Sunday: 26.September.2004

DELL now includes back-up Ghost image in Concurrent DOS partition

Looks like da boyz at DELL have begun including a Ghost image with their latest computers (at least, with their laptops). See HERE. They used to provide a Restore CD, but you can only include so much data on a CD.

DELL is including the Ghost image at the very END of the hard drive, where hard drive performance is slowest (good idea). There they create a separate partition, which takes up ~3.5GBs. With hard drive capacities growing so large, even with laptop computers, allocating 3.5-GB of disk space to a Ghost image is no problem.

When viewed in Partition Magic, this partition shows up as: "CP/M, Concurrent DOS, CTOS" (Primary). See HERE. But this new partition creates a problem for those of us who like to create our own back-up images.


You see, hard drives are limited to 4 Primary partitions. Usually this is no problemo. Your regular NTFS partition, where Windows is installed (your C drive) counts as 1. DELL also includes a tiny 50-MB (not GB) Primary partition at the very BEGINNING of the drive, a long-standing practice with them. Here they load diagnostic and troubleshooting utilities that can help in the case you do something dumb with your computer. So, including the Ghost partition, that makes 3 Primary partitions, shipped with your new laptop.

Now, if you want to create your own back-up Ghost images, you may, like me, repartition you new hard drive, in order to shrink the original partition, and add a logical DOS drive or two (in an extended partition). But an extended partition, altho it may contain many logical DOS drives, still counts as 1 Primary. So, if you did this, like me, that would make 4 Primary partitions, which max'es us out.

Even this would normally be no problem, except that Ghost needs a free Primary (partition) slot available to do its job. If you try to create a back-up image without a free primary slot (located in the Master Boot Record), you'll get the following error message:

>>>> Unable to find a free MBR slot in the Virtual Partition DLL.
>>>> This is usually due to there being no free primary partition slots left on the boot disk.

To get around this, I simply deleted the CP/M, Concurrent DOS, CTOS partition (using PM8) where DELL had stored its 3.5-GB back-up Ghost image and stretched the last logical DOS drive to reclaim this extra 3.5-GB of newly "unused space", where I created my own back-up Ghost image (two of them, actually).

Kudos to da boyz at DELL for taking a page from the RAD manual. For those folks who don't create their own, a back-up Ghost image can be a lifesaver.

For a more in-depth look at the Dell Utility Partition, see Dan Goodell's article titled: Inside the Dell Utility Partition. It's excellent.


Update 19.january.2005

Here is a note I received on this subject, which some of you might find helpful:

You, sir, are a life saver! I just got a new Dell 8400, and as usual, installed PM8 to create a second partition to store some old DOS programs. That's when I found that 3.5GB partition at the end of the drive called "CM/P Concurrent DOS" and didn't have a clue what to do with it. I used Google and searched for Dell Concurrent DOS" and a link to your blog "DELL now includes back-up Ghost image in Concurrent DOS partition" appeared (Sunday: 26.September.2004,

Besides learning what that partition was (which will soon be deleted), I read further and learned a lot about Ghost. I just installed that too, and this is the first time I've used it. I really appreciate all the info you provide on your site about Ghost. Now that I've used it, I can't imagine why I ever used tape or that clunky NT Backup! In this new PC, I installed a removable hard drive system, and I'll use Ghost to back up to that drive nightly, and swap the drive cartridges weekly.

But now it's my turn to give you a little info! Like a good technogeek, I always test my backups to make sure I can restore from them. Not much point having a backup if you can't restore from it! I had no problem restoring with Ghost thru Windows. So, I tried booting from the Ghost CD to see what the recovery environment looked like. Once the recovery software finally loaded, I discovered it didn't recognize my C: drive! The D: drive (the removable hard drive) was there, but not the primary drive. So, I could get to my image files but didn't have anywhere to restore them to!

To make a very long story short, it turns out the Ghost recovery environment doesn't load drivers for RAID or SCSI controllers. RAID is an option for the Dell 8400, and even if you don't order it, the motherboard has an Intel RAID controller for the SATA channels, and Ghost doesn't recognize it. You have to manually load the drivers for the controller when the CD boots. The drivers are available from Dell's support site, or from their product recovery CD (downloading them was much easier than wading thru the CD).

When you boot from the Ghost CD and get to the "Loading Recovery..." message, immediately press F-6 (message is at bottom of screen) to load RAID/SCSI drivers. The loading will continue, and about half way thru, you'll get a screen with the option to press "S" to load RAID/SCSI drivers. Put the disk with the drivers in the A: drive and follow the prompts. You will probably get a message that says Windows already has the driver (assuming your system drive isn't toast) and asking if you want to use the Windows driver or the OEM driver on the disk. You must use the OEM driver on the disk. Ghost will not load the Windows driver. Press "S" a second time to force Ghost to use the OEM drivers, then continue with the recovery boot.

Note that the floppy must contain all of the OEM files. I tried just copying the driver files from the hard drive to the floppy, but that doesn't work. You need the full set of files from the original manufacturer. Also be aware that the disk contains drivers for two different configurations of the controller: RAID and AHCI. Select the one that applies to your setup. Unless you have a RAID setup, the correct choice is AHCI.

Thanks again for all the education you provided me. I hope the info above is helpful to you and your readers. You can post this in the forums if you like, but please omit my email.

David E. Ranck, President
Data Design & Development

Sunday: 19.September.2004

Favorite Time of Year

This is my favorite time of year. If they had to pick a single 30-day period in which to live the rest of their lives, many would choose the month of July or August, when mid-summer temperatures are H-O-T hot. But I would choose the the period from Sept 15th (now) to October 15th.


I read somewhere that the human brain operates most efficiently at 55-degress F ambient temperature (13-C, or "sweater weather"). Not sure if this is true, but I have noticed I'm able to think more clearly at cooler temperatures. I wonder if this is why many of the world's elite academic institutions (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Oxford) reside in cooler climates, and schools traditionally break for summer. Kinda hard to concentrate when it's hot.

Today, here in sunny SoCal, we have one of these "super-nectar" days: cool, dry, sunny, gorgeous. In New England, where I grew up (Ct), this time of year also corresponds to when the leaves change colors (400-KB). That's the thing I miss most here; that, and the smell of the autumn leaves in the air. If you've never been to New England in autumn ... well, that would be sad.

Happy birthday to the Dog. He's one of those who like it best when the weather is hot, hot, hot. We used to run 4-miles/day in Hawaii (at Ala Moana Park). I always preferred to run at sunset, when it was cooler, but he would say, "Dog, if you can run in the heat of the day, you can run *anytime*." Ah, the good ol' days.

Tuesday: 14.September.2004

Mozilla Releases Firefox 1.0 PR

Mozilla releases v1.0 (Preview Release) of Firefox. Everyone should have a copy of this browser installed on their system. It's fast, fun & better than free: open source. Download here (4.5-MB).


If you already have an earlier (pre-release) version installed, Mozilla recommends you uninstall the old one first. Don't however delete the \Mozilla Firefox folder so you won't lose your previous settings & configurations. Also check out their browser extensions & themes for greater functionality and a personalized look.

You can run this browser concurrently with Internet Explorer with no problems. If you like it, and want more features, check out the full Mozilla suite. Mozilla is based on the old Nutscrape browser. I have both Mozilla & Firefox installed, along with IE, Avant & Opera. Each has its own 'job'.

You simply can't be digitally cool Cool dude without a copy of Firefox on your system. All my favorite freeware proggies are posted here.

Saturday: 11.September.2004

9/11 Anniversary: Politicians Still Reject Personal Accountability

Last night I watched the Now with Bill Moyers PBS special titled: 9/11: For the Record. This is by far the *best* and most concise presentation (distillation) I've seen of the events that occurred on, and leading up to, 9/11.

The hour-long special incorporated many of the findings from interviews conducted by the 9/11 commission. The computer-generated 3-D graphics were outstanding. The whole thing was very professionally done.


Regarding our government (the people to whom we pay humongous sums of money to protect us), the theme that stuck in my mind as I shook my head watching this special was: this whole 9/11 thing reeks of ineptitude, if not downright incompetence.

There's a whole bunch of politicians and administrators who simply didn't do the job we pay them to do. But then they made things worse by making pathetic excuses. I've seen 4-year-olds take more responsibility for their actions.

What is it about politicians and their need to make excuses? Have they no professional pride? They're only human. Humans make mistakes. I don't know why they have such a hard time admitting even the smallest or most obvious of errors.

Is this a "lawyer thing"? .. to never admit a mistake? No matter how obvious or egregious. That's what my insurance agent advised me to do if I ever got in an accident: "Deny culpability to the bitter end." Aren't all those politicians really just lawyers in disguise? [Except for Arnold & Reagan, of course.]

Arabs hijacked our commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center towers, killing 3,000 innocent American civilians, including women & children. That, by definition, means you screwed up .. worse than any administration before you. I contend that, anytime innocent civilians in this country are forced to decided between jumping to their certain death and burning alive, because of some terrorist activity, *that* is a pretty good indication that our government isn't doing its job. If ya can't handle the job, let us know and we'll find someone who can. But please, save the excuses.

I'm considering running for office next year, because I meet the qualifications: I can make excuses with the best of 'em. Watch me work, folks:

I didn't know.
I wasn't there.
Nobody told me.
We inherited this problem from the previous administration.
How was I supposed to know?
I can't recall.
It's a right/left wing conspiracy designed to make me look bad.
The media is against me.

What ever happened to personal accountability? Maybe that's just for enlisted folks? If not, why do politicians so universally reject it? What happens to them when they get elected?

Personally, if I were responsible for our nation's security, I would be embarrassed to sit before a congressional sub-committee and make a bunch of excuses about why I screwed up. I don't know how these people can look themselves in the mirror, or sleep at night.

If it were anyone but the government, such as a private company, in charge of responsibility for the nation's security on 9/11, they'd all be in jail for criminal negligence. It's sad. We deserve better.

I still think GWBush went after Saddam instead of Osama (the *real* bad guy) because Saddam tried to have his daddy (GHWB) assasinated. I mean, nothing else makes sense. And that's a noble pursuit, except the taxpayers should have to fund his invasion-of-revenge. Let this be a lesson to any other dictators who try to assasinate a US president: the next administration will invade and occupy your country.

Friday: 10.September.2004

9/11 is Nothing to be Proud of

Every year around this time, the images I posted HERE receive (greatly) increased web traffic.

The most popular one this year is the photo of the Pentagon. There are several conspiracy theories circulating the web, claiming it was really a missile or a fighter jet that hit the Pentagon. I don't know if this happens to be why that particular page is seeing so much traffic. See HERE for the famous flash video. More posted here and here.

Been 3 years now. The good news is that we've had no more such attacks. For which our government deserves kudos. The bad news is that the administration, in their recent convention (held in New York City), seems to be celebrating the attacks of 9/11 .. making them the centerpiece of their re-election campaign .. instead of seeing them for what they really represent: the biggest Intelligence screw-up in our nation's history. 9/11 is nothing to be proud of ...


... which is probably why the Administration fought so hard against the forming of the 9/11 commission, because it didn't want all its screw-ups exposed. If you were them, you'd probably do the same thing. The families of victims had to fight long and hard for the commission to be formed. The White House fought them every step of the way.

Remember how the world felt about us in the days following the attacks? Well, they don't feel that way any more.

Beyond all this, the question that's really been bugging me is: Why haven't we (most powerful nation on the face of the earth) been able to find little ol' Osama bin Laden, the person responsible for 9/11?

Saddam may've been a bad guy, but he didn't do this. Those were Saudis, not Iraqis. $200 billion dollars, over 1,000 dead soldiers and 3 years later, and we *still* don't have the guy who took down the World Trade Center towers and killed 3,000 innocent New Yorkers? Something about that doesn't seem right. Maybe they're just not looking very hard.

Long as American troops continue to die in Iraq, no member of Congress (including John Kerry) should be allowed to take vacation. Instead, they should spend all their free time visiting and consoling the families of *every* soldier who has died in Iraq. It's the least they can do for getting us into this mess.

If it were *their* kids dying in Iraq and showing up on the 6 o'clock new every night, you could be damn-skippy sure this war would be over right quick. Tell me I'm wrong. I dare ya.

Thursday: 09.September.2004

Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable

A documentary airs on HBO tonight: Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable. Indian Point is a nuclear plant built on the beautiful Hudson river in New York's (densely populated) Westchester county, ~30 minutes (24 miles) north of the city. I worked there for a year back in the 90s.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Indian Point has been receiving much attention because it's located in such a heavily-populated area, making it one of the most attractive targets for terrorist attacks. More info here.


There are actually *two* nuclear reactors operating at Indian Point facility: Units 2 & 3 (IP2 & IP3). When I was there, Consolidated Edison (ConEd) owned Unit 2 (IP2). Back in 1975, ConEd ran into financial trouble. As part of the bail-out, they sold Unit 3 (IP3) to the New York Power Authority for $350 mil (give or take a mil or two). In 2000/2001, both units were bought by Entergy. When both units are running, they earn $2-Mil each day (which is why Entergy hates to shut them down, even for 5 minutes).

There has been much debate whether nuclear plants can (are designed to) withstand the impact of a direct hit from a commercial airliner, but the safe answer is 'No'. I've always heard the containment domes could withstand one, but not two direct hits from a 727. But they've never been tested, so no one really knows.

Immediately following the IP documentary, HBO is airing *another* documentary, titled: Chernobyl Heart, which won an Academy Award. Alright, already. Enough doom & gloom for one day.

Despite the reputation New Yorkers have as being aggressive and confrontational, I found the folks at IP to be among the nicest I've worked with anywhere. New Yorkers have a unique sense of humor. They find humor in the most distressing situations. I worked with many entertaining characters there and really miss those guys. They are pretty up-front about things. If they don't like something, they'll let you know (refreshingly *not* passive-aggressive).

New York also has one of the nation's best public education systems. I think it ranks near the top. So you're more likely to be dealing with a higher caliber person there. At least, it seemed that way to me. The biggest problem I had with NY was its high co$t of living. It's just too dang expensive to live there.

Here on the Left coast, the documentary airs at 8PM. The doc is done by one of the Kennedy clan (Rory), longtime anti-nukes. There's a saying in the nuclear industry: "More people have died in Ted Kennedy's car than in all the nuclear plants in this country combined." [I *love* Martha's Vineyard, btw.]

Notice the *timing* of the release: 2 days before the anniversary of 9/11. Here is a Google search pre-configured for query-string: Indian Point nuclear power plant.

Monday: 06.September.2004

Florida, Frances & Control Rods

Looks like our friends in Florida are getting pounded. I think Florida's flatness is the thing that makes it so susceptible to hurricanes. I mean, there's not a hill in the whole state. Great for biking, tho.

I lived in Orlando for a year, back in the late 70's (think Jimmy Carter). That's where the Navy had its Nuclear Power school. The school itself was modeled after a (tri-blade-shaped) control rod. Every time I think of Florida, I see that school shaped like a giant control rod (where I spent so much time).


Control rods control reactor power. Reactor power is dependent on fission rate, which is dependent upon neutron population. Control rods absorb neutrons (or "trons" as we called them). When control rods are inserted into the reactor core, they absorb more trons, which leaves less trons available to induce fission, lowering the fission rate, thereby lowering reactor power. Pulling rods (out of the core) has the opposite effect (Rx power increases).

Commercial nuclear plants use boron for their control rods. Boron (atomic number 5, a known neutron absorber) is relatively inexpensive (but not cheap). The military (with its virtually unlimited budget) uses Hafnium, a super-expensive semi-precious metal, in its control rods.

Each Boron atom can absorb only one neutron (Boron-10 > to > Boron-11), whereas each Hafnium atom can absorb *six* (generations of) neutrons, which means Hafnium control rods essentially never "wear out" (lose their ability to absorb more neutrons: not a good thing for nuclear submarines at sea, because you lose control of Rx power).

I don't think I shared anything here that Tom Clancy couldn't unearth in a library somewhere. But if I did, I'm sure someone will let me know. =) Learning Rx theory at that school was "like drinking water thru a fire-hose", but there's no better place to learn how to run a reactor plant. Not sure how I got off on that tangent. Oh yeah, Frances.

Anyway, I liked Florida. Things I remember most (beside that control rod-shaped school) are its flatness, the humidity (like clockwork, it rained every afternoon at exactly 3:30 for 5 minutes, then stopped, and the sun came back out), and of course the bugs. Florida has a *lot* of bugs. Cockroach heaven, and more than a enough mosquitos.