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?


January 9, 2006

My tennis sir called me a liar! What cheek! And not once, but thrice!!!

It was like this. He asked me to play against the wall. So I lined up and whacked the ball at the wall and it went away somewhere (the ball, not the wall, I mean) and didn’t come back to me. I tried again, with a similar result. Then, the third time I sent the ball, it came back somewhat as I expected. I whacked it again and it bounced back again. So I rallied with the wall with a modicum of success, about five shots. That’s when he called me a liar.

According to him, a beginner cannot play with the wall so well. It’s not easy, he said. But I thought it was far easier than playing with a person. The wall is always predictable, you don’t have to wonder whether it’s going to hit the ball hard or soft or from the sweet spot or not, or with a top spin or a back spin or a sideways spin. The wall hits it back the exact same way every time.

Anyway, I tried to explain to tennis sir that playing with the wall was a question of timing, rhythm, nothing else. And though I’m a beginner at tennis (I tried to assure him) I do understand rhythm because rhythm has to do with music and music I have long experience of. Playing music, I mean, with others, in a group, in a strict beat. He looked a little fazed and very far from convinced.

Oh well. That’s what you get for playing well. Next time I’ll be sure to play badly for a while.

Dinner with a Sting

January 5, 2006

Q: When is a dinner out not just a dinner out? If you said, when it is a celebration, you would be right, but, there’s another answer too. When it is a sting operation.

Let me explain.

A friend has a friend who has a restaurant. The restaurant (which shall remain un-named) is run by a manager. The friend’s friend (i.e. the owner) suspects that the manager is cheating him, by generating hand-written bills for some customers and pocketing the cash.

Enter the Dreadful Duo. (That’s Amit and me, in case you were wondering.) Go have dinner there and collect a bill, the friend instructed us. And keep your eyes open while you’re there (not that I usually dine with my eyes shut) and see what kinds of bills other customers get.

Act 1 Scene 2: The Dreadful Duo enter the restaurant, eyes open, senses on high alert. We seated ourselves strategically in this charming little restaurant and craned our necks this way and that to see what kinds of bills other diners were getting. Then we thought we might appear a bit suspicious ourselves, so we indulged in muted conversations and, instead of craning our necks, let our eyes roll around in every direction, sneakily. If the restaurant had served alcohol, people might have thought us a little drunk. Since it only served fresh lime soda, I wonder what they thought.

At any rate, they must have thought us more than a bit strange because, whenever a waiter approached or passed us, Amit would kick me on the shin to warn me to shut up (if I happened to be speculating on the nature of the bill, which I mostly was). And whenever a table had apparently finished their meal, Amit would stare fixedly in their direction until they were presented with a bill and then he would all but get up and go stand behind the host to see whether it was hand-written or not.

All our observations (and while we dined, we caught a glimpse of a grand total of two bills!) led us to conclude that computer-generated bills were being presented, hence indicating that everything was above board and that the friend’s friend was being unjustly suspicious.

Then came our turn. The waiter approached with the bill. He delicately (but tactlessly) placed the folder in front of me. Then he withdrew. With bated breath, Amit watched as I opened the folder. Fully aware of the tension, I slowly lifted the flap and saw: Rs 245. Ok, that’s not too bad, I thought (the food was actually rather good). And then I realized I was supposed to be looking at the bill, not the amount (a rather difficult thing to do, I should tell you; you must try it some day).

It was hand-written.

With some difficulty I restrained Amit from pouncing on the manager there and then. Calmly, I paid up. Should we tip? Why, asked Amit, they’re pocketing the entire bill amount anyway. Good point.

Feeling rather smug with the indisputible success of our sting operation, we headed home.

The Joys of Exercising

October 19, 2005

Imagine snuggling in bed, curling up with someone under a cozy blanket at 6 o’clock on a slightly chilly, rainy morning. Isn’t it the most wonderful thing in the world?

Now imagine the wretched alarm going off. First at 6, then at 6.15, then at 6.30! I feel like just destroying the miserable thing, the instrument of destruction of warmth, and sleep, and dreams, and love.

And why, pray, should I torment myself by setting the alarm for 6 a.m. in the first place, you may well ask. To get up and go for a morning walk? To give up snoozing and mooching under a blanket for vigorous exercise on a drizzly early morning? Wha..? Do I look stupid to you?

But that’s exactly what this stupid husband of mine has been persuading me to do. Sadist. Masochist. Considering that he’s the one I’m busy curling up with. What an idiot.

And all in the name of good health. Fitness. Weight loss. Humph!

So anyway, for the past few days I have been stumbling groggily around the neighborhood, sleep oozing out of my eyes. I even looked right through my next door neighbor as though she were a dream – and not of the nicest kind, either. I had to go and knock on her door and apologise to her later. I mean, one can’t afford to give offense to one’s default letter box, can one? She collects our post and couriers for us most of the time. Sometimes, when she hands it to us, she has this puzzled expression which Amit interprets to mean, “Why do you buy a flat if you never live in it?”

So anyway, off I go on my morning walk, unwashed, unbrushed, and only half dressed. One day, as I trotted around the park, I found that my socks were misbehaving. Sock, to be precise. It kept slipping under my heel and bunching up between the sole of my foot and the inside of my shoe. This was so irritating that I decided it was a sufficient reason to shorten my customary 40 minute-walk to a mere 20 minutes. Thereafter, I started wearing that sock much more often, until it finally got worn to shreds (it wasn’t in any great shape to start with) and Amit threw it out.

And then, today, he had a new trick up his sleeve. When I came back from my walk, I found him performing various masochistic contortions on the living room carpet, as is his wont (in the name of exercise). I didn’t bother to ask him what on earth he thought he was trying to do, and went about getting myself coffee, breakfast, and a hot shower. Somewhere in the midst of these activities, he appeared in front of me and said that he was trying to touch his head to his knee, which was quite impossible. “Like how,” I asked, falling into the trap promptly.

At once he got me to raise my leg above shoulder level, prop it on a handy piece of furniture, and bend over it till my head touched my knee. This, much to his irritation, I could do without major trouble. Then he got me to sit on the cold floor and try various other impossible positions, most of which I could do with varying degrees of success. Not bad!

At last, I realized that it was all a trick to get me to do some bending and stretching exercises! I don’t know what devious motives lie behind it…

And after all that, the blasted weighing scale doesn’t work properly either. It refuses to budge below 58! Useless machine.

Well, after so much strenuous exertion, I think I deserve a treat. Let me see what delicious item I can find for lunch. In fact, why wait that long, I’m even entitled to a pre-lunch snack. (I’m staying away from cup-cakes though.)


October 12, 2005

Help! There’s a poltergeist in my house!!!

First let me assure you that I am a non-believer in such things. Not a very firm non-believer, it is true, but a skeptic nonetheless. It is sometimes very tempting to allow oneself to believe in such romantic notions, but somehow one’s logical mind does not quite accept it. Poltergeists, bah! snorts the logical mind derisively.

Despite which, however, one finds oneself unable to deny that certain mysterious things do happen around the house from time to time. Around this house, in particular. In the kitchen, for instance, dishes move for no apparent reason. Put it down to a cat, or other forms of wildlife, invisible though they may be to human eye. (Much of the wildlife is admittedly all too visible, namely the hundreds of cockroaches that seem to appear and disappear at will.) The lid of a kettle slides along the kitchen counter in front of my eyes, blithely and completely ignorant of Newton’s laws of motion, which state, in effect, that motionless things ought to remain motionless and ought not to move around without any very good reason to do so.

In the bathroom, a shower that hasn’t worked for months suddenly starts to stream water. When nobody even turned it on! Put it down to increased water pressure, a leaky washer, whatever. Then, one day, as I leave the bathroom cursing after having been thus unexpectedly sprayed with icy water in the middle of winter, the mug, which has been hanging quietly where it should be and minding its own business, suddenly takes it into its head to rest on the floor a while, and slides there of its own accord. Put it down to a draft created by me in passing, though I didn’t, didn’t even break wind, not even slightly, honest.

But what happened late one Friday night put the seal on it. It was final and conclusive proof of the presence of poltergeists in this house built on a graveyard, with cracked, sloping floors which leak moisture in the monsoons — probably coming up straight from the graves: the cold, dead breath of souls restless and at unease.

Anyway, back to that Friday night. Was it Friday the thirteenth? It may well have been. In any event, it was a dark, stormy evening and the wind was howling menacingly around the built-over graveyard, when there was an electricity failure. Suddenly, in addition to the wailing wind and the lashing rain, we were surrounded by complete darkness. Ominously, this darkness descended on very few, one could almost say hand-picked houses: those around the back had abundant light. Even the street lights remained. Only very few houses had an electricity failure, of which ours was one.

Candles were duly lit, and since there was really no storm, they did not flicker and go out, but were amenable to being carried around by various members of the household as per our individual needs. Eventually, for want of anything better to do in the miserable dark, we all drifted to the front verandah (enclosed) and sat down – my mother, my sister and I: my father was out – with one candle placed on the bookshelf, where it started to burn the flowers that were residing in a vase thereon. When I pointed this out, the flowers were hastily removed to safer abode the candle was left where it was. Eventually, after maybe a quarter of an hour, electricity came back.

But nothing happened, you say. Flowers burnt by a candle flame do not a poltergeist signify, you remonstrate sharply.

No, but blood stains on the floor do. And that’s what we found when light returned to our lives. It was bloodstains on the floor that opened our eyes to the presence of poltergeists unseen, unheard, but quietly bleeding.

Not that we believed it immediately. Candle wax, said my mother. I rubbed it with my slipper and it was soft. It should have set by now, I pointed out. Besides which, the candle never came anywhere near here – “here” was a good three or four feet from the bookshelf. Everyone examined this statement from the point of view of their movements while equipped with candles prior to our seating ourselves down, and came to the conclusion that I was right (as ever) and no candle had ventured there. Besides, another few moments had passed and the “wax” still hadn’t set. Touch it, suggested my mother. I demurred, but bent to get a closer look and involuntarily got a good whiff of it.

Blood, I pronounced.

Rubbish said my mother stoically, but it indisputably smelt bloody.

So we all checked ourselves and each other, and especially the dog, for signs of injury. None. Meanwhile the servant came in and wiped it up, having been told that it was candle wax, and vouchsafed independently her unasked opinion that it was blood. Then my father came home and was informed of the happenings. Cats, he said. Rats. The cat killed a rat. The dog killed a cat. The injured rat walked across the floor, he hypothesized, getting somewhat carried away.

And disappeared into thin air? I asked. Besides, the blood was in drops on the floor, the way it would be if you cut your hand and it bled onto the floor. Or the way candle wax might drip. But candle wax doesn’t smell of blood.

Poltergeist. That was the only possible explanation. Not your friendly, harmless kind of poltergeist either, bleeding all over our floor. Was it a sign? Were we to follow up clues of a long ago death on just such a night at the very same spot hundreds of years ago? Would we have to talk to neighbourhood elders to discover the truth buried in years of deceit, a la Agatha Christie?

Unfortunately no, as we discovered shortly. Simply a defunct flashlight, whose batteries had been left in too long, and had started leaking. Someone had picked it up in the fond hope of light, and had dripped pseudo-blood on the floor.

Come to think of it, we never did find out who had picked it up.

It wasn’t me, nor my mother. Maybe my sister, but to this day she stoutly denies it.

Maybe… our friendly poltergeist…?

After all, there is someone moving things about in the kitchen and bathroom, so why not in the verandah on a dark, stormy winter’s night?

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