Monthly Archives: August 2010

Savvy scholars: throw away your flash drive?

Sony and other computer manufacturers have announced they will stop manufacturing floppy disk drives soon. Floppy disks are going the way of eight track players, and, more recently, cassette tapes. The technology dinosaur graveyard keeps getting bigger.

Flash drives (thumb drives, pen drives, memory sticks) are one of the latest gee whiz tech advances—carry gigs of storage on your keychain. Wow, what’s next? A biological chip implant into your brain that will blur the difference between external computers and your internal computer? (Perhaps not that far-fetched.)

And then flash drives will go away too?

Forget about chip implants, there are other developments that are casting a shadow over flash drives.

Flash drives (thumb drives, pen drives, memory sticks) are one of the latest gee whiz tech advances—carry gigs of storage on your keychain. Wow, what’s next? A chip implant into your brain? (Probably not that far-fetched!)

Flash drives come with their own downsides, one being the fact that it is easy to lose them or misplace them. How many people reading this have forgotten to take their flash drive out of a computer they were using, walking away and potentially losing your saved documents forever? Just what I thought: most people are raising their hands.

This is doubly scary, because of the huge storage capacity of flash drives, some people use their flash drives as either another drive for their computer or as an external backup drive. As an additional drive, you may create or download something on your flash drive away from your main computer, intending to save it to your computer eventually. Or, as a backup external drive, you have all your computer’s stuff on the flash drive, so that if your computer dies or gets stolen, you have your data backed up.

In either case, if you lose your flash drive, you could be up the creek. Using your flash drive as the all-purpose Swiss knife of storage can lead to trouble.

For backing up your computer, instead of relying entirely on your flash drive, you should use an anti-virus program that does that as part of their service, or use one of the automated backup Web services. Also, you could use an old-fashioned external hard drive to back up, which you keep hidden away in your home or office.

Using your flash drive as a temporary parking spot for your data is still the main (and best) reason to use a flash drive.

But let’s come back to my point above, about the downsides of a flash drive, especially the danger of losing it (or even damaging it—I heard about a flash drive that went in the washer, and came out still working!)

There is help for this flash drive bugaboo of losing your flash drive or leaving it in a computer and walking away. More hi-tech than tying a string around your finger are some free programs that help remind you that your flash drive is in the computer and needs to be removed. Other types of apps can even encrypt your information on your flash drive if it gets into the wrong hands. And there’s a suggested way to create information on your flash drive that tells who to return it to. I’ve bookmarked these free app sites at

There’s still another solution to the downsides of a flash drive. This may seem radical: get rid of your flash drive for a better alternative. What a concept!

This solution is espoused by some: use a free online storage service that not only can be your computer’s backup, but also virtually replace your flash drive. One such service that is highly touted is With DropBox, everything you do on a computer gets saved to the online storage, as well as automatically to every computer (and smartphone) in which you have created a DropBox folder.

I won’t reinvent the wheel and give you all the details of how DropBox can do this for you, instead go to an educator’s blog that has done a good job of explaining this:

This DropBox way is just about the ultimate solution for security and convenience for your computer. It’s called “cloud computing,” where you rely on an a website to provide the tools that you otherwise would have to provide yourself in terms of software or hardware.

But will I get rid of my flash drive? No way! Let’s say I believe in “redundancy,” where you don’t place all your eggs in one basket—instead you try to have as many baskets as is reasonably possible to maximize the safety of your holdings.

While cloud computing may be the best thing since sliced bread, I still believe in being neurotically cautious without going to the extreme of paranoia. There was once a site that bookmarked your favorite Web pages (not Delicious, which is what I use). Well, a not so funny thing happened—the site crashed, and everyone’s bookmarks were permanently lost. Admittedly, such a disaster is extremely rare, but the moral of the story is that nothing is 100 percent foolproof. After all, didn’t an ordinary British bloke hack into the Pentagon computers, not to mention reports of the Chinese doing the same thing? That’s why you can’t go wrong with redundancy. Think of it as insurance.


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