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Monthly Archives: January 2019

How to fix your HP or Tandberg LTO1/LTO2/LTO3/LTO4/etc. drive’s tape path leader.  §

My tech posts have always generated the most traffic over the years, so here’s another one for you tech heads. Sorry, no pictures.

I have a love-hate relationship with tape storage over the years. Mostly hate. QIC, 4mm, 8mm, AIT, DLT, LTO, I’ve tried them all. They are all crap. The drives rarely last longer than a year or two and the tapes even less than that.

But with that said, offline, semi-archival storage is offline, semi-archival storage. I’ve also had terrible luck with hard drives, and they lose data just sitting on a shelf. If they ever spin up again after sitting on a shelf.

So… I have tapes.

I’ve recently switch from DLT to LTO4. And of course, one of the first things that happened to me was that I accidentally powered down with a tape in the drive.

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, “I hope the firmware can cope.”

Like an idiot, I powered back on, without taking the suggested steps:

  • Disassemble my tower

  • Decable, unscrew, and remove the drive

  • Stand it on its side and do the arduous and very time-consuming manual eject procedure that HP outlines on YouTube and that takes hours of mind-numbing wrist work

So what happened when I powered back on?

  • The drive got confused

  • It snapped the tape

  • Of course the tape load leader was now in the wind-up spool, meaning that the drive was dead with piles of tape inside it, and the tape was dead, too

  • All of reality was borked

So, lesson one for LTO:

(1) Never power back on if you accidentally power off with a tape in the drive. You may kill your drive. You will definitely destroy a tape. The firmware cannot cope.

Now, let me help you to fix the problem. With some narration.

Fixing a Lost Tape Leader

If your drive has snapped a tape, the pick-up leader that grabs the pin in LTO tapes to wind them into the drive now can’t be recovered, Normally, it’s wound back out and grabbed near the end of the eject procedure, so that when you insert a new tape, it can grab the new tape and wind it into the drive, etc.

But now your leader is sitting on the inner spool, and if you hold the door open when you power on the drive, you can see it just spinning and spinning for a bit, before you get the Yellow Light of Death indicating that you’re supposed to send the drive in for a $1,500 service.

Side note: That’s crap. So is the $4,000 sticker price of an LTO drive. Just wait until you get inside. These things are made of the same metal casing as a $12 DVD-ROM drive, plus one circuit board, plus a bit of tinfoil and plastic. They’re designed to fail so that those hefty enterprise service contracts can generate a ton of revenue.

Don’t fuck with that. Do this instead. Again, sorry, no pictures, but if you’re mechanically inclined, this should be enough to get the light bulb on and get you there.

  1. Take your drive out of whatever it’s mounted in.

  2. Get some torx screwdrivers and pop the top of the drive case right off. Cut through those warranty stickers. Fuck ’em.

  3. Get a magnifying glass or head-mounted optics and carefully disconnect all the cables and any screws from the top circuit board(s) so that you can get it (or them) off of the drive. You want access to the inner spool.

  4. Do the manual eject procedure enough to get the tape cartridge out of the drive and out of the way.

  5. Now take some time gently getting the miles and miles of LTO tape off of the inner spool. Don’t get an Xacto knife and slice through it or you’ll slice through the leader (more on this later though).

  6. When all the tape is out, and you’re just looking at the leader flopping helplessly in the breeze, notice that the plastic end of the leader has two posts on it, one at the top and one at the bottom.

  7. Notice also that near the rear of the drive there is a crevice into which this can slide, with the posts fitting into grooves. This is the tape path. Insert it into the tape path, making sure that if fully extended through the path, the tape will not be twisted.

  8. It will look like there’s no way to get it in there beyond just the entrance. There is. Gravity will help you. This is a low friction operation, the tape leader is not stiff, and the latch unit at the end of the leader is heavy. Just tilt the drive around to get the leader to slide through the path.

  9. You will get stuck halfway and it won’t move any more. You’ll be tempted to disassemble the path housing or to try to poke in there with a needle or something to pull it all along. Don’t. There is nothing fancy that has to be done, just some grunt work.

  10. Flip the drive over. Find the manual eject bolt, the one that you twist to manually eject tapes. Get your nut driver and start turning. Only this time, you’re not ejecting—turn the other way. You’re inserting again, even though there’s no tape in the drive now. Twist until fully inserted (or until what would be fully inserted if there was actually a tape there).

  11. Try to move the tape leader through the tape path again with gravity. Voila! With the mechanics in the “tape inserted” position, the tape path is now magically clear. A bit more tilting and the end of the leader should fall right through to the front of the drive.

  12. Now wind the manual eject mechanism again to move the “imaginary” tape all the way back out once more, to the ejected position.

  13. You should now be able to see where the leader latch is supposed to sit—right next to the corner of a tape, latched into a couple of little springs. If you can’t use your imagination, partially insert an LTO cartridge and notice where the opening is. Your leader mounts near there. Look at its edges and look for a latching socket that they might fit into.

  14. Slide the latch into place. It will click. You will be amazed, looking at this crap machinery, that this pile of shit costs businesses $4,000 (and will even feel a bit taken for spending $200 on eBay).

  15. Give the leader a couple quick tugs by winding the inner spool. It should go taut now and not budge once taut, fully latched into place.

  16. Reassemble the drive and power up. No more Yellow Light of Death. Congratulations, your LTO drive has been repaired—and you didn’t have to spend $1,500 on a ten-minute repair that requires no special tools.

What’s that? You have objections? Let me see if I can guess what they are:

  • Q: Don’t I need a clean room for this?
    A: Take another look into your drive through the door. Do you see how much dust and debris is in there? Did you say a shit ton, yet your drive has been working anyway? Give that man a cigar. Guess what? You send it off to HP, they’re going to charge you $1,500 and some dude is going to be doing it on a dirty workbench that has had Mountain Dew spilled on it 14 times this year already.

  • Q: Won’t I hurt the alignment or some other Fragile Thing?
    A: Don’t dick around with the tape heads and you’ll be fine.

  • Q: But my leader snapped! What do I do? (Told you I’d come back to that.)
    A: Just get an Xacto knife and some Gorilla Tape and fix it right back up with a splice. Notice how thin and crap everything is inside these drives. These are not precision instruments. They’re built like the utter junk they are. Do what you have to to kludge a fix and carry on.

Seriously, if you paid $4,000 for one of these, you’re an idiot.

And if you were planning on paying $1,500 to repair one, or even $200 to pick up a replacement on eBay, now I’ve just saved you the trouble. Because this is what goes wrong on DLT drives and ten times as much on LTO drives. Leader problems. Over and over and over and over and over again.

So now you know how to fix them.

And never, ever power down your LTO drive with a tape in it, unless you get your kicks putting leaders back into place over and over again as you blow through tapes, ripping them to shreds.

Gently catching the temporary by the wings, holding, then letting go.  §

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here that I liked. Frankly it’s been a while since I wrote anything anywhere that I liked.

It’s also been a long time since the last time I did any design work around here. When I started blogging, I did a redesign every year. Just to play around with colors and lines. The blue and gray in place right now is the second go-around for the blog that had felt the most like “home” to me over the years. I made it in 2006 in Graymatter, back when Graymatter was a thing. I resurrected it post-divorce in WordPress.

I don’t know why I say any of that. It’s neither here nor there.

— § —

I am typing this listening to the much-shared recording of the Aramaic Our Father sung for the Pope in Georgia. I don’t know why. I’m not Orthodox. I’m not Catholic.

When I started playing it, YouTube first ran an ad for Wix for five seconds.

It made me want to punch a hole in my screen.

— § —

Things I now wish I could be that I would have scoffed at as a younger man:

  • Police Detective
  • Firefighter
  • Marine
  • Medical Doctor
  • Attorney

Sometimes now I sit and wonder whether there’s still a way for me to dream about being things, and to pursue those dreams as if they might someday be made to come true.


© Aron Hsiao / 2019

But life is short, time is running out, and I am getting tired.

— § —

The windows on the house are dirty, but I never clean them.

I don’t clean them because then I would be able to see out through them with fidelity. I’d see things clearly, and the glass would be transparent. I’d see the world and the trees—but nothing else.

But dirty windows do something different; something bigger than passing light through them.

They reveal truths that are otherwise ephemeral, traveling in waves light but held prisoner by some property of the universe that I only vaguely understand. The one that hides the most important truths, always.

I don’t wash them because right now, at this particular time of day, when the sun streaming in through the window is bright but not blinding due to the angle of the sunset, the trees appear on dirty windows not as trees, but as the essences of trees. Not every branch and needle; not every detail in the clinical manifestation that we’re so accustomed to in a modernity in which we’ve attributed entirely too much importance to fidelity.

No, on dirty windows when the sun is just right, you can see in them the spirits of trees, touched by something ineffable, glowing, mixed with presence, imbued with a deeper authority than fidelity can bring or will ever know.

Clean windows have panes, but dirty windows have souls. To clean them is murder.

— § —

This problem of cleaning points to a sad and intractable paradox at the center of human life: that we are both material beings in a thermodynamic universe and conceptual beings that dwell in the deep, sticky middle of a subtle phenomenological implausibility that is not any less evident.

These two things are at odds with one another.

Thermodynamics is a kind of cosmic, metaphysical theft. It is an arrow that leads only toward one thing: death and emptiness. So, we marshal energy here and there, ordering and building and cleaning everything at hand, making a little human world for ourselves where we can attempt to disown physics. Nesting.

We are compelled to do this by the problem of meaning, which demands that we have order in our souls and in our memories. But to expend this energy is to participate in and hasten the thermodynamic fate to which our material selves are condemned.

To clean is to destroy being. But also—to fail to clean is to destroy being. Being itself must be tenuously suspended in a studied balance between the two that must always be actively maintained.


© Aron Hsiao / 2003

It is this sort of thing—the fact that our very existence lies at the peculiar tension point between overwhelming and intersecting ontological regimes—and that it is so very, very delicate, a matter of balance and care and attention that hovers forever at the edge of disappearance, pregnant and taut—that continues to bring me back to theological questions these days.

— § —

I spent much time early in life expressing things, and this carried with it a kind of momentum.

Momentum is wonderful, and I need it very much. But momentum in sufficient quantities can also blur what passes beside you so that you can’t be sure what you have seen or when is the right moment to turn right or left. And it’s rather hypnotic in its way, a kind of truth of its own.

To finally lose momentum and wake up, standing in the middle of the desert, looking around yourself north, south, east, and west, with “the lone and level sands” stretching away everywhere around you… There is a kind of magnificent riddle in that.

The sphinx need not be a rock. You can hear his questions coming from the sun up above you in those moments, and from the sand under your feet as well.

— § —

I said to someone last night, “pretty much all of us are wrong about pretty much everything.”

I stand by that.

My name is Aron, and apparently I am insane.  §

Well, the American Psychological Association has gone and done it.

They have taken the step that pundits have been using as a “next thing you know, they’ll…” by declaring all non-feminie men to be suffering from a mental disorder. That disorder is called “masculine ideology” or, in other places in the document, “traditional masculinity.”

What are its symptoms?

They include stoicism, strength, desiring not to be feminine, adventurousness, competitiveness, and the drive for achievement. Oh, and violence (because obviously all of these things are budding forms of it) and homophobia (because naturally anyone who isn’t interested in being feminine feels that way because they are homophobic, and not because, you know, they’re a man or anything as retrograde as that).

Welps, that does it for me. Lock me up and drug me, I guess.

Oh, and remind me never to visit a therapist.

So many certainties, so little justification.  §

Things that are all said to be true:

  • Masculinity is toxic

  • It's bigoted to talk about 'male' and 'female' or 'man' and 'woman' because it's a fluid spectrum, everyone in the gray area, and masculinity doesn't make a man, nor does femininity make a woman

  • It is right for gender-dysphoric people born male to pursue femininity, which is what it takes to be a woman, and for gender-dysphoric people born female to pursue masculinity, which is what it takes to be a man

  • It's bigoted to talk about 'male' and 'female' or 'man' and 'woman' because it's a fluid spectrum, everyone in the gray area, and masculinity doesn't make a man, nor does femininity make a woman

  • People born girls who identify as male and achieve masculinity are, without question, both heroic and men

  • Masculinity is toxic

Point being: this is a soup of contradictions. It only makes sense if the underlying truth is:

  • People must be affirmed and validated, no matter what

This is a very, very bad position to take.

In fact, we should all exercise our best judgment to affirm and validate people that we judge to be right, and to provide no affirmation or validation for people that we judge to be wrong.

"But judgment is bad!" comes the rejoinder.

To which I can only say, in sarcasm, that obviously then the moral thing is to eliminate all judges from society and stop teaching our kids to exercise judgment of any kind as they grow up.

The terrifying thing is how many people would agree, quite earnestly, with these suggestions.

— § —

Side note after watching the college football national championship game:

I am grateful to Clemson for what they accomplished tonight. Specifically? They did something unexpected. They willed it, people said it was impossible, and they did it.

This is not me saying that "anything is possible." Clearly, it isn't.

But the realm of certainties has unjustifiably expanded in recent years. The world today is beset by a complete lack of intellectual humility. There is an epistemic overconfidence running through late modernity, and in particular the information age, that is destroying our society from the inside out.

There is an unstated belief, held far and wide, that in our time it is both easy to predict the future and a simple matter to know truth from falsehood, right from wrong.

On every side, the activists sneer at anyone who suggests, even for a moment, that life is complicated, that unexpected things happen, that the realm of certainties in life is very small, and that the list of what is "obvious" is a short one. The sneering on all sides has now reached the level of an overwhelming roar, all being certain that they have the answers, today and tomorrow, and that only a fool would deny it.

That the future is an open book and the present is crystal-clear has become such an article of faith that those who might otherwise try to do something new, to write actual pages in the book of history—simply don't.

So thank you to Clemson for doing the unthinkable, the bigoted, the stupid, the disallowed—and demonstrating that everyone doesn't already know everything about everything. That people can be wrong. That will counts for something. That human natality and uncertainty are actually alive and well.

And for a night—suck it, certain people, all of you, across all human endeavors. You are a disease. You know everything, sure. Until you don't.