[ubuntu] dmesg and messages

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http://ubuntuforums.org – Ubuntu 10.04 I am looking in /var/log dmesg and messages for reports of I/O errors. What do I look for? Will see words like "I/O error"? I looked as far back as messages.4 which dates to about Dec 12 2012. I began having messages about I/O errors Dec 2 when I md5sum on something I downloaded. (I was advised the HDD was failing and replaced it with new that recently failed. I am now running the old HDD until the replacement arrives) ? How far back are messages in /var/log kept? ? Anyway to keep messages for a longer period? (Hardware)