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November 9, 2003

The new drives
Posted by Teresa at 11:26 PM *

We replaced the dead hard drive with two new ones, paid for out of tip jar contributions. I’m still having trouble quite believing that, and thank you thank you thank you all. Gosh. Thanks. Glad you like the weblog, or me, or whatever made you do it. Thank you.

This evening, Patrick was showing me how to backup the everyday-use drive onto the mirrored backup drive. It wasn’t complicated. I was working my way through the steps. Then the main drive started making funny noises. Then it made different funny noises. Then it made that same clicking sound the last drive made when it died.

I went and curled up with my bear and stared at the wall. Meanwhile, Patrick and Bob Webber (who’s visiting this weekend) worked over the hard drives. Eventually Patrick came in and told me my data was going to be okay. That’s because the first thing we did with the two drives was back up the main hard drive onto the secondary drive.

Providentially, the Discovery Channel was doing a marathon of shows about model rocketry nuts in Kansas. I put a pork roast in the oven, watched the pretty rockets, and tried to ignore what Patrick and Bob were doing. It’s the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na.

They have now finished, and have eaten dinner. The roast came out well. Patrick is backing up the second drive onto the old PC. The main hard drive is going to go back to the store first thing tomorrow. I’m very calm. Very, very calm. Honest. Calm. I know that a certain percentage of hard drives are going to fail first thing. Bound to happen. This was one of them.

I’ll stop twitching any second now.

Comments on The new drives:
#1 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:26 AM:

Oh dear. O deary dear. More proof God is an iron. I hope things, um, continue well, um get better, um um um


#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:29 AM:

You might want to get a copy of The Perils of Pauline to find out what's going to happen next.

#3 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:32 AM:

I put a pork roast in the oven, watched the pretty rockets, and tried to ignore what Patrick and Bob were doing. It92s the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na.

A wise move. It's best to stay far away from us computer geeks when we're dealing with recalcitrant hardware. You don't want to see the things we have to do. They tend to involve hot irons, small sharp implements, and electricity...

Anyway, glad your data are OK (and I'm surprised at you. "My data was going..." indeed. Well, if TNH thinks "data" is singular, I guess that particular cause is lost.)

I just finished doing a brain transplant on Mary Kay's TiBook, swapping in a replacement motherboard to cure an intermitted problem where it would freeze up if you leaned on the left palmrest or picked it up by the wrong corner. And checked everything, got the case all screwed back together and found (when MK turned it on, of course) that I'd forgotten to plug the disk drive back in. Sigh. (Oh, and I replaced a lightbulb and watched the new one fail after about 15 seconds. Infant mortality is a hazard for all things electrical, indeed.)

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 01:00 AM:

Jordin, reading that last paragraph, I can hear your voice. It is, peculiarly, a consolation.

The bright side of this latest round of Drive Fu is that we have now been dealt Powerful Positive Reinforcement in regard to the benefits of backing up, several times a day if possible. The smackdown of losing six weeks of data because you were a lazy slime is one thing, but the sense of I Am So Darn Smart I Rule that one gets when the drive starts making Harry Partch sounds after one made two different backups is, well, different.

I'm going to sleep now.

#5 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 01:23 AM:

Y'know, I've been hearing lots of scary things about Panther and firewire hard drives.

Sure this isn't that?

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 01:27 AM:

Model rocketry nuts?

Ahem! Harrumph!

Is it possible that your computer has a bad _controller_ Teresa? Hard disk drives are pretty reliable these days. Perhaps an intermittent controller is doing bad things to it.


#7 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 02:17 AM:

There is nothing quite like an evening full of K and larger motors that other people have paid for burning away (and occasionally -- uh, no spoilers) to take one's mind off . . . you know, stuff.

For anyone who missed the lovely (particularly the Nimue) rockets, Discovery will be rerunning the three-hour block on Thursday night.

#8 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 02:22 AM:

You don't say what brand of drive these are. During the Panther beta, when there were lots of FireWire problems (including the problem that showed up again after the last developer seed), the two that always worked for me were both SmartDisk FireLites.

Since these threads have started, though, I've backed up my PowerBook onto three separate devices, trimmed my home directory to a size that fits on a DVD-R, and added a daily cron job that utilizes the hdiutil/ditto suggestion I made earlier, sending the resulting image to a machine in a different city.

It would just feel so silly to lose everything after giving someone else advice on backups. :-)


#9 ::: neil gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 04:27 AM:

"It?s the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na..."

Wait. I think I am inspired to write a song.

Hang on. No, I already did.

Hugely relieved the tipjars worked.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 08:11 AM:

Queep, she said forlornly.

Jordin, I won't cop to not being a hardware type, but Patrick and Bob were much more knowledgeable, and emotionally I just was not coping with the entire scene.

"My data was" is a quasi-quote. Patrick came in and said "Your data is going to be okay." But that's a quibble. The tendency of English is to treat "data" as a singular that has an even-more-singular form, "datum".

"Nuts" in the nicest possible way, Stefan. Patrick observed that the part with the three little kids and their model rockets is Hallmark-card sentimentality for members of our tribe.

Mike: Nimue was beautiful. And as we all know, cool-looking airplanes and rockets just naturally fly better.

JG, I suspect you're not the only one. This may wind up being like the time I inadvertently got half of rec.arts.sf.fandom to go see their dentists.

Neil: The tipjar worked, and your recommendation of it was much appreciated. I have my mail shut down until I re-replace the hard drive, at which point I have thank-you letters to write.

And yes, the song. Note the canonical number of na-nas.

#11 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 08:43 AM:

The tendency of English is to treat "data" as a singular that has an even-more-singular form, "datum".

I think that the usual tendency among English speakers these days is to treat "data" as a mass noun, sort of like "rice" or "salad."

#12 ::: spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 09:21 AM:

The tendency of English is to treat "data" as a singular that has an even-more-singular form, "datum".

I think that the usual tendency among English speakers these days is to treat "data" as a mass noun, sort of like "rice" or "salad."

Or "time" or "water." My thoughts exactly.

#13 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 10:36 AM:

And yes, the song. Note the canonical number of na-nas.

You na-na in iambic pentameter? Figures.

#14 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:02 AM:

TNH: Queep, she said forlornly.

Pocketa pocketa! he replied encouragingly.

TNH: I won't cop to not being a hardware type...

When I read my comment about hot irons, etc. to Mary Kay, her response was roughly, "But Teresa enjoys that sort of thing." And indeed I know you do, Teresa, and I quite understand that this was a special case.

I'm not sure I care for the notion of singular and even-more-singular nouns; isn't that perilously close to the dreaded "very unique"? But considering data as a mass noun is reasonable (one bit of data being rather like one grain of rice, in fact) and grates only because of the clearly-plural etymology. (Hmm... a problem with the etymology of a computer-related word. A bug, in other words. At last! Etymological entomology!)

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:03 AM:

I'm happy all is now-or-soon-to-be well.

Isn't it interesting which things are mass nouns? 'Broccoli' is, but 'carrot' isn't. 'Rice' but not 'potato' is a little easier to explain, because there's a certain inherent "massness" to rice...note that 'pasta' is also a mass noun. I suspect 'broccoli' is a mass noun because it sounds plural.

Speaking of which, I sometimes like to play a little game where I pretend mass nouns are actually plural, and back-form singulars...I've offered a friend a single "broccolus" from my plate, and I wouldn't put it past me to refer to one "pasto" or a "ri" (pronounced 'rye'). This amuses no one but me, I'm afraid.

It's even more annoying when I do it with brand names. I once asked a friend for a "kleenek," and when he insisted it was a "Kleenex," made a point of referring to "a box of kleenices."

Sophomoric, yes. But sometimes fun.

#16 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:05 AM:

Be careful with your backup scheme.

Don't overwrite your most recent backup while making a new one. Ever. In that short time, you will not have a valid recent backup. Given your history of being way out the bell curve, that's when things will fail.

If you're going main-> backup drive, hopefully you have enough space on the backup drive to have multiple copies of the data from the main one so that you don't have to overwrite your most recent backup.

#17 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:09 AM:

Jordin, I share the grate feeling you describe...I just try to take a deep breath and say "linguistic change is inevitable" 108 times while burning sandalwood incense.

This won't bother anyone two generations down, just as verbs like 'escalate' don't bother us.

#18 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:11 AM:

About Mac OS X 10.3 or Panther--the problems with FireWire drives are not rumors, they're fact, confirmed in most cases by Apple. The problem lies with the firmware on the Oxford chip inside the drive; this is the bit that communicates with the computer and controls FireWire data transfer, and many drive manufacturer's have released "updates." You can Read All About it here. In the meantime, if you're installing or upgrading to Panther, Unplug your FireWire drives from the computer until the process is completed, and you've rebooted into Panther.

#19 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:15 AM:

Cool looking really does fly better mostly but the F/A18 and B-1 may be exceptions in terms of their assigned roles and range/carrying capacity (wingloading) - notice that larger vertical stabilizers are cooler looking.

#20 ::: Nyrath ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:20 AM:

You have my condolences.

Meanwhile, I was given furiously to think about [a] how much of my life and work exists on my 40 gig hard drive and [b] what happened to you. Later that day I was at the local computer store, purchasing a second hard drive to back everything up. And a CD-ROM burner to back everything up on a different kind of media.

Thinking further about my city's near miss with Hurricane Isabel, I believe that sometime in the near future I'll be renting a safety deposit box for backup CD-ROM storage.

I had been abstractly worried about my lack of back-ups before, but it took your tale of woe to galvanize me into action.


#21 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:31 AM:

This may wind up being like the time I inadvertently got half of rec.arts.sf.fandom to go see their dentists.

Yeah. I was shocked to see that I hadn't run a backup since June.


(Granted, I do backups onto CD-R, which I am now aware isn't that stable long-term, but it'll do for now. And I'm strongly considering a safety deposit box, too.)

#22 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Long diatribe on data vs information and the lack of definitions for data in the general world deleted to save bandwidth (if you want to ask me about the Language of Data Project, do so as a direct, okay?).

I was amused to note that someone actually used "impacted" to mean "all shoved together" (rather than "affected") in a report on the crowds at a recent event. And it wasn't someone I would have expected that level of linguistic accuracy from, he says ending a clause with a preposition.

Just because linguistic change is inevitable doesn't mean we should relax and enjoy it.


#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:34 PM:

No, but it does mean we have to grit our teeth and suck it up. Just because a usage is new doesn't make it wrong -- except in the sense that it's Wrong, like hearing Ethel Merman singing Beatles songs.

And in English, a preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence with. This sort of thing is what English is all about. (See if you can figure out where I'm from.) Otherwise, what's it all for?

#24 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 12:49 PM:

Teresa, I'm glad to hear your computer is on the mend!

Data are like potato chips: you can't eat just one. Like a library with one book. Still, neither "potato chip" nor "book" is a mass noun, not even at my house.

I will try to look for the rocket program on Discovery. They're also apparently showing it Saturday, and the next Saturday too.

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 01:34 PM:

'"Nuts" in the nicest possible way, Stefan.'

Awww, I figured that out. And truthfully, the skill and dedication of some of those teams speaks of high nuttiness. Normal folks don't have that kind of drive.

The (ahem) rocket nut community is absolutely ecstatic about those shows.

When they were announced, some wonderful folks put together a website ( to raise money for advertisements to plug an new learn-about-rocketry website ( during the broadcasts.

They pulled in $83,000, got the spots produced, and paid Discover to run them with just a month or so lead time. Whooo!

Now we just need to figure out a way to get kids to put down their GameBoys and take up hobbies that require them to build things and walk on dirt.

#26 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 02:00 PM:

As long as you're in "thinking about backup" mode, you might as well break down and automate the process. I'm using a little OS X preference pane called Deja Vu (there are others, but this works for me) that copies my home directory to a subdirectory on my external in the wee hours every day, and to an MO drive once a week.

#27 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 02:54 PM:

Week before last I lost a 5-day-old 15" PowerBook by kicking a gin and tonic over on it. No, I wasn't drunk. It was a full gin and tonic.

There. Now I've said it plainly and in public. I don't know if I feel better or worse.

#28 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 03:06 PM:

Talking about backups . . .

If it's Really Important (my dissertation, your novel, someone else's novel, your accounting records . . .) then lots of different backups is the way to go. Make local backups on whaterver media you prefer, external hard drive, CD-ROM, DVD, etc. But think about making regular off-site back ups too. Either make a CD and send it to a trusted and distant friend, or use a distant server and ISP who does their own back ups too. This is surprisingly cheap. There are of course those automatic network backup services that charge a monthly fee to back up the files you select (and no, I'm not including .Mac). Consider regularly stuffing/zipping or tarring Really Important files that in compressed form are not huge and emailing them to yourself at a free email account that you don't use, and don't check so that the file is retrievable when you want it.

#29 ::: Ian ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 03:18 PM:

Re: Greg van Eekhout's G&T mishap - I lost a G3 Powerbook in the exact same manner, except it was a martini, and my cat knocked it over (left a half-full glass on my table near the P'book). Moral of the story: Always finish your drinks.

#30 ::: Anne Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 03:57 PM:

I lost a few weeks of work in the middle of my master's thesis due to a drive crash. we were later able to recover most everything, though not in the heirarchical information organizational structure it had been in, since we only had a floppy drive to work through in DOS until the operating system was reinstalled. (and that lost most of the file names by truncating them to 8 chars, all in caps. Sigh*)

I'm glad to hear the tip jar has covered the cost of new and backup drives. Hopefully new drive number 2 will work out better.

#31 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 04:00 PM:

Re: off-site backsups and e-mailing yourself important files at a free account--

That reminds me that Yahoo! Briefcase is free, 30 MB space, though each file can only be 5 MB. I should start using that for backups too.

(Hmmm, I think I have a whole lot of unused disk space on my web hosting account, too . . . )

Teresa, I forgot to say that you're impressively composed in facing yet another disk crash. No, I'm serious.

#32 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 04:10 PM:

When I worked user support, one thing I dreaded was people coming in with floppy disks that used to contain copies of their thesis.

Sometimes, it was early April, and the only copy of their thesis had been on that floppy, and they weren't going to graduate.

The really bad one was the fellow around that time of year with unlabelled floppy alleged to contain his thesis which was utterly, totally, blank; it was all zeros in a hex editor.

"What happened to it?"

"My girl friend wiped-disked it."

It was hard to avoid the feeling that I'd just put an intolerable strain on an already struggling relationship.

The fellow who reacted to a recovered file by wanting to go off with the same mildly defective floppy, as though all was of course now lastingly well despite the only copy of three months of research still being on that floppy ought to be a candidate for some sort of cybernetic Darwin award.

#33 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 04:31 PM:

grates only because of the clearly-plural etymology

Clear, that is, if you happen to know Latin, which is not a prerequisite of using English correctly. But to help you with your acceptance of data as a singular, here is a mantra for you: "Agenda is the same formation as data and it is singular, therefore data can be singular too." Repeat until convinced. (Or start using agenda as plural. As you like.)

Oh, and hyphens shouldn't be used after -ly adverbs. (If we're going to nitpick.)

#34 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 05:16 PM:

For those who care about the technical details:

(1) The original external FireWire disk (a MaxTor) crashed while attached to my Pantherized iBook. However, as far as I can tell, the symptoms don't match any Panther/FireWire problem I've read about, and I've read a lot about Panther and FireWire at this point. They do match classic gross mechanical failure.

(2) The replacement external FireWire disk (a LaCie) that went wonky last night did so while attached to Teresa's Pantherized blue-and-white G3, during a backup of its contents to another volume. Bob Webber and I stopped the backup and ran a Norton surface scan, which ground to a halt around 25% of the way through with much noisy searching and clicking. We then performed a manual Finder backup of all the misbehaving drive's files--and then attached the FireWire drive to my Windows 2000 PC and performed another full backup (using MacDrive to allow the PC to read the Mac OS Extended-formatted volume).

Again, the symptoms manifested by this drive don't appear to resemble the corruption-on-restart syndrome commonly associated with Panther/FireWire problems, either. Moreover, if LaCie is to be believed in this report, the LaCie drives we have been buying in the wake of the MaxTor failure have the Panther patch built in, as their serial numbers come from a range subsequent to those identified as having had problems. The fact that LaCie was one of the first manufacturers to describe the problem and release a patch did in fact influence my decision to go with LaCie.

Teresa and I returned the defective LaCie to J&R this morning, and exchanged it for a new one (seven serial numbers away from the old). So far, it's behaving.

(3) "Don't overwrite your most recent backup while making a new one" is very good advice.

(4) I do in fact make backups to other media, including CD-ROMs, which get stored offsite--in my office at Tor, in fact. Teresa has not been so good about doing this, which is why she lost six weeks of files. Which may eventually be recovered when we get the old MaxTor drive looked at; we'll see.

(5) Another handy backup wrinkle, not enough by itself but a fine part of any Overall Backup Strategy: those newfangled USB keychain-fob "drives." I bought a 512MB one. Bob Webber gave Teresa one that's a mere 256MB but features blazing USB 2.0 speed, hoo hah. They're useful for grabbing off important files; they're also handy for transporting a few hundred MB of files from and to work.

(6) Adam, thank you for the pointer to Deja Vu, which looks very handy.

(7) Greg, I weep in sympathy. I rend my tunic.

#35 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 05:31 PM:

1) I love the idea of a canonical number of nanas.

2) broccoli is singular, I believe, because it was actually named after someone - supposedly the producer of the James Bond movies, "Cubby" Broccoli (you can see why some people strive for power) is descended from an agronomist who crossed italian rapa (or "broccoli raab") with cauliflower and invented what we know as broccoli.

#36 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 05:33 PM:

Now we just need to figure out a way to get kids to put down their GameBoys and take up hobbies that require them to build things and walk on dirt.

Good lord, there are hobbies that don't require them to build things, presumably with lots of little parts, and walk on dirt?

What else has the liberal media been keeping from me?

#37 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 05:37 PM:

Oh, and hyphens shouldn't be used after -ly adverbs. (If we're going to nitpick.)

Well, we weren't. But I definitely think it's OK to hyphenate (rather than leave a space) to indicate that a compound adjective is intended. It indicates a tighter "binding" of the two parts. I think "clearly plural etymology" could be mistaken for meaning that its plural nature made the etymology clearer. That's a bit strained, perhaps, but these things only work if you do them consistently.

And again I come down on the side of "everything you learned in school should be sacrificed on the altar of clarity." I'm not always on that side, honest. But the rule you cite isn't one I was ever taught.

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 05:47 PM:

julia, we were saying that broccoli is a mass noun - one does not say "one broccoli, two broccolis" or anything of that form.

We do say "one derringer, two derringers" and "one merkin, two merkins" (assuming I'm correct about the origin of the latter, obscure term). So it must be something other than the inventor's name that exempts 'broccoli' from grammatical number.

Cauliflower is a mass noun only when served, oddly enough. "Buy me a cauliflower" is a reasonable thing to say (because it's one fairly coherent object). Once you cut it up it becomes massy enough to be used that way. But you don't buy "a broccoli" or "a bunch of broccolis" (as you would carrots).

Peas (one of my favorite folk etymologies) went from the mass noun 'pease' to being reanalyzed as the plural of a countable noun 'pea'.

I love this kinda stuff. Can you tell?

#39 ::: --kip ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 06:01 PM:

But you can't bind an adverb any more tightly to the adjective it's modifying. You end up with extra buckles left over and unsightly bulges in odd places. --Save those hyphens for rainy days and adjectival phrases.

#40 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 06:04 PM:

"1) I love the idea of a canonical number of nanas."

I dread to say it, Julia, but Neil and Teresa are talking about a real song ... which, by the way, is hilarious.

#41 ::: Tempest ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 06:07 PM:

As someone who has recently suffered the "What the hell is that clicking noise oh my god why does it say OS not found???" brand of computer trauma, I sympathize wholeheartedly. Some people look forward to the day when we can download our memories into computers. I'm looking forward to mocking them when they lose all of their childhood to a virus or something.

#42 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 07:08 PM:

I've been following this, but, not being well-versed in the world of Macintosh disk structure, haven't had anything to add that hasn't already been said.

I'm gathering that defective PC disks are a lot easier to recover. For software failures, tools such as Ontrack's EasyRecovery Pro can scrape up almost every file from a Windows 9.x/W2K or/XP disk that's become unreadable. For circuit board-related hardware failures, the circuit board on the drive can often be switched out with an identical working drive, to get it to boot up temporarily and do a quick filecopy.

As far as your Windows 2000 Box, anyway, I hope you've created an Emergency Rescue Disk, as I described in a comment on the "Trivia of the Day" entry on Electrolite.

I keep two to three mirror-image drives for my Windows machines, synching the folders that contain new data every evening. Because of the nature of Windows 2000, it's often possible to swap mirror drives between computers with dissimilar hardware structures, just like spare tires. The Hardware Abstraction Layer on the new machine is usually detected the first time I boot up, and I can continue using the disk. (This worked with Red Hat Linux 9, as well, the one time I tried it.)

A couple of weeks ago, a street person wandered into my neighborhood wireless coffeehouse and spilled a glass of water over the keyboard of my laptop. Fortunately, the disk wasn't affected, and I was able to pop it into a loaner machine, while the keyboard on the first machine was being replaced. I've been experimenting with Norton Ghost 2003 to clone Linux partitions, as well as FAT and NTFS, but have decided I don't like it. The data gets transferred OK, but there are boot sector issues that sometimes prevent a Ghost image from one computer from booting successfully on another computer with a different disk controller. I intend to check out Powerquest Drive Image and see if it does a better job.

#43 ::: Polotet ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 08:55 PM:

Actually, I'm pretty sure that agenda comes from the noun agenda, agendae, for which agenda is the singular (although I'm pretty sure its original derivation was from the future passive participle of ago, which has agenda both as a singular feminine form and a plural neuter), while data comes from datum, dati, for which datum is the singular (although I'm pretty sure its original derivation was from the perfect passive participle of do, which also has datum as a singular form). And I'm sure that's far more than anyone wanted to know about anything related to the issue, but I couldn't resist.

#44 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 09:41 PM:

Xopher, you're not alone; my family's been referring to boxes of Kleeneces for years now. That reminds me--is the plural of Xerox "Xeroctes"?

#45 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 10:34 PM:

Graydon -- back when I was still using the Apple //c, I had a floppy go unreadable the day after typing 20,000 words of book into it. Fortunately, I had -- for no actual reason -- also printed the section out, so it just cost a day of retyping. The disk in question was a house-brand one from Egghead Software. A few weeks later, I (and I think Will and Emma) were at a computer show, and the nice lady at the Egghead booth buttonholed me with a discount coupon for a box of their Guess Whats. I explained -- I really don't think I was unkind about it -- why I would not be using their product again. She looked bewildered, and said, "Well, we should give you another disk."

I spent this afternoon arranging the build on My Next Machine (I'll be collecting it Friday). During the long runup of deciding on the correct balance between price and performance was going to be, I seriously thought about a second HD (partly to have a separate drive to boot Linux from). Eventually budget won, though there will be an open bay and plenty of spare wattage. But I will be taking time out over the next couple of days cutting some serious grooves on CDs.

One more side note: while almost everything about Buying Computers has changed a lot since I got the Apple a bit less than twenty years ago, one thing has sort of gone circular. In the dawn times, you went to a geeky shop where the employees were really good with hardware but nobody knew how to explain anything, and you bought the parts you could afford to buy and they (or more likely you) stuffed them in a tin box with a transformer. Then we went through a phase of packaged systems, with a certain choice of peripherals but not many actual options. Today I went to a geeky shop where it was simply assumed that I would describe a parts list (from an almost ridiculous buffet of drives, memory speeds, CPUs (CPI?), I/O options, and video hardware, not to mention tin boxes and transformers), get a quote, and go away until it was done. The decision process was one of defining certain minimum standards of processor speed and memory size, establishing a Real Maximum Price, and choosing other parts to fill the total. (Okay, it was a -little- more complicated than that.)

It was fun, for a particular value of fun that is doubtless not unfamiliar to youse plural. I second-guessed my choices all the way home, but halfway along I realized that I would have done that under any circumstances. Though it's also true that it would have been almost physically impossible to construct a single-user system that would have cost more than about $2500 (I was nowhere near that), plus $1200 or so for a big LCD monitor (one of these days). Which is far less than the Apple was in constant simoleons, and not much under its actual price.

#46 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2003, 11:59 PM:

I suspect backups are something you have to learn about the hard way -- either from a guru or from experience (someone else's if you're lucky). By the time I was depending on floppies (8086 assembly language course, 1989) I'd already done backups and recovered files at a research company that had obsessive backups in place before I started there, and disentangled the home-built backups at a company that was stuck with using SGIs (they needed the graphics, but SGI's UNIX dialect of that time didn't have /etc/dump -- yes, I was croggled too). So I had at least two backup disks, and copied my work multiple times during long sessions -- that work was much too painful to replicate. (Studying assembly language is a good way to make sure you never complain about C again.) But for the last dozen years I've relied on having most of my interesting files (except the database of my home library) at work, which a Bad Habit; absent mirror disks (which I'd have to dig a lot to set up), CD write drives are my friends....

#47 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:28 AM:

I have a number of cousins with the last name Fernandez, and my sisters and I used to refer to that branch of the family collectively as the "Fernandi." (long i, btw.)

#48 ::: Nathaniel Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 01:31 AM:

Na-na'ing in pentameter: Those Na-Na's always sounded more trochiac to me, really. (Except, aren't they La-La's, anyway? Not that I'm one to object to the odd bit of nasalisation, mind, especially in the face of data disasters. BTW: recommend rdiff-backup, -- it's for the more technically savvy, but very spiff.)

data: I have to admit that, as a Young Person in an academic setting, I wince daily when professors and similarly uneducated people use "data" as a count plural. How can they butcher the language that way? Most data is semantically mass, and when you really do want to talk about multiple discrete bits, "datums" serves.

Hmm, better say something distracting quick after *that* bit of flamebait. Maybe random tidbits on mass nouns? This is an issue close to my geekery. One interesting thing is that foods in general like becoming mass nouns; compare pig/pork, cow/beef, etc. -- I guess anything you chew up and swallow had better have some mass-like qualities to it. There's still randomness, of course -- the famous example is "peas" versus "corn", which really are almost the same, at least as far as any mass vs. count-like properties go...

Then, of course, there are the formal linguistics, who have argued that mass vs. count is an entirely arbitrary distinction, with no semantics to it at all. The famous counter-example comes from Len Talmy, who asks us to contrast the sentences
1. There are cats all over the driveway.
2. There is cat all over the driveway.
in search of possible differences in meaning...

#49 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 08:37 AM:

just to prove Murphy is alive and well, my bookmark file went south this morning, and the only uncorrupted backup is two months old.

Because that's what happens when you're reminded that you need to check your backups and you don't do it.


#50 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 12:48 PM:

Mike said:
Though it's also true that it would have been almost physically impossible to construct a single-user system that would have cost more than about $2500

Perhaps if one accepts onerous restrictions like 'no RAID arrays' or 'uniprocessor' on the choice space....

If I had ridiculous amounts of money to burn through, I'd be thinking quad Opteron, 16 GB RAM, mirrored half TB RAID arrays, sorts of things, which could get over 2,500 USD handily. Quite possibly over 25,000 USD if one went really nuts about RAM speed and bus width and wanting it to be quiet in the bargain.

(I want things to compile. Not "spend several hours compiling". This influences my perceptions of machine speed in ways that are probably not common among non-programmers.)

Which is not to say that I don't like my little Shuttle machine -- 1980 Mainframe In A Can, right down to vapour phase CPU cooling -- because I do, quite a lot. But I could spend quite a lot more than the ~2 kCAD that machine cost me, and call it single user with a straight face.

#51 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 02:17 PM:

Actually, I'm pretty sure that agenda comes from the noun agenda, agendae

Actually, Merriam-Webster's says "L., neut. pl. of agendum, gerundive of agere" and American Heritage says "Latin, pl. of agendum, agendum ; see agendum" -- adding this Usage Note:

"It is true that Cicero would have used agendum to refer to a single item of business before the Roman Senate, with agenda as its plural. But in Modern English a phrase such as item on the agenda expresses the sense of agendum, and agenda is used as a singular noun to denote the set or list of such items, as in The agenda for the meeting has not yet been set. If a plural of agenda is required, the form should be agendas: The agendas of both meetings are exceptionally varied."

I hope this convinces you.

But the rule you cite isn't one I was ever taught.

Xopher: Unless you're a professional editor, there's no particular reason you should know the rule, but it is one. See, for instance, Words Into Type (which happens to be to hand), pp. 234-35; after explaining about not using the hyphen with -ly adverbs, they add: "Since some adjectives end in -ly, adjectives and adverbs in this construction must be carefully distinguished. a finely built, scholarly-looking man"

That's why they pay us the big bucks.

#52 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 02:39 PM:

Graydon: Perhaps if one accepts onerous restrictions like 'no RAID arrays' or 'uniprocessor' on the choice space....

Or 'less than 1 GB of RAM', which is a mistake I'll never make again. At the moment I'm kicking myself for not having had the second gig pre-installed in my new PowerBook. If I break down and buy a G5 this year, I'll put 4 GB into it.

If I had ridiculous amounts of money to spend on computer gear, I'd buy a pair of NetApp filers with a few terabytes of storage, co-locate them in different states, and snapmirror them every day. Now that's a backup solution!


#53 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 03:24 PM:

Once again proving that a right answer is often "throw money at the problem until it goes away." Alas, you need money to throw.

And, yes, the correct answer to "do I double the clock speed or tripe the RAM" is almost always the latter.

I just wish we could get, instead of larger and faster hard drives, smaller and cheaper. Backing up 250GB is, for all intents, not possible without another 250GB drive (or something much more expensive, either in cost or time.) Running a 1TB file server at home is not hard or that expensive. You could easily do so for $2000, complete, cheaper if you work at it.

And, you can kiss 1TB of data goodbye if you aren't careful. In this case, Mr. Greely's answer may be the right one -- build two of them, install them in opposite corners of the house as a bare minimum, and rsync them daily. Better if your office will let you keep one there, and you have the bandwidth to rsync.

But, you know, I don't *need* a freaking Tb -- and I'd love to have $20 reliable 20GB hard drives. The vast majority of computers don't need more storage -- they need more *reliable* storage, and a $40 mirror pair or $60 dollar mirror w/spare or parity is a much better installation than a $40 40GB drive or a $60 60GB drive.

Ah, another rant. Next post.

#54 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 03:29 PM:

Another Rant. We had an incident with a certain webserver for a Worldcon that wasn't running on The roomie message board had accidentally been overwritten -- probably my fault, to be honest. Anyway, mistakes happen, and I email the sysadmin, hoping he could restore an earlier version.

I was told that, due to limits in backup storage, the only thing he was backing up was the system directories.

Great. He's backing up the stuff you can restore by reinstalling the OS, and not the user data. Ghugle, protect me from the clueless.

(Why we had versioning when storage was expensive, but not when it is cheap, is a whole 'nother rant.)

#55 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 04:08 PM:

language hat: Hummmph. :-)

Nathaniel: As a Young Person, I'm sure you're aware of the new productive usage of the '-age' suffix, which converts any noun into a mass noun? Thus 'there seems to be a lot of coppage here' means 'the place is crawling with police'.

In your example, too, 'there was cattage all over the driveway' would convey the sense of your first citation, with the additional implication that the cats involved were not individually distinctive.

For your second cite, I'd propose the use of 'nobody's moggie': 'There was nobody's moggie all over the driveway.'

#56 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 04:24 PM:

Erik: The vast majority of computers don't need more storage -- they need more *reliable* storage,

I felt that way when I built OpenBSD on an 80GB disk (2GB for /var, 2GB for /tmp, wheeee!), but when I bought my new PowerBook, 80GB seemed perfectly reasonable. It's not quite full yet...

Apple did a pretty good job of separating "their stuff" from "my stuff" in OS X, but software vendors quickly made a mess of it, and even Apple couldn't figure out the difference between "my important stuff" and "stuff I just like having around". Panther's FileVault would be much more useful if it didn't treat all of "my stuff" as "my important stuff". Now there's a rant I could continue for a while.

Erik: But, you know, I don't *need* a freaking Tb

I've got about a terabyte in the house now, and the first time I realized it, it woke me up out of a sound sleep. Then I remembered that most of it was wasted, and went back to bed.

I could make good use of a terabyte-scale file server, though. Mostly because the CDRs and DVD-Rs full of scanned film are a pain to sort through.

On that note, whenever someone asks me why I still shoot 35mm film when professional digital SLRs have gotten so good, my simple answer is "because I'd have to buy two of them". I usually don't have to go into the data-storage problems.


#57 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 05:16 PM:

This thread became much more relevant to me this morning when my computer made an odd kachunk noise and the odor of ozone and burning electric wire filled my office. I have always assumed that our system drive where I save all of my work is adequately backed-up, but I think I will burn my endless numbers of worksheets and grading rubrics onto a CD all the same. It's nice being able to call media services and have a new box on my desk within the hour. Bugger about the addresses in my e-mail program and my favorites file.

#58 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 11, 2003, 10:56 PM:

Terabytes in the house? Ghu, y'all are spoiled. I was introduced to "the terabyte memory" when I moved from chemistry to computers (coming up on 24 years). 2" tape on ~20" reels, for storing seismological data; it was commonly referred to as "the whale", even though it wasn't \that/ much bigger than the standard refrigerator-size computer cabinet....

#59 ::: Caroline Yeldham ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 05:13 AM:

The old name for peas was 'peasen'.


#60 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 12:38 PM:

Here's a drive-disaster Gotcha I recently ran into:

A couple of weekends back, I swapped my 8 GB hard drive for a 40 GB. (The last upgrade I'll ever make to this particular machine. Well, besides touching up the fleckstone on the case.)

It went very well. Maxstor provided a copy-new-stuff -over utility that worked extremely well.

I set the old drive aside for eventual use in a LINUX box.

A few days ago, Norton Internet Security popped up a warning that my master boot record had been altered. This is a *really bad thing to happen* if the cause is a malicious program.

I told Norton to fix the problem.

The new drive wouldn't boot after that. What Norton had detected, in effect, was the fact that it was running on a new hard disk drive. Which naturally had a different boot record.

Normal fix-it programs didn't seem to work. They assumed the drive was 8MB. The old drive's size. Not. Good.

Fortunately, my old drive was still intact. I had made a backup of my last Quicken interactions. The only thing lost was a saved game of Civilization III, and God knows I'd be better off if the whole damn game had disappeared along with the install CDs.

#61 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 05:46 PM:

A relevant webcomic for your amusement and hairpulling.

#62 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: November 12, 2003, 06:41 PM:

An interesting alternative to conventional backups: put it on your digital camcorder

#63 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 12:54 AM:

An alternative I'm ashamed that I haven't at least tried. Using CVS to track your entire entire home directory. I really like his example of leaving a job and typing "cvs commit; sudo rm -rf /", of course, I must point out that you are making a big assumption with that semicolon. Safer, IMNSHO, to use "cvs commit && sudo rm -rf /" Also, I think "rm -rf ~" is nicer -- but a competent sysadmin isn't going to trust you, and will rebuild the box anyway. I digress.

But I'm really tempted by this. It solves a bunch of problems I deal with often. It, of course, raises even more. But, hey, that's half the fun!

#64 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 02:15 AM:

Terabytes in the house? Ghu, y'all are spoiled. I was introduced to "the terabyte memory" when I moved from chemistry to computers (coming up on 24 years). 2" tape on ~20" reels, for storing seismological data; it was commonly referred to as "the whale", even though it wasn't \that/ much bigger than the standard refrigerator-size computer cabinet.... CHip

When I first went to LLNL, in 1979, they were very proud of their tera*bit* storage system, the Chipstore. It was an IBM contraption that wrote data on "chips" of film. A chip couldn't be read back until it was full and went through a photographic developing process; then a robotic arm would store it in the chip files, and it could be retrieved and read on request. Sort of like a CD-R changer with _very_ small capacity CD's.

CHip, are you sure your tape drive was a terabyte and not a gigabyte? 6250 bpi magtapes were state of the art then, and only held something like 40 Mbytes on a 10" x 1/2" reel; I'd expect a 20" x 2" reel of the time to hold to hold around a gigabyte.

#65 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 02:37 AM:

>An interesting alternative to conventional backups: put it on your digital camcorder

People have been trying to use home VCR's for computer backup since the first generation of Beta and VHS -- the number of bits that will fit on a videotape just seems soooo tempting. But it's never worked well; VCR's (even digital camcorders) don't have a very high data rate compared to dedicated tape drives of similar vintage, and they're not designed to have the data quality or (for home units) the tape-handling reliability needed for a good backup device.

(I say this as someone who built a VCR-based storage system for digital CCD images as part of my Ph.D. thesis work. It would store 60k bytes/second, or about 400 Mbytes on a 2-hour Beta tape. Not bad for a $400 Sanyo VCR and a box full of TTL chips in 1982.)

#66 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 01:06 PM:

For another blast from the past used a VCR for backup with an Alpha Micro - fun names in those days super mini and such.

#67 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 03:18 PM:

*puts on song to double-check*

La. Not na. But it works either way.

Also, for those of you still scratching your head and going "What the hell song are they talking about?":

This one, which remains tied as my favorite Flash Girls song with, interestingly enough, two others that Neil Gaiman wrote.

Highly recommended.

("I can see your lips are moving...")

#68 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2003, 10:12 PM:

Jordin -- the equipment and company are long gone, and I'm too lazy to track down the couple of people who might remember the info clearly. I do remember it being called "tera", not "giga"; I couldn't swear to any of the details as I never worked with it, let alone got to dissect it.

On the other hand, the thought that something took took up the space of a refrigerator/freezer now takes up about the space of an index card is quite croggling enough, thank you.... (I suppose it's in line with Seth(?)'s corollary to Moore's Law: "The most powerful computer in existence is comparable to a handheld 30 years later.")

#69 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2003, 02:56 AM:

The coolest thing of all at the gigantic data center where last I worked directly, hands-on, with machines was Big Bird, the tape unit which ran on a track which was, gosh--forty feet long? It seems I should be able to count the floor tiles in memory--long, in any event, and which plucked tapes out of the shelves that lined either side of the cabinet.

When I first walked in there, I saw a video monitor with fast blurry motion of the dizzying kind, which would stop instantly, then go back to the blur. What sort of security camera, I wondered, could this be? Then I realized it was the monitor for the video camera mounted on Big Bird's head--and looked in and saw the flashlight added on top of it so the video would be readable.

I don't boggle at anything electronic, but mechanical devices fill me with wonder. It was a sad day for me when they decommissioned Big Bird and tore it apart.

#70 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 10:35 AM:

Hey sympathy I've had more crap equipment than is humanly credible I swear the guys at the local hardware stores duck into the backroom and shout 'Hey that boozo is back get that equipment the kiddies were spooning jello into cleaned up and mark it up 10%'
Now if i could only figger out how they manage to get the proof of purchase out of my inner pocket I may yet get ahead of the game.

#71 ::: andrew ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 04:46 AM:

I'm convinced. I'll read up on this "backing-up" thing you mention. And attempt it soon. I realized the precariousness of my situation last week, when I DROPPED! my laptop onto a tile floor. In the second it took to hit, I remembered all that is irreplaceable on my computer - there's a bunch of pictures, and emails from my ex-girlfriend. A bunch of writing that I have been doing lately, stuff that doesn't exist anywhere else. Luckily, the laptop soldiers on. But, clearly some redundancy is in order.

And I need to see the dentist too. :)

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