Zip & Jaz
Saturday & Sunday : 4/4/98 to 4/5/98
Got my feet wet with ASPI (the Advanced SCSI Programming Interface) which will be the key to crawling underneath DOS to gain direct access to the drive. To create a foundation for the coming work I wrote a little "ASPI Enumerator" in assembler (< 2600 bytes) which shows all of the controllers and drives available to the ASPI interface.
On my system with an Adaptec SCSI card and the Iomega parallel port driver running, it showed two controllers and a handful of drives. Everything that my system contained. Cool.
Tuesday : 4/7/98
Federal Express delivered FIVE Iomega Technical Reference manuals this morning. While I could wish for documentation of the "for factory use only" functions, I have enough to work with.
One cool thing I've already seen is that there is a low-level means for defeating a cartridge's write and read/write protection! This means that my utility won't be locked out from the start before it can get to work. Thank goodness.
I have lots of reading and studying and planning to do now......
Wednesday : 4/8/98
I made my first "gettin ta know ya" pass through the tech specs. There are many highly useful aspects (from a reliability and failure prediction standpoint) of an inserted disk's condition which are known to the drive but are not available to the user. So one feature of the utility I hope to create will be the reporting of MUCH more information about the current condition of the user's disk. By keeping an eye on this information over time a Zip disk's failure might be predictable with some accuracy.
But again, I won't know that until I know exactly WHY the disks are failing. And to know that, I'll need to fully understand the facilities of the drive at the hardware and software level, and build an interim utility to tell me what's going on. That's the next step.
One other very significant thing I learned was that it's theoretically possible to reformat just one single Zip disk track! It's a very hairy process, since the facility does no defect management or defect table updating, but this might be the key that I've been hoping would allow "offline" disks to be brought back online so that SpinRite could then recover the entire disk's contents.
Friday : 4/10/98
As a result of my research into the specs of the Zip and Jaz drives, I have become very excited: A germ of an idea for a new super-useful utility product for users of Iomega and Syquest removable media is beginning to take form in my mind. It was completely unexpected, and will be completely different from the gizmo that I still need to create first ... but I'm very excited by this new idea.
Tomorrow I'll start building the tool to help me analyze all of the Click Dead media and drives I've received.
So I should have some definitive data soon.
Monday Night : 4/13/98
Wow! I spent two great days Sunday and today (Monday) writing code and spinning Zip disks. I've made a first pass through every disk I've received, and I've seen an amazing array of differing problems.
I'm still working to develop a comprehensive "theory of the problem", but I think we're seeing a number of different troubles which can beset these removable products.
I have not yet started to factor the "dead drives" into the equation. I want to take it one step at a time and first understand the condition of the Zip disks themselves.
Tuesday : 4/14/98
I've converted my working research spreadsheet into a 5k PDF file for you to browse through if you're curious. (I think you'll find it interesting!)
I created it for myself, so I haven't been too elaborative. But if you read it carefully, pay attention to the column headings, and think about the numbers shown, I believe you'll find the spreadsheet to be clear enough. You should also read it from the top down, since I developed some abbreviations as I went along which aren't obvious otherwise. Iomega R&D.pdf
(Note: To get everything onto one page, I shrunk the character size down. It probably won't print well, so plan to just view it using the PDF viewer's zoom function.)
Thursday : 4/17/98
I had a number of telephone conversations today with Iomega executives. They were nice enough, and seemed to want to be helpful, but none of them really knew what I was talking about or what I needed. I finally spoke with a programmer who has promised to collect some names of people and get back to me. (fingers crossed!)
At this point my research has progressed to the point that I know precisely what I need to know ... but it's undocumented in the programming reference manuals! With a single exception I can solve and cure virtually EVERY non-mechanical problem that I've encountered on every one of the disks I've received, and I can create a tool to help people prevent these problems from arising in the first place. (There are what I consider to be reliable reports of a highly infrequent incidence of actual disk shredding and read/write head destroying, though I've never seen this first-hand. Obviously no software can fix that problem.)
The single exception relates to the management of the drive's "Z-tracks". (Presumably Z stands for "Zip".) The Z-tracks are the drive's "behind the scenes" defective sector and housekeeping management tracks. The disk ships with four redundant copies of the track ... but I have conclusive evidence that they die over time. (I have a bunch of dead ones.) And when all four Z-tracks die all data on the disk is instantly lost!
So, without information from Iomega I'm powerless to (1) tell users how many of their disk's Z-tracks are currently viable, or (2) to repair and restore them when all four (or even a few) have died.
Friday : 4/18/98
Tomorrow morning I will start on the development of a brand new commercial program which has grown out of this research.
It will be a combination cartridge management and data recovery tool. Whereas SpinRite is a high-power general purpose tool that can maintain and recover both fixed and removable drives, it's become clear to me that there's a place for a special tool which is targeted at managing, maintaining, and recovering a user's entire "library" of removable Zip and Jaz (and eventually other) removable cartridges.
As you may know if you've been reading this journal and these pages, I had initially hoped to create something quickly which would work hand-in-hand with SpinRite to quickly get off-line disks back on-line so that SpinRite could do its thing. But I've learned that unlike fixed-platter sealed hard disk drives, long term success with removable cartridges requires an awareness of their current condition, with maintenance and periodic checkups to monitor how the disk is doing "out in the field." There's also a verifiable notion of a disk's "lifetime" which is NOT infinite, and which all responsible Zip drive users should be aware of.
Since the scope of such a product is far beyond something that I could write in a couple of days I have decided instead to build a brand new Windows product from scratch. As is true of all my products, I will author it in 10015d4c5cure assembly language, it will be surprisingly tight and tiny, occupying a single .EXE file and requiring no installation (Just like in the old "real" DOS days!)
And as promised, all of the people who have helped me in this effort by generously supplying me with dead disks and drives will forever be entitled to receive the latest edition of the resulting product. (If anyone still wants to send me dead stuff, I'm still very interested in receiving disks and drives to test as this product develops. And the same "free software for life" deal will apply to you as for those who have come before you.)
I expect that this will be the final entry in this diary, as I am moving past the research phase and into the development of a resulting product. Be sure that you've added yourself to the Click Death mailing list so that I can send you a note as soon as I have something to show you!
And thanks VERY MUCH for your interest in this work!
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