Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Project: Replace Windows Vista Laptop Hard Drive with a New, Fast, Vista Boot Drive

Do It Yourself Holiday Project:

Upgrade the hard drive on your Vista laptop for $75.  Or... How I successfully swapped-out the old hard drive on my home Toshiba laptop.   

Update on file search: Vista file search now works great!

January 21 2011
Update on mysterious Windows Explorer crashes when attempting to play mp4 files.

Problem:  Explorer crashes when I try to play mp4 files.  Specifically during these steps... 

Open downloads folder / Select and right click an mp4 file / Select player as Quicktime player / Quicktime starts to open / Then error message  / "Widows Explorer detected error" / and options to "search for solution online" and "restart Windows Explorer" / if you try either option then / windows explorer closes and Quicktime player freezes.   The wording of the error messages may not be exact.  

Solution: Open downloads folder, or what ever folder you were using when you encountered the play mp4 file crash problem. Go to "Organize" left click to view the pulldown menu / select "folder and search options" / select the "view" tab / check the box "Always show icons, never thumbnails" / "click apply" to save changes.  Then go ahead an select the mp4 file you want to play in this folder.  I found that after this change I could play mp4 files using Quicktime Player with no further problems.

This seems to be a known bug or "security feature" in Vista Windows Explorer.


DECEMBER 21, 2010

My experience hour-by-hour including some wrong turns and course corrections. 

Be forewarned, formatting and disk clone operations take several hours each. The hardware swap-out itself is very easy, but be careful. Don't lose screws and make sure you can put each piece of mounting hardware back in place securely.

At the end of the process we have a boot-able, bigger, faster new hard drive running Vista on the laptop, and the old drive is available as a portable external USB case drive.

Total project cost ~$75 and a few hours work plus down-time to run format and clone procedures.

I will give a detailed account of this project covering even some obvious stuff. If you are an expert you can just scan this material and get started.

My laptop is about three years old. Vista Home Premium | 2GB | Toshiba | dual core Intel | 150 GB C: drive.

First, here are the symptoms that suggested the laptop hard drive was in trouble.

> Making more noise and failure on boot up.
> Had to use system restore to boot successfully.
> Frequent windows shadow copy activity after boot as detected 
            by examining windows task manager.  

I concluded several weeks ago it was probably time to buy a new computer. But I figured that replacing the hard drive would turn the old computer into a great back up or second computer. So I decided to try to replace the C: drive with an upgrade.  

I had not replaced a laptop drive before this, so I have logged all the steps and some wrong turns along the way.  Share your comments and experience in the comments bar. 

Philosophical Aside:  Why do this project instead of having someone else do it or just buying a new one? 

 I view it as an opportunity to dig in and personally experience what is considered mainstream technology of 2010.    It is satisfying in some way, to get "under the hood" and see some of the inner workings of the operating system and the hardware.  

It is also an opportunity for me to gauge the health of the technology. That is, are the functions of both the software interface and the mechanical design of the hardware well designed or do we have badly engineered stuff in our possession?  Sometimes, bad engineering only shows up when you try to repair or replace functions or components.  Comments welcome.

Further, this project when successfully completed, will possibly impress yourself, your friends and associates. Possibly.

OK....Here we go...

STEP 1 Prepare and update Vista

First, check that the version of Vista is up to date. If not, install the updates at the Windows Update site.  Check the windows version using winver. Click the start button and type winver in the search box.

Here's what winver gave on my computer:

Windows Vista Home Premium
Version 6 Build 6002 Service Pack 2

Ok, Vista is up to date.  

Speaking of updates, here's some good news for Vista customers.

If you were unsatisfied with the Vista file search utility, check again.  With little fanfare, it seems that Service Pack 2 added a great file search utility to Vista.  For Free!   
I don't have all the details but after updating Vista, I tried file search from a folder and it actually worked!  Check it out.  Just open a folder. Documents, for example, and type something in the search box at the top right.   Merry Christmas from Microsoft.

STEP 2 Buy a new drive, an external drive bay, and connect it via USB to the Laptop.

More Hard Drive Stuff: 

Went to local STAPLES office supply store to buy the parts. Purchased a Western Digital Scorpio Blue SATA Laptop drive. Generic box specs are as follows: 320GB MB Mo Cache 5400 rpm. Sale price $54. Conveniently, they also carry an external drive bay (case) from ANTEC Media. The drive case has a SATA connector, a USB mini connector, and comes with a cable.

When I got back home I unboxed and mounted the new drive in the case. One screw, slide in carefully, mates with connector inside the case, follow the directions provided. After new drive was  mounted and case closed up, I connected it to the laptop with the supplied cable. Vista did not recognize the new drive because it comes in an unformatted state.

STEP 3 Get and install free software to perform the formatting and drive image copy step. Use Vista Computer Management tool to Format, Create Partition, and Initialize Partition on new drive.

We need to make a bootable drive image of the old C: drive on the new drive. The hardware however did not come with any software to perform a disk clone.

Checking at CNET I found a software called Drive Image XML from RUNTIME SOFTWARE. They have good reviews and offer a free home use version. So we downloaded Drive Image XML from their site. Here's the link to download directly from Runtime Software:

Before proceeding with the clone and swap, it's probably a good idea to back up the C: drive to an external backup drive. See appendix below showing how I did this backup using XML and Vista utilities. 

A possible fly in the ointment:

Most of us have OEM versions of Vista on our laptops. OEM Vista usually includes neither CD/DVD backup disks from Microsoft, nor a way to make them. Instead the hard drive is equipped with a separate Vista recovery file. Recovery is to be used in case installed Vista files become damaged or destroyed. I haven't checked if the Vista recovery files can be transferred over to the new hard drive. I plan to check into this later. I have been using the laptop with new drive for several days, and have not encountered any difficulties. 

After backing up the files on C: we continue work on setting up the new hard drive...

The new drive comes out of the box unformatted. I confirmed that by connecting the USB drive to the Laptop and click My Computer for a drive list. Checking.... Drive does not show up on my computer. Try rebooting … still no external USB drive displayed in My Computer. 

 OK we need to format the drive using a Vista utility called Computer Management.

XML software has a FAQ page with this stuff in it too. 

Here's the link to the FAQ page from Runtime Software:

Here's how to get to Computer Management to format the new drive.
Right-click on My Computer. Menu pops up and select Manage. Then you get the Computer Management window. In the left menu pane under Storage, click on Disk Management.
Wait a few seconds. The disk management graphic display pane will show up. 

Disk Management recognized the new WD SATA drive as Disk 1 with the cryptic information: Unknown at 298.09 GB unallocated. Not Initialized.

The existing internal hard drive C: is recognized in Disk Management as Disk 0.

I first tried to format the disk, Disk 1.  Right click on the graphic in the disk management pane. It looks like a white rectangle under a blue line. When you right-click the rectangle, you get a menu including the format option.

I selected format simple and received “Cannot Format. Disk Not Initialized error from VISTA.”

OK, so first “initialize” the disk.

To INITIALIZE: right-click on the white rectangle graphic in the Computer Management window.
Select actions in the popup menu.  Select initialize as Master Boot Record (MBR.)

... I may have left out something in here, but all can be accomplished using Computer Management menu options. 

You can do all of the above Computer Management stuff via XML. After selecting drive-to-drive copy. XML prompts you through the Computer Management steps with embedded instructions to complete proper formatting.

Ok, now to format the new drive....

After completing "Initialization" of the new drive, the Computer Management Window display shows Disk 1 as: Online, and the grey cross hatching is gone. If you want to create multiple partitions you can also do that, but I am using a single "primary" partition for the entire new drive.

To format the new drive, right-click on the rectangle graphic for the new disk and select format simple option. 

Here goes....

Formatting 298.09 GB. 

This will take several hours. Maybe 4 hrs I estimate (roughly).
The Computer Management Disk format display is minimal. Just a number percent of format completed.

So we wait....

6:10pm 5% complete

6:20pm 10% complete

This seems faster than for the other older drive formatted yesterday. That's good!

If you open windows task manager, and look at processes you can see the formatting write bytes accumulate. The process name is vds.exe.

6:40 pm 19%

7:15 pm 36%

8:05 pm 60%

8:37 pm 74%

9:11 pm 89%

And at 9:20 pm formatting is completed. Time elapsed: 3 hrs.

Computer Management display shows Local Disk E: 298GB NTFS Healthy Primary Partition (in the disk management pane.)

Step 3 complete.

STEP 4 Make a drive-to-drive image copy of the old C: drive on the new drive in the external case using XML.

We have already downloaded and installed Drive Image XML. Click on the XML icon and start XML. In this step we make an image copy of the laptop drive C: to the new formatted external drive E: and prepare for drive switch-out.

I believe this will be very straightforward using XML . I will try to record each step no matter how obvious it seems at the moment. I may have missed something along the way, but XML has good prompts during the image copy procedure.

 We now have a formatted, MBR Initialized, and Primary partitioned the new drive in the external USB case. We need to create a boot-able image of the old C: drive.

Here are the steps I went through using XML.

Open XML and select drive-to-drive image.
XML asks “Select one drive to copy to another drive.” Select C: then click Next

Some where along here, you may also be asked to "change user permissions." Do this as instructed by XML Drive Image after selecting drive-to-drive copy from the XML menu.

Next is the XML window and some choices.  

" Welcome to drive to drive copy wizard."  Choices: (1) Raw Mode, (2) Try Volume Locking First,  (3) Try Volume Shadow Service first. Don't pick Raw Mode. Raw Mode is “over-kill,” i.e. it copies even unused bits to the target drive and takes a long time. 

Under Hot Imaging Strategy select Try Volume Locking First. XML tries Volume Locking, and if it fails it reverts to Volume Shadow copy.

So I will Pick:  Try Volume Locking First. (also it worked the last time I did this.)

Next Select Disk and Partition you want for the copy. This will be your externally mounted new SATA drive. 

Selecting Disk 1#1 E: Local Disk NTFS 298GB  

Your drive letter and name may be different of course.
Click next and XML asks to begin copy operation... click next to do so.

Some where in this procedure XML will warn you that all data will be destroyed on the "Target" drive. Just approve the procedure using the text permission box as instructed by XML and start image copy. Image copy should start.

Image copy process takes several hours.  Take a break or let it run over night. Here's the log entries I made during Image Copy:

10:15pm starting 0%

2:10am 57% complete est. remaining time 3hrs.

3:07 am 73% complete est. remaining time 1 hr 47min

4:00am 88% complete est. remaining time 47 min.

4:30 am 97% complete est remaining 12 min.

4:45 am 100% complete. 

Close XML and check My Computer.

Here's a screen shot from Drive Image XML


With this process complete, the new hard drive contains bootable image of the old C: drive. 

Elapsed time 6 hours 45 minutes.

Exiting Drive Image XML.

Now check that the drive can be detected by Vista. To do this make sure the new drive is connected via USB cable and re-boot the laptop.

After boot-up Right-click on My computer and bring up Computer Management. In Computer Management select Disk Management and examine the display for the new hard drive and confirm that the boot sector is the primary sector. Click on the rectangle under the blue bar which will highlight the drive graphic in grey shading. Then, in the right Actions pane, activate the new drive under More Actions All Tasks. 
Each step is easy, just follow the menus.

Now the new drive shows up in My Computer as E: and all my files from the old C: drive have been copied onto the new E: drive and are accessible in Vista.  Cool!

One more thing to do for Vista image drives. 
You must "Fix Vista Boot Problem."  Don't worry, it's automated in XML.

To fix the Vista Boot Problem do these actions:
Start Drive Image XML and go to Tools and select fix Vista boot problem.
It will give the option to update the BCD store. Do that. 

What's the BCD store? Shut up and follow orders!

XML will then update several files and show a list of them and indicate update was successful. 

XML explains on its FAQ page:

XML claims that the disk will now Boot up with Vista. (and they were right.)

Step 4 complete. Now we can install the new hard drive. Yes!


Swap the old C drive and install the new laptop hard drive.

After XML completed making a drive-to-drive image copy of C: to the new hard drive, there is one more step, namely, to remove the old C: drive from the laptop drive bay and install the new one. 

How long does it take and does it really work ? Not to long, just a few turns of the screwdriver.

Here's how I did it.

Disconnect power supply and all other cable connections. Remove battery. Take off the drive bay cover on the bottom of the laptop (screw driver may be required.) Remove old drive by sliding it out of the connector and lifting it out of the drive bay. There may be a handy plastic tab to help lift the drive out. 

After removing the drive you will notice some mounting rails and stuff attached to the drive unit by screws. Here you need a tool. A screwdriver.  Unscrew the mounting hardware on the drive and install the mounting hardware on the new drive. Be careful to put the rails on the same way they were on the old drive. Note this mounting hardware may be different on your laptop.

Install the new drive in the laptop drive bay and replace the cover. Put the battery back in, and connect the power supply.

We are ready to try to boot up Vista with the new drive installed. Will it work? Probably. At least it worked when I tried it this week.  A few things to watch out for along the way....

Started the system and began booting up. Yes!

However, after a few minutes it started asking for a reboot to fix disk errors with CHKDSK. Concerning but Vista probably know's what it's doing.  Microsoft would never do anything bad to your new drive would they?  Don't answer, just do as Vista asks.

I approved the reboot and CHKDSK executed a 15 minute process where CHKDSK did its checking and “fixed” several files...didn't get an exact count but it completed and automatically rebooted. This reboot took a long time maybe 10 minutes or more but finally boot up was successful and we got to the desk top, and all the icons I had before. Yea!

All installed all working all checked and now we have a new fast big Vista boot-able drive on the laptop!

Laptop now working, running IBM Lotus Symphony, Chrome, etc. and definitely seems applications open faster, but no objective measure of this. Also rebooting was faster than before and no more CHKDSK operations or Shadow Copy processes on bootup.  

I ran Windows Update with the new drive installed, and it seems to have found something to update, not sure what. Seems to have no problems after several days in routine use including shutdown, power off, power on, reboot cycles.


Completed replacement of laptop hdd using Drive Image XML and a lot of patient work.
Quieter and faster hard drive now. Also more disk space is nice at 300 GB. Also, the old drive can be mounted in the USB case and used as a portable USB drive.

Good work and happy computing...


Back up the old C drive before creating the new bootable image drive.

BACKUP the C drive to my FreeAgent External USB hard drive before setting up the new laptop hard drive.

More useful information: It turns out XML likes to copy to a new partition on the back-up drive.
So we had to create a new partition on the external physical drive that was large enough to accommodate the old C: drive.

STEP 1  Create a new partition on the external physical drive.

This was done by opening Computer Management in Vista and setting up a new partition on the external drive. I named the new partition is F: and I asked for 232GB. Plenty of space to hold all the files on the laptop hard drive.

The steps are given in the helpful article:

After the partition is created it must be formatted. That is also accomplished in Computer Management. Takes a few hours. Take a break while formatting.

When formatting of the new partition was complete the new partition appears as a new drive, F: in the My Computer folder.

STEP 2 Make an image copy of the C: onto the new F: drive.

Next step is the backup of C: onto F: I again used XML disk-to-disk backup copy.  Just open the XML program and chose disk-to-disk copy.  The menu and prompts are very clear and easy to follow.  

Under Hot Imaging Strategy select Try Volume Locking First. XML tries volume locking hot image strategy and if it fails it reverts to Volume Shadow copy.  

Copying takes longer than formatting. Easily 3-4 hours.  I would say that it's  better not to use the computer during the copy process. Also advise other users who might try to use the computer while it's copying, Not To.

When the process is complete close XML and go to My Computer and open the backup drive.  Check the size and content of some selected critical files.  I suppose you could also use a verify utility to confirm the accuracy of the copy, if needed.

Backup of laptop internal hard drive complete..... Congratulations.

Here are some screen shots of the process.  Computer Management and XML displays concerned with a straight file back-up copy of the C: drive on an external Free Agent back-up drive. 

Similar displays will show up during the formatting and cloning to the new laptop drive.

        Screen shot here:

Computer Management display after selecting Disk Management 
under Storage in the left pane. 
Notice Disk 0 (internal HDD) and Disk 1 (external physical drive) rectangles. 
You can right click on the display rectangles for menu options.

Drive Image XML display during Drive to Drive Copy
showing Computer Management window.
XML walks you through the Computer Management steps.

My Computer display after partitioning and backing up the C: drive 
to an external "physical" drive having partitions E: and F:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Connect an XP desktop to the Internet using an Ethernet cable and a router

Experience connecting an XP desktop to Time Warner Internet Service using an Ethernet cable.

The cable tech installed the Time Warner cable setup and a router. The router is an SMC8014WG, but this will work the same on any router.

The cable tech also got the router and internet service working in wireless connection mode and in Ethernet cable connection mode with one of my laptops.

Later I wanted to add my desktop computer to the network. So, I thought, "It should be easy to get my desktop computer connected." Not so easy after all because I had never done it before. Here is how it went in this particular case.

My experience is detailed in the following text as a stream-of-consciousness narration:

So first thing, I connected the PC to the router with an Ethernet Cable.
Clicked on the Network ICON which had a red X on it.

Network Connections menu comes up. Choices are Broadband or LAN High-Speed Internet, Create a new connection, and.... Among about 12 choices these seem most relevant.


Click on 1394 connection network cable unplugged.
1394 properties menu comes up.
Connect using the 1394 Adapter? Seems OK so click Install.

MORE Questions!

Which type of network component do you wish to install.
1- Client 2-Service 3-Protocol.

Who knows what these are. NO explanation or help available. So we are reduced to guessing.

One hint: A client provides access to computers and files on the network. (don’t want that)

Service provides additional features such as file and printer sharing.(don’t want that)

A protocol is a language your computer uses to communicate with other computers.

By default it looks like protocol. Click ADD with protocol highlighted.
Yellow warning: Windows unable to find any drivers for this device. If you have a disk with a driver click OK. I have the SMC router disk in the DVD drive drive E.
But XP says cannot find any drivers on this disk.

(This all turned out to be a dead end but here is the rest of this phase of my experience.)

So Maybe I have to get drivers by unzipping or something.
Try it.

First, Read the PDF Installation directions file.


OK here goes... Access Network settings by clicking [Start] [Control Panel] [Network and Internet connections]
double click the Local Area connection ICON click the [Properties] button.
ON the Local Area Connection Properties Box verify the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) Transmission protocol / Internet Protocol box is checked. Then Highlight Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click the Properties button.

Select Obtain IP address automatically to configure computer for DHCP. Click OK to save this change and close the properties window.
Click OK again to save these changes.


After reboot launch browser (computer does not have to be online) just connected to the router.
In the address bar type HTTP:// as instructed.
Log-in screen is supposed to appear.
And just enter default user name and password and click LOGIN to access the router.

This did not work.

I was not able to log-in to the router as such.

It turns out the 1394 adapter is not what I need to use to connect via Ethernet cable.

Take a break and try another time later....

October 18 2010 (a few days later)

More of my experiences setting up a network connection to my new Time Warner Cable router.

The router was already working using the wireless network laptop and with the local Ethernet cable connection to another laptop. The cable installation guy set this up, but I did not observe what he did in detail.

Coming back to the job of connecting an additional desktop to the Internet via Ethernet cable and SMC router supplied by Time Warner Cable...

Now I need to try again to connect my Windows XP desktop to the Internet with an Ethernet connection.

How did I make this work? Here's how.

First, boot up the XP desktop.

Pluged in the Ethernet cable to an RJ-45 port (Ethernet port) on the back of the router and into the green Ethernet connector on the back panel of my desktop PC.

I observed green LEDs flashing on the network connector on the back of the PC. This indicates the cable is not bad and the Ethernet connection to the router is active.

Next I looked at the status bar on the computer screen at the bottom right. There is a network icon that looks like two little blue PCs.

Network Icon indicates a network is connected if there is no red X.

BUT there was two such icons on my display. What's up with that?

First I checked that the 1394 status was connected.
But NO Bits sent or received.

Click on IE8 and get No connection indicator.


It turns out the 1394 is not the Ethernet connection, it's something else.

Trying something new.....(which worked)

Instead, it turns out I need to use a Local Area Connection which makes use of the NVIDIA nForce networking controller (your computer may have another networking controller) which enables the Ethernet adapter.

After trying a few things, here is what I did to finally make Internet access and browsing work:

Open the Local Area Connection menu by clicking on the Local Area Connection Icon on the status bar, or going to control panel Network option.

You get the Local Area Connection Status window opened up. In this window you will see a Connection Status display and an Activity display.

Click on Properties.

This will open the Properties menu.

In the Properties menu under the General Tab, scroll down the check list to Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and make sure it is checked and enabled. This should be obvious looking at the menu. If it's not, I think you can install it from the same menu, but mine was already checked and installed so I didn't have to install.

STEP 3-8
To get TCP/IP to work, I did the following steps.

Left click on the Internet Protocol item. Which brings up the (TCP/IP) Properties menu.
Set the TCP/IP Properties as follows:

(1) Check the option to Obtain an IP address automatically.
(2) Check the option to Obtain DNS server address automatically.
(3) Click on OK to save the settings.
(4) Click on OK to save the Local Area Connection Properties.

Now you are ready bring up the browser, i.e. click the Internet Explorer icon on your desk top, or Firefox or whatever.

Internet access WORKS! or whatever. We are online now! Yea!

This took altogether about 7 hrs over several days to get through the setup process successfully, including going down several dead ends. Of course, there are many other ways the network connection can fail to work. Fortunately I didn't encounter them this time.

To monitor the performance of the Ethernet network connection and Internet network speed, you can bring up the network connection monitor like this:

Do a ctrl-alt-del (chord) to get the Windows Task Manager display.
Click on Networking to see a real time display of download speed, connection speed, upload speed info, and graphs.

You should see network traffic indicators change as you download or browse.

All is working now.

And we did not have to log-in to the router interface at all.

Congratulations! Feel good.

Now.. what was my email password again.... ?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Narrated Algebraic Chess Notation (Alpha-Bravo Algebraic)

Updated October 14, 2013

A spoken chess notation optimized for 

listener comprehension.

By S.C. Luckhardt

Ranks and Files of the Chessboard

Narrated Algebraic Chess Notation (NACN) encodes algebraic chess notation letters a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h for chessboard files as spoken English words. In NACN files of the chessboard are encoded for narration (speaking aloud) as:

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel

Ranks of the chess board numbered 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 are encoded as the English spoken words:
One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight

In NACN we use the standard algebraic chess notation of the ranks and files of the chessboard, encoded by the IRSA/ICAO spelling alphabet.

The International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet (IRSA) also known as International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) spelling alphabet. The IRSA encoding is the most widely used spoken spelling alphabet.

For detailed information on the IRSA and ICAO spoken spelling alphabets, and their variants check out this Wikipedia article:

Chess Pieces

The standard English names of the chess pieces can be used in narration with excellent clarity.  Narrations making use of standard piece names: King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Pawn are unlikely to be misunderstood by chess players.

Special Moves and Terms Tango, Castles Kilo, Castles Quebec, November Papa, ...  


The term "takes" as in:  "d1 knight takes bishop on e3" or simply "Knight d1 takes on e3" or Nd1 x e3 can be narrated using IRSA "Tango" for takes.

NACN for the above two sentences would be:

"Knight Delta One Tango Bishop Echo Three."


"Knight Delta One Tango Echo Three."

Here we use the standard practice of capitalizing the first letter of each code word. Notice that algebraic notation for Knight is N, but NACN for Knight is the spoken word "Knight." 


NACN for the move "castles kingside or O-O" is "Castles Kilo"
and "castles queenside or O-O-O" is narrated as "Castles Quebec"

Here Quebec is the phonetic code word for the letter Q, and is pronounced as KEH-BECK. This follows the IRSA/ICAO standard spoken spelling alphabet for the letter Q as does Kilo for the letter K.

Pawn promotion:
Pawn promotion consists of a move and a piece name like "f7-f8 Queen."
NACN for pawn promotion is:

"Foxtrot Seven Foxtrot Eight Queen." or 
"Foxtrot Seven Pawn Foxtrot Eight Queen."


Pawn promotion via capture, e.g.  f7 x g8 Queen would be NACN encoded as  "Foxtrot Seven Tango Golf Eight Queen."

Pawn Captures en passant: November Papa

The pawn move  "White pawn on e5 captures black pawn en passant on d5 and moves to d6 on white's tenth move." can be written simply in algebraic notation as "10. e x d6 e.p."  One and only one e-pawn that can move to d6 via e.p. capture, so the notation is unambiguous, though cryptic.  Notice that, the only way for the e5 pawn to get to d6 on this move is to capture en passant. You don't even need the "e.p." for this move.

NACN encodes the move e x d6 e.p. as: "Echo Tango Delta Six."  
or "Echo Five Pawn Tango Delta Six"   or "Echo Tango Delta Six November Papa."

Rendering en of e.p. phonetically as "n" encoded as November, and "p" of e.p. as Papa.   


The standard algebraic notation chess moves:

1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bb5 a6

encoded in Narrated Algebraic Chess Notation (NACN) become the spoken phrases
1. Echo Four, Echo Five2. Knight Foxtrot Three, Knight Charlie Six3. Bishop Bravo Five, Alpha Six

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Narrated Algebraic Chess Notation Chessboard

More on the IRSA/ICAO Spelling Alphabet from Wikipedia:

The ICAO spelling alphabet assigns code words to the letters of the English alphabet acrophonically so that critical combinations of letters can be pronounced and understood by those who transmit and receive voice messages by radio or telephone regardless of their native language. The paramount reason is to ensure intelligibility of voice signals over radio links.
After the (IRSA) alphabet was developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) [and implemented by ICAO March 1956] it was adopted by many other international and national organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Narrated Chess can be Hazardous to the Listener


Speaking as a fan and occasional player of the fascinating International Worldwide Game of Chess, I have a few observations to share.

First, let me say, for us chess fans, computers and the net have revolutionized our experience. My favorite is YouTube which carries wonderful videos made by good chess players who are also good communicators. The video reports of chess matches, classic games, and personal or locational sidelights are entertaining interesting and educational. A wonderful use of the YouTube medium.

As a frequent listener to chess videos, I have noticed an interesting problem. Hence this article.

So, here goes….

When we chess folk communicate about chess, we use chess notation to record and describe the move-by-move progress of a given chess game. Chess notation has a long, varied, and interesting history. In the modern era, since the 1980’s or so, algebraic notation has become standard. Having nothing to do with mathematical algebra, algebraic notation makes use of a coded alphanumeric coordinate system for locating squares on the chessboard. The eight ranks (rows) are labeled 1 through 8 and the eight files (columns) lettered “a” through “h.”

Chessboards often have these coordinate numbers and letters printed along the edges. Thrown into the mix are the code letters for the chess pieces R,B,N,K,Q, except for pawns. Pawns are anonymous in algebraic notation, as befits their low status. If White advances the pawn in front of his king by two squares, algebraic notation for the move is e2-e4 or simply e4.

Algebraic notation is the current favorite for written chess, along with its fun variant, figurine algebraic notation. Figurine algebraic on the printed page mixes tiny color-coded icon images of chess pieces, the figurines, with algebraic chess board coordinates making for pleasingly mysterious hieroglyphics. Computer chess applications code chess data in files using specialized formats such as the pgn format. Chess fans know this stuff inside out.

However, when it comes to speaking and listening, we chess folk have a problem, a failure to communicate. The spoken language of chess is much less developed than the written one, and chess language in its present form has flaws. That’s the problem I want to examine in this article.

When talking about chess moves we use spoken algebraic notation, what we might call narrated algebraic. In narrated algebraic, we pronounce the English names of English letters along with the English names of the numbers 1 through 8. The trouble is, spoken letter and number combinations often sound awkward, and very often result in ambiguous sounds. Especially so, for network audio streams having limited bandwidth and background noise.

Come to think of it, all audio streams have both above properties, but anyhow, I think you get my drift. Listening to narrated algebraic chess speech is tough going. The letters b, c, d, e, and g sound alike and are easily confused when spoken casually. And it’s worse over a noisy audio channel. Another problem is “h.” “h” is awkward to pronounce. Not to mention “f” and “a,” neither of which are pieces of cake.

Narrated algebraic requires pronounced letters to be combined with pronounced numbers with silent pauses in between. This creates additional hazards for the listener. “f6” and “h8” especially so, among many others. Are you with me? Ok then.

Compounding the problem is the scarcity of context clues in chess speak. In normal conversation, spoken words have a natural grammatical syntax which provides a stream of context for each audible sound. The listener gets an unconscious version of what computer guys call error correction. The, “Oh! That’s what he meant by that…” moment, where it takes a half second to figure out what was intended by the speaker. This along with a continuous flow of percollating sub-awarenesses all contribute to our perception of continuous speech comprehension.

Narrated algebraic as it presently exists, is simply not a very good way of transmitting chess moves through speech. The spoken letters are hard to distinguish and there’s no error correction. And it’s even worse in audio streaming. All this makes listening to narrated chess games difficult: perhaps needlessly difficult.

So is there no hope? Will we chess fans continue to suffer forever with geeethreee ceeethree aaichaate?

I say, “Maybe not.”

The problem of communication over noisy audio channels is important to others. In the military and in aviation, noisy radio channels are used in critical, and even life-death situations where errors could be fatal, or worse.

What did they do about it?

Interestingly, they developed a phonetic coded alphabet. It’s called the international radiotelephony spelling alphabet (IRSA). It’s what air traffic controllers use to talk to the captain of your flight from Chicago to Boston. Most people have heard this lingo on TV or movies, or listening to the ATC channel on a flight.

So we have the IRSA phonetic system, a tried-and-true effective and reliable means of spoken communication over noisy channels. And it sounds cool! Hmmm, so if we took the IRSA system ...... and combined it with ……ummmm well….

So here you go…

Chess board files labeled: a b c d e f g h in algebraic, become alpha bravo charlie delta echo foxtrot golf hotel in IRSA algebraic. Cool!

Speaking casually about last night’s club game, Alex says, “Yeah, he played echo 4 and I played charlie 5. Then he played Knight foxtrot 3 and the game continued Knight charlie 6, bravo 3, … “

Hmmm… better than eee4 ceee5? For speech communication?

Yes, it is for sure more intelligible over audio channels. Maybe we have a possible solution to an outstanding problem in Chess communication. Perhaps not an optimal solution, but I believe it or some variant could be of great value to chess players and chess fans everywhere.

Ok. Now there are fun things you can do with this concept. How about other options?

Would "Knight Alekhine 3 to Capablanca 4," "Knight to Fischer 3," or "pawn to Euwe 4" work? No, too geeky. Hmmm, for chessplayers geeky maybe a positive connotation. So maybe.
Or there’s Pawn to King Four, Knight to King Bishop three, … No?

Well, ‘Splain me your ideas, comments and suggestions.
Over and Out.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Discussion & Comments from YouTube Video

Great NASA Video on YouTube:
Ten Cool Things Seen in the First Year of LRO.

LRO stands for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an orbital satellite that is mapping the Lunar Surface.

The Moon is approximated as a two dimensional surface, a 2-Sphere, with an altitude recorded as a function of the lunar latitude (THETA) and longitude (PHI). THETA and PHI are periodic polar coordinates. In time, LRO will cover the entire lunar surface by following its trajectory, a one dimensional curve in space.

This raises an interesting problem in differential geometry. The distance along the curve is a scalar function of time, S(t), obtainable from the metric. At each instant the LRO is located at a particular point on the 2-Sphere, [THETA(S(t)), PHI(S(t))].

So here’s the tricky question: How can the two dimensional surface of the moon, a 2-Sphere, be completely covered by a one dimensional curve (the LRO orbit)?

Comments and discussion welcome. Answer to follow in this space.
Mathview's Channel on YouTube:

Hints: “differential” "Ergodic Curves"
Another Hint: Consider an ergodic orbit.
Take a spool of thread and tack the end to the north pole of the moon. Then start wrapping on great circles through both poles. Pick any point on the lunar surface, as you keep winding you can always come arbitrarily close to that chosen point, IF the winding law gives an ergodic covering of the 2D surface. So a one dimensional string of infinite length covers a 2D surface.
Each point on the surface has a "string length coordinate" given by the distance along the string. The "coordinate of the point" is the distance along the string between the origin at the north pole (say) and the point on the string that is "sufficiently close" to the point on the surface.
The reason this is not a "good" coordinate system is that it is non-local. An adjacent point in the neighborhood of a point may have a wildly different string length coordinate. So the string length coordinate system cannot be used for calculus on the 2D surface.
Anyhow, I think these strings are quite interesting. Poincare used a shrinking loop of string to determine the connectedness of manifolds. Also, it would be interesting to know the geometric flow PDEquation for a string embedded on a higher dimensional manifold. And is the geometric flow equivalent to a classical string theory? Specifically, is there a Lagrangian formulation leading to the geometric flow equations? And so on... Of course, experts know the answer to this one, I suppose.
But I digress...

Watch this video first:

A few observations. The surface is covered with fine dust. I guess it must be micro-meteoric and ejecta from macro-meteor impacts. Micrometeors don't reach us here on Earth, they burn up. It seems to me that excavations on the moon would tell us alot about the history of the solar system. Events such as epochs of cometary bombardment would leave a stratigraphic record unlike anything we can get on Earth. In short send drill core crew to the Moon. Also, looks to me like there was an ocean on the back side.

@Mathview From memory... That ocean looking thing on the far side is actually the remnants of a molten ocean after a collision or impact from a comet or meteor. Same as on the near side. And the core drill would have to be VERY long to get anything useful as most of the surface is dust... Very fine dust. And that is rather deep in places.

TY Useful stuff on the Maria. As to Dust, Dust is a good thing to study. It seems likely that lunar stratigraphy would be a great way of getting a ~10^9 year record of dust flux and composition in our solar system. Further, there will be a record of ejecta of earth origin, e.g. big volcanic and big impact. The lack of wind and water erosion on the moon suggests an undisturbed stratigraphy and geochronology of dust deposits. A real treasure trove.

Makes sense... I would suppose that you would get a chalky limestone (in texture only of course) stratification once you went down a meter or so... Yes, it would be a huge bonus to the understanding of how the solar system formed. The fact that there is no geological movement gives us an unprecedented ability to study impacts also. Makes you cry at the whole "never been back" thing.

Oh yes, now I'm Sad. But policy can change, President and Congress will change. So it's likely we will go back after all. LRO and LCROSS Amazing! Rocket from earth to the moon, creating an orbiting robotic laboratory, water impact experiments, precision maps of the the lunar surface of unprecedented quality, so smooth it is almost routine to go to the Moon. TY for the discussion.

I wonder how the coldest place in the solar system is on the moon? You would think one of those ice moons or even something closer to the edge of the solar system would be colder....