Dan's Data letters #147
(page 2)Publication date: 1-July-2005.
Last modified 16-Jul-2012.
I work in a cube farm. I'm often interrupted by long-winded gas bags. Dense, long-winded gas bags who go on and on for hours about whatever. Rude, dense, long-winded gas bags who refuse to take any hints or respond to requests to let me get back to work.
Is there a way for me to trigger a call to my cell phone from my personal computer? I could then answer the cell phone and leave my cube, responding to some apparent personal emergency. I would then sneak back to my cube when the coast is clear.
Sure, but I don't think there's a way to do it for free - well, not if you actually answer the phone, anyway.
I think the simplest no-hardware solution would have to be Internet telephony. You can initiate VoIP calls from a computer with the appropriate software installed (NetMeeting, Skype, whatever), generally (always?) by just clicking an appropriate callto:... link in a browser. So you could of course trivially make a surreptitious macro that initiates a call to the number of your choice - preferably after some randomised number of seconds, so you're well away from your keyboard by the time the phone goes off.
You could also do this easily with a plain old dial-up modem, provided you can get away with having your cube's phone line looping into the back of your computer and then out to your desk phone, and also provided that you don't have some PABX setup that precludes it. It ought to work, since all you want to be able to do is make a phone ring, not connect to another modem at some particular speed - POTS modem tones coming out of your cellphone after you answer it might be a teeny bit of a giveaway, but a little dial-and-disconnect script for a terminal program would do the job.
You can also get USB CDMA or GSM cellphone modems, one of which you could tuck under the desk. The more economical solution is a whole second hand cellphone with adapter cable, though, since even PCMCIA GSM modems start from $US150 or so without a SIM card (you could plug one of those into a desktop using a PCMCIA adapter module, but someone would be likely to notice).
UPDATE: Here's a how-to for the Skype option.
Can you tell me were I can buy the metallic ink that you talk about in Letters #38?
I'm afraid I misled you. Off the top of my head I thought there were third party metallic ink cartridges for regular inkjets, but it turns out there aren't. The little metal particles that make metallic ink shiny are catastrophically incompatible with inkjet mechanisms; if the particles were made small enough that they didn't clog the head, the ink would just look grey. I've fixed that letters page now.
Perhaps I was thinking of the old Alps "Micro Dry" MD-1000 to MD-5000 series thermal transfer printers, which really could print silver and gold, but which weren't inkjets and haven't been available new for about five years now.
It is, however, still possible to get silver and gold onto paper at home without learning how to gild. You can get foil transfer sheets for laser printers; here's how they're used, and here's a Croatian page with pictures.
I have just stumbled onto zinc-air batteries while surfing. They have apparently been in use for a while in some applications such as pagers and hearing aids. My question to you is whether or not they are rechargeable. Most of the articles I have read suggested they were not. Then I stumbled on this, which does not come right out and say it, but suggests they are indeed rechargeable. If they do turn out to be rechargeable then lithium ion might be in trouble.
Zinc-air batteries that use the same chemistry as the little button cells you mention aren't rechargeable. I talk about those at the end of this page.
The mentioned company, AER Energy, were pimping their alleged rechargeable zinc air batteries about a decade ago. Back then, some people were talking about what a great investment AERN was at several dollars a share. Since the stock is currently worth about seven hundredths of a cent per share, I think anybody who went long on it isn't entirely happy with their decision.
I don't think electrically rechargeable metal-air batteries are technically unfeasible (there are also "mechanically rechargeable" types, where you cheat by physically replacing the metal when it's used up), but there's been no progress in making them into a useful product, as far as I know.
"Reproduce(s) 10 years of slow aging in seconds by exposing beverages to a powerful replication of the Earth's magnetic field"!
I think the "How It Works" and "How To Use" pages are instant classics of the genre, because of their whacky theory of how aroma is formed inside fruit, and their total disregard for their own theory when it comes to explaining what their product does. :-)
"...Note: Product works best if you are a wine snob, and also an idiot."
James Randi's had a go at the Buddy, too.
So, I hear you're the go-to-guy for buckling-spring keyboards. The question I have for you is are these keyboards made with the "natural" setup. That is, more ergonomic than the standard straight setup?
Yes, there were clicky split 'boards (a while after this page first went up, I reviewed one here), but nobody makes them any more. You'll have a hard time finding one; Clicky Keyboards have sold the couple they found.
I suggest you check that page from time to time, and also set up a suitable eBay Favorite Search; you can tell eBay to e-mail you whenever new results appear, and people regularly sell oddball IBM 'boards there, so I wouldn't be astonished if you got a hit or three over the next year.
There are a few "VINTAGE Natural ERGO Ergonomic CLICKY AT KEYBOARD" listings on eBay at the moment, but I see no reason to believe that those 'boards actually have buckling spring keyswitches (this search finds mostly genuine clicky IBM keyboards, and should find split ones too if anyone lists one). Maybe they have Alps clicky switches (which are sort of like Buckling Spring Lite), but there's not enough info in many listings to tell.
I recently put together a video recording system based on Windows 2000, BeyondTV and a brand new 200Gb Western Digital 2000JB hard drive. In the middle of the install of Windows 2000, I ran up against the fact that Windows 2000 did not, as originally released, recognize drives larger than 128Gb, and wanted to create only a 128Gb partition. For simplicity's sake, I wanted the entire drive to be just one monolithic partition, so I exited the install, ran fdisk and created a partition using the entire drive capacity. I then went back into the Windows 2000 installer, chose the drive and received a message that went something like this:
"Install Windows to 199,715,979 k partition on 137,438,953 k drive?"
That isn't it exactly (I now really wish I had a photo), but that gives you the gist; somewhat wrong and obviously odd. Figuring I'd just have to either accept a second, smaller partition or create and then merge the a second partition with the first later on, I said yes. It was a nuisance, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with later.
However, when I actually had Windows installed and the machine was up and running, I found that the drive showed up as 186Gb (real gigabytes as opposed to marketing gigabytes), fully formatted, and this was before I'd even installed the Service Packs that allow the OS to see past the 128 GB limit. I again passed it up as slightly disconcerting, but everything appeared to be working perfectly. Everything installed fine, the system worked beautifully as a PVR and I started recording a whole slew of things (The Simpsons runs three times a day here, for instance). About a month passed without a single hitch.
Until all those recordings plus other data totaled up to more than 128Gb.
At which point the system went bonkers. I returned home to find an error message on the TV, stating that "The file or folder C:\WINNT\security\ is unreadable or corrupt; please run CHKDSK." I'd never seen this error message before, and I took a note of it but first poked around to see whether anything else was wrong. I even checked to make sure that the show that had just recorded that evening had been stored; I was able to skip through it, watch a few seconds here and there and then fast forward to another section without a hitch. Aside from the error message, nothing seemed out of sorts. However, since I saw no reason not to, I went to the drive listing under "My Computer", went into the drive properties and then clicked the "Check Now..." button in the Disk Tools tab.
Nothing happened. This was, of course, odd, and so I clicked it again. Again, no response, so out of curiosity I clicked "Defragment Now..." at the bottom to see whether that would do anything. Again, nothing. No error message, no response at all.
I loaded a shell prompt and typed chkdsk, only to get the message "The file or folder C:\WINNT\system32\CHKDSK.exe is unreadable or corrupt; please run CHKDSK." Working with Windows can be surreal, but this is beyond the pale for me.
It was at this point that, fearing an imminent hard drive failure, I shut down the system. During shut down, I kept getting messages that "The file or folder C:\[random directory under WINNT] is unreadable or corrupt; please run CHKDSK", culminating in what in retrospect seems somehow creepy, "The file or folder C:\ is unreadable or corrupt; please run CHKDSK."
The system shut down and, upon restarting, I received an error message saying that the computer could not load the operating system.
My first thought being that I might have simply gotten a bad drive, I proceeded to download Western Digital's diagnostic CD and run the disk scans. They reported that the drive was in perfect working order, at least in terms of hardware. They could, of course, be wrong, but I can't find any reports of high failure rates for my drive model. Thinking on it further, I realized at what point the file system self-destructed and started to suspect that I should not have dismissed the initial odd message during the Windows install so lightly.
I have since tried to access the drive from within Windows, set as slave while booting Windows 2000 off another hard drive. No dice, Windows tells me that the drive cannot be read and needs to be formatted. I attempted to use PC Inspector 4, which identified the drive as being 128Gb, gave me a "Divide by 0 error" and then froze. In Linux, in this case Knoppix, I am informed that the system "could not determine the file system type and none was specified," although even if I specify it as NTFS it still can't access the drive. Fdisk cannot access the drive at all either to even determine the partition information.
I am by this point out of ideas; I assume the information is still stored on the 200 GB drive but that the file system is, for all intents and purposes, shot. Before I just go ahead and repartition and reformat the drive entirely, do you have any suggestions as to what else I might try?
The reason for the insanity you're experiencing, as you've probably figured out, is that while you can by the gymnastics you describe get the original versions of Win2000 or WinXP installed on a larger-than-128Gb ("137Gb", in lying hard drive manufacturer billion-byte gigabytes) partition, as soon as any data starts getting written to the portion of the partition beyond the first 128Gb, everything goes pear-shaped.
Unless you've got a Win2000/XP slipstreamed install disk with at least Service Pack 1 for WinXP or Service Pack 3 for Win2000, then installing on a bigger-than-128Gb partition is a Bad Idea, and Win2000 won't let you create a bigger-than-128Gb partition during the install process no matter what version it is - though you can expand the install partition later with the software of your choice.
If you've got a regular install disk with no integrated patches, then both versions of Windows must be installed on a partition 128Gb or smaller in size, and you must not later expand that partition to a larger size without adding the 48 bit LBA drivers for Win2000 and WinXP, which're included in the abovementioned service packs.
Once you've got Windows installed and patched to the appropriate version, you can expand partitions as much as you like and everything'll keep working. But if the filesystem's already screwed, you're screwed too.
I don't know the exact nature of this particular filesystem screwup, but based on your report, data that spilled off the end of the first 128Gb probably "wrapped around" as far as read processes are concerned (or maybe even as far as the original write process was concerned) to the start of the drive. Or things may only have gone to heck when parts of important Windows files ended up in The Forbidden Zone, probably because you'd just updated something.
You've already tried everything I'd try to fix the problem. You could do something hideous with a Linux live CD like force-read the drive to a file - I've done stuff like that, on a much smaller scale, to recover text a couple of times in the days before anybody knew who Kurt Cobain was - but even for text, that's almost invariably far more trouble than it's worth, unless the text you're looking for is the location of Blackbeard's Treasure or something.
For your reference for the future: You don't have to do the partition-expanding thing at all (though you should still install the latest service pack and other patches), since you can just install Win2000 or XP onto its own relatively small system partition and leave it that size. 5Gb should be fine, if you install your applications on a different partition, and don't load up default-location Documents and Settings folders (which includes the desktop) with tons of stuff. A small install partition like this makes system backups easy, and also makes it easier to switch to a new boot device.
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