[vcf-midatlantic] Culpability and Provenance

jsalzman at gmail.com jsalzman at gmail.com
Thu Jan 14 15:42:16 UTC 2021

Hello group,

Recent discoveries brought me to post this mostly philosophical message and
question about what we do as collectors when we come across data stored in
or with our acquisitions.

For example, I have owned my Kaypro 10 for about five years. I bought it
from a fellow collector in Chicago when I was at VCF MW at the time I
acquired it. Since that time, I have only powered it up about 10 times.
Each time was more for just making sure its hard drive would still spin up
and boot, and for poking around my only operational CP/M machine.

Just recently, I decided to actually look at the files that were stored on
it. It had WordStar installed, and the drive was cluttered with many files
without extensions on their names. Assuming they were WordStar files, I was
able to open up a number of those files. Most of them were actual Will and
Testament documents for a number of people in the Chicago area around 1990.
I assumed this Kaypro was once owned and used by a lawyer at that time.

Another thing I discovered, and this one has some interesting impact on the
device's potential provenance, was a file called RESUME. The file was a
WordStar document in that it started with several lines of "dot-commands"
identifying it as such. The interesting part is that it was a resume of a
U.S. Robotics co-founder and V-P, as discovered in the work history listed
in the resume. Yes, THE U.S. Robotics company that made the modems many of
us drooled over owning back in the day.

So I asked myself... why would this file be on this computer, in WordStar
format, if the machine wasn't also owned by the person in question? That
leads me to wonder if this Kaypro was also owned by said Founder of USR.
This Kaypro may have changed hands several times before I acquired it. It's
still a bit of a mystery. After all, it's not like people simply emailed
files between CP/M machines as readily as we do now. Plus, someone as
computer literate as a computer hardware tech founder might actually be one
to write their own resume in a word processor on a CP/M system. Besides,
you can certainly understand my feelings and thoughts over the potential
provenance of the machine.

Those two examples aside, I want to address the opinions of others about
the possession of random and potentially personal data found on machines we

This Kaypro has a number of Will and Testament files on it, a few legal
drafts, and of course, that resume. So this brings up the philosophical
discussion of culpability. Do we, as collectors of these systems, have a
certain responsibility to the disposition of data found on our
acquisitions? While many laws have been made over the decades governing
personally identifiable information, how much of the responsibility to
identify and "secure" sensitive data falls on us collectors who acquire our
computers through sale or trade vs. the previous owners who decide to get
rid of their computers.

Before I go on any further about my thoughts, I'll end the intro of the
discussion here, for others to offer their input, before I get any deeper
into my thoughts on what I have and what I could/should do with it.

Looking forward to your respective opinions.

Jeff Salzman

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