A few words about traveling with flash memory

Tech Culture

For those of us taking our tech out on the road this summer, San Disk is offering words of advice on how to protect those flash memory cards used to store pictures in digital cameras.

And while San Disk is one of a handful of companies that make the postage stamp-sized memory cards (Lexar, Sony and Samsung are others), the company has some valid points about how to handle them. Call it one part public service announcement, one part self preservation. Still, there are those of us who don't know what kind of cards to buy or what to do about passing flash memory through airport scanners.

Lisa Tisdale, SanDisk's technical help desk manager, came up with most of the pointers, so you know she's heard a few horror stories.

More is better: If you've been using 256 megabyte (MB) cards, move up to a 512MB or a one gigabyte (GB) model," the company said. This does make sense especially since prices are falling and you can pick up a few extra at the local supermarket even at odd times of the day.

Airport X-ray machines and metal detectors are safe: The International Imaging Industry Association conducted tests last year with security devices used in U.S. airports and found that no damage to the cards resulted with normal travel frequency. Tisdale recommends putting full or empty flash cards in your checked baggage or in your carry-on luggage. Just in case, you might want to take the card out of your camera before going through security.

Keep it away from water: Swimming with flash memory in your pocket or putting it trough the wash cycle is not recommended but it doesn't mean the end of your photos. Tisdale suggests letting the card dry for a couple of days (you can even use a hairdryer on a cool air setting, she says) and there's the possibility, based on what customers have said, that the card might still function. The tip here is to test a completely dry card first before trying the damaged one.

Too hot? Flash keeps its cool: Leaving a roll of 35mm film in the back seat of a closed, parked car in the middle of a hot summer day meant the end of that shot of Uncle Earl doing the belly flop. Fortunately, most flash memory cards can withstand relatively high temperatures -- up to 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- without loss of stored images. So unless you are traveling to Antarctica or Death Valley, Calif., Tisdale says you're safe.

Back up or burn it to CD: Even though San Disk and every other flash memory maker out there would love if you kept buying more disks, even Tisdale suggests you should back up your images on a laptop PC, burn them to a CD, or put them on another storage device as a way to back things up. You can then delete the photos on the disk and start fresh.

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