Saturday, April 14, 2007


The average synthetic chemist knows it. Transcribing NMR data for publication is tedious. Up to the extent that they forget that there's more in NMR than listing the chemical shifts and Js. Let's pretend there's nothing more. Everybody offers a solution and the one coming from ChemScribe, the data transcriber, is noteworthy. It's not based on software, but on dedicated hardware: a tablet and a USB pointing device. The movies and the FAQs section on the web site are so well done that I dare not to give here another explanation. The starting idea is perfect, commercially speaking, because duplicating their patented hardware will not be as easy as duplicating a software program. The implementation and the presentation are also perfect. The intermediate assumptions are difficult to accept, instead. First of all they assume that the chemist has room to spare on his/her desk. Wherever I have worked I saw the contrary to happen: quite often there was hardly the space to place a computer. Second assumption: chemists still do NMR exclusively on the spectrometer. The data transcriber require the use of Bruker or Varian software to print the spectra, it's not compatible with third party software. Third assumption: they say that, with existing software, you are forced to constantly switch from the panoramic view to the expansions. 13 years ago I solved the problem with a combination of software elements (the cutter tool, on-screen annotations, multi-page documents) and have used them (through SwaN-MR) along all these years to transcribe my NMR spectra into MS-Word. Fourth: they rely on the chemist's ability in picking the peak maxima, renouncing to automatic peak-picking. I mean: if the plotted spectrum contains the customary vertical lines corresponding to the maxima, they are easier to point at than the peaks themselves.
Now pretend you have not read my criticism and enjoy at the movie. Everything is recent (the company has been founded in this century, you'll see an LCD monitor and Windows XP), yet many things looks pure vintage, and fascinatingly so. There are moments, in the movie, when the plastic of the pointing device magically becomes beige like a PC of the 80s. The sound of the keys also resembles the old keyboards. The mere idea of an empty desk (no photocopies on it!) transmits a sensation of forgotten luxury. I can't comment on the speaker's language and accent, being not English my mother tongue.
Is it the revenge of hardware on the software?


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