another drive failure

The drive in Michaéla’s laptop finally failed last Tuesday (it’s been complaining ever since she accidentally dropped it off the waterbed last summer :). Since everything important was backed up or stored on the server, we were not to worried about replacing it. Still, being without a laptop for almost a week was making her a bit snaky :).

I purchased a replacement drive, attached it to a USB drive adapter (that I bought from NCIX a while back), and used a Linux rescue disk to clone the drive. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t boot! After Googling I learned that this is a common problem with Windows system partitions. I went to plan B; I started a Windows XP install on the new drive, allowing it to create the new partition and install the boot blocks. I mounted the old drive in another system (using a 2.5” to 3.5” drive adapter I had lying around). CHKDSK reported that the only bad blocks on the drive were in the free space and bitmap areas (lucky lucky), so I was able to use the Windows Backup utility to backup the data. I then mounted the new drive and restored it. After installing the new drive back into the laptop, it booted right away.

Of course, the kids were grumpy. With the two drive failures, I was using three of the four computers around here for repairs, so they couldn’t play computer games :). Conveniently, I finished right around bedtime…

posted at 2:32 pm on Monday, February 26, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on another drive failure rocks

NCIX approved my RMA, including paying for the return shipping (which they normally don’t, according to their website). I also called them up and asked them to cross-ship the replacement (since I paid for that service) and the very nice CSR decided to ship it via air instead of ground, also for free. (they temporarily charge my credit card for the replacement drive, hence the phone call).

I’ve been happy with my purchases from them in the past, but this level of customer service has confirmed my satisfaction with the company. Good prices and good service are hard to beat!

posted at 2:18 pm on Monday, February 26, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on rocks

hard drive failed

The new hard drive just failed S.M.A.R.T.; “Seek Error Rate” dropped below the threshold. Even SeaTools (Seagate’s diagnostic software) says the drive is bad. I guess I get to find out if the Express RMA I paid extra for actually works :). I ran the Long test on the drive and it only reported one recoverable error, and I’ve manged to copy all of the data back off the drive, so all things considered I was quite lucky (I hate restoring from backups).

In hindsight, I think this was a shipping problem. The drive arrived in a box full of packing peanuts, but placed at the very bottom corner of the box (instead of in a nice pillowy nest of peanuts). It was almost certainly damaged in transit as the shipping box was knocked around.

“Proper” shipping insurance, including Express RMA, only cost me a couple of bucks more than the basic insurance; I’m glad I paid the extra!

posted at 11:49 pm on Friday, February 23, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on hard drive failed

Pachelbels Canon

As seen in the Pachelbels Canon – CollegeHumor video, it really is everywhere.

Maybe you have to be a bit of a music geek, but I laughed myself silly over this one…

posted at 11:00 pm on Monday, February 19, 2007 in Humour, Links | Comments (1)
  1. Heck, I even heard that routine while I was riding on the bus a couple of weeks ago — one of the local radio stations rebroadcast it.

    (Wandering through from Out of Ambit)

new harddrive

The disk in the desktop box was getting full (too many photographs, too many TV shows :), so I ordered a Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3250824AS 250GB. I finally installed it today, and copied a bunch of files over to it.

I noticed a lot of seek noise and clicks from the drive, which made me a little nervous; old drives used to make this noise when they stepped the heads all the way back to the track 0 physical head stop to resync. I don’t think modern drives do this, and the interweb says that many people find these drives slightly noisy. S.M.A.R.T. is reporting perfect health, so I guess I’ll make sure I have good backups and keep an eye on the drive…

posted at 9:06 pm on Sunday, February 18, 2007 in Personal | Comments (3)
  1. Helge Koch says:

    The noisiness of your drive is because it is a Seagate. They are known to be noisy, even in smaller versions. I tend to go for Western Digital because they are much quieter. They are also twice as reliable. Western Digital also has two very useful utilities on their website, one to analyze and fix a drive and one to format a drive to its original factory state. These are a lot more than Seatools offers. Helge

  2. chk says:

    The intarwebs agree that Seagates are noisy, especially when seeking. The last time I heard a drive making this particular set of sounds was in the days before hard drives were measured in gigabytes, but the drive was failing quite spectacularly, hence my … nervousness.

    My current large drives are all seagates:

    • PVR – two ST3160023A in RAID-1 array
    • fileserver – two ST3320620A in RAID-1 array

    The PVR is in the family room, and is much quieter than the ST3250824AS, even with two drives clicking away at the same time.

    On the other hand, I can hear the drive humming, too. I suspect part of the problem is mechanical coupling between the drive and the computer case amplifying the drive noises. I’m going to try taking the drive out and placing it on a flat surface to see if the acoustics change, and if so, I’ll see if I can figure out a way to isolate the drive from the case.

    I’ve run several stress tests on the drive (including defragmenting some exceptionally badly fragmented files) and while it was loud, there were no significant errors reported in SMART. And as I said, everything on that drive is backed up elsewhere…

  3. Irving Reid says:

    I remember back in the old days (when there was still a Digital Equipment Corporation), calling up Digital service to tell them that I was getting a lot of hard drive errors in the system log on an Alpha I was managing. While I was reading the error messages to the technician, the hard drive let out a whine so loud the tech heard it from the other end of the phone line. I was pleased with how quickly he shipped me the replacement :-)

house of the future

The house of the future: complete computer control.

The House of the Future: Complete Computer Control

As Don Sheppard punches his special code into the electronic keypad at the entryway, a monotone computer voice says, “Welcome-home-Don-come-rightin.’ The front door then glides open.

This is from a 1983 issue of Creative Computing. It amuses me that the “House of the Future” articles haven’t changed all that much since then. The technology has improved (Insteon by SmartLabs is pretty cool) but it’s still to expensive (and too geeky) for the average home buyer. Because retrofits are so hard (and labour intensive == expensive), this stuff is best installed by the homebuilders, but there’s no demand…

posted at 9:38 am on Friday, February 16, 2007 in Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on house of the future


Michaéla came up with a way to compromise on the “first model year” issue with the new car. If we lease instead of purchase, then if it the truck is a lemon we can return it and let dealer worry about it. We’ll take a bit of a loss, but theoretically this is smaller loss than if we tried to sell it ourselves; if it’s a lemon, the resale value will suck.

Because auto loan finance rates are disgustingly low (we’re staring at 2.9%), we do fairly well on the lease vs. buy tradeoff. We’ll pay slightly more in total interest if we buy out the lease, but our payments will be 25% smaller. Since we generally struggle with cash flow (damned tuition fees!), this is a good thing.

posted at 10:30 pm on Wednesday, February 14, 2007 in Personal | Comments Off on leasing

tow vehicle – done!

I didn’t get a chance to write about tow vehicles before we bought one; oh well :)

We went to the Hamilton RV show last Saturday and crawled around in a bunch of pop-up trailers. The data so far:

  • Fleetwood is very expensive. The quality and features are there, but I’m not convinced that they’re worth the price tag.
  • We want a 10’ pop-up trailer. 12’ would be nice on rainy days, but they’re freakin’ heavy and much larger than the 2’ difference would lead you to believe; I’d rather have the slightly easier to drive with smaller trailer. On the other hand, 8’ trailers are too small for the four of us, especially as the kids get physically larger.
  • Rockwood and JayCo both have nice 10’ models. Palomino (same company as Rockwood) has some nice designs too, but for some reason they’re about 20% heavier than the Rockwoods.
  • We decided to go with cargo space in the tow vehicle over a “box” on the trailer. We’d be hauling stuff in and out either way, and this way we have the cargo space without the trailer too.

The Rockwood and Jayco models that we like all weigh in at around 2000 lbs. Manufacturer tow ratings only include a driver, so add 400-500 lbs of passengers and 400-500 lbs of gear. Follow the “75%” rule of trailer/cargo mass vs. tow rating, and that means we’re looking for a vehicle with a 4000 lb (or more) tow rating. Strangely, there aren’t very many of those! There’s a big gap between minivans and small SUVs at 3500 lbs, and full-size SUVs and trucks at 6500 lbs and up.

We also wanted something that can carry our friends, and the kids and their friends, on normal trips (i.e. our regular kite festivals), up to and including carrying two adults and four kids on a camping trip. That ruled out the myriad 5-passenger compact and mid-size SUVs (probably just as well, because selecting from that many options would be challenging).

We also wanted to, at a minimum, attempt to a passing wave at fuel economy, as our lives require two single-passenger vehicles during the week. You can’t really get an eight-passenger, tow-capable truck that isn’t a fuel hog, but we wanted to try…

Michaéla’s extensive research narrowed us down to a couple of the new CUVs, which can be described as scaled down minivans or scaled up station wagons. They’re designed like SUVs, but have car-inspired unibody construction so they handle better and are more fuel efficient.

The only one we really liked, that met all of our criteria, was the new Saturn Outlook XR FWD. While I’m very nervous about purchasing a new-model vehicle, Saturn has a reasonably good reputation for quality, particularly after purchase. Most manufacturers seem to be revamping their entire vehicle lineups anyway; there are lots of new-model cars and trucks on the market right now! Besides, it’s a very nice vehicle :-).

The Outlook also comes with all-wheel drive, but everything I’ve read says that AWD either doesn’t help with towing, or actively makes it worse. It makes the vehicle heavier, and it’s one more thing to go wrong. AWD also uses 5-10% more fuel.

Anyway, we’ve ordered one with the options we like; the heated leather seats, the trailering package (of course :), and we splurged and went for the built-in rear-seat DVD player. Everyone I’ve talked to with kids who didn’t buy the DVD option has regretted it. We could get a couple of portable DVD players for similar $$$, but there are advantages to the built-in. We didn’t spring for the “luxury” package (heated mirrors, seat position memory, yadda yadda) or the backup/parking assist (which would primarily tell us that we’re too close to the trailer :). The “Cold Weather Package” (heated windshield washer fluid, remote start) sounded cool, but we decided not to be frivolous. Ditto the sunroof; I think we use the Maxima’s sunroof a handful of times each year. Finally, we left off the built-in GPS navigation system; we can get equivalent system for 1/4 of the price, which also means we can upgrade if the technology gets better (and move the GPS-nav to the other car when required :).

It’s supposed to take 6-8 weeks for the vehicle to show up here in Toronto. We still have to choose a colour, though!

posted at 8:53 pm on Saturday, February 10, 2007 in Personal | Comments (4)
  1. David Brake says:

    I can understand that they wouldn’t want to give a lot of publicity to their fuel economy but I am surprised to find it seems they haven’t put the fuel economy on the site anywhere! What is it? (Dare I ask?)

  2. chk says:

    Micki noticed that too. They show it on their ads, though, so I think it’s an oversight.

    According to

    2000 Daewoo Lanos: 9.8 / 6.4 l/100km
    2001 Nissan Maxima: 10.7 / 8.7 l/100km
    2007 Saturn Outlook: 13.1 / 9.0 l/100km

    Viewed another way, the “best” non-Hybrid 2007 SUV does 25/29 MPG, while the Outlook is 18/26 MPG. So the city performance is relatively low, but highway is quite good. On the gripping hand, that 18/26 MPG figure seems to be about average for minivans, and slight above average for SUVs, according to the 2007 auto guide.

    Of course, compared to the Lanos, my fuel costs are going to jump substantially…

  3. David Brake says:

    Did you look at hybrid SUVs or would they be too expensive or otherwise unsuitable?

  4. chk says:

    We looked at a bunch, but they tended to get eliminated either because they had crappy towing capacities…

a couple of wordpress plugins

After reading Rick Klau’s weblog I installed a couple of useful WordPress plugins:

They’ve already found a few errors within my website, and a few dangling URLs leftover from the days when I converted my Movable Type URL format. Recommended to my fellow WordPress users…

posted at 7:28 pm on Saturday, February 10, 2007 in Links, Site News | Comments Off on a couple of wordpress plugins


Via Ned Batchelder, I am now reading indexed, a collection of tongue-in-cheek venn diagrams and charts by Jessica Hagy.

I laughed myself silly reading the first page, so I thought I’d share…

posted at 10:39 pm on Friday, February 09, 2007 in Humour, Links | Comments Off on indexed