Using Spare Hard Drives through USB

While rummaging through our office spares drawer, I found at least a dozen hard drives ranging from a measly 40 GB to 500 GB, all nicely wrapped in their anti-static sleeves. Most of them landed up there when the computers where they were fitted, were upgraded. This meant that these internal hard drives are still in perfect working condition. Only problem is other than the higher capacity 500 GB drives (which are of SATA type) all others belonged to the type with IDE interfaces.

Most of them contained Windows and other licensed software. Other drives were formatted with ext3 file system under Linux. These drives were mothballed for later deactivation and complete formatting. We didn’t find the time to allocate for this mundane activity. Now it was decided that somehow they can be put to good use after making sure that they are still serviceable. May be they could be used as redundant backup drives. Only issue is to find the appropriate interface which can be fitted to a spare computer. We chanced upon a USB to IDE/SATA adapter available from many Online stores for a ridiculously low price.

A few weeks earlier, a hard drive showed signs of failure in one of our computers and it was replaced without much ado. That drive was still within the warranty period and before it could be shipped to the dealer for the warranty claim, it had to be securely wiped clean. We didn’t want to tie up a computer for any of these activities and so this USB to IDE/SATA adapter was tempting.

USB to IDE/SATA Adapter

So this adapter was bought and as you can see from the image here, it came with its own power supply which is important as you can connect your hard drive as a stand-alone unit with only a USB cable to connect to the computer.

The same adapter can be used to connect a DVD drive to the Mac Mini and in a hurry can be used to provide additional hard drive for Time Machine for the Mac.

We rigged up the adapter to a Seagate 160 GB hard drive and expected to see a Windows message to the effect that it found a USB device and install suitable drivers. No such message was shown. On touching the drive, the whir of the drive motor could be felt. Out came the cable and we tested the power supply. The 12 V and 5 V rails were spot on even under dummy load conditions. According to the markings on the power supply, it was capable of supplying upto 2 A in 12 V line as well as 2 A in the 5 V line. It is a switch mode power supply and it looked quite up to its role.

So it has to be the driver.

Again in went the cables and still the drive was not officially recognized. But we found an entry of a device here: Control Panel -> Device Manager -> Disk Drives.

It identified the drive as ST316021 5A  USB Device. But it showed the drive as offline. It was time to whip out some command line utility to get the drive online. Windows 7 comes with such a utility called appropriately as ‘diskpart’.

Go to the Windows start and type cmd on the ‘Search programs and files’ area. You will be shown cmd.exe which you right-click and choose ‘Run as administrator’. From the command prompt, type Diskpart.

And then type list disk

It will show all the available disks. If your external disk is shown but marked as ‘Offline’
Issue this command: Select Disk 0
Assuming that the external drive was marked as disk 0

The system will say Disk 0 is the selected disk

Type detail disk

And it will print the details of the disk

To make the disk online:

Type:  Online disk

It will say ‘DiskPart successfully onlined the selected disk’.

USB device in Device Driver

Now we can see the disk listed in the Disk drives from the control panel. We formatted the drive in NTFS file format so that this drive can be used as a backup drive.

We formatted the drive in Windows 7 and began the process of copying some files. The speed was decent. It showed an average of about 20-25 MB/second.

Copying speed in the USB to IDE adapter

The drive can be ‘ejected’ like a normal USB drive.

We loaded up all the drives and observed that most drives were quiet and behaved normally while one drive made the dreaded ‘clicking’ sound indicating an impending failure.

Not bad for the cost of less than 10 dollars and a few minutes to come up with putting to use – about a dozen hard drives.

Even Mac Mini recognized the USB drive formatted in NTFS and showed the directories in ‘Finder’. It can read the files without any issue, but of course could not write to the drive.



Favorite Firefox Extensions

Browser extensions or add-ons are bits of software to extend the features of your browser. Firefox browser has probably one of the most prolific numbers of extensions. We use quite a number of these firefox extensions for our daily grind. And we share some of the nifty add-ons here. You may already have a few extensions tooled up in your browser. You can check and modify their behavior all in one place. Just type about:config in the address bar and Firefox will share its internal details now – including the various extensions installed. You can right click on any of the parameter and modify its value.

Firefox Extension for HTML Validation

Though we use WDG HTML Validator for validating our pages, we like to use a quick way to validate the newly built pages right from our browser with a tiny validator.

You head to this URL provided below for this Firefox Extension.
Allows you to validate with Tiny validator from the status bar.

We list in addition to the above, a few of our favorite extensions below with some information about what they can do:

For the Web developers, this is one of the most useful extensions to have to plod around to tweak the pages.

That adds a menu and a tool bar with various web developer tools. Right from a spot magnifier which lets you view a part of the page magnified to viewing your page in lesser sized screens is available from the toolbar. Incidentally this extension also has an external page validator.
This versatile add-on features response headers which lets you see the server response details. This is invaluable for checking out the status code of any redirection.

For those inclined to do search engine optimization, the following might be of interest:

This extension lets you query information like backlinks, cached and related pages from Google,Yahoo,MSN and Alexa.

You need to check out on the weather ? Try Forecastfox from here:

Hyperwords is another interesting Firefox extension which lets you do a host of things from its popup menu – “Search, References, Conversion, Translation , Shopping, Blogging, Tagging, Email and more in a single click“. We use the translate mode often as we have associates spread across the world. Simply block the text and you will find a popup menu with an option to translate the blocked text from most European languages (arabic, Japanese, Korean and Simplified Chinease languages included too) to English or the other way round.

Running a Niche Directory

Targetwoman women directory was conceived to complement our main vertical information portal. To summarize our blurb on the home page of the directory – targetwoman directory “lists thousands of high quality websites – carefully chosen by human editors exclusively for women. Combined with the painstakingly written articles from the Women Portal section, we strive hard to offer one of the most rewarding experiences on the Net.”

Initially the idea was to include websites, which will add/throw more light on the information provided in the main body of the article. Alternatively, if we are talking about digital photography, a listing of hand selected sites detailing software, techniques or processes would add to the “rich user” experience we so strive hard to create.

In another instance we have added a site where the owner of the site is selling hand crafted metallic jewelry – tailor made and customized for individual preference in the appropriate section of the directory.

Running a niche – in our case – women directory calls for hard work and tons of patience. These days most stand-alone directories have become staid collection of links. There are literally thousands of such directories dotting the landscape of the Net.

There is profound wisdom in these words – “Creating additional services around your directories sends a very clear message to your site visitors and potential advertisers. It is telling them that you mean business, you understand what they want and you want to provide the most value to your visitors and advertisers.” –

There are many kinds of directories now – free directories, paid directories and the new avatar of paid listings in the form of bid-for-position directories. If you look closer, the number of free to list directories has started dwindling down for a reason. The cost of running a high traffic directory is not exactly cheap. Marketing a plain Jane directory and the cost to make them appear in the primary SERP space is very high.

You must carve a niche in your area in order to succeed in the web as in all things in life. So when it came to take stock of the situation, it was decided that we must add more value to the visitors – enrich the user experience and provide value for their time. The first step was to make the directory internals more accessible to the search engines and users alike. No matter how hard you try, URLs like “ …” is not going to make search engines robots and humans alike to sit up and take notice.

So the internal linking structure was modified to look more meaningful –

It was decided to shift the contents to a subdomain for more effective management. In addition, to emphasize the correlation between the information section and the directory section, a corresponding navigational aid had to be stitched together. Hence, the left pane was introduced where articles appropriate to the category appear now.

To alleviate the monotony of the text, we added suitable images on the right, keeping in tune with the regular portal section. The individual page displaying the site in more detail now has more space to show additional information. We are not using the space as of now.

After all the cosmetic makeover of the section and the changes to the internal linking structure was effected we checked out the server stats. We were rewarded with better in-depth crawling of the entire directory section by most of the leading search engines.

Now on to more ambitious changes (to –do list ):

1. Add more detailed information about the site – Contact number and contact details if you are selling a service. We plan to display (edited for clarity and objectivity) information about any product, services you may have. This adds value to the eventual visitor.
2. Use our internal crawler to make the directory more responsive to real time changes. This would eliminate the manual task of weeding out defunct websites.
3. Use some element of popularity to rank the sites when listing them.

Our Parent site TargetWoman - the leading women portal presents painstakingly researched extensive information in the form of thousands of condensed pages. It offers the widest and the most detailed information on subjects women care.