Posts Tagged '#elastictubesandpotsandpans'

Hard Drives, Entropy and the Wisdom of The Breakfast Club

Hard drives die. As Bender says in The Breakfast Club, “Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.”

If you’ve never experienced this special joy, count yourself lucky. If you have, the first thing that went through your mind on recognizing the device’s mortality might have been something like:

“Baby pictures? *Random Sailor Cursing*. BABY PICTURES!”

The hard drive on The Beverage’s Macbook Pro began its death rattle on a Sunday. Fortunately, because we have many, many Macs and hard drives in the family network, I was spared any real concern over baby pictures or music or the like.

What followed was a few days of trying to save then resurrect the dying drive, replacing it with a new drive and restoring data from backups. I had originally intended to write a post on the technical lessons learned from this adventure, but as it took shape in my head, I realized that it was of very narrow interest and already well covered elsewhere. So, the short version is this:

  1. have (very) tiny screwdrivers
  2. keep an old computer working so that you can get on the Internet if your primary machine dies
  3. don’t be afraid – you can do almost anything with step-by-step instructions from the Internet (iFixIt is good for Mac, iPhone, iPod) coupled with sufficient time and motivation
  4. maintain frequent, redundant backups

Here’s the rest of the story: To repay what I view as a karmic debt from the survival of my laptop, I set about telling everyone point 4 above as a public service message. Briefly, if you have a Mac running Leopard, it is shamefully easy to maintain good backups. Buy an external drive at least as large as your internal drive, plug it in and set up Time Machine. You don’t need the very expensive Apple wireless Time Capsule product. You can pick up a good, portable external drive for under $100, and the Time Machine setup screen ought to launch when you plug it in to the computer. Here’s the Apple instructions page.  If you still need any help, just let me know. (I’m sure there is also some easy way to do this on a PC, but you can figure it out yourself.)

In the course of spreading the gospel of Time Machine over the past few weeks, it turns out that almost everyone has a story about backups that they’ve been meaning to set up or wished they had. Once you have this conversation a dozen times, it starts to reveal a certain pervasive unease regarding the fragility of our digital lives. But I think our instincts are probably precisely wrong about this. The things we have long viewed as solid and permanent – hard copies and steel file cabinets – are much more ephemeral than the ones and zeros, the bits and bytes that have come to comprise our external world.

If a meteor had hit your house in 1990 (while you were fortunately away on vacation), most evidence of your previous existence would have been stricken from the face of the planet. Maybe there would have been a bank box somewhere with vital records, and there would have been a few childhood pictures scattered among the shoeboxes of relatives, but almost everything you ever recorded for posterity or filed for future reference would have been gone. From the most mundane to the most precious – pictures, correspondence, bills, recipes, VHS tapes, CDs – there would have been one extant copy at the bottom of a smoking crater.

Twenty years later, we live in a cloud of data, most of it our own. Many pictures of you and your kin likely exist in dozens if not more copies on the computers of friends and family and Facebook, and hardly anything of consequence that crosses our paths these days is entirely analog. If the meteor struck your house today, much of your life could be quickly – if not entirely easily – reconstructed from the cloud. Even if you hadn’t backed up anything, you’d be surprised at how much data is just sitting in your pocket. Email, electronic banking and the rest of the ministerial fabric of your life would come flying back good as new when you found a computer, a working electrical outlet and a Starbucks wifi hotspot. If you also happened to have good Time Machine backups on a portable drive in your carry-on bag, then you’d have almost everything. That and homeowner’s insurance without the falling celestial bodies rider and you’re golden.

So each of us is individually probably more ok than we think and better off than we were in the analog world, but what about all of us together? The new engineering library at Stanford apparently will have very few books, and this certainly marks only the beginning of the end for the dusty stacks. But if we have our Jurassic moment with a big meteor, are the underground dwelling post-apoclyptic unfortunate survivors better off with hard copies or digital?

This philisophicopractical question is well above The Beverage’s pay grade, but just for fun…At first blush, one is tempted to jump to the same answer that we do instinctively on the individual level. When the walls finally come tumbling down, it somehow seems like it would be better in a world without much electricity to have hard copies around for reference by the light of torches. This is probably also wrong.

More copies in more places in more durable formats are better. Some mad monks somewhere could figure out how to get a computer working and resurrect the step-by-step for smelting copper from the ashes of civilization. Also, The Book of Eli is not a good movie. I haven’t thought much more about it than that, but The Beverage would love to hear your views.

Anyway, after all the fussing and fixing of the Macs prompted by the hard drive death, I ended up with much more electronic storage space and a renewed technical confidence. Those conditions permitted the accomplishment of a long sought goal – digitizing the movies from our trove of DVDs for streaming to the Apple TV. In what will constitute Part II of this post, next week The Beverage will discuss that process and what the end state means for how we experience video content. Until then, thanks for reading.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPad

Tomorrow is iPad day.  Having waited patiently for 3G models, The Beverage intends to make the purchase at the Apple Store tomorrow evening.

In the month since initial iPad launch, people have identified enough potential problems with the new device to turn some away.

The Beverage has never been one to fret too much over naysayers when discharging his function as a gadget early adopter, but there’s been enough heat and light around the reported iPad problems to make even me a little nervous.

So, I set about to collect the top 10 problems with the iPad and convince myself to stop worrying about them and make the deal.  Optimism is powerful medicine, but there are some facts behind this.

  1. WiFi Connectivity – People seem to be reporting two different kind of problems with WiFi, signal strength and IP address leasing.  

    Read all 10 problems and why you shouldn’t worry about them