Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I do own a leather jacket!

Sometimes when a computer breaks the cure can be surprising. We purchased a very expensive software solution for one our engineering tasks. It came with an HP Unix workstation. I never really used this machine. It was a single task appliance and I'm not even sure precisely what it was for. One day however it refused to boot, and I guess we must have stopped paying for support because they called me over to have a look.

Turning the machine on yielded the usual power supply fan noise and nothing else. None of the expected hard drive spinning or seeking was heard. This could be a bad power supply, or it could be a failed hard drive controller, or it could be... sticktion! That is pronounced stick-shun. Yes, really. Look it up. This happens on some hard drives when the hard drive sits powered down for hours or days, and the mirror smooth surface of the hard disk platters get stuck to the magnetic heads which have come to rest on the surface. The coating is just soft enough to stick.

The only way to find out if the problem is sticktion is to open the machine and bang on the hard drive casing to see if the heads can be freed. An ideal tool for this is the plastic handle of a screwdriver.

We opened the computer and I rapped on the hard drive a few times with the butt end of a screwdriver. We turned on the computer and waited... success! I felt just like the Fonz! :-)