5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More

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techmyththumb   5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & MoreMyths are more common than most people will admit. They perpetuate because they sound like they could be true – and nobody has time to fact-check every last detail. Eventually, as the myths are repeated time and time again, they sound more factual than the truth.

Technology is as susceptible to myths as any other niche. The complexity of the subject, combined with the rapid introduction of new, unfamiliar innovations, creates a perfect breeding ground for misunderstanding. Let’s set these tech myths straight.

RAM Usage Is Bad

techmyths1   5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More

MakeUseOf will occasionally receive a question from a reader that asks about how to reduce RAM usage on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Their alarm is understandable. A user browsing the web in Windows 7 might open their task manager to find over six gigabytes of RAM used. “Ack!” they think, “no wonder my computer is so slow!”

In truth, this relationship should be flipped on its head. RAM is very, very quick. Mechanical hard drives and some forms of flash storage (like most SD cards) are slow. By storing data that might be needed in RAM, a computer can increase the load speed of frequently accessed software. If RAM is not full of data, it’s effectively doing nothing, so why have it sit empty?

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Smartphone users shouldn’t worry for the same reason. Background apps can negatively impact performance on an Android phone, but this usually isn’t because of memory. Instead, the culprit is usually an app that’s running in the background. Clearing memory appears to improve performance only because the offending app is closed to free up space.

Improperly Unmounting A USB Drive Will Delete Data

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Windows has long sounded the alarm about improperly unmounting disk drives. To this day, you may still receive warning messages when you remove a drive that you haven’t properly disabled through the operating system. Given the alarm, you’d think that the consequences of disobeying would be disastrous.

Not true. USB drives can be freely removed from a computer without issue in most situations. I can attest to this personally. As part of my work, I often have to move flash drives from one PC to the next, and I’ve never lost data from a drive because of it.

So why the warning? Microsoft is playing it safe. Data corruption can occur, but only if a USB drive is actively in use at the moment it is unplugged. Most users don’t do this. Still, Microsoft doesn’t want to be on the hook for the 1-in-1000th  time it does occur. And that’s why the alarm is raised even when there’s no fire.

You Don’t Need An Antivirus If You’re Careful

virus   5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More

Whenever I write an antivirus article I inevitably receive a reply from some smart-alec who claims that you don’t need an antivirus if you’re careful. Viruses come from infected files, right? So just don’t download them! You’ll be fine.

Well, actually, that tech myths couldn’t be more wrong. A decade and a half ago, most viruses were distributed through infected files, but they’ve become far more sophisticated since then. Worms, a specific class of virus, can infect any vulnerable computer through networking exploits. Other viruses spread using browser vulnerabilities. And still more are designed to spread via USB drives or local networks.

Clever users might respond by claiming people don’t have to worry if their software is up to date. This too is no guarantee. Zero-day exploits are common and even a patched system is a sitting duck. An antivirus may be able to stop such an attack (even though it’s unknown) by using heuristic detection to raise the alarm when a file behaves suspiciously. Those without antivirus, however, have no defense.

Cell Phones Cause Cancer

techmyth3   5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More

Many consumer technologies rely on energy and therefor emit or use some form of radiation. Even radio waves are a form of radiation, and since cell phones use them, there’s been concern that having a source of radiation close to our heads could cause cancer. This has been backed up by an alarming report from the World Health Organization which labeled cell phones a “Class B Carcinogen”.

You’d expect that to be based on some fairly hefty evidence, right? Actually, the WHO report is less damning than it sounds in headlines. Class B simply means that a study has indicated that there might be a link, but the link is too weak to be definitive. Meanwhile, numerous other studies have found no link. This includes a massive Danish study involving 350,000 people that was released in late 2011.

Further evidence against the risk of cancer can be found in what we know of physics. Radiation comes in multiple forms, and humans only need to worry about radiation energetic enough to damage DNA. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, which can cause skin cancer, are over 400,000 times more energetic than those emitted from cell phones. Low energy waves like radio can’t hurt DNA, and that means they can’t cause cancer.

Everything Electronic Causes Cancer

techmyth4   5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer & More

This means that what holds true for cell phones should hold true for other wireless devices, as well. The rise of wireless networks has caused distress about what all those waves bouncing through the atmosphere might do to our cells. The answer is simple – nothing.  Sleeping on a bed made of wireless routers would be uncomfortable, but it’s not going cause cancer.

Some users become concerned because of another alarming effect. Heat. As electronics are used, they put out heat, and that heat is absorbed by our bodies. That’s why your thighs are warm after using a laptop.

Computers can be harmful if they’re too hot, but the problem isn’t limited to electronics. Dermatologists have long known that constant exposure to heat can cause scaly, discolored skin which is often permanent. A hot computer can cause this – as can a heating blanket, seat warmer, fireplace or oven.

While skin discoloration and minor burns can be a problem to a handful of people, there’s no evidence that normal, intermediate use of a computer will cause cancer. The lesson from dermatology is simple. If something is hot, don’t hang around it too long.

Conclusion

This is merely a handful of tech myths. There are plenty more out there, ranging from the believable to the utterly outrageous. Have you heard a tech myth that you later found out wasn’t true? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credits: Laura Billings, Unknown, Arthur, Ed Yourdon

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71 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Yudono Amiharto

nice article, btw how about the warning sign to not using cell phone in gas station and such?

is it really true that it will (probably) cause an explosion? (because of the radio signal x gas)

david

Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer ???????
Lack of Research into Independent Science also Causes Cancer and disinformation causes cancer if you believe articles like this.
http://www.wirelesswatchblog.org

Neilux

Articles like this are idiotic and may cause death by Brain Cancer to those that increase their cellphone use.

Shame on you. What part of the wave spectrum do cellphones operate at? What are the FCC regulated maximum power output levels? Why do you think they limit the power? How long does it take to cook an egg in a 400watt microwave as compared to a 1200watt microwave? Same frequency, different cooking times. Now do the math idiot and tell people to increase their cellphone use because “cellphones don’t cause cancer”. By the way, cigarettes don’t cause cancer to all smokers, therefor cigarettes don’t cause cancer. Do some real research then take a class in philosophy and statistics before you write additional content addressing this subject, jerk.

Florin Ardelian

It’s not because of the radio signal, but because there might be an imperfect contact in its electronic circuits (which would cause a spark) and there were times when overusing a phone (like talking for hours without a break) would cause its battery to heat up too much and explode. It happened even to modern mobile phones and laptops, but the cause was usually a crappy battery. There is seriously no need to be alarmed by this. Also, it’s quite difficult to light gas vapors, because you’d need a quite a precise concentration of gas / air (oxygen).

The point is that faulty electronics could cause sparks or explode, and we really want to minimize the risk of that happening in a gas station. The chances of something going wrong are very slim, but it’s really no big deal to avoid using your cell phone in a gas station.

Better explanation: http://www.snopes.com/autos/hazards/gasvapor.asp

GreyMatatabi

thanks for confirming this, now i at least know where my argument come from before i start telling some ignorant people who still calling using their cellphone in gas station

mk

The ignorant people are those who still think it’s dangerous to use a cell phone at a gas station.

Simon

That’s a bit far fetched that a spark may occur from a mobile device.
Other than diesel engines, petrol /gasoline engines are spark ignition, plus there is a far greater chance of a vehicle having electrical faults poor earths etc and creating sparks. So that explanation doesn’t work for me.

Smumdax

Personnaly, I don’t believe it’s true, based simply on the fact that cellphone signal are all around us constantly. Like radio signals and many other types. An electronic receiver (like a radio, a cell phone, etc, etc) will catch the signal intended to him, but the signals themselves move in all direction continuously. So if they were dangerous, well we would see gas tanks exploding everywhere… when’s the last time you’ve heard about a gas tank in a gas station that exploded?

rchard2scout

Maybe it’s because the batteries, if faulty, can produce sparks when in use. Sparks in a gas station are very dangerous of course, and turning off your phone might decrease the risk. Just a theory though…

Federico

It’s not about the signals, Florin explains it very well just before you comment.

Chris

Your right, the ‘singles’ are all around us and this in itself is a huge problem in the making! I do think that because we are exposed to so much of this type of ‘waves’ it can cause problems – as an example, if you have received X-Rays in the past you are only exposed to small amounts of radiation, however, did you ever notice the techs wear ‘dosimeters’? The same applies here, we are exposed more and more to these ‘waves’ and I do believe that there is a good chance of ‘over exposure’. As far a Brain Cancer, there are some early studies that can couple the two (excessive cell phone use and various form of brain cancer). Having spent ‘years’ in science so I am speaking from experience, too much of anything will most likely do harm to you and as we really don’t understand what we are dealing with, I would error on the side of caution here.

mk

I’m willing to bet that you haven’ts spent any years (or ‘years’) in science.

null

If you’ve really spent years in ‘science'; I suggest you refresh your knowledge of ionizing vs. non-ionizing radiation.

Donovan

You know what sign I really wished they would put up? Take off your polyester jacket.

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Alexandra Momo

Well you got me there. So if i put my balls in the microwave, i shouldnt get cancer like Randy Marsh?

mattsmith

I think you’ll run into problems long before cancer becomes a worry!

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Kevin

“USB drives can be freely removed from a computer without issue in most situations.”

In most situations this is correct. The important factor is if the drive is set for performance or quick removal. There are two options for USB drives in Windows. The first is for data safety and quick removal of the device. In this case the data is written to the drive immediately. The second option is for drive performance where the data is cached and written later. And this is where the problems lie. If you have files cached and pull out your drive you will lose the data that was in the cache. So unless you know for sure which mode your drive is in, eject it. Plus, just pulling your thumb drive out instead of ejecting it only saves you 5 seconds. And if you are so far behind that 5 seconds is that critical shouldn’t you make sure your data is safe?

Here is how to check your drives:

In Win7 the default is data safety but you can check/change this by plugging in the drive and going to the device manager (you’ll need to be logged in as admin). Click the triangle next to the “disk drive” heading and right click on the usb drive you want to check. Select properties. Look under the policies tab and there will be two choices, fast removal and better performance. Select the one you want.

Donovan

Thanks for the preformance tip. I’m pretty bad at forgetting what programs I have open (ie photoshop) so I’ve trained myself to eject drives.

unclelouis

I was surprised to see this issue dealt with so cavalierly by the primary author. My company employs a process where small text files are loaded automatically onto thumb drives in XP Pro laptops and immediately removed and given to clients. After a long history of some clients not finding anything on their drive, we have determined that manual dismounts are essential. First, because of the issue you raised. Secondly, because rapid turnover apparently does not give the FAT table an opportunity to close on the device, i.e., the file is copied but cannot be viewed by the user after the device is removed. While this is perhaps a special circumstance, I constantly have to deal with “tech-savvy” temp staff who blow off my dismount requirement, resulting in pretty unhappy customers when they get their drives home! Thanks for your post. I’m a little behind catching up on me tech newsltetters.

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Manide

New scientific research results are issued almost every day; one claims a thing and the other viceversa. I don’t know what to think about…

mk

Yeah, it takes intelligence to sort the sense from the nonsense, and some people just don’t have it.

Manide

I feel a sarcasm flavour over here. If true, it seems that someone wasn’t intelligent enough to understand my statement… But maybe I’m wrong. Apologies…

mk

I have a 170 IQ. It’s your comment that is unintelligent, and I explained why.

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SaapeXD MoHods

Eitherways, I still Safe Remove my Drives! A Habit! :D

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GuyMcDowell

Cell phones most probably do not cause cancer would be a more accurate statement. Since there are many types of cancer, only some of which have been able to be linked, possibly, to exposure to some sort of radiation, we cannot say that something does not cause cancer.
People can get skin cancer on the bottoms of their feet. Not a lot of sun exposure going on there. Tumors that are cancerous are not always tumors of the same kinds of cells that surround it.
We are bombarded every day with signals of all kinds of wavelengths. It is impossible to study what the effect of these kinds of radiation may have on the human body. It might have none. But we’ll never really ever know.
The extensive use of laptops on the lap can reduce sperm count in men. Which in turn can reduce fertility rates. So, there is a hazard there.
Extensive use of video screens can lead to lower serotonin production, increasing the likelihood of depression in computer works.
High RAM usage isn’t necessarily bad thing or necessarily a good thing. It’s what’s in the RAM at that time that matters. If priority is being given to processes that are necessary for what I’m doing at the time, then temporary storage for the processes that are important to the task at hand is limited. I’d rather have empty RAM to handle these memory leaks than be running near capacity all the time.
I just realized I’m starting to sound like Dragonmouth.

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Kirby

How bout computer usage linking to eye / vision problems? Is this fact or myth?

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Tal

Nice article, I hate fear-mongers.

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John

Tell that to the engineer that worked at Motorola, he got a brain tumor from testing the things all day……

Tara Drennen

Source, please.

Sean

Well if a Youtube video says it then it must be true.

dan

These are all my videos that I put up on youtube and I have known Barb personally for one and a half years now. Curtis and Brian as well.

Tara Drennen

Ah, I do recall the case, a tragic story. He may even have had a case due to being exposed to VERY high levels of rf for long periods of time.

Or not.

Anecdotal evidence may point us to areas to investigate, but they DO NOT prove cause and effect.

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Leonard Allen

Excellent article, I especially enjoyed the part about background apps. I wish my carrier Sprint) and my phone manufacturer (HTC) would read it and get rid of all their bloatware on my phone.

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Anton Osika

Good coverage on lack of hard evidence of cancer link. However, does not say much about safe.

Cellphones lower sperm count. And as WHO states, there still might be a cancer risk.

Furthermore, for all electronics: They spread substanes to our bloodstream, that were used in the factories. Some do cause cancer and hormonal disturbances.

Some get banned every year after being studied: while tens of thousands still need to be studied to be shown not to interact with our health.

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Nancy Graziano

This is a great article – thank you!

FWIW, regarding the “XYZ Devices/Foods/etc., Cause Cancer” scare tactics/myths (NOTE: I am NOT referring to anything that has SCIENTIFICALLY shown/proven to be a known carcinogen,) my perspective is that Life ITSELF is terminal/deadly – it ALWAYS ends in death! Should we therefore avoid it at all costs????? I think not…

John Jullies Palma

I concur. They also tell you that the air is polluted and dirty, but should you stop breathing?

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Chris

Many electronics engineers would disagree with you about cellphones not being dangerous. It’s not much different from holding an unprotected microwave oven to your head on a daily basis.
The effects on health have to be studied over very long periods. It is thus foolish to say that there are no dangers or they dont cause cancer, when the majority of cellphones have been in mass-populus use for less than fifteen years. It’s long-term exposure that has to be studied and, needless to say, that takes a long time. Therefore no hard-and-fast answers can be really made as yet, can they?
I don’t own a mobile phone and refuse to have one just to be fashionable and contactable by every bozo advertising company. My husband has to use a mobile sometimes for work and it’s always crammed with spam calls….why on earth do people torture themselves?

mk

” It’s not much different from holding an unprotected microwave oven to your head on a daily basis.”

It’s actually very much different.

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Scott

Everything electronic doesn’t cause cancer! It causes NAS, Neural Attenuation Syndrome! Didn’t Johnny Mnemonic teach us anything!

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Tom Madden

A scientist engineer code is to never say a thought is false unless you can prove it truly is false. When a reporter asks an engineer “Can cell phones cause cancer? We are trained to say “We do not know.” because we can not by testing prove it. We think it is impossible. Another problem is fear of “radiation”. Cell phone radiation is nothing like X-ray radiation but the word “radiation” causes panic by some.

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Carol Anderson Kanga

Your headline makes it sound like it’s a myth that cell phone CANNOT cause cancer. You say you’re debunking this myth, followed by debunking the myth that RAM use is bad, etc.

dan

It is not so much a myth that cell phones don’t cause cancer as it is a Wireless Industry lie that cell phones are harmless to human biology. The wireless industry has surpassed both the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Military Industry in making more profit. Does anyone expect them to be as honest as the Tobacco Industry was?

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Rob

I would have to disagree with the USB drive myth clarification, at least for the Mac. I dropped files on a USB drive and forgot to eject it before unplugging it and the Mac gave me the same general warning that a PC does. When the client got back to his office, none of the files showed up. I would guess it has more to do with the computer writing an index before ejecting, than actually deleting anything.

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null

Great article but would have been much better with a quick scan with spell check. I’m kind of a nazi on spelling but I’d just read yet another article on the importance of it in papers, essays, handouts etc..

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Jonathan

Cell phones may not cause cancer, however using them does sometimes result in accidents or death. It’s important to remember that no matter how smart someone’s phone may be, it’s not going to make the user any smarter, and chances are that if they are too stupid to pay attention to what’s going on around them while using said smartphone, they may end up in the hospital or on a slab, or be the cause of someone else doing the same.

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djsamsoul

Quick question: didn’t the tobacco companies deny their products were carcinogens for almost 100 years? Not really trusting the research on Cellphones, Notebooks, ect. either way at this point.

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Sheldon

In response to the cellphone/cancer myth, below is a link to an article that blasts the Danish study:

http://electromagnetichealth.org/electromagnetic-health-blog/british-medical-journal-study-flawed/

There are those who tell us that sunshine is our enemy and those who tell us that sunshine, which produces vitD in the human body, is essential to our well-being. There are those who tell us that increasing vitD via supplements is necessary as a cancer preventative. There are many studies indicating the veracity of that statement yet, while seeming logical, none of those studies is definitive. What is the truth?

Business and science communities are presently mired in corruption and often, both are in the same bed; add politics and money to the fray and the truth can indeed become a very messy thing. It will likely be many years before any hard evidence is available for us to reach a rational conclusion re:cellphone/cancer.

SaikatBasu

Couldn’t agree more with your statement – “Business and science communities are presently mired in corruption.” Every day I open the newspaper, I see one research study after the other. One day it points to the left, the other day to the right. I can’t but help imagine that research studies are motivated by grants which are motivated by special interests. All we can hope for is hard empirical evidence that is irrefutable.

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john

usually excellent but a couple of letdowns this time. the USB thing – hmm well if there’s a small chance of losing data, why “debunk the myth” that is actually just the company being ultra-cautious over the consumer’s data (which as one mac user attests below, CAN be “lost”, if not deleted).
Secondly – yes as several other people with scientific backgrounds have pointed out, knowing the simple facts about ionising and non-ionising radiation doesn’t make you an expert and many people who are fully aware of these facts are still on the fence regarding mobile phones. Facts are – they heat your brain – but not much at all…they cause increased glucose metabolism on the side of the brain where you’re holding the phone – but who knows what that means…some early studies did show a link with early and prolonged phone use but these may have been associated with recall bias…the largest studies show no causal link. So any link if present is likely to be tiny. But buttressing this with schoolboy science that “proves” there can be no link is a bit weak, all sorts of things cause cancer, not just ionising radiation.

Tara Drennen

Excellent point, John. Sorry oif I seemed too glib re: ionizing vs. non-ionizing radiation.

I actually agree with you; if there IS a link between this or that and some disease, but it’s so small it’s essentially lost in the noise, that doesnt mean better noise reduction won’t find a definite link someday.

But the evidence indicates that link, even if found, will be statistically irrelevant. I’m more likely to die from being hit in the head by a meteorite that from cancer caused by cell phones. And if I was seriously concerned about accidental death, I’d never get in an automobile. o_O

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Harald Stoll

The data loss for USB sticks or drives are very real. If depends on the data system being used and if data was written to that disk. Fat32 has no issues with removal, nfds may have. I believe that disks nowadays are using some failsafe mechanism to avoid the loss of data without being stuck to small partition sizes (fat32)

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Nick

I appreciate the need for fresh content on a website, but honestly if your attempt to debunk the myth about Cellphones being a health risk is simply one sentence where you express your opinion saying “Low energy waves like radio can’t hurt DNA, and that means they can’t cause cancer” than that is miserable.

You scorned the Research carried out by the WHO but yet you offer no evidence whatsoever yourself.

Go and do some research yourself, and on the way home why not drop over at my place. I want to see you put your head in my microwave oven and switch it on. Yes, the very same machine that uses the very same microwave technology.

dan

Actually microwave ovens do use the same 2.4 GHz frequency that cellphones do, which is one of the most damaging frequencies for biological tissues, but the cell phones use a pulse or square wave that is even more damaging than the sine wave that microwave ovens use, cell phones are just a lot less power than the ovens.

This whole article is a bit of a red herring though. Microwave damage is accumulative so the more you get, the worse off you are. Cordless phones and their base units are far more damaging than cell phones, and the EMF pollution continues to mount with WiFi and Smart Meters being even more damaging than those.

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John Jullies Palma

How about “Overcharging laptops (and others, like cellphones) will damage the battery or the device”?

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Omstavan Samant

Someone make my mom read this! She scolds me all the time for clinging to my cell phone! :P :D

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tarzan2001

Great article! I would still be careful with the cell phone issue simply because limited one’s exposure to even POTENTIALLY harmful things is better than going all in and just not caring about it at all. “Better safe than sorry”, after all. ;)

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nonsipuo

Dear Mr. Smith: Cool article but wrong in at least one instance: the fact that a cell phone, most probably does not cause cancer does not mean that it does not in fact damage you. I have been using cell phones since their introduction and definitely appreciate the usefulness of the device. On the other hand though there are quite a number of interesting researches that show that when the cell phone is held close to the head (and the ear is damn close) the radiation used by cell phones causes the brain cells to vibrate vigorously and thus to heat up and die. Not cancerous but remember that brain cells do not reproduce…

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James

Pretty disappointed with the “USB Myth”. There’s no distinction made between journalizing (i.e. NTFS) and non-journalizing (i.e. FAT) file systems. There is reasonable risk of data loss when using a journalized file system. The supposed debunking here seems to have only non-journalizing file systems in mind.

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null

A lot of tech people believe the RAM myth.

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kashif faridi

you just solved most of my issues by sharing this nice article…thanks!!

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Victor Ong

Great article!

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Jack Giebel

If cell phones really did cause cancer, this next generation is in big trouble…

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altiini

High RAM utilization is not bad in itself but is a symptom of some problem. Maybe you have less RAM than necessary, maybe some app is taking too much memory. Low CPU usage with high ram means lot of swapping so u need to get more ram or free up some ram by closing apps

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yamatusanda

I love the thing about pulling out your USB flash disk :)

Thanks for the article.

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sumith

nice article specially about safe remove of USB drives it’s correct i can vouch for it…

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Stephanie Staker

Excellent – I am sharing this far and wide! I am getting so jaded now that when I see any email that says “share this with everyone you know” that I KNOW that it is not true. Thanks for the info. I know this was posted a few days ago but I am now catching up. :)

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J.P Dimmers

This article is not up to your normal standard…. Specifically, If you detach a thumb drive from a USB port. You had a file open which was not saved…. By ejecting the drive you will be prompted that the file is in use and con not be ejected. Removing the thumb drive will cause the file to become corrupt, or at least your latest work will not be saved. Furthermore, on HP Z 400 / 800 removing some thumb drive can actually cause the USB controller to crash.

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themainliner

Matt, you really must have a chat with a fellow contributor (MUOtechGuy) who has claimed on several occassions that “You Don’t Need An Antivirus If You’re Careful”. I don’t mind different points of view, but I agree with you he is simply wrong.

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