13 May, 2009

Fixing a dead external hard drive

Here is the series of unfortunate events:

1. My computer gets a mysterious self-replicating virus
2. I decide to be a good boy, and wipe my machine, reformat, and start from scratch
3. I have an external backup drive with all my files, that is not infected, so I am good to go
4. After reformatting, I immediately restore my photos and music (but not My Documents)
5. A couple of days later, I *drop* my external hard drive, but think nothing of it
6. A couple more days later, I try to access my backed up documents, and drive is dead

This is that rare case where you get screwed because both your primary and backup are both lost. This sort of thing usually only happens in situations like tornado, fire, etc. But stupidity and bad luck work just like other sorts of natural disasters. After reading online, it was sounding like the most likely problem was a mechanical failure of the drive, not an actual software failure. This situation normally calls for one of two things: lose all your data, and move on, or pay someone a shitload of money to get your data off the dead drive. Depressing, and not worth it.

Of course, option number three is to ask the guy who is in the office across from you if he has any idea about the best course of action. The first thing he said to me was "You're gonna need to pay someone to do it for you, and it's gonna cost you an arm and a leg, and it is also charged according to size of the drive". Not encouraging. But the second thing he said was "Well, actually, once this happened to one of my external drives, so I cracked open the chassis, which reveals a normal hard drive just like you'd find *inside* your computer. Then I connected cables from the hard drive to the motherboard, just like with a normal internal hard drive, and 'voila!', the drive worked! It turned out that the problem was with the controller".

So I said "That really works? There's normal connectors on the thing inside that box?"

He said "Yes".

So I tried it. Had to go digging around through random boxes, which strangely were in my bedroom. Looking for random cables (SATA HD cables, which I theoretically shouldn't even have, since I don't own any SATA drives, so why would I have them? Answer: I bought a motherboard at one point that was compatible with such drives and kept the cables. If there's one thing I've got, it's cables. Come see me if you need any!). Found the cables, as stated. Disconnected one of my two DVD drives, to free up a power connector. Plugged the drive into a SATA port on the motherboard which, for all I knew, was not the right one, or would screw up the boot sequence, or any number of other bizarre possibilities. Smashed my head into the corner of my Ikea "Jerker" desk, causing me to wail in agony. Finish making connections. Turn on the computer.

Boots normally. And after booting, it immediately recognizes new hardware. The drive is fine! No data lost. No problem.

So if your external drive ever appears to be "dead", I recommend trying this solution before paying anybody hundreds of dollars to essentially do the same thing for you. Or, alternatively, you can pay me hundreds of dollars, and I will do it for you. Or maybe just buy me some pizza.

Beware Southwest Airlines Standby Policy is HORRIBLE

I wanted to travel on an earlier flight. Turned out my schedule was such that I had earlier availability than when I booked. So I looked online to try to find out what the policies were for standby. I immediately found a website that reviews all airlines' policies. And what I learned was simple: Don't fly on Southwest Air if there's any chance you want to fly later or earlier.

Here's what most airlines do: If you want to standby earlier, and be confirmed in advance, you pay a $50 fee. If you do not mind waiting until the last minute to be confirmed (i.e. at the gate) then you pay NOTHING.

Here's what Southwest does: If you want to standby, at all, you pay the difference in fares between your original price, and the current ticket price (which, of course, day of flight, will be exorbitant).

In Southwest's defense, they do have one policy that is apparently better than any other airline, in that, if you cancel your flight in advance, you can get a full credit, minus ZERO penalty. This is compared with most other airlines charging $150 rebooking fee. But why have such a paralyzingly strict standby policy? The seats on the plane will be empty if no one takes them. Why not allow people to make adjustments to meet their schedule needs? Oh, because they're an airline, and they don't care about people. We are nothing more than neatly stacked piles of hundred dollar bills that they cram onto the seats of their flying metal prisons.

So why did I choose Southwest? Well, my alternative for the trip was US Airways, and I decided it would be nice to support a smaller airline. And what do I get for it? This. I told the representative on the phone that I will never fly Southwest again. And that is true. Just like I will never use a product from Chase Bank again. In a world where customer service is the only thing that differentiates one company from another, there's no reason to give any business to those whose policies are not satisfactory.

On two separate occasions, I have seen businesses contact me as a result of writing a blog. One was King Arthur flour. The other was STA Travel (heck, they'll probably come across this blog, just because I put their names in it!). I will be quite surprised if an airline has anyone watching the blogosphere for feedback. But we shall see!

05 May, 2009

Oceanside @ Oceanside

We stop for lunch in town of Oceanside. It's on the beach. Drive down the strip and park. Go to a rooftop Mexican restaurant.

Craig and I decide it looks too pricey so we walk to a small Mexican place around the corner. Cheap burritos and tacos. Better than anything in Seattle. Of course.

We walk down to the ocean while they sit on roof. Long pier. Waves. Sun. Boogie boarders. Beautiful. We are in California.

Now we are almost there. Little Pieces, our touring partners, already made it. And they left yesterday. Drove all night. Wow. They blew us off the highway. Hope they don't blow us off the stage...

04 May, 2009

Jimism #2

Said while pulling out of a gas station in northern CA:

"I want to get the hell out of this godforsaken place and its Parade of Horribles"

Now he is gleefully reading us excerpts from the book of death. Highlights mostly feature human and canine immolation, suicide by train, gun, etc. And a healthy serving of diptheria for good measure.

Passing through Sacramento

Humid. Cloudy. Open fields. Stopped in Woodland for lunch. First try was Don's Diner which no longer exists. So we ventured to "downtown" and tried the Capitol Saloon. Closed at 2:30 until dinner. Third try? Ludy's BBQ. About 100 feet away but we had to drive there to get the van in front. Food was decent and not expensive. I am full of meat. Jim got a glass beer boot:

So he was quite happy. Craig driving now as the rain again seems imminent. Just crossed Sacramento county line. And traffic is finally starting. Could be interesting.

-- Post From My iPhone

03 May, 2009

Seattle Sun gives way to Oregon Clouds

After 6 hours of Jim at the wheel, we stopped in Eugene for lunch at The Glenwood, followed by Craig taking over the driving. An all-important pit stop for Maker's Mark and we are heading back to I-5.

Not clear yet if we will stop in Ashland or push for the border. Highlights so far:

Grassy hillsides...

Blind man playing chicken with Eugene traffic...

Jima quote of day regarding the feebleness of human babies compared to other species: "I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want them running around right after popping out of the twat"

Other sightings: bald eagles... Lots of em.

The guys entertaining themselves with various books: Post Office by Bukowski (Jason), Rum Diaries by Hunter S Thompson (Craig), and a book about death in small 19th century towns (Jim). Eventually I will open up the Keith Richards bio I've been reading for months. But for now, it's Facebook Scrabble because I can... REVOLTER for 82 points... Yippee. Eventually that will grow old.