Call me easily distracted. Yesterday I was filing some papers (yes I have papers) in a filing cabinet (ditto, 2 small drawers). I noted an old one in the back, a bunch of paperwork from my sabbatical in 2000 while at the Maricopa Community Colleges. This will be a future post, but I was hoping I could find the original document file for the printed report I found in there.

And thus started a rabbit hole excursion. I could not find it in the one external drive where I store copies of my old web work. Then I wondered about a pile of old zip disks I have in a box in the closet.

In the mid to late 1990s Zip disks were a HUGE amount of portable storage, a whopping 100Mb. Anyhow I have 6 of them, some with definite labels (one each for the animation course I taught 1997-1978, all materials and student projects fit on those disks) others with chicken scratch reading “stuff” and “warehouse”.

I still have a USB zip drive, so I was curious to see if any of them still mounted. They all did, six for six.

I did not find my file.

But it was the sixth disk that set me wondering; it was labeled with my ex-wife’s name. I just looked at the directory names and a few file names, they al had 2004-2005 dates. That was bout the time she got her first home computer, and I probably suggested making data backups.

Do not ask my why I still have it.

But I knew for sure that they were not mine to look at, even if I was curious.

So here I am with someone else’s data.

I wrote her an email. We don’t have much contact besides maybe birthday emails wishes. The past is behind us, we can manage to be cordial. I did not even know if she wanted them, but offered to send them to her, if she wanted them.

She did. And she asked me to send them on a thumb drive. Okay, I can copy them there and out them in an envelope, and send her data back. I could have said I would erase the disk, but I decided that I send would send her the Zip disk too. Although she probably could not read from it, that way she had the source of her data back.

So even when we do get “our” data back from a trusted party, and even if they say the data is deleted, do we know that for sure? If I was less honest and had a reason, I might have made copies before sending her the disks. I have no need for that.

How sure can you be at all with your files in someone else’s hands, even if you know that person? And if you don’t? And what about if we have someone else’s data? Are we doing everything possible to be good stewards of that?

There’s no big moral here, just that our “control” of our data has a lot of loopholes. Do you ever get 100% trust? Do you worry about it late at night?

Or shrug?

Meanwhile I am still looking for my missing files. They are not on my old 2002 iBook. Nor on any of my 3 backup hard drives. I do have a box of backup CDs. And yes, floppies too…

Top / Featured Image: My photo. Wow. It’s a flickr photo shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Good rabbitting, Dog!
    I can see where this issue is of import to white collar criminals and polygamists, but as a poet, writer and artist, is to laugh. Would someone like to steal and market my poem from 1996? Please! Be my guest! Nobody else was ever interested in reading my stuff, so if you, Mr. Data Thief, think you can do better–by all means!

    Steal my photographs or videos? You mean you actually watched one? Why, thank you! And help yourself because I have a CC license on everything. Fold, spindle, mutilate, mashup to your heart’s content. You don’t even have to credit me–I’m just thrilled you found something in my parenthetical little archive worth using!

    I feel differently about stewarding my dad’s slide archives and my mom’s writing, but really, who the heck would want it and for what? Guess these are the rewards of living an honest life!

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