On Cafe Working

Since arriving in Santiago, I’ve been posed with the challenge of finding good locations to work from. I like to work from cafes, which I refer to as “cafeworking”. Whether you’re traveling or just wanting to get out of the house for the day though (assuming you work from home, like I normally do), your selection criteria are probably similar either way. I decided that I’d document some of the things I look for when I’m trying to find a good place to work for the day. Feel free to add your own criteria in the comments.


Installing and Formatting a Hitachi Travelstar 5K80

So I wasted around 6 hours trying to get a Hitachi Travelstar 5K80 to work in my external USB-driven hard drive enclosure the other night… and I wasn’t a happy camper.

I did the normal things, put it in the case, plugged it in, restarted Windows a couple times to try and pick it up, stuff like that. I had no luck getting it to show up in My Computer to start with, so I checked in the Adminitrative Tools (in Control Panel) launched the Computer Management MMC. In there, I checked the Disk Manager and found that the drive was there, but marked as Online, Unallocated.

According to everything I could find on the ‘net (and believe me, I looked) all I had to do was right-click the drive, select ‘Write Signature’ and then I could format it and off I go. The problem with this was that when I did that, it would start doing something with the disk, then just sit there with its access light on, but not do anything – still couldn’t access it, still couldn’t format it.

To cut a long story short, I noticed that it was making a similar noise to what my old drive made when it woke up after being asleep for a while. All I had to do was unplug the drive (from the USB), then plug it in with Disk Manager open, constantly clicking ‘Re-Scan Disks’. As soon as the new drive appeared on the listing, I did the right-click signature trick and it worked straight away. Then I kicked it into an immediate, complete format and everyone’s happy!

Now all I need to do is clone my current drive onto this one, switch them over and I’ve got an upgraded drive and a spare external one ๐Ÿ™‚

Secure Hard Drive Format

In case you didn’t know, when you ‘format’ a computer’s hard drive (or delete a file for that matter), it doesn’t necessarily remove the data properly, it just marks those sectors as being available to write over in the future. If you don’t actually write anything over them, then there is a distinct chance that someone can recover that data, using an excellent program such as R-STUDIO (which I bought a copy of, to recover data off my broken laptop, as described in this post).

So anyway, there are a number of ways that you can go about deleting something permanently, but I figured that the best approach was a physical one. I had an old drive that I was retiring (well, it retired itself on account of a hardware failure), so I decided that now was the chance to test my procedure, here’s how it all went down;

  1. Remove drive from host machine
  2. Remove PCB board from the bottom of the drive (you can just lever it off with a screwdriver if you don’t have the right type of screwdriver for the screws… you won’t be needing it again ๐Ÿ™‚
  3. Place the drive so that the side where the PCB board was is *down*, and one end is supported on a small ledge (a doorstep works nicely)
  4. Place pressure (i.e. stand) in the middle of the drive, angling your foot to ensure that the blade of your foot is applying the pressure to the drive
  5. Continue standing/jumping on the drive until you hear a snapping sound, and then hopefully a pleasant little ‘tinkle’
  6. Review the situation: you should have broken the aluminium framing of the drive, which in turn allowed you to shatter the disk platters, which will now be on the ground and inside the drive.

You can now clean up the pieces of drive platter, and if you’re really paranoid, dispose of them separately. Otherwise, throw them all in the bin and you can be pretty confident that your drive is very permanently erased.

NOTE: I take no responsibility whatsoever for the damage of your drives, their proceeding uselessness, or any potential recovery of the data that may or may not have been on the drive!

Hard Drive Recovery…

Well things are actually looking good with the recovery of data from my failed hard drive!

I went ahead and downloaded a demo version of a program called “R-Studio”, which is distributed by HDDRecovery in Australia. I had talked to the manager of HDDR and he suggested that I give it a go.

So here’s roughly the process that ensued:

  1. Plugged my 2.5″ -> 3.5″ adaptor into the drive
  2. Put on a small jumper so that the drive was marked as the secondary device (to avoid conflicts with main drive on PC)
  3. Went and located an odler-style IDE cable that would match up with the adaptor (panic here for a minute when I couldn’t find one!)
  4. Unplug my DVD drive at work and plug in the new drive, on it’s special cable
  5. Boot up my PC and it couldn’t locate the drive at all, although BIOS appeared to have found it there
  6. Load up R-Studio and get it to detect the drive, which it did successfully
  7. Create an image file which contained the contents of the drive (12GB) and save to happy hard drive on my desktop

At this point I was pretty happy – in the process of creating the image, my files had been recompiled into a meaningful structure, and it appeared that most of my data was there. But wait, there’s more;

  1. Purchase the full copy of R-Studio!
  2. Install and configure it on my desktop at work, then load up the image file
  3. Go through and easily (although slowly) recover all the files that I wanted into a secured location on my happy hard drive
  4. Copy those files, via our network to another machine that had a CD burner
  5. On that machine, burn 5 CDs worth of recovered data (bunch of music, data, images, video etc!) and take home
  6. Transfer required data back onto the new hard drive installed on my laptop!

So there you go – there’s the basics of my drama, and how things have turned out. Personally, I think the $AUD 176.00 was a small price to pay – compared to the prospect of having the drive dismantled in a clean room environment, which would have cost thousands :). The fact that the drive was accessible through software saved my skin, and now I have all my photos, data files and music back and happy ๐Ÿ™‚ As it turns out, the only files that appear to have been irreparibly damaged are from within the C:\WINNT directory – and who’s going to miss them? (except the boot sequence!)

You Never Learn Until It’s Too Late

Everyone — please back up your files regularly!

I have been stupid enough to be running my machine over the last couple of years without keeping regular backups of my information. The other night, my hard drive failed, and it appears that I may have lost a lot of the information which I had on there, including some financial details, personal photos, volumes and volumes of personal documents and notes, plus a large amount of work which wasn’t stored anywhere else except on my machine.

I am working on a Sony VAIO laptop as my main system at the moment, so I am now planning for the imminent purchase of a new desktop system, I think will be the deciding factor in me getting around to arranging it all. For those interested, I’m going to keep records on the entire process, starting…

Step 1: I flipped over my laptop and unscrewed all the screws I could see (later I realised that was a little excessive, but anyway…). I then turned it back the other way and lifted off the wrist-pad, where the touchpad lives. Under here, I located the hard drive, and carefully removed another screw (bottom-left corner when looking from above), and then removed the drive. I took off the mounting rails either side of the drive and transferred them onto the new drive which I purchase (exactly the same one – 20GB). From there, I put the drive back in, screwed the corner screw back in, replaced the wrist-pad and then screwed all the screws into the back again. I then put it back on it’s docking station (with CD drive) and started it up with the Windows 2000 startup CD. Then off we go with installing everything from scratch.

Pleeeaassee… let me be able to read the drive which I have now removed from my laptop. I have arranged to get the adapter required so that I can mount the 2.5″ laptop drive in a standard 3.5″ desktop disk bay. That will then allow me to attempt to access the drive’s contents from my old desktop computer (which I’ll have to take out of mothballs for the occassion!). I’ll post updates regarding my progress, but I hate to say that I am not holding my breath about getting anything off the drive, not after hearing the faint tinkle of what sounds like the drive head flopping around inside the drive…