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Author Topic:   The Dog Died
jimh posted 05-11-2014 06:33 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
This story is similar to an old joke:

A fellow has been out of town for two weeks on a business trip. His wife picks him up at the train station.

Wife: "Honey, I am afraid I have some bad news--the dog died while you were gone."

Husband: "That's awful. How did it happen?"

Wife: "He was trapped in the garage when it caught on fire and burned down."

Husband: "Oh no. How did the garage catch fire?"

Wife: "Flames jumped over from the house..."

A few weeks ago in a website thread on Boston Whaler boats, I solicited some historical information. I was immediately chided by another participant in the discussion, who pointed out that a decade earlier he had sent me a CD, and it was very likely that somewhere on that CD the information I was seeking could be found (although it would require a lot research and browsing of many entries on the CD to put together because the CD contains only rasterized text and cannot be searched with text searching). He seemed very upset that that I was asking for information and not doing the research on this topic myself. He was so upset he publicly announced he was going to cease collaborating with me, and would never send me another CD with information.

I recalled getting the CD that the fellow sent ten years earlier because I copied its files onto a server I have on my local network, so I could always have access to the information. But last August, when I, like the husband in the joke, went away from home for two weeks, turned off the power to that server. When I got home from my trip, the server would not power on. To get to the information on the CD, I would have to find the CD itself or repair the server to get to the file copy.

I spent some time looking around for the CD. I have a lot of data CD's, but I don't have them perfectly categorized and stored. My initial search could not find this CD, but in the process of searching for it, I did come across a very old 1990's CD made by Kodak from 35-mm color film negatives I took with my old Nikon camera; this was once called a Kodak PhotoCD. The images on the old PhotoCD were not in my digital photo library on my laptop.

My task was diverted to working with the PhotoCD. Back in the 1990's the PhotoCD was popular, as it offered very high resolution transfer of film to digital images. Kodak used their own file format, indicated with the .pcd suffix (for PhotoCD) to hold the images. I tried to import the .pcd image files into my image library (using iPhoto), but the version of iPhoto I am running now seemed to be unaware of how to import a file in .pcd format. I have a version of Adobe Creative Suite, with PhotoShop, and I figured PhotoShop would be ready for a .pcd. file. No, that was not true. Apparently, because the .pcd format is so old-fashioned and PhotoCD's are such legacy files, these newer versions of digital image software had forgotten how to work with the old image file formats.

I did some web searching, and found that there was an open source application that could convert .pcd into .jpg files. The raw and somewhat unpolished version of this application ran on a command line in a Unix shell. Or you could buy for $80 a nicely polished binary for MacOS or Windows with a GUI. I started with the free version.

The new task was now to learn how to run the freebie pcd convertor command-line Unix application, and use it to convert all the images into JPEG's. This took a bit of study, but after a few trials, I figured out the process. The free Unix utility did not offer any automatic settings. Certain parameters for the conversion needed to be specified. Also, the images on the PhotoCD had some exposure problems. I think Kodak was also in the early days of making PhotoCD conversions, themselves, and they were not doing a great job of exposure compensation--perhaps none at all. If your negative film was a little off on exposure, your digital images on the PhotoCD were similarly dark or light.

Eventually (and here that means after about a week), by trail and error setting of some of the exposure compensation in the command line code, I got all the images from the old Kodak PhotoCD converted to decent JPEG images. Then I imported them into my iPhoto library. It was nice to have these 20-year-old images back and available. What I will do with them is hard to say, but I felt better for having found the old CD and put its image into my library. I am sure they were once on a hard drive of some older Macintosh computer I owned, and I am sure that the old versions of all my image software knew all about the .pcd format, but that hard drive is probably in a land fill somewhere, now, and the old software versions are not able to run on my present operating system.

I was still searching for the other CD, the one the fellow sent me. Finally, about a week later, I came across it. It had become mixed in with some audio CD's. But I now had the information in my hand. I just needed to get it onto the computer.

The CD I found is a sort of home-made CD. It has a rather thick paper label applied to the label side of the media. It is noticeably thicker than a standard CD. I should have noticed this.

With my server still not working, the only computer in the house with a CD drive is my laptop. I just had the laptop completely refurbished by Apple, after its main logic board failed. The laptop had been working like a champ since I got it back; it was like new. I put the CD into its slot-loading DVD/CD drive.

The slot-loading drive began to make strange sounds, and after about ten seconds, it ejected the CD. The thicker CD did not eject very well, and just a tiny speck of it was poking out from the little furry slot of the drive. I had to get a pair of very delicate needle-nose pliers and carefully grab the edge of the media to pull it from my laptop the rest of the way.

The DVD/CD drive had made such a weird noise that it worried me. I found another data CD--of normal thickness without a paper label, but one that did not contain anything particularly precious in value--and inserted it into the slot-loading CD drive on the laptop. It whirled around for ten seconds and was ejected. Rats. The slot-loading CD drive was out of commission. Was it the too-thick CD that did it in? Hard to say.

The warranty on my laptop re-furbishment has expired. I don't know if there is a remedy for this failed drive. I don't want to take the laptop apart (again), because I figure there is too much risk of breaking something else. I am going to live with the dead slot-loading DVD/CD drive.

Looking around the house, I realized that if I ever wanted to have a working CD drive again, I should probably get that older server running, because it has a nice tray-loading CD drive. The server had been running continuously for about five years when I shut it off. (This is a well-known mistake. If something has been running for five years, never shut it off without first backing up all its files.) I started looking at it to see if there was something simple that might get it running again.

On the main logic board of the server there is a 3.6-Volt battery. I have an old axiom about electronic repair: if there is a battery in any circuit, check the battery first. I removed the battery from its snap-in socket on the logic board. It was very dead. The terminal voltage was less than 0.1-Volts.

I found a replacement battery at a local computer store for $5. It probably cost more in gasoline to drive over there. But the new battery did the trick. The server came back to life! Boy--it is a noisy machine. No wonder I was in no hurry to repair it. The room is much quieter with it off.

So now, after about a month of work, I have the server running. I was able to mount the thick data CD in its tray-loading drive, which seems to have little concern about the extra thickness. I have already stored the data on the CD in at least two places on my local network.

I learned a lot of things in this process. In no particular order:

--be cautious about inserting thicker than normal media into a slot-loading DVD/CD drive; it may not eject properly, and might even cause damage;

--if your computer has a power-ON button, it probably needs voltage from an on-board battery to sense the button push; if it stops working, look for an on-board battery;

--if your on-line role is mainly as an information provider, never ask on-line for information, particularly if there is any chance in the most obscure way that you might already have a source on hand in which, with some considerable research, you could find that information;

--get used to computers no longer having internal CD/DVD drives; it is probably going to be necessary to invest in an external USB-based CD/DVD drive if you want to load CD or DVD media on really modern computers;

--if I ever want to boot my laptop from a CD, I will have to get an Apple CD/DVD external drive for $80 instead of a generic one for $40;

--copy the files for any digital images you really want to save onto at least two different storage media and possibly in different formats. Be wary of using only one file format and one media, as both file formats and media tend to become obsolete.

--don't lose the original media for your important files;

--don't mix audio and data CD media in your carefully organized storage system;

--if there is a free-version and an $80 GUI-version of an application you only need to use once, try the free version first, and be willing to put some work into learning how to run the command line code;

There are still some things I don't know:

--the exact location at this moment of the CD with the data I was looking for. It has been lost again in the clutter around the computer desk;

--if the CD/DVD drive in my laptop will ever work again;

--if the server will come back to life if I leave it NOT running for six months; I can't stand the fan noise anymore;

--what information I was originally searching for. I don't remember what it was that began this long trek into computer hardware and software problems.

deepwater posted 05-14-2014 01:10 AM ET (US)     Profile for deepwater  Send Email to deepwater     
That's so sad ,, what kind of dog was it
Jefecinco posted 05-14-2014 09:18 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
Humor on CW. Life is good.
jimh posted 05-14-2014 09:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
To keep the metaphor accurate, the dog in the humorous story was a retriever.

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