Friday, 6 May 2011

Are Your Research Records ready for the Future

Having posted the message about my first stages in trying to resurrect a program on 25 year year old software I was reminded of an article that I wrote for the New Scientist in 1990 - at the time the material was being stored away in case it would every be needed again.

Forum: Just for the record - Chris Reynolds reckons we are storing up problems for historians

AT LAST. The formal invitation has arrived. I am to spend a year in Australia working with computer systems to help to keep track of the greenhouse effect. But there is only two months to get ready! I look around my office and shudder at the sight. More than 100 feet of books, magazines and folders meet my eyes - together with four filing cabinets and a six-foot high pile of computer listings. I contemplate the bulging garage, and marvel at the volume of the records I have amassed during 30 years of research, mostly in a university environment.
I clearly cannot take it all with me - but I really ought to get it into some kind of order before I leave. But where shall I start? My files of studies of local history should be relatively simple to sort out, so they could be a good place to begin. Within minutes I find I have been distracted into reading the notes I made nearly 15 years ago from great great-uncle Robert's archives, fortuitously saved from destruction by being deposited in a county records office. His account of his grandfather's involvement in the bribery scandal of the 1802 Aylesbury election is great fun.
Suddenly I regain my sanity. I cannot read everything as I go. At this rate it will take me at least five years to tidy up . . . I hurriedly stop reading and resume the task in hand, this time on the materials relating to my computer research.
A length of paper tape beckons and I try to work out what it was once used for. It could be the program I wrote in 1971 to run on that horribly primitive timesharing service whose name I have forgotten. Or perhaps it came from that unsuccessful attempt to use the Modular 1 computer in 1976?

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