Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  The lack of practice effect
I haven't had to burn a CDR in two years (at least). I just don't make them very often. I have a few burners tucked away here and there, but nothing has been hooked up in quite some time.

So yesterday I finally needed to burn a CDR, actually a couple, as I need to install RH 9. I've been running RH 7.2 but the compilers are way out of date, and its pretty hard to bootstrap that kind of thing. So out with the old, in with the new; sort of.

First I had to find my CDR drive. This took much longer than I thought it would as I had filed it away with a bunch of empty external cases. Wandered around quite a while looking for that. Finally found it: my Pioneer CDR 8X SCSI recorder.

Then I had to figure out how to hook it up. Now my main machine, a HP Kayak has a SCSI card in it (quite a nice one in fact), but its dual channel wide SCSI2. Not a common interface format for old CDR drives. But, having at least two boxes of SCSI cables, I figured maybe I'd get lucky. Nope. No W-SCSI2 to anything narrow. I did find one W-SCSI2 to this really high density connector that SUN uses on its PCI cards so that they can get two connectors side by side in the space of one card. Hmmm, not much use for that. Remember to file that in my useless technology box (along with my Truevision Targa-16 cards, Radius NUBUS 24x display cards, AAUI to thin-net COAX network adapters, and some cisco 60-pin to V.35 CSU/DSU cables). Nothing helpful in my adapter box either.

Ok, so the way I used this last time, was with an Adaptec narrow SCSI card. Had to go looking around for that. Not on my desk, not sitting around on the cabinets, not in my box of parts where the ethernet cards, graphics cards (anybody need a Matrox G450?), parallel port cards, modems, answering machines, and old hard drives all were. I don't know why I'm still storing 250MB hard drives, I just bought a USB pen drive that large last month for $50. Maybe I'll let the kids take it apart when they're bigger and pull out the magnets.

Can't find the card. Ok, this is getting too difficult, switch to plan-B. The laptop. My laptop has a CDRW/DVD drive, though the drive itself is in my wife's machine at the moment so she can watch DVD movies. Go get the drive upstairs. Side detour as I've left the air open to the woodstove and its now running at 650F which is a little above DANGER. Bring the drive downstairs and plug in it.

Now, there's no software installed on my laptop for the CDRW because I lost a harddrive last summer and had to have it replaced and re-installed the OS at that time and of course the CDRW wasn't in the laptop on the re-install so it doesn't have any of the software for it that came with the laptop. Ignore that and try to install the software which came with the Pioneer recorder. Hmmm. First program won't work on XP. Second program complains because the CDRW is not a pioneer drive, plus it wants to reboot before it will run. Bleach.

Also notice that I don't see any blank CDs around. I have an entire spindle somewhere. Now I had already hunted through the basement shelves and boxes and drawers and general clutter for the drive, cables and card; so things were looking pretty bleak, but I'm persistent. So I kept looking. I dug into one particularly large junk box and after digging past about fifty anti-static bags I did find the Adaptec SCSI card, so that plan was back on. Then I remembered that I still had the original CDR media that came with the first CD recorder we bought at Twin Forces back in 1996. It was to author our first CDROM game, Psychasm, a cross platform first person hybrid maze, shooter, explorer (like Myst), side-scrolling puzzle game. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of it, it never came out. But that's another story.

So, certified 4X media in hand, I set about taking apart my PC. Now the HP Kayak XM600 series implements that great invention: the tool-less chassis. This means that its supposed to be taken apart with your hands. However, lacking the strength of ten men, it means that you'll need to use tools to take it apart, but because it wasn't designed for the use of tools, that you'll scratch it up doing so. Anyway, with a screwdriver and pliers, I managed to get it apart and plan my attack. I decided to put the CDRW in the second bay (instead of leaving it as an external device so that there would be less mess to deal with), so I removed the face plate and slid it in, then I inserted the card, and hooked up the cable.

Now, on one edge of ribbon cable is a red mark to signify line 1, and the connectors are usually keyed. It turns out that neither end was keyed in this case, and I plugged the drive end in backwards so I just plugged the other in upside down as well. Ready to try it out, I put the cover back on, and prepared to fire it up.

After working on hardware for more than twenty years, one thing that you learn that you often forget something. So you learn that its better to pause and quickly review things, than it is to rush forward and try it out. This will even save you from the occasional disaster, such as leaving a pair of uninsulated pliers sitting on top of a motherboard. Did I forget anything this time? Um, yes. I didn't plug the CDR drive into the power. Ok, peel back off the cover with the tools that you aren't supposed to need, plug in the power, and lets give it a try.

Fired the system up, booted into W2k and no new hardware found. That's not good. Decide to tell it about the hardware manually, but that didn't work. Another reboot, just in case, but still nothing. Power it down and open the case again. Ah, the PCI card is not in all the way. Really give it a good shove this time and try again. Ok, it found the new hardware, and for some reason wants to install drivers for AVA-2910/15/20 even though its an AVA-2906. Whatever. Reboot.

Yay! It found the drive. Spend a few minutes wandering around in the Win2k admin tools looking for the storage manager so I can assign it a drive letter that won't bump around every time I play with USB devices, then I'm set to try it out. Oh, the CDR software wants to reboot my machine again. Ok, fine. Reboot. Again.

Things are going good now. The software even has the option for burning ISO images. Fire it up and let it go at 8X. It fails. Hmmm. Ok, try it again at 6X (test first this time). Still fails. Gahhh. Spend the next thirty minutes playing with various SCSI IDs, termination, parity, different ribbon cables (no it didn't make a difference when I switched the cable around so that the red line was on pin 1).

Try to read a CD just for fun: "The disk you have inserted is unformatted, do you wish to format it?" Its an Adobe Acrobat install CD, so go ahead. "Format Failed." Big surprise. Ok, maybe this drive really is dead. How annoying. Three hours gone, and no recording capability.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, technology is not really that much fun.

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Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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