Greetings from scenic,

Category: Musing
Tags: Energy Time

Bottoms up and the Devil Laughs

I've drank my fair share of Monster energy; it's not always been the case that I've enjoyed the taste though.

From the outset I was opposed to it. I can remember the first time I ever had a Red Bull, and like a lot of interesting stories about my past it starts off with a Boy Scout event: I must've been in the 6th grade because it was at the local Level Cross rodeo, I remember clearly I was selling popcorn and chips and drinks from one of those thick-plastic coke bottle trays and walking around the rodeo grounds with my friends who were doing the same.

After marching around the grounds a few times we empty our trays and retire to the white tent under which the rest of the troop is sitting. Directly across from us is a ferocious mechanical bull bucking daring teenagers left and right as they hoot and holler until falling off, violently, head-first into the rubber surrounding the mechanical bull. The mystery and incongruity of boys in puberty evaded us all as we watched these mechanical-bull riders dive into the rubber, stirring notes of silent awe and admiration within us.

Someone breaks the silence: my friend closest on the right stands up from the cooler he'd been seated on and, with a sleight of hand which dodges the painful chill of the ice in the cooler, extricates four Red Bulls from their icy chamber and passes them out to the other three of us. We all seemed a little nervous to drink our share.

But this is the first moment of many in my life I can identify (now) wherein I don't turn down the drink I'm offered: so, collecting our nerve:

Crack, Sip

It's terrible: truly revolting. The liquid is electric as it slides down my throat, erroding (seemingly) the lining of my entire mouth as I rush to swallow my share so as to not look like a loser who can't even drink an energy drink as small as this. We look at each other in collective tedium, each of us daring the other to drink faster. Eventually we are all done, the energy vibrating our prepubsecent bodies and dialating our eyes, channeling our attention into a pinpoint gaze which focuses so intently and so extremely on the minor noise and ruckus of the crowd watching the rodeo, eyes darting here and there and at everyone and at everything and all at once. It's really something I've never felt before, and in the years after that incident I only had a few sips of an energy drink.

Now, Now

In the first half of my senior year I took a microcontroller programming course. The class itself is a seriously demanding hybrid-lab where you apply the concepts learned in lecture to the labs and demonstrations required of you; it's a great idea, but like all great ideas what it bolsters in well-placed thought it lacks in execution.

The microcontroller is programmed using the IAR Embedded Workbench IDE which is a shitshow of a product to teach a class with: the only reason we use this software is because it works okay on Microsh*t Wangblows 10 and our professor knows how it works; because we piggy-backed off the free trial we could only load 8KiB of code to our TI-MSP430 microcontroller boards. And when you consider that the scope of the project is creating a wirelessly-controlled car capable of traversing a 10-point course using infrared-assisted tracking technology, 8 kilobytes is not a lot of room. And the whole project is written in C; given that nobody in electrical engineering really likes C it's no wonder that everyone just stole the code of everyone else to get a project that works and makes the grade.

The semester starts off slow and gets faster and busier as time moves on; this is the natural progression of things. I was super-excited to take this class which lets you work at your leisure and design your own implementation. Actually after the first week I would spend hours in the lab on weekdays and on weekend nights, programming and tinkering with the MSP430 board.

Right around the beginning of October I had successfully reverse-engineered the LCD display chip using a voltmeter and an oscilloscope so I had full, unlimited access to its functionality. I abused it, of course, to flash Japanese characters across the screen during start-up as well as to change the color palette so my car stood out.

And during these long nights, sometimes longer than they needed to be, I'd meander outside the lab and head towards the vending machine in the main lobby. Nobody was in the whole building and it had gotten so late that the doors had locked. Of course I had card-access to the building but hardly anyone else did: and the people who did were never there on weekends. After looking around and humming to myself I'd put the requisite $2.50 in the machine and retrieve the green-black can:

Crack, Sip

What a pleasant feeling, the rush of energy: soon I'd swipe back into the room and sit down at my workbench and continue where I'd left off tracing the waveforms from the beige oscilloscope into my spiral notebook.

It was a pleasant time until it wasn't. The time started to catch up to me, slowly at first but then suddenly I was in the lab every weekend against my will trying to finish a project or troubleshoot things before a demonstration that week. Suddenly the harsh taste and energy become necessary in finding the energy to crank through my workload. And eventually all those magical nights turned into nights where I'd rather be anywhere else other than in the lab.

This kind of thing was not good for my mental health to say the least of it, and contributed to a growing pile of self-angst-fueled anxiety. My writing from this time is hectic and depressing but, like all my writing here, I try to capture everything just as-it-is.

I'd like to say I'm better now but all I can say is that I'm out of that class: time moves on, exams came and went, and there I sat with my ass planted in the snow of West Virginia mountains that week after finals. Somehow it was all okay, somehow it wasn't: I passed everything but somewhere inside I felt beat-up, unfixably dented; like a bent frame or a burnt fuse.

But it's over now: it's been over for a while. The best we can do for ourselves today is to internalize and understand the mistakes we have made before.

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