Diaries: old, new and in between

The picture below shows a selection of my pocket diaries going back to the 1970s. There’s an unbroken run going from 1979 to 2001, available any time if I want to check the dates of holidays, meetings, gigs, exams, Film Festivals, and very occasionally how I was feeling about things. I saw Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Odeon on 10 April 1979. I hadn’t remembered that date. My mother died on 10 April 1997. I could never forget that date.


It is less straightforward to trace parts of my chronology after 2001.

I can, in theory, access details for the years 2002 to 2005, but for technological reasons (outlined towards the end of this post) this will be time-consuming.

For work projects since 2001 there are Outlook PST files on assorted hard drives and USB sticks. These incorporate detailed Calendar entries, Task Lists and emails, and are mostly stored “just in case” (though I have needed to return to them occasionally when returning to clients for further projects). Since 2006 I have typed something most days, in password protected Word documents, from autobiographical minutiae to first drafts of “1000 Memories” and drafts of some of these Blog Posts. These documents now constitute a very detailed 10-year diary of events. There are millions of words that will never be published in any form.

And for the last two years I have recorded day-to-day appointments on my Windows Phone, which synchronizes with a Hotmail account. There is no obvious way to export this information to any other format, so I have limited control over it.

But between 2002 and 2005 technology makes it harder for me to piece together my day-to-day activities. In those years I had a Palm (previously called a Palm Pilot), a hand-held computing device given free with a new desktop computer. This was in the days before smartphones: many of us used one palm-sized device for notes and appointments and another to make phone calls. It synchronized with the Palm software on my Windows 2000 desktop PC (via a Serial cable, the last time that I used such a thing). That Palm software forms the basis of my most comprehensive Contact list, exported via CSV to Excel, and exportable to most other formats. Every now and then I export from my Hotmail / Windows Phone Contact List and incorporate it into another sheet in that Excel file. It is now harder to lose someone’s phone number than it was last time I had to replace my mobile phone.

The Palm Calendar Export, though, is in a format not supported by any of my current computers. The Palm itself died sometime in 2005. It was battery-operated (AA, not rechargeable) and, after a while, whenever I changed the batteries all the data was lost and it needed a full synch (via the Serial cable) to get it back. That worked for a while but finally it ceased to function completely. I continued to use that Windows 2000 PC until about 2009, and could check any Palm Calendar data that way, but now it’s stored away behind a pile of storage boxes and other old desktop PCs.

I am trying to rebuild the chronology of 2003/04 for a piece about watching every Shakespeare play at least once during a 9-month period. So far I have worked from memory but to confirm dates of plays and movies watched I will need to set it all up again – desktop PC, screen, mouse, keyboard – just to access information that used to fit in the palm of my hand.

Those early years of the last decade seem to have been an interim period for at least two types of technology: hand-held computing and pre-digital photography. Most of our photos from those years were taken on my wife’s APS camera. There are dozens of boxes of printed photos, which include the original APS film as the means of producing reprints (no negatives, unlike 35mm film). They seem to take up more space than any other photographic format. Do photo-developing shops even support APS these days? If they do I suspect it won’t be for long. If we had known what was coming next we’d have stuck with 35mm photography until digital cameras were better value (which happened in time for the birth of our son in 2004). APS was an interim format, like Palm computing. If I’d known that Palm was only going to last a few years, and that its diary format would be pretty much unsupported ten years later, I’d have carried on with hand-held pocket diaries (made of paper) until at least 2006.

At some point I’ll set up that Windows 2000 PC again and try and work out the best way to copy the Calendar data. The quickest option might be to transcribe the details (by hand, into a paper diary). At least that way they could still be readable in 37 years’ time, like that diary entry about Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Odeon. I’ll update this piece to let you know how it goes. I wonder if that will still be available to read 37 years from now.

UPDATE: I did set up that Windows 2000 PC to access the calendar information in the Palm Pilot software. It was good to read through it all again, but there did not appear to be any obvious way to export it to a usable format like PST or even CSV. So I set about transcribing every entry into an Excel workbook. It took a few hours but it meant that I could be sure of the chronology of my Shakespeare viewing in 2003/4, which forms an important part of this piece on the Projects menu. It was also a good way to revive memories of other things. The resulting workbook has been backed up in so many places that it should be available for many years to come. Note to self: it’s called, for now at least, Shakespeare2015.xlsx.




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