I was once trapped inside a lift stuck between floors
in the offices of a London publishing house. From the other
side of the firmly locked doors I could hear the sound
of people running and screaming, “Emergency! Emergency!
Evacuate the Building!”
||Isn't it amazing how some trivial little thing like
a power cut or the Martian Invasion can cause such
I assumed, naturally, that either there was a fire somewhere
or that the Martians had finally landed. In either
case, I decided that I would really rather not be stuck
inside a darkened lift. Based on a lifelong study of Hollywood
thrillers, I knew at once that there were two courses of
action open to me. Either I could push open a trapdoor
in the top of the lift, climb up the elevator shaft, kill
the Martians, put out the fire, save Shelley Winters and
get the girl or else I could bang on the door like a sissy
screaming “Get me out! Get me out! For God’s
sake, someone, get me out!”
I chose the second option.
You wouldn’t believe how sound-proof they make those
lifts! For what seemed liked hours, I banged, screamed,
blubbered, yelled and attracted not the slightest attention
from anyone. Mind you, this was probably due to the noise
of the assembled multitudes screaming “The Martians
have wiped out Basingstoke! The Tripods are in Oxford Street!
Where’s a policeman when you need one…?” and
similarly cheerful exclamations guaranteed to raise the
spirits of a hysterical computer journalist all alone in
an elevator with nothing but a blood-crazed axe murderer
for company (in retrospect, I suspect the axe-murderer
may have been a figment of my fevered imagination, but,
well, you get my drift).
Crash, Bang, Wallop!
People who live in big cities such as London regard power
cuts as exotic and arcane events for which, like the Martian
Invasion, they are ill prepared. People who live in the
far wilds of the countryside, as I do now, regard power
cuts as inevitable events which, like bee stings and cowpats,
are an inescapable part of daily life.
Even so, sometimes they can take you unawares. Last week,
for example. I was half way through typing this very column
(well, actually, it was then a very different column for
reasons which shall shortly become apparent) when, bam!
the lights went out, the computer screen went black and
the dog went woof! (this last circumstance was unconnected
with the preceding two – she was going woof! anyway,
but I thought I’d add it for atmospheric effect).
This, it turned out, was one of those all-too-frequent
power cuts which last precisely three-seconds. Just long
enough to reboot your PC. Except, on this occasion, the
PC did not reboot. It chugged, it whirred and, eventually,
it displayed a screenful of inscrutable options , suggesting
that I try to run Windows in varying degrees of 'safe mode'
- none of which, when attempted, succeeded. In the old
days I would have stuck in a floppy disc at this point
and booted to a command prompt. These days my PC has no
floppy disc drive so I used the Windows Installation CD
instead to run the Recovery Consol to let me get to a prompt.
This didn’t get me as far as I’d hoped. When
I tried to log onto the C:\ drive I discovered
that all my files and directories had disappeared. Gone!
Vanished! Kaput! Every last one of 'em! In desperation,
I tried to run Chkdsk – the Microsoft tool which,
since the glory days of MS DOS, has been the final hope
of damaged disks. But Chkdsk just moaned that it couldn’t
find something called Autochk.exe and, in its absence,
it simply refused to play.
By this point I was getting ready to grit my teeth and
reformat my hard disk. With no files, no directories and
no Chkdsk – what else could I do? However, for someone
who remembers to backup as infrequently as I do, reformatting
a hard disk is not an operation to be undertaken lightly.
Before finally throwing in the towel, I ransacked the heaps
of Microsoft CDs and DVDs which are tucked into the pages
of P G Wodehouse novels, used as nice shiny coasters under
cups of cold coffee and generally scattered hither and
thither around my office. I eventually tracked down that
pesky Autochk.exe to a somewhat less than obvious location
deep within the \english\winxp\dbg_chk\i386 directory on
disk number 2428.8 of my collection of MSDN DVDs. Maybe
there is some easier way to find it but, if so, I don’t
know what it is…
Not feeling particularly optimistic, I nevertheless decided
to let Chkdsk and Autochk have one last try at rescuing
whatever scraps of data still might linger in some dark
corner of my poor, sick hard disk. Chkdsk started whirring
away and, three hours later, it was still whirring. It
was well after midnight by this time so I let it carry
on whirring throughout the night. By the breakfast time
it had finished whirring. It had also restored my disk
to its pre-crash state of smiling health. The directories
were there, the files were there. As far as I can see,
not a single piece of data was missing. Apart from this
column (or, anyway, its late predecessor), which,
foolishly, I had forgotten to save.
While I am pleasantly surprised (amazed, to be honest)
that Chkdsk fixed the disk, I am left wondering why Chkdsk
is not one of the standard options presented to the user
when Windows fails to load. I imagine there must be many
users who, having tried and failed to load Windows using
the Safe Mode options which are suggested, end up needlessly
reformatting their hard disk.
I made a very neat discovery this month. If you have a
Blog, maybe you’d like to display the latest entries
on some other page – say, an ordinary ‘static’ HTML
page such as the front page of a web site. At first sight,
there is no way of doing this. Blog entries are normally
managed and displayed by a scripting language such as PHP
which builds and displays web pages on the fly and will
have nothing to do with ordinary HTML pages.
With RSS2HTML you can easily syndicate your Blog or anything
else that has an RSS feed by putting the latest headlines
(similar to the above) on static web pages.
In fact, just as long as your Blog produces an RSS feed
(as most do) you can, with the help of a free PHP script
called RSS2HTML from http://www.feedforall.com,
extract the headlines or text of your Blog posts and display
them on a regular web page. There are various ways of doing
this. You can, for instance, host the script on your own
site for optimum efficiency (assuming your web host provides
PHP). Alternatively, you can run the script from the FeedForAll
site. I’ve used this script on the feed from a 1980s
music site which I run as a hobby.
The RSS feed is generated automatically by a Pivot Blog
and is then displayed on the front
pages of two other
The downside of this script is that its template system
is a bit complicated to understand for complete web novices
and hosting the script locally may require a bit of technical
knowledge about things such as PHP, SSI and SHTML. For
a simpler alterative, you could extract headlines from
an RSS feed using the Feed2JS PHP
just takes a simple code cut-and-paste to get it working – but
it can be quit slow to execute and display the list.
If you want to be the first to get out the news of the
Martian Invasion, these are the tools for the job...