Friday, December 13, 2002

November turned out to be rather busy. Lots of technical problems hit me:

1. Doing a routine bios flash update, I manged to munge my bios and make my PC unbootable. I've flashed many times over many years but this was a first for me. I thought I was hosed and was going to have to mail my EPROM back to Soyo. Instead, I decided to try a trick that I had read about years ago to see if I could save myself. Basically, the EPROM bios chip on PCs is only used to bootstrap the PC hardware. Once booted it is no longer used. So, in theory it is possible to hotswap the EPROM while the PC is running and subsequently reflash a dead chip in another PC. My first attemts at this legerdemain failed. I had an old flash program that balked at the chip swapping. Once I downloaded a new award flash program I was able to successfully hotswap my chip, flash, and then return the updated chip to my dead PC. Amazingly, it worked. I don't think I'll be doing any more flashing for quite awhile.

2. One of my hard drives started to report SMART errors. I tried all sorts of chkdisk error scanning sweeps but with no luck. I finally backed up some files and repartitioned the drive and formatted the disc with FAT32 so I could run Spinrite 5 on the drive. Spinrite doesn't understand NTFS. Spinrite didn't report anything. Anyway, I think by reformatting the drives I might have mapped out the bad sector as I have now repartitioned and reformatted back to NTFS and the drive works fine. It seems drives are becoming less robust. I had a serious hard disk failure this past summer. I was able to do a warranty swap with Western Digital. I don't think I'll be buying WD drives again. Thankfully, I have multiple redundant backup strategies so I haven't lost a byte of data. I also bit the bullet and repartitioned my boot drive to small OS boot partion and a separate data drive. I had used this approach for years at work but was stubborn about my home PC. Now I have a boot partition that contains all my OS and program files that I can disk image with DriveImage in about thirty minutes. I use Retrospect backup to back up my data files to CD or external Firewire drive. I also keep CDs offsite at my safety deposit box as well. You can never be too paranoid with this stuff.

3. As I continue to refine my Home Studio I discovered to my dismay that I had a channel imbalance problem with my external Spirt Folio Notepad mixer. After much testing with test tones, I determined that the problem was isolated to the monitor output left channel which was down about 7 db below the right. I checked and found it would cost a minimum of $65 to repair. A new notepad can be had for $150. So, I was suddenly in the market for a new mixer. I had recently been seeing ads for a new line of mixers from Samson called the MDR series. Among other things these mixers were compact, claimed low noise, and had some interesting features. I chose to buy the Samson MDR8 for $199. It features a 24bit DSP for reverb, delay, etc. Quite nice. I think it may be quieter than the Notepad. I was really pleased with the Notepad and I am sad to see it go. I may try to fix it myself since it looks like I could just replace the OpAmps, resistors, etc. until I solve the problem.

4. I bought a great new synth keyboard to replace my very old yamaha PSR synth. I had been wanting to upgrade to a better more professional synth but did not want to spend a lot. I became aware of the great price breaks on the E-MU Proteus PK-6 synth. This used to cost over $1200. It now lists for about $599 and some ads place it at $499. I was lucky and found a floor model at Guitar Center and talked them down to $465. At that price, there really isn't anything that can touch it. I'll spend all winter discovering what I can do with this machine!

5. I also solved a problem I had with the battery in my Takoma Chief guitar running down. I took it in for warranty and they replaced the phone jack which seems to have done the trick. All under warranty, natch.

6. I also resolved an issue with some hum that showed up in my SOTA Home Theater rig as a result of my new McCormack MAP-1 preamp and adding my old B&K amp for the rear channels. The B&K amp only uses a two prong plug and I suspect introduced a ground loop into the system. The solution was ultimately easy. I found that the hum disappeared if I unplugged my front channel McCormack amp which as a three prong plug. Thus, a cheap cheater plug that effectly floats the ground on the McCormack amp solved the problem. Deathly silence now! Since all the electronics are plugged into a Panamax surge protector that is fully grounded and all are hooked together via Canare interconnects, I believe I am quite safe electrically. I also think the sound quality has improved as well? Next upgrade will be a Martin Logan cinema center channel speaker and one channel amp from Outlaw.

Whew! As I said, November was pretty busy. I don't know what I would do if I had a real job?

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