Yes, obviously I should back-up more often.
July 29, 2009 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Did my fiance's computer bork my thumb drive, and what can I do to get my data back?

I use a 2 GB Kingston DataTraveler to transport my writing (particularly my novel*) between my two home PCs--both running Ubuntu--and my Windows XP work computer. I always always "safely remove"/unmount and haven't had problems with it on either type of system.

Last night, I plugged it into my fiance's Windows XP machine for the first time. It pulled up an error message--"USB device not recognized" and asked us to install drivers, but when I went through the driver installation wizard, it said the drivers were up to date. Since then, no other computers recognize the Kingston at all; it's as if I haven't even plugged it in. What's more, the thumb drive doesn't show up unless I plug it into the same USB port on my fiance's computer, in which case it spits out the same error message.

I realize that USB sticks are unreliable and sometimes just die but the fact that it still shows up on the fiance's computer when I plug it into that one port makes me wonder if the data/stick might somehow be recoverable from that port. Plus, I had been using it (and safely removed it) just twenty minutes before at work! I tried rebooting and unplugging the power supply (as well as installing drivers), but that's all so far. I'm at work right now, so I can't try any data recovery programs--and the computer doesn't "see" the stick, anyway--but I'll try any and all suggestions once I get home today.

So, metafilter, what are my options to try getting my data back?

*Luckily, I'd backed up my data two weeks ago, so I'll have only lost 17 pages; the drive being bricked would be a pain, not a disaster. But still a pain. Back up your data, kids!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
can't offer much help ... but I can offer my personal experience of this happening to me before ... so you are not the only one.
posted by jannw at 7:47 AM on July 29, 2009

Have you tried plugging it into an Ubuntu machine, or only a Windows XP machine? Windows has a bad habit of assigning USB devices to drive letters that are already assigned to something else, but it doesn't give you an error message. It just acts like it doesn't see the USB device. This is the fix for that issue.
posted by transporter accident amy at 8:07 AM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Have you tried plugging it into an Ubuntu machine, or only a Windows XP machine? Windows has a bad habit of assigning USB devices to drive letters that are already assigned to something else, but it doesn't give you an error message. It just acts like it doesn't see the USB device. This is the fix for that issue.

I plugged it into both--it doesn't show up on either. Forgot to mention that I tried this fix on the fiance's computer, but the USB stick isn't showing up as a drive, only an "unknown device" under the USB menu.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:10 AM on July 29, 2009

Try downloading Koppix Linux.

It's a free OS that is bootable from your DVD drive. After downloading and burning the DVD, put it in your computer as it's booting up. The computer should recognize the DVD and boot it up instead of Windows. Then, plug the USB stick into the computer and see if it recognizes it.

I have had some luck recovering files using Koppix. It doesn't work every time, but it's worth a try.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2009

Don't panic yet. I use a drive much like you do (all my live work, using three or four different computers) and sometimes it just refuses to mount on one or more of them. Here are some things to try, from basic to drastic.

(1) Clean the USB contacts with a Q-Tip and alcohol. Try again in each computer.
(2) Let the USB key cool (or if it's very cold, let it warm up). Try again.
(3) Restart each computer with the key connected.
(4) Because you're using it in Win/Linux, I assume it's FAT32 formatted. Try a Windows disk recovery program. The directory might be borked, but the data could be fine.
(5) If you have a Mac handy, see what Disk Tools thinks of it. It can repair FAT32 as well as Mac formats sometimes.
(6) Try a new OS like parakeetdog suggests, preferably one with good disk recovery built in.
(7) Freeze it. When you're running out of options, put the key in the freezer for an hour, then try again. No, I don't understand why, either, but it works. Desperate measure only, of course.
(8) Initialize it, get it to mount again as a new "blank" drive, and THEN try the hardcore data-recovery apps. Once it's mounted again, they might have a better chance. Obviously, don't activate any "erase all blank space" or "write random 1's and 0's" secure-erasing, just the quick initialize.

And if you're truly screwed, try to develop a habit like mine: the key is my live copy, but each and every machine I touch also has a live copy from sometime in the last few days. As a habit, I drag the disk images on the drive to a "Key Backups" folder on each computer. I throw older ones away once and awhile. So every PC I use has many backups of my key.

They're strong-encrypted images so no security worries, and images are single big files so the copy is fast (a couple of minutes) and innocuous. I do it as soon as I sit down and then start working while it copies. I even do this on borrowed PCs.
posted by rokusan at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: I'll have only lost 17 pages....

And some tiny encouragement....

Back when I used to write for my own money instead of Matt's, seventeen pages that had to be rewritten would turn out much better the next time around, anyway.

Chin up.
posted by rokusan at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: I tried several different restoration methods yesterday, including freezing the drive, but no dice. I still suspect it has something to do with that wacky port on the fiance's computer, but what can you do? I might still try knoppix after work, but for now, I'm doubling my writing efforts so that I can both plot forward and rewrite. I should be back where I was in a week or so. And I'm backing up to google docs daily. Lesson learned!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2009

Best answer: Sorry for your loss.

I don't have any suggestions to get back your data but you could try using dropbox or WindowsLiveMesh. These programs maintain a shared folder between any number of computers and files get automatically synchronized through the Internet. Its very convenient as you don't need to go to a website to upload something. All files you put in the folder and any changes you make to them get automatically synchronized on your authorized computers; And they are also available online.
posted by bbyboi at 8:56 AM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: bbyboi, thanks for the suggestion of dropbox (link is here, actually). I was going to run out and buy a new USB stick, but this looks much more convenient, intuitive, and secure--and works on both linux and windows. Perfect!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:56 AM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: Heh, whoops. Here, I mean.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:57 AM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: Final update: I never bothered trying to recover the data further, not because your suggestions were bad, but because I'm lazy. I rewrote the 17 pages and have been plowing on through the novel (just broke 40,000 words!) and now keep a back-up copy with dropbox.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:22 PM on August 28, 2009

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