Sunday, March 23, 2014

Building A Computer

After having owned my last computer for about 6 years now, it was starting to malfunction here and there. The problems were minor, running video games in low graphics and occasional crashing. Things were just slowing down. Hell, it crashed running Windows Media Player once! I had intended on saving up money through the year, and maybe build a new computer by the end of the summer, depending on how well I could save / bonus at my job.

Then my job informed me that I needed to upgrade my windows within the month.  My current computer might not be able to take the upgrade, on top of that... did I really want to pay around $100 to upgrade windows on a computer I planned on decommissioning by the end of the year.  That was my impetus to start.

I decided to build my own computer for a couple of reasons.  First off, nerd cred.  Seriously, building your own computer as opposed to just buying one is seen as incredibly nerdy.  It takes a lot of reading everything, double-triple checking to make sure you got all the right parts, but its also a lot of fun.  It's also not really that hard.  But it also saves a ton of money.  I built a potentially $2000 computer for just over $1000.

I'm definitely going to go over everything I did with pretty pretty pictures.  I'll explain the process, what I did wrong, and things I fixed.  BUT, I'm not a professional.  I would strongly suggest reading Lifehacker's guide on Building a PC over my stuff.

So Here's what I bought!  Everything but the video card was bought from Newegg.  The video card was bought for my old computer from Best Buy, and cannibalized into the new computer (no, seriously, that's the term when you take a piece from one device and place it into another).

The case is Rosewill's Thor case.  A case is something you can use repeatedly, so you want a good one. Things you want to look for are: Cooling, # of ports, and size of Motherboard it can carry.  The larger a case is, the easier it is to get into it, but also makes it harder to transport.  I might one day buy a gaming laptop, because this thing is going to be a bitch to move.  But, it comes installed with 4 fans and speed controllers for up to 6 fans, can hold any size Motherboard.  It's also named Thor, and my constant obsession with Norse Mythology took control.  $140.

Motherboard: I bought the ASUS P8Z77-V LK motherboard for $130. For a motherboard, you want one that's going to hold the proper # of cards and RAM, and the right type of slots, and how many USB ports and stuff it has.  When choosing a motherboard, you want to see what type of processors it can go with, and the size of it to make sure it'll work in your case (or that your case will hold it).  At this time, DDR3 is the most common.  DDR3 is basically better and cheaper than DDR2.

Processor: I bought the Intel Core i7-3770k quad core processor for $330.  The processor is the most expensive thing I bought, and for good reasons... it's the actual CPU.  You want to make sure your motherboard and processor are compatible, as that's super important or else nothing will work.  One thing I like about newegg is it will suggest things that should go along with the most recent part you looked at, so that's cool. It's 3.5ghz, which means its nice and fast.  The number of "Cores" is basically how many processes it can run smoothly at once.  I often find myself surfing the internet while listening to music and playing a video game... so 4 sounds about right.  If you are building a machine to only run one massive program or something, fewer cores will probably be a better option.

Power Supply:  I bought a Corsair 750W 80plus Bronze certified for $110.  You want to make sure your power supply is going to have enough cords and power to keep your computer running.  Generally 600 is enough.  The "80 plus bronze certified" just indicates how efficient it is.  80 plus means its at least 80% efficient, so 80% of the power is going to your computer, the other 20% is basically getting lost as heat. Bronze just indicates how efficient it is.  I wanted a Gold one, but it was sold out.  Here's a nifty chart to get you an idea of their efficiency!

Ram: I bought the Vengeance 8g mem of Ram for $76.  It's DDR3, so works with my motherboard, its pretty, its also more than I will ever need for awhile.  I could have gotten away with 4 or 6, but 8 was just as expensive, and if I need to upgrade I can just buy another 8 and use them in conjunction.

Harddrive: I bought the WD Black Series 1tb 7200rpm 64mb cache HD for $100.  Memory used to be expensive, and now its cheap. It's got 1tb of memory, which is way more than I dreamed of a decade ago.  I didn't go more because I have a 2tb external, and also because its easy to add more memory.  My case has 6 slots for Harddrives, so easy for me...a smaller case might have less, and really small might only 1... in which case it might be worth it to buy a larger HD to start with.  The other #s just indicate how fast it will travel when recalling the information.  Make sure that its got the right connector for your motherboard, but I'm pretty sure they are standardized to be SATA plug ins.

Optical Drive: I bought a ASUS DVD Burner for $20.00.  You need an optical drive for CDs and shit.  I bought one.  It works.  I might buy a Blu-ray player eventually and install it later, but that'll happen when it happens.  Again, make sure it has the proper plug in, which should be SATA. My case also has a ton of ports for new optical drives, so I didn't really care.

Video Card: Technically optional as my motherboard already has monitor support, and graphics card just really enhances any graphics and helps them run smoother as it processes all of it.  I cannibalized my GeForce GTX 660ti from my old computer.

Alright, lets get to building!

As is often stated, RTFM: Read The Fucking Manual.  Read it, understand it.  Especially for the motherboard.  Also, keep yourself grounded, so you don't statically kill anything.  Personally, I've never heard first hand accounts of anyone doing this (always a friend of a friend whose a dumbass deal), but I never want to hear it either.  I repeatedly touched the edge of my case before and after touching anything.

Step 1: You can either start with the power supply or the motherboard.  I started with the power supply.
Basically, there is a large hole in the back of your case.  Your power supply should be able to smoothly fit in there and get screwed in.  Super easy.

Step 2: Motherboard.  Before starting, you may want to check to make sure you know where the screws will be going and that motherboard should fit.  As long as you double checked to make sure case will hold the right size of motherboard, you should be good.  My case can hold any ATX motherboard, so had a bunch of holes, and I just had to find the right ones. Before screwing anything though...

On the back of your case will be a vertical slot you have to remove and install a face plate.  It should be right above a bunch of horizontal slots where your video / audio cards will go.
It should snap in. If it doesn't get your roommate to do it for you, which is what I did.  This piece was annoying because there was a bunch of metal snags that I had to bend in, and I was trying to snap it in from the wrong side.  Also, I have man sized hands, so sometimes its hard to get small things.

Before installing the Motherboard, I decided to plug some things in.  I apparently didn't get a before and after picture, but on the motherboard there is an area for where the processor goes. It kind of looks like a mouse trap.  The processor is actually a small metal square that fits in their.  One of the corners of the processor has a gold arrow, and one of the corners of the mousetrap also has an arrow.  You want those two arrows lined up.  You open the mousetrap, you place the processor in the slot with arrows matching, you close the mousetrap. Closing the mouse trap should require minimal force.  That processor is like a thing Ghirardelli chocolate, and you don't want to break it.  Hopefully, your PCU came with a fan.  My fan had thermal glue already, so I just had to set it right on top of PCU, and then I locked it into the motherboard.
Like that. The fan has a cord, and right in the area should be a plugin that reads CPU_FAN or something similar.  Plug it in there.  Also in this picture, I installed my RAM chip, which is the piece to the right of motherboard.  Its a lot easier to install it now then when the motherboard is attached to the case.

Alright, next step is there are a bunch of screws that screw into the case, and then allows screws to screw into them.  I had you take note of the matching holes earlier.  Screw the screw screws in to those matching holes.  Place the motherboard on top.  This is so its not sitting just directly onto the case.  I did this by first lining up the USB ports of the motherboard to the face plate and moving it in. Once everything is aligned, screw that bad boy in!
Once it was in, I used the top most slot for my video card.  I removed slot cases, slid the video card in, and called it good for now.

Step 3: The Hard drive.  I really wish I had a picture of just my open case, but I don't.  If you go to the first picture, it does show the case.  In the lower right of the case is a bunch of slots that open up facing the the side of the case. Mine had a removable tray.  I took that out, wrapped it around my HD, and screwed the HD in.
The tray slid in nice and clean right after.  You want to make sure the plugs face out.

Step 4: The optical drive. The front of the case should have slots that can be removed.  There is no picture of me installing the optical drive because its really case dependent.  On my case, I had to unlock the enclosures to open them up, and then I literally just pushed the optical drive in.  It was a tight fit, and required some pressure, but once in it locked easily.  Other cases might have a tray like the HD, others might require to be screwed in.  Generally its straightforward.

Step 5: Anything else you have. Any other video / audio cards, other HDs or optical drives, anything else, install that now.

Step 6: Wires! YAY Wires.  Before doing this, I suggest reading the fucking manual, but... the manual can also be confusing as fuck.  CPU_FAN is obvious, but they aren't all that simple. Somethings are easy, such as the power supply for the Motherboard, where its like "Well, there's only one male one female that fit duh."  But other areas are...less fun.

Something you want to keep in mind is that a big deal of keeping your computer cool is how well air can flow.  You want to keep your case as open as possible. If you notice from my first picture, the back of my computer has a bunch of holes.  As much of my wiring as possible is down on the other side of that, keeping the chassis itself clear.

First thing I did was power cords, because I'm metal.  Also because they are key, and easy to figure out.  I later moved these cords much further to the right and against the case.  After that I did the SATA plug ins (e.g. hard drives and optical drive), followed by the stuff on my face plate.

My motherboard has an area for fans to plug in, and I can control the fan speed through my BIOS.  But, my case has two fan controls.  My motherboard only had 3 slots for fans, and I have 4 fans.  Not in my manual was that my fans can connect straight to a plug in at my case.  Sorry I don't have a picture of the final wiring configuration.

Another difficult part was the power switch and IED lights.  The directions for this were staring at tiny 9 prongs that were semi-confusingly written.  I did it wrong the first time, and my computer wouldn't turn on.  I was off by a set of pins, and everything worked.  It turned on!

Step 7: Before turning on your computer, make sure you have a mouse and keyboard that will work.  Most new motherboards should accept USB direct plug in ones, but a wireless device is not going to work because that needs a driver install.

First time you turn your computer on, do it with no CDs in.  When it starts, the first screen should ask you to hit DEL or some other key to enter BIOS.  It'll load your bios, and should indicate if there are any immediate things you should be concerned with.  If you are all into messing with stuff, you can make adjustments here. I'm not really really into that, and I don't really feel like overclocking, so next step is insert your OS disc, and install Windows or whatever!

After installing, you will want to update your drivers.  A cool thing now is that a lot of providers, such as my nVidia card, now has me install something that searches me devices and keeps them updated.  Yay for not having to hunt everything down.  This was actually the longest process for me because its a lot of the computer shutting down and turning back on and continuing to download.  This took ... awhile.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 New Year Resolutions

2014 Approaches,and time to get some Resolutions on the board.

#1: Let’s start out with the heavy shit. Figure out my future.  I’ll turn 30 this year, and its about time I seriously reconsider it all.   At this time, I don’t know what I want from my future.  I know I need to get a new career.  I need to get out of Customer Service.  I know I love writing, and I want that to be my future.  I know I love Oregon and I want this to be my home.  So I have some options that I need to make my mind up about before this year ends.  Those options are:

A: Continue looking for film jobs.  Expand my search outside of the Pacific Northwest.  Some of my connections might finally pan out, and the thing I went to college for, film editing, may come to fruition.  Problem is, I love Oregon.  I love being close to my family.  And Oregon makes escaping the city easy.  Next, they MAY pan out, that’s not a promise.  This would involve more waiting and less doing.  I also haven’t done anything but volunteer editing since I graduated, and in the tech world, any time off kills your experience.  I may have graduated as a “shoe in” to any position available (there were none), but now I’m not sure if I’m even qualified.  There are too many things that make me ask “How’d they do that?”  I might have to take classes to catch up.

B: Go to college.  But for what?  I’m not paying more money for a field that I’m still in debt too with little to no pay back.  A job that would guarantee to pay is programming.  I could, easily, get a programming job with a programming degree.  There are pages and pages of those jobs posted every single day.  But it wouldn’t make me happy. It would pay more, and I’d probably be happier than I am dealing with customers, but my job would just be a job.  It would not fulfill me.

C:  I could go to college for what makes me happy, writing.  Get an English major or something similar.  There’s a few jobs that that could be useful for.  Like Copy-editing, or being an actual editor, and those I would enjoy.  But there’s only a few of them, and some strong competition.  I initially didn’t get a degree in anything writing related because I simply didn’t see it paying off.

D: I could go to college for something completely different.  Medical fields are always looking for jobs. They pay much better, but I think I’d be less happy there. I don’t do well with physically sick people, and I’m not sure if I could stand the hours.  Psychology / Sociology would be nice, but I have too many friends in those fields who can’t find jobs to think that would be anything but a money / time sink.

E: Deal with it.  Realize that about 70% of the jobs in America are Customer Service jobs, and I should be thankful for th- Fuck that noise.  Seriously.  I know I can do better.

#2.  Let’s calm this right down now.  Stay physically fit and healthy.  If I can maintain my fitness level, it should reduce my stress and sadness.  Thing is, I keep taking breaks, and I can totally tell it impacts my head.  I plan on doing at least 1 race a month again, and hopefully do more physical things like hiking / swimming / camping through out.

#3. Writing.  Do it more.  A lot more.  Find a book club, a poetry club, a short story club, something writing club, and join it.  Work on getting your comic out more so more people read it.  Just do more writing and honing the thing that does make me happy.

#4. Don’t read more.  Seriously, the one year I put “Read more” as one of my goals is probably the year I read the least.  So...maybe if I do the opposite I’ll get the opposite effects as well?

#5. Be more active during Halloween.  It’s my favorite Holiday.  I did go to a bunch of haunted houses, but I want more.  Either a vacation dedicated to Halloween, or maybe volunteer to be a haunter for the month?  I was highly disappointed in what I did this year, and I know I can do better.

#6. Create a chaotic change.  I need to change my job, but if that doesn’t work I need another major life change.  Move, adopt a dog, invest money in something, become a serial killer.  I don’t know, a change that forces me to change how I live my life day in and day out, and see how that impacts me.

#7.  Hash more.  Because running drunk through the city should’ve happened a long time ago.

#8. Join a pay for online dating site.  Why? Because OKCupid sucks in Portland.

#9. Do more Yoga.  This should be higher on the list, but maybe having it at the bottom is good.  Read the top, and then skip the middle and read the bottom.

#10.  Document how much I pay for alcohol in a year better.  I want to know how much $ I spend in a year on alcohol!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: My year in review

Year in Review: 2013

With less than 10 days left in the year, its time to review my year.  Before we get into looking at my resolutions for the year, a “How I felt I did.”

This year felt like a year in limbo.  Despite a lot of attempts, the things I desired to change remain unchanged.  I still have a job that I am not only dissatisfied with, but actively hurts my mental well being.  I did have multiple interviews, and a few close calls...but no new job.  I again hope to be out by summer, but we’ll see if that ever occurs. My lovelife is much the same.  Despite having quite a few interviews, aka “dates,” the year ends with me still pining over the same woman it started with.  I feel as though I have lost a number of friends, but in turn have gained new ones to to replace the old.   My finances are not much better, nor worse, than they were last year.  My health might be slightly better, but only slightly so.  I am quite happy with my living situation though, so that’s great.  

Now, how did I do with my resolutions.

1. Physical Health: I did 12 races in a single year, and in January I will have done at least 1 race / month. But, I fell behind on my upper body workouts.  Overall though, I am pleased with my running and what its done both for my physical health, as well as for my mental.

2. Growing my comic book: This is easily my biggest success.  I completed 2 issues in the year, and have over 1000 unique ip addresses visiting my site at its prime.  I am ending the year looking for a new artist, but also possible other opportunities.

3. Read More: Well this was a dismal failure.  It started out decently, then I started reading a book called Imajica and I’m still suck on it.  Maybe this year I should just hope to finish that single book.

4. Write More: I did alright on this one.  I did write more, posted more to my blog, and other things. A few short stories, a few short prose.  Nothing large though.  I will count this is an acceptable pass.

5. Continue being awesome: Well, duh.

6. Do more video editing: A failure, yet again.  And this may be the last year I try for that dream.

7. Get a New job: While definitely a failure, I did try.  I had a bunch of interviews, and made some network connections.  I am not going to be harsh on myself for this one as I honestly feel like I did my best; but at the same time, I am right now getting ready to clock in to a job where I feel like my purpose is to get abused for the next 8 hours.

8. Go on an adventure:  Eh...not really.  There were excuses for this.  Namely being that in the middle of the year, I ran into something that ate almost all of my free days.  Still, I went to a few mini-adventures.

9. More tattoos: Huge success.  I actually over doubled my tattoos.  I got both my sides completed with big tattoos.  And of course, my beloved Chocobo.

10. Geek out more.  Another big success.  I played a lot of video games, done some serious fantasy writing, play Dungeons and Dragons frequently, and became the Dungeon Master of a small group.

11. Get Good at Something.  Nope, not really.  But I did try.  I really did try, and I had a lot of fun doing so.

12. Family.  I worried less about my family this year.  I didn’t try nearly as hard to “Fix” my families problems. I also spent a good deal time more with some of my extended family.  And of course, lots of time with my best friend.

13.  Help my friend graduate.  Um, it’ll be in the next month or so.   Soon.

Reviewing this, I feel much the same.  I should feel good because of my success with the comic, but I am worried now that I have to find a new artist, what is to come of it.  Again, it pressures that this was the year of limbo.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gravity of a Lost Moment

Chatter fills the void with nothingness. Words are elongated and pulled apart into the blackest of holes while my mind's machinations finds significant indications in a betraying smile. A backward glance, the search for the perfect word. I fool myself into believing there is more here than there is

All because of a lost kissed. Standing beside her, alone, in the dark. A world of strangers discarded for solidarity. A look into her eyes, a bite at the lip. I had never been so close to what I desired, and I had never ejected so fast.

I recall falling backwards, staring across the growing distance at her. Praying she'd turn around, hoping she'd pull me back in. Instead I watched her head lower. Her cigarette drop and find its way beneath her heel. She never once turned to face me; there was no backward glance in that disappointed sigh. Instead I gave an empty scream that never reached her ear.

I lashed and thrashed like an astronaut lost at space. I desperately grasped at what was out of reach. Perhaps a saving hand did reach out to me, but in my determined lust I swatted them away.

Now I sit across from her, impotent to save myself. I search these star filled nights for a glimmer of that lost moment. To see her finally turn around; to hear her ask me why I didn't just lean forward. To have her pull me back in so I can recover that single cherished moment.

Instead I find myself staring at the light of a distant bright star, knowing that what I see now is already dead.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Triple Movie Review! Pacific Rim, Iron Man 3, and World War Z!

Last night I decided to sit down and watch three movies that were all on my “If I don’t have to pay, I’ll see them.”  I haven’t done a movie review for awhile, so here we go… three movies!

Pacific Rim:

This movie has everything a teenage boy could want.  This movie is about giant robots fighting giant monsters.  Outside of that, very little needs to be written about the movie.  The story line is incredibly predictable and the acting is nothing special. It is far from a good movie, its not going to win any awards for anything but maybe the CGI.  But its GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING MONSTERS!  It doesn’t need really need anything else.

I did want to give a quick compliment to the music.  Specifically, there is one scene where a Russian Robot, a Japanese Robot, and an Australian robot are in all out brawl with the monsters.  While the music overall stays the same, depending on which robot is the focus the music changes to fit with it.  This is most noticeable with the Russians (who have horrible russian accents), but if you put your ear to it you can hear the difference.

Iron Man 3:

I think my friend put it best when he said “Someone really wanted to sell more action figures.”  This movie was a far cry from Iron Man 1 and 2.

First off, Tony Stark’s character loses a lot of his humanity.  His love for Pepper Potts is really the only thing that keeps him as a sympathetic character.  He is suffering from PTSD and an anxiety disorder, but the way they display it is a severe downplay on how severe these conditions can be.  It also comes off more as Tony Stark being an asshole than as a man suffering from any mental condition.  While I’m glad they tried to show that these conditions can even take down a man who has fought gods, I feel like it could have been done a lot better.

They did show that Tony Stark was pretty cool outside of his armor.  Despite him having 42 suits now, much of the movie is him wandering around as just a genius.  While it was great of them to show this side of him, I wanted Iron Man.  I wanted to see him use his armor to solve specific problems, not see Tony Stark try to be super spy.

I’m going to give a big spoiler here, so stop reading if you don’t like them.  I really enjoyed the fake out.  The previews, and through a lot of the movie, it sets up the villain to a character called the Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley.  Ben Kingsley is well known for being a great actor, and in a lot of serious roles.  The Mandarin is also one of Iron Man’s arch-nemesis. The Mandarin is often decried as a racist character because he’s one of the few Arabs, and of course he works for a terrorist organization that hates America and speaks in this broken english style.  The fake out is amazing.  The Mandarin isn’t an evil terrorist, but just some poor actor.  He’s being paid to pretend to be this terrorist by the true villain, and the villain is just buying into everyone’s fears, into everyone’s racism.  The Mandarin and terrorists are a scapegoat for a rich white dude to profit off of.  I really appreciate that.

As a comic book fan, I like the storyline and all that they set up and hinted at for future movies.  There was lots of comedy, the acting was well done, and it was entertaining.  But, it could have been so much more.  I had decent expectations of the movie, and the movie didn’t meet those.

World War Z:

This movie was the opposite for Iron Man 3 for me.  I had no expectations of this movie.  Hell, I didn’t even have a desire to see this movie, but a friend owned it and I was too lazy to get off the couch when he hit play.

I love the book World War Z.  World War Z doesn’t have a major protagonist.  It doesn’t follow just one guy around as he, and he alone, tries to save the world from the horrible zombie apocalypse.  It’s a bunch of characters with different backgrounds fighting to survive.  Breaking away from that makes it no longer World War Z to me, and so I didn’t even want to see a movie that was destined to ruin the book.

I do dislike that part of it did become that.  It is Brad Pitt, super-spy-soldier dude, travelling the world to try to find a cure and put an end to the Zombie Apocalypse.  It does have a “this guy is our super hero!” ending feel.  It doesn’t go into the “Lobo,” it doesn’t focus on a bunch of single characters.  The book focussed, and felt, like a bunch of individual characters just fighting to survive, while the movie was Brad Pitt saving the world.

But the cure they do find is the type of unique creativity I’d expect from the World War Z.  They also include a bit of my favorite part of the book: namely, a lot of the book is about why certain countries survive, while others completely collapse.  They briefly mention why there is little to no infection in North Korea, while going into more detail for a few other cities and countries.  While no-where near as comprehensive, it was still insightful.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Running with Asthma

Any of my Facebook friends should know that I am a runner.  I compete in races, I don’t update often, but when I do there’s a good chance the update is about a great run I did. One of my New Year goals was to run a race for every month of the year.  My favorite race length is the 10k (a little over 6 miles), but I also compete in Half Marathons as well as silly and fun 5ks.

A little less known is that I have asthma.  The type of asthma, that when I was young, I frequented a doctor’s office.  The type of asthma where I carried an emergency inhaler around with me, as well as using other steroid inhalants, to try to keep it under control through much of my schooling.  The type of asthma where, to this day, I watch pollen counts; if it gets too bad, I don’t leave the house.

Before we get too far, lets define asthma.  Asthma is a disease that impacts how air gets to your lungs.  Generally, the airways to an asthmatics lungs are slightly inflamed, and allergies or other factors are likely to cause them to swell. This restricts how much oxygen actually gets to the lungs.  More mucus may also be created, further clogging the airways and further reducing the oxygen.  Things like cat or dog hair, pollen, and other allergens will cause this; so can other factors, such as humidity, dust, or heat.

Having less oxygen impacts a lot of things.  Obviously first and foremost is your ability to breathe.  It is terrifying to not be able to breathe.  Ever felt like you were drowning?  It’s like that, except you can’t swim to the surface because you are already on the surface. You are already surrounded by wonderful, breathable, oxygen, and its killing you.  Generally, it just feels like a shortness of breath, and more of your energy and concentration becomes dedicated to breathing.  But if this continues for a period of time, it means the rest of your body is also getting less oxygen; specifically your limbs.  And if you are using those limbs, such as while you are running, they need the oxygen.  The lack of oxygen they are receiving starts causing fatigue, pain, and increases the chance for injury.

When I am training, I get to set the time, the place, for how long and how far I run.  If its high pollen count, too hot, or humid, I can decide to wake up early or run later in the evening.  If its really bad, I can just reschedule for the next day.  If in the middle of the run something unexpected occurs, its a training day, I can decide to slow my pace down and I’ll just kick my butt the next day I run.

Races do not afford me this luxury.  While I have some choice on which races I go, I don’t get to choose day, time, or location.  Outside of extreme circumstances, a race isn't going to change just because of bad weather, pollen count, or other factors that may cause me to reschedule my training.

There have been many races I have gone out and crushed the race.  Where I have impressed myself and those I frequently run with.  But, the majority of my races have ended with me disappointed, and potentially in tears.  The conditions became too much for my lungs, and thus my body, to continue.  A recent example was a half marathon in Albany.  The first 4 miles, I am rocking it.  I have around a 9 min / mile pace, and my friend, who I have never beaten in a timed race, is eating my dust.  After 4 miles though, I start eating dust. Literally.  The race takes us into an area of large fields.  The fields are dust fields.  This wouldn't be too bad, but some of the fields are currently being tilled.  There are visible clouds of dust crossing the path we are running on.  And this goes on for the next 6 miles.  I immediately feel the effects of the dust.  I manage to continue through the next 2 miles.  My friend catches up to me at mile 6, and is willing to go slow, with frequent stops, for the next few miles.  I keep trying to get back to a good running pace, but I am struggling to breathe.  This means my limbs are also starting to fail me.  Even after we get back to an area not in the dust fields, it takes me awhile to start breathing right, and to get my body feeling good.  I had to be careful at this point not to injure myself as well.

I have run a race where, after 2 miles, I had to stop and walk out because I was honestly afraid I might die.  I've had races where, days earlier I ran a great deal more than the entire race, only to find myself walking half the race.  There have been races where someone is complaining they haven't trained at all for this race, and despite my running 3-5 times a week, I get crushed by the one who doesn't train. There have been many heartbreaks.  A lot of disappointed tears.

Why do I keep doing it?  Races provide both a social outlet and competitive outlet.  I wouldn't use either adjective to describe me, but races are one of the few times I get to be them.  If you've ever run a race with me, you’ll see me cheering on people.  I've had great conversations in races with complete strangers.  Races are motivating.  Another great reason is if I've spent money to do something, I’m going to do it the best I can.  It keeps me training.  If conditions are bad, I might say “I’ll train tomorrow,” and with a race I’ll go out tomorrow twice as hard.  Without a race though, I’ll keep saying “tomorrow” until a few months have gone by, and then I’ll be starting from scratch.

So why run at all?  There are plenty of other things I could do that are competitive and social.  Running is one of the best exercises.  It is easy, relatively cheap, and its positive health effects are not just physical, but mental as well.  It helps me combat my stress and anxiety.  Running is almost a meditation, and really helps get things into perspective.

But there’s something beyond that.  I run because I have asthma.  I run because I've been told I can’t, or shouldn't, do what I do.  I do it because its hard, and the struggle is worth it.  I do it because every time I complete a run, that’s something I've done that others have not, when I should not be able to.  I do it because if I can overcome that, I can overcome anything.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

House Sitting

During one of our frequent hikes, my friend had requested I house sit for her and her husband.  It would only be one night. The request came oddly after we had just been discussing a similar situation where my roommate desperately invited a stranger into my own home to watch the animals for a single night.  I had been uncomfortable with the idea, especially when the ex-girlfriend of a friend of a friend did not show on time, and I had to rush out leaving a key in a hidden locale.  That one night away had been fraught with worry about what type of person may have been left with all my personal belongings.  All to feed a couple of fish.

My friend's situation was a bit different though.  Her pet was not encased in a glass aquarium, but her faithful companion.  The dog was joining us on that hike.  It was energetic, hyper-active even.  Unleashed, it would dash through the brush, vanish, and come charging back at us, only to vanish into another set of underbrush. It would do this for the entire hike, only stopping when its master, my friend, demanded it drink water before continuing.  Apparently, the dog was, as dogs are, prone to panic attacks when left alone for too long.  My friend could have kennelled the dog, but that would be expensive and time consuming, not to mention the dog would not appreciate it.  I was more than willing to assist.  The dog did enjoy my company, and as I was not allowed to own a furry companion of my own, it would be a welcome retreat.  Escaping the noise of my own apartment would also be welcomed.

My apartment itself wasn't actually noisy.  I lived on the fourth floor of a suite that overlooked the highway.  The noise could be easily shut out simply by closing the windows.  My roommate was also far from a distraction, and actually always an enjoyed break from my day.  The noise came from that fact that I worked from home.  In fact, I worked in my own bedroom.  My job involved getting yelled at for eight hours a day.  When I got off work, my bedroom was also where I sook entertainment.  It was where the large majority of my activities took place.  It was where my stress, my joy, my tears, and my excitement occurred.  I loved it, but it also filled my head with trivial matters, sometime to such an extent that I could not clearly think.  

I came over the day of to see them in a rush to finish packing.  It appeared to be a lot of work for a single night.  Apparently it was a reunion of some fashion, and was actually a big gathering where each group brought something to the party. While the two were frantic to get going, the dog was happy to see me. The other creature I was to watch over was their cat, who was less certain of me.  Looking at the cat reminded me of an old man with an eye patch sneery at the young ones nearby.  As opposed to explaining the lengthy process on how to prepare either animal's food for the night, my friend had pre-prepared their meals, and left them in the fridge.  There was naught else in the fridge beyond their food and a bowl of something that may have once been called edible.  All I had to was put them out when the time came.  She gave a quick set of directions, which mostly included "Don't let the cat go into our room, don't let the cat go into the basement, oh, and whatever you do, don't let the cat go outside."  Apparently the old cat still dreamed of its youth, and didn't realize that it was no longer physically, nor mentally, capable of doing the things it once was.

With two large hugs, the two were off.  As my friend left, she locked the front door.  She gave a joking laugh, "Hahaha, and now you cannot leave!"  Her husband moaned while looking at his watch.  They were already late, and last second jokes were uncalled for.  She jumped into the driver seat, the two waved as they vanished down the road at a speed taken to make up for last moment jokes.

With them gone, I setup my computer so I could check the internets.  Nothing of too much interest. A friend had gone on a morning hike, and shared the pictures of their adventure.  Another shared a dozen or so lies from some conservative website.  Someone was hungry; another had pictures of their lunch.

The dog was quite well behaved when others were around.  She sat near me, faithfully watching the front door.  If I got up to move, she would follow foot, occasionally rolling over to request a belly rub.  For the most part silent and glad to have a pal around. I did not expect much else from the dog.  She wasn’t expected to misbehave while someone was around.  I had even seen her at dinner parties, where she might make sure to locate herself near the sloppiest of eaters, but would not stoop so low as to beg.  She waited for a crime of opportunity, but would not be uncivil directly.

The old black cat was still skeptical of me.  It sat on the couch, on top of a blanket near me which I could only assume was "his."  After a moment, I gave it a pet.  While its body vibrated in a fashion akin to a purr, the sound it emitted was closer to a grunt.  It had a chronic upper respiratory function which caused all sorts of minor problems, such as rendering it incapable of making a purr.  It also snored louder than my bulldog had years ago. Occasionally the cat would sneeze out snot across its face.  Much like a proud old man, it refused and hissed at any assistance I tried to give.  Well, the limited number of old men I've had to clean snot off of their faces have hissed at me.

In the early afternoon, I realized I was hungry.  The husband had suggested I go to a nearby shop that had "The best sandwiches in the city."  The wife's opinion was moot as she was vegan.  I left, locked the animals in, and headed off.  The place had the feel of a small town butcher shop, that also sold a large assortment of alcohols, and a short line to get a sandwich.  I ordered what I try everywhere that I can: a french dip sandwich.  I don't know if one can be a connoisseur of sandwiches, but I was as close to that as you could be for a french dip sandwich. I ordered it to go, not wanting to leave the dog to fret about my where-abouts too long.

The dog had begun to worry during my absence, but nothing frantic yet.  It checked me out before giving me kisses.  It was well trained, and did not beg for any of my food.  The cat did me the gracious thing of letting me live in its presence.  The sandwich was impressively good.  While not the best I had, I wrote down the name of the place as to remember where it was.  With a full belly, I decided to do some truly heavy lifting:  I picked up the book my friend suggested and lent to me, and started reading.

While the book was entertaining, laying down while on a full stomach had another effect on me.  Drowsiness.  I found myself requiring sleep.  I hadn't been sleeping well in my own residence due to the heat.  My room held its temperature well, which unfortunately meant that during the summer, it was often too hot for me to comfortably sleep at night.  The couch was half occupied by the cat, and it enjoyed swatting my leg off anytime I kicked them up.  My friend had set up a room for me upstairs.

Climbing the stairs was a fun experience.  Each step gave a creak as I stepped.  Each of the 14 steps was a unique sound.  I wondered if they had ever tried to make a song by properly dancing across the stairs.  I would have to go on to youtube later and check to see if others had already done such a thing.

Even the first step in the hallway creaked under foot.  The floor gave a slight bit.  Enough that I had to check to see if it was truly a hidden compartment.  The boards were a much smaller size than the rest, but at this time they had all been nailed down.  Old houses had plenty of curious histories and noises and niches to them.

The upstairs had five rooms.  Of them, four had their doors open.  There was the master bedroom, the bathroom, a sunroom that overlooked the back yard, the room they had set up for me, and the mystery room.  I believed it was one of their office's, or perhaps a craft room, I could not recall from the rushed introduction to the house.  My bedroom was in the corner of the house, facing the street and the neighbors.  Two windows, either side of the bed, kept a good circulation flowing through the room, albeit it let the noise in as consequence.  The street was not a major street, but it was still busy in the afternoon.  The next door neighbor was doing yard work.  I didn't worry about my clothes; I let myself fall into the bed.  I could hear the dog plop itself as guard outside my room. The sounds may have slowed my sleep, but they did not prevent it.

I woke up facing the corner wall.  It was still light outside.  The neighbor was still gardening; cars were still driving by.  I must not have slept very long.  I didn't feel rested.  Getting back to the book would be nice.

I couldn't move.  My body was frozen solid.  I've had bouts of sleep paralysis before.  I could look around.  I saw my legs.  I saw something beside my legs.  I was coming back.  I could feel something behind me, almost curled against me.  I went to scream.  Something covered my mouth.  My hollers were muffled.

I heard the gardener's shovel go thunk into the ground.

I woke up facing the corner wall.  It was dark outside.  I could move, and that was a relief.  If it had been fall, the darkness would not have been distressing.  But it was summer, and for it to be that dark outside, I'd of had to of slept for at least four or five hours.  

I looked around the room, but I couldn't see anything.  The gardener was most definitely finished.  There was still some minor traffic, and their lights occasionally lit up the room.  The only other noise came from the walls.  Sounded like water running through the pipes.  I most likely forgot to jiggle the handle on the toilet after I used it last, and it was still slowly draining.  Old toilets did that.

I got out of bed and walked to where I remembered the door being.  Ny hand felt the wall beside the door.  I couldn’t find any nobs.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out my cell phone.  I had installed a program that turned on the camera’s LED light.  Its start up noise was like that of a flash from an old time camera.  Using my cell-phone flashlight, I saw that the light switches were on the other side of the door.  I flipped them.

Light.  But only for a moment.  A car had driven by, lighting up the room.  The ceiling light itself stayed off.  I checked the walls for another set of switches, but nothing came to view.  I took a breath, and kept my mind rational.  This was an old house, and it was to be expected that not all the light switches would work.  There would certainly be one in the hall.  Or downstairs.  If my nightmare scared me enough, there was no shame sleeping on the couch downstairs.  With the animals.

The dog was not outside my room at guard.  The cat, which I had been warned was a secret cuddler, was also no-where to be seen.  But I was only in the first room, and there was an entire house to search.

The light went off.  I never paid for the "full" version of the flashlight app, so every 30 seconds or so it would flash off to give an advertisement.  After a few camping trips, I had learned to quickly get it back on.  But still there was a moment of to of darkness.  A moment or to where irrational fears were allowed to pervade.  Where every horror movie and book I've ever read were just as real and alive as -

My flashlight was back on.  I entered the hallway and took a moment to examine it.  All the doors were now closed but one. The one left open was the only one closed at the beginning.  There was a draft through the hallway.  These creeky doors could have easily slammed shut, and that one could have easily blown open.  Coincidences occur.  But an investigation could wait for the morning.  First thing was to get some lights on. Second step was to locate the animals.  Third step was to drink some alcohol before going back to sleep.

At the top of the staircase, I took a moment to switch my makeshift flashlight off and on.  Last thing I needed the morning headlines to say was "Dumbass afraid of the dark trips on stairs and breaks neck."  Not the most dignified way to be remembered.  Laughter also bolsters bravery.  I took the steps down.  This time the boards did not so much creak under my weight, but instead groaned.  Long, painful, tortured cries, as if my weight was breaking their back.  I went down slowly, trying to listen to the room below.  Perhaps I could hear the snores of the cat or the dog.

There was a crash downstairs.  As if something fell from a high place.  It did not shatter; most likely a book.  At least I knew the cat was downstairs.  I took a moment to listen if I could hear the cat scurry.  Nothing, but I was not well known for my ability to hear well.  My flash light went off.  I quickly worked on getting it back on.

It was during this darkness that whatever creature was in the room below decided to move.  It scurried to the bottom of the stairs, and stared up at me for a brief moment.  I could see the glow of its eyes, but not its form.  It appeared to be between the height of the dog and the height of the cat, and thus could be neither pet.  I could not see its legs, but its eyes moved closer and upward, as if it was taking a step up to the next stair.  It lurched down, as if to strike.

The sound of car driving by could be heard.  It looked at the door.  It took a dash.  The hallway was lighted up.  Before the light was gone, my flashlight was back up.

A noise came from upstairs.  Specifically from the corner room that faced the neighbors and the street.  Specifically my room.  A heavy sound, like something rolling out of my bed. Or perhaps the car driving by just vibrated something to fall.  Either way, I could investigate all my worries once I had a stable light source.

The rest of the stairs moaned on my way down.  There was no hiding my approach, and I was okay with that. Perhaps I opened the dog door or some other foolish mistake, and an animal wandered in.  Would not be the first time a strange animal had creeped into one of my houses.  Generally the noise was enough to scare them off.  Another problem easily dealt with once I had a permanent light source.

I was at the bottom of the stairs.  I strafed across the room towards the front door, shining my light through the living room.  Nothing immediate- no, there was movement.  On the far side of the room, at the fireplace.  I was counting the final seconds of my light, prepared this time.  I stared at where the movement came from.

Light went off.  My hands did not fumble.  Light was back on in a single breath.  Nothing to stalk me, to freeze me in my place while it got ready to strike.  This time it was precision.  The movement on the other side of the room was still coming from the fireplace.  A slow, rythmic, pace.  I took a step forward, moving my light to get a better angle.

It was breathing.  The fireplace.  There was a blanket placed over it so neither animal would sneak into the fireplace, nor bird or bat fly into the house through it.  Wind, or temperature change, or pressure change, or some science-y thing was causing the blanket to go in and out of the fireplace, and appear like it was breathing.  It was subtle, but in the darkness understandable to have caught my eye.

The front door was locked, and the chain was up, just the way I placed it.  This meant no intruders came from the front door.  A reassurance.  The lightswitch was exactly where it should be.  Three switches.  I flipped all of them up and down, but nothing happened.  I remember the two outside lights were out; but why wasn't the inside light coming on.

In the center of the room was a ceiling fan.  Two chains dangled from it.  One for the fan speed, and one for the light itself.  I did not want to have to take chances.  I pulled both.  Neither came on.  I flipped all the switches.  I pulled both again. Neither came on.  I pulled both again.  Nothing.  Flipped the switches.  Another double.  More nothing.

Time was about up.  I looked down at my phone, preparing to make another precision flashlight change.

Something moved at the fireplace.  Not the breathing of the blanket like before, but above it.  On the shelf.  It had snaked between picture frames quickly.  My light died before I could catch what it was.  My light was off, and my hands were no longer ready.  I focussed back on the light.  Something plopped to the ground right by the fireplace.  Another noise came from upstairs,
from my room.  And this time it moved out of my room.

The light came back on, and I shined it at the fireplace.  I saw something, something quick, flash into the dining room.  The tail of the cat, I told myself.  "The tail of the cat." I was talking to myself, out loud.  The room was draftier now, windier.  The wind was being pushed down though, at me.

I was standing under the fan.  It was on, blades spinning.  A car drove by, and shadows danced around the room.  So there was power in the house.  But...the lights weren't turning on.  I did not know if this was a relief or more worrisome.  The main room did have two huge open windows that let all light in from outside, it was quite possible that they simply saw no reason to replace the lights down here.  But that did not explain the upstairs, which did not share the same comfort.

I looked out the two major windows, and saw my car still parked on the side of the street.  Plenty of other vehicles as well, for all the neighbors.  "At least I can scream to get attention."  After my dream, reassurance that I could still speak went a long way.  Something told me, in the back of my head, to run to my car now.  Get in it, drive home, check on the animals in the morning.  But I could not let my friend down.  I did not want to leave the animals beside themselves for a night.  She trusted me to this task.

I turned my attention to the dining room.  Two double doors opened to it, allowing me to view all of it, and part of the kitchen from my position.  Before taking a step in, I examined as much as I could.  Make sure there was nothing under the dining room table.  Nothing hidden between the picture frames.  Nothing around the corners.  I reset my light, and crossed the room to the kitchen.
The door to the basement was in the kitchen.  I finally caught sight of what was haunting the house.  A tail flashed down through the ajar basement door.  Not furry and puffed up like the dog or cats.  Instead I could see the bare flesh beneath, with patches of fur.  Something sickly.  Perhaps a possum or a stray that had seen better days. I could hear it scatter down the basement.

If that was the cat, and my eyes were playing tricks on me...I’d apologize in the morning. I solidly closed the basement door.  With not much time on my phone, I scooted over to the fridge, and swung the door open.  The light from inside wasn’t powerful, but it was something.  I switched my light back on, and checked the back door.  It, too, was still locked.  The dog door was also closed.  There was a screw in the door that kept the door from sliding up or down.

The thing upstairs moved from my room to the top of the stairs.  I was set to discover what it was.  I was quiet, methodical, as I snuck back through the dining room.  I left my phone off for a moment as I reset the light, listening to whatever it may be slump down a few of the stairs.  When my light came back on I slid across the living room wall.  I stopped at the base of the stairwell, and I waited.  I turned my light off, on purpose this time.  I waited, and it slumped down a few steps.  It was now in the middle of the stairs.  It would not be able to escape me now.

I flashed my light on, and I made a quick jump to look up the stairs.  I’d finally have the culprit at hand.

Or an empty stairwell.  There was nothing waiting for me.  No monster or bogeyman.  I waited a moment, confused.  The stairs made a bump sound, down the next three stairs.  Nothing had moved or anything.  The building was simply old, and creaked on its own.

Further to my relief, I saw respite from this permanent darkness.  At the top of the staircase was an old mirror.  The dusty and partially warped mirror was not the light I was looking for, but now I could see that the fuse box was hidden behind it.  I bounded up the stairs, no further concern of catching a creature off guard.  Facing the mirror directly, I could not blame myself for not noticing the answer to my light problem had been there all along.  I could only see the bottom of the fuse box from the bottom of the steps, but not now that I was staring at it straight on.

I carefully removed the mirror, balancing it against the wall.  I opened the fuse box, seeing quite a few moved to the off position.  I reset my light before snapping them back over.  I closed the door, picked up the mirror, and hung it up carefully.  I made sure it was rebalanced.

Doubt filled my head.  I remembered something.  Downstairs, in the living room, the fan had come on, but not the light.  The problem was not just the fuse box.

No.  The problem in the living room was not just the fuse box.  The rest of the house very well could be the fuse box.  A final adjustment was made to the mirror before I turned to the light switch.  It was just to the right of the stairwell.

His hands were cold.  One was placed across my mouth, another grabbing my phone-wielding arm.  I was slammed against the wall.  The perfectly hung mirror came undone from the wall, crashing to the ground.  It shattered.  He squeezed my arm, and the cell phone dropped.  I tried to scream, but it was muffled from his hands.  I struck him with my other arm. The other doors opened.  Each and every one.  Another individual came out and grabbed my striking arm, and pinned it to the wall.

My flashlight landed shining upwards.  Their faces were lighted up like some scary story told around a campfire.  In my moment of restraint, I realized I knew these two.  I couldn’t see their full faces, just a portion.  Both had frequented my friends dinner parties.  Why were they breaking in to my friend’s house?  Odd that that was my concern.  Not how to escape.  Not how they got in.  Not what they were planning on doing with me.  But why?

Others came upon me.  They did not hurt me beyond the restraint.  Simply, they slid my across the wall.  I tried to look around, but I could only move my eyes.  They were moving me towards the mystery room.

I was pushed in, and before I could recovered the door was slammed shut. I leapt to the door to try the handle, but it had already been locked.  I did not waste time working on a door that I knew would not simply give.  And if it did give, what was I going to do?  Fight off an innumerable amount of individuals who came prepared in the dark.  No, I needed another exit.

I felt amongst the walls.  I was looking for a window, or a vent.  Something where I could scream out of and maybe get help.  Or please, oh god please, an escape.  I tried to ignore the sounds outside my room.  Hushed conversation, and footsteps.  Someone had gone downstairs.  Into the kitchen.  Into the basement.

I found a window.  Well, I found a windowsill.  Above the sill were bricks, mortared tight and closed.  I quickly continued to the next wall.  Another sill, another set of bricks.  I kept going.  There had to have been something.  And something before the footsteps back from the basement.  Through the living room.  Up the stairs.  Across the hall.  And what had just been one set of footsteps was now a pack.

I found a light switch.

The door opened, and something scurried in.  And another, followed by at least a third.  And a familiar voice followed.  “Thanks for coming over to feed my pets.  You forgot a few though...”

I could see their eyes.  Glowing.  They lowered themselves closer to the ground.  My hand was on the light switch.  I could finally see what they were if I wanted to.  I had no doubt this one would work.

I lowered my hand, refusing to click the switch.

I did not wake up.  It was dark.