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CD-R follies, or why humility is a virtue
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

CD-R follies, or why humility is a virtue 

Technofile for May 10, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

I've got coasters. Lots of coasters. They're all the same size, about five inches across. And they're perfectly round and very cute.

They're reminders of the value of humility in daily life. All of them are CDs, ruined one way or another in my valiant struggles to get minimal cooperation out of what must be the world's least reliable device, a CD-ROM recorder.

Please don't write to me to tell me how to solve this problem. I already know how to solve it. You put your right hand forward, angle your wrist just so, open your fingers, place them around the CD recorder, lift your hand high over your shoulders and then make a lovely, satisfying arc with your arm, letting go at just the right time. If you're really good at it you can throw a CD recorder a few hundred feet.

I'm exaggerating, of course. I'm not about to part with my CD recorder. Whether this is a sure sign that I am completely crazy or is just another confession of technological stubbornness isn't clear. All I really know is that when my CD recorder works, it's a wonderful thing to behold. (I've been known to run around the house making embarrassing noises. "It's working! It's doing it!")

But what it's usually doing is spinning and spinning and spinning, uselessly. As I am writing this article, my CD recorder is performing just such an act. "Hello, Al," it seems to say to me. "Guess how many hours I'm going to torment you today? Would you like to see me write a CD table of contents for an hour and a half? Just watch, pal!"

People who have never used a CD recorder probably think you pop a blank disk into the drive and click the mouse and few times and walk away. Ah, ignorance is blitz! If I did that with my CD-R, I'd never get it to do anything. I have to talk nice to it, wish it good morning, tuck it into bed gently each night and tell it success stories to keep its spirits up.

Why, there was my friend Harry! One day he actually made a CD from start to finish and it worked! And my officemate John, who once made three CD-ROMs in a row without a hitch! Real success! Great motivation!

People who have never used a CD recorder probably also think you just erase the disk and start again. Ah, if life could be so simple. CD-ROM recorders are a unique blend of modern technologies and ancient curses. When the bewitching little laser light inside the devil's own device starts caressing the plastic, you can say "So long! Sayonara! I'm gone!" to all your chances of backing up and starting over. CD recording is a one-time deal.

Folks who do a lot of CD recording don't call it "recording"; they call it "burning." As in, "I burned a CD today." Or: "I got burned today, yet again."

There are ways around this. Besides the right-hand-recorder-toss technique, there's always retirement to an island near Bora Bora where no one uses PCs. And there's the CD-RW.

"RW" means read-write. (Why the bozos who dream up these acronyms never spell them right is hard to understand. Why isn't it "CD-R-W"?) A CD-RW recorder is able to erase a disk and start over.

That sounds like a marvelous idea until you realize that CD-RW disks need an entirely different kind of CD recorder. And, even when they are recorded properly, look like they are totally blank when you stick them into an older CD-ROM drive.

What's more, even if you're only going to use them in the same drive that recorded them, CD-RW disks are really dumb because they cost too much. The latest catalog from one of the largest suppliers of computer supplies shows a single blank CD-RW disk selling for $19. The same catalog has blank CD-R disks for 29 cents each after a rebate.

That means I can wreck 9 out of 10 of my CD-R disks at a cost of $2.61 for that one successful recording out of 10 tries which is just about my average. That's still much cheaper than recording on CD-RW disks.

That is, if my patience holds out. If not, I'm getting my arm in shape for the next Olympics discus competition.

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