Tuesday, March 28, 2006


The Memory Key is Dead, Long Live the Memory Key!

After about a year and a half of pretty constant use, being plugged into a computer and files opened/worked on and incrementally saved every weekday, my 256MB Memorex USB ThumbDrive crapped out yesterday. It happened near the end of the working day, and I had a busy afternoon/evening so I didn't get to start troubleshooting it til this morning. The initial error message was the cryptic-but-clearly-bad "The disk in drive G is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?". I double-checked that it performed the same on another machine and then started googling "data recovery" and "memory key".

Pretty quickly, I came up with a couple possible tools. One was "Pen Drive Data Recovery" from what superficially appeared to be an Indian company, and the other was a German piece, "PC Data Doctor" or some such. I'm not linking them because they flatly didn't work (of course YMMV). Both reported the disk as size 0, length 0 with 0 sectors, and not surprisingly the search/recover didn't find anything.

Back to Google, and up comes this PCStats tutorial on flash memory data recovery. Sounds promising, and best of all it includes links to the author's favorite recovery utilities. And they're free! I ended up using CGSecurity's PhotoREC, which is designed to recover pics from hosed-up camera memory, but will also recover a variety of filetypes from other styles of flash media. PhotoREC successfully recovered 513 files. Obviously I don't know quite how many there were to begin with, but that's in the ballpark.

Somewhere around 40% of the recovered PDFs are gibberish that Acrobat can't read, while about a half dozen were repaired by Acrobat. The rest were complete and readable. It gives .doc or .rtf extensions to every MS Office doc, but without attempting any kind of conversion. So for example some of my .doc files are really PowerPoint or Excel documents. There are also a couple hundred text files, of which a lot really are text files that contained IE bookmarks or work notes. Some of them are lines of hex code with what look like garbage characters at the end. I think these may be part of the FAT, but I'm not knowledgeable enough to say for sure. All in all, a very successful operation, and the only consequential file I seem to have permanently lost is an MS Access database. Even that might eventually show up in some of the text or dbf files though. I'll keep picking at them. Meanwhile, figuring I've gotten all I'm going to get from the memory key, I reformatted it. We'll see how far it gets this time around.

Moral: Google is your friend.

Uh ...and always backup your data!

Thumbdrives are FAT right?

Get "GetDataBack for FAT32". I've recovered 50+G in one fell swoop before. I've used it on multiple things, including an image of an empty harddrive (moved all files to new harddrive which promptly crashed) that I burned to 2 CDs many years ago.

The other one is "R-Studio" recovery.

Those 2 are the only ones that have ever helped for me.

If you IM me when I'm at home I can set you up.

Also: I have a "sync.bat" on my thumbdrive that does a few things (determines if i'm at home based on environment variables), including ZIPPING my 'travelling files' folder (doing the whole thumbdrive would suck -- it's 1GB) which is where my daily-changed files reside, putting the date into the zip file, and moving it to my "work-at-home" folder for my current company. It hasn't saved me YET.. but... I've had sooo many crashes.

Karen's Replicator is good shareware to replicate things too. I have it in my autoexec.bat on my computer (quiant idea, using an autoexec.bat in 2005 -- you have to drag it into start menu->programs->startup to make it actually happen) to sync my 80G music collection to another harddrive. My mp3s died in 2001 and I'm still not recovered, but if they die again at least I wont loose progress!

You're last line reminds me of the time I was trying to teach my intern how to set up Oracle. I mistyped something in a file and caused one of services to error upon startup!

I discovered my error and quickly told my pupil, "See, I wanted to show you the value of always backing up your ORA files before changing them!"

I think he was on to me though! :)
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