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Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Gadgets Attack!
At least 6 years ago, my wife gave me a Sandisk Cruzer Mini 256 MB Original Packagingflash drive. For those of you who are unfamiliar with flash drives, they are 'keychain-sized' portable drives that can be used to carry large amounts of data and can quickly be plugged into most modern PC's for instant data retrieval.  At the time, a 256 MB sized flash drive was state-of-the art. (Currently, a 16 GIGABYTE drive can be had for a fraction of the cost my wife paid 6 years ago---that's roughly 16,000 MB).  So, for the last 6 years, I've used this flash drive several times a day, accessing my forms and other data needed for work. 
Over the years, I've subjected this little wonder to lots of abuse.  At one point, I left it in my scrubs pocket, and it was subsequently washed in a washing machine and then dried in the clothes dryer.  I thought surely that was the end of it.  Surprisingly enough, it continued to perform flawlessly for years of use after that.  Then there was one time I'd plugged it into a computer in the ER.  I didn't In piecesknow at the time that the USB port on that computer was structurally unsound due to shoddy manufacturing, so the flash drive got stuck in the PC.  Despite my efforts, I couldn't get it out.  So the hospital's IT guy came down to help.  He disassembled the front of the PC, but still couldn't free the drive. Assuming this was the end of the drive's life, I gave the IT guy permission to use pliers to rip it out of the PC's port.  The first yank just ripped-off the outer plasticGlued together shell of the drive exposing the circuit board. Then he gripped the circuit board with the pliers and finally freed it. With low expectations, I connected the maimed, then 3-piece, flash drive to another computer, and again, it performed flawlessly.  I then super-glued the plastic shell back into place and have continued to have years of uninterrupted performance from this little marvel. 
Last week, after at least 6 years of abuse, my trusty flash drive failed to work. Every computer I tried failed to even recognize the drive.  It shouldn't have been a surprise since I'd clearly abused it beyond its intended design.  Adding insult to injury, I had to come to terms with the fact that I'd committed the cardinal sin with regard to data storage---I'd failed to back-up my data on a routine basis.  While much of my forms were stored on other computers, my daily reports hadn't been backed-up in over a year.  Realizing I had nothing to lose, I cracked open the plastic shell that I'd super-glued together years ago.  In so doing, I noticed there was a gap in the casing that allowed the internal circuit board to be exposed to the elements.  Initially, I didn't notice anything overtly broken about the circuitry.  I finally just gave up and resigned myself to the fact that my data was lost.
The next day, I was glaring at the pile of pieces when I noticed the Memory detached from boardflash memory chip didn't seem to sit flat on the circuit board.  After further inspection, I realized the tiny metal pins connecting the chip to the board were sheared off as a result of corrosion.  I quickly plugged it into my laptop while holding down the chip, ensuring it made contact with the board.  This time, the laptop at least recognized that something had been connected, but it said the drive had not been formatted.  Still, this glimmer of hope breathed new life into my quest to restore my lost data.  I made several attempts, applying varying pressure to the chip, cleaning the corrosion off with alcohol swabs, etc.  Still, Clothes pinthe laptop couldn't read the data.  It was tricky holding the chip with a constant pressure while trying to navigate the laptop with only one free hand, so I simply put a clothes pin on the flash drive.  The clothes pin conveniently provided the right amount of pressure necessary to maintain contact without bending the pins.
I'd previously downloaded a program called BadCopy Pro by Jufsoft. Among other functions, the program is designed to repair software on Clothes pin in actionremovable drives allowing you to continue using them as usual.  It also has the ability to sometimes retrieve files from the drive even if the drive can no longer be used.  In other words, if it works, it gets your data back when it would otherwise have been lost forever.  The beauty of this program is that you can download a free trial version of the program and use it to see if it can fix your particular problem.  I ran the program twice. Due to the questionable nature of my rigged, limping flash drive being delicately held together with a clothes pin, the program couldn't find anything salvageable on the drive. One last time, I manipulated the clothes pin, and voila---BadCopy Pro was able to read data from the drive.  It couldn't repair the drive, but it did see my files (a feat my computer couldn't accomplish alone).  However, since I had the free trial version of BadCopy, I wasn't allowed to actually retrieve the files.  I hesitated to even breath for fear the clothes pin might Bad Copy Pro in actionmove, losing my once-in-a million satisfactory connection.  Given my experience with previous "trial versions" of downloaded software, I figured I'd have to go back to BadCopy's site download the "paid" version of the software then try again.  But the authors of Bad Copy Pro had already prepared for customers in such a predicament.  Without closing the program, I was allowed to simply pay $39 to unlock the full retrieval capabilities of this amazing product.  Within seconds, BadCopy safely returned to me 1,400 files that have previously been lost.  I was literally given a second chance and ultimately lost no data!  $39 bucks was a small price to pay.  For those of you wondering, it's only a one-time $39 fee.  The full capabilities of Bad Copy are now available to me forever---I hope I never have to use it again, but it's nice to know it's there.
I want to take this time to thank  SanDisk for providing an amazingly durable, reliable product for many years of flawless performance despite my repeated abuse.
I also want to commend the authors of BadCopy Pro for providing an excellent, user-friendly product that literally restores sanity.  Allowing users to try your product without even registering it is expected for such software, but adding the capability of purchasing a full version while leaving the product running without having to re-launch or re-scan shows that you know your customer base.  Thank you very much! Click here to discuss this topic in the forum.
Sat, August 30, 2008 | link

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My New Favorite Beer (Bier)
A friend of mine periodically makes a trip to Austin to visit her daughter, and while there, she visits Central Market.  She often returns with a nice selection of beer (mostly European).  She never fails to return with very good selections despite the fact that she apparently shops based on the aesthetic 'gotcha' of the bottle itself.  Years ago, she brought me some Corsendonk (a Belgium abbey brown ale).  I fell in love with this beer!  A close second would have to be La Fin du Monde (a triple-fermented golden ale) The name, translated, is "the end of the world"---a nod to the early explorers who thought they'd reached the 'end of the world' when they happened upon America.
So when she was preparing for her trip, she asked me what I wanted her to bring back.  I obviously requested Corsendonk.  While there, Maredsousshe discovered they haven't stocked Corsendonk for several months.  However, after discussion with an astute employee at Central Market, Maredsous was recommended based on my taste for the Corsendonk.
I must say, Maredsous (pronunciation link here) is my new favorite beer.  This stuff is awesome!  If you like beer (and I don't mean Keystone), give Maredsous a try. Click here to discuss this topic.
Tue, August 12, 2008 | link

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Dark Knight
My wife and I don't go to the theater often.  The primary reason is that our home theater typically surpasses that of most movie-going experiences.  At home, the screen image and sound are always perfect,  and there are no nuisances such as cell phones or kids.  Another reason is that the nearest good theater is over 40 miles away.  We don't even try to go the local theater anymore.  The last time I went to the Cinemark Cinema 4 in Athens, there was a huge snuff stain in the middle of the screen, and it was just over-run with disrespectful kids. So we have to drive to Tyler for a decent theater, the Carmike 14, which happens to be a very nice, clean facility with stadium seating and great digital sound.
I just couldn't resist the hype over the latest installment in the Batman franchise, The Dark Knight.  I was particularly intrigued by a coworker's comment that Heath Ledger's portrayal of the sadistic and manic Joker was akin to something out of a Quentin Tarantino flick.  Given that single description, I knew I couldn't wait six months for this film to become available on Blu-ray Disc.  As a result, since my wife and I will be celebrating our thirteenth wedding anniversary next week, we decided to make a date of it.
The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight...I just can't find the words for it.  I was absolutely blown away.  This is one of the best written, best acted, and best directed films I've seen in a long time.  It, without a doubt, lives up to---if not surpasses the hype.  Heath Ledger's protrayal of the iconic Joker was breathtaking.  A character that is so evil and sinister can easily become a one-dimentional caricature, but Mr. Ledger gave the Joker a depth he's never had before, all while making him more evil and psychotic but still barely human. A friend of mine said he'd rather not see another film with the Joker, because no one could compare to Ledger's performance.  I share these sentiments wholeheartedly.  That's not to say Ledger carried the film by himself.  The performances of Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal were among their best.  Although their parts were relatively small, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman shined as anyone would expect given their well-established careers as accomplished top-rate actors. If there was a weak link in the film, it was, ironically enough, Christian Bale. While the Bruce Wayne/BatmanHeath Ledger as The Joker character is obviously intended to be a brooding, yet stoic character, I couldn't help feeling like he was merely distant and detached.  That said, of all the actors having portrayed Bruce Wayne/Batman on the silver screen (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney), Bale's performance is the best to date.
Christopher Nolan (co-writer/director) and Jonathan Nolan (co-writer) created a blazing fast-paced story that was reminicent of "The Departed".  And Hans Zimmer's outstanding score is essentially an un-credited actor.
It's easy to walk out of a blockbuster movie, still on the high of an exciting or moving flick and rashly proclaim it as one of the best you've seen. But while leaving the theater, I had to seriously consider adding The Dark Knight to the list of my all-time favorite films. After much consideration, I conceded that The Dark Knight deserves a place in my top-twenty favorite films of all time.  To see my top-twenty list of all-time favorite films, to comment on this post, or reveal your own list, visit my forum by clicking here.
Sat, August 2, 2008 | link

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