Un-Bricking My Ender 3 Pro

I recently had the pleasure of learning how to un-brick my Ender 3 Pro, and the usual helpful guides online were not helping me–everything I was trying was not working! In the end, I prevailed, and the magic bullet turned out to be (spoiler alert) COMPLETELY WIPING THE SD CARD.

The first hurdle you have to overcome is to understand which printer you have, so that you can know how the firmware flash/upgrade process works:

PrinterBoardFlash Mechanism
Ender 3v1.1.xArduino w/ bootloader
Ender 3 Prov1.1.xArduino w/ bootloader
Ender 3 Prov4.2.xSD Card Flash
Ender 3 V2N/ASD Card Flash

This guide will only work for printers that have the capability to flash from an SD card.

I have an Ender 3 Pro with a 4.2.2 board, so the SD card flash mechanism should work for me. However, after trying multiple times using multiple SD cards and multiple firmware files, I was still getting the dreaded “blue screen of death.”

In the end, just before the new SD cards I ordered arrived, I was able to get my printer to flash. First, though, I had tried all the following, which I found as recommendations floating around the web (and reddit.com/r/ender3):

  • Deleting all the files from the SD card
  • Adding a firmware file
  • Renaming the file to something completely unique
  • Removing the SD card and rebooting to see if the SD card was causing the boot failure
  • Leaving the printer unplugged for an hour
  • Leaving the printer on with the SD card for a prolonged time (30m) to see if the firmware flash was taking a long time
  • Trying a different firmware file
  • Reformatting the SD card with MacOS Disk Utility (GUI)
  • Reformatting the SD card with MacOS diskutil (command line)
  • Deleting the partitions and recreating them with Linux (command line)

In the end, what worked was completely zeroing out the SD card, then recreating the partition and reformatting. If I were to have the same trouble with an SD card not flashing an Ender 3 today, here is what I would do:

  • Zero the SD card
    • MacOS:
      • Insert the SD card to my computer
      • Press Cmd+Space and enter Terminal to open the terminal
      • Type diskutil list to get a list of disks attached
      • Locate the disk that is the SD card (e.g. disk2)
      • !! For everything following, replace disk2 with your actual disk that you found in the previous step !!
      • Unmount the partitions with diskutil unmountdisk disk2
      • Zero the disk with sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/rdisk2 conv=sync status=progress bs=16m (note that the leading ‘r’ on the disk name is not a typo)
    • Windows
    • Linux
      • Insert the SD card to my computer
      • Open a terminal/command line
      • Run dmesg | tail and look for the disk name in the recent history, likely something like /dev/sdc
      • !! Use the name of the correct disk in place of /dev/sdc from here on !!
      • sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdc bs=16M conv=sync status=progress
  • Format the SD card and make the partition
    • MacOS
      • Format the SD card with sudo diskutil erasedisk FAT32 Ender3 MBR /dev/disk2
      • “Ender3” is the label for the card. You can change that to whatever you want, but keep it simple and short.
    • Windows
      • If you used Steve Gibson’s InitDisk as stated above, this is already done
    • Linux
      • sudo fdisk /dev/sdc
        • ‘n’ for new partition
        • ‘p’ for primary
        • ‘1’ for first
        • Take the default for first sector
        • Take the default for last sector
        • ‘t’ to change the type
        • ‘b’ to set the type to ‘0x0b’ W95 FAT32
        • ‘w’ to write the changes
      • sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdc1
        • Note that the ‘1’ is not a typo. /dev/sdc is the disk, /dev/sdc1 is the first partition on the disk
      • sudo sync
  • Place the firmware file on the SD card
    • Eject and re-insert, likely your OS will automatically mount the filesystem
    • You don’t need much advice on how to do this, except…
    • Only place one file on the card.
    • Give the file a random name. Literally. Like fghdgddyanbnd55.bin
    • Change it every time you attempt an upgrade. The printer remembers (at least) the last file name used, and will not re-attempt an upgrade if the filename is the same.
  • Upgrade the firmware on the Ender 3
    • Power off the machine
    • Insert the SD card
    • Power on the machine
    • If you don’t get a printer status screen or any sort of change in the first fifteen seconds, it didn’t work right.

Background Process

I am just a user,

And to me you are the root.

Won’t you chmod your heart?

Give me permission to execute.

My stdout won’t be scripted,

I’ll pipe to you fresh input every time.

You could stay a daemon in my memory,

A process too strong for kill -9.

On Religion

Religion. What an ugly concept.

“But, wait. Aren’t you Christian?”

Yes. But I despise religion.

I grew up calling myself atheistic and agnostic, believing in the absence of God and in the inability for anyone to prove the existence of God. I despised religion. I sort of realized along the way that what I actually despised was the intolerance, ignorance, and prejudice of people that pushed their religion on others.

It was the abuse of words like “truth” to represent something they believed in that was irrefutable, and the reluctance to yield to any other points of view that made me really despise these types of people and the organizations they represented. What I thought at the time was that religion created intolerant people, people unwilling or in some cases unable to re-assess the world around them and change their views. The people were intolerant, often choosing ignorance over reason. The familiar things, though wrong, were comfortable, and therefore anything that challenged those familiar ideas was so uncomfortable it could not be faced. So, I wanted nothing to do with religion, the church, or churchy people.

What I realized later was that religion wasn’t the cause, it was the byproduct. Intolerant people weren’t created by the church, they created the church to be a cozy place where they wouldn’t have to do the hard work of challenging their own world views and comfortable, destructive thoughts.

Now, I realize, it’s not just about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, etc. “Religion” takes many forms–not just the spiritual religion that pervades the way we think about what the universe “means” to ourselves and others. It’s about the way we think about…thinking.

We each have religions. Plural. I mean the things we blindly follow without thinking about anymore, and especially those for which we have “chosen a side.” Here are some examples:

  • iPhone vs. Android
  • USA vs. China
  • Globalism vs. “America First”
  • Republican vs. Democrat
  • Global Warming
  • Mac vs. PC
  • Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge
  • Christianity vs. Islam
  • Feminism
  • Black Lives Matter vs. Supporting the Police
  • Pro-Choice vs. Pro-Life
  • Masks vs. Freedom
  • Gun rights vs. Gun control

See, the idea is that these things are religion because there are diametrically opposed sides, and you must choose one. And to choose that one, you must be opposed to the other, completely. If you’re able to articulately explain why you believe in one side, fairly accept counter points from the other side, and even concede that it’s okay for someone to choose the other side for themselves, congratulations, you’ve escaped the religion. If you blindly parrot all of the talking points of your side and never accept a single thing that the opposition is saying, well, then you’re blindly following your religion and I would recommend you reconsider and re-examine your thinking.

In America, there is a lot of cross-contamination between these religions. In fact, this is what people talk about when they talk about a topic being “politicized.” It means that one political party, or the other, or both, has successfully painted the issue in such a way that people feel they have to choose sides and, conveniently, each of the two major political parties in power in America have also chosen a side. This makes it really easy for people who already have a political affiliation “religion” to align to a specific side on the new topic and (bonus) they don’t even have to think about why.

I suspect this is being weaponized against people because political leaders realized that politics was a religion and that by taking other topics and aligning them to the same religion, they could:

  • Recruit people who believed a certain way about some other topic to their political religion (e.g. make a person who is pro-choice more likely to align Democrat)
  • Take people who are deeply a specific political religion and align them to other topics (e.g. make a person who is deeply Republican deny the existence of climate change)
  • Further entrench the divide between the political religions to prevent defection

The antidote, of course, is a concoction of the following:

  • Empathic listening
  • Careful consideration
  • Self-examination
  • Allowing yourself to change your mind
  • Being open to new ideas
  • Love

I get it, that stuff is hard. It’s way easier to just keep thinking the same thoughts we’ve always had. It’s way more convenient. But I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

So, what religions do you have that maybe you should take a fresh look at and make a new decision whether to keep them or not?

Making Audiobooks for iPhone (in Linux/MacOS)

If you have audiobooks on CD that you want to have on your iPod or iPhone, here are some rough steps to turn them into iDevice-compatible files. Along the way, I’ll show you what I learned about how those files are constructed, i.e. what works and doesn’t.

The first step, of course, is to rip the CD to audio files. I prefer to rip using abcde to FLAC files. This preserves the full fidelity of the audio file (for now, anyway–we will compress the audio later).

$ abcde -o flac /dev/disk2

In my case above, the disc drive is /dev/disk2, but if you don’t know which one yours is, you can use drutil to check, as per the instructions here.

The next step is to combine the audio files into one file. For whatever reason, the option in abcde to rip a CD as one file isn’t working for me and I haven’t had time to dive into why. So, instead, I use sox to concatenate the files into one audio stream. You can do this by running sox and passing in as the first parameters the input files, in order. The last parameter is the output file.

sox 01.flac 02.flac 03.flac 04.flac 05.flac Disc1.flac

The next step is to update the metadata on the FLAC files that were the Discs. The reason for this is that we want the metadata to be up-to-date before we convert the file to the format that the iDevice is expecting. The metadata will be carried into the new file, so it is important to get it right at this stage.

  1. The ARTIST tag should be the book’s author, and should be consistent across all files
  2. The TRACKTOTAL should be the number of discs
  3. The TRACKNUMBER should be the disc number for each file
  4. The TITLE should be descriptive, I use “Disc x”, replacing x with each disc number
  5. The ALBUM should be the name of the book, and should be consistent across all files

Below is an example of me editing one disc file. I start by listing the information (I’ve trimmed a lot of the output), then I use metaflac --remove-tag to remove each tag and metaflac --set-tag to replace it with a new tag. I do this for each disc in the collection.

metaflac --list Disc4.flac
METADATA block #2
  type: 4 (VORBIS_COMMENT)
  is last: true
  length: 177
  vendor string: reference libFLAC 1.3.3 20190804
  comments: 7
    comment[0]: ARTIST=Brené Brown
    comment[1]: ALBUM=Rising Strong [Disc 4]
    comment[2]: TITLE=Track 1
    comment[3]: DATE=2015
    comment[4]: TRACKNUMBER=01
    comment[5]: TRACKTOTAL=13
    comment[6]: CDDB=b011fb0d
$ metaflac --remove-tag=ALBUM Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --set-tag=ALBUM="Rising Strong" Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --remove-tag=TITLE Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --set-tag=TITLE="Disc 4" Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --remove-tag=TRACKNUMBER Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --set-tag=TRACKNUMBER=04 Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --remove-tag=TRACKTOTAL Disc4.flac 
$ metaflac --set-tag=TRACKTOTAL=07 Disc4.flac 

Once the metadata is set, it’s time to convert the files so that the iDevice can read them. Here are the important points:

  1. The file must be MPEG-4 audio. I use the AAC format and that seems to work fine
  2. The filename extension MUST be .m4b which stands for “MP4 Book” (it won’t work otherwise)

I use ffmpeg to convert the audio files.

$ ffmpeg -i Disc1.flac -c:a aac Disc1.m4b

Once the files are all converted, place them into one directory. Then, open the Books app on your Mac, import the directory (File > Add to Library), and you should see a new book in the collection.

You can sync the book to your iDevice through the Finder app once your iDevice is connected to your Mac via USB.

  1. Follow the prompts on your Mac and/or your iDevice to establish “Trust” between the devices
  2. Open the Finder
  3. Click on the iDevice
  4. Click “Audiobooks” in the top row of options
  5. Select “Sync audiobooks onto <devicename>”
  6. Choose what books (or all books) you would like to sync
  7. Apply

FreeNAS and SMBv1 Woes

I recently upgraded my primary FreeNAS to the latest patches (of course, only after double-checking that my data was properly replicated to my secondary!). Afterward, I started having issues with other machines not being able to mount the shares on the FreeNAS via SMB. The issues are outlined below (with the solutions).

From Nautilus (file browser) in Ubuntu, if I clicked on the saved share (the credentials are saved also) I would instantly get a message “Oops! Something went wrong. Unhandled error message: Failed to mount Windows share: Connection timed out.” This made no sense to me. If it were an actual timeout, then it should at least take several seconds between the attempt and the failure, but this was 100% instant.

Another server that had the share in its /etc/fstab would not mount the share, either. In dmesg, the error was “CIFS VFS: cifs_mount failed w/return code = -95”

On that same server, if I ran smbclient interactively, like smbclient -L [IP of FreeNAS], the error message returned was “protocol negotiation failed: NT_STATUS_INVALID_NETWORK_RESPONSE”

I found some posts around that seemed to indicate that it was likely to be an issue with the SMB version. As it turns out, in a recent patch for FreeNAS, they disabled SMBv1 support by default. As a troubleshooting step, I enabled SMBv1 support on the SMB service on my FreeNAS box, and I was able to mount the share from my other systems again. However, that wasn’t the true fix. The fine people that maintain FreeNAS disabled SMBv1 support by default for some good reasons. So, I needed to figure out how to get a newer version of SMB working.

In some of the posts mentioned above, people talked about setting client min version and client max version explicitly in smb.conf, but (1) it was not clear to me from their posts if they were doing this on the server or the client and (2) I tried it on my client (since the server is the FreeNAS box and is BSD-based and I’m not about to start mucking with the config files if I don’t have to–and I believed it was a client-side issue anyway) and the workaround didn’t seem to work correctly for me. After a bunch more experimentation and trying it on other clients, I realized that the fix was working…kind of. It fixed my Nautilus/GVFS issues, but it did not fix my issues with mounting from /etc/fstab.

(Conclusion 1) On the client side, you must specify client min protocol = SMB2 and client max protocol = SMB3 (or otherwise sane values) in /etc/samba/smb.conf to alleviate the issue, but doing so only fixes the smb command-line tools such as smbclient and also GVFS/Nautilus, but will not fix any shares being mounted via /etc/fstab

After some more Googling, reading, and experimentation, I came across this post which held the gem I needed.

(Conclusion 2) If you have a share being mounted in /etc/fstab, you must specify the SMB version you want to use (I used 3.0) in the options in the line for the mount in /etc/fstab, which will look like this: vers=3.0 (or 2.0 if you prefer). Here’s an example:

//samba-server-name/share-name/  /path/to/mount/point    cifs    rw,auto,user,credentials=/etc/samba/creds.file,uid=user-to-use,gid=group-to-use,vers=3.0

Tell me, who do you love?

Something has been frustrating me, lately. When visiting sites, have you ever noticed that the “Sign up” button or link is vastly more visible and eye-catching than the “Sign in” button or link?

It’s intentional. What this says to me is that sites care much more about acquiring new users (and therefore new prospects for monetization) than they care about ease of use for their existing customer base.

What can sites do with new users? It depends on their business model. Let’s say they operate a “freemium” service, in that they offer a way to upgrade from a free, limited product to a paid, feature-rich product, or free users can pay to enhance certain parts of their experience. In that case, more free users means more opportunity to up-sell the premiums. If the service is entirely “free” but ad-supported, then more users means the potential for more ad impressions or clicks, which means more revenue. If the service is entirely “free” yet there are no advertisements, it’s very likely the service is run with altruistic motives monetized by selling the personal information and usage habits to third party marketing organizations. More users means more personal information, which directly translates into more revenue.

So, freemium, ad-supported, and data-mining-supported websites have a clear incentive to acquire as many users as possible, so they use psychology and UI design to push website visitors toward the results that the company desires. In the process, they are stabbing their existing users in the eyes every time one of them attempts to log in. This pisses me off because they are clearly prioritizing people who could generate revenue over people who are already generating revenue for them. In some cases, these are sites I am directly paying or sites that my employer is paying on my behalf. That irks me. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I believe that these sites should care more about their existing user base and customers than their prospects.

Gregory Conti talked about this idea in his 2008 HOPE talk “Evil Interfaces: Violating the User.” The basic idea is that UI designers can induce bias in their user base by the way the user experience is designed. Examples:

  • Gas station pumps can ask a series of yes/no questions which will predictably have a “yes” answer, then ask if the user wants to purchase a car wash. The user may be fatigued enough to answer “yes” by habit rather than because the user actually desires a car wash.
  • User interfaces can ask a series of questions and place the expected, routine answer in the same location each time, then ask another question and place the desired answer in the same location. For the same reasons as above, the user will be biased toward clicking that answer.
  • User interfaces can present multiple options for the user’s consideration, but style them differently, making the actions that the UI designer prefers (the ones that generate more revenue) more attractive, and making the actions that the UI designer wants to suppress appear less attractive, or perhaps style them so differently that the casual user will not associate them as an option. I have seen this many times in Amazon, where the option to upgrade to a free trial of Prime is a yellow button in the lower-right corner of the screen (where options to advance are usually placed) during the order process, and the other option “No, thanks” is a blue link to the left of it, in a smaller font. They’re so radically different I wonder how many people take the time to read and understand that they are both options for the current transaction.
  • User interfaces can offer a (seemingly) one-way path to the desired result. In Amazon, adding items to your shopping cart and removing them are both easy. However, once you move from your shopping cart to placing an order, there is no “back” button as part of the UI of the webpage to return you to Amazon or to your cart. You must either place the order, use the “back” button on your browser (which many sites tell users not to do during order placement–I wonder how that affects their long-term perception of using the “back” button on other sites), or manually return to the Amazon main page by entering “amazon.com” into the URL bar or clicking a bookmark.

I’m not particularly worried about myself, since I am well-educated and perceptive enough to recognize these situations and know what to do, but I do feel violated a little bit every time I see a site try to use one of these tactics on me, and it makes me want to just stop using them out of principal. Unfortunately, I can’t.

They have what I need, even if they stab me in the eye while they offer it to me.

Loud Pipes Hurt Ears

Have you ever heard this before?

Loud pipes save lives

I’ve read it a few times on a shortsighted (my opinion) patch you can sew to your motorcycle vest to prove to others how “hard” you are. I don’t completely disagree with the patch, but I also don’t completely agree with the patch.

Yes, motorcyclists get killed or seriously injured when cars hit them. Sometimes, it is because a car merges into a lane that a motorcyclist is occupying, or turns out in front of a motorcyclist, or otherwise tries to occupy the same volume with their car that the motorcyclist is already occupying.

In some of these cases, yes, a louder set of pipes on a bike might cause a motorist to take notice and avoid a collision with a motorcyclist. However, it’s far from a given. Loud pipes aren’t going to save a motorcyclist every time…in fact we don’t have anything more than anecdotal evidence to suggest that it’s even a remotely effective measure.

Let’s consider the costs and the benefits. If we’re working within the context of the assertion that “loud pipes save lives”, I’ll expect that I can compare the benefit of “saving lives” to the cost of having loud pipes. Let’s assume it’s $1000 for a loud exhaust for a motorcycle. Most people would probably agree that $1000 is a small price to pay to prevent a death. However, I don’t think this is a complete or accurate analysis. For instance, we’re completely neglecting the likelihood of each outcome, and the so-called “expected value.” I don’t think anyone has good evidence that loud pipes have a high likelihood of saving lives.

I also don’t think that $1000 is the only cost to having loud pipes. There are a lot of people that are bothered by loud motorcycle exhaust systems. Really bothered. This is a cost. It’s not a cost to the individual with the motorcycle if they enjoy having a loud exhaust. It’s what’s known in economics as an external cost. It’s a cost that is incurred by others. So, if you take an action and you reap the benefit, but you make others pay for it, does that sound like the right thing to do? Some people would call it “inconsiderate”, others might call it “mooching”, and even others might just call it “being a dick”. In case you’re wondering, I’m in that last camp.

If you’re going to put loud exhaust pipes on your motorcycle, for whatever reason (performance, looks, sound), do it for that reason. Don’t try to justify your loud exhaust system by saying that it’s to prevent an accident. Just own it: say you wanted loud pipes. You like the way they make your penis feel. Congratulations. Don’t say it’s for safety.

I ride a motorcycle, and the thought of hitting you with my car might still cross my mind.

Go big green.

I: The Changing (Consumer) Climate

Climate change. Global warming. Summer. Whatever you want to call it, based on how cynical, skeptical, or self-righteous you are, you simply can’t deny the effects it is having on the consumer.

That’s right, I said consumer. That’s you, Bucko. Hey, don’t give me that look, I know it’s me, too. That’s why we’re here. We’re all consumers.

I’m not going to tell you that humans caused the climate to change. I simply don’t know that. Neither do you. I do know, however, that all the buzz about climate change has certainly heightened the average consumer’s awareness of their impact on their environment, and the consequences of their own actions. The concept of the ‘carbon footprint’ and illustrations thereof has opened many eyes to the wonderful world of forward thinking, which is no small feat. People are now thinking about whether that cup of coffee might expedite the extinction of some far-away animal, even if they are still thinking about whether or not it’s going to give them the perk they need to sit through that time-share sales pitch to get a free dinner or handbag or what-have-you. I applaud that.

So, as consumers are driven with more of a desire to be ‘green’ producers have been providing them with a variety of alternative products to help them, along with hours of sponsored programming and advertisement. This is, of course, to help ‘educate’ you and me about our actions, their far-reaching consequences, and the ways we can spend–er I mean change our habits in order to help the world!

This is all well and good, except there is one organization that I don’t see advertising their ‘green’ solution. So, I am going to advertise it for them, right here. Be patient, it’s coming.

II: The Problem

The way I see it, people are failing to take into account one very important factor when they think about their carbon footprint: children. Every being is seen as having its own carbon footprint. Even when I look at green-oriented media, they talk about reducing one’s child’s carbon footprint, as if it’s the kid’s fault that they consume, even though they didn’t ask to be created. I think I have a pretty foolproof method for reducing a child’s carbon footprint: don’t have it.

Yep. I am almost positive that if the kid didn’t exist, it wouldn’t have a carbon footprint.

My thinking is that when you are choosing to have a child, you have to take responsibility of everything. That means the screaming, the bleeding, the torn vagina (even if it’s not yours, dad), the diapers, the grocery bill, the repainting of the hallway wall because you left the crayons out and went downstairs to change a load of laundry, the feeling you get when you watch him ride away on the school bus that first time, and yes, even his carbon footprint. Just think about what that little tyke is going to do to your eco-reputation for the first 18 years of his life while you’re responsible for him. It’s your fault the li’l guy is here, he couldn’t have done it on his own. It’s only fair that you accept the weight of your decision on your–make that our–environment.

Fewer children means less consumption, less emissions, less waste, less urban sprawl, less deforestation, etc. If what’s happening to the environment is a direct result of people, then why not have fewer people?

III: The Irony

A popular reason for changing the way we behave is to make the world a better, safer, longer-lasting place. Since adjusting our actions for a more ‘green’ outlook tends to have an immediate negative impact on our own convenience or quality of life, we like to think that what we are doing is not for us, but it’s for our children’s children’s children, and so forth. The irony there, of course, is that if the solution to a better world for our children’s children’s children is not to have children, then whose children are we making the world better for?

IV: The Solution

Adopt. Somewhere out there is a living human being that is already consuming. It’s a carbon footprint just waiting for someone to come along and take responsibility for it. Why create another consumer when you could give an existing one a better life, and make the world a better place in the process. They could even grow up to adopt a little abandoned consumer of their own, and then you could have little grandkids of your own to take to Starbucks and feed full of sugar and caffeine before handing them back to your kiddo to drive them insane for the next 14 hours.

Creating a newborn consumer just because you want it to have your eyes or your lover’s nose is simply selfish.

V: The Aftermath

If you read all of this and you are already angry at me or you think you still want to create your own children, then my next opinion will probably do nothing short of make you livid:

The only people who should be allowed to make their own children are probably smart enough to know that they shouldn’t.

If you don’t believe me, go watch the first 15 minutes of Idiocracy.

The Fun Tax.

Owning a car is costly. First you have to pay for the car, then gasoline, preventative maintenance, tires and other consumables, tolls, and finally other little things that you never seem to take into account when you buy the damn thing. My favorite recurring car cost was the Fun Tax. Because of the way my seat was adjusted, my legs sort of angled upwards from the hip, so sometimes when I goosed the throttle my pockets would empty and my loose coin would roll under the driver’s seat. I called that the Fun Tax because it usually only happened when I was really pusing the car to have some fun. Some pants would give up the ghost more easily than others, but it was always for the same reason: vroooooooooom.

I collected my return of $11.26 in Fun Tax from my car today. That was 32 quarters, 23 dimes, 11 nickels, and 41 pennies. That was my final withdrawal from her, and there will be no more in either direction.

Tonight, I write, and what compels me? My inspiration strikes from the usual suspects: anger, love, futility, and wine. Given the nature of my recent automotive situations, a wine by Mario Andretti (I kid you not) may not be the best choice. I think the only thing more fitting would be a wine by Dale Earnhardt, although, with all respect, his situation was much more dire. Alas, I am but being dramatic.

People suck at driving. Totally and completely. This is my observation from the past couple of weeks. On St. Patrick’s day, of all days, I had the severe luck to be rear-ended. The story told by the young’un who hit me was that he was behind someone else and their pace gave that vibe like “we’re all truckin’ and there is no cause for alarm”. Then, suddenly and without warning, they changed lanes to reveal me, Mr. Waiting-patiently-for-light-to-change-and-cars-to-go, and there was nothing for him to do but to slam on the brakes and ruin my day. Ruin my day he did. Grace was totaled. After all of the time, effort, and money I spent to tweak, tune, and get her just the way I wanted her, she was dead, and I was left with a broken heart and a mild case of whiplash.

Then, I got a rental car. It does not afford me the gratuitous visibility from the side windows and rear-view mirror that I came to love and appreciate from my station wagon, and I am disappointed. It does, however, have a trunk and a half, which I suppose is a good thing, since I almost had to fit an ambulance in it today. If you’re a little confused, don’t be, you read me right. AN AMBULANCE ALMOST REAR-ENDED ME. Seriously. I and the other cars on the road were all driving, and the flat-bed 18-wheeler in front of me locked up his brakes to skid to a stop, so in accordance with the situation I came to a safe stop, and the ambulance behind me came right up on me before changing lanes, narrowly missing me. One part of me wishes he had hit me so that we could expose the idiocy, and the other is glad that he didn’t on the off chance that there was someone in the back that needed medical attention. By the way, this was on the way to the insurance office to pick up the check that is supposed to console my weary heart for my loss of vehicle. Oh, the irony.

Also, last week, I was making a turn onto a two lane road and there was a squad car speeding in the suicide lane/median, lights on and siren blaring, and according to the expected conduct associated with that kind of situation I slowed down and looked for an opportunity to merge into the right-hand lane to get out of the way. The person in the right lane ahead of me MERGED LEFT INTO MY LANE AND STOPPED ABRUPTLY BEHIND THE CAR THAT I WAS FOLLOWING, WHO ALSO HAD STOPPED. I was looking right and back, so as to merge, and I looked up just in time to notice the stopped cars ahead of me. I missed the rearmost car by about a foot, and since the policecop had already passed, I just gunned it and got the heck out of Dodge. I don’t think you can blame me for that one, there was no way I wanted to be driving near those people anymore.

As for me, when the rental car free pass from the insurance company runs out, I think there is only one car for me to get, if I intend to survive until next year: Canyonero.

O, how the mighty have fallen.

Radio Shack. Once a hot-spot for radio and electronics-related parts for the hobbyist, now a great place to get free phones and maybe somewhat harassed. Story time!

I am an Amateur Radio Operator, for those who don’t know. Recently I got a new toy (a Terminal Node Controller for operating packet radio) and I needed to make a cable to hook it up to one or more of my radios. So, after finding out that I would need a special connector, I went to Radio Shack to find it. Usually, if you need a strange connector that you are going to solder some wires onto, Radio Shack is the place to go. There, or perhaps the Internet. Now, I like the Internet and all, but I am impatient, and I wanted that connector the day before last, you catch what I’m saying?

Radio Shack did not have the connector I wanted a la carte, but they did have a cable that had one at each end, so my idea was to get the cables, chop them in half, and solder some different connectors on the other ends, making a pair of custom cables to suit my needs. Voila! So, my plan was to check the cables to see if they had all of the necessary wires in them (by checking for circuits from one end to the other with a multimeter before cutting them up) and if they were usable I would use them, otherwise I would return them. Like a wise consumer, I decided to ask about the return policy on opened items before making my purchase.

I approached the register, where a portly mid-teens girl was talking to an overdressed young man who appeared to be the most senior member of staff on-site, despite appearing to be nineteen.

Me: What is your return policy on opened items?
Guy: Whatraoutyintorenfromsrsomthn?

Clearly I was dealing with a straight shooter, one with upper management written all over him.

Me: I’m sorry, what?
Guy: Whatareyoutringtorunfromusorsomething?
Me: Come again?
Guy: What,areyoutryingtorentfromusorsomething?

At this point, what I should have said was “Oh, like it’s going to affect your $7.50/hr, jackass!”

Me: Am I trying to rent from you? No, I need this cable for a project but I need to perform a continuity test to see if all of the pins are connected to leads. If they aren’t, I will return it. But, if they are, I will chop the cable in half and use it.
Guy: Oh.

Then, I bought the cable.

Miss: Will that be all?
Me: Yes.
Miss: Would you like to donate a dollar to [insert children’s hospital here]?
Me: No.
Miss: You just killed a child.
[Awkward silence while I try to figure out if she just said that for reals, yo]
Miss: Just kidding [giggles]

Then I was Audi 5000.

I probably did kill a child, though.

Would you like Friars with that?

I think I have just accidentally written the next movie to be directed and possibly starred-in by the Wayans brothers:

Clergy by day, fry cooks by night, two brothers are trying to get their lives straightened out so that they can quit the church and open their own small-time greasy spoon. All the while, as they work at the local 24-hour [cough] um…Lenny’s, they council the broken-hearted and disparaged wait staff and third-shift regulars. Through their experience, even as they almost realize their goal of starting their own restaurant, they come to actually realize (you see what I did there?) that what makes them really happy in life is not the food, it’s the help that they give to others. It’s a real tear-jerker there at the end, let me tell you what.

Ok, so I made most of that up on the spot just so it would fit this horrible and clever title that came to me one day: Deep Friars. You get it?

I guess it’s a good thing this movie will never actually be made.

A rose by any other name?

In my daily doings, comings, and goings, I try to read a lot. I try to listen a lot, also, to other people speaking about anything and everything, and I try to use this to make me a better communicator. I read Daily Writing Tips, and I find that on the whole it is a very good resource because it operates on many levels from the most basic of English grammar all the way to advanced semantics. I like it. Today, however, something that I read on there just jolted me. It rubbed me in quite the wrong direction.

Words are labels. They “mean” what we say they mean.

I do not agree. I do not believe that words only mean what we say they mean. It took a long time for me to figure this out from the world around me, but communication does not start and end with the speaker or writer. If anything, the majority of communication happens at the receiving end. Therefore, I am unable to believe that words mean what we or I say they mean. Words, in my humble opinion, mean what the person hearing them or seeing them thinks that they mean, which could vary wildly based on their education, their disposition, or even whether or not they ate breakfast that morning.

Now, If I make up a word tonight, and I never tell another soul what that word is, and I assign a meaning to it, then it means what I say it means. However, as soon as I tell someone else what it means and we use it, it means what we think it means. Then, as more and more people use my word, its meaning will be a little bit different for each situation that it is used and each person who interprets it. That is language. That is why there is more than one definition for so many words.

That is why I love language: because it allows encourages us to fuck it up change it.

What is this?

What is this tightness in my neck and shoulders?
For what reason do I squint and purse my lips?
Am I becoming the thing that I once stuck up my nose at being?

I think back to my youth (and of course you think I am thinking too heavily at this point, for surely I am still in my youth having barely being alive for twenty-two years, right?) and I remember some things that I used to say, that I used to believe.

I had a tie-dyed t-shirt two sizes too big, hair that came down to my eyes, and my pants rode too low. People used to tell me that someday I would have to get a haircut and wear my pants at my waist and tuck in my shirts which would have collars. I laughed. They told me that I would have to do this because that’s the way the world works. Because people don’t do business with people that look like they would be right at home with a nicely rolled joint behind their ear.

Now what? I look down at myself as I walk out of my corporate office building, and see a belt. I can see it because my shirt is tucked in. My shirt, which has a collar, of all things, is tucked into my pants which are held at my waist with a belt. I walk to my luxury/sports wagon which probably cost too much money and I drive home. I did this to myself. I get haircuts. I started parting my hair on the side again. I accepted a job knowing that I would be required to wear collared shirts. I started tucking them in.

Yet, as I look down at myself, I see the climbing hook with too many keys and a stick of RAM. I see that my belt has pairs of metal grommets at one inch intervals. I see that my wallet has a chain. I see that I am still wearing my work boots to the office. I see signs that some part of me refuses to let itself be compromised. I think that’s why I still walk upright and laugh instead of slouching and mumbling awkwardly.

Lately I have been struggling with change, as we all undoubtedly do, and mostly my problems are stemming from the fact that I am allowing myself to change in a way that feel may be causing inconsistencies in my philosophies. For instance, I have been increasingly conscious of the consequences of my actions for the environment. I find myself thinking about what sort of impact the soap that I use to wash my car will have on the water supply as it goes down the drain into the sewer at the end of the driveway. However, it didn’t stop me from washing my car roughly every two weeks from the time that I got it until it became too cold for that to be plausible. I find myself turning off the TV in the living room when nobody is around to watch it, but then I go downstairs to the basement and turn on my computer which sits next to two other computers that run day in and day out. I have been a believer in negative population growth since high school, but I have begun to donate blood (which I hear saves lives). Shoot. It seems that I am a living, breathing, walking compromise.

A friend of mine seems to think that compromise is a bad thing. She and I sparred verbally for a bit about it the other day, but the conversation quickly degenerated into a much less serious and somewhat comical situation wherein we both kept repeating the taglines to our arguments and I’m sure if we had not been more mature adults, one or the other of us (or even both) would have stuck our fingers in our ears and started to sing our favorite song loudly and off-pitch. So, we just changed the topic of conversation to something more fun. Her argument was that “in a compromise, nobody wins” and I think that’s true in the sense that neither party gets fully what they sought out to get. However, it did seem to me as though the direction she was trying to take that was “in a compromise, everybody loses” which I think is untrue. I think that the point of a compromise is that both parties see gain, even if it does not fulfill the potential gain that was initially sought that could have been obtained at the expense of the other party. I feel that this is a good thing, and I think that thinking about myself as a compromise in this sense has allowed me to overcome these changes that I have noticed in myself.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while I may be a compromise, I don’t think I’m losing for it.

Welcome to Atlanta where the playas play.

…And we make on average sixteen u-turns per day.

Okay, so I made that statistic up. Let’s not lose track of the point of this discussion, though, and it is: turn lanes are awesome. To give you a little bit of background I am currently in Lithia Springs which is about fifteen miles outside of Atlanta (that’s a rough estimate, and I’m too lazy to try to corroborate the claim, so if it’s wrong, whatever), and today an interesting thing happened to me. I discovered that many times in order to get where I want to go I have to pass it and turn around at the next intersection. The first time it happened I was very much of the mindset “oh, well don’t I look like a silly non-native who doesn’t know where he is going” but then it happened again. And again. To more than just me.
Here is a transcript of my second most recent u-turn:

Me: one
Me: two
Me: threE
Me: fouR
Me: fiVE
Me: sIX

That was me counting the cars that made a u-turn instead of turning left from the left turn lane. That count started with the first car in the queue. That’s right, folks, eight cars in a row made a u-turn in the left turn lane, myself included, as well as two cars behind me. I counted. Out loud. Quite enthusiastically. Three of us went on to turn right into the Wal-Mart parking lot, presumably to purchase alcohol so that we could drink ourselves into a dream where there were actually turn lanes that people could use to get into various businesses without the need to drive a street too far.

WTF, South? It’s things like not having left turn lanes that probably lost you the war.

She will bring the world to me.

After reading some of the Carmina Gadelica, a large set of blessings for things, it was our assignment to write our own blessing. The point as I saw it was to take something that is a part of our everyday lives that is important and to write something that shows that it is important and makes the person saying the blessing remember why it is important. It is supposed to make you look at it freshly each day. Here is my blessing.

She will bring the world to me
To my eyes and fingertips
She will house my memories
Pictures from old relationships
And videos that make me laugh
And songs that can make me cry
And other things longsince forgotten
And through it all it comes that I

Will keep her cables orderly
Will keep her insides free of dust
Will keep her monitor smudgeless
Will keep her keyboard free of crust
Or crumb of bread or drop of milk
And though this takes its toll I must
Remember how it came to be
That she will bring the world to me

Kingerlee quandary.

This one came when I was at the Spanish Arch sitting by the water trying to write a paper for my art history class. The subject was a gallery’s worth of abstract art by John Kingerlee.

A breath of air is wave’s gestation
Speaking words of invitation,
Each break of wave another plea
To let the sea encompass me.

But I remain dry on the land,
Pencil and paper in my hand,
Trying ever fervently
To dissect master Kingerlee.

Yet, he remains a mystery to me.

Notes: John Kingerlee is an Irish artist who deals mostly in highly abstract depictions of heads and of the landscape of the Beara peninsula, where he lives a fairly hermetic existence with the company of his wife. His art makes generally no sense to me as a layperson.

Ocean breath.

This one struck me during lit class on 12 April.

An unseen forceful messenger is bearing down on me
Creating waves of turbulence upon the western sea.
It might knock me down but it might also set me free
And I will find that I become what it was meant to be.

Pub poetry.

I wrote this one on my brother’s birthday (21 March) in the bar of our hotel in Cork, when I was inspired by my beautiful pint of Murphy’s.

When I raise my glass to the sky
It is to heighten thus my spirits.
A Beamish, Murphy’s, or a Guinness
Will meet a finish though I fear it.

When my glass is at its end
I will send to the barkeep
My cheers and a nod of head
As home, to bed, I go to sleep.

Notes: Beamish and Murphy’s are stouts brewed in Cork. They are delicious and more like American Guinness than Irish Guinness (though I still love Irish Guinness). Also, I was trying to be clever with the duality of the word “spirits.”

The essence of Erin.

Since being in Ireland for a bit, I’ve written some poetry, I just haven’t gotten around to posting it. Here’s one from February in Dublin.

Once upon the river Liffey
I caught a whiff of something iffy.
I said to Erin “I smell your flower
And I would recommend a shower.”

Notes: The name Erin is a popular name for the anthropomorphism of the island of Ireland, and the river Liffey is the river that runs through the center of Dublin city.

Lost for words with one last breath for me to take from you.

Today, I am lost. I had my first cigarette in 17 years.

Today, I had a talk with my oldest love, my first love, the only person that I told that I loved without being untrue to myself.

We talked of many things, of the past and of the future, and she said to me a very interesting thing. She said “You don’t look happy.”

I believed her. I don’t think that I am happy. I don’t know what it takes to make me happy. I have fun, yes, but I don’t know what it takes to make me truly happy. In high school, a kid said to me “you have happiness, from time to time, but do you have joy?” I didn’t then and I don’t now.

What makes me happy? What gives me joy?

These are questions to which that I have no answer now. I will keep looking.

In the meantime, our coach driver from the past day has given me inspiration indirectly. To one of our tourists, he said “be good.” In reply, our tourist said “I can’t make any promises.” Paul’s reply was simple and will work, for a week at least.

“If you can’t be good, be good at it.”