Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Blow Your Computer!

This is not what I meant.  Not the other thing, either.

I lost a hard drive today.  No big deal, as it was my D: drive and now I am down to just one Terabyte of storage.  A Terabyte, by the way, was more storage that all of the computers of the world, combined, when I was a kid (courtesy, Bureau of Specious Statistics).   Although that is probably about right.   Your average "mainframe" had  four Kilobytes of hand-wired magnetic "core" memory, and the rest was stored on punch cards, paper tape, or mag tape.   The few hard drives that were around, maxed out at 5 Mb.   And the number of computers, worldwide, numbered in the thousands, if that.

It is funny, how Science Fiction authors got it all wrong.   In the 1950's, they posited that by today we would be living on the Moon and driving flying cars - and that computers would be the size of office buildings, staffed by an army of thousands (to change all those tubes!).   The opposite happened, of course, computers got small, cheap, and commonplace.   What we consider an obsolete laptop today is more powerful than the vaunted Cray supercomputer of the 1970's.   The CIA thought that computers would never be so powerful as to break 256-bit encryption.   But, well times change.

And I guess this amazes me and I get a little ticked off when people complain about how "bad things are".  I mean, come on, you have stuff that people of a decade ago would never have dreamt of - for cheap!  But no matter how good things are going, most people want to feel put upon.

Anyway, this auxiliary drive, which was the second or third drive in this computer, was made axillary when it died a while back.  I bought a new drive - they are cheap - and reformatted the old one as a backup.   So I guess I will shop for a new axillary drive shortly.

By the way, that is the best way to handle hard drive crashes - expect them to happen and plan accordingly.

I store all my data on multiple hard drives - two in the machine, one portable, two on different laptops, and one on Mark's computer.  With five or more backup copies, a recent backup should be found somewhere at least.  So anyway, when drive D: died, I immediately made copies of all my files (made copies, not use some "backup software") on three other drives.  Backup software is OK, I guess, but it backs up everything on your drive, not just the stuff you want to save.   I mean, who wants copies of your temp files and windows configuration files?   If you have a virus problem, backup software backs that up, too!   Sometimes the best thing is to start over, re-load Windows, re-install all your software, and begin again, rather than restore something from a backup file.

When examining the old drive, I noticed I had not cleaned the inside of the computer in a while.  This is critical.   Dust and dirt can clog heat sinks and fans and cause components to overheat.   The display driver card is particularly prone to this.  Nvidia cards will melt if their cooling fan (which is tiny and easily clogged) gets full of pet hair.

I used my compressor and a blowgun to blow out the computer (out of doors).  Enough dust bunnies came out to form an entire rabbit - with enough left over for a cat!   Modern computers have a number of cooling fans, and the problem is, they suck in dust and hold it in, forming a thick blanket of insulation on your computer components, which will eventually cause them to overheat and fail, much as my original Nvidia card did.

Maybe it will be time for a new computer someday (Windows 8?  No thanks!) but we will wait and see.  I suspect I will hang onto this machine (now running Windows 7 Ultimate) until, like XP, they stop supporting the software.

My neighbor bought a battered old Dell laptop at a garage sale for $5.  Actually, it wasn't battered, but in nice shape.   And sadly, the previous owner left all his usernames and passwords on it (I wiped the drive and deleted all his personal data, thank you).   I sold my old Dell - still working nicely, thank you, for $10.   My neighbors asked me if I could get this $5 computer to work with a wireless card (it ran great, if you used the network cable, but it had no wireless card built-in).  I tried to get one to work (a PCMCIA card - remember those?) but there was some sort of driver conflict.   It would recognize the card but not log into the network.  And there is little support for XP drivers these days.  After a couple of hours of screwing around, I gave up on trying to fix a $5 computer.   I may try to plug it into their wireless repeater and then plug it in, via VGA cable, to their television, and they can use it to watch Netflix or something.  We'll see.

But it drives home that equipment eventually becomes obsolete - and the cost of repairing something starts to exceed the cost of just buying anew.