Unearthing Digital Treasure

red and black wooden chest on white sand
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Today I learned the thrill that any treasure hunter must feel at hitting upon a find. Except that in my case, I wasn’t seeking treasure, but instead, trying to fix a problem with our Confluence server at work.

Nearly 28 years ago, when I started with the company, most of my documents were Unix-based. Our email system was Unix based, I used a Unix-based text editor, and many of my files back then were plain text, or HTML, which was, in 1994, just coming into its own. Over the years, we moved away from Unix for everyday users. We shifted to either Windows or Mac, depending on preference. Eventually, our old Solaris systems were retired, and I had assumed that the files I had were lost once and for all when those servers went the way of the dodo.

To troubleshoot a server problem this morning, I made an SSH connection to our Confluence server. Then, I made a mistake, which makes the discovery all the more remarkable and serendipitous. I thought I’d navigated to certain folder on the Linux system, but I hadn’t. Instead, I was sitting there in my home directory when I ran the command to list the files.

To my astonishment, it was the same home directory from the 1990s. It had been migrated to the Linux environment when the Solaris servers were retired years ago, and I hadn’t even known it!

When I realized what I’d found, I tried to keep my head about me. I quickly fixed the problem I’d logged into fix in the first place, and then turned my attention to these files.

What treasures I’d unearthed!

There was a text file containing the first five months of my 2002 diary. Indeed, in the paper version, January through part of May is blank. I was experimenting with writing my diary in text files back then (ka is a wheel) and I was not handwriting entries in the diary book. I’d assumed that these entries were lost. No so! I’ve now recovered them, and they are now safely filed away with my other digital journals in Obsidian. The four months that I recovered contained nearly 30,000 words of writing.

There was a folder called “installments” and when I peeked inside, I was astounded and delighted by what I found. Beginning in 1994, I started writing a weekly-or-so email to my college friends, numbered “installments.” These ran from 1994 through early 1997. They read like blog posts, but given their format in email, are probably more like newsletters. In any case, the 54 installments I found today total some 80,000 words.

I’ve written how I didn’t start a diary until April 1996, and that in hindsight, I wish I’d kept one earlier. Well, in many ways, these installments read like a diary. And they document important parts of my life in some detail for nearly 2 years prior to starting my diary. All 54 of these installments have now been safely imported into my Writing folders in Obsidian.

There was some early documentation I wrote for our I.T. department in the mid-1990s (although, back then, we didn’t call it I.T.). I’m sure these will amuse our company archivist, and will make for interesting blog posts on the internal blog I write inside the company.

I also found detailed notes and journals on my flying lesson from 1999-2000. I would jot short notes in my diary about the lessons as they progressed, but what I found today were detailed reviews of each lesson, and my own critical analysis of them, what I did well, what I thought I needed to improve on.

All of this has been rescued, thanks to this happy accident. None of it will go to waste. Already I’ve got blog posts in mind to feature some of this writing. Stay tuned. These will be fun.

Written on April 7, 2022.

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  1. That’s great. I’m glad you found all those blasts from the past. This is why I prefer to keep my journal in paper (I’m now on volume #23) as I don’t trust it not to get lost in the cloud or on a hard drive.

  2. What a real find. This is a great worry that lots of information about our civilisation will be lost as it only exists in digital form. Will anything be able to even read “txt” files in a 100 years?

    1. Paul, I am more optimistic about text files than I am, say Tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts, Word documents, etc. Text files, at least, have been around for more than 50 years now and are completely platform neutral. That doesn’t mean they will still be around in 100 years, but I think their chances are better than other formats.


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