dal niente

Month: August, 2010

Down the Rabbit Hole

A few months ago when I first bought a Danyco straight edge razor, I didn’t know anything about straight edge razors.  So when I went up to the counter and asked them for “that black one,” they gave me a choice of what kinds of blades I wanted to use.  She checked, went into the back room, and came out with an unassuming, folding straight edge.  It’s the cheapest blade housing that they have. I figure, who cares?  As long as the blade that I put in (it uses disposable blades) is sharp, whatever.  So, next was to choose the actual blade, which fits into the housing.  The clerk fanned out little packets the size of matchboxes before me on the counter.  I didn’t really know what I was looking at, so I looked at pricetags first, even while she began to explain which was which.

“…and this one is from Solingen,” she concluded.

“Solingen?” I repeated.

That name rang a bell.

That’s right– the Henckel kitchen knives that my dad owns, as well as the one he gave me as a moving out present, were all Solingen.  My dad, who takes Chinese cooking very seriously and used to work in a restaurant (in fact, it’s where he met my mother), is somewhat of a knife afficando.  One time, he dropped his 8″ chef knife from the kitchen counter-top.  It fell, tip first, against the hardwood, varnished kitchen floor.  It was so sharp that it buried itself about 3/4″ into the wood.  We weren’t able to take the knife out of the floor, so we had used a hacksaw to score it a bit, then managed finally to break the tip off, then just hammer that wedge into the floor so it wouldn’t hurt anyone.  Simply put: Solingen knives are pretty damn good.

Some of my dad’s knives are on display in the kitchen,  some are hidden away as reserve gifts of prestige for people our family decides we like.   He keeps a rifle bayonnet under his mattress. But what did Solingen mean?  What was the relationship between kitchen knives and shaving razors, apart from that they all basically cut things?  Is Solingen a type of steel?

“Solingen is the City of Blades,” explained the clerk, a matter-of-factly.

Now, as someone who studied martial arts, who plays video games, and used to have Ninja Movie Marthon days with friends, how can anyone expect to introduce an idea like a City of Blades to me and not have my curiosity piqued?

You can look it up yourself, but basically, Solingen was, for over two thousand years of history, a European blacksmiths’ mecca.  It’s weaponry was highly prized for superior craftsmanship.  Nowadays, since swords aren’t as useful as they used to be, Solingen has adapted it’s metalworking to the manufacture modern domestic blades: razors, knives, scissors, etc.  I like to think that, when I shave my stubble, I’m not just shaving– I’m hewing down masses of my enemies with fluid flicks of my wrist alone.

Until then, a razor was something I take forgranted.   I got cheap ones at the pharmacies like anyone else.  I ooohed and ahhhed at commercials with lasers and laboratories and buff men shaving.  My friend Roger is perhaps the most vocal of my friends in stating that “I’m tired of things that suck.” But like all things that we don’t appreciate because of their apparent commonness, there is a history to it.

I think that part of what’s interesting about growing up is really seeing the history in the making.  I grew up with the rise of videogaming.  AIDS.  Corrugated paper. I saw the gay rights movement come basically out of nowhere.  The fall of the Berlin Wall.  The Internet.  Madonna.  9/11.  The handing over of  HK to China.  Digital photogrophy. Globalisation.  Lance Armstrong.  There’s so many things that you could just use, visit, or see, and not think twice about, because as you see it is what it is.  But does a subject seem heavier, or deeper, if only we knew all the blood, sweat and tears that made it to be what it is now?

Every now and then, we ask a question, and you tumble upon a whole different time, a different place, right before your nose.

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Love life

I can’t really tell you an answer that will fit your spirit, but I think I’ve got a fairly good idea how I keep on trucking.  It has to do with knowing what I want, and then going after it.  And because of it, I’ve managed to stay afloat– and not just stay afloat, but to tread water.  Sharks at my heels? Take a punch in the nose, shark.  How do you like that?

 It’s a different time, a different place from when I was younger.  You may wonder, “what’s the difference?” between being younger and older, and there is none, really, except for your physical age.  A lot of people my age don’t worry about being my age– but I think it’s the gamer in me who wants to get as many sidequests done before the end of the game.  Ever get that feeling?

Every now and then, I lose momentum.  But that’s actually symptomatic– a loss of momentum naturally occurs when you lose sight of your goals.  But I think I’ve got that feeling back.  That feeling where this game is fun, where I’m feeling like a badass motherfugger because, I know what I want to do– and shit, if Life wants to get in the way, Life better get ready for a beating.  The truth is, I’m crazy– I’m an absolute glutton for punishment.  Through years of martial arts training, teaching, hospital work– it’s a punishing existence of disappointment, injury, and heartache.  But there are good points, once you come to accept the natural order of the world: which is that there is no order, it’s just a deck of cards, and you can play.

 

 

On Thursday, it was revealed that one of our younger patients has leukemia.  I’ve been there for deaths– one time, I was there when a mother thought her child had died (her daughter was  actually fine; if you recall this story, it’s the one about the mother who wasn’t paying attention when she was told her daughter was about to be given a sedative) but I’ve never been there for when a parent finds out that their child is has cancer.

Is that the fun part?  Is this why we play the game?  No.  I’m not that sick.  But what I am saying is that I love life.  Call me crazy, but for all the shit that goes down in this world…

I wasn’t there when the parents were told by the surgeon that leukemia was the cause.  Poor [Mickey], she was at the front desk.  (She’s been having a bad month at the front desk.) When I got there, she was just in a daze– she’s been in the hospital business for a bit less than a year now.  Even though she’s older than me, I guess she’s just more shaken up by these things than I am.  Her face was drained of color, she was babbling– when I went to replace her, she couldn’t keep focused on the report she was supposed to give me between shift changes.  She just kept talking about how the woman just started wailing, and the father fell to his knees and wept.

I don’t mean to sound like a downer– I’m not feeling down. That’s part of what makes me crazy, I suppose.  My point is exactly this: shit happens.  But by and large, shit, of the real sense, isn’t happening to me.  I haven’t run into something so incredibly superbad as leukemia (knock on wood) so why the hell should I whine about how sucks?  Maybe I should just make do with what I have, and fight for more, instead of wondering how things could be easier.

[CM] often says, “I don’t know how you do it!” referring to how I manage to keep the faith.  Well, simply, I guess if I really examine it, it’s sorta like a twisted version of the prisoner’s dilema.  For those of you who don’t know it– the police have caught a couple of people for commiting a crime.  They are grilled in separate interrogation rooms.  If Person A rats out Person B first, Person A goes to jail for just two years while person B goes to jail for ten years.  If Person B rats out Person A, B goes to jail for just two years while A goes to jail for ten.  If neither of them confess, then both of them get off scott-free.  If they both rat on eachother, they both go to jail for six years.

 

So, assuming that both  Person A and Person B are in different rooms, aren’t psychic, and know eachother only fairly well, what’s their best choice?  Rat, or not rat?

Now, you can play with the years a bit to try and change the example, but that doesn’t really matter.  This problem is sometimes used to illustrate why the common modern practice is to never take prisoners, and never trust anyone.  Assuming I don’t particularly know the other guy well, I would rat the other person out.  My relationship with him/her isn’t the issue– the point is, when loyalties are unknown, ratting is the smart choice.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is because the world is a tough place.  Realistically, the guy who commited the crime with is, frankly, a criminal– would you trust him to not rat out? Furthermore– you are also a criminal.  Does he trust you? Where variables exist, isolate, simplify: protect yourself, don’t be a sucker.

The second reason is simply that it is the only reason that affords you any control over your life.  If you do nothing, you’re just wishful thinking.  Assume responsibility for your fate.

The second reason is probably the most important.  I do believe that the world is not fundamentally full of evil– but at the same time, I believe that the whole dialogue of  bitching about good and evil is altogether uninteresting and mostly unimportant.  Regardless of what happens, you should take matters into your own hands.  That means that, when given a choice of wishful thinking versus working hard, working hard wins out.  Knowing that if I go this route, my fate is in my hands and not someone elses’, this mental shift from “passive” to “active” is what gets me through my life.

Fundamentally, I think many people already know that taking control is the way to go.  I think that what most people disagree with me about isn’t about the importance of taking responsibility for one’s life– what I think is actually the area of debate is what constitutes things that can be worked for.  Some people for example don’t believe they can get a better job, find the man/woman of their dreams, or be happy through active effort.  They’d rather sit back and wait for something to happen to them.

Which brings me back to the idea of self-affirmation.  Self-affirmation for me is what runs through my veins– it is confidence, it is substance that tells me asks first “do you want that?” and then says “okay, lets do this” rather than “wouldn’t that be nice!”

Bono, in an interview about five years ago regarding his extensive contributions to humanitarianism, I think it was for the Time Magazine 2005 People of the Year article, was asked a nice icebreaker: “What’s your favorite Beatles song?”

His reply was something like, “they’re all pretty good, but I hate Imagine.  Because at it’s root, it’s a story about wishful thinking, and wishful thinking won’t get us anywhere.  Action will.”

Self-affirmation, then, is the first small step.  I might seem like a cocky bastard nowadays, but you shoulda seen me when I was younger, just another teen who said “nobody understands me” and thinking I was so special to have my burdens.  Self-affirmation begins with having enough respect for yourself to treat yourself with dignity, by affording yourself with responsibility in your life.  And that snowballed into me being the asshole (albeit a benevolent and loving one) that I am today.

Grey World

Miyazaki Hayao’s movies have something that always kind of touched on something within me.  Sure, there are the recurrent themes of heroism (especially femminism, I find) but the thing that he gets, and presents a way that I find simultaneously captivating and terrifying, is the theme of corruption.
 
In pretty much every Miyazaki film I’ve ever seen, there’s a character that somewhere makes a turn, and becomes something evil, something whose presence is just disturbing.  And it’s never a total evil– it’s the kind of evil that reflects our human nature, in that it’s flip floppy.  You have good characters who become corrupt, and corrupt characters who are redeemed.
 
I’m mostly of the opinion that in actuality it’s the greyness  of real life that’s scary, in that it’s not black and white.  Things that are black and white are easy, because they’re predictable and obvious.  But in the grey areas, there is room for surprise, there is room for betrayal.
 
Take the idea of a terrorist.  Doesn’t that sound extreme?  In reality, it’s not the extremism that bothers us– it’s the conceptual grey area that comes with our reaction to it.  Who do we hunt down to make the terrorism stop?  What methods can we use?  And in so using these methods, is it possible that we cross the line and lose the very humanity we think we’re protecting?
 
Or is the point of the whole exercise to have what Milton calls a “happy fall?”
 
Maybe it is better to live scrambling for a life and maybe a chance of dominion in the Grey World, even through all the strife and hardship, because it is only in the Grey World that we find reasons to ever protect and to love.
 
Or would you give it up to live a perfect life, Black or White?

Reading

One of the most important benefits of reading books is self-affirmation.  Writing is one of the oldest forms of storing ideas in history, and it’s thus that reading is one of the doorways into accessing one of the largest repositories of people and experiences spanning across the times.   Part of the importance– and fun– of reading is that we find people and experiences that are out of the ordinary from our own circumstances.  Their very appeal is that they are different from what we consider our norm.  In some ways, they would be out of place in our time, in our context.

At least, that’s the initial connection we have to them.  One might think that their uniqueness is what draws us too them– but I hold that it’s what we hold in common about their uniqueness that really draws us to them.  Because when do we ever feel at home in this time, in this context anyway?   Maybe we aren’t vampire hunters, political figures, war heroes, or just people who are rich and famous– but something about what these people and their experiences is something that appeals to who we might be.
Whenever someone writes something, they are not telling you the truth.  They are telling you what they want to be the truth.  They are as much trying to convince you as they are themselves.  And that’s why no relationship with a book’s characters or experiences can really be impossible– because to begin with, we’re interfacing with ideas, ideas that are beyond our existences.  We might not live them out physically,  but our alignment to them is at the cores of our beings.  In that way, what we are finding unique in books are things only superficially so– at their cores, we’re resonating with that which we recognize as our values.

That isn’t to say that we never see anything in a book that outside of the scope of what is already in our mind– but what I’m saying is that, if want to talk about relationships and experiences, these aren’t things that can be approached any way but hollistically.   So it’s not important to think about the facts, like scalar bits of data, but rather, as vectors quantities, whose importances are in their direction.

Doors are locked, but windows are open

I just realized something funny– 

 

people can put on ‘friends lock,’ and I won’t be able to go onto their xanga sites.  However, if I was subscribing before the lock was enabled, I can still read everything posted from my subscription page.

 

Isn’t that fun?

I’ve gotten used to holding highlighter in my right hand.  When I see a part of the text that I like, I flip it over so that it’s cap is in my pinky, and I open it one handed, then streak away.   I haven’t yet figured out how to put the cap back on one handed.

 

It is nice to feel productive though.

 

Tonight, I finished a second text for my masters.  Feels good!

 

That’s two texts down in two days. My brain kinda… hurts.  But it feels good.

Roomie School 101

  • Respect other peoples’ property.
    • If you bring guests in, keep in mind that not everything in the apartment is yours alone.  That means that your guests’ behavior is your responsibility.
      • Either your guests clean up after themselves, or you clean up after them.
      • Your guests are not entitled to make themselves at home unless everyone who pays rent agrees– that means:
        • no, you can’t put your feet up on my couch after wearing sandals outside all day
        • no, you can’t put your feet up on my couch if your feet odors are so bad that you need to keep your shoes outside of the apartment
        • no, your guest can’t bring animals in
    • If you are using someone else’s electronics’, such as televisions, gaming consoles, etc, have the decency to put away controllers and shut them down.  Don’t leave them running idle because that’s not only a waste of electricity but it’s disrespectful.
      • If I ask you, “Please use the PS2 for DVD playing instead of the Xbox 360, since it makes no difference and I want my Xbox 360 to last longer” then use the PS2 because they’re both mine and you should follow instructions if you want to use my equipment.
  • Respect common areas.
    • Common areas, such as the kitchen and living room, are used by everyone.  Only leave things in that area that everyone will use, and use frequently.
      • Leaving your empty soda cans, water bottles, used cups/plates is a no-no.
      • Purses, articles of clothing? Nope.  That’s what  your closet is for.
  • The Kitchen:
    • Knives
      • especially expensive ones, should always be washed, dried and stowed after use.  NOTE: washed, dried, and stowed.  Just because it’s stainless steel doesn’t mean you can leave it soaking in dirty dishwater, it’s bad for the blade.
      • A knife is not a spatula– you should not be using it to stir thing.
      • You do not use the knife to cut things inside of pans, because simply, metal does not mix with metal. You’re dulling the blade!
    • Dishes:
      • I understand that not everyone has time to wash dishes after immediately eating, but if you can find time to play Starcraft 2, you can find time to wash those dishes that have had soup, meat, sauce and milk stains on them for the last three days.  Wash your dishes in a timely manner.  The best system is to wash your own worth in dishes and maybe every now and then a roomie will repay the favor.
      • If there are bugs eating off of dirty dishes, you’re a fucking slob.
      • DO use soap when you wash things.  If I can trace things on a ‘clean’ dish with my clean finger, that dish isn’t clean enough.
      • DO NOT leave wooden chopsticks soaking in dirty dish water.
    • Nonstick pots and pans:
      • DO use rubber or soft plastic utensils.
      • DO clean them immediately after use, so that sauces and things don’t dry up and so hard that you have to scrape things off.
      • DO NOT use metal utensils on a nonstick pot/pan EVER, because it damages the teflon that makes it non-stick.
      • DO NOT stack other, especially metal things, on top of nonstick pans.
    • DO put empty pizza boxes, sushi containers, styrofoam whatevers and bags in the trash when their purpose has been fulfilled.
    • If the garbage can is full, it’s full– change it.  No, it being full doesn’t mean it’s time to start pushing things down to squeeze some extra space. CHANGE IT.
  • Bathrooms:
    • DO put down the toilet seat if the women in the place are bitchy about that sort of thing.  I do it as a favor– but ladies, remember that it’s a privilege, not a right.  If I can learn to put the seat up before pissing, you can learn to put it down.  If you fall into the toilet because you take that for granted, you’re an idiot.
    • DO check the seat to see if you’ve splashed piss (or other things) on the rim of the bowl. It doesn’t take a few seconds extra to wipe it a bit with some toilet paper.
      • This rule applies especially to the ladies, who never check what goes on under the seat.
    • DO leave bathroom windows open when possible to allow for airflow and dehumidification, especially after using bathroom cleaning products.  Your bathroom fan does help, but in most cases it’s more noise than effectiveness.
    • If I see hairs longer than my own of colors not on my head in the sink, toilet or bathtub drain, you can guess who’s reponsability I think that is.
    • If you unplug my electric toothbrush for your hairdryer, plug my toothbrush back in. Otherwise, here’s a genius idea– unplug your own toothbrush from it’s plug, and plug your hairdryer there?
  • Laundries
    • DO NOT leave your laundries in the machine for an entire half day or more still wet.  They’ll stink. And, why is it my job to take your laundries out of the machine? Should I dump them on the floor?
    • DO NOT leave your dried laundries in the dryer forever.  What if someone else needs that machine?  Should I dump your stuff on the floor?
    • DO clean the dust-trap on the dryer periodically.
  • Night time!
    • DO be quieter after midnight if your roomies close their bedroom door behind it. They’re probably closing it for a reason, even if the lights are still on.
    • DO be extra quiet if a door is closed and the lights are out.
    • DO shut the fuck up after 2AM.  By 3AM, if you’re still making noise, you’re a certified douchebag and you deserve whatever’s coming to you.
    • DO be quiet when you first come into an apartment past midnight, in case anyone is already sleeping.
    • DO be quiet when you leave for work in the morning, so as not to wake up other people who might have not slept well during the night.
  • Money:
    • DO pay your rent and bills on time.If you don’t, and even if you pay your rent late by the same amount of time each month, you do not have any right to say anything in that apartment ever.  You don’t sleep in a hotel without paying. You don’t sleep in an apartment without paying rent.  If you don’t pay rent, you are at best a ‘guest’ and can shut the fuck up about everything, because you have no say.
    • DO NOT go partying, spend money on take out meals everyday, talk about buying condominiums or investing money until you are out of debt.
    • DO pay attention to your credit card balances, and do pay off your credit cards before doing anything else.
    • DO NOT try to game your debt by getting more than one credit card.  Transfering debt from one card to another to buy yourself some time isn’t something that gives you more purchasing power– it’s supposed to be an indicator that you need to reevaluate how you look at your money.
    • DO live within your means.
    • DO dream, and then go after your financial dreams through discipline.
    • DO shop around before buying expensive things.
    • DO NOT talk to other people about salaries unless you’re really careful.  You’re talking about peoples’ life work here.
      • True Story: a roomie of mine, who has held as many as four part time jobs simultaneously, and who had finally settled on one with the Royal Bank of Canada as a telephone agent, once asked me how much I make at the hospital, to which I reluctantly answered, since I don’t know her all that well and it’s more or less something one could eventually find out on the internet anyhow.  She then basically said “Huh, well, you make more than me now, but apparently when I get promoted this year, I’ll make about twice as much as you within  a year.”
        • First of all, I don’t know much about how the RBC handles their employees, but if everyone made twice as much money by the time they worked a year, then to hell with pyramid schemes.  LET’S ALL RUN TO THE BANK AND GET JOBS!  They don’t even care that we’ve never finished grade 13, they’re just doubling salaries like nobody’s business! HOLY SHIET.
        • Second of all, said roomie took a day off work a week later and just baked because, as awesome as her job was apparently, she hated her job so much that she couldn’t take it and needed a day off.
    • When it comes to investing, the first general rule of thumb is that you invest in yourself first.  That means that before you go out investing money on the next hot stock or fund, you first pay off your debts.
    • Insurance is in some cases a Good Thing, assuming we’re talking about the sort that pays for your dental work and medication.
      • If you have no dependents, and you are living at a rate that allow you to save very little or nothing, then life insurance on yourself is a total waste of your money in the investment sense.  Especially if you are in debt. If you are trying to make money by paying into insurance premiums, you’re better off investing in no-load mutual funds or similar because you have more control about how you get this money back.
    • DO shut up about having been frauded for hundreds of dollars on your credit card over the past few months because you never took the time to check your account statements.

6909

I pass by the Main OR waiting room.  The girl is a bit over 15.  Papers are all signed.  She sits there in the waiting room, alone, wearing a hospital gown, drawing circles with her feet absentmindedly.  Where are her parents, I wonder?
 
A few hours later, [Mickey] tells me about how she got the jar, with a label marked 6909, and she felt nautious. 
 
“What’s a 6909?” I ask.
 
One of the RTs cuts in, “We’re not allowed to say the a-word here, sir.”

Midnight at the Lost and Found

When I was in College, I remember feeling kind of lost.  It was around that time I think that I could say that I became an agnostic, inasmuch as you could say that there’s ever a turn of events that makes you stop thinking about your faith. 

What do I mean when I say “faith”, exactly?  Well, a lot of religions will tell you what faith is– how to keep it up, why you should keep it up– but maybe we can tackle this from an easier angle.  Think instead of the expression “in good faith.”   When you do something for someone “in good faith,”  it means that you’re sticking out your neck.  And when we say “sticking out our neck,” you’re supposed to think of the origins of the expression in execution– you are helping people who might want to lop off your head or hang you.  It’s all about the risk of something bad happening to you.  On the flipside however, your act of doing something in good faith might actually have good results– the person you stick your neck out for might actually not be an asshole, and may actually appreciate what you’re doing.  They might even not take advantage of you or screw you over.

What I do know is that there are certain actions that, in certain situations, leave you more vulnerable than others. Faith is about doing things in disregard of the potential exploitation of our vulnerability. 

Now, there is a difference between being vulnerable and feeling vulnerable, but the two have equally destructive results.

Back to when I was in college– I didn’t feel vulnerable.  But I was.  Well you know, I went through the motions of keeping it real, sticking it to the man by rebelling.  Nothing makes you feel stronger than being self destructive after a lifetime of exemplary high school performance,and Catholic Chinese Confucian upbringing.   But once I was away from the house in College?  Next to a mall?  Next to a bar, pool hall and arcade?  Oh man.  Pour that sauce on.

An act of rebellion is superficially  an act of defiance, but it’s internal strength and vigor are sourced at the tightly wound sense of frustration.  When I was in elementary school, I read, during a series of class stories about inventions, that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  This is true.   The more militant form might be that “frustration is the herald of change.”  I didn’t rebel because I was necessarily targetting my parents for the strictness of my upbgringing (and frankly, if I had my way, they would never even have found out about my truancy!)  I mean, what kind of guerrilla is that, who has no affect on his target? No, for me, rebellion was something a lot simpler.  It was about building up some pride in myself, giving myself some sense of independence or idenity.  Most of all, it was about demonstrating control to myself over my own life.

My way of asserting my pride in myself was to be a night flyer– lots of momentum, lots of forward movement– but blindness.  I didn’t really have any destinations except where I could see myself being.  And that’s where I made some questionable decisions.  I spent hours on end, day after day, at the arcades, scraping together a legacy at fighting games that nobody remembers nowadays, especially as I pass by that old join on my way to work and the empty mall stall is still for rent.   I spent time training in martial arts, fascinated with rhetoric and the mysticism.  I spent somet time drinking, I spent some time dating, I spent time blogging my life when blogging was just starting out.

Don’t get me wrong; I got good at a lot of things.  But I grew a lot of strength in what  you could consider a localized battles, and meanwhile, I was losing sight of the war.  I spent all my time in the arcades, playing mostly several generations of Street Fighter games.  Had a grade of A- in French, but failed the class due to attendance (more specifically, a lack thereof).  Did it matter to me at the time?  Even though I knew I had an addiction problem (to the arcades), I was fine at first.  My faith was in the present, and in myself. 

That confidence and knowing everything abou the world was because I’d figured out some simple ways of looking at things in terms of what things had to to do with Me and what I could get out of Others– I was, in unabashed terms, a user.  Sure, some people around me will tell you that they had a great deal of respect for me back then because I was very down to earth and straightforward.  But if you want to know what was going on in my head at the time?  I was an emotional capitalist.  I wasn’t really sticking out my neck for anyone or anything.  My faith in others extended as far as my trust in their ability deliver primarily, while their character and worth of person came second.

On the outside, I was like any other person who had friends and did things for fun.  So what’s the difference you might ask?

The difference, really, is in a lack of faith.

I didn’t believe in people back then.  And that corruption of a basic necessity of human life stemed from something worse than my frustration at having no control in my life– I didn’t have faith in myself. 

You see, even if you have no control over your life,  if you at least have faith in yourself, then you know that one day you’ll get that control.  Me? I think my way of coping was to basically bully the little battles in life.  Things like videogames were one way of doing things and getting some small sense of acheivement.  It was like a quick fix for self-esteem to play against a computer and win the game.  I didn’t really see where I was going with all that– but the point was that whatever got in my way, I could deal with it.

If I had continued like that, I might still be a loser in a bar at the age of 28, wondering when the next paycheque would come just so I could squander it on my next fix.   So what changed?

I can’t put my finger on it, and the transition is blurry. Somewhere along the line, I stopped looking at people just because of the economics of our friendhips, and I started working solely on the things I could do for the world around me “in good faith.”  I don’t yet think I beleived in myself–but something made me believe in others.  What triggered it?

When I realized I was vulnerable. 

Some people feel vulnerable when they’re stronger than they think– and that’s bad, because without the brain in the game, without the soul in the roll, all the strength and potential means nothing.  That wasn’t my problem.  My problem was that I was weak, but I thought I was strong.  That’s because I was very good at lying to myself.  I could take pride in all the small acheivements in life: winning a round of of Marvel versus Capcom at the arcades; finishing a paper 5 minutes before class started; performing a perfect slip and counter in a round of sparring; coming up with the perfect comeback when someone said something stupid.  And there were, of course, other things, less event related, but more general; being popular among my friends; having my own salary and buying my own things, compared to other people my age;  climbing into infamy in student club politics.  We all have battles, and as a result, we all have war stories– but I was one of those people who was enjoying the storytelling before I should have.

Something changed.  It wasn’t over night.  But at some point, in got tired of fighting in closed quarters for the goal of the day.  I was tired of being a detached wetwork mercenary in a campaign that was my own life.  I wanted to be in control, I think, and when I looked at it– for all the little gains I’d made, all the battles I’d won– they were insignificant in the big picture of the world.

So, I changed.

I don’t know how.  It wasn’t over night.  If I could tell you how, in fact, if anyone could tell you how they just started “having faith,” I think that the whole world would overnight be a completely different adventure.

Do you think maybe, I can identify the cause, perhaps symptomatically? I started wanting things for myself.  A safer job.  I wanted to finish not just College, but my University degree as well.  I started wanting good things for my family.  I changed jobs from commercial sales rep stuff to public service in a terrible, but community spirited library, and eventually, my big break was my introduction into the healthcare industry.  And just as I started meeting more of the adult world, and wishing better fates on those around me, I started wanting good things for myself– beyond the next fun thing to do in the next hour, I started wondering– what might life be like 5 years down the line?  What will it be like, 20, 30, 50 years down the line?

Years later, today, I feel whole.  Not whole in the sense that I have everything I want– but whole in that I have the dynamic machinery at my disposal that allows me to feel proud of who I am, learn what I need to learn, and live how I want to live.

The Other Dog

I’ve gotten in the habit of browsing the Linux forums for fun during the odd few minutes of downtime at work or at home between when I get real work done.  I just find it kinda fun to read about new distros and stuff, and I like soaking myself in the forum culture.  It’s something I used to do a lot in my badminton days, when my participation in the courtside community was paralleled by my presence online at Badminton Central.  Before that, when I was in college, I used to be on the martial arts forums, back when we were just creating the Dawson College Martial Arts Club (MAC), which I’ve just been told was apparently one of the first MMA college communities ever in Canada.  Those times were paralleled by my online presence in martial arts forums, back when I was a strong advocate of Jeet Kune Do.
 
Anyways, the Linux community is really something– you have a full range of people from the beginner end of the spectrum to the advanced.  And those spectrums exist in different criteria as well.  On one hand, it refers to the nuts and bolts of Linux itself– a beginner, for example, askes questions about how to install a Linux distribution, and wonders where Windows/Mac equivalent functions lie in the OS.  A more advanced user, in the same forums, is talking about writing scripts, compiling binaries and making use of development kits to to work on the next generation of end-user tools.  And then you have another spectrum, which are people who beleive that the world will be better off if Linux’s open source vision could be spread globally, where on the other side you have more militant forum-goers who draw comics about penguins with swords going after windows logos in a “Kill Bill (Gates)” campaign (har har).
 
It’s really a full range of people, like a community, full of the healers and the trolls alike.
 
As a computer user, to me Linux isn’t all that useful.  I’ll be honest.  What good is having better, more relevant tools, if I don’t have any work that needs those kinds of resources?  I mean, I don’t really play games on my rig– in my apartment alone, I have a my PSX, PS2, PSP, and an Xbox 360.  CM in HK has our PS3, the Wii, a DS and PS2Slim.  There is nothing that a desktop could do for me that I’d care about, except maybe Starcraft 2.

I don’t really use Facebook nowadays, so high intensity java games like Restaurant City aren’t an issue (a dark past, indeed).  I do play Go/Baduk on KGS (http://www.kgsgo.com) with a downloaded Java applet, but this is also something I do on my Android smartphone anyway. 

 
Wikipedia for basic guidance when doing homework? I actually find that I do this more on my cellphone, because it’s nice to have a book in my hands and be able to just pick up my phone and search for the odd topic on the side with my Android, rather than needing a whole laptop lugged and plugged to work.

Mostly, my computer exists for typing– paper writing, email writing, and instant messaging–  and webcam enabled communications, mostly with CM because of the distance.

My laptop has a very specific niche in my life that is, quite frankly, the good life for any laptop– I don’t do anything strenuous on my laptop, and in fact, the hardware I’m running is basically not being put to any good use. That’s largely why, despite Vista’s annoyances back when I was still using it last year, I didnt’ care too much, since I didn’t have to work intimately with any hardware intensive applications or games.

I have this obsession though with making things faster and more custom to my life.  I like optimizing things, squeezing out the extra percentile or two of performance. Although I am now a converted Linux fan, I’m not someone who codes or messes around with naked terminal. My obession has lead me to trying all sorts of tweaks nontheless, which one can do in Linux behind the comfort and security of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) not unlike the Windows that we’ve all grown up along with, and this whole experience has taught me a lot about end-user computing.

 
The main thing I can say about Linux, compared to Windows and even Mac, is that if you get the right foot forward, it’s a lot easier to use than other operating systems.  And, even if you might argue with me that ‘easy’ is a very subjective qualification, I will then posit something that neither Windows nor Mac users can argue with– Linux is faster. 
 
It hasn’t been necessarily important for the performance of my laptop, since my laptop was purchased just a few years ago while I was in Korea so it still runs what I want it to do, but, an appreciation of efficiency does have a huge impact on how I deal with older equipment around me.  Namely, my ability to make some use out of aging hardware instead of throwing it in the dumpster.

 
This is mostly important for the computers back home.  My parents’ computer in particular has given me motivation to really try some different setups. I don’t remember the exact specs, but I bought that computer as a slightly above average desktop capable of gaming sometime around 1999.  At it’s prime, it was comfortably playing Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the then-new Halo: Combat Evolved on the lowest settings, just to give you an idea.
 
But from 1999 to today, Windows XP updates, registry fattness, and the constant fragmentation of the IDE era HD really crippled the performance.  It would take about 12 minutes to get that rig to go from ‘off’ to an open browser with YouTube on it that had enough ressources left for you to start typing.
 
After doing some playing around with a bunch of Linux distros, I’ve got that same computer doing the same thing in under 2 minutes in Linux.  We’re talking about factor of six.
 
 
 
 
 
Now, if you didn’t already know this, one of the big differences between using a Windows, Mac and Linux OS is that for the most part, Linux OSes are free.  That’s right– you usually don’t have to pay for Linux.  What I’m running now on my parents’ computer is Linux Mint 8 “Helena,” doesn’t cost a cent.  I’ve also tried Mint 9 “Isadora”, Ubuntu 9 “Karmic Koala”, Ubuntu 10.1 “Lucid Lynx”, and Fedora 13, and none of those cost me a thing.
 
So how is it that something that works six times faster, and is free, is almost unknown to the average person?