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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Data Snapshot

The Problem

These days doing one's filial duty often involves some TLC for the parental bevvy of computers. Now, mine - while not being technically unsavvy, so to speak - don't have the capacity for the heavy-duty administration Windows PCs need, and so it is on every visit I seem to be shown a new one they got "because the other one was getting a bit slow". Doesn't stop them keeping the old ones around for "light work" though.

Currently they have 4 (!) in operation, and the surprise question on this visit was "can you transfer some files from the old laptop?" The old laptop being a 233 Mhz relic from the late 90's which should be in a laptop hospice, if there were such a thing. The problem appears to be that the 'old laptop' has no way of communicating with the outside world - the external floppy it came with has long vanished, and the CD drive is read-only. It doesn't even have a built-in modem, let alone an Ethernet port. Though surprisingly it does boast a single USB connection, next to the standard RS-232 and printer ports.

Of course the data is quite important and should really have been backed up years ago, but "we keep forgetting to ask you": and now the laptop is starting to die. Its screen is beginning to go, and the hard drive is making alarming noises.

The Solution

The obvious solution - a USB thumbdrive - doesn't work, of course. On insertion the hard-drive clicks away for a while, but all Windows 98 can do is announce that it's found an unrecognized USB peripheral, for which no drivers are available, even on the original installation CD. My Windows 98+USB foo is not what it used to be, but the Internet suggests Windows 98 doesn't recognize USB storage devices without special drivers, which don't appear to be available for that particular type of stick, and which couldn't be downloaded directly onto the laptop anyway. And assuming they did exist, and could be downloaded, it would be simple to burn them onto a CD: except there weren't any in the house anyway.

I should point out that my parents live in a fairly remote part of Wales, a long drive from the nearest place selling anything remotely IT-related. Now if I had this laptop at home, there'd be other options available, ranging from a PCI card to doing something with RS-232 - or as a last resort removing the hard disk and putting it into another laptop. However all I have is the limited amount of equipment available locally, and it would be a good idea to get the job done ASAP rather than risk the wrath of Murphy.

Casting around for options I recall somewhat elderly, but USB-enabled digital camera in my possession, and in the spirit of experimentation I plug it in. Nothing happens, although Windows 98 does recognize the device name, which is progress of sorts. Further consultation of the Internet reveals there is a manufacturer-supplied driver for Windows 98 - so why not use the camera as a storage medium? There's the slight problem of getting the driver onto the laptop, but this is not the only digital camera in the house: my parents have one, and by some miracle they not only have a working driver CD but it contains a special Windows 98 driver.

5 minutes later the requisite files are transferred via the camera, which appeared to be a bit surprised finding a bunch of MS Word files in place of the usual JPEGs, but the job is done and the laptop can be sent to the great lap in the sky.

Posted at 11:25 AM |Comments (0)