Monthly Archives: October 2016

The loop

I have realized the cause of my demise, a habit that appeared to have cost me the future that I had always wanted. I’m stuck in a loop.

This loop has put my productivity to a grinding halt. It basically consists of an afternoon ritual of checking the “latest headlines” RSS in my bookmarks (it’s just BBC World), then going to the Unsorted folder and basically looking through every website in the Forum Run section. It basically lets me poll quickly for any replies to my posts. And then I check Slack for any messages, so I scroll back and quickly scan through and see if there’s anything important or worth replying to. After all that, I go and check Discord for any updates and messages on Wiremod. If time, I go and check YouTube for any new videos from my subscribed channels.

But the obsessive part is that sometimes I do this twice. And my mouse itches to go back to Unsorted and start the Forum Run over again. On a totally free day, this can happen 4 times.

Basically I’ve trapped myself. During weekdays I used to check some stuff online very quickly, do homework for an hour to an hour thirty, and then have an expanse of time ahead of me to work on personal projects or pursue something specific I’ve been trying to do for the week. But now this obsessive-compulsive behavior I have gradually developed has turned that after-school time into starting homework at 5:45 PM instead of 5:00 PM as expected. So after finishing my homework, I do another bout of the Forum Run again, just in case I missed something. And then the rest of the time I go look at something on YouTube. The ordeal has killed me.

At this point, I would say something awfully harsh about myself, but I don’t even have the guts for that anymore. I wish I could just start over and do everything correctly. Get my attitudes right. Know who exactly to approach. Finish my homework. Find the right competitions during freshman year, do them early and do them right.

I identified this girl in my class who is also applying to MIT – and this makes me feel even more delusional yet disillusioned. The girl is certainly much more qualified than I am – she took the right courses, made the smart choice of doubling up on science and math early, didn’t relent on any course selections at all. I bet she has an excellent resume at her disposal as well: I would not be surprised if she was accepted. After all, I think anyone would choose her over some boy who has astoundingly terrible hygiene, doesn’t know how to look at people in the face and talk straight without acting like a jerk, and doesn’t actually go out and do things that help people. No, of course not, he hoards knowledge to himself.

I contemplated what she said to me this morning onward to the rest of the day. By the end of the day, my mind was set – by February, she would be cheered as the successful student; and I would be sitting in the corner and think of the most punishing way to end this misery for myself.

Third period serves merely to exacerbate my guilt and disappointment: at my left is former rank 1 talking and laughing and throwing weird things at his friends; in front of me is a semi-professional developer/intern (“he’s special”) who probably has tons more experience in coding than I do; he is the most photogenic of them all and coordinates meetups with his surrounding friends, who are all mostly playing around with exotic Rubik’s cubes (although they are not cubes nor invented by Rubik; they are really just bendy puzzles!); and to my right are a bunch of athletes who are just there because they like the teacher. Not caring about the physics lecture for the unit, which appears to be just a review from last year, I think to myself, “Great, what a waste of time the next two weeks will be.”

Hardly anyone cares about me anymore, maybe except the cat. The only reason people engage in an interaction with me is because they either need help with something or because I need them for something. Probably same goes for the cat. There hasn’t been a girl who has approached me because they genuinely like me, or a friend who has genuinely tried to reach out to me. My parents hardly see me in the day. I see them, on average, three or four times a day, amounting to less than half an hour a day. All my brother wants to do is play a game with me, and only me. There is really only one friend who cares about me, and even then I hardly talk to him, since he shares little in common with me.

I have realized how little I hold in common with Americans. Most of them are completely fine with doing many activities with friends and do not have a strict “family-only” time. But my family does: they expect the weekends to be reserved for family activities only, and activities that I must do have to be planned at least two or three weeks in advance. If it is a friend, then my father expects to know everything about him: his name, his phone, who his parents are, whether or not my father knows him or his parents, where his house is, whether or not the friend can drive, and why I didn’t tell my father about it earlier, and if I had told my mother about it yet. (Naturally she isn’t informed until a week later.)

I don’t feel accomplished. I feel like a “seasoned programmer” but where are the finished projects to ground such a claim? My mother always said, “You’ve done the best you can. Be satisfied with it.” The problem is, it’s not the best I can do. I can do much more than that in my life.

After all, I only wanted to find people like me, and look where this is taking me. It’s turned into yet another 1000-word rollercoaster ride about how I think my life is a wreck, when I should be thinking the exact opposite for my college applications.

I need help.

Investment

For some reason, I dislike investment. Perhaps because I distrust it so much, or because I feel so regretful about my decisions all the time.

Take a bicycle, for instance. How can I say that I like riding bikes if I don’t have one, and the inverse, that I hate riding bikes if I haven’t ridden one in years?

So, how do I figure out if I like biking or not? I try it out for a week. But how do I do that if I don’t have a bike? Well, it looks like you’re going to have to buy one. With what money? Well, with all the birthday money you’ve been saving up. Actually, no, you don’t need a bike, you have plenty of other things we’ve bought for you already that you’re not using. Use them.

So I look at the Raspberry Pi touchscreen, the multimeter, the soldering flux, the broken fighting game pad, and I say, screw it. I guess I’ll return to the world which my parents have chained me to.

And then my mother, looking through my resignation, says, “Oh, but there’s only eight months left!” Eight months left until what? Until I suddenly lose everything and evict myself?

Lack of investment is the reason I never made very strong relationships in my life, or finished any of my projects.

When I read online about my problems, I just read, “You are very very young! I wish I was your age again! Go out and do great things and enjoy life while you can in your youth!” And look at me, I act like I’m in my thirties already.

Tape drive VCR, part 1

One day I had this amazing idea! I was looking through the tape drives for sale, and as usual they were over $1,200 for LTO-5 or LTO-6 tape drives, which are the only generations that can match the current hard drive market. There are so many unused VHS tapes, and with the untapped potential of analog storage media, you could store digital media in these cassettes! After all, they’re just tapes! You could make… a tape drive using a VCR!

All right, I think you’ve got the sarcasm and naivety of my thought process. I mean, if you think about it only for a few seconds, it’s just silly humor. But when it remains within your mind for days on end, wondering whether or not it truly is possible, you feel as if the only way to find out is to try it yourself.

Let’s take a closer look at this incredulous idea. The first and only popular stab at this was ArVid. It was basically this Russian ISA card that ran composite video to your VCR, and that was it. It could store data at a speed up to 325 kbps, and with some simple math we come up to almost exactly 2 GB on an E-180. And you know what, a lot of people said “yeah, I guess that’s reasonable,” and they stopped there.

But there are some huge limitations to ArVid, that could have allowed it to increase in data retention. First, it has only two symbols: luma on and off (!!!), which already makes the storage incredibly inefficient! It uses some Hamming for ECC but that’s about it, according to Wikipedia. Now, I’m no expert here on signal processing (just started seriously reading about this an hour or two ago), but with QPSK or QAM, we can make it significantly more efficient. So, screw ArVid.

We also don’t need an additional card to bring the analog data over to the VCR. We can use the sound “card” that is already built into the motherboard to produce the analog signals we need, and at an acceptable sample rate too (while “sample rate” doesn’t exist when we’re talking about pure analog signals, we do still need to convert digital signals over to analog, but the sound card can only support up to 96 kHz or 192 kHz, thereby limiting our symbol rate). A separate sound card might still be convenient, however, given that this method may hinder a user’s ability to use sound at all (or the user may accidentally trigger a system sound that interferes with the data throughput).

So, how much data exactly do we think a VHS can carry? I think that in a perfect world with an ideal design, it will be somewhere between 80-160 GB. However, formal calculations based on the modulation to be used will be required in order to prove this, so I will not talk much about it.

Instead, I’ll discuss the practicality of this design. Yes, you could hack a remote control and stick it to the VCR, and that would be the interface for communication. Haha! But to be honest, I’m not really willing to destroy my VCR and remote just to figure out how well this is going to work. The solution, then, becomes fairly clear: just have the user be instructed on what to do. The user would note where a datum is stored and all he would do is just move the head right before it and hit “read” right before the data is reached. The signal would be aligned and processed perfectly.

Alternatively, we can tell the user to “initialize” the VHS by having the software sprinkle position markers across the tape. They don’t have to be exact placements, but they give the software an idea of what spaces have been consumed and where to go based on the last read position marker, assuming that the software is tracking where data has been stored in some sort of external master file table. This can then be turned into simple “rewind for about 20 seconds” commands given to the user. The user would play back a little bit, which would allow the software to give feedback on how close they are to to the data (and if actual data is being played back, then this should be detected and the user should be instructed to go back to the beginning of the data).

I’ve been taking a look at GNU Radio and I think this should give me a fair estimation of what modulation method(s) to use, and how much noise is expected. We’re dealing with VHS, which is great, because the expected noise is extremely low.

Uncomfortable

I feel uncomfortable in this chair. The chair is not high enough, so I can only rest half my head on it. The keyboard stand slides outward, but it can’t because it touches my groin, so I keep it retracted. I have to sit angled toward the right and criss-crossed in order to have my legs snugly fit without touching the obtrusive tower of the computer under the desk.

The keyboard loses signal once every five minutes or so, so I have to type everything over again, or hit backspace over and over until it catches a signal. But it’s the only keyboard that I have that is ergonomic, and that doesn’t have grime stuck to it that requires rigorous scratching in order to remove.

The CPU fan begins whirring notably if the usage ascends anywhere above 13% or so. Likewise, the GPU’s temperature shoots up to 80 degrees Celsius under any load at all, and 105 degrees Celsius while playing any sort of demanding game.

The cat tries to settle herself on top of my papers and flicks her tail at my wrist. Sometimes she will rest her head on my wrist, so it’s impossible to move between mouse and keyboard. I raise an object, and the cat scampers away like the coward she is. Now she wants to go outside to the garage, but she can’t because our mother will be coming soon.

My brother yells my name. It has something to do with homework, something not working, or him wanting to play a game with me, because it always falls under one of those three categories. Or maybe it’s another Steam message from the kid who doesn’t know how to spell yet has an admin position on my server (how did it come to this?!), and wants me to put yet another irrelevant addon on the server.

Oh, and speaking of the server, it’s uncomfortable trying to maintain this piece of junk. There is no ECC RAM available to expand the 1 GB available, if it is even worth doing. The SCSI drives, in a RAID-5 configuration, only serve a total capacity of 600 GB. And it’s Windows Server 2003! Could it get any worse?

Now I must eat the exact same thing I ate yesterday, because my father makes food like every day was a feast. Sometimes I have to eat the same food for four days, and if I don’t like the food then I’m screwed. I have to take a really small portion and compensate with dessert. But guess what? My mother has practically abolished desserts and snacks, because she claims she cannot have the temptation of chocolate or chips. I have no choice but to smuggle Oreos into my room. So now, if there is no food I want to eat, I really have to starve.

My father has already made note of it; I am too slim (as opposed to him, who is the exact opposite), and my rib cage is easy to spot. He wants me to eat well, but he does not have a choice, because trying to appease me would violate my mother’s orders (or pleas).

There is no cheese in the refrigerator, and the bread is almost gone. There are no Vienna sausages left in the pantry, and my father suggests meatloaf instead. It would be a waste of energy toasting the one tiny loaf of bread I want to eat. The prepackaged string cheese that is cheddar has been there for many months now, and it tastes terrible. It’s well expired and probably spoiled, but if I make a note of it, then my mother will see my father throw it away, and then she will comment about how he wastes food that could go to the poor. The other prepackaged cheese left is American cheese which I have a strong dislike for, since the texture is very slimy and it almost doesn’t taste like anything at all. So, I don’t eat any snacks anymore, contributing to my hunger.

The toaster oven has been overused; the piezoelectric buttons (are they really) have become difficult to press. Often, after the toasting is finished, nobody bothers to press the Stop button once more, so the display blinks “End” day and night.

At least the phone works fine. In fact, sometimes it works too well, and from lack of use, the battery stays steady at 70% after a day.

I feel uncomfortable living inside my own house. I feel as if I am always on high alert, at school and at home. I am literally losing my hair from anxiety, but my father does not want to take me anywhere to be diagnosed. No one in my family can look over my shoulder and see that I am writing this blog, because if they do, it’s all over for me. So I have to switch to another tab very quickly if I hear anyone coming. And I have to keep looking at the floor for scorpions, because if I’m not paying attention, it’s perfectly possible one could nip me in the feet.

I’m scared that my mother will make another “rule” and strip something else away from me. I’m scared that my parents will continue to neglect me, and that their ability to reason due to their old age.

One time, I was dumb enough to ask my dad how he did duplex printing, and he pressed the “Add Printer” button a total of seven times before he said “Look, just do yourself a favor, take a flash drive, and just put your word document in the other computer!” before I took over and set everything up and looked up how to do duplex printing myself. They have already lost the ability to trace my thinking. I calculate a number of factors in a single decision, and my father says, “You don’t make any sense!”

I’m scared that my father will keep forgetting to do things – check the mail, buy things we need, order something, send a letter, clean up his new car. Trying too hard to appease my mother, he forgets things that I have asked him to do, and that includes taking me to a psychologist, because he insists that it’s cheaper to visit a spiritual director. I need professional help, but nobody has gotten the signs yet.

In fact, the reason I can’t live comfortably (and I’m not talking at all about being rich or in luxury! I’m talking about living a modest life that I can appreciate and enjoy with others) is because there is no change. I’m still using all the crappy computers because I cannot convince my father that they are too old for maintenance and parts and that they need an upgrade. I’m using this desk I’ve grown over because I’m scared it’ll be too expensive to replace. Now I’m scared none of these upgrades I needed years ago will be worth the cost before going to college.

I’m uncomfortable making friends, because I’m scared that later on in the relationship they will find out how boring of a person I am, or how little in common we have in interests. I’m uncomfortable asking them to visit my house, or for me to visit theirs, because I’m uncomfortable telling my father all the information I have about somebody he will probably never meet (and he asks me “important” questions I can’t answer, and then he says that if I can’t answer those questions then the “friend” is not to be trusted), and I’m uncomfortable meeting a friend’s whole family, because I’m very bad at first impressions. Instead of acting casual, I look like I’m a hired professional entering a house to do some work.

The climax seems like it will come soon, but it hasn’t. I haven’t even covered half of my problems, and I already want it all to change.