The Case of the Smoking Hard Disk

April 16, 2006
The trouble with digital photography is that you get digital photographs. Digital photographs require digital storage. And, for any avid amateur photographer who can’t tell good from bad from positively ugly, and who therefore indiscriminately refuses to delete any photograph, even those resulting from an accidental click of the shutter, it requires an abundance of storage space.Now, as you all know, we are a fairly tech savvy couple, with a combined wealth of three laptops and a desktop, which total to about 150 GB (plus three CD writers). Not all of this is meant for photographs, of course – some of it must be reserved for office work. Still, if you discount about 20-30 GB for office work, we should have enough digital memory to store photographs for some time to come. Or so it would seem.

However, the fact remains that we are perpetually out of disk space and perpetually fighting over what little remains. (This is in part due to the almost total inaccessibility of the desktop. It is a Linux box, whose monitor has been stolen by the laptop, and which must therefore be accessed remotely by means of VNC or somesuch magic, even to the extent of booting it blindly.)

So, to solve the photo storage problem, we went and bought an external hard disk. A second external hard disk, to be precise, because I had bought one when I went on my extended vacation in the Himalayas. With these two we had an additional 120 GB to play around with, if only we could get them to work. We’d already had some trouble getting a consistent result from the first one: it frequently made a noise like a time bomb ticking and then refused to explode or do anything else (thus putting us in a state of permanent suspense). But with the new disk, we were full of hope. This one would surely work and solve all our problems. All we needed was an external case with a power cord.

We spent the next four weekends visiting all the computer shops in Koramangala, MG Road, Brigade Road and even going as far afield as Commercial Street – and believe me, that’s a lot of computer shops. It’s not that we didn’t find any cases; we found plenty. They just didn’t work! The first one we tried allowed us to read and format the hard disk, but not copy any data. After that, it was downhill all the way. By the end of our tour of computer shops, the cases, when connected to a power outlet, would immediately start smoking and promising leaping flames in the immediate future.

But the thing is, the hard disk wasn’t faulty. This we knew because we had tried it on a friend’s computer and it worked beautifully, both externally and internally.

By now, I thought we might be acquiring a degree of infamy among the Bangalore computer stores. I could see wires buzzing as the new flew around network: BEWARE THE YOUNG COUPLE WITH THE SMOKING HARD DISK!!! I even fancied I could glimpse some computer stores hurriedly downing shutters, the shop assistants scuttling nervously out and ducking into side alleys as they saw us approaching with hard disk in hand and grim determination written on our faces.

So we decided to try the hard disk out on our friend’s computer once again. If it worked, we might even persuade him to buy it off us. So off we went on Saturday and cajoled him into testing it. And guess what… his computer wouldn’t even boot up once it was plugged in!

Post Script: It wasn’t until much, much later that we conclusively found the problem. It lay not in the hard disk, but rather, in the casing. It was the case of the hard disk that was smoking – get it?

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