Some of the most interesting questions readers have sent in recently.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Mailbag: How reliable are thumb drives?

Jan. 10, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   When my buddy Dr. Gizmo retired a few years ago, he left the task of answering all the mail to me. I'll never be able to respond publicly to more than a few of the many letters I get each week, but here are some of the most interesting questions readers have sent in recently.
   How stable and durable are thumb drives? -- B.K.
   Thumb drives, which plug into a USB socket and can store up to 8 gigabytes of data cheaply, are usually thought of as "wearing out" (electronically, of course) long before equivalent hard drives would wear out. Over the short term -- a couple of years of daily use -- thumb drives should have no problem. But hard drives are likely to last four or five times as long.
   Could you tell me what is your software of choice for audio restoration when copying LP's to CD? -- J.P.
   I use Peak Pro 6 as my main audio-editing software, with the Sound Soap plugin to clear up problems such as hiss or record noise. These are Mac programs. But on the Windows side, I've had good luck with Sound Forge and DC Seven.
   I noticed your articles on JPEGs and why we should avoid working with them. I didn't see any mention of RAW files, which are becoming more common today. -- R.M.
   I don't think non-professional photographers benefit much from RAW files, which are taken from a camera before it does any processing on the photo. Serious amateurs might benefit, but otherwise I think non-pro users should stick with JPEGs. I've changed my stand on JPEGs because modern photo-editing software is able to do non-destructive editing on JPEGs. This includes Photoshop, of course, but also iPhoto and Picasa, the two superb amateur-level photo programs.
   I purchased "iPhoto '09, the Missing Manual" by David Pogue and immediately upon reading ordered iLife '09 so I'd have all the tools he was working with. If I load the new iPhoto on top of my current iPhoto 6 (with more than 2,000 pictures) am I in danger of losing them on my Mac? - C.C.
   iPhoto keeps photos separate from the picture software itself, so when you update the program there's no danger of losing the photos.
   Whenever I want to install a new program, the installer tells me to close all applications first. I am never sure how or what to close. Do I just right click on the taskbar icons and then click close or exit? And if I do, do I just reverse the process to reopen them or will rebooting do that for me? - D.A.
   Right clicking on each program's taskbar entry (in Windows) or dock icon (on a Mac) to close each program works fine. The safest action to take after any installation is always to reboot.