Sunday, October 26, 2008

2.5-inch Hard Drive Enclosures: A Journey

Hard drives have become small theses days. I needed a handy external storage device for travels with the laptop. After considering enclosure size and prize range, I opted for a Hitachi TravelStar 200GB 2.5-inch hard drive and sought the enclosure, separately. The latter turned into an adventure.

I looked up enclosures with USB-2.0 connectivity. USB cable and a protective pouch are usually included. The first I ordered from an internet retailer of national renown had a nice steel case and the option to power it with a separate supply that was not included. It cost $30.- and came with a hefty rebate offer. I never received the rebate, because the rebate center did not accept the only proves of purchase I had, that is copies of the order confirmation and the packing slip. You will not see advertisements of this retailer on my sites.

Installation of the hard drive into this enclosure was simple. You had to remove a tiny lock-down screw on each long side, pull out the front of the enclosure with the USB interface, attach the drive to the connector, slip the assembly into the case, and re-secure the front with the screws. Sadly, the drive would not start up.

The next enclosure I bought cost only $10.-. No rebates were involved. Installation was simple. Again, the front needed to be pulled out of from the case, and the drive had to be connected. This time no screws were needed. The drive was supposed to be powered by the USB connection. To my frustration, the drive attempted to start up with plenty of clicks, but did not succeed. What was the problem?

I did not read the specifications in the extended description of the enclosure. Apparently, the USB interfaces of some SATA drive enclosures are limited in the storage size of the drive they can handle. This limitation is not related to the price. I eventually found a suitable enclosure that red.populus offered on ebay for $11.-, shipping and handling included.

The top and bottom shells of Dragonext's USB-2-0 2.5-inch SATA external hard drive case must be slid backward to open the enclosure. The drive must be connected to the interface and secured with four screws to a bottom plate, and top and bottom shells are slid forward over the drive until they snap into the front. Once connected to the computer with the included cable, the drive started up without complaint.

The cable is special in that it sports two USB connectors on the computer-side; one for power and one for data. Taking up two USB connections may seem a nuisance, but constitutes a small inconvenience for a functional case that does not need a separate power supply.

Of course, if you choose to avoid any hassle and are looking for a drive that is more sturdy and extravagant, but bulkier, you may opt for the product below:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ginkgo & Stroke

Today, Oct. 10, 2008, Tara Parker-Pope informs us in a post under her New York Times health column Well on recent research suggesting that Ginkgo tree extracts may reduce brain damage after stroke. The study is published in the journal Stroke. The researchers affiliated with Johns-Hopkins University and La Fondation Ipsen temporarily blocked the middle cerebral artery in mice to induce an ischemic stroke. In mice treated with Ginkgo extract, the volume of brain tissue affected by the stroke was only about half that observed in untreated mice. The extract had no effect in mice that lacked heme oxygenase 1, an enzyme known to reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals. These findings may encourage further basic research, ultimately opening a path for future pre-clinical and clinical trials.

I developed a liking for Ginkgo trees ever since I saw my first one on a high school visit to Heidelberg. The tree stood in the park outside the castle, solemnly holding its own one of a kind. They are not native to Germany. A lord long gone had purchased a seedling from China and planted it as a curiosity.

Ginkgo biloba is a species of ancient plants. Herbivorous dinosaurs already dieted on their broad leaves. The leaves are misleading. The trees are more closely related to conifers than to broad-leafed trees. Ginkgos are abundant in the Southeastern United States where I live. The leaves add a wonderful bright yellow to the panoply of foliage colors in the fall.

The leaves' peculiar shape caught the eye of the eminent German poet scientist J.W. von Goethe two centuries ago. Eternalized in a remarkable poem, Goethe calls to our attention the fact that the observer cannot tell from the leaves' shape whether they constitute one leaf split into two or two leaves fused into one. I quote "...Eins und doppelt bin."

This notion of ambiguity applies immediately to the discussed stroke research. As long as we do not know precisely which substances in the Ginkgo extract affect the ischemic brain tissue and what underlying molecular mechanisms reduce the impact of the stroke, medication with Ginkgo extracts is ill-advised. Particular prudence should be exercised, because the extracts are known to diminish blood clotting, exposing patients on blood thinners to additional risk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Social Data Mining: Work in Progress

Demographic data mining is a recent enterprise in social networking on the internet and appears to be still in its infancy. Social web sites commonly ask the user to create a profile to help them find friends, that is the like-minded they wish to communicate with. The collected personal information is used to define the users' context of life and attempt to match it against that of other users. In my experience, the most widely-applied data mining strategies quarry only the simplest information, e.g. residence, school or employer, and only the most fundamental personal characteristics are examined. That is, age, gender and marital status are used to draw conclusions about the interests and preferences of the profiled.

In addition to providing matches for users, these data are used to steer advertisements to the users' web pages that inform on products and services they may be interested in. This seems only fair, because the service on the web site is provided free of charge. However, the conclusions drawn from the users' profile seem at times unrefined and presumptuous, painting a startling image of the average person.

I am 53, male and married. I provide these demographics in my profiles. On my page on one popular social network site, I recently found advertisements of services entitled "Dating for Seniors" and "Meet Married Women in your Neighborhood". Welcome to the real world? A look at my profile however suggests that I am not a likely consumer of these services. Such misguided targeting may only convince users to develop avartars, i.e. virtual cyberspace personalities, bearing little resemblance with their actual lives. Credibility suffers, while professional advertising agencies must be interested in finding true clients for their customers. Obviously, there is ample space for improvement. Until more suitable targeting has been developed, we must tolerate these inconveniences with a ;). They are minor compared with the great opportunities social sites offers.

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