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Disaster at TAM!

I was thinking of doing a quickie post about the silliness that’s erupted in the antivaccine cranksophere over the IACC hearing that I mentioned yesterday. (Of course, a “quickie” post for me is usually only 1,000 words long, as opposed to the usual 2,000.)

Then disaster struck!

My hardy, reliable MacBook Air, my main traveling companion for all trips in which I need to do work and/or give a talk died. It died hard (although not like the movies; there were no explosions or fires). It would not boot. Given the craziness at work with grants in the weeks leading up to TAM, I didn’t have the talk completely done, although it was close, my having polished it up as much as I could on the flight to Las Vegas. My original plan had been to finish tweaking it yesterday afternoon. but that’s when disaster struck. I tried all the tricks that I knew, starting with the basics and moving up to Disk Warrior, having fortunately brought a bootable external hard drive with me, but it was no go. The best I could do was to get the internal drive to the point where I could copy the essential files over to the external drive. I still couldn’t get the computer to boot. Reformatting the drive was not an option, except as a last resort, and, unfortunately, my Time Machine backups were nearly 2,000 miles away.

Fortunately, I had the file containing my talk on DropBox; so I didn’t lose it. However, no one had a computer to loan me. So off to the Apple Store in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace I went. I managed to score a 7:45 PM appointment at the Genius Bar. By 9 PM, my wounded machine was up and running again. I had wasted about three hours trying to get my data back before deciding to go to the Apple Store and then a couple of hours driving to the Apple Store, with no progress on my talk.

But the Geniuses at the Genius Bar got it running, and it seems to be running OK, at least for now. So here I sit, tweaking my talke at the last minute, trying to run through it, and hoping it isn’t as choppy as I fear it will be, given that this is the first time I’ve given this talk, and only around 10% of the slides are repeats. Wish me luck…

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

45 replies on “Disaster at TAM!”


Cadre Leader Orac:

Knock ’em dead. No, really. Kill them if they don’t laugh at the correct moments. Kindly refeer to your Glaxxon Shill and Minion Manual, chapter 5, section VII, subparagraph K “No insurrection shall be allowed to form during any presentations.”

But I doubt that disintegrators will be required. You shall face a friendly audience and as long as you stay away from K’haavak jokes, you’ll shall triumph. If not, signal Minion Withakay to open fire at will . . .

Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7iHL
Toastmaster of Tolakka Prime, Forward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Monkey Master of Mars

Cloaked and Hovering


Machines can sense the importance of a project, and decide to shut down at the worst time. At one of the Instiutions where I worked, everyone was doing their grant applications (last minute of course) when the departmental photocopier (the good, fast one with collation) died. Right at the end of the day.

Hilarity did not</i

Oh come on, Orac!

Yeah right, the GUYS retrieved the written talk…
More likely scenario: emulating that fellow who played Mozart in Amadeus, pointing to his noggin, he tells Ms O , “Don’t worry, it’s all up here”.

And don’t ask how I know this.

So, what was wrong with it that they fixed?

(Also, this is why it’s good to have Important Conference Files on an external thumb drive just as a double-spare backup.)

Dropbox has saved my butt numerous times. The genius bar folks are pretty handy too. Good luck with the talk.

For remote retrieval, I recommend TeamViewer. Works great and is free for non-commercial use. Not too expensive for a license either. I was able to log into my wife’s mac from India and help her with a printing issue. Not too shabby.

For my master’s project presentation, I took no chances. I backed up my presentation and files to three thumb drives. One to remain with my then-girlfriend-now-wife, one with me, and one mailed to a friend in DC. I also printed out the presentation onto transparencies. Finally, I emailed it to several dummy accounts that I created.

Yes, I was prepared. So much so that I delivered that sucker, and nailed it, during the Valentine’s Day Storm of 2007.

Yes. Transparencies. If all computer systems were down, I could still give my presentation using the overhead projector. If the power went out… I had a flashlight.

The Boy Scouts have nothing on me when it comes to being prepared.

Good luck! Yay to DropBox too. Very handy to have.

I think I know what silliness has erupted and was just quickly checking here to see your take-down (I figured you might not have time though so didn’t have my little heart set on some good Respectful and not so respectful insolence).

Ren…this will seem clichéd, but you rock! I thought I was prepared when i did mine, but I didn’t have transparencies. I brought the usual thumb-drive back-ups, had emailed it to several accounts, brought an extra laptop and a spare attachment cable plus had inquired about the projector (it had a spare bulb stored in the body). And I then brought coloured markers for the whiteboard just in case, plus the committee had brought the printed versions of the thesis. Didn’t think to bring a flashlight in case the power went off (dang it)….although we could have picked up the easel and gone into a hallway, so now I don’t feel so bad about forgetting the flashlight but still, I did overlook it. Good planning on your part though!

Dr. ORAC is at TAM? Doesn’t he realize that, according to the thugs over at Free Thought Blogs, TAM is infested with molesters of women and the head of Randi’s organization, D. J. Grothe, is an enabler?. Tsk, tsk.

@Lord Draconis Zeneca – I appear to not have received a Glaxxon Shill and Minion Manual yet. Is there earlier training I am still lacking?

I remain ready to serve.

Most humbly,
Mrs Woo

@Orac – so glad they rescued your files! I have had a few scary moments here and there with lost things (especially photography). Now running redundant backups but still too cheap to be willing to pay for online backups.

Best of luck with your talk. Cannot wait to hear more about it.

I’ve got a similar story to that but with an amusing ending. My computer is a dual-boot Packard Bell with Windows 7 and Linux Ubuntu. One day, I was on the internet when it died. I switched it off and back on and…nothing. So I decide to take it to Dial-a-Nerd. As I’m going out to my car, one of the clips on my laptop bag comes undone and it falls to the ground.
Computer damaged, or so I think.
I go to Dial-a-Nerd, describe the lack of booting and switch on my machine to demonstrate.
Computer starts up and boots perfectly.

Julian I’m pretty sure that that is just more evidence of the fact that machinery is sentient. No different than when your car acts up until the instant you get it to the garage or your cable is out until you’ve been on hold for 30 minutes and its finally your turn to speak to a service rep.

Yes, machines are sentient. And trolls.

@Daniel J Andrews

Funny how for something so life-changing we go out of our way to make sure it works. For other projects, not so much. I’m known as the great procrastinator by my wife. “It’ll get done… eventually” is my motto.

Orac, wouldn’t it have been a good time to have picked up one of the nice sweet new MacBook Pros with retina displays and 512Gb SSD drives? I’ve been jonesing for one, but my current MBP is just too new. I’m sure Big Pharma will buy you one after the next pro-vaccine article that dismisses Meryl Dorey as a crackpot.

It would be awesome, but can I justify spending $3,000 for a computer (which is what it would cost with Apple Care and the various upgrades I’d want)? Hard to do. I’m also used to my MacBook Air, which is way lighter.

I’m pretty sure that that is just more evidence of the fact that machinery is sentient.

Nonsense. It’s a representation your unconscious mind. The state of your car, for example, is the state of your ego. Simple.

“It would be awesome, but can I justify spending $3,000 for a computer (which is what it would cost with Apple Care and the various upgrades I’d want)?”

I bet you could. I did. The retina display is as awesome as it is delicious. (And insurance on it came with the homeowner’s policy.)

Re Todd W

It was a bit of a snark I admit. However, the TAM meeting and D. J. Grothe have been subjected to a withering onslaught of abuse from may of the bloggers over at FTB. IMHO. Many of them have gone over the top, although one of the worst offenders, Greg Laden, was given the heave ho by Ed Brayton, the owner of FTB.

The entire brouhaha was, apparently, based on two incidents from a previous meeting. One of them involved Rebecca Watson who was propositioned by a numbnuts in an elevator at 4:00 in the morning , following which she blew the incident far out of proportion. The other apparently consisted of a man and woman who approached a member of the audience suggesting that a 3 way might be fun. Clearly, both of these incidents were inappropriate but to condemn the entire meeting and call for the head of Mr. Grothe over them is, IMHO, making a mountain out of a molehill.

SLC, please stop. I’ve already said once that I don’t want that kerfuffle metastasizing to my comment threads, and I meant it. I’m done with it.

weird. a laptop that doesn’t travel well. some of your Tariel cells malfunctioning ?

I really would like a new laptop. It would help a lot with image processing, for starters. Unfortunately, I also really, really want at least two more lenses (wow, am I down to that? I think I am!) and one more camera, too, and the camera I want is more than the $3000 estimate you did for your computer upgrade.

Actually, I’ve spent twice that on camera stuff this year, if I look at it.

Surely with your work and everything you can rationalize a way to purchase a new computer? Or do you then have to purchase something of similar value for Mrs Orac? My most recent camera lens came as a consolation gift when DH purchased a new (to him, actually used, but very functional) tractor. At that point he had spent more on outdoor toys this year than I got to spend on camera stuff and geek toys.

We will be paying tuition for three kids in the fall. The only computer upgrades go to college kids.

Though I get to use the old ones. The one I use while in a medical building waiting room on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings used to belong to my daughter. Hubby flatlined it and reloaded the basic software, and nicknamed it “Traveler.”

It is what we took with us to the Mayo Clinic. Hubby also loaded some online Tank War game, except the hotel wifi was so slow he just ended up as a target when he tried to play it. So he decided to not use it in the evenings. I used it during the day while we were at the hospital, and he worked on his four year old work computer actually doing some coding (its wifi capability died, he is putting in an order to replace it).

Mrs. Woo, you and my daughter share the same expensive taste for cameras.

Last week one of my coworkers dropped his MacBook Pro — off the back of his motorcycle. The case was dented on one corner and unbelievably scuffed and the glass cover of the display was cracked. But other than that, it woke from sleep mode as if nothing happened (yes, even the cracked display worked fine, though the cracks were a bit annoying).

Decided to upgrade my laptop this week. A certain little pwdin decided to see if his daddy’s machine would bounce…down the stairs. So dh now has mine. It has been one of those weeks.

This may be beside the point. Has any seen the movie “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”? The last scene shows all the lawyers involved in a law suit against the heroine. The Good Guys all seemed to have Apple products and the Badies Hewlett Packards.

@Chris – I used to shoot 35mm film and when I went to digital, I would get so frustrated at point and shoot cameras and my lack of control of depth of field, shutter speed, etc. Finally I begged hubby for a DSLR for Christmas, then a year later wanted a better DSLR and better lenses… it’s a terribly expensive habit. However, my only other vice is musical instruments and I think I’m maxed out on that one for now (no room for a grand piano and I think adding violin to my list is enough to practice for now).

Does she post online somewhere? I love photography!

Mrs. Woo, she is very private about her art, so she will not let me see her Facebook page. She is a very shy young lady, and keeps her online profile very low.

Ah, I know about musical instruments. But only because of hubby and children. We have two upright pianos (one a 1930s era Heintzman), a violin, two saxophones, an electric bass, a snare drum and tiny little steel drum. The kids don’t play too often, though daughter does play the pianos every so often.

At one time I had to endure a session when daughter on violin was dueling her brother’s saxophone.

I can note (from a previous professional life) that hard disk drives and related PC internals are quite drop-resistant. Even 15 years ago HDD makers had figured out how to “park” read/write heads at the first hint of a drop and therefore render the drives resistant to 100s of Gs.

I can only second the “Thank you DROPBOX” sentiment; it has saved my ass on more than one occasion. I love being able to access it from my phone, laptop, desktop. I think I could even install it on my Kindle if I wanted…..

In the words of one wiser than I:
“The goal of all inanimate objects is to resist man and ultimately defeat him”. – Russell Baker

@Chris – Yes! The other day we happened to have all the instruments “home” (many stay at church anymore). There was an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, electric piano, Baldwin spinet (60s-era; was my grandfather’s and sold to my mom, passed to me), 90-ish years old silver-plated tenor sax (it was a neat find and though it cost more than I’d hoped getting it working again, I’m okay with it now), assorted bass amplifiers and a violin. Oh – and a couple of tambourines…

My son and I are part of our church’s praise band. It was an interesting thing. Small church and I couldn’t find any adults to do praise band and I became the “praise team” – leading contemporary songs singing along to what is pretty much karaoke tracks. Then I was doing a senior photo shoot for an 18-year-old who is a gifted musician and really fun kid (also homeless, so the photos were free). He brought all of his instruments to get pictures taken with them, and my son and him sat down with his acoustic and his bass and he taught my son to accompany him on bass in less than 20 minutes.

I felt kind of silly to realize that I had been looking at the wrong age group to grow a praise band. The parents of the kids involved are thrilled to have their kids “plugged in” to worship and one of these days, if I’m lucky, they might even be willing to perform without me!

There’s nothing more fulfilling than passing down passions for music and visual arts to another generation. Music and art bring so much to our lives.

@Julian It’s called impact therapy and should always be your first response t computer problems. Just try not to do it in public.

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