Saturday, January 21, 2012

Running to disassemble a hard drive

The intent was to walk to the pool after work on Friday, and Linda would pick me up afterward. However there was a domestic issue that was at first thought to be a plumbing problem in the basement. Turned out not, and thanks to Cam Corbett Plumbing we found out the real problem. Over the last bunch of years the exhaust fan for the guest bathroom has been venting directly to the attic. This hasn't been a problem as it isn't used all that much,  Calgary is bone dry, and our house didn't have a humidifier. Now it does. So when Cam looked in the attic, (it's a long story), he found hoar frost all over everything up there. But the description at first was a bit alarming, and once I got up to look it didn't appear anywhere near so bad.

The words "inches of frost or ice" were what I was told at work, and I envisioned *thickness*. All over everything. Waiting to melt. Turns out it was a thin layer of frost, extending inches *along* the vent stack for the plumbing. So we are in the process of getting someone in to fix the exhaust vent and check all the other vents just in case the humid air also came from somewhere else.

Here's a couple of photos. The first shows the exhaust vent pipe lying beside the fan enclosure, with the black plumbing vent stack in the background. Note the lack of frost buildup on stuff. Imagine our relief. The second shows just above that, with the frost buildup on the underside of the roof and the vent stack.



I put a piece of plastic wrap over the bathroom vent cover to keep any more warm moist air from rising through the fan, so if that's the only source, I am hoping that the coming warmer weather will sublimate the frost without it turning to water.

As promised Saturday did warm up. I ran about noon, even though it was still about -10 C (14 F), and I overdressed just a bit. I can sure feel the lack of regular running lately. My legs felt very clunky, so I only went about 45 minutes, with a couple of walk breaks right near the end.

The fun part of the day came later. Non-tech-geeks can skip right down to the comments.

For a long time I had a 250 GB drive as a backup. First to the cube, and then to my current iMac. Having the backup saved my bacon once, a year after buying the iMac. The hard drive failed about a week before the warranty expired, and I managed to get a Time Machine backup just before it went bad. Apple was great, replacing the drive complete with a newer version of the OS, and making sure I knew how to restore from a backup. It all went like clockwork.

A little while ago the backup drive failed. No surprise really. It kept starting and stopping as backups were needed, which is hard service compared to running all the time. When you think about it, hard drives are an amazing piece of technology. In the mid 50's, a mere 5 MB was the size of a dishwasher, and weighed a ton. No, really, a ton. Here's a photo you may have seen. My first hard drive was for an Atari 1040 ST, was 10 MB and the size of two large pizza boxes stacked up. (The ST wasn't even my first computer, I had an 800 XL before that.) I seem to remember the drive costing $700.

When I was at Skystone, a buddy of Linda's disassembled a mainframe, and because she knew I'd like it, she brought home parts of the hard drive. The discs became coasters for the board room table. The reader became a paperweight. At one time I've no doubt it was extremely expensive, and it amused me to think it was now modern art.

Skip to today. Just for fun I decided to take the drive apart to find out what it looked like. I had been amused by a discussion I found on some board about destroying hard drives. Really, the paranoia in American society amazes me, but some days I begin to see why. They seem to think there are agencies using their black SUV's and black helicopters flying in formation scrounging for discarded hard drives, and then mounting space age efforts to recover the data. One person said, in all seriousness, that the only way to be safe was to grind the disc to iron oxide, and then demagnetize the oxide. Good grief.

Think about how a hard drive works, and you'll realize that taking it out of it's enclosure is enough to render it essentially unreadable, and using a hammer on it is overkill. So I took some pictures along the way. Here we go!

I think this cost me about $400 in the late 90's, but I really don't remember. It had stopped working, and would only make clunk clunk clunk noises. Since I had everything on my current drive I didn't care about recovery.

 I even had all the screwdrivers in the correct sizes and shapes to take it apart without any improvisation. I was almost disappointed.

Here we are at the moment of truth, ready to break the seal.

Sort of like getting a tire off the rim. I was surprised it was so hard.

Ah! That's why. A secret screw.

Treasure! A gold disc.

It took a while fiddling with it to get the discs out and remove the controller and arm.

I knew it couldn't be very big, and here it is. Turns out the enclosure could have held another disc.


All they are now is shiny circular mirrors.

Here's the promised photo showing the controller from an old mainframe. It weighs several pounds. You can see that it's the same sort of idea though.

I've had this AOL CD for a very long time acting as a coaster for my desk. Time for a new one now. I'll take the other one to work and use it there.

The new back up hard drive is 2 TB and was only about $250. Two Terabytes! That's about 3200 of the old-fashioned CD's. Yes, I know, I could probably have got the same drive space cheaper, but didn't want to fool around with formatting it. I'm a plug and play sort of guy. I'm having some trouble comprehending how much file space that is. In round terms that's 2000 GB, and 45 minutes of video is 1.4 GB. So I could put 64,000 minutes of video on it, or 1071 hours. With no efforts at file compression. I don't think I'm going to have a problem with file space for a while.

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