Thursday, March 30, 2006


Hey frog, how's the water?

Of all the irritation to cross my path today, the worst was two separate cases of western institutions bending over for muslim terrorism. The first and worst is NYU's effective shutdown of a forum hosted by Objectivist students to discuss (and obviously display) the Mohammed cartoons (background here) Why did they order the session closed to the public? Draw your own conclusions, but the decision came after a meeting with muslim activists. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) (hey, I eventually get the name right -Ed.) is involved.

The second--and lesser in the sense that it involves a private business with no legal duty to support Constitutional rights--case involves Borders decision not to stock an issue of Free Inquiry that features stories about (and reproductions of) the Mohammed cartoons. They explicitly cited fear of violence, or as they put it, concern for the safety of their patrons (and undoubtedly their profits, given the widespread muslim boycott of various Danish products)

So the merest implied threat of violence not only censors a publication from one of the world's largest bookstore chains, it also erases any semblance of free inquiry at one of the nation's foremost academic institutions. What are we supposed to do with this news? What are we supposed to do with the people making the threats?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


The Memory Key is Dead, Long Live the Memory Key!

After about a year and a half of pretty constant use, being plugged into a computer and files opened/worked on and incrementally saved every weekday, my 256MB Memorex USB ThumbDrive crapped out yesterday. It happened near the end of the working day, and I had a busy afternoon/evening so I didn't get to start troubleshooting it til this morning. The initial error message was the cryptic-but-clearly-bad "The disk in drive G is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?". I double-checked that it performed the same on another machine and then started googling "data recovery" and "memory key".

Pretty quickly, I came up with a couple possible tools. One was "Pen Drive Data Recovery" from what superficially appeared to be an Indian company, and the other was a German piece, "PC Data Doctor" or some such. I'm not linking them because they flatly didn't work (of course YMMV). Both reported the disk as size 0, length 0 with 0 sectors, and not surprisingly the search/recover didn't find anything.

Back to Google, and up comes this PCStats tutorial on flash memory data recovery. Sounds promising, and best of all it includes links to the author's favorite recovery utilities. And they're free! I ended up using CGSecurity's PhotoREC, which is designed to recover pics from hosed-up camera memory, but will also recover a variety of filetypes from other styles of flash media. PhotoREC successfully recovered 513 files. Obviously I don't know quite how many there were to begin with, but that's in the ballpark.

Somewhere around 40% of the recovered PDFs are gibberish that Acrobat can't read, while about a half dozen were repaired by Acrobat. The rest were complete and readable. It gives .doc or .rtf extensions to every MS Office doc, but without attempting any kind of conversion. So for example some of my .doc files are really PowerPoint or Excel documents. There are also a couple hundred text files, of which a lot really are text files that contained IE bookmarks or work notes. Some of them are lines of hex code with what look like garbage characters at the end. I think these may be part of the FAT, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to say for sure. All in all, a very successful operation, and the only consequential file I seem to have permanently lost is an MS Access database. Even that might eventually show up in some of the text or dbf files though. I'll keep picking at them. Meanwhile, figuring I've gotten all I'm going to get from the memory key, I reformatted it. We'll see how far it gets this time around.

Moral: Google is your friend.

Uh ...and always backup your data!

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Here, Smell This!

I decided to clean my coffeemaker today. It's probably needed it for weeks now, but I was spurred into action by a conversation at school the other day. The campus is across the street from a local independent coffee shop called Misha's, which is a hipster hangout straight from central casting. The problem: their coffee tastes like it was made with a used oil filter. People who otherwise sit around talking about how corporations are killing America will walk six blocks to Starbucks just to get a halfway decent cup of coffee. There was once a Dunkin Donuts as well, but it closed just before their coffee became cool.

Anyway, I theorized that Misha's coffee tastes so burned because they never clean their coffeemakers, which logically implied I should finally clean mine. Now, I've long since lost the manual, but allegedly this is done by running a couple cups of vinegar through it. So I did that, ran one full pot of water through to rinse it, and then made a pot of coffee that smelled like paint thinner. I didn't really need to taste it, but did anyway just for kicks. Bad idea!

So now, 5 or 6 full pots later, what comes out finally smells like normal hot water, but the port where the water goes in still smells like vinegar. Which leads me back to the title of this post. All the smell testing has really cleared my sinuses, and also reminded me of an incident waaaay back in 7th grade. In those days, long before Columbine or even political correctness, we kids were actually left alone with a science class supply closet stocked with hydrochloric acid. Through the agency of a classmate who was known for pranks, some of that stuff found its way into a glass dish and under my nose, with the admonition "hey man, sniff this water, it smells kinda funky" giant snort and my nose has never been quite the same!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Still here...

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, just off the extra-hours-in-the-day energy bandwagon (for now)

One of the things sapping my wheaties is house-hunting. I have a good agent, though she's, shall we say, eccentric. Maybe you have to be to work in that business. Anyway, she's found me some interesting places that are close in, with decent room inside and for a (relatively--this IS northern Virginia) moderate price. I'll try to get some pictures up soon.

Re-reading my last post has been interesting in light of the fact that I'm a soon-to-be homeowner. Were I undertaking major renovations (I won't be--no time) I'd doubtless take advantage of some "out of town" labor myself, especially with the cost of building materials going through the roof. A city councilman yesterday quoted a cost of $250/square foot to build Alexandria's new high school--and that price was contractually locked in two years ago (!) I'd been thinking more like $100, but even that is enough to make me abandon, for now, the thought of buying a place that needs work I can't do myself.

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