Wednesday, August 22, 2012


A few weeks ago it turned out that one of my memory sticks got fritzed. I don't know how, but I thought this post would become one of the many on the Internet that will bemoan the loss and give advice as to properly operating memory sticks. Oh well.

Writing this, I feel compelled to listen to soothing music.


First off, this memory stick was not new, but had seen several years of heavy use. The stick contained some rare installers of software (freeware and free software), especially drivers, as I knew these would eventually be very useful in the future when trying to connect some device. The Internet is not always helpful, as some websites go down and some change their design and structure. Yes, there are some drivers and installers of which there were copies, but some are gone forever.

Most of all, the greatest damage in losing the data was original content: computer-related stuff and other files that are too difficult to recover. The largest amount of space was taken by family photos, some of which might be irrecoverably gone, as I had selected only the nice ones for safekeeping.

This post should serve as a list of precautions.


It's not easy to pin-point the reason as to what may have gone wrong. So I decided to compile a list of reasons in order of any stick's lifetime.

Where to buy

* Buy from a good store. These tend to have a better selection of quality products.
* I prefer to avoid Internet buying, because a good store/chain with a long-term (brand) presence thinks more of their reputation than an Internet seller.

What to buy

1. When buying a memory stick, always choose a reputable brand name. Yes, most of manufacturing takes place in South-East Asia, but brand-name companies also tend to use top-tier factories, better quality assurance (abbreviated as QA), and perhaps even better fail-safe circuitry. Avoid no-name products or very-very cheap brand names, like Vizio and other cheap brands, even if it's just memory sticks.
Sorry, TrekStor, I now know about two cases where two of your products have failed — No matter the reason.
2. Always buy a stick with a cap. SanDisk, which, I believe, specializes in memory products, offers its memory sticks with spare caps (if one accidentally gets lost), and my seven-years-old stick (from 2005) has not failed me once.
The cap is important, because it keeps the memory stick's USB plug unexposed from elements, including dust and pieces of textiles (if you fancy keeping your sticks in a small watch pocket of your pants, e.g. jeans) that can reach into the plug. In case of dust or textiles, try blowing the dirt out. Or wrap some cotton around a toothpick, and use that to get the excess dirt out. The point is that dust and textiles may hinder proper contact and might possibly cause a short-circuit.

Other elements that can harm a memory stick are excess humidity or excess heat or both, and static electricity. So the cap is as important as a condom.

How to use

Well, the most important advice, of course, is to back up your files, or at least keep some kind of mnemonic of the files you've transferred to your stick.

Safe removal
Well, the main rule is to "safely remove the device" — in Windows parlance. In UNIX/Linux language, the relevant language here is unmounting and ejecting. For some reason, I have usually only unmounted, but maybe I will have to start ejecting a stick, too. The command-line commands in Linux are

umount /dev/sda1


eject /dev/sda1

Depending on the system, /dev may instead be /media and sda1 might be something else. UNIX/Linux users are already familiar with these commands and storage drive naming nomenclature.

If the stick appears to be 'under use', restarting the operating system (in case of a PC) should help, as that would force an unmount of the drive.

File system
Consider using a better file system. The downside is that then the stick won't be recognized by most widely-used operating systems. Partitioning might be helpful.

Sensitive data
Properly encrypt all sensitive data. Or use a different memory stick for sensitive data. For example, have one memory stick for extensive/regular use (and data transport), and another for sensitive data, as such data might be perused with less frequency.

Extensive usage
If you're using the stick to write and delete and move fairly large amounts of data to it (know that deleting data is also writing to the stick), then know that the memory chip will experience wear, and after a certain amount of write cycles, the chip will become unwritable, and then in quick order unreadable, and then completely inaccessible. Take care to back up any and all data from a stick like that.

Places to avoid

— or where not to stick a memory stick with useful/rare/original data on it

* Hot computers (that are fairly warm to the touch). Those may have inadequate ventilation; A hot (inadequately ventilated) computer may cause the stick's innards to overheat through the USB plug. So, if you're not using the stick to transfer data, keep it off the machine.
* (Very) faulty computers. This matters, because computers that overheat and/or hang much too often, are likely to have serious issues with power distribution and may inadvertently fritz your stick, even if the computer was reliable before. If you really need to, use an empty memory stick or one without important data on it. If you can't use a memory stick, use network-based file transfer as a work-around.

Storage and transport

If you like or have to keep your (capless) memory stick in a small pocket (in jeans) for transport, some heat (during Winter) and safety, then don't keep your memory stick in the pocket forever. As stated above, textile discharge and dust can easily enter the USB plug and most people don't pay attention to that. If you're at home, take it out, as you would a phone, for example. If a small "watch" pocket is still the best place when moving around away from home, then with a capless memory stick, it's better to keep it in a minigrip plastic bag.

The first sign of danger can be the most important one

It's when you encounter errors writing to the memory stick, whereas you haven't seen errors with this same stick before.

If you see such an error, then if the computer storage is sufficiently under your control, copy over everything, or at least the most important data. With everything, it may take a while. If there's an error copying everything, (some contents of some directory can't be copied), then copy directory-by-directory — mostly it's good by directories in the root directory.

Keep a spare storage unit at hand, especially if you're copying with/to a computer that's not yours, but you need the data copied ASAP.

And if things go really wrong...

If the stick is still recognized as a USB device by the operating system, then user-operated data recovery can be performed.

If the stick's USB plug is hot (or very, very warm), then consider yourself out of luck (at least this is what I learned when researching the Interwebs). Data recovery from such a stick is almost impossible, or very, very expensive.

Anyways, you might be willing to take your memory stick to a computer repair shop or a data recovery company. Make sure at least, that the sensitive data you have is encrypted in the first place.


If it's not a hardware problem inside a stick, then there are ways to get to using the stick again, at least temporarily to recover data.

Some sticks' contacts get wear and tear after extensive use, so perhaps it's best to clean then up with alcohol (for example). I'd use a toothpick, wrap some some cotton around it and moist that in alcohol, and then clean the contacts inside the plug. Avoid too large amounts of alcohol, but just enough to keep the cotton moist with alcohol. If the fluid drops off the stick, let it drop somewhere safe (a small saucer or some fluid container), but not back into the alcohol bottle, so as to keep it clean. If you don't specifically have pure alcohol, then plain vodka is just as good. Take precautions wrt static electricity (touch a free-standing metallic item; like a screwdriver, or wear an anti-static wristbelt on your arm).

There are memory sticks that are compromised by viruses; some other sticks' file systems are compromised. With all these, data recovery can be possible.

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