Tuesday, October 31, 2006

When I did not invent the scissors

At the end of 1992 I started writing my second processing program. The first one was named SuperBalac and, after using it on a Mac Plus for a couple of months, I had realized that neither the hardware nor the software were the right choice for the task. My ideas for the new program were clear: the command "Reload the FID" would substitute the several (slow) routines performing inverse processing, 2D spectroscopy would be central (1D would represent a special case, just like a square a special rectangle), and there would be a pair of scissors. I had always seen truncated plots (I don't mean only NMR spectra) in books and articles (who hasn't?) and I liked the idea. I added a specialized tool into my new program. Picking it with the mouse, the user could hide one or two intermediate empty regions of a spectrum. The action was obviously reversible. At any time the user could have returned to the full spectral width.
When the program was ready, with my own surprise, those scissors were a surprise for everybody. Not only people were not used to find a pair of scissors inside an NMR software, the object in itself generated emotional reaction (love or disgust).
When I began printing and distributing fragmented spectra the reaction was natural: the receiver remained with the doubt that I had hidden or forgotten a peak.
The point here is not to like or dislike the scissors (it's a personal choice), but how persistent the CW mentality was and still is. It was difficult to realize that I had not destroyed the spectrum in itself, I had only created a special form of zoom. Not everybody could understand that the spectrum was still intact into the computer. Somebody believed that it was necessary to reprocess the FID (wrong!).
Up to this point, nothing new. I myself am extremely dumb in learning software written by others (that's why I prefer writing it by myself!). The paradox is that people easily accept a zoom tool, and realize that its action is reversible. What's different with a cutter tool? With the zoom you hide something on the left and something on the right, while with the cutter you hide something in the middle. Nothing else. So accept or refuse both of them. For coherence, if you ban the cutter, not only you have to ban the zoom, you shall also print all 1H spectra from 15 to -5 ppm.
In my experience, the more I have used the scissors, the more I couldn't do without them. The same can be said of my colleagues, even those who initially were critical about them. Without the scissors we feel the same sensation of when we have forgotten our lenses at home.
After 14 years the diffusion of a cutter tool is still restricted. While the program that introduced them, SwaN-MR, could cut an axis up to three fragments, in 2005 iNMR introduced the unlimited cutter, but no other did. 13 years to copy and improve my idea? Improved, definitely. Copied not really, because iNMR is another program of mine. I have titled a previous post "the stubborn chemist". I can add: the stubborn programmer. In our field we don't need the protection given by the copyright. Every NMR programmer is the founder of his own philosophy. We don't even understand each other's baby, how can we copy them?


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