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There's something you have to remember about external hard drives...

This is a slightly embarrassing story considering how much I know about computers, but I'm sure it will help out a few people.

Over the course of the night the power went out temporarily and turned my PC off. I booted it back up and heard a rattling noise from one of the case fans, which means it needed a cleaning. I crack open the case, take out the fan and clean it up. To test the fan before screwing it back into the case, I disconnect the hard drive and power the PC up with the fan plugged in. I had to do this a few times to ensure the fan wouldn't start up its rattle-fest after I put the whole box back together.

I finish up, put everything back together and boot. The boot message states GRUB is trying to load and the system halts.

GRUB, as you know, is a Linux thing and not a Windows thing - and I don't have Linux installed at all.

At this point I start to freak out a bit, because how in the hell did GRUB get on my primary hard drive? Was my primary drive borked somehow?

I run into the BIOS and check the boot order. Everything seems in check there, but then I notice something. There are two hard drives listed.

My BIOS defaulted to the external USB drive and was trying to boot from that. At one point I did have Linux on that drive and never bothered removing the boot loader.

I reset the BIOS to boot from the SATA, and ta-da, everything booted up normally after that.

What happened was that when I disconnected the SATA drive and booted a few times to test the fan, the BIOS saw the external USB drive - which was still plugged in - and set itself to boot from that since the SATA didn't exist as far as the BIOS was concerned.

Yeah, I felt pretty dopey because of that. Granted, I fixed it and everything went back to normal, but I totally forgot that you can boot from USB external drives, and when the SATA is disconnected, the BIOS will seek out the first available boot media it can find, use that and keep that setting until you manually set it back to the way it was.

Oh, and as far as removing GRUB is concerned:

There are three ways to do it concerning an external USB HDD.

  1. Physically disconnect SATA HDD, boot from DOS/Win95/Win98 CD, run fdisk /mbr.
  2. Physically disconnect SATA HDD, boot from Windows XP CD, launch recovery console, run fixmbr.
  3. Use Partition Wizard. The home version is free, and allows you to get rid of a GRUB boot loader from an external USB HDD without having to do any extra crapola. Works quite nicely.
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DVD-R is a sucky format, and some notes on torrent downloads

On YouTube recently I saw a video where someone was playing Starcraft on a netbook. I said to myself, "Hey! Not a bad idea! I have a copy of Starcraft I haven't played in a long time, and want to try that on my netbook!"

A long time ago I made ISO copies of my purchased Starcraft and Starcraft: Brood War discs just in case I ever lost the originals - which has happened before where I had to buy them again. I think I've purchased the Starcraft box set at least three times over the years.

Sure enough my original discs are long gone, but I did have the ISO backup.

I pop in the DVD-R, which was in absolute mint condition in a folder case mind you, and..

..the disc wouldn't read. At all.

Yeah, that ticked me off. I could have understood it if the disc was damaged in some way, but it wasn't. There wasn't so much as a single scratch on it, yet it absolutely would not read. It wasn't my drive's fault either because it read other discs just fine. Something screwy went wrong with the disc, which I'll talk about in a moment.

Thinking that I might have the ISO on one of my other backup discs, I dug out 7 burned DVDs, labeled "random crap" 1-7. And yes that is what's literally written on the discs with a Sharpie marker. I was hoping that maybe I backed up those ISOs on one of those.

On the sixth disc I got lucky - it had both the ISOs I needed. And even better was that I included a small text file containing my original CD key from the purchased box.

I was a happy guy after that.

~ ~ ~

There are two disc formats that at this point that I absolutely refuse to use - any disc that's a RW, and DVD-R.

The first RW I tried was a CD-RW before DVD was the norm a really, really long time ago. It was mind numbingly slow, data would corrupt easily and said honestly I don't know why anybody would use it. RWs to this day be they CD or DVD are all so frickin' s-l-o-w...

DVD-Rs are junk and always have been. The only thing they're ever good for is DVD video and that's it. With data, a DVD-R will just one day decide to stop working, and once it does, forget it. There's no way to get the data off the disc.

I think the reason the DVD-R I attempted to read failed was because of physical degradation, as in the kind you can't see. This is not the first time I've had this happen either. Other DVD-Rs I've had have done the exact same thing. They'll read fine when you originally burn them, but after sitting for a year - even if stored in optimal conditions - you'll break out the disc, attempt to read it and.. nothing.

With DVD+R on the other hand, I've never had a problem with those. They always read and write correctly, and it takes a lot of scratches and other bad stuff to screw one up. Even if a DVD+R is damaged, you can usually still pull the data off it without a problem. I know this because I've done so several times.

~ ~ ~

Speaking of crappy disc copies, here's another tale:

I also have a copy of the game Diablo II. Four discs. Three of them are the game, one is an expansion. And you have not one but two CD keys for that crapola.

One day I go to play the game and decide to start a new character, the Sorcerer. As soon as the game starts, it froze up and crashed, and it only happened with that character selection. I had the latest patch applied from Blizzard so I didn't even know what the problem was.

After searching the internet, I finally found out what was wrong - bad data from the 3rd disc if I recall correctly. The character data file was messed up - from the original disc no less that was in mint shape.

I said to myself, "Like hell if I'm going to buy another box set of Diablo II just to get a good 3rd disc; it's time for a torrent."

Shortly after that I found a torrent of Diablo II and downloaded all three discs, installed the game using my original purchased CD keys, and ta-da, now the Sorcerer character worked exactly like it was supposed to.

Did I steal Diablo II? No, because I used the original CD keys that came with my box set. If I had used a keygen or something like that, then yeah, that's stealing.

What would my other option have been other than downloading the torrent? Call Blizzard and request just the 3rd disc for Diablo II? They would laugh me right off the phone for asking something so stupid.

What you can take from this small tale is this:

As far as my Starcraft and Diablo II ISOs are concerned, oh yes, they're both going to be burned to a fresh DVD+R. In fact I'll probably burn two just to be on the safe side. 🙂

On a final note, I have entertained the idea of buying a bulk set of USB sticks because they are way more reliable than optical discs, and use them for my ISO backups. If you scope around the internet enough you can find deals now where you can buy 10 2GBs for under 50 bucks. That's still too pricy however. When 4GBs get down to a buck a stick, I'll be more than happy to buy 20 of 'em in bulk. Why? Because even the crappiest of USB stick will last 10 years assuming it's constructed half-way decent. Back of your stuff, use a label-maker to label it, toss in a shoebox, done.

USB will still be around 10 years from now. Just look at how long it took the 3.5-inch floppy drive to be phased out. That took about, what, almost 20 years to be phased out completely? Actually, that's not even true because floppy diskettes are still being made. If the floppy can last for that long, yeah, I think it's safe to say USB will have the same tenure. 🙂

Email doesn't exist outside of The Big Three?

Something that's always bothered me about email isn't how it works, but the fact people have such a difficult time remembering your address if it doesn't end with a specific name. If you have your own web site, you naturally want to take advantage of having your own email address using your site name. But will people remember an address with your site name in it? Nope.

The Big Three when it comes to email are addresses ending in @yahoo.com, @hotmail.com and @gmail.com. If it ends with anything else, it's pretty much guaranteed nobody will remember it at all.

Familiarity = Trust?

For whatever reason, people feel more comfortable sending a mail to Big-Three address compared to others. They see the names they know and feel safer about sending messages to them solely based on familiarity and nothing more.

Anyone who's technically inclined about email however knows that Big-Three addresses are no safer than ones that are not. Almost all email to this day is sent and received completely unencrypted. That's the way it's always been and probably isn't going to change any time soon, if ever.

Using a Big-Three address is better for.. everything?

I plan on having some business cards printed up fairly soon, and I'm going to list my Y! Mail address instead of the domain one. The people I give the cards to will see that and will probably be the only thing they remember other than my name. Will they remember the web site listed on the card? Of course not. But they will remember the email address. For small-biz people, yes, I strongly recommend using a Big-Three email address.

For personal use, same deal. Yeah, it's all cool and whatnot when you have your own web site, but to keep the communication flowing with friends and relatives, all they know are Big-Three addresses, so be sure to use one. And if you want maximum memory retention for the folks you give your email address to, make it a Y! Mail or Hotmail because those have been around the longest, because oddly enough, there are many people that have never heard of Gmail. Strange but true.

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