Until I’m With You I’ll Carry On

It’s taken me quite some time to write this, so here it goes:

They say that death is just part of life. I have seen more than my fair share of deaths, but never had I experienced it in my own family. This past Sunday marked five months since my family and I laid my beautiful, precious Grandma to rest.

Grandma had been feeling sick for over a year when we finally found out that she had lung cancer. No one knows how she came to contract it, because she never smoked a day in her life, and no one in our family smokes either. Grandma seemed to take the news well; upon discovering that she had cancer and that the specialist was recommending chemotherapy, she just said, “Si se me caí el cabello, ¡me compro una peluca!” (“If my hair falls out, I’ll just buy myself a wig!”)

Unfortunately, the specialist’s recommendation came a little too late. The various doctors that had previously treated her during the course of the year had misdiagnosed her condition as simple pneumonia, so the tumor that had developed under her right lung was left to grow unchecked. It had fused itself with her lung tissue and had begun to spread to the rest of her body. By this point, there was really nothing that could be done for her. The specialist recommended hospice instead and estimated that she had three months to live.

No one told Grandma of the specialist’s timeframe. She had been fighting all this time to stay alive for one event in particular, and news like this would probably just devastate and discourage her, so we agreed to not tell her. No one told the specialist, though. When Grandma went in for a follow-up on July 15, he gave her his prognosis: she had only a few months to live.

For two days, it seemed as though the news had not fazed her. She was understandably upset that no one had told her, but she was fine. By Saturday, July 18, though, her health had begun to deteriorate rapidly. She found it difficult to walk even short distances and her breathing was very shallow. My mom and my aunts (who had been taking care of her) were very concerned that she would not make it to my youngest aunt’s wedding on Friday, July 24. Grandma had been looking forward to seeing her youngest daughter and child get married for a very, very long time and now it looked like she wouldn’t be able to witness it.

On Sunday, July 19, my aunt decided that she would get married that day. She knew Grandma was holding on just to see her on her big day, and she didn’t want her to suffer through five more days of agonizing pain just to do so. She threw all her plans and preparations to the wind, and the entire family descended upon my grandparents’ home that afternoon to take part in the wedding. Once the groom arrived with his family, there was little time for formalities and introductions. (This was the first time our families had met.) Grandma was wheeled out of the house onto a little porch overlooking the driveway; I had never seen her so fragile. As soon as my grandparents and the groom’s parents greeted each other, my uncle performed the ceremony with Grandma overlooking the entire scene. She had difficulty keeping her head up, but when she mustered the strength to look up, you could see a faint smile on her face. She was happy.

That evening as we celebrated with my aunt and her new husband, we also spent time with Grandma. It had become evident that she probably would not live many more days, so we tried to spend as much time with her as we could. We are such a loud family that we probably annoyed her more than anything, but again, despite her pain, she was happy. When it came time for everyone to go home, we each individually said goodbye to her; I was reluctant to do so. It pained me deeply to see her in her condition, and somewhere inside me I knew I would not see her alive again. All I could timidly say to her as I fought back tears was, “Bye Grandma. I’ll see you later. I love you.” Her last, faintly-spoken words to me as she tried to nod in agreement were, “I love you, too.” I gave her a hug, and we left.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I could not bear to see Grandma that way. I asked God that if she was going to recover that He make her recovery quick, but if not, that He let her pass away peacefully and quickly so that she didn’t feel any more pain. I just wanted my Grandma to be well.

Early Monday morning, July 20, Grandma’s children returned to her home to be by her side; the aunt that stayed with her overnight had alerted everyone that her breathing was extremely shallow and sparse. She was not able to recognize anyone anymore, and she struggled to even keep her eyes open. At 9:09 in the morning, as she was about to get her hair washed, Grandma took her last breath. Her five children and Grandpa looked on as she calmly moved from this life to the next.

My siblings and I arrived at our grandparent’s home at about 9:30. We didn’t know that Grandma had already died. The first thing I heard when I walked in was Grandpa on the phone explaining to someone that Grandma had died. I walked into her room, and there she was lying on her bed in a salmon-colored nightgown, her arms at her side and her mouth agape. I had always felt that I was just another emotionless guy; nothing had ever been able to move me to tears except for an occasional movie (and mostly because of the musical score at that), but when I saw Grandma lying there lifeless, my mind seemed to break down and all the water in my body rushed to my eyes. I knelt by her side and I cried, my tears falling on the hands and arms that helped raise me.

Soon enough, the whole family was once again at my grandparent’s house, but this time for a more somber occasion. We each had our time to cry and we all recalled better times when Grandma was still alive. The worst part, though, was when the person from the funeral home arrived. For some reason, the funeral home decided it only took one person to carry a body onto a gurney, wheel the gurney out of the house, and load the gurney into the funeral home’s van, so they did just that: they only sent one minimally-trained person. This mortician (for lack of a better word) came into the room, put a tag on Grandma’s toe, and wrapped her in the blankets on which she was lying. He needed help carrying Grandma’s body to the gurney that he had set up in the living room, so my aunt helped him with that, but he hadn’t fully prepared the gurney, so he laid Grandma on the floor while he finished making his adjustments. You read that correctly: he laid her on the floor! My mom helped him put Grandma on the gurney, and I, with blurred vision from all the tears, helped him carry the gurney out of the house. He loaded the gurney into the van, and he drove off. The entire house full of weeping mourners slowly became tranquil.

Grandpa and my aunts and uncles made preparations later that afternoon for Grandma’s funeral and burial. It was all so sudden; we weren’t prepared for Grandma to die so quickly. Through the rest of the week, I tried to maintain my composure, but I broke down once or twice. I couldn’t believe that Grandma was gone.

In the evening of Thursday, July 23, our family held a viewing so that everyone that wanted to could come pay their respects. People started to arrive slowly and it quickly became crowded; it was standing room only! I knew that Grandma had touched many lives, but to be able to see just how many was an amazing privilege.

Early the next morning, we held a memorial service at the church in East Los Angeles where Grandma faithfully worked by Grandpa’s side for so many years. I, along with my uncles, a cousin, and my dad, had the honor of carrying Grandma in. We sang some of her favorite hymns and took time to reflect. It was the first time I saw Grandpa cry.

There is a cemetery close to the church in East LA, but Grandma never wanted to be buried there; she said it was too loud! So, after a thirty-minute ride out of Los Angeles, we arrived at Grandma’s final resting place in Glendora. I, again, helped carry her to her gravesite. We held a small service there, and we watched as they lowered Grandma into the ground in her pale-blue coffin. We said our last goodbyes and threw in flowers into her grave. Grandpa took a white rose, kissed it and dropped it in. My 100-year-old great-grandfather (Grandma’s dad) recited a poem before he threw a flower in. We looked on as they lowered a concrete barrier into her grave and as they covered it with sand and dirt and as they topped it off with sod. Grandma had been laid to rest; she was no longer coming back.

I really still can’t believe she’s gone. I find myself thinking at times that she’s just at home waiting for us to go visit her. I think that I will see her at our next family gathering. It’s really strange to think that I will never see her again while I live on this earth. It’s strange to think that I can’t ever talk with her again, or hear her laugh, or taste one of her delicious meals!

I miss her dearly. We went to visit her grave in September for her birthday. (She died one month and six days before her sixty-fifth birthday.) This Thanksgiving wasn’t the same without her, and this Christmas probably won’t be either. Though I know I will see her again one day, I find myself reminiscing and crying at times.

Through all of this, what has surprised me the most is discovering that I actually have feelings. It’s not that I knew I didn’t, it’s just that I never really felt them. Grandma’s passing has triggered in me an energy that had not been there before; a willingness to try to be better at life. I hope I can live to be the kind of person Grandma was.

“Every lament is a love song/…/Until I’m with you I’ll carry on” —Yesterdays by Switchfoot

Merry Christmas and very happy New Year! Let’s not let it go to waste!

I love you always, Grandma!

It’s Alive! Tales of Computer Resuscitation and Such

There are few things that give greater satisfaction than seeing something you’ve designed or planned come to fruition. Even more so if those plans are executed with hardly any glitches. Over the past few months, I’ve been able to complete a few tech projects that I had been planning for a while now.

Building a New Computer

The first of these undertakings was building a new computer for my parents. I know, I know. People do that all the time, but what made this exciting for me was that it was my first, full-custom build. I had never been able to afford all the parts necessary to make a computer. A nice, little tax refund (and a few parts I recycled from their old machine) made it possible to put together a decent computer for almost exactly $500.

After a few hours of research on NewEgg, I came up with these specifications:

To finish it off the item list, I used an Antec power supply I had installed in their old computer, and I bought a 3.5" floppy drive from Fry’s.

To my astonishment, all the parts fit together extremely well. Everything just seemed to fall into place. I guess those hours of research really paid off! The only glitch I had was with the DVD drive; I accidentally set it to “slave” instead of “master” so that it was opening every time the computer turned on. A quick change of the jumper switch on the back of the drive remedied that. All that was left to do was format the hard drive and install Windows and all the other software my parents used.

In one afternoon, I was able to give my parents a better computer and become a computer-builder extraordinaire! I now sometimes use their computer to play games that I’ve been wanting to play forever but never had a good enough PC to be able to.

  • New Computer
  • New Computer
  • New Computer
  • New Computer
  • New Computer
  • New Computer
  • New Computer

Installing a New Hard Drive in a PowerBook

Another small project I took on was replacing the hard drive on my now four-and-a-half-year-old 12″ PowerBook G4. The hard drive it originally came with had a capacity of 60 GB and was quickly becoming overcrowded. For some reason, I didn’t feel like ordering the drive online; I wanted to be able to have it same day, so I opted for the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 160 GB PATA (WD1600BEVE) hard drive available at Best Buy. I had read that it was a good drive, and it was only around $70, so it was a good deal.

After installing it, though, I had some doubts that I had made the right decision. Western Digital claims the drive is “quiet” and that it offers “cool operation,” but I found both of those claims to be untrue…to an extent.

I found out that the reason the hard drive was so noisy (it made audible clicking sounds very frequently) was that Mac OS X was parking the heads of the hard drive to protect it in case the laptop suddenly moved and to conserve power. I guess this movement wasn’t loud enough in the old hard drive for me to notice, but in this Western Digital drive, it was more than annoying.

The solution I found to the clicking noise was to install a little command-line utility called hdapm that controls the power management (APM) level of ATA hard drives. Using this tool, I set the APM level to maximum so that Mac OS X doesn’t park the heads of the drive anymore, therefore eliminating the clicking sounds during regular use. (You can still hear the sound anytime the computer starts up.) Some people claim that doing this interferes with the automatic sleep function (because the disk is always spinning), but I haven’t had any problems so far, and I’m much less annoyed!

Another factor that contributes to the noisiness of the drive is the air rushing through it (if that makes any sense). This drive spins at 5400 RPM, while the old drive spun at 4200 RPM. A higher spin rate means more moving air, which means a bit more noise. This aspect of the drive not only produces more noise, but also more heat (which was the second problem I had with the drive). Again, faster spinning equals greater performance, but it also means having to deal with more heat. Now, stuff that heat into an already crowded interior of a small laptop, and you’ve got a reason for the laptop’s fan to be spinning all the time, which again contributes to the noise.

This may all seem like excessive nitpicking, but if Western Digital is going to make certain claims about their hard drives, they should make sure they are true. In the end, all that matters is that I now have much more disk space even if I do have to put up with a few minor annoyances.

  • PowerBook Hard Drive Replacement
  • PowerBook Hard Drive Replacement

Fixing an iBook

A more woeful tale of hard drive replacing hails from an innocent-looking 12″ iBook G4. It all began when I wanted to replace the hard drive with one of greater capacity. The disassembly was going well up until the removal of the top case.

The power button that is located on the top case of the iBook is connected to a tiny, almost-unreachable socket on the motherboard by a tightly-attached plug. In order to remove the top case, you have to disconnect the plug from the socket. The disassembly instructions warned me that this would be difficult, because the plug is tightly attached to the socket and the socket is not so tightly attached to the motherboard, which means that it is very easy to accidentally rip the socket off the motherboard (and that is something that is not easily repaired). This also means you could have a laptop that didn’t turn on anymore. I tried as hard as I could to carefully pry the plug and socket apart, but all I ended up doing was exactly what the instructions said could happen—I pulled the socket off the motherboard.

I continued with the hard drive replacement, but I was worried that I would not be able to reattach the socket, and I would end up with a brick instead of a laptop. I spent the better part of one week trying to glue it back on with different types of adhesives (I would have soldered it back on, but I didn’t have the tools or the skills to do so). After coming close to giving up many times, I was finally able to position it correctly (it was very picky about that) and glue it down with epoxy so that it worked most of the time. For a few months, this seemed to be a good solution, but a few weeks back, the power button stopped working again.

I opened it up and found that the epoxy had become soft and pliable (most likely because of the heat inside the laptop) so that the socket was still somewhat attached to the motherboard, but it was no longer making contact with the, um, contacts on the motherboard; it was basically floating on top of them. I decided the only way to fix this once and for all was to learn how to solder and solder the socket back on. So, I purchased a soldering pencil at Fry’s and got to work.

At first, the task seemed like a daunting one; I was afraid I would bridge the contacts on the motherboard and cause a short-circuit. Bad, bad, thoughts! After practicing on some scrap pieces and trying out a few ideas, I found it easier to first “melt” a tiny glob of solder onto each contact on the socket itself and then position it correctly over the contacts on the motherboard and melt each glob onto the motherboard. That way, I didn’t have to worry about putting too much solder on the motherboard and worry about bridging the contacts.

This solution proved to be much better, and much more reliable. Now I know that if I ever want to open another iBook G4, I have to be very, very cautious about that pesky little power socket.

  • Fixing an iBook
  • Fixing an iBook
  • Fixing an iBook
  • Fixing an iBook

Intervalometer

I previously promised to show how I made the time-lapse video of me installing an IKEA floor, so I figured it was time for me to keep my promise.

An intervalometer is basically a device that keeps track of intervals of time, just like a speedometer keeps track of speed and a thermometer keeps track of temperature. When an intervalometer is attached to a camera, it allows the camera to take a picture regularly at a set interval of time. If, for example, I attached an intervalometer to a camera and set it for twenty seconds, the camera would take a picture every twenty seconds.

“How is this useful?” you might ask. Well, time-lapse videos are made up of series of photographs that were taken regularly over a long period of time and then played back quickly so that something appears to happen much faster than it normally would. This allows you to watch me install the IKEA floor in a few seconds rather than a few days.

The only problem is that intervalometers are usually expensive, and if you don’t plan on making lots of time-lapse videos, it doesn’t really make sense to buy one. However, using a little creativity (that I leeched off someone on Instructables) and a bit of resourcefulness, I was able to put one together with a few things that I already owned or had access to.

The idea was to take the trusty TI-83+ graphing calculator that my parents bought for me in high school (That calculator was a good investment; I still use it to this day!), write a little program to allow it to keep track of intervals, and connect it to the Canon Rebel XT that I borrowed from my aunt.

If you’ve ever looked at the bottom of a TI graphing calculator, there is a little opening that looks like a headphone jack. It’s actually a data port that is used to connect graphing calculators together to allow them to exchange information. If you’ve ever looked at the side of a DSLR (like the Canon Rebel XT I just mentioned), you’ll notice another opening that looks exactly like the one on the TI graphing calculator. The difference is that this jack is used to connect a wired remote to the camera to allow you to take pictures without touching the camera. All that this remote has to do is send a little electrical signal (any electrical signal; it’s not picky) and the camera will snap a picture. Usually, that’s accomplished by pressing a button on the remote, but instead of a remote, I used my graphing calculator.

Sparing the details, I typed in the following program written in TI-BASIC into my calculator:

PROGRAM:CAMERA
:Prompt A
:While 1
:For(H,1,A,1)
:End
:Send(A)
:End

What this program basically does is ask you to input a number, A, which denotes the amount of “time” you want to pass before it sends the signal to the camera to take the picture. After this amount of “time” elapses, the program will output an electrical signal through to the camera causing the camera to snap a picture, and then it will restart the timer and continue counting until it reaches the value of A again. This loop continues until you interrupt it by pressing the ON key on the calculator.

The result of running this program is a series of photographs stored on the camera that you can stitch together to form a time-lapse video. (In HD nonetheless!) QuickTime has a useful little function called “Open Image Sequence…” (found in the File… menu) that I used to accomplish this task once I imported all the pictures into my computer. This produced a very, very large video that I downsized and compressed to give the final result.

You can see a couple of blurry pictures of my setup in the gallery below.

  • Camera Setup 2
  • Camera Setup

Captivating Internet Minutiae

I can’t claim to know much about how the Internet works. Every time I research the subject, I come across new complexities that have always been there but I never knew existed. I’m just glad that there were (and still are) a few geniuses that were astute enough to put all these technologies together to make the World Wide Web for all of us to enjoy.

While researching ideas for new domain names, I came across an interesting find. More specifically, I was wondering what Top-Level Domains were available for creating new domain names. Top-Level Domains (also known as TLDs) are that part of a URL after the last “dot.” For example: .com, .org, .gov, and so on. I thought it would be cool if I could have a custom TLD like .sarmiento or something like that, then the address to my Web site could look like mh.sarmiento or just hiram.sarmiento.

Much to my surprise, I found that ICANN (the organization responsible for handling the creation of new domain names) announced last June that it will begin to implement a system to allow users to apply for the creation of a new TLD. So, Microsoft could, for example, apply for .msn, Apple could apply for .mac, and I could apply for .sarmiento. Well, I’m not exactly sure if ICANN will accept applications from individuals, but it would be nice. The applications are expected to be available in the second quarter of this year.

Though creating new TLDs might not seem important at first (no one wants to develop more ways to cause chaos on the Internet, after all), it will actually serve to better organize the Internet. For example, people who wanted to research photography could look for sites ending in .photo instead of the generic .com. Another benefit that arises from registering new TLDs is internationalization (meaning that people in other countries can register custom TLDs in their own language), and that leads me to my second interesting find.

If you haven’t noticed, domain names are limited to the 26 Roman letters (A-Z, a-z), the 10 Arabic numerals (0-9), and a few special punctuation characters. (This set of characters is known as ASCII or American Standard Code for Information Interchange—note the American part.) This makes it pretty difficult for anyone wanting to create a domain name in a language whose alphabet consists of characters not found in the ASCII set.

This is where Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) and Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) step in. Under this system, domain names that contain non-ASCII characters can be created by converting them using two processes into domain names consisting solely of ASCII characters. The best way to explain this is, most likely, by an example.

Let’s say I wanted my Web site domain name to be Prüfung.de. (Prüfung means test in German.) Notice that the u with the umlaut (or diaeresis or those two little dots above it) is not an ASCII character. Before IDNA was invented, it would be impossible to create this domain name, but we can now use it to make an Internet-compatible domain name. First, the domain name is broken apart into two parts: Prüfung and de. The second part is left alone; it doesn’t need any conversion. (Just in case you’re wondering de is the TLD for Germany.) The first part, however, is in need of a little makeover.

We begin that makeover by running it first through a process called Nameprep to get prüfung. We then run that through another process called Punycode to get prfung-4ya. (Notice how the domain name now consists of only ASCII characters.) We then add xn-- to the front of our result to get xn--prfung-4ya. At long last, we combine this output with that second part we broke apart above to get our final domain name: xn--prfung-4ya.de.

I know. That whole explanation can seem rather boring and winding, but it’s actually quite interesting. The reason the conversion is necessary is that the computers handling all the traffic on the Internet can only understand the limited set of ASCII characters; it’s the only thing that was available when the Internet was created. (At least I think it was.) So, in order to accommodate the Internet users of the world whose language is something other than English, this IDNA system is necessary.

If you want to try out these conversions for yourself, I found a site that does IDN conversions. Just enter a test domain name that uses non-ASCII characters, and it will output a corresponding ASCII domain name. If you’re interested in actually registering an IDN, VeriSign has provided a list of registrars that are accredited to handle IDN registrations. Going back to the discussion of TLDs, there are currently only a few internationalized TLDs that have been set up as tests and they are likely to be temporary.

With the advent of IANA’s custom TLD program and through the use of IDNA to create non-ASCII domain names, it won’t be long before the Internet is full of Web sites with non-English addresses.

Happy New Revolution Around the Sun!

Palms and Fog Yet another year has elapsed and yet another year commences. Congratulations on surviving yet another dizzying revolution around our bright star! All joking aside, I’d like to wish everyone great happiness and peace in this new year. May it be replete with a myriad of opportunities for you to smile.

The family and I celebrated the coming of the new year with friends at a church in Wilmington. On our way back home, we noticed that Southern California had decided to greet the new year with bitter cold and dense fog. It was the densest I’d ever seen in all my life here; my parents agreed. You could hardly see 20 feet in front of you! Despite this, I thought the mood it produced suited the arrival of a new year well. It evoked thoughts of mystery and uncertainty; it reinforced the idea that anything can happen in this new year.

Here’s to another go-round!