term data storage

An informal language experiment

I heard a random language observation somewhere on the Internet: Regional differences are emerging in the anglosphere for the term for “a small data storage device you plug into a computer’s USB port,” even though they’ve existed in the mainstream for about seven or eight years.

Here’s an informal, unscientific experiment: Write a comment on this post stating which term you usually use, and specify roughly where you live. Choose from the following:

  • Flash drive
  • Memory stick
  • Thumb drive
  • USB drive
  • Another term (specify)
  • I know what this is, but I don’t have a specific term for it

I’ll get the ball rolling: I say “flash drive,” and I’m from Southern California. What term do you use?


How DNA could store all the world’s data

It was Wednesday 16 February 2011, and Goldman was at a hotel in Hamburg, Germany, talking with some of his fellow bioinformaticists about how they could afford to store the reams of genome sequences and other data the world was throwing at them. He remembers the scientists getting so frustrated by the expense and limitations of conventional computing technology that they started kidding about sci-fi alternatives. “We thought, ‘What’s to stop us using DNA to store information?'”

Then the laughter stopped. “It was a lightbulb moment,” says Goldman, a group leader at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) in Hinxton, UK. True, DNA storage would be pathetically slow compared with the microsecond timescales for reading or writing bits in a silicon memory chip. It would take hours to encode data by synthesizing DNA strings with a specific pattern of bases, and still more hours to recover that information using a sequencing machine. But with DNA, a whole human genome fits into a cell that is invisible to the naked eye. For sheer density of information storage, DNA could be orders of magnitude beyond silicon — perfect for long-term archiving.