Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Out with the old

I've been up in my attic, and had a good turf-out of all my old electronic stuff going back the year 2000. It's all redundant now, long replaced by more up-to-date things. Several boxes worth. It entirely covered the table in my study:

CD installation discs, CD backup discs, cables, connectors, all kinds of gadgets (and accessories for them), instruction books, warranty information, and so on. All of it useless or unnecessary now. Plus packaging.

In theory it would all be a quick task to pop this lot into one or more strong plastic bags, and then into an outside bin (recycling for the packaging, otherwise landfill). But I scrutinised it all, just in case. For instance, it occurred to me that the clear-plastic CD drum covers could, when inverted, make good containers for nails and screws and other small items in the garage, when I finally get round to sorting the garage out (a job that should have started after Dad died in 2009). Even so, I will end up throwing 99% of it out.

I found a few gems, though. Items of historical interest, though not interesting enough to keep!

Here's one: a cassette-tape player/recorder:

I don't remember buying it, so it must have been Dad's. I jettisoned all my tapes eons ago, so there was no point in keeping the thing. But just think: back in the 1970s, the cassette-tape deck was the only way to go if you wanted portable music (meaning 'listen in any room, in mono' - this was not of course a wearable device).

Then I found this. A clamshell pocket organizer by Sharp.

This was from 2000, and (just) pre-dated the rise of proper stylus-operated electronic organizers with much larger memories and plenty of downloadable software to use, that could do a lot, lot more. Like Palm's offerings, and Microsoft's range of Pocket PCs. I suppose this Sharp device might have suited a lot of people who simply wanted to make brief notes that they wouldn't keep for long. Dad used it for this and that. I quickly discovered that 256KB of memory was a tiny drop in the ocean, compared with what I really needed.

I thought I'd thrown out all of my Palm devices, but now came across this one:

It was an E2 from 2005/2006. It was a budget model that I purchased soon after retiring. How old-fashioned it looks now! But I liked all of my Palms, apart from the fact that they were not durable and eventually something would go fatally wrong. I worked my way through several between 2000 and 2008. An eventual switch to Pocket PC gave me a device that lasted. After that, it was the Sony tablet and the first of my Samsung phones (the Galaxy S2) - and goodbye forever to PDAs.

Fantastically, I had retained all the original documentation for my first PC, made by MESH. This included instructions on how to install Windows 98 SE and its drivers from CDs and a floppy disc or two. Not an OS I loved. Windows XP was so much nicer.

Did I just mention floppy discs? How long has it been since one owned a machine that can use them? (In my case, not since 2007) Here's a shot of two that came with my MESH computer in 2000:

This is what the 'save' icon in every Windows application is derived from. A whole generation may not realise that.

Well, item by item, I filled four stout plastic bags, stapled them shut, and popped them outside.

I was left with a box-full of backup CDs covering the years 2000 to 2009. A couple of hundred of them. I didn't want to keep them. Since 2010 I'd been using a more modern storage medium for backing up, two 500GB external hard drives. I should have got rid of these CDs long ago. Oh well, I'd do it now.

But actually, how do you 'get rid of' a durable CD-ROM? You shouldn't just chuck it in the bin, intact and capable of being read by any Tom, Dick or Harry would finds it. I didn't want my backed-up photos from the mid-2000s being gawped at. Nor any genealogical material. Nor any financial stuff. I found by experiment that scratching (or even scouring) the surface of a CD with a knife or screwdriver had no effect whatever on its readability. So each CD would have to be broken into bits. This is how I've been doing it.

Take one deep cardboard box...

Now fix two pliers onto a CD in a fashion similar to this...

Next, put one's arms deep into the box and sharply twist the pliers away from each other, or towards if one prefers. The plastic CD should splinter, the shards being caught by the box. And after a few dozen, the bottom of the box should look like this:

I don't kid myself for a moment that a forensic team with advanced equipment couldn't read some of these fragments. But your average scavenger won't be able to. I'm not saying that any of my backup CDs contained things the world should not see, but it's best if nobody gets the chance.

I haven't yet finished mutilating my backup CDs - finishing the job will take an hour or two more. But once done, I can move forward with my New Backup Regime.

I've been giving the whole backup matter some Deep Thought recently. I am going to shift to mostly incremental backups, on external storage. What I really want (for 'physical' storage) is a multi-TB SSD for that, but I can't afford one at the moment. However, I can for now make better use of the two 500GB external hard drives. These will replace the ageing desktop PC for permanent incremental archiving. So I'm going to transfer the current contents of the PC to the two external hard drives, and progressively add to them as I go along. This is after placing the cream of what I want to keep on my phone and laptop, and up in the Cloud.

I have imagined various scenarios:

# My home burns down while I'm away caravanning - but the phone and laptop are safe.
# I lose everything except my bag - so I still have my phone.
# I am a naked survivor of some disaster, and must rebuild from Cloud storage only.

The two hard drives are small and easily-concealed, and can be hidden at home - or travel with me - as I decide. Strange to think that if anyone asks to see 'my photo and computer equipment' in the future, I will show them merely my phone, my laptop and these drives. How minimalist can you get?

The desktop PC will be decommisioned, the hard drive extracted and crippled, and the rest of it junked. That will make the 'computer desk' in one corner of my study redundant, and I will pass it on or junk it too. With the corner emptied, I can then rearrange my study and find badly-needed extra space for my books. I have a definite Improvement Plan for my study, you see.

I'll keep the 2007-vintage scanner and printer, on the assumption that they can be made to work with my 2016-vintage laptop, given appropriate software downloaded from the Epson website. I'll plug them into the laptop when I do some scanning or printing. I'm pretty sure this idea will work. But if not, I'll have to invest in a new scanner and printer. That won't however be an urgent thing.

It's good to have a good sort-out. Twenty or thirty years ago I would hang onto things forever if I thought I might want to see them again. But at this time of my life, I want to slim my possessions down to what matters most to me and nothing more, keeping 'family heirlooms' only if I like them and they are meaningful. Because eventually I intend to redecorate my home on clean, unfussy, Scandinavian lines. You know: comfortable, but no clutter.

Same day sequel
A friend I saw that evening advised me that if I wanted a single device for future backups of whatever had been accumulating on the two 500GB hard drives, I could buy a decent 3TB external powered hard drive for only £90. That's affordable, and still leaves me with a minimalist set-up, with every key component portable or easily-hidden. 


  1. I might send my old scanner to the recycling depot if only I could remember where it is! So much stuff kept because we come from an age where things lasted and being well made seemed to have value...

    Future generations shall not have our problems since so much of what they have is virtual!

  2. I have one 5 inch floppy disk that I can't bear to discard. It dates from around 1980 and truly is flimsy and floppy - unlike your up-market versions encased in hard plastic.

    At work we also used 10 inch floppy disks. Now they really were floppy!


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