Erasing your hard drive

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With the continual upgrading of operating systems, and all the other bits inside computers, there comes a time when the old machine has to go out with the recycling.

Unfortunately, simply deleting files before dropping off the old machine at the e-recyclers will not protect your privacy.

The delete function does not actually delete your files, and someone with the appropriate software can recover whatever you have deleted.

This might be great for forensic accountants and the like, but it’s not good news for the average citizen like you and me.

This week I needed to find a solution for this issue. There were several old computers with mechanical hard drives sitting around the house waiting to retire, and I wanted to act.

For my ancient iMac, which was operating on Maverick, I discovered that using the Command+R (restore) feature opened a list of options that includes access to the Disk Utility. This allows you to securely erase the hard drive. By securely erase, I mean delete and overwrite several times.

With the iMac done, I then had to find a solution for two laptops and a PC running on various versions of Windows from XP through to 7.

A Google search turned up a tutorial on how to erase your hard drive using DBAN. All I had to do was find a usb drive and follow the instructions.

It’s a three step process as you need to download the DBAN software, a program to burn that software to your usb drive, and then alter the boot order on each computer so that it boots from the usb drive instead of its hard drive. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. All the steps and supporting documents and links to the downloads are in the tutorial.

It takes up to 12 hours to securely erase a 500 GB hard drive, so patience is required.

I now have four clean drives ready to recycle.

I guess in a few years time I’ll be looking for a solution for solid state drives.

IMG_0156Peter Mulraney is a creative writer from Australia. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic, The New Girlfriend and Everyday Project Management.

Recovery mode


Yosemite arrived in the App store as a free OS X upgrade from Maverick. I read the details and looked at the features. Some of the new stuff looked like fun. I saw the line in the specifications stating that a machine running Maverick would run Yosemite. My machine was running Maverick, so it appeared we were cleared for go.

I hit the download button and went to do something else while the 5.16 G file made its way across cyberspace from Apple’s server to my machine. The installation all went to plan until the last restart, which was supposed to lead configuration and access to all the new features.

There is an Apple equivalent to the Windows blue screen of death – it’s white.

By this time it was way past my bedtime.

I tried the restart again in the morning. Same white screen.

I looked at the external drive that houses whatever time machine backs up whenever the computer is operational. The light was blinking, so I decided there was a good chance I still had a copy of everything. The question was how to access it when all I could see was a blinking mouse pointer on a white screen. It’s not like Apple issue you with a user manual. These days all the help is online.

It was time to trust and go with the flow – and for a few deep breaths.

Visited the Apple store at lunch time and explained my situation. Obviously I’m in a small tribe of iMac users. The sales assistant, assuming I had a laptop, suggested I bring it in. I enlightened him a little more about the size of my problem.

‘Try recovery mode and, if that doesn’t work, ring this number.’

He wrote the number of the help line on the back of his card.

‘How do you access this recovery mode?’ I asked.

‘Hold down the Command and the R keys when you start the computer,’  he said.

I thanked him and headed back to work, confident the system would deliver when I got home and held down the magic keys.

Now that I had some idea of what I was looking for, I accessed all the details about recovery mode by doing an online search on my iPad. Sure enough, the online user manual had all the details you needed to know to execute a full system recovery from time machine or via the internet should that fail.

I’m writing this on my restored iMac.


Nothing happens by accident, the sages say.

I took a moment to wonder about the lesson contained in this experience I had called into my awareness.

What I discovered was that I had been given a reminder that I had access to resources I wasn’t aware I possessed. The recovery mode was built into the existing OS on the computer.

When you stop to think about that, you realise that we all have a recovery mode built into our personal operating system. Sometimes, we forget it’s there; like I forgot it was available on the computer. Or we have a vague notion it exits but we don’t know how to access it.

Fortunately, I knew who to ask and wasn’t shy about asking for help. How often do we stay stuck because we don’t ask for help or we ask the wrong people? It’s not magic but vulnerability that allows others to help you.

Our inbuilt recovery mode is accessible by taking time to pause and put things into perspective, and by being aware of what’s going on within our minds – where our operating system is installed, along with all the applications we have loaded over the years.

Maybe I don’t need a new operating system.

Maybe all I need is to refresh some of the applications I use to interpret the world.

Thanks for dropping by,  Peter