I have a portable hard drive (VST, 20 GB, FireWire/USB) which I use daily to bring files back and forth between home and work. E-mail archives, installers for new versions of software, 100 MB sets of files being used for web pages, non-MP3 song files at 20 MB each, and so on. (Most important is that my personal e-mail folders live on this disk while at work, accessed via alias links; I copy them to the system at home.)
On Wednesday, the drive went down. Disappeared from the desktop. I not only couldn’t access much of my e-mail, all my filters used those links to deal with incoming messages, so they were popping up error alerts. The disk also wouldn’t come up on another system. I got it up briefly later that day, but then it went down again.
The drive is 2.5 years old (I got it for work with my previous job and kept it as part of the “severance package,” when I was laid off, where I got to keep all the hardware I was using; anyone need a B&W SoftBook Reader or a Rocket eBook or two?), and it gets heavy transport use — plug/unplug, toss it in the bag to go to work and bag, jostle it around a bit. I had similar problems with it about a year ago, where it would come up and go down intermittently. Tech support at VST was of no help. So I resigned myself to the idea that it was time to replace it. I looked around on the web on Thursday, called a local Mac store, found that prices have come down quite a bit in the last couple years (so I could get four times the space for 2/3 the price), and resigned myself to spending $200 or so on a new drive today.
Tonight, I’m heading up to Vancouver for Rubbout 12, and I decided to take my iPod with me. As usual, it has sat for a couple weeks or more, so it needed a new charge. I plugged it in to the computer with the cable from the hard drive… and it said “OK to Disconnect” without the device having appeared on the desktop. Huh? Unplug, replug, same result. Light bulb flickers on. (It’s one of those new cheaper-to-use fluorescent ones; they take a few seconds to come on.) Cable from the iPod happens to be sitting on the desk from the last time I charged it at work. Plug in the hard drive using this other FireWire cable (which I’ve hardly used in the 16 months I’ve had the iPod). Boom, there’s the hard drive, right up on the desktop like it should be.
Now I just have to spend 20 minutes or so copying e-mail archives and restoring filters and alias links which I deleted in order to avoid error alerts. But at least I’m back in business, as it were.
Lesson for the day: before you freak out about dead hardware, check the cables. They’re a lot cheaper to replace.
[Weblog title reference: From the song “Dead Puppies Aren’t Much Fun,” sung by Bill Frenzer.]
Updated on October 21, 2003
Updated on July 7, 2004
The iPod’s FireWire cable gave out a couple months ago, so I’ve moved to a different solution. Since it’s likely that the regular bending and unbending of the cable is the cause of the connection problems, I now have a short (3 foot) FireWire cable for both the home and work systems, so I end up plugging/unplugging the drive only, leaving the cable alone.Updated on July 20, 2010
I continue to have problems with the drive, though. Of the two FireWire ports on it, only one of them works. And sometimes it doesn’t operate properly, forcing me to unplug and replug (usually after blowing any imagined dust out of the cable and post). Even more curiously, the drive will only work on my home system if I turn it upside down! Right side up and it won’t spin up and register on the system. Bizarre.
I’m going to have to find an alternate solution sometime soon. I’ve thought about going to a pluggable USB drive, but right now my attachments folder on the drive contains 600 MB (and just the e-mail folder has 62 MB), way too large to be suitable for a 128 MB drive. I’ll probably just get myself a new FireWire drive, probably something with 80 GB for half of what I paid for this one.
Of course, that was nearly four years ago. I’ve gotten good mileage out of it, to be sure.
Some time after this (I think), I replaced the drive. Within a year, that one was dead. Since then, USB thumb drives have become the standard, since you can now get them in much large sizes than at the time. I regularly carry a $20 2 GB drive in my pocket (and this one is a few years old, so sizes have now more than doubled for the same price), for taking files to and from work, plugging in at FedEx Office to print posters, and so on. My how the world has changed.