Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - software, retention & the history of thought

Thus morning a meander as much as a muse, just following issues around.

To start with a personal comment that I tweeted on, Google has withdraw support for my browser. I use IE8. Suddenly I began experiencing difficulties with blogger, along with messages saying that Google no longer supported my browser and that I should shift to Chrome.  I am nor sure which annoyed me more.

Browsing around I found some background, but it still annoys me.

I have written before about he problems created by things such as software and hardware changes for the simple retention of previous material. John Quiggin looked at this one in Does digital data disappear?. The post and especially the comments are worth a browse. This included this comment from Aidan: 

Successful digital data archiving requires active curation. If you don’t keep “active” copies of material it will disappear.

Herein lies the rub. The more material you have, the more time has to be spent managing it! I think that what annoys me most is the continuous obsolescence of software. Last week I finally bit the bullet and threw out a garbage bag full of software disks and manuals.

In an earlier post on this topic discussing loss of access to my bookmarks, I said that I had begun the process of transferring some material to pages on my blogs. In the latest step I added a history resources page: New England's History - Guide to on-line resources. My problem is that it's such a slow process because of limited time.

My last post, Governments and the collateral damage from instant responses, dealt in part with a post by Lorenzo on PostModern Conservatism. I am still holding of detailed comments on this blog because I don't want to interfere with discussion there. However, I do want to make one brief comment because it bears upon the writing that I have been doing on economics as a discipline.

Some time ago I did a series of posts exploring the end of the welfare state and the associated rise of new approaches to public administration. I am not linking here, but have given some links at the end.

While Rafe and I have still not been able to get our blog HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND THOUGHT off the ground (anybody want to help?), I remain fascinated by the threads in Australian (and global thought). Now here I want to make a simple point that is, I think, relevant to Lorenzo's discussion.

If you look at a lot of the discussion around the topic that Lorenzo raises, you will see a focus on whether one form of thought is better than another. So on Catallaxy Files, you will see Rafe's support for Hayek and the Austrian school, while John Quiggin or the the good folk from Larvatus Prodeo take a very different view. Then, for his part, Geoff Robinson consciously studies and articulates a left position, while I consciously study and am influenced by the New England tradition.

By contrast, in looking at the history of thought, the issue is not whether or not any form of thought is better or worse, more or less productive, but just what it was, how it arose and what influence it had.

This is a very different perspective.

To illustrate, take what I have called the New Zealand model, the structured articulation of new ways of thinking about public policy and administration that was defined by the New Zealand Treasury and found its fullest expression in what was called Rogernomics. These approaches have become one of the dividing lines between what is called neoliberalism and alternative views, between left and right.

There is absolutely no doubt that elements of what is now called neoliberalism influenced the formation of the New Zealand model. However, I have tried to argue that when you look at the principles and structures built into the New Zealand model, they are not of themselves neoliberal, but are capable of application and test by people of very different views. Indeed, I have gone so far as to argue that the model has actually been hijacked, distorted if you like, by those on left and right who see it as both a means to an end and a symbol. I summarised my broad position in this way:

In my view, the New Zealand model was by far the most clearly articulated reform model in the world. Further, while it did incorporate elements of what came to be known as neoconservative views, the model itself could be applied within a variety of idea sets.

  I accept that this view is open to challenge. However, my point is that if you don't focus on articulating and understanding the evolution of ideas, if you focus instead on why one set of ideas is right, then you are likely to distort history and thinking.

This is not an attack on Lorenzo or any of those involved in the discussion. Just the opposite. Lorenzo is an historian. One of his strengths lies in the way that he tries to put his thinking in an historical context. Rather, it is a plea to spend more time understanding the basis of ideas, to put them into context, so that we can all better understand the discussion.

Related Posts

Changes in Public Administration - Notes. This post looks at the decline of the welfare state and the rise of alternative views.

Publish or Perish - where did the this phrase come from? This post look at the rise of citation indexes as an example of the interest in measurement that forms a key element of modern approaches.

Changes in Public Administration - the New Zealand Model. This post looks at the approach adopted in New Zealand as an example of modern approaches.


Anonymous said...

On data loss, Jim - this caused me to go searching for some old stuff of mine to see if it was still readable (cd based storeage) and, praised be it still is tho created in May of 2000 from files stretching back to 1998.

The earliest digital files I can find on my present computer are from mid 1992. These are Word Perfect documents which for interest's sake I just now opened in MsWord - and after a moment's hesitation to download the correct converter, there they were!

But all my stuff is just data - as opposed to information of use to anyone else. Now for an hour or two's browse...


Jim Belshaw said...

Glad I had an influence, KVD.

My personal and business electronic files date from mid 1987 and were in three word processing formats, two spread sheet formats and in multiple other programs. They were backed up in different ways. Some of the soft disks simply became unreadable, there were hard disk crashes (back up from one hard disk to another) and CDs got lost in moves or were damaged.For a time I had a computer with three disk drives (two floppies plus CD) but this became too difficult. Then there was material on-line.

Everything had to survive through multiple moves.

Unlike JQ who may well be far more organised than me and who probably had fewer files (I had a research team of 17 people at one stage), I would estimate my electronic data loss at around 90 per cent.

Emails have been one of the biggest loss areas. So much of what I have done has involved emails.