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July 10, 2015

The Cat Ate My Hard Drive

Filed under: Main — Tags: , — admin @ 12:01 am

Would it be possible for a cat to march across your desk, lie on the keyboard, and somehow manage to completely erase everything on your computer? Let me mull the possibilities.

In the show Silicon Valley, a massive FTP (file transfer) operation is thwarted when one of the characters accidentally sets a bottle of tequila on a laptop keyboard.

Could such a thing happen?


The characters in the show could have been using something other than vanilla FTP, so I’ll grant them that. The way I understand FTP, however, is that only one computer is in charge of the operation. If all the systems are timesharing (somehow), then pressing the Delete key on one system’s keyboard would buffer a lot of Delete characters, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to cancel the operation, let alone switch the activity from a transfer to a massive purge.

The text commands I’ve seen for a file purge can be rather simple. I read recently that the entire movie Toy Story 2 was almost lost because a unix nerd typed rm -d * on the hard drive that contained all the movie’s animation files. That’s a pretty vicious command, and it could be typed accidentally, I suppose. Like most text mode commands, a prompt doesn’t appear explaining that you’re about to purge everything; the command just works.

Could a tequila bottle type rm -d * [Enter]? Nope.

So could a cat just randomly walk across a keyboard and type a command to remove a hard drive? I would postulate a “No” answer as well, but the thought has occurred to me.

Like many cat owners, my kitties like to come up to the keyboard and demand attention. When they’re content, they plant themselves right in front of the keyboard. They’ll do this when I’m away, as well. Sometimes I come back from a break and the cat has rolled over on the keyboard. I see several pages of space characters in my Word document as evidence.

Once I thought the cat had zapped a folder from the desktop. It turned out that he just renamed it. Somehow he managed to hit the Enter key (which is the Rename command on a Mac) and then he typed a space. The folder was there, but its name had changed.

So could my cat delete the hard drive? Probably not. The only chance a cat would have is if you were running a disk management tool on the computer, that program happened to be open, and the command for removing a hard drive was something simple, like Space-Space-Space-Space-Space and then Enter.

Remember: Cats don’t type well. They just lie down on the keyboard, which increases their impact, but decreases the likelihood that they’ll actually type anything — even a cryptic Unix or DOS command that could wipe out a hard drive.

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