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Monthly Archives: January 2011

My wife Maggie was recently looking for pictures of our old dog Pluto for her blog, and she came across a lone CD loose in a photo box full of old, uncategorized photos.  The disk had a Ritz Camera logo and was “Powered by Microsoft PictureIt 2000.” Back when the photo world was just starting to transition to digital, you could get your film pictures put on a CD when you got your film developed.

We do not have many pictures of Pluto; he was not one to hold still too long, but 2000 was the right time frame for Pluto pictures.  The box turned out to have only a few shots of him, so she put the CD in her laptop in the hope that it would have a few more pictures of our first dog.  Her Panasonic laptop did not even recognize that there was a CD in the drive.  I figured I would try the CD with a different PC, and stuck it in the DVD drive on our desktop.  I immediately heard bad sounds coming from the drive.  I took it out, and tried sticking the CD on the PC’s second DVD drive (yes, two DVD drives since the desktop machine is a Dell XPS gaming rig).  Same bad result, with ugly sounds coming from the drive as it tried in vain to read the disk.  I popped the disk out to do a visual inspection that in retrospect I should have done sooner.  It turned out to be seriously warped.

Maggie’s assumption was that the CD was toast, but I was more hopeful.  After all, the bits were probably still there.  And something warped can be un-warped, right?  After thinking about the problem for a bit, I concluded that some time in the oven might do the trick.  An Internet search revealed nothing consistently useful on the topic of un-warping CDs or DVDs, so I thought I’d improvise.  First, I needed a flat surface.  My son was recently home from college and had taken apart an ancient hard drive.  He likes to see how things work and had plenty of time on his hands.  Hard drive platters are incredibly smooth and rigid, so I though that would make a good straightening platform.  I also needed something heavy to place on top of the CD to help the flattening process.  I settled on a flat-bottomed drinking glass filled with water.  I put the platter-CD-glass sandwich in the oven, and set the temperature to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was a guess that it would be hot enough to soften the DVD but not cause damage.

I meant to set a timer for perhaps 30 minutes, but then promptly forgot about the whole affair.  About an hour later, I spelled the faint but distinctive odor of hot plastic.  I peeked in the oven expecting to see a gooey mess, but things actually looked pretty good.  Whew!

I wanted to make sure the CD stayed flat as it cooled, and I settled for a piece of scrap Melamine with a few sheets of paper to avoid scratches.  I put the hot CD on the Melamine slab, and then put three volumes from an encyclopedia on top to keep the thing flat.

About 30 minutes later, I took the now-cool CD and put it into the desktop drive.  No bad sounds, and I could access the directory!  There were a bunch of random folders and icons all ready to install PictureIt 2000 Express, but there was a folder in the mix that had our actual pictures including some of Pluto:

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As the 140,000 CES attendees have been making their way back home from Las Vegas over the weekend, I can’t help wondering if the cost, time, and effort of CES is really worth it.

My wife recently came across my Comdex badge from 1986:
It may have been my first big technology trade show.  The card has no magnetic strip to swipe; the letters were raised to allow an old-fashioned credit-card imprint to be made when visiting booths.  This was pre-internet: no instant exchange of information, no Youtube product demos and product reviews.  A lot of what you saw at trade shows was stuff you hadn’t heard about, and a big reason for going was to see what was going on.

You can still see new products and technology at CES.  Keynotes can be illuminating, and some companies use CES to make product announcements.  But online access to news and product information makes trudging out to a booth superfluous.  In richer times, you could at least collect a healthy set of hats, t-shirts, and other goodies.  Even in today’s challenging conditions, large companies still show up with multi-million-dollar booths and armies of support staff.  The cost is hard to justify from a shareholder perspective, and I understand why Apple pulled out years ago.

One reason to attend CES is to have face-to-face meetings with partners.  That was true in 1986 and is true today, and is the only reason I have been attending for years.  I would love to see CES evolve into a venue that focused on industry networking and enabled high-quality peer-to-peer engagement.

In its current form, CES seems like a giant, expensive science fair.