me to people-gaze at Panera Bread. Last night with the sound of thunder and a few rogue sparks, our modem fried: circuit boards blackened, wires caramelized. The sequence of events that followed our bandwidth’s demise is akin to the first radio broadcast of Wells’ “War of the Worlds:”

FLASH!  BOOM!

FLASH! BOOM!

FLASH!

BOOM!

Zap!

Pop!

Fzzzzzz . . .

Screaming . . .

“Murph, the internet died!”

“No Internet? Son of a &%$@! What about my &#%$ exam tomorrow?!”

“Wait, that means Xbox Live is down too . . .”

“What no Call of Duty? No COD?!”

More screaming ensues. Fire, flames, flood . . . The dead rising from their graves . . . Dogs and cats living together . . .

You get the point. Needless to say the fam is quite indisposed at the moment. Shut off as we are from the digital world, it’s like we’ve gone back in time to the early 80s or worse, the 70s. Shudder. My job as the house’s IT specialist (Ha!) is to carry out any necessary or immediate digital transactions in their stead. I scribe a list or two, much like a digital grocery list, and venture off into the world to search for potential WiFi hotspots . . . hopefully one with food too.

This morning as storms slide silently across the sky, butting up against one another with the grace and violence of rival hockey teams, I shuffled out into the rain, seeking potential hotspots like early man sought the warmth of campfires. Nowadays even the supermarket offers WiFi access beckoning laptop owners with Starbucks coffee and a buy-one-get-one-free deal on eggs. After some deliberation (having skipped breakfast, an omelet sounded good), I drove to Panera, deciding against the much preferred local booksellers in exchange for Panera Bread’s above-average iced tea and a WiFi connection without the fifteen dollar access fee.

Luckily they were still serving breakfast.

One egg sandwich (Wahoo!) and a half-a-gallon of unsweetened tea later, I settled in my chair and examined my fellow customers while my laptop blinks and buzzes to life. The bakery was veritably empty (the din of my laptop’s start menu sounded like a foghorn), only a dozen or so old women and men spending their retirement munching on Asiago-baked bagels and reading the latest Patricia Cornwell.

tread_ellipticalsStretching my legs toward the fire I noticed . . . did I mention there was a fire? No? Ah well, much like those found in a ski lodge (or at least those ski lodges I’ve seen on television), the fireplace sat in the middle of the room, encased in iron and mesh and formed the lower portion of one of the bakery’s supporting pillars. Three soccer moms had also cuddled up beside the gas-powered furnace, warming water-soaked feet and discussing the benefits of various exercise equipment:

Woman in Sneakers: “Look, you don’t understand. Everyone says the Elliptical feels better on the knees, but you have to work twice as hard to even feel tired.”

Woman with Floral Purse: “But a treadmill is just running. You can do that anywhere.”

Sneakers: “Not in thirty-degree weather you can’t.”

Woman with One Eyebrow: “Martha’s husband, Bill, nearly died on a treadmill just last year. Alice, you remember.”

Sneakers: “He was close to eighty though.”

Eyebrow: “Six children, nine grandchildren . . . shame.”

Pause.

Purse: “Alice, how much did you pay for your Elliptical again?”

I tuned out the eavesdropped conversation as the women discussed prices, department sales, and their children’s third quarter grades. My attention returned to my email. One of my classmates had written to me, eagerly asking if I passed my Comprehensive Exams. Over the past semester after a poor showing during the first round of exams (I got a little too creative with my essays and failed – I promise to write more on that debacle later; professors despite popular opinions do not appreciate thematic subtlety.), my professor worked with me to help shape my writing into something more straightforward, indifferent, and blunt like a fill-in-the-blank quiz. Another fail and I’d be forced to shell out more tuition for another round of classes. No one wanted that – least of all me.

Master's Degree . . . Wahoo!

Master's Degree . . . Wahoo!

I had anticipated the exam results in another week or so; thus, with beating heart, I filtered through the last day’s mail, avoiding several Victoria’s Secret ads and a 40% off Borders coupon – save those for later. A quick scan of my inbox found the desired email. Praise be . . . I passed my Comprehensive Exam. Masters Degree! Another letter or so behind my name. Another piece of paper . . . Wahoo!

In celebration I consumed a tomato and mozzarella Panini and another large iced tea – ‘cause that’s how I roll. Immediately I signed onto Gmail and told Dasad, who after happily congratulated me, waited a few seconds before popping the dreaded question:

“So now what?”

The question seemed to hover in the air for several precious minutes, while I attempted futilely to understand what he meant. No dice. Instead I watched an old lady in pink sweats and matching headband refill her coffee before responding.

“Wait . . . Huh?”

“Job-wise, what’s the plan now? Library? Some office somewhere? That government job you talked about? What?”

“I-I don’t know,” I typed, including the stammer for effect. Don’t get me wrong. The question presented itself each and every day for the past twenty-years or so, but finding myself with little to no resources to adequately answer it, I proceeded to procrastinate my response, putting any serious thought until school ended, until I graduated college, until I finished my research, until I got my Masters. Now I began to wonder if I could push the decision back until I got married, but realized the wait would be too long even by my standards.

Still the books don’t buy themselves. Writers are more numerous than PhDs; the market is saturated as any blogger can admit. Perhaps it’s time to stop seeking an ideal job, and instead find something stable . . .

Still stability was never my thing; I approach jobs like a nomad considers borders. One comes to relish the absence of routines, tomorrow’s unexpected creation or journey. As Weezer sings (da da da . . . sucking up to Bob, growing old and hoping there’s a God) too many of us live merely to extend existence, cradle to the grave with my hand on the snooze alarm.  And that doesn’t sound very appealing either . . .

Still one must grow up sometime – in theory. I suppose that I’m still looking for that perfect middle ground . . .

“Well,” Dasad writes. “Personally I think you’ll get bored at a library. Too much repetition, you know? Not enough reading or at least discussion about reading.”

“Yeah . . . You wouldn’t happen to have any positions like that at your place, eh? Storytime leader for the IT consultants?”

“Would there be nap time and snacks?”

“Sure.” After all everyone loves cookies and sleep.

“Will look into it,” Dasad writes following up with a smiley face. “Just nothing too fantasy-based. If I can’t stomach Tolkien, any lesser master will send me retching . . .”

“You kiddin’? Nothing but O’Henry for this soon-to-be-unemployed student.”

“Ha,” Dasad laughs. “Tales of hobos and tramps, eh?”

“We all have our heroes. Poets, writers, and academia-addicts like me need to extract inspiration from somewhere. Why not the wandering minstrel or out-of-work vagabond? As long as it gives me story-fodder and time to write, right? Maybe I’ll consider teaching for a while too. At least then I’ll have my summers off . . .”

“Bum, why not just work for the government?”

“And eschew my last ounce of dignity?” I laughed taking my last sip of iced tea. “Even gypsies have their pride . . .”

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. — James Barrie