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Filed under: General — Thomas @ 11:37


Jan, thanks for your concern. To ease your mind, yes the data was on it, but the solution is simple - I'll just pay for the recovery service with the surplus on the account.

Lots of people mailed me with advice, which was great. Some people called me stupid, which I agree with. I went out on Friday to collect my PC I had brought in (the damn thing stops booting at random points) and they told me "the wires were connected wrong". Which is odd, considering I had tested the board with no wires attached at all except for CPU fan, ATX connector and board connector. I just tried to boot the thing by holding a screwdriver to the power pins, which worked fine. Well, except for that nothing showed up on the monitor.

Anyway, in a store that doesn't care for its customers it's pretty hard to argue over this sort of thing. They charged me 35 euros for it after showing that it booted. I bought 2 250GB disks to serve as a software RAID and went home. The machine worked for a whole day before giving up at the third reboot. Now I wonder if it's worth it to go back at all. The only thing I haven't tried replacing yet is the fan and the CPU. I tried with another fan, but I don't trust that one to work at all. Same for the CPU - I have no idea if taking out the old 2GHz P4 CPU I have that I know works and putting it in this new motherboard is supposed to work at all.

I'm at loss for ideas here, suggestions always welcome as usual.

How to sell stuff

Filed under: General — Thomas @ 11:30


There's a store on the way to work I can choose to pass by if I decide to not take the bus but walk the last end to work after taking the subway. The only two things I ever buy there are Pepsi Twist (con un toque de limon) and chocolate cookies. The lady at the cash register invariably asks for your money ending the request with "guapo" or any variation on the word (guapetito, guapeton, guapissimo, ...). She doesn't say it in a sexy or alluring way, she just states it matter-of-factly, as if you could be nothing other than pretty. For some reason or other it gives me the best feeling, which lasts a good chunk into my morning.

She's not extremely good-looking or anything, but the way she treats other people makes her radiate some inner beauty that if not for the purity of it would make you plain jealous. The store isn't anything special at all and they have nothing you can buy you can't find anywhere else. But contrary to other stores, I've never seen an unhappy person ever in that store, and I haven't seen anyone not liking being called some form of prettiness when leaving. To say I'm only drinking Pepsi Twist because it allows me to go to the store would be stretching the truth, but I can't say I drink less of it than before I got here :)


Filed under: General — Thomas @ 23:42


Sometimes I like to present myself with interesting challenges to myself to see how I would react and consequently learn more about myself and get one step closer to nirwana.

This weekend I decided on a new behavioural experiment: I took my new 250GB drive containing my home machine's home partition and dropped it from about half a meter height on a stone floor. The idea was to see how worried I would really be if I had a complete disk crash and what I would attempt to do to recover it.

Part one of the experiment went pretty well. The hard disk dropped and made contact with the stone floor. It gave a satisfying thud. I put the disk in the USB cradle, turned it on, and lo and behold, it made wonderful noises. Lots of 'chukka-chukka-chukka' followed by occasional 'ching'-s. The log was throwing up errors all the time and it really didn't sound too good at all.

At first a slight panic set in. This is the drive that has a whole bunch of stuff collected from over the last ten years. And while I do have some random CD backups at various stages and some stuff on my laptop and some stuff on my home server, there is also a whole bunch of stuff on the home machine that I can't recover easily.

After the initial panic, I went into DIY-mode. I tried swinging the drive from side to side and tilting it at various angles to check the sounds. It did stop chukkaing, but only momentarily, as the drive was probably trying to compensate for being thrown offtrack. I banged it a few times with my hand, which changed the rhythm of the sounds, but didn't make them go away. I shook it quickly, but no use.

After that, I started thinking that maybe I should just screw it open and try to align the arm which probably got knocked out of its cradle or whatever it is. Luckily the star-shaped screws were avoiding quite deftly being unscrewed by my normal screwdrivers. I've been told afterwards that opening your drives yourselves is really not a good idea at all.

I decided it might be better to think through the rest of the experiment and not try anything rash that might jeopardize my chance at retrieval. So I went to bed feeling very frustrated at not being able to deal with the fact that my data might be lost.

The next day I browsed some data recovery sites, called some friends, asked if anyone had any experience with this sort of thing, and so on. Apparently Western Digital has a fairly cheap data recovery service of its own. Maxtor doesn't, though. I tried to figure out a) a ballpark figure for what I should expect to pay to get my data back and b) if the price is a fixed fee or per GB. I'm sure there's a whole bunch of data on the drive I can do without, and if charged, say, 10 euro per GB, I'm definitely not going to consider retrieving all of it. I found a lot of data recovery sites, but of course none of them really mention a price. You send your hard drive, they give you a quote, and you make a decision. By that time they already have your drive.

I couldn't find any reliable newsgroup posts or log entries with personal experiences though. If you ever used a data recovery service, please let me know and tell me how big the drive was and how much it ended up costing you.

From browsing all these sites, it seems clear to me that if I really wanted to and I was willing to pay a price, I could recover the data from my drive. The question now becomes - how valuable do I think my data is ?

By tonight I finally reached a Zen state of mind when thinking about the drive. A lot of the stuff on there is stuff I've amassed over the course of ten years, and most of it is stuff I can't delete for some reason but haven't touched anyway. Maybe it's good to get rid of it after all ? If man is either a hunter or a collector, I'm definitely not in the hunter camp. Then there's a whole bunch of trees of code that is commited to various repositories online. All of my pictures I've taken are archived to CD, DVD, and a software RAID drive on the server. So is all my old mail and all of the university crap I still have. And then there's lots of media which I'm sure I can either get back from somewhere or which I would only have wasted time on cleaning it up and categorizing and so on. I am pretty sure there's stuff on it I cannot possibly recover from anywhere else. On the other hand, without being able to access the drive, I have a really hard time remembering anything important enough on there that I would shell out, say, 500 euro for.

So I'll give it a few more days and try and decide if the data is valuable enough to attempt to recover. If it is, I'll ship it off to a data recovery service and pay the price. If I decide it isn't, I'll spend some time opening the drive and trying some stuff myself, just for the experience.

So currently I'm thinking that I should take the experiment in stride, give up on the drive, and prepare for when this sort of thing will happen again, for real. The trick is to learn from this. What have I learnt ?

  • While USB cradles are an amazingly good idea, make very sure the cables connecting it to your PC are nowhere near your legs when you're sitting at your desk. Make damn sure you can't knock off the thing by messing with the cables.
  • Whenever you have a hard drive problem, TURN OFF THE MACHINE or REMOVE THE DRIVE. Put the disk in a safe place and don't touch it for the first day while you collect your thoughts. It's very easy to break a drive beyond repair. Resist the urge to open it.
  • Spend half a day having a decent backup strategy in place. Identify the data that is important to you and needs regular backups. Schedule the necessary cron jobs. I have a software RAID on my home server which should be a pretty good backup mechanism, but I really need to start using it.
  • Separate the stuff that you can easily recover from the stuff you can't. There's no point in burning my GNOME checkout to DVD weekly. There is a point in writing a script that does a cvs diff on all checked out dirs and writing them someplace, and mirror those diffs somewhere, so in the case of a problem I at least don't lose my work.
  • This might sound silly, but ... store the output of a find / somewhere in a reliable place and do this daily. When your hard disk crashes, you'll be happy to be able to look at a list of what is on the drive to decide if you really cannot live without the data. Do this today - you'll thank me for it.
  • I used to think that as we use computers more, our data would become more and more precious. While I do still believe this - which is why I took the trouble of setting up a RAID at home in the first place - I've noticed that I am worried about it way less now that it happened than I thought I would be. Sure, it sucks. But I don't see it having such a major impact on my daily life.
  • The internet is a GREAT system for backups
  • Consider using older forms of data storage for precious data. Write your love letters on sheep's skin with snake blood. Record your memoires and books and songs on tape instead of on your drive. Store them in a dry place at room temperature.

Business Cards

Filed under: General — Thomas @ 12:27


Finally found some use for the STACKS of business cards I still have from my previous job.

  • you can use them to spread out thermal paste evenly over your CPU
  • you can use them to separate your CPU from the heat sink by sliding the short side underneath a slit inbetween CPU and sink, and gently exerting a lateral force on it to free the two from each other
  • you can put the card inbetween the rows of pins on the bottom of the CPU to check for bent pins, and wiggle the card to put the pins back in place. You can do this in both directions - a lot easier than using tweezers and a lot less chance of breaking off pins, which is a no-no.

In other news, I bought a completely new motherboard, after hearing at the store on Saturday that they wouldn't change it, only send it back to the manufacturer. Which would take a month. Which is why I bought the new board. The new board made my PC work for a complete day. After that, failed to boot again. Went to the store again, this time with the complete case, showing them all the warranty papers. The guy tried my CPU in another machine and it worked there. Sigh. puters. So I had to leave it there and they would look at it.

If anyone lives in Barcelona, is good at hardware, and can help me out, feel free to contact me.


Filed under: Life — Thomas @ 23:22


Completely forgot to notify my homies in Belgium of some fabulous news: Willeke,
coolest rock chick of Gent, is pregnant ! You go girl ! Here's the father. The lucky bastard... Well, she's his now probably forever !

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