Tuesday, 29 June 2010

I Am Still Here, Honest!

Sorry I haven't blogged much recently. It's been a busy time at home and at work. I'm not working on three different projects at once at work which requires a little bit of juggling and some time working in evenings to keep on top of everything. This week I have to spend Wednesday and Thursday in London helping to finish up one project but then we have two weeks of annual leave so hopefully I'll have lots to blog about.

Anyway if you want to know about the project I've just started working on, then you could read the press release.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Shaken iPod Syndrome

Computer equipment, especially disk drives, are fragile pieces of technology and just like babies don't usually take too kindly to being shaken around. Shake a baby too hard and it will die. Shake a disk drive too hard and it will quite quickly become unreadable. For this reason I'm usually quite careful with disk drives but I've just spent 30 seconds vigorously shaking one around!

Getting out of the car on Friday night I managed to drop my iPod. There appeared to be no obvious damage to the outside and so I turned it off and didn't think anything more about it. This morning on the train I turned it on and instead of being able to play music I was met by a sad faced iPod and a horrible clicking noise. As well as the sad iPod logo it displayed a link to Apple's iPod support page. This suggested a serious hardware fault but gave a number of steps to try and recover the iPod. Of course none of the steps worked.

I've had to have my iPod repaired once before (a broken click-wheel) and so went to see how much it would cost to replace the hard drive. The company I used last time was iPodsRepaired and they are quoting £85 to replace the 60GB drive in my iPod -- that is about half the cost of a brand new top of the line classic iPod. So before deciding what to do I thought I'd have a hunt around the web to see if there were any other suggested fixes. As you can probably guess, most of the suggestions involve vigorous shaking.

When a disk drive makes that horrid clicking noise it is usually because the head is stuck and can't move properly for some reason. If you can get the head unstuck without damaging the disk platters (the bits that hold the data) then hopefully it should start working again -- at least for a while. Some people suggest deliberately dropping the iPod onto the floor (I'd guess a carpeted surface), others bashing it hard onto a desk, but many suggest shaking of some form. The fix that seems to have the most success is to take the iPod apart, remove the had drive shake it a little and then reassemble. Given that I don't have the appropriate tools to dismantle an iPod with me at work I thought I'd just try a bout of vigorous shaking anyway (dropping it seemed silly as that is what had caused the problem in the first place). So I shook it for about 30 seconds and then, with my fingers crossed, turned it on. The Apple logo appeared and then the screen lit up and there I was back at the menu!

So I wouldn't in general advise anyone to shake a hard drive but if you have a dead iPod then it certainly seems worth giving it a good shake before spending money on having it repaired. If shaking doesn't work and the drive really is dead then you can't have made it any worse so what have you to lose.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Buying Caviar By The Terabyte

Some of you may remember that back in March I blogged about a rather poorly researched/written news article on the BBC's website. The article was about a change to the way computer hard drives are manufactured, moving from 512 byte to 4K sectors. At the time I claimed that it was a complete non-story that seemed to be aimed at scaring users of Windows XP to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7. Well I now know just how much of a non-story it really was.

Having recently run out of disk space (again) I decided to add another drive to my computer. Given the difference in price between the different drives I was looking at I eventually opted to buy a Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5 Terabyte drive. The drive is clearly labeled as using the advanced format and explains how to configure the drive depending on how you will be using it. Having installed and formatted the drive I visited Western Digital's Advanced Format webpage and downloaded their recommended tool for aligning the 512 byte and 4K sectors to provide optimal performance. I loaded up the tool (a simple to use graphical affair), selected the disk to align and 10 seconds later the job was done. Ten seconds, that was all it took to align the sectors. That just shows how much of a non-story the original news article was. For anyone who can read the label on the drive there is no problem at all.

What really scares me is the amount of disk space I now have. I have three drives in my computer totaling over 2TB. Given that the first computer I used with a hard drive (I so don't miss loading programs from tape) was my Dad's laptop that would hold about 80MB of data 2TB seems insane. How times change.