Archive for October, 2005

25 Years

October 18, 2005 11 comments

  It was a blustery, rainy day in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio.  The minister was a jerk and our hotel reservation fell through.  Today in Normal, Illinois it was 75 degrees, clear sky, beautiful fall colors, and we had breakfast at McDonald’s this morning.  Then I went to work and she went to class.  Funny, what changes and what stays the same.  For example, I had a black ‘67 VW when we got married.  Today I have a blue one.

Categories: Personal

Hard Drive Crash

October 17, 2005 20 comments

Update: scroll down to comment #10 for a better picture of this hard drive.  Feel free to copy and use the picture.

“Can you get my files back?”


Inside your desktop computer is a data-storage device called a “hard drive”, so named because it stores data on a spinning aluminum platter (as contrasted with the mylar data-storage surface of a “floppy disk”).  These platters spin 60 times per second or faster and are mirror-shiny, perfectly flat as a telescope mirror is perfectly curved.  They are usually electroplated with a cobalt alloy because aluminum cannot record magnetic impulses.

The data is written onto the platter by a tiny electromagnet that floats a couple millionths of an inch above the platter at the end of a head actuator, which positions the head above the precise location of the magnetic imprints.  This electromagnet is called a “Read/Write head”.  Normally it never touches the platter when the drive is turning.

When drives fail, they usually make a clicking noise known as the “Click Of Death” as the drive controller (the circuit that steers the actuator arm) seeks but cannot find track zero.  Another failure mode is a “Drive Crash”, where the head literally crashes into the moving platter, grinding away the surface (and your data).

This drive made a horrible screeching noise in operation as the R/W head ground its way into the aluminum.  Usually the platter surface is intact except for the inner-most track (track “0”), but in this drive there was a bonus; the head kept seeking after the crash occurred, grinding up the whole surface of the disk.  The drive was full of aluminum powder.


By the way, if you can get ahold of an old hard drive, take it apart.  They’re very interesting devices.  The platters are so perfect you can reflect a visible spot of sunlight a couple blocks away.  Hard drives contain the strongest magnets most people will ever see – usually a neodymium alloy with cobalt, iron, and/or samarium. (and strong enough to stick a magazine to your refrigerator).  The ring-shaped spacers between stacked platters are (like the platters themselves) machined to absurdly fine tolerances – for some reason it is inspiring to handle such precise parts.

Shown in this picture is the interior of a normal hard drive.  Upper-center is the data storage platter, which rotates around the main spindle.  Extending into the platter area from the lower right is the actuator arm.  At the upper tip of the arm is the read-write head.  At lower-right is the “voice-coil” portion of the actuator (where the super-strong magnets are located), which moves the arm around the actuator spindle to locate the read-write head on the platter surface.  Not shown is the drive motor and control circuit, as they are on the other side of the drive.

Categories: Geeky, hardware

Which Dromaeosaurid are you?

October 15, 2005 Comments off

Utahraptor – Large, yet swift, you never
let your pack down.
You play with wild abandon,
But are the most protective
of packmates.

Which Dromaeosaurid Are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

From Pharyngula


Categories: Blogging, Geeky

Jesus returns, is crucified again

October 14, 2005 5 comments

You may have encountered Kent Ashcraft as the author of the brutal internet zinger; “Letter to Dr. Laura”  (Snopes says the authorship is uncertain but I know Kent and he is the author).  I am fortunate enough to be on his mailing list and here is his latest:

Another News Flash:
- by Kent Ashcraft

GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA, Oct. 13 (AP) Jesus Christ, 35, a detainee at the Camp Echo facility, was reportedly hung from a wooden cross yesterday until he was dead. Pentagon spokesman Gen. Jack D. Ripper issued the following statement: “We have a strict policy of not torturing detainees. But what you have to remember is that these are all bad people down there. Terrorists only understand one language, and I can tell you it ain’t English.”

Guantanamo base commander Colonel P.P. Pilate assured reporters that he would get to the bottom of this incident. “We have reason to believe this was the work of a few rogue guards. I wash my hands of the whole affair.”

Two friends of Christ, who would only give their names as Peter and Thomas, were saddened but not surprised. “We told him he was asking for trouble by talking so much about peace,” said Peter. “And he didn’t help the situation by telling everyone he met that the rich should give their money to the poor, that we should question authority, and not judge people. That just isn’t a good idea today.”

Whe asked whether their friend might have been anti-American, Thomas said, “I doubt it. But when he ran into the Halliburton lobby and started turning over tables, that was bound to give people the wrong impression.”

Asked whether this particular detainee might have been unjustly imprisoned, Gen. Ripper’s response was “Why do you hate freedom so much?”

I especially like this piece because it highlights an important weakness in our anti-terrorism strategy; the loss of moral high ground.  We are not going to win this battle with guns.

Categories: Geeky, observations

Y’all in a heap o’ trouble now!

October 14, 2005 1 comment

Just in case you think you’re being mistreated by the police, consider this: Single glass of wine immerses DC driver in Legal Battle.

This is exactly what it sounds like: a woman (pulled over for not having her headlights on) was arrested for a .03 blood alcohol level, which is commensurate with one glass of wine with dinner.  It turns out that DC has “Zero Tolerance,” which is as dumb as it sounds.

But that is not the part that bothers me.  If DC wants stupid, draconion laws that damage the tourist business, well, it’s their city.  What bothered me was the policeman’s explanation of why (since he had the option not to arrest) he decided to arrest the woman:

“There’s no way possible she failed a test from impairment with a .03” blood alcohol level, Klaunig said. “And reciting the alphabet is not an acceptable way of measuring impairment, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

Fair, who said he does not comment on individual arrests, noted in his report that Bolton’s attitude was “excited,” “carefree” and “cocky.”

“I was sort of laughing,” Bolton said. “I look back and wonder, was I cocky? Did I have an attitude? Well, yeah, because I was sober, so I thought it was all so ridiculous.”

Get it?  Bolton, an attorney, was arrested for not being deferential enough to the cop.  He could use his own discretion not to arrest her but she didn’t kiss his ass act obsequious enough to suit him.

(From ***Dave)

Categories: Stupidity


October 11, 2005 3 comments

Right now I’m watching the NOVA special, Einstein’s Idea, which traces the history of E=MC2 from Faraday to Einstein, and beyond Einstein as it filtered into the world the rest of us know.  A fascinating and frightening chapter emerges in the rise of Nazi Germany, repeating a theme where politics undermined the scientific idea in the execution of Lavoisier in the French revolution.

Narrated by John Lithgow, the show features interviews with physicists and historians, and shows influence of the television series, CSI in its special effects. 

The story is one thread of the Enlightenment held aloft, shining in contrast to the pride of ignorance.  Is there any way to arrange for every high school student in America to see it?  How could we make that happen?


  • An hour later, after a shower and snack, I imagine the story as portraying the lens of scientific history focusing Enlightenment physics down to a single point of white-hot energy in the 1905 brain of Albert Einstein, whereupon it again diverges out into the scientific and political reality that is the 20th century.

  • One of the show’s strengths is the way it showed how the development of scientific ideas is throttled by politics, (including scientific politics), helped by Faraday’s unusual religious outlook, and even propelled forward (and then tragically cut short) by the rather racy love life of Emilie du Ch√Ętelet.  Also we’re accustomed to thinking of Einstein as a comical but kindly genius – he was actually sort of a jerk.
  • Not sure whether to wish the concluding five minutes (where the narrator ties the story together in a monologue about human inquiry) were less schmaltzy; I found the story exciting enough without that verbage but maybe not everyone would.
  • The show’s explanation of why trans-uranic elements tend toward instability (by imagining the nucleus as a drop of water) and how that insight led to the first confirmation that atoms can split is a wonder of clear exposition.
  • The associated website has a pretty keen educational edge of its own (just click the picture)
Categories: Education

Trash can full of junk CDs

October 11, 2005 Comments off

You’re looking at an entire trash can full of old CDs – previous versions of MS Office, trial versions from companies that don’t exist anymore, monitor drivers (you can’t make this stuff up – it’s the same driver that comes with Windows)…  and I’m only halfway through throwing this stuff out.  And this is one trash can of dozens like it all over campus on any given year.

Please, ‘companies that make software’, please stop.  This can’t be good for our beautiful little blue planet.  When institutions are involved, we only need one copy of anything, and we’re going to put it on our server anyway, so just make it available for download, OK?

James Dobson’s true colors

October 10, 2005 2 comments

James Dobson does a really great job talking about family dynamics from a fundamentalist Christian point of view.  Unfortunately he has also become a force in politics, wielding tremendous power for his anti-science agenda.  And now he has made it clear that his allegiance to this country comes second to his ideology:

Dobson, the influential founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family, has said he is supporting Miers’ nomination in part because of something he has been told but cannot divulge.

He has acknowledged speaking with Karl Rove, Bush’s political adviser, about the president’s pick before it was announced.

On Tuesday, Dobson said, “When you know some of the things that I know that I probably shouldn’t know you will understand why I have said … that I believe Harriet Miers will be a good justice.”
- Houston Chronicle: Evangelical Leader’s comments on Miers spur interest

So you know something, James?  Something pertinent to Miers’ nomination that you are not sharing with the rest of us?  And you’re gloating about it?! 

And the man fancies himself a patriot.


Categories: Politics

Best computer for a four-year-old

October 8, 2005 6 comments

Being something of a geek, I am often asked; “What computer should I buy?”  I try to offer good advice but any computer can break the day after you get it.  Last week I was asked; “What computer should I buy for my four-year-old nephew?”

“None.  Four year old kids shouldn’t be sitting in front of a computer.”  This answer always surprises them because they constantly hear about how kids should have computers.

But kids will spend enough of their lives looking at glowing screens.  A child that young should be doing something that involves bodily movement.  I said; “Give him a magnifying glass – about six bucks.  Or a pair of binoculars, or a non-electric scooter.  In a couple years, a pair of walkie-talkies.  Go fishing.”

He said; “I guess he could kill bugs with a magnifying glass.”

“Sure,” I said, “but try to get him to look at the bugs, too.  Go with him and try to find a spider eating a bug.”

Yes, there are hazards in kids being outside by themselves.  At least they’re safe, sitting in front of the screen, right? Then we don’t have to worry

Categories: Safety & Health

Constitution arrived!

October 6, 2005 2 comments

As I mentioned on Constitution Day, you can order a FREE pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution from the American Bar Association.  I did, and my copy came today.

Not only does it contain the full text of the United States Constitution, but lots of other goodies too: 

  • brief well-written facts about the Founding Fathers and about the Constitution,

  • Dates to remember
  • The Bill of Rights (even including proposed amendments that were never ratified)
  • The Declaration of Independence
  • Facts about the Supreme Court
  • Overview of how cases on the Supreme Court happen
  • 20 landmark cases in Supreme Court history
  • Supreme court justices
  • Index to the US Constitution and its amendments

In 64 wonderful pages, it is a model of succinct clarity, and a reminder of how much can be said in very few words.  Perhaps the author of the supplemental text (Terry L. Jordan) was inspired by the language of the Constitution itself.  It’s going right next to my copy of “Economist Magazine Pocket World In Figures” reference.  :-)

Categories: Books, Reviews