23 Things to Do With a Thumb Drive

Create a Cleaning Kit for Spyware-Infected PCs

One of the handiest uses for a thumb drive is as an emergency security kit with applications for reviving compromised computers. This is especially important if you have to disconnect the machine from the Internet and can't download the required software, or if you need to pay a house call to a beleaguered friend with a virus-laden PC.

To make a good Windows security kit, pack a drive with a range of applications from the following essential categories.

Antivirus tool: A clear necessity. AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic (free) is a good budget choice that runs off a thumb drive. Keep an installation file handy to load on the PC after it's cleaned, too. Users with U3 drives can also download the McAfee VirusScan and Avast scanners.

Spyware scanners: The more the merrier--no single utility finds everything. Three good ones are Spybot Search & Destroy (free), Ad-Aware SE (free), and PestPatrol 2005 (free trial). Unfortunately, none of them will run directly from the thumb drive, so grab their installer files for quick installation on a PC.

Disk wiper: If worse comes to worst and you have to give up on an infected machine, a secure disk shredder is good to have on hand. A number of wiping applications run from thumb drives, including Eraser ($18 for the full version).

Whether you run security apps from a thumb drive or from a PC, the same caveat applies: They're not much good if you don't keep them current. Run your antivirus program's update function from a clean PC just before using your kit, and download updated antispyware installer files once a month or so.

Trek With Books, Not a Backache

Student tools and books line the SanDisk Cruzer Freedom's virtual shelves.
Student tools and books line the SanDisk Cruzer Freedom's virtual shelves.
If you get anxious without anything to read on hand, load up your thumb drive with some of the thousands of free e-books (in text format) available from Project Gutenberg. Or to help a student get in the reading habit, try SanDisk's Cruzer Freedom 256MB ($40), which is preloaded with e-book software (click on image at left). You can download the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one SparkNotes study guide, and a 30-day trial version of graphing calculator software for free; hundreds of e-books are also available. Additionally, students can access, through the drive's interface, the Scholastic.com Homework Hub, where teachers can upload lesson plans and assignments. Even if you aren't a student, the device makes the job of carrying dozens of books around a whole lot lighter.

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