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[P]
What do you do with old email?

By Defiant One in Internet
Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 02:12:23 PM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)
/etc

Looking through my old saved emails, noting that I'd lost a significant chunk of it last year, due to a re-grade mistake which still sticks like a thorn in my side, I started to wonder: What do other people do with their old email??


I know people who do not keep any mail past a couple of days, others keep every word they have typed, and still others, like myself, pare it down to a collection of notable notes. I guess it's based on a range of ideas of just what email is, from mere post-it messages to treasured letters.

Should we consider email, spam excluded, akin to telephone conversations or hand-written letters? If it is different depending upon the email, then how and why do we save them? And what about business or work related email; should that be saved, like we would save tax returns, or deleted, like we would throw away a note?

So, supposing there is no single right answer to this, what do you do with your old email?

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Poll
old email should be:
o deleted, like spam 17%
o saved, like treasures 26%
o saved, like tax returns 56%

Votes: 75
Results | Other Polls

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o Also by Defiant One


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What do you do with old email? | 34 comments (34 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Old Emails (3.50 / 4) (#1)
by bse on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 10:25:22 AM EST

If its a personal email, or something important like a receipt or password reminder, I ususally keep them. Spams, and non-essential crap get sent to /dev/null.

Most of the mailing lists i'm on get their messages redirected to other mailboxes. My e-devel mailbox is about 20meg right now. hehe.. So yeah, i mostly archive the mailing lists. If they get too big i sometimes either compress or just delete the archive. Other mailing lists, such as cvs-commit ones, i usually delete the message after i read it - those archives can get massive on an active project! ;)

My inbox has about 531 emails in it, going back to last year. I should prune it again, really. Especially before I leave!

---
"Please sir, tell me why, my life's so pitiful, but the future's so bright? When I look ahead, it burns my retinas." -- Pitchshifter - Please Sir

What I do with my email (3.66 / 3) (#2)
by suture on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 10:27:08 AM EST

I actually have email printouts from back in 1990-91, but for digital copies my archive only goes back to 1993. I have copies of everything my family and friends have sent me (even the ones who are dead or not friends anymore), and I have copies of all outgoing mail from that timeperiod as well. I take the mailfiles and zip them by year and then stick them on a cdrom.

I of course delete all spam and nonrelevant mail from the boxes before hand. I delete all chainmail and virus email, that sort of thing. after all, when I go back and peruse my archives in 5 years, I don't feel like seeing 420 copies of the Sircam virus. I don't save attachments with my mail though. I wish I did at times, but for the most part, any important attachments (or funny ones) gets shuffled off into other archives anyway, so nothing is really lost. And yes, I am a pakrat in real life too.

My basement is filled with white storage boxes that has my life neatly packed away inside. I haven't any idea if it'll be useful, but I figure since I have the room, I might as well save my stuff. And email is the same. With media getting so large, saving a few hundred megs of zip files just isn't that big of a deal.


Eagle
A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents. - G. C. Lichtenberg
Mine it (4.66 / 9) (#3)
by jabber on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 10:28:39 AM EST

Keep it. Parse it. Cross-index it. Write a disctributed DB/AI/NN application to tear through it as you add anything new, to look for key words, phrases and references to an ever growing list of 'hot' items.. Use it to develop psychological profiles on the individuals whence it came.

Once your application is adequately autonomous, force ISPs all over the world to incorporate it into their routers, so that even streaming data can be analysed..

Give it a cool, intimidating name, like Echelon or Carnivore... Fund the development with diverted Social Security funds.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Well... (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by Electric Angst on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:00:57 AM EST

I do my best to save everything (Spam excluded). List-serve e-mail, personal correspondences, administrative announcements, everything. I have well over 1000 e-mails from my girlfriend, spanning back to when we started going out.

Or at least, that's what I wish were the case...

See, I do have every single e-mail since I first but Windows NT 4.0 on my poor little 10mhz pentium laptop back in the day. The problem is, I don't have them all in one place. Everything on the laptop got copied over when I moved to a desktop PC, and I was able to successfully keep the archive going. Then, I moved to a Mac, and I couldn't import all those messages. I've since moved to OS X, and I was able to import the year's worth of e-mail from my earlier Mac days (though I lost all the attachments). My archive is now sitting in two pieces, one of my iMac and another on an old hard drive in a gutted machine that sits in my closet. (One more reason to move everything to my FireWire HD...)


--
I fly the UN Flag.
I (4.42 / 7) (#5)
by pallex on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:12:43 AM EST

send all mine to the government, to help them in their fight against crime.

Try to save... (4.33 / 3) (#6)
by codepoet on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:29:37 AM EST

My first mail program was Eudora. That was, oh, 1995. Then I got Claris Emailer 1.0 and imported all that mail into that, as well as started using it to get my AOL mail (when AOL != Internet in their advertising). Then 2.0 came out and my 60MHz Mac chugged away for a good 30 hours to convert it all. Then a year later Emailer was killed and I moved to Outlook Express. I wrote a custom script for my import process to save the flags and statuses, etc. Then I moved to Entourage, where I am now. I do not want to move again. =)

The end effect? I have a mail database that is 300MB in size with mail from 1995 to the present. Mailing lists are saved and archived when I unsubscribe. Basically, I'm a fucking pack rat. Spam gets deleted, but the rest remains.

Good part: "Remember last year when I wrote to you saying X and Y? No? Let me re-send that..." Yep, saved like tax returns. =) (Except for when my wife deleted all the old email from anyone I dated. That was an interesting night...)

"It's sleazy," Hatch said. "This is not a company that appears to be bothered by ethical boundaries." --Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch on Mi

wow! (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by crcerror on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:44:01 AM EST

Except for when my wife deleted all the old email from anyone I dated. That was an interesting night...

And your still married? Very impressive, that would be grounds for divorce in my book... hehe :-)



[ Parent ]
Nahh (none / 0) (#22)
by codepoet on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 03:17:08 PM EST

I just have a password now. =)

"It's sleazy," Hatch said. "This is not a company that appears to be bothered by ethical boundaries." --Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch on Mi
[ Parent ]
I've not got this problem anymore (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by Ordieth on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:32:33 AM EST

as I accidentally formatted my HD, realised 1/2 way through, cancelled it and hence lost any chance that I had of recovering any of the ~10GB of stuff that I'd collected over the years.

But I had previously stored all of the mail that I had ever sent & received, including list mail from ShadowRN, a 150+ mail a day list about the Shadowrun RPG, that I was subscribed to for ~3 years!

I basically never deleted any mail, I never referred back to it but I never got around to deleting any of it either.

-Ordieth

It all depends... (3.00 / 1) (#8)
by crcerror on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:33:28 AM EST

Basically, I save every email I have until I upgrade to a new computer (once every other year or so). Once I upgrade I sort out, by importance, which are kept and which are tossed.

Old emails from friends and family that I have received in the last few months are generally transferred over to the new computer, really old ones are tossed unless they have some larger significance (cute emails from my girlfriend, weird jokes I want to save, etc).

Any emails I receive from my University is normally trashed except for important conversations I had with professors regarding grades, quizzes, etc and those I print out and stick in a folder. No sense in cluttering up the new computer with emails relating to classes that I have long since passed but just incase the grade decisions or disputes ever come back to haunt me I want proof of my conversations.

Work related emails are generally archived and thrown onto a CD or disk, once again for proof of any correspondence I may have had. I generally only keep a month back with work emails on my computer (un-archived) regardless. My company has a tendency to really pound me with useless emails so I'd have to be insane to save all of them.

Anyway, that's my whole system. Aren't you glad you asked? ;-)

My annual purge (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:44:06 AM EST

About once a year I get message stating that my mailbox is over capacity. I then select everything prior to Jan 1st of the current year and delete it.

This year I appear to have a problem I did my purge in February or so and I'm already starting to get near capacity.

Uh oh,

Lee

Compress & Burn (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by DeadBaby on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 11:48:43 AM EST

Every few months, sometimes more if I know I have important data pending. Label then, put them on a spindle in storage. Normally I export to plaintext so I can grep the data out easily if I need it later. I also keep a text file full of filenames on the CDRs along with a md5sum of each disk.

It's a little anal but takes about 5 minutes every few months so it's worth it.

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan
Burn it - Burn everything (none / 0) (#15)
by CoolArrow on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 12:35:11 PM EST

I do the same, compress and store all correspondence, on what seems to be about a quarterly basis - unless I know that I have an inordinate amount of communication logs for some particular client or project, in that case though I have a mail dump directory on the documentation disc. I've used this process for almost 22 years, in some form or another, and it's worked quite well.

I have all the information, for posterity if nothing else, and it costs me nothing but a few minutes of time every 90 to 120 days.

--- In his autumn, 'fore the winter .... comes man's last mad surge of youth. ---

[ Parent ]

Some of mine ... (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by Dlugar on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 12:01:17 PM EST

There's no such thing as a stupid question. Only stupid people.
User Friendly

Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs.
Scott Adams

Saying Windows 95 is equal to Macintosh is like finding a potato that looks like Jesus and believing you witnessed the Second Coming.
Guy Kawasaki

"I would only believe in a God who could dance."
Zarathustra, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The more people change, the more they stay the same.
Sam

"A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams.
And much poison at the end for a pleasant death."
Zarathustra, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (Friedrich Nietzsche)

"We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."
Eeyore, "Winnie-the-Pooh" (A. A. Milne)



Dlugar

Terribly sorry ... (none / 0) (#14)
by Dlugar on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 12:08:35 PM EST

Kuro5hin decided to post my comment to a different story after all. Strange.

If an editor's around, feel free to delete this and the parent post. Otherwise, please just ignore. Thanks.



[ Parent ]
That's what the D key is for. (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by X-Nc on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 12:08:08 PM EST

From 1995 till a few months ago I deleted all sent and incoming mail that wasn't specifically needed for something right now. OC, that meant that I was constently looking for answees that I had already gotten but no longer had anymore. Now I delete about 65% to 75% of the inbound mail and have started saving the sent mail, just in case (with the exception of las month 'cause I still tend to be way to quick to delete things).

Anyway, that's just me.

--
Aaahhhh!!!! My K5 subscription expired. Now I can't spell anymore.

I save them all. (none / 0) (#16)
by nstenz on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 01:05:52 PM EST

My web host provides web-based e-mail for me, so I can get at old messages anywhere with an Internet connection.

I save all outgoing messages unless they're complete crap, and I sort incoming mail into folders by who it's from. Tech support mails have their own folder; online transaction receipts have their own folder; account information (K5 password and such) has its own folder. Mailing lists and such (stuff I've CC'd on Bugzilla) get their own folders too. The mailing list stuff is the only one I really clean out.

I don't get a whole lot of mail, but my primary account is up to 24 MB after a year and a half. I'm not doing too badly.

Spam gets deleted, but I get very little- I sign up for crap with a seperate account.

What I'd really like to see is a program like I used to use on BBS's that would take my archived mail, compress it into a .zip file, and let me download to my computer and browse through it later. I could just use a normal e-mail program, but I'd rather not. Besides, I like having my mail available all of the time- although it's going to take up a lot of space very soon. =\

I save e-mail (none / 0) (#17)
by jd on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 01:31:52 PM EST

Well, some of it. Usually randomly. I've a reply to a question I sent in 1985, over a BBS e-mail system, only I no longer remember the question, it's not saved anywhere, and the answer is meaningless without any context.

On the other hand, I'm not at all sure that matters. It brings back memories that I'd have no chance in hell of recalling, if it weren't for this one reminder from the distant past.

(Pity my memories from back then are painful, depressing and bloody miserable. But, hey, they're still mine.)

Why? (none / 0) (#19)
by akharon on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 01:55:11 PM EST

(Pity my memories from back then are painful, depressing and bloody miserable. But, hey, they're still mine.)

Why would you want to remember the past if it only brings pain? Of course, I've thrown just about everything from my childhood out, and it still haunts me now and then...

[ Parent ]
Because... (none / 0) (#20)
by jd on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 02:02:17 PM EST

...it's no less there, whether I "remember" it or not. In the same way a mis-firing engine is still mis-firing, even if you put in ear-plugs, my past will affect me, whether it's at the front of my mind, the back, or round the corner, about to pounce.

The challange, for me, is to find ways to defuse the pain, exorcise some mental ghosts, and have the rest of my life.

This reminds me of something I read in a Terry Pratchett novel - Wyrd Sisters, I think, about belief. It didn't matter if the witches believed in the Gods, because they knew damn well the Gods believed in them.

[ Parent ]

exterminate all rational thought (none / 0) (#18)
by kaboom on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 01:49:30 PM EST

I save all emails I get (~1200 / day). They make great fodder for dadadodo.

Delete! (none / 0) (#21)
by Mad Hughagi on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 02:22:11 PM EST

There is no other way to go! If there is critical data in the email, I save it elsewhere (like in a text file or whatever).

I try to keep less than 10 email in my box at all times. I simply can't be bothered, and most email I get is dispensible (equivalent of phone conversations) so there is no reason to keep it all.

At work I save all work related email, just so that I can cover my ass in case someone brings something up from 2 months ago ;)

Sometimes I wonder if I'm being rash, but then I realize that if I really want something to be significant or important I usually create it in another medium than email. I clip out some particularly striking personal emails as well, and these usually end up as text files that I look at for emotional encouragement/discouragement once in a while.

In the end though, get it out of the inbox! Put it somewhere where it isn't susceptable to being treated like post it notes or phone messages!

Incidentally I absolutely *HATE* phone messages. There is nothing more painful than sitting through 5 minutes of someone talking so you can hear the important number at the end ;)

That's the Hughagi perception of the situation.


HUGHAGI INDUSTRIES

We don't make the products you like, we make you like the products we make.

Yeah there is... (none / 0) (#30)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Sun Sep 09, 2001 at 01:13:27 AM EST

Incidentally I absolutely *HATE* phone messages. There is nothing more painful than sitting through 5 minutes of someone talking so you can hear the important number at the end ;)
What about having to listen to the whole thing again when they mumble? :)



[ Parent ]

Answering my own question... (5.00 / 1) (#23)
by Defiant One on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 03:36:04 PM EST

...may be silly, but I can't reply to all of your great responses.

I have a naturally innate possessiveness about my expressions, no matter what the medium. I've had some incredible conversations over the years, and I wish they had been taped. I'm also been a bit of a packrat, saving postcards, letters, movie/theatre tickets, and other types of things.

When I started using the internet around 1994-5 or so, just looking around, I didn't save anything, because I didn't send or receive anything. When I started emailing from my own computer around 1997, I decided to save everything but spam and irrelevant material. I've mostly used Outlook Express, and I kept things in a bunch of separate folders.

Most of the posts from my Usenet period were recycled into one of my books, and I'm keeping track of my K5/Slash-type stuff for that reason as well. However, last year, I did a multi-step reformat of the Win98 machine (Uggh, I know) all this mail was on, and through this process I had to re-upgrade from OE4 to the OE5 I was using. Somehow, I lost everything sent or received from a year and-a-half before, at which time I had upgraded to OE5 to begin with, to the time of the reformat. Yes, I had several backups, but after much digging, I really don't know what happened - perhaps it was my goof and not Bill's.

I decided after that to just put the whole damned set of archives out of sight and pretend like it had all been deleted, and to also confine myself to a plain-n-simple inbox to be purged periodically to keep it down to "what I still need to respond to" and "my dangling responses in 'sent items'".

This has worked much better for me, as I've tried to get off the idea of there being any important posterity in the messages themselves. If I can extract from them anything useful, then so be it, but the rest must be junk, right?

Yet, I haven't deleted the multiple backups of those previous archives either, have I? So, I thought, "I'll comb through them all, including the K5/Slash-type stuff, and make a single file of any texts which could be used for an essay or book", and that is what lead to my post above.

Reading all of your responses is great, but I realize a problem: I agree with all of you! On the one hand, I think of emails as memoirs and want to save every one of them, but on the other hand, I think of them as telephone chatter and think they should all be let go. I suppose I'll defer the decision for a while longer...


"What can I say, I believe in total, honest democracy. I also believe this American system can work."
- Woody Allen, Stardust Memories


Save! (none / 0) (#24)
by WWWWolf on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 04:50:01 PM EST

I save all of my E-mail - sent and received. (Except, of course, some spam and public mailing lists that are archived elsewhere.)

I see no reason why not to. It's often fun to look at some old messages from friends and others...

...and, of course, Mutt saves them all in separate files automatically, that sort of helps.

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...


I tend to save most of it. (4.00 / 1) (#25)
by la princesa on Thu Sep 06, 2001 at 09:11:29 PM EST

I used to store it on hotmail accounts, which I forgot about too long, so I lost a lot of fascinating pre-96 email. Periodically I've lost mail since then when I'd store a folder or two of it on some webmail account and then forget for a sixmonth. But overall, I have a lot more of my old email than I ever expected to keep. Mostly it's mailing list archives and assorted personal mail or particularly interesting spam. I might still have somewhere the white supremacist spam I received in 97 or so, which was filled with exquisitely horrid details about the monkey-like nature of black people and the inherent sluttishness of women. The tone was fairly scholarly, an impressive piece of racist/sexist propaganda. Anyhow, I digress. One of these days I will write some scripts to go through my old mails for code snippets and other useful information.

grepmail, cron & bzip (5.00 / 2) (#26)
by Robby on Fri Sep 07, 2001 at 05:39:00 AM EST

the best policy with emails i've found is to delete all spam and any duplicates that come through, but to keep all the rest.

the problem with this is that leaving messages in an 'inbox' (which gets 50 messages a day or so, depending on time of year) is not acceptable, but manually moving things to an 'old' box is also annoying.

The solution? grepmail - Greatest little utility ever made. In the middle of every night it adds any email over 20 days old into an old folder (that is bzipped) .

works well, and it's fun to see the long-term oscillations in the number of emails in the inbox move up and down :)

anyway, just my two cents for all those in the fascinating business of email archiving :)

Keep it all (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by hombrito on Fri Sep 07, 2001 at 12:57:37 PM EST

I keep everything. For me it's easy, a combo of IMAP and procmail sorts most of it to it's proper location. With the exception of a couple high volume mailing lists, I make an archive of everything once a year, usually a mail folder with all my regular folders in it. Even got all my previous jobs email burned on a CD, and yes, I have had to pull that up on occaisions to dig up some password for some router.

I save very little (none / 0) (#28)
by cod on Sat Sep 08, 2001 at 12:14:47 PM EST

At home, I save almost nothing. Emails with important info in them like snailmail addresses get copied into my address book, passwords and the like get saved, CYA type stuff obviously gets saved,but other than that I try to keep about 1 month in the the delete folder and 3 months in the sent folder. I figure if I don't need in that time frame I probably never will. At work, I keep folders for each customer, a folder for my boss, and a few others, but I hand pick exactly which emails are worth saving, most are not in my opinion. I suspect I delete about 90% od what I get at work too. Again, I keep about 1 month in delete and 3 months in sent. I keep the inbox almost empty at all times - if an incoming email requires action on my part and the action will take less than 2 minutes I just do it then instead of letting 50 two minute tasks build up in the inbox. It works for me...

MH, email for obsessive archvists! (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by claudine on Sun Sep 09, 2001 at 01:04:38 AM EST

The MH (Mail Handler) system developed by Rand, and the less politically
dodgy offshoot nmh, was designed for people who process huge amounts of
mail which can fall into many different categories. MH was storing
messages in separate files and nested directories long before Maildir
appeared on the scene, and unlike Maildir's system of creating further
subdirectories ('cur', 'new' and 'tmp') in a mail folder, MH simply
saves each message as a file named as a folder-specific message number.

Searching messages with plain old grep and retrieving the relevant
message is a breeze, eg

coriander:~ % grep Linux Mail/security/focus/*
Mail/security/focus/41:Subject: New Linux Trojan
coriander:~ % show 41

(Of course, I could also use 'pick' for searching using message headers.)

Another great feature is the ability to annotate messages. For example,
I keep a local database of spam received (you can stop laughing now),
and when I forward a spam to an abuse desk nmh will add a note saying
when and to whom it was forwarded. Over time, I can track how much
spam I get from a particular source and how responsive their abuse
staff are.

I've never had any strict policy on what mail I keep. I still have old
emails in mbox format and even Eudora format, from the days before I
discovered nmh. I'm on a lot of mailing lists which are archived on
systems with more storage capacity than mine, so I'm not afraid of
deleting messages from those lists. In general, I keep personal mail
(even if unpleasant/abusive) and most business or committee-related mail,
deleting 'Remember meeting next Friday' type messages when the event
has passed.

--
I don't have a .sig


I save it all... (none / 0) (#31)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Sun Sep 09, 2001 at 01:32:07 AM EST

..., everything that I've got (non-spam, naturally) or sent, but, unlike many that have posted, I don't have a comprehensive system of any sort. My archives are distributed over a few formats (including some printouts from high school era), computers, and states. I've thought about moving everything to a single format and place and such, but it will have to wait a while longer yet.

I have had different reasons over time for why, but the real reason is probably because moving it to a relivant folder is as easy as deleting it. That, and reading old conversations with friends or teachers is great fun. Ah the nostalgia file.

Several of my friends know I archive everything and have asked for copies of old stuff, that is a service I'm happy to provide and another good reason to do it.



_I_ am the sum of all my past experiences (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by entranced on Thu Oct 11, 2001 at 10:29:26 PM EST

So why would I need to archive them?


"You have not converted a man because you have silenced him." ~John Morley

Public Archives (none / 0) (#33)
by Zeshan on Sun Nov 04, 2001 at 10:00:14 AM EST

I usually filter all my mailing lists into folders, and then go though and purge them whenever they build up. There seems to be little point in archiving lists that already have publicly accessible archives.

That said, I suppose what one archives isn't as important as how easily one can retrieve relevant information at a later date.

Zeshan

Historical Issues (none / 0) (#34)
by TeRmInAlCrAzY on Wed Nov 07, 2001 at 07:37:55 AM EST

Hi,

This is going to make historians jobs in the future very difficult. As we move away from paper-based communications, easily stored in boxes, or tied up with pretty ribbons in old desk drawers, there is going to be less and material for them to work with.

A lot of what we know about people in the past comes from their correspondence. I was recently shown some letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother, and it was really cool ... If that was done via email, who would keep it for 50 years?

I have not been very diligent at all about keeping logs of my emails up to now, and that is something I do regret. There's lots of stuff I wish I had kept, but its gone now. It's a lot easier to hit a delete key than to throw away a letter. I have a fairly complete collection of all the paper correspondence I have received over the years (letters from my mum when I was in boarding school - 15 years ago, letters from girlfriends, family, friends. All the birthday and christmas cards). It's all in a little box in my bedroom.

Does anyone know of any organisations/groups attempting to do anything about this? I'd be interested in seeing what they are up to.

rgds

Alan
--
This space for rent, low, low rates
What do you do with old email? | 34 comments (34 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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