It is time to revisit our friend, the brave little USB.

As previous accounts have described, it has been a difficult couple of months for this blameless device. Two inadvertent trips through a Beijing washer and dryer, each followed by restorative dunks in WD-40; loss of protective carapace, rotted away by this same WD-40 or perhaps the local air; and most recently and alarmingly, a heart-stopping pop, spark, and instant shutdown when drops of Chinese beer "somehow" got on it the USB's naked circuitry while it was plugged in and operating.

Sigh.

This morning, after a weekend's thorough laving and drying, I plugged it in once again, expectations low. I powered up the computer, and -- see for yourself, this time on a Mac:

http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_5316A.jpg

Different-angle live action shot:

In case it's not obvious, the red light in the middle shows that the USB is still working. For further proof, here's a screen shot of the files on USB stick, done just after I created a new file with today's date and saved it directly onto the USB. If I had a live-audio feature, you could confirm that I am now playing "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" from the MP3 file shown:
 

So, what have we learned from this heartbreaking, inspiring, and unavoidably embarrassing set of mishaps? Relevant questions and answers after the jump.
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1) Interesting nerd-technical questions.The USB's post-beer performance is identical to what it was before, with one exception: It no longer passes the speed and integrity tests to serve as auxiliary memory under the "Ready Boost" feature in Windows Vista, when used on a PC. That in turn suggests that the read-time or response time for memory on the USB is slower than it was before it got drunk. Yet, as far as I can tell, there are no actual "hard" errors in the memory. Files read properly, they pass scan and disk-check tests, etc.
    We know by definition that computer circuits have all-or-nothing, 1-or-0 functioning conditions. They work, or they don't. So to have a solid-state device work, only a little slower than it used to, is interesting.

2) Practical remedy questions: Thanks to several people who sent recommendations for "PlastiDip," a spray-on rubbery coating product, like what you'd use to insulate the handle of pliers. This apparently could give the USB a new protective coat, like a diving suit. Or, the cheaper and more direct approach: putting the former shell back on, and holding it in place with duct tape or rubber bands. Or, as one wag suggested, henceforth drinking all my beer from an infant's sippy-cup.

3) Abnormal psychology questions: Really! These were a bunch of accidents! Not an expression of pent-up resentment and rage or something worse I've sublimated and am covering up. ("So you're telling us, sir, that your wife has 'fallen down the steps' again, and now your child has 'bumped into the door'? Please come with us in the squad car.")  I treat all my electronic devices with loving care -- from the 1970s-era SOL-20 computer that still runs to the other unbattered members of the household USB collection. I show them here with their special-needs sibling. This one took such abuse because I used it so often.



But like a soldier wounded too often, it deserves a furlough. For now, it is headed into a satin-lined case that once held a trinket I bought in Hong Kong, while it regains its strength.

And if you're looking for a USB that has shown it has real heart, I would have to vouch for this Optima Attache. Below, looking different in its prime, but with the same strong red light:


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