No, no, no…

Artist’s impression of black hole event horizon.

It was marvellous to see real science dominate the headlines last week, if only briefly. I must admit the image of the black hole was a bit disappointing to me, being so fuzzy (the image, not me), but I’m sure we’ll see better images as techniques improve in the future.

However, there’s something about the images we use to visualise black holes or gravity wells that’s never mentioned and I don’t think people appreciate.

Virtually all explanations of the distortion of space-time around massive objects use the metaphor of a sheet of rubber stretched tight, with the massive object (planet, star or whatever) sitting on this rubber sheet and pushing it down to form a well, known as a gravity well.

Beautiful image, but it’s not accurate (IMHO).

But a rubber sheet is two dimensional (length and width) while space is three dimensional (having x, y and z axes) and crucially, there is no preferred direction. There is no north or south or west or east in space, no up or down. There are no two dimensional flat planes.

So although the rubber sheet is a very useful analogy in allowing us to visualise space, it doesn’t show the true picture. To do that, we have to think of the rubber sheet as being drawn in every possible plane within a 3-d world. So the gravity well is actually a ‘ball’ with a ‘dip’ in its centre.

This is a bit hard for our minds to visualise, just as we find it hard to visualise anything above three dimensions.

So getting back to the opening image of the event horizon of a black hole, this is a beautiful drawing but space is not flat until it reaches the edge like that. It should be drawn as a three dimensional sphere with a hole (well) at its centre. In my opinion. That’s hard to draw.

I could write all day about this but that’ll do.

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Over the years I’ve accumulated an alarming number of hard drives of the spinning platter type. I’ve probably got nearly two dozen of various sizes from 500MB to 2TB lying around, as well as about five in regular powered up use.

Of course, when solid state drives (SSDs) became available years ago, they were the holy grail – an order of magnitude faster, completely silent, with no moving parts and a fraction of the size and weight of the old ‘heavy metal’. They were a multiple of the cost, unfortunately, but I bought my first one to go into my Sony VAIO laptop around 2011 or so. It’s still in there, working marvellously.

Then I built this PC in 2013, using an OCZ (the brand) SSD of 128MB as the boot drive. That went well until the final week before our school reunion in October 2014 when, after months of work on the reunion magazine, it chose then to fail. I subsequently learnt that OCZ had, shall we say, a reputation.

Anyway, I bought a 256GB Samsung SSD to replace it and was on the go again. But over the past couple of years this has filled and filled and I’ve been getting warning messages that it’s running out of space.

OK, I bought a 500GB Samsung to replace it, but it sat there for about a year while I decided on the best time to do the swap, and the best way.

I decided the best way would be to have another drive of 256GB and copy the whole of the existing C drive across, do the physical swap and then copy it back again. Cloning or imaging? A clone is where you copy every sector from one drive to another in one operation. Imaging is where you make a sector-for-sector, byte for byte copy to another drive and copy it back later in a two stage operation. Both do the same thing.

I ended up buying a 256GB microSD card, putting it into an SD adapter, then the SD card into a USB 3.0 reader/writer. Then with that plugged into a USB 3.0 slot, I did the image copying. Why this way? Because the microSD card is a fast one very suitable for video recording in my cameras so it won’t just sit on the shelf afterwards.

To avoid spending money on software I’d only use once in a blue moon. I used the free software Macrium Reflect 7 (https://www.macrium.com/) to make an image of my C drive to the 256GB microSD card. It took about an hour and because it uses a bit of compression, it nowhere near filled the card. This means I have a backup of my C drive at the time in case I need it in the future, although a $110 SD card is an expensive backup medium.

Anyway, a few days ago I powered down, slipped the SATA connectors off the 256GB C drive, removed it and popped the 500GB drive into its place.

Note that at this stage, I did not have a bootable C drive. So before I did the swap, I used the Macrium Reflect Free to make a bootable USB drive, using a spare 32GB thumb drive. That took about 15 mins and would be a handy tool for any future failures, although again, it’s a little expensive when a CD or DVD version would work as well.

NB, I tested booting from this USB thumb drive before I did any disk swapping to make sure I knew how to copy the image back to the new drive.

OK, I powered on again, booting from the thumb drive (and getting fed up with the clunky way my Gigabyte motherboard uses to choose the boot device). Eventually it worked and I was now running off the thumb drive in one USB port with the image on the SD card in the next USB port. I started the image copy process from the SD card back to the new 500GB SSD drive and an hour later, it was done and verified.

I rebooted from the new SSD drive and bingo, it was all done. But with one problem. I’d started with a nearly full 256GB partition on the old drive, and now I still had a nearly full 256GB partition on the new 500GB drive. Where was all my new free space?

Of course, the image had included the old partition table, so my new drive didn’t know it had this new space.

No problem, free software to the rescue again, this time Paragon Hard Disk Manager free edition (https://www.paragon-software.com/free/pm-express/#resources). This showed the new drive having a partition half way along the line, and allowed me to click on this divider and simply drag it to the right as far as it would go. Bingo, after choosing Apply Changes, it thought for a bit, then said OK, and that was it.

So my point in writing this is to marvel at the generosity of these firms. Sure, they do it to try to get you to pay for the full unrestricted products, but as I said, I only need this software once in a blue moon. This did all I needed and I’m very happy to recommend them.

Now, as well as a pile of “hard” hard drives, I’m now building a pile of spare SSDs as well. I obtained a replacement for the OCZ drive (which although free under warranty, actually cost me 456 in postage to Taiwan) and now I have the old Samsung 256GB SSD ‘spare’.

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I finally found a new radio antenna specifically to fight Maggie, the Magna and I fitted it yesterday. It’s not identical to the original, which has a cast alloy and stainless steel fitting where it goes through the car body. this new one just has two thick rubber circular halves which compress together under the chrome nut and it doesn’t quite fill the original cutout in the body. Water could get in, in other words. $20 runout item from Repco.

I’m undecided. The car is 18 years old and will probably be scrapped in a few years. I don’t think rust will be a problem in that short time. Or I could just squeeze some gasket-goo around the hole. That’ll hold it.

Meanwhile, I’m getting good FM and AM radio reception for the first time in a few years (the old one was badly bent and nearly broken for some time). The radio in the car is actually capable of DAB+ as well but the antenna for it is a windscreen type requiring gluing it to the windscreen, removal of the A-pillar covering and routing of the thin coax behind the glovebox and dash. It’s always looked so complicated that I never got around to installing it. How about that, I spend the dollars to buy a DAB+ radio, then get scared off and never install it properly. Huh, what am I?

Anyway, I think it’s time I put a For Sale sign on the car. I’m taking it for a service tomorrow morning and will give it a good wash and vacuum, put the sign up when it’s parked in my laneway and see if there are any bites. If not, I’ll put it on Facebook Marketplace and see what happens there. “Suit student or backpacker”. True. I’ll substitute an old Sony CD radio that I already have first, of course.

It’s still in use nearly every day and runs like a dream. In my entire ownership since 2003, the only things I’ve had to spend money on are tyres, batteries and exhausts. And a brakes job early in its life. And services. It’s never let me down except for a battery failure. Great car and still with less than 156,000kms.

Having the three cars at the moment, I’ve been worried about the fuel costs but it’s occurred to me that I can only drive one at a time (my partner uses one but pays for fuel when she’s here). So the running costs are not huge. I’m not actually ‘running’ all three. The cost of the licences is horrendous, but that’s only once a year and if I can sell Maggie, that will reduce.

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It rained this morning! Not for long, but definitely enough to water the lawns and garden. Warm, damp weather with virtually no wind, great!

My neighbours (on the right in the photo above) had solar power installed during the week so we’re “in the club”. I’ve noticed there is a period in the morning when the sun reflects from their panels right into my living area. I’m not sure whether that will be a problem, or maybe it will be a blessing in the winter, I’ll just have to wait and see. My panels can’t reflect into their house because their living areas face away from me.

Although my solar power was installed in January, I can’t judge my bills as yet because I’ve only had one bill since. That was distorted by being for a fraction of a billing period and having the charge for the new bi-directional meter. I should get the next bill very soon, then I’ll be able to see how much I’m saving.

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