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Peterson: Acronyms are heartless, but not flash drives

Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 11:38 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 11:07 a.m. CST

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If I can’t remember how long I’ve had something, I’ll guess I’ve had it a year – unless it is something I’ve had a really long time, then I’ll guess two or three years. Or 10 years at the extreme.

Time has a way of escaping me.

So, I’ve had this flash drive for about a year, and I’ve finally figured out how it works.

I mean, there’s not a lot to a flash drive. It usually is made of a plastic shell, which protects the metal end that you plug into the computer. Not to get too technical. I would mention USB ports, which stands for universal serial bus, which doesn’t make a lot of sense or explain anything. 

And I’m a guy who opposes acronyms, and our culture is in love with them. Acronyms strip the meaning of what is being named into a mishmash of capital letters. There are acronyms, such as USA, which are instantly known as the United States of America. But what about IAODAPCA? It’s even pronounced as a word. It stands for Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association. See what’s lost?

But USB makes as much sense as universal serial bus, so I will concede the point on this acronym against my better judgment. Universal serial bus does nothing for me. No one ever uses universal serial bus, unless they are trying to trick you with their superior intellect.

It’s always called USB, and you know it is the slot on the side of the computer that accepts the flash drive. It might accept other things that I am unaware of. I try to live a simple life.

I use the flash drive to make copies of things I have written, such as this column. I do so out of fear. Fear that the computer I write on will suddenly decide to eat whatever it is I have written. By eat, I mean it has rendered whatever I have written into garble or absolutely nothing, a blank sheet of Microsoft Office Word 2007.

And that will force me to rewrite. And that has happened, many years ago, much more than two or three. I’m talking something like 10 years ago. Eons. The feeling is crushing. It takes your breath away like a punch to the stomach. Not that they had flash drives 10 years ago, at least that I was aware of.

So, when I am halfway done writing – come to a stopping point to resume writing later – I save what I have written to a flash drive, so I have a complete backup. So far, so good.

In fact, it couldn’t be better. My computer hasn’t eaten anything I’ve written – tap my plastic flash drive against the wooden tabletop – ever. Which gives me a sense of security and dread at the same time because isn’t it only a matter of time? Isn’t something bound to crash?

It is a matter of faith that I save and close a file and that it will show up next time I open it or as I transfer it to my flash drive. Who’s to say everything won’t flicker, and I will lose everything before I get a chance to back it up on my flash drive? I live with that fear, however irrational it may be. But computers are meant to malfunction. At the most inopportune times.

I’ve heard of people who have lost vast quantities of data just simply because. Because the computer decided to stop working properly. And that data couldn’t be retrieved. And these people were beside themselves, knowing what had to be done: rewriting. Everything.

This flash drive has an orange light that slowly pulsates to let you know it has made a proper connection with the USB port, kind of like a heartbeat to let you know it is alive. It’s a handy feature, although a dialogue box will pop up on the screen when the connection has been made.

The first time I used it, the orange heart started pumping right away. And probably the second time, too. But the third time, nothing happened in a few seconds, which is an eternity in computers. So I pulled it out and put it back in. Several times before it started pulsating again.

And over the past year, I’ve repeated that process, sometimes five or six times before the orange light appeared and all was well. For some reason last week, I gave it an extra couple of seconds. And wouldn’t you know, the flash drive started pumping orange to let me know all was well.

I have experimented with the flash drive since then, and if you plug it in and give it a little time, it will start working. In fact, I read online that pulling it out and pushing it in repeatedly can wear on the flash drive or the USB port. I was a little unclear as to what I read. Which is the way it is with computers.

It took a year, but I learned something new about something old. Give it a few seconds, have a sip of coffee, practice some patience. The heart will start beating soon enough if you give it half a chance.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at

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