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What's on that old hard drive?

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Reopening this thread, I apologize if that's an etiquette faux pas... Back in 2001 I had a summer job working in the salvage and excess warehouse at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and because I was the only tech savvy person in the building, I ended up being the person who refurbished computers for internal redeployment. The lab had been a primarily Mac based institution from 1984 through the late 90s, so I saw lots of various models (some of which I got to keep, or buy off the government super cheap [under $5, usually] which was a perk). The one catch was the hard drives. This was shortly after the incident where hard drives containing classified information had gone missing at Los Alamos, so the Department of Energy was being really paranoid, and instituted a "data destruction policy" that consisted of placing the hard drive on the floor, and wailing on it with a 10 pound sledge hammer. Hit the drive dead center, does a pretty good job of rendering it unusable. Clip a corner or a side, and it'll tiddly wink itself up off the floor and in a random direction. The policy changed when one bounced up into my face hard enough to break my glasses. After that they decided since the machines were just being redeployed internally, and since the lab didn't do classified research, that just writing zeros and reinstalling an OS was probably sufficient. But 20 year old me was definitely curious enough to poke around before wiping. Saw lots of stuff related to the human genome project. A lot of mundane administrative related stuff. And, a surprising amount of games. Whole archives of games. I didn't really play any of them - the warehouse manager kept pretty close tabs on me, and was already skeptical of what I was doing because I was the only one in the building who had a "sit down job" rather than a "drive a forklift and smash things" job. But, I was always amused by the idea that big science = play video games.

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I'll give some stories to restart this thread. Buying and restoring have left me with a lot of drives left unwiped. 


Included a 6300CD I bought on eBay for $20, looked like it was used in a basement lab of someone for a good amount of time. Before the drive went I was able to find some digital photos of the computer in its heyday. Really interesting to see physical shots of where your conquest lived at one point. I also had a PB145B that was used for a railroad company in the mid west in the early and mid 90's. 


The most interesting finds though were an iBook Clamshell SE I got for $25 on eBay, which was almost brand new! Emails and file modified dates showed it was used for less than a year in 2001, one email even spoke about his upgrade from a Pentium III PC (which he seemed to loathe) and how PDA's were taking over the world! Funny how time moves. Also some iTools email newsletters and Apple newsletter subscriptions, along with Bugdom and the original files it shipped with. 


There was also the PowerBook G4 which had photos of the owners mother and kid learning how to use a computer for the first time, and the $5 MacBook used by an emo college student in 2006-2008. Enough said...  


Finally, I have a PowerBook G3 Pismo I got as part of a computer job I'm doing. It was used as a mobile graphic designer machine. Renders, QuickTime exports and Illustrator projects show it was used to make the bumper reels and website renders for TV Land, Noggin and Nick@Nite in the early 2000's. Chances are if you watched any of those channels then, my Pismo made those bumpers. 


When I come to think about it, people leaving non-sensitive info when selling the computer is such an interesting tale to how these Macs made an impact in someones life at one point or another, which is one of the best reasons to keep collecting. 

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Yeah, there is definitely some voyeurism going when I first revive an old HDD. My most interesting documents was a series of letters written by a man (he happened to be a minister) to his wife, trying to save his marriage. Then, letters to a counselor showed up, followed by letters to a divorce lawyer. The last one was a letter to his two sons announcing the divorce. It was riveting.


I always feel a little bit guilty about reading these documents, especially the private ones. But I somehow cannot help, thinking that I am some kind of digital archaeologist. In most cases, at least for me, enough time has passed that I feel like a sort of statute of limitation should apply.

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I fired up my FrankenBook 165/180 a couple of months ago for the first time since ~2000-2001.

I was surprised it still worked.

I was even more pleasantly surprised to find a bunch of photos that I thought were gone forever!

The photos originally were on a drive that failed my PM8500 in ~1999.

I didn't know I had put copies on the PowerBook.


As far as disposing of HD's, at the High Tech Company where I used to work if the computer was going to be redeployed the drives were just wiped.

If the computer was being "surplussed" i.e. scrapped, the drives were removed and destroyed.

Sadly, when it came to Mac laptops many of them were just ripped open and the drives removed. (The IT guys were pretty lazy...)

Most of the PC laptops were leased so they avoided this treatment.

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  • 3 weeks later...

A little late to reply, but this thread was too good to avoid and I'd like to share my experiences with this since I've collected (probably way too many) machines I my time.


I don't like to make a habit of prying into other's personal affairs, and I don't judge anyone here at all. However the times curiosity have gotten the better of me, it has been mostly mundane stuff.


About a year and a half ago, I bought an Amstrad PC1640 from an older gent locally, and he really treasured this machine. Nothing much in the way of personal data, but he had a journal in which he logged everything he did with that machine. Software and hardware wise. Also his PC magazine subscriptions. Really was quite something. And yes I definitely will keep that book with the machine.


In different cases, there's been few times there were banking info and addresses, nothing really worth mentioning. Though, my most interesting data dive is from a Mac funny enough...


A few years ago I received a Classic II that was not working (mess on the screen). I cleaned the main board with the usual soapy warm water trick, a total cheap-out fix and got it booting again to find it had been used as a family computer with records upto 2002.


It wasn't exactly chock full of sensitive data but what I have determined is that the family that had it, the kids seemed to use it most to do drawing and typing in Claris Works. School stuff, love declorations (to various girls at their school lol), cartoonish faces, etc. Typical innocent kids stuff.


The mother seemed to use it for logging her chiropractic work (presumably self-employed), writing invoices for people owing. She wasnt cheap either, upto £200 a session, in the early 2000's!


There were a few miscellaneous letters, one about their divorce which was kinda personal obviously. I didn't read into that much. But I think the one that almost brought a tear to one's eye was a number of letters one of the kids wrote to their devorced dad.

Reading it I was seeing how distant they were, not seeing eachother for nearly half a decade, talking about his schooling and football game results and mentioning that he wanted "to be a policeman just like him". Also wishing he could contact him more often.

I do wonder if his mother took a dislike to her son making letters to her ex husband as he kept apologising for not responding more regularly.

It was quite moving personally, dealing with a family breakup myself when I was about 7, I suppose I was lucky I got to see my dad fairly regularly as a kid.


It really pained a picture of the machine's past. I even discovered a faint UV mark on the screen bezel, a completely different named individual. One assumes this was either sold on or given to this family (prior to being wiped presumably) in the late 90's as their earliest document date was around 1998.


I'm not really proud of myself for looking, but it does really fascinate me about what computers I have and what story they have to tell of their past.

Edited by tokyoracer
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Floppy discs from a thrift store had a local bank manager's memos regarding an under-performing and manipulative employee and complaints about her. The business doesn't exist anymore, but the manager still works for another company. I disassemble my old HDs and save the magnets. I think people are more careful now about HDs than they were 10yrs ago.

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Where to begin.  After 15+ years in the IT industry I have seen it all - medical records. Gross pictures. Financial information. Business paperwork.  School files.


People are definitely more careful than they were, but it's still shocking - I recently purchased a Pentium 4 based PC for the case at a thrift store for $4.  I discovered that it was fully functional and full of 20+ year old patient records from a chiropractor's office.


Non functional hard drives are used for target practice - several rounds of 5.56 destroys them pretty well.  Functional drives are low level formatted with 3 passes of Active Kill Disk and then reused - if it's good enough to be used by the DoD, it's plenty fine for permanently erasing grandma's bank ledger.


I do save cool software, if possible.

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I've acquired literally hundreds of previously owned storage devices over the years and let me tell you: not all of them were sanitized before being tossed. I'll be totally honest and admit that I snoop through the files on them prior to wiping the drive before comprehensive testing (though I often keep programs or System resources, especially if there are expansion/upgrade cards involved). I've seen some stuff. Most of it is benign: kids' homework or doodles in MacPaint or whatever, saved SimCity games, recipes, family photos, business contacts, etc. Other things are not so benign: various flavors of questionable images/videos and sensitive personal documentation up to and including PII and PHI. The worst recent example was an AMD 5x86-based PC that I pulled out of a recycle bin. Apparently it was from a local law firm and it had tons of info on some of their clients. 


Like I said, I snoop, but I'm cool about it: nothing is kept except old program files, the drives are wiped prior to use and if they don't function then they're disassembled so that they're unrecoverable. I do need some old small Quantum hard drives though, if for nothing other than experimentation into getting them working reliably again.

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On 5/9/2017 at 3:18 AM, bibilit said:

My first SE was found on a curbside, nothing special except for a small document, the previous owner left a message saying more or less: "Goodbye little Macintosh, hope your next owner will treat you right"


Also, the last powerbook i collected had a copy of the passport and credit card of the previous lady owner....

I like that! That’s a nice touch :b&w:


And I would assume you are taking good care of the SE?

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