What I did with my World Tavern Trivia winnings

Last week at this time, I was celebrating with my friends from the Stir Crazy trivia team.  We had just won the 2017 World Tavern Trivia championships, and each of us received a share of the $5,000 grand prize.

Now I don’t know of any bank that still takes these gigantic checks … you know, the kind that look as if they were issued by Publishers Clearing House … but yeah, that check was just promotional.  We all received cash that night.

And after it was equally split among the six of us, I had $833 in my pocket.

And at that moment in time, I had three options.

Continue reading “What I did with my World Tavern Trivia winnings”

“Lazarus, it is time to boot up.”

A few months ago, I had a computer crash that crippled my custom-built computer tower- and in the resulting crash, one of my hard drives froze up.  Thousands of photographs and music were trapped on that hard drive as well.

I tried a few different techniques to resurrect the data, including swapping out the motherboards, but all my attempts were fruitless.

For all intents and purposes, my computer drive was as dead as Lazarus.

And I considered my only option – to send the drive out to a data recovery service, who would put the hard drive in a “clean room” and extract the data and charge me upwards of $2,000 for my troubles.  Urgh.

So I reached out to my old trivia teammate Dylan MacLeod, who was part of my “We Are Your Nemesis … Fear Us!” trivia team at the Ruck years ago.  See, Dylan has the technology and ability to build computers from scratch.  Heck, he could probably walk into Computer Renaissance with $100 in his pocket and, simply by purchasing used parts off the shelf, he could kit-bash a super-computer in nothing flat.

So I asked if he had any software or technology that could resurrect my recently crashed computer drive.

He said he did.

Okay… so I gave him the 2015 crashed drive.

Fingers crossed.

A few days later, Dylan messaged me on Facebook.  “Was able to recover 300gb,” he said.  “I’m just double checking stuff to make sure it’s actually readable.

Holy Gospel of Saint John, Chapter 11, Batman… I believe we are in the presence of a Christmas miracle.

Last night, he dropped a copy of the hard drive (as well as the crashed hard drive) to me.  Apparently, in order to save my old data, Dylan has his own custom-built “clean room,” and he was able to remove the original platters from my hard drive, enter them into a new chassis, and transferred the data first to his computer, and then to a brand new, recently scrubbed Western Digital 500gb hard drive.  “Don’t use Seagate,” he said to me.  “Seagate drives are crap.  You were lucky that you used Western Digital for your disc drives; WD is much more durable.”

And after thanking him for all his efforts (and throwing some money his way in gratitude), I put the recovered data drive into a hard disk drive enclosure and plugged it into my computer.

Data visible.

I immediately transferred everything on the recovered data drive to a brand new, recently purchased 6TB external disk drive.  And over time, I will sort through the over 100,000 files recovered, stream out whatever I don’t need, and thank Dylan MacLeod that my lost data has returned from the great beyond.

See?  Good things happen out there…

Walmart Math: 16g @ $7.97 = 64g?

Follow along with me on this.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to purchase some USB flash drives for a project.  Figured I’d pick them up at Walmart, since Walmart sells flash drives.  Heck, Walmart sells everything.

I needed flash drives with lots of storage, not the cheap ones that only store about one or two gig of data.

Oh look, here’s a rack of flash drives, just the size I need – and look at the price!

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That’s a freakin’ awesome price!  Heck, I should buy twenty of them at that price.

Okay, you know something’s wrong here.  Look at the price sticker at the top of the photo.  $7.97 for a 16-gig flash drive.  But what’s hanging on that locked peg?  64-gig flash drives.

Maybe they’ll figure it out.  Let’s get a Walmart cashier to help me purchase the drives.  I needed three.  He took them off the locked peg, and walked over to his cash register.  Three BEEPS with his infrared price gun, and… “That’ll be sixty dollars, please.”

Yeah, three times seven is sixty.  Walmart math.

Of course, you know what I’m going to do.  I went up to customer service, and described the situation.  “You may not be aware of this,” I said to the customer service rep calmly, “but you have very expensive flash drives connected to a price tag for flash drives with smaller storage.”

“We do?”

“Yes you do.”

A quick grab for the walkie talkie.  And a department manager showed up.

I showed her the photo you see at the top of this blog.

“Oh,” she said.  “We’ll fix that.”

“That’s fine,” I replied.  “But those drives were the only drives that would be large enough for my needs… and they were priced incorrectly.  It’s not like a customer goofed around and hung the flash drives on the wrong peg, those pegs are locked to prevent shoplifting and theft.”

The customer service representative hemmed and hawed.  “I can give you one of those drives at the lower price.”

A few transactions and credit card swipes later… and I had two 64-gig flash drives at full price, and a third 64-gig flash drive at $13 off.  Take the victories where I can get them, I suppose…

But it’s like I’ve said in the past.  If you see something wrong at a store, the best way to resolve things is calmly and with respect.  If I stomped my way up to the front counter at Walmart and started screaming about imbeciles who don’t know how to use a price gun, well, that would not have been a pretty sight.

Talking calmly and rationally, and not assessing any blame higher than “accident” or “nobody’s fault” or “stuff happens,” and you get a discount for your hard work and efforts.

Or in my case, you get a discount for your flash drive.

The Lazarus Syndrome and an old hard drive

In the mid-1970’s, “The Lazarus Syndrome” was a made-for-TV movie (and later, a single-season medical drama) based on the premise that some doctors were gifted enough to cure nearly everything – including death.

So now I have to hope that death has not claimed one of my computer hard drives.

Background.

A few months ago, my home-cobbled computer tower seized up.  A vicious piece of malware snuck past my anti-virus software and crippled my hard drives.  Thankfully, I was able to get one of the hard drives functioning again, and after upgrading my operating software from Windows Vista to Windows 10, the computer resumed its operations.

Well… most of the computer did.

And now I must tell a story.

Way back in 2010, the original hard drive on the computer tower seized up.  I’m assuming this happens every five years or so.  Anyway, I hired a computer tech to duplicate the hard drive to a new 1 TB hard drive.  At the time, I purchased a second 1 TB drive so that I would have two TB’s of operational power and storage.

So now it’s 2015.  One of the drives is still operating, and I’ve been using it as a “slave” data drive in my new working operations system.  The other drive, however… the platters won’t spin.

What does this mean for me?

Years and years of photos and music are stored on that drive.  It’s not like any of those photos are irreplaceable; I’ve backed all those photos up on various other media.  And as for the music… 95% of what I enjoyed on iTunes is now on YouTube or Spotify or some other streaming service.

But the drive … I could either send the drive away and have some “clean room data retrieval service” transfer as much info as they can to a new drive for $2,000 – or I could just keep the hard drive in a desk drawer and hope that someday there will be a home-based computer operation system that can resurrect this lost data, like Lazarus from the dead.

Crap.  I don’t have $2,000 to throw away like this.  And I don’t even know if what’s on this drive is even worth $2,000.

All I want to do is save the data, if at all possible.  There must be a way to do this.  Seriously.

I’ve heard stories about homebrew solutions – freeze the hard drive in the kitchen freezer and then throw it into the computer and hopefully the drive will wake up.  Pour some sort of solution on the hard drive to loosen the internal mechanism up.  Scuff your shoes along a carpet and then touch the hard drive until you see a spark.

Yeah, don’t believe anything you read on the Internet these days.

I had to think logically on this project.  The data’s not lost, it hasn’t disappeared.  It’s just currently unretrievable, similar to a coin that fell through a floorboard.  You can’t reach for the coin, but it’s still there.  You have to get a tool to open the floorboard and retrieve the coin.

And I had a hypothesis.  The hard drive itself still has all that data.  But it’s trapped under a floorboard; and that floorboard blocking my access to the data is the hard drive’s motherboard.

What if I swapped the motherboard out with another computer motherboard and fooled the hard drive into working?

Silly Chuck Miller, that’s not going to work.  You can’t swap out motherboards unless the motherboards are exactly the same, right down to the operational numbers on the board itself.  You can’t place a Maxtor board on a Seagate drive, any more than you can put a Toyota engine in a Chrysler.

And that hard drive is over five years old.  Where are you going to find another Western Digital hard drive that has that exact same operational pattern?  A board that has proven to work in the past?  A board that has the same operational functions?  A board that has essentially the same DNA as the current faulty data drive?  Another hard drive with model number WD10EARS-22Y5B1?

Yeah, I got nothing.  Great.  I’ve got one drive that works and one that doesn’t.  How in the world when I bought both these drives five years ago would I have ever known that one would live and the other would spark out?

Yeah, I got nothing…

What?  What did you say?

Say it again.

Yeah, that’s what I thought you said.

Yes, I bought both hard drives at the same time, they were bought at Best Buy five years ago.

Yes, it was with the same purchase.

Yes, they were the same brand, Western Digital HD Caviar Green 1.0 terabyte SATA hard drives.

Yes, they both possess model number WD10EARS-22Y5B1.  They were both manufactured on the same day, August 16, 2010.

Yes… um… hang on a second…

Okay, it’s a ten million to one shot.  I’m essentially sacrificing one drive to save the other.

Rolling up the sleeves.  Putting on my scrubs.

First up.  I transferred all of the working data to a storage unit.  I then used a TORX (six-star) screwdriver and removed the motherboard.

Now to the malfunctioning hard drive.  I removed its motherboard and marked it with a green pen, so as to not get the two motherboards mixed up.  Loose screws dropped in a paper cup.  You can never have too many loose screws.

Okay.  Deep breath.

Motherboard from drive A onto drive B.  Four screws.  Tight.

Into the hard disc drive enclosure.

Power it up.

And…

NOTHING.

The experiment failed.  The data is still irretrievable.  Sad trombone.  All that data is now locked away like Han Solo in carbonite.

And with that in mind, I will put the drive away – storing it in an antistatic bag until some day when either technology catches up, or I come into a ton of money and have the drive duplicated at a clean-room facility.

And maybe this is a lesson.  Not about backing up things, hell I do that all the time.

No, the lesson is more about the fact that only person was able to raise Lazarus from the dead.

You might have heard of him.  We celebrate his birth about a month from now. 😀

Thoughts while driving to Syracuse

By the time you read this, I’ll be on the road with a precious cargo – six of my best photographic artworks – for “Drop-Off Day” at the New York State Fair.  This seems to be part of an all-encompassing “drop-off-3-day-weekend” with my three entries for the Big E shipped yesterday, and my four (5) entries for Altamont being couriered to the Fairgrounds tomorrow.

So as I’m driving along the New York State Thruway with my entries… I’m thinking about things.  Again.  I do this a lot.  So bear with me on these things.

I’ve attended back-to-back funerals this week.  Last Wednesday was the services for my aunt Dolores.  It was a very dignified service and the staff at St. Thomas the Apostle did an excellent job.  If I could say one thing about the journeys of my life, it always seems that at some point in time I will find myself at St. Thomas the Apostle for baptisms, for weddings, and for funerals.  Such is the way of the world.

The next day, I attended a funeral service for one of my teachers at my high school, Ahmed Naqi.  This was my first experience attending a funeral at a mosque, and although I couldn’t understand any of the imam’s commands or prayers, I did understand the devotion and piety and spiritual strength of the attendees as they prayed for the soul of a good man.  The whole experience of two very emotional funerals left me, for lack of a better term, spiritually drained.

I’m 6,000 miles away from the big 100,000 mile marker for the Blackbird.  With that in mind, I’m looking at replacing anything and everything in terms of the car’s belts, fluids and the like.  If I can keep this car going for another 53,000 miles after that, I’ll have surpassed the mileage achieved by my first car, the 1991 Pontiac 6000.  It seems so long ago that I owned that “beater with a heater.”  Almost a lifetime and a half ago.

I’ve been enjoying the Sirius/XM satellite radio in my car, especially the old-time-radio dramas and comedies and westerns on the Sirius/XM Radio Classics.  If the schedule works out the way it should, I’ll enjoy episodes of Our Miss Brooks (Eve Arden in a hilarious sitcom about a high school teacher), the Phil Harris – Alice Faye Show (bandleader Phil Harris and his wife, movie bombshell Alice Faye, in their own domestic comedy), and a Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar marathon (Bob Bailey in the transcribed adventures of an insurance investigator with an action-packed expense account).  Good stuff.  Combine that with a Gunsmoke episode, a sci-fi story from X Minus One, and an experimental broadcast from the CBS Radio Workshop, and it’ll be a fun trip today.

I’ve been rebuilding my white tower computer system for the past week.  It’s involved reformatting my entire C: drive, upgrading to Windows 10, and reinstalling all my software.  Luckily I was fortunate to store my photos and writings and music and other materials on ancillary hard drives, so they weren’t lost in the crash.  It’s just been a pain in the tuchus to get everything reinstalled.  And when I figure that I’ve worked with personal computers going all the way back to the old TERAK standalone desktop computers at Hamilton College, going forward through a Packard Bell 386 laptop I purchased at Sears, and a few second-hand computers bought at various locations throughout the Capital District – none of which are around any more – if we were talking in the language of science fiction, I’m currently on the Tennant edition of my tower, having just regenerated from my Eccleston edition.  Please do not ask me to explain this, or I will club you upside the head with a sonic screwdriver.

There was a recent article in Forbes magazine about the National Basketball League of Canada, my winter employer.  It was a very positive and fair article about the league and its accomplishments.  And I should mention that the league’s Commissioner, David Magley, is a former member of the Albany Patroons.  I’m telling you, being a Patroon is a good thing for your future career.

If someone had said to me fifteen years ago that I would go from a Nikon CoolPix 800 camera to nearly a dozen digital and film cameras, I would have thought they nuts.   Just goes to show you what happens over time.  Then again, I wouldn’t have brought six artworks to Syracuse today had I known all this.

You know how some people can fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole?  My rabbit hole is YouTube.  I start pulling videos for K-Chuck Radio and next thing I know, I’m watching a documentary on electronic tabletop football.  Yeah.

I’m driving by Hamilton College, my alma mater, right now.  Dear is thy homestead, glade and glen… okay, enough of that.  I realize that one of my pictures, The Walkway, is among the six that I’m bringing to Syracuse this year.  It’s also the first photo from dear old Ham Tech that I’ve ever entered into competition.

The Walkway
The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, Efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

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This photo was taken with my first “gifted camera,” a Rolleiflex Automat MX that was donated by my good friend Teri Conroy.  I’ll probably see Teri when she brings her Wunsapana Farm llamas to the Big E this year.  As for “gifted cameras,” I’ve received two more in the past year – a beautiful Leica M3 and a sturdy Argus C3, both rangefinders.  Next year, I believe that those cameras will produce images that will be competition-season worthy.

It’s a beautiful day today.  Beautiful days are good things.  They’re rare and precious, and they disappear before you’re finished enjoying them.

Time to keep driving.  I’m almost at Syracuse now.  Turning Stone Casino is just ahead.  No.  Not stopping.  At least not this time.  Maybe on the way home to give me a “driving break.”  That, and I have to decide if I really want to make a charitable donation to the Oneida Indian Nation or not.  Maybe I’ll just enjoy the wonderful world of Sav-On gasoline.

In about a week or so, the local Hess gasoline stations will convert to Speedway gas stations.  What does that mean?  Most likely… no more Hess toy trucks in our area.  Serious bummer.

For the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve actually skipped watching a Marvel movie on opening night.  Yep, I didn’t go out to watch the new Fantastic Four movie.  And that’s odd for me, because I love the Fantastic Four.  How times have changed.

All right, listen.  I’m going to keep driving.  But I want everybody to have a good day today, get some sunshine and enjoy the beautiful summer.

And wish me luck.  🙂

And safe travels. 😀

The White Tower Computer: 2007-2015

It officially suffered a crippling blow on Wednesday evening, when it encountered some virulent malware.  My homemade computer, which I built in 2007 with a Windows Vista operating system (which it still had and worked well with) has finally fallen to dust.

By the time it reached its eighth birthday, my “white tower” had its hard drives cloned twice; it also had a video card replacement and a couple of other minor tweaks.  But other than that, the computer worked like a charm.

And now comes the evolution.  The time for me to break down and get a new desktop computer.

Thankfully, I saved all my installation discs for word processing software, photo editing software, and other software necessities.  And all my texts and photos and other necessary materials were stored on two different hard drives – “B” and “E” – while my software remained on my “C” drive.  I’m having the “C” drive cloned and stored as a backup drive, so that if there are any chunks of data or photos on that drive, I won’t lose them.

But as for the “C” drive itself… I’m wiping it clean.  I’m scrubbing it of any malware or software or anyware.  It’s time for an upgrade anyway.

I suppose I was prepared for this.  By storing my files on separate hard drives away from the “C” drive, I can still use those drives in a new tower.  And that’s presuming that I’m going to purchase a store-built tower, or if I go to Computer Renaissance and get a refurbished tower…

And I can still work on my other materials as necessary; I have my personal laptop (which yes, it also runs Vista), so I can still do things like update my blog or take care of other personal projects.  I may be down, but I’m not out.

Again… I’ve dealt with computer issues in the past.  I’ve had malware and viruses attack my machines, and I’ve fought back with software patches and anti-virus products.  I’ve increased my tower’s memory and processing, but at some point I knew all I was doing was treading water.

So my plan right now is to get a new Windows operating system – either a legacy system that can upgrade to Win 10, or get Win 10 outright (although I’m sure that with new operating systems, there are more bugs in them than in a New York City flophouse).  But then again, I think back – and I realize that I built the “white tower” to last for as long as possible.  And it did.

And trust me, I’ve gone through some computers in my lifetime.  And that includes a Windows 3.1-packed Packard Bell 386 monochrome laptop that I purchased at my local Sears.  You want to know how much upgrading I could do with that bad boy?  NONE.  It barely handled America Online dial-up connections, and about all I could add to it was a math co-processor.  I think the watch on my wrist today has more processing power than that piece of ecch.

But again, things evolve over time.  Even computers.  And although the White Tower may have outlived its true end-of-life status, perhaps the new self-built tower will exceed that eight-year lifespan.

So how about we check back in the blog at this time in 2023?

I’ll be here if you will. 🙂

An open letter to Tim Cook

Dear Mr. Cook:

First off, let me say that I do have an appreciation for what Apple has achieved in the last four decades.  I’ve owned several iPods and I’ve worked on Apple IIe and Macintosh computers in my time.   I even own an Apple TV box so that I can purchase my favorite TV shows a la carte from iTunes.

Conversely, I don’t own an iPhone; I don’t own an iPad; and I’m probably not going to purchase the Apple Watch (which apparently only communicates with an iPhone, so trying to tether it to my BlackBerry Q10 won’t work).

That being said, I’ve developed a strong appreciation for Apple’s iPod music player.  My first iPod was a third-generation unit with a monochrome screen and a touch-sensitive clickwheel interface, and I loaded it with songs from my CD’s and from the Apple store.  I later replaced that 3g model with a more modern iPod, one that I actually integrated into the dashboard of my old Pontiac 6000 (using an Alpine aftermarket car stereo tuner).

But last Tuesday, when Apple made their worldwide announcement of the new iPhones and Apple Watch products… you deleted the option to purchase the iPod Classic.  We could still purchase the iPod Touch, even though it looks like a miniature iPhone, and we can still acquire an iPod Nano or an iPod mini… but not the iPod Classic.  Not the one with the built-in disc drive with its reassuring whirr and humm….

It was around this time last year, at the last Apple product rollout, that rumors swirled about the death of the iPod Classic.  I even blogged about such news and rumors.  I guess I was just a year off in my predictions.

Within the span of a few hours from last Tuesday’s announcement, the option to purchase an iPod Classic was deleted from Apple’s website.  The iPod Classics were whisked away from the Apple Store counters, almost as if they were un-personed, as if they never existed.  How ironic that in 1984, Apple made a commercial about how the Macintosh would strike a blow against Big Brother… and now, the iPod Classic has disappeared as if we were always at war with Eurasia.

Through some diligent efforts and some online searches, I was eventually able to purchase a black 160g iPod Classic from Best Buy’s online portal today, and I’m still crossing my fingers that those iPod Classic units from Best Buy haven’t been sent back to Apple’s black hole of discontinued products.

Mr. Cook, I understand that the iPod Classic may have run its course.  I understand that Apple would like its consumers to move forward with the iPod Touch and the iPhone and the iThis and the iThat.  iGet it.  iDo.

But if you were going to eventually discontinue the iPod Classic, why couldn’t you have at least given us a 30-day or 60-day drop-dead date?  We had no advanced warning.  We had no chance to purchase one last iPod Classic.  It was almost as if the product was simply yanked out of our hands and out of our consciousnesses, as if we were not allowed to enjoy the tactile operations of this awesome music and video player one last time.

We had no warning of the product’s dissolution.  And that’s not fair.  Not everybody wants to spend an iFortune to upgrade and then throw away their iToys every two iYears.

I would ask that, if you have the ability and the power to do so, to at least let those who wish to purchase the remaining stock of iPod Classics do so, until all the units are gone.  Maybe offer them as part of a special 30-day sale through Apple’s website.  You could even brand them as an “end of an era,” if you wanted to do that.  Maybe even get Bono to autograph every fifth unit.

Of course, that’s assuming that you’ll even read this online letter.  And that’s a longshot at best.

Still, I can only hope.  Please, Mr. Cook.  Give those who want to purchase one last iPod Classic the opportunity to do so.

Thanks in advance.

– Chuck Miller