Bob and Joy Schwabach

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  March 2008, Week 2


We found a nifty device that's like an iPod docking station only it's for hard disk drives. The $44 docking station will take just about any kind of 3.5-inch hard drive; just plug them in and plug them out.

We've had external cases for hard drives for several years, and they work fine. But they are nowhere near as convenient as this docking station. For one thing,SATA Stage Rack you have to have a separate case for each hard drive. But if you can plug them in and out of a holder that sits on your desk, there's no limit.

Why have any extra hard drives lying around at all? Well, new computers happen. Whenever you get a new computer, there's the problem of what to do with all the stuff stored on the old computer. You can transfer the files easily enough, and there is software that will also transfer programs to the new computer. But the transfers are sometimes difficult to manage, and they don't always work perfectly.

So why not ignore the whole problem and just remove the old hard drive instead? It's not difficult: You turn off the computer, remove the outer case, unscrew the screws holding the drive in place, and unplug its connecting cords. This takes about five minutes. Now you have everything that was on the old computer and no problems with any of it being messed up by transfer attempts. Just plug that old disk drive into the docking station and it becomes something like an enormous floppy disk. (Anybody still remember the old floppy disks?)

We buy a new computer every couple of years, and over time we have a lot of good stuff stored on the old ones. Bob has pulled the hard drives out, and we have four of them sitting on shelves. Now we can plug them in and use the older stuff anytime we want.

There is one problem that might come up, and that's if the new computer has a different operating system. Some old programs won't work on a different operating system -- like changing from Windows XP to Windows Vista -- but the files can always be read.

Having a docking station brings up the possibility of a virtually limitless floppy. Hundred-gigabyte drives have become common, and they're cheap. Even name-brand drives this size sell for just $50 or $60. A hundred gigabytes is like 150 CDs -- huge storage. But there's no reason to stop there. You can have 10 100-gig drives and plug them in and out, or go with just one humongous terabyte drive, like the one we recently got from Samsung.

A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, and only a few companies make 3.5-inch hard drives with this much capacity. Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital make drives this big, but the new one from Samsung is faster and uses less power. It's called the SpinPoint F1, and unlike other terabyte drives it uses just three discs inside instead of four or five.

Fewer spinning discs means less noise, lower power consumption, and above all, faster data transfer. You also get the potential for longer drive life, since fewer discs means less risk of a crash. The drive has a maximum transfer rate of 300 megabytes a second. That's the equivalent of a CD every two seconds. The practical limit will be how fast your computer can handle the transfer rate.

The SpinPoint F1 retails for $399 from Samsung, but we found it for $319 at (Search for "Samsung terabyte.") The docking station that makes this whole idea of swapping hard disk drives possible is the SATA HDD Stage Rack (2.5- and 3.5-inch), and we found it at

A CLOUD OF NEWS has an interesting new way to look at topics in the news. It's called a "tag cloud."

A box at one side of the page contains dozens of key words and phrases: like Iraq, fake Ferraris, crisis, etc. Click on one and you get links to stories from many sources. New stories have their subject in pink, older stories are in blue. But no stories are more than seven hours old.

You don't have to know what to search for; if you see a word or phrase in the cloud that seems interesting, just click it. We clicked on "one child," for example, and learned that the government of China may scrap its one-child-per-couple policy.

We found this to be a very interesting way of looking at things and quick to scan; we're going to put a topics cloud on our own Web page. We think this kind of topic cloud will become common soon. It offers what's always been missing from searches: serendipity. Just like browsing books in a library, you don't always know exactly what you want, but you get that "aha" feeling when you see it.

INTERNUTS  is a resource site for inventors. It has downloads of audio and video interviews with inventors, photo galleries, virtual trade shows, TV shows from National Public Television, services for inventors, and all that stuff. (They should have had a topic heading for "better mouse traps.") Cost is $99 a year, but there's a free trial.  lists local and international art shows. We went to the special exhibit of Edward Hopper paintings at the Chicago Art Institute, but didn't find Edward Hopperout until we visited this site a couple of days later that there was an interesting exhibit of ceramics at an art gallery nearby. The site culls information from 10,000 art galleries and museums and has 150,000 articles from magazines. The links to exhibits, galleries, art fairs and auctions are worldwide.



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