Inside a hard disk drive

Ever wondered what’s inside the metal box that stores all your stuff? If you’re a computer enthusiast you’ve probably seen it many times over, but since I’ve today had the chance to open a 10K SCSI disk up to destroy it’s insides, I took the opportunity to take some photos.

Be warned: you should never open up a hard drive unless you don’t mind losing all of the data that is stored on it. They are built in special conditions, and are sealed to prevent dust getting in and causing catatrophic damage. So, there’s your warning.

Continue reading “Inside a hard disk drive”

The case of the exploding CD

As part of the Whole-House-Audio system I’m building I’ve been forced to install Windows on one of the thin-clients (more details soon). I started off with Windows 98, but found that it doesn’t support USB optical drives – the thin PC doesn’t have any removable media drives – then tried Windows 2000. Everything started off fine, got past the partitioning part and onto copying the initial files. I went downstairs for a few minutes and on my return I noticed that the installer had stalled and the drive was making an odd noise. Thinking that the disc may have just become dislodged I ejected the drive to find the fragments shown above.

The genuine Windows 2000 CD, made back when MS first started off making the cool shiny holographic CDs, had completely disintegrated in the drive. There were no obvious defects when it was inserted, so I can only surmise that the discs weren’t manufacturered with todays high-speed drives in mind.

The USB DVD-Writer was new, having only unwrapped it a few hours earlier. There’s no way that an exploding CD would be covered under warranty, so I chose to attempt to fix the problem. Dismantling the enclosure and drive was harder than I thought, but I learned a lot about the good build quality of them in the process.

After removing the large shards by hand and using an air duster (outside) to remove the tiny fragments, I reassembled the drive. Fortunately it seems to work, at least the reading part does. The writing part caused errors when I tried it on one machine, but that could just be down to that machine. Since I now had no working Windows 2000 CD I ended up installing XP SP2.

Coincidentally a few days earlier I had Stumbled across an article discussing an experiment to find out the fastest that optical media could be spun before disintegrating, with some quite scary findings about just how much damage the resulting shards can do. I can’t find that article, but here’s something a little less scientific-looking.

Earthquake Update

It would seem that my guesses were more or less correct – the largest earthquake in the UK for 25 years. Apparently most of the country felt it, so I think everyone knows how unnerving it feels! The BBC has an initial story on it here. The BGS site, which is responding a little better than it was at 1 am, also has a technical report on the quake. The BGS also has more general information on UK seismic activity.


At about 00:56 this morning, roughly 20 mins ago, I was awoken by some fairly vigorous shaking – a very unnerving experience. I’ve knowingly experienced one earthquake in the UK before, also at home, where I could hear a low level rumbling followed by noticeable shaking and land movement. This time round I was a whole lot more scared and confused because I was actually woken by it.

I’m sure it will make the news later today. I suspect that the eppicentre may have suffered quite some damage, assuming we weren’t that near to the eppicentre. The only thing I’ve noticed so far is that certain websites, which happen to be the top results in google for “earthquake uk”, are very difficult to get a hold of. If other connectivity issues occur it is possible that a connection may be damaged within the UK. The BBC News site is loading fine. The BBC have just picked up on the story.

First prize


A few weeks ago I entered the Homebrew Challenge on The competition was centred around technical projects that people have done in their spare time, so I submitted my projects. The prize was a £20,000 Toyota Prius (a petrol-electric hybrid) courtesy of Intel. This competition was really the spark behind my push to get this blog going with information about my projects and ideas as well as some incentive to progress the current projects, so at the time I thought that even if I didn’t win a lot of good would have come out of it. With the permission of ZDNet the posts on this blog were replicated in the Homebrew Blog. The Homebrew Blog is a new community blog on the ZDNet UK site, which gathers together homebrew-related posts from several blog authors. As far as I’m aware there aren’t any other similar collaborative blogs out there for this subject matter. If you know of any though, please let me know.

After a couple of weeks of DIY and blogging I received a call from the community manager at ZDNet, Karen Friar. A few seconds later I stood on the 1st floor landing of our building in amazement at the news that I had won the competition. I had won a £20,000 car! Naturally my parents were the first to know, alongside my friend Matt who was within earshot of the conversation. Needless to say most people couldn’t believe what I was saying – nor could I. I had told a few people at work that I was entering the competition, mostly so that I could finally explain the purpose of all my wierd deliveries, but normally such an act combined with getting-my-hopes up would just result in disappointment – but not this time!

The following Tuesday I had the day off work to demonstrate my project to the editor of and have it recorded on video. It was nerve-wracking to say the least, but Matt and Ashley were really down-to-earth and nice guys which put me at ease a little. They were also quite knowledgeable about technology, but in hindsight that shouldn’t have been such a surprise with them being from behind a well-known technical site.

The video has been edited together, and is available on the ZDNet UK site (on the homepage as I write this). I’m not photogenic at all, so multiply that problem by about 25 times per second and it results in me not being very videogenic either. Fascinating to hear that my voice is lower than I thought though! Do I really sound like that? I’m going to stick to working behind the camera rather than appearing in front of it.

Originally the car was supposed to be delivered while the video was being shot, but it had to be delayed. The car arrived on the Thursday from Croydon. Another pleasant gentleman drove it to my house and explained pretty much everything about the car – though it still hadn’t sunk in at that point that the car was mine. I had to get straight off to work though, so I didn’t get chance to drive the technology-packed £15-a-year-tax 65-mpg-combined blue car until the weekend.


This is my first automatic car, so my first experience at driving it was a little jerkey. I’m glad I didn’t leave the driveway that time, though I almost went through the hedge. The brake is extremely sensitive, especially at low speeds. For the record my previous car was a 4-year-old 1 litre Corsa (a nice little car) and before that an 11-year-old 1.4 litre Astra (a battered, manual-everything car that’s been through almost the entire of my mum’s side of the family). The first upgrade was a major step, and this one is a fantastic leap!

I have now driven the car on 3 trips, ferrying the family about. It’s a real pleasure to drive. No more aching foot from controlling the clutch in queues! I’m still getting used to it, so I can’t even use the steering-wheel mounted AC/audio/navigation/phone controls at the moment. The sat nav has had one chance so far, and it was OK that time. I’ve programmed it to get me to my next destination on new year’s eve in the middle of Birmingham. That should be the real test for it. I wouldn’t dare venture into Birmingham without satnav.

I’ve already thanked them many times, but thankyou again to ZDNet UK and Intel for such a great competition and a fantastic prize. It has really made my Christmas.