Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upgrading my laptop's hard disk: Postscript to the addendum

In my last post, I said:
[I]t's a mistake to think you can simply clone an 80GB drive to a 500GB drive, swap the drives, and go about your business.
An old friend who is a fan of the Mac writes to say that, on a Mac, assuming the drive was not corrupted and the clone itself isn't corrupted, then this is exactly what you could do. Maybe. It would seem to be possible to do this on a PC, as well. At least, that's what the Apricorn product that I used to clone my old drive seems to be saying it will do.

But, you know, if you're going to buy a new suit, you might as well shower and shave before putting it on. In other words, when moving from an old drive that has been in use for a couple of years to a spanking new drive, it makes sense to do things right, not simply to clone all your old problems. If instead of trying to take the easy way out, I had done what I outlined in my last post and installed a fresh copy of Windows from the start, and then reinstalled my apps, I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble. I would have ended up with what I have now, a nice clean installation of everything. And I would have saved myself a few dollars, because the Apricorn enclosure + software package was a lot more expensive than an enclosure alone.

And I committed the sin of laziness not once here, but twice, because when I did finally decide to reinstall Windows, I didn't format the hard disk.

I should add that, of course, I do not know for sure that my old hard disk was okay, nor do I know that the clone wasn't somehow imperfect. I won't ever know what exactly went wrong. One of the Dell techs who helped me suspected that there might be something amiss with my bluetooth card, so he sent me a new one; it arrived today.

I seem to deal with one computer catastrophe on this scale about every 3-4 years. And just for the record, the last catastrophe was on a Mac.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Upgrading a laptop hard disk: Addendum

In my summary of lessons learned, I think I failed to mention the most important lesson of all. That is, it's a mistake to think you can simply clone an 80GB drive to a 500GB drive, swap the drives, and go about your business. Next time I do this, I think I will do it like this:
  1. Make sure I have a good backup of all the documents on the old hard drive. By "documents," I mean my photos, databases, client invoices and contracts, etc.
  2. Make sure I can recover important settings from the old hard drive - installation licensing codes, passwords, preferences where they're really important, etc. Note that I don't care about having actual backups of these things.
  3. Make sure I have the installation disks or master installation files so I can reinstall the operating system and all my applications later. Exception: Don't need master disks for items that can be downloaded on the Internet (like Google Chrome and Picasa).
  4. Remove the old hard disk and set it aside in a safe place.
  5. Put the new hard disk into the computer.
  6. Boot computer from the operating system CD, format the new disk, and install the operating system fresh.
  7. When I'm able to boot the computer from the operating system on the internal hard disk, add necessary drivers.
  8. Reinstall applications and reconfigure as necessary.
  9. Copy the documents from the backup source to the new hard disk.
Had I done this in the first place, I would have spared myself at least half of the grief I've suffered in the last two days.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Upgrading my laptop's hard disk

I work on several computers, but the one I work on most - the one I do most of my database work on, as well as all of my photo editing - is a Latitude D820. I don't know what I was thinking of when I bought a laptop with an 80GB hard drive, but it soon became clear to me that 80GB wasn't enough. After thinking about it for a long time, two days ago I finally got around to doing something about this problem. I purchased and installed a new 500GB drive. In some respects, upgrading was quite easy. In other respects, it's been, well, the word nightmare comes to mind.


Since I really didn't know what I was doing at all, I started in Dell's support forums. A helpful user explained that any 2.5" 9mm SATA drive should work in my Latitude D820. The same user also explained how it's done. You put the new drive in an enclosure and attach it to the computer; use cloning software to copy the entire contents of the internal (old) drive to the external (new) drive; shut down the computer and swap the drives; restart and go back to work. Armed with this info I headed off to Fry's Electronics. I purchased two products. First, a Seagate 2.5" SATA drive: 500 GB, 7200rpm, 16MB buffer/cache. And second, the Apricorn EZ Upgrade Universal Hard Drive Upgrade Kit.

The Apricorn EZ Upgrade kit made the hardware upgrade easy. Following the clear instructions, I installed the new drive in the Apricorn drive enclosure. I put the Apricorn CD into my CD drive and installed the software. Then I was able to use the software to clone my internal (old) hard drive, that is, to copy everything from my old 80GB hard drive (including invisible files) over to the new 500GB drive. This took several hours. When the copying was done, I shut down the computer, removed the old drive from the computer and removed the new drive from the enclosure, and then swapped them. I was able to boot the computer from the new drive. Success! Good job, Apricorn!


The hardware upgrade was easy, but unfortunately, it's not the end of the story. In fact, it is just the beginning.

I did the hardware upgrade on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, when I started up in the hope of getting back to work, I noticed the my antivirus etc software - Microsoft's One Care - was complaining that it wasn't working properly. I visited Microsoft's web site, found some troubleshooting info there that allowed me to check the active services and (apparently) correct the problem.

Then another problem appeared. After was I had been working for about 20 minutes, my laptop's screen went dark. The laptop didn't seem to go to sleep or shut down - I just lost the display, and I could not bring the display back by moving the mouse, touching a key or even touching the powerkey. Had to hold down the power key 10 seconds to force the computer to shut down, then reboot. I went back to work, and about 15-20 minutes later, it happened again. Can't work like that, so it was time to call for help.

Seagate tech support was easy to reach and courteous, and seemed to want to help, but the guy I spoke to said that, if the computer boots correctly and seems to be working (at least until the screen goes dark), then it is probably not a hard drive problem. I'm a bit skeptical because earlier versions of the drive I bought got bad consumer reviews online. But Seagate's a great company, and I've had good experience with many previous Seagate drives. He recommended that I contact Dell.


So I called Dell.

The tech support guy I reached in the morning (William) asked me to run the hardware diagnostics. I did and no errors were found. So he suggested that I upgrade my BIOS and also the driver for my NVidia video card. I did both upgrades and for a while, things seemed to be working all right.I was able to work for more than 20 minutes so far, without the screen going dark. But then I got a blue screen - something I haven't seen very many times in the four years since I started using Windows more than the Mac OS. The blue screen reported that I had experienced a "bad_pool_header" error.

So in the afternoon I called Dell again and got another support technician (Jose). More tests - and more blue screens, always the same. He took control of my computer and ran some diagnostics. We tried using the Windows installation disk to repair my installation. That didn't work either. The blue screens continued. After spending most of the day on the phone with the Dell techs, I finally had to get off the phone around 6pm to cook and eat dinner. But before I started cooking, I started the process of reinstalling Windows XP completely.

In the evening, after dinner, I returned to the computer and completed the installation of Windows. When I was finished, I was surprised to learn that I could not get to my wi-fi network. No wireless driver installed. The techs seemed to think that I should have a separate disk labeled "Drivers" but I don't, and I didn't seem to get such a disk with any of my other Dell computers, either. Anyway, called Dell a third time, got a new tech (John). With his help, I was able to download the wireless driver to my Dell desktop machine, copy it to a USB thumb drive and then install it from there on the laptop. After getting the Latitude D820 back on the wireless network, John took over my computer and installed the other necessary drivers. When that was done I did a little cleaning up, and started trying to restore files from my online backup account with Carbonite. I gave up well after midnight, leaving the computer to continue downloading files while I tried to sleep.

Are we there yet?

Not done yet, alas. This morning I woke up and started installing updates and critical apps like FileMaker Pro Advanced. As arranged the day before, Jose (the Dell tech I spent my afternoon with yesterday) called me back to see how the reinstallation had gone. I told him that, somewhat to my surprise, it appeared that the documents from the hard disk had survived the installation but that they were now in a folder to which I was denied access, even if I logged in as Administrator. He explained that I had failed to erase the hard disk properly when I did the install, and he recommended that I do the installation again, but this time that I delete the existing partition and format the disk before installing.

You can imagine how excited I was about that suggestion, but right is right, so I have taken his advice. I'm now a few minutes from the completion of the clean install....

Wrap up

So, here it is Wednesday night - exactly 48 hours after I began the process of replacing my old hard drive with the new one. I got my new drive formatted (i.e. totally erased!) this afternoon and I got Windows XP re-reinstalled. After my original reinstallation last night, I tried restoring files from my Carbonite backup, which would be great, except that it meant downloading everything over the Internet, and that was turning out to be pretty slow. So today, I took the new drive out of the computer, put the old drive back in, started the computer, and then copied the documents that I want to keep from the old drive to an external drive. Then I swapped the new drive back into the computer, booted, and copied the files from the external drive to the internal hard drive. Now I'm reinstalling applications. By the time I go to bed tonight I should be back in business. And I only lost two whole days!

I typing this with my fingers crossed (harder than it sounds) but it seems right now that everything is stable and working well. No blue screens, no video blackouts. I'm not going to be completely comfortable for a couple of weeks. Some of the folks who complained about an earlier version of the Seagate drive I installed said that their drives worked fine for the first couple of weeks. But I'll get Carbonite backing me up again tomorrow, so I should be in good shape.


So what have we learned, boys and girls? I've learned a couple of things.

  1. Installing a new hard drive in a PC isn't as hard as I thought it would be.

  2. A low-level reformat of a 500GB hard drive takes a couple of hours.

  3. Installing Windows XP itself from scratch isn't a big deal, but getting all those drivers installed is exhausting. I give Dell credit though for guiding me very well on its web site. I put in my express service code (sort of an ID for my laptop) and told me just what to install.

I hate computers.

Monday, March 02, 2009

It's Casimir Pulaski day!

Here's a holiday that I seldom celebrate: General Casimir Pulaski Day!

Pulaski was a brilliant Polish cavalryman who volunteered his services to General Washington during the Revolutionary War. He died from injuries suffered during one of his engagements but not before distinguishing himself and coming to be recognized as the Father of American Cavalry.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

T-Mobile Dance

I could bring up Intelligent Design here, but I won't. Let me just say that, if this doesn't put a smile on your face, well, God bless you. Be sure to watch in high quality.

T-Mobile Dance on YouTube

Monday, February 09, 2009

G1 photography with Snap Photo

This photo of my dining room was taken with the G1 using Snap Photo rather than the default Camera app. Post processing in Pic Say.

Snap Photo uses the G1's accelerometer (!) to provide digital image stabilization. Seems to work. Keep in mind that this was a low-light challenge. No flash, no sunlight, just one incandescent light.

I adjusted saturation in Pic Say but color in the original shot was better than I expected because Snap Photo let me adjust the WB.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A better browser for Android: Steel

Haven't gotten the 1.1 firmware update yet, but I am happy to have discovered something really good for Android: the Steel browser.

Steel has a touch-screen interface, including an on-screen keyboard. I still don't want to type a lot on a virtual keyboard, but it's very useful to have the option for, say, entering a url or password.

Steel also displays pages really nicely. I think the Opera mobile browser is downright ugly. The default browser built into Android - NOT Chrome, as I understand - displays pages quite well. Steel just does better.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

You don't have to be a tech genius to outsmart malware

The other day while Penelope was surfing the Web, she suddenly saw a scary screen saying the computer was infected and asking her to take action. She handed the computer to me. Here's what we saw:

Notice that the presentation looks "official," but is in fact completely generic. Next we got the following messages:

Behind the dialog in front there is a dialog with the even more official-looking title "Windows Security Alert," showing a list of allegedly infected files.

It looks official. But wait a minute. Does Windows ever display the hierarchy of my hard disk in Firefox? If Windows ever wants to use a browser, it launches Internet Explorer.

The other strange thing here is, the front dialog - the one that's telling me to download Antivirus 360 - is coming from the web page antimalwarescaner-dot-com. (WARNING. Don't go there!) I use Microsoft's OneCare to protect my Windows computers. If malware is detected on on my computers, I expect to get an alert from Microsoft OneCare - not from some web page I've never heard of before.

In short, I knew that I didn't want to say okay to these warnings. Instead of clicking OK, I clicked the red "x" to close the window. Unfortunately, my efforts to cancel these dialogs were ineffective. The dialogs kept popping up. That was an additional clue that something was wrong and this not a valid alert.

When this happened on my wife's computer, I ended up holding down the powerkey for 10 seconds to shut down the computer. Two days later, the same thing happened on my computer, and I got out by hitting cntl-alt-delete and quitting Firefox.

A little Web research fairly quickly explained that the problem is due to a piece of malware called Antivirus 2009. It's a piece of "rogue security software" that "hijacks" your web session and redirects you to somewhere you don't want to go. Rogue security software is like a bad cop. Hijacking is like, well, like being hijacked. Ever landed on a porn site by accident? You got hijacked. Anyway, I knew that I didn't want to GO to the web site identified as the source of the alerts, so instead, I Googled it. That search led me to this page, which in turn referred me to the excellent site I downloaded Malwarebytes's freeware utility Anti-Malware, installed it, let it update its database, and ran the default quick scan. No virus found. Whew.

What's the moral here? You don't have to be a tech genius to outsmart malware. If you don't know where something coming into your computer is coming from, block it. Don't open email attachments unless you know who sent them and what they contain. And don't let web sites do anything to your computer unless you're really sure you trust the site. In short,
  1. stop
  2. take a deep breath
  3. THINK
Oh, and it's not a bad idea to have good security software installed.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Speed Dial add-on for Firefox 3

Speed Dial - Gallery

One of the things I liked about Google's new browser, Chrome, is the way it displays thumbnails of my most frequently visited pages when I open a new tab. But there was a lot to dislike about Chrome, as well. First, Chrome displayed 9 thumbnails only. Second, it didn't ever seem to update them. Third, I had no control over what thumbnails were displayed. And I should add, fourth, Chrome doesn't support add-ons.

Which is why I still use Firefox 3 for 90% of my browsing. One of Firefox's biggest advantages is that it supports add-ons. Among my favorite add-ons are FireFTP (a full-featured ftp client built right into Firefox), Deng Google Bookmarks, Tiny Menu and Scribefire. Scribefire is a blog editor: I'm using it right now to write this post, because it's a better editor than the one built into Blogger. Anyway, my newest favorite add-on for Firefox is Speed Dial.

Speed Dial displays thumbnails of web sites, much as Google Chrome does. You can load the thumbnails any time you want - or you can configure Speed Dial so the thumbnails are loaded when you create new tabs and/or windows. Click a Speed Dial thumbnail, the page loads, just as in Chrome.

But with Speed Dial, I can have more than nine thumbnails. I can assign pages to any location in the thumbnail list. Note in the screen shot that I've configured Speed Dial to display 16 locations, and some of the locations are, at the moment, unassigned. Better still, I can have more than one list. Note above the thumb nails that I've configured two different lists, my A list, and a B list with less important sites. Finally, with Speed Dial, I don't have to view the thumbnails at all, because Speed Dial allows me to type a site's location number to load the site. In other words, to get to my Gmail account, I just type cntl-3. To get to The Online Photographer blog (one of my favorites), I type cntl-1-5, that is, I hold down the cntl key and type a 1 and then a 5. Brilliant.

About Me

I am an event photographer living in Dallas, Texas.