Nothing Lasts Forever
If you’re like me, you devote much of your attention these days to drafting and revising your dissertation. You depend on a flash drive to store your work as you go. You rarely consider flash-drive wear and tear. But you should. Think of all the places such devices regularly visit: in between connections to various USB ports, they spend time in pockets or backpacks or on table surfaces alongside other objects large and small. Drives that hang with keys on a keychain experience another broad assortment of surroundings. Imagine the bumps and variations in temperature flash drives regularly encounter. Note that such stresses can gradually weaken the connection between a drive’s plug and its body.
|Inside a flash drive|
This connection is partly mechanical, partly electrical. It involves a short row of tiny lugs. They’re soldered atop the surface of a small internal circuit board.
I became keenly aware of such technical details of the typical flash drive about two months ago when the plug on mine—a drive on which I had been saving enormous amounts of precious data—suddenly snapped off. In one stroke, recent notes and chapter drafts became instantly inaccessible! A mammoth tornado swept through Research Avenue and knocked down Dissertation Hall, the home I had been digitally building for over a year on the remarkably vulnerable grounds of a flash memory chip.
No, you’re safe. Clearly you won’t suffer such a catastrophe if you always handle your flash drive with tender loving care and keep it in a special place when not using it. Or if you regularly back up files on your drive to other storage media (in accordance with the First Law of Safe Computing). And of course you’ll avoid flash-drive horrors if you never store files on such a device to begin with and instead save everything to your hard drive…and/or external backup drive…and/or the cloud.
Yes, you’re flirting with disaster. Again, however, if you’re like me, much of your attention nowadays centers on revising and composing your big writing project. When you’re in the thick of all that and moving from home to office to library and back, plans for a rigorous storage routine fade into the background. You easily fall back on the familiar habit of quickly and simply saving to the flash drive (and often forget to make backups). Actually, in the Thesis Office, we’re quite used to working with grad students well acquainted with this habit. Those who stop by for help with editing or formatting typically bring their working drafts (and many other important files) on what appear to be well-used and fully-loaded flash drives.
Flash Drive Recovery
What can thesis or dissertation writers do if most or all of their saved writing vanishes when their flash drive snaps in two—or otherwise fails?
|Closeup of my wreck, post recovery.|
In my case, after it quickly became clear that I myself wouldn’t be able to repair the damage, my first stop was a DeKalb computer shop. For a small fee, the attendant there soldered the USB plug back onto the drive’s circuit board. But no luck: now Windows wouldn’t recognize the drive!
|Flip-side view. So much data in one little chip.|
Was all my data really gone forever? He then calmly referred me to an out-of-state recovery service. I soon learned that data recovery experts can fetch fees that range from the livable to the breathtakingly astronomical.
Eventually I located a different and more feasible service online. (Details on such services are plentiful on Google.)
Save to the cloud. This well-known and sound advice, noted above, is always worth repeating. One way to integrate cloud storage into everyday flash-drive usage is to set it up to run automatically. Look for shareware or software that enables automatic uploading of files from your USB to Dropbox, OneDrive, or other cloud storage services. (Several such options are easy to track down on Google.)
Make regular backups. You’re likely familiar with ways to configure Windows to perform automatic backups of your computer’s hard drive. Note that relatively inexpensive software programs exist that also enable you to back up data automatically from your USB drive to your hard drive.
Remove safely. Obviously, you should be gentle when removing your flash drive from USB ports. Never remove the drive while a file is being written (or copied) to it. And despite any optimizations you may have set on a Windows machine for quick removal, always right-click Eject and wait until you see the window that says the device can be safely removed before you unplug it.
Long Story Short
In the end, I was able to recover all data on my damaged flash drive, but not right away and not without considerable misery and embarrassment. If you ever face such an exasperating (but largely preventable) dilemma, know that recovery is possible...but not always certain. Scribe carefully.