Monday, September 24, 2007

Platonic Dialog

Ryan: Hello Giuseppe
Swan: Hello Ryan, you are always collaborative. It would be great if the people behind the other programs were as collaborative as you are. BTW: when you sold an NMR product to Menarini Ricerche?

Ryan: You are going to write a product review exclusively on the content of someone's blog without actually using the product???
Swan: What's wrong? I am not hiding the fact that I have never worked with the ACD processor. Do you want to lend me a computer with the program installed, so I can write my first-hand impressions? Do you prefer to write the review by yourself? Do you want to write a review on iNMR based on my own review? I am open to all solutions.

Ryan: What are the facts that I am hiding?
Swan: You have found them into my post. Already removed?

Ryan: So do chemists like offline processing or not?
Swan: They don't like it, yet they should. When they are forced to do it, they repeat the same operations they normally perform on the spectrometer. The few smart ones that freely choose off-line processing also tend to do the same routine operations, although with a more user-friendly software.

Ryan: They will use it to re-process their data in some cases...
Swan: Don't overlook TopSpin: it's much more famous than the ACD processor, much more... and can do a few useful things too!

Ryan: But without additional and useful features, functionalities, and benefits, organizations simply wouldn't buy our software.
Swan: They would buy it more WITHOUT the additional features if it costed 499 USD. Quite often the attractive "additional features" mean additional bureaucratic work for the researcher; I personally don't like them. I however understand that in some contexts they can be important.

Ryan: Do you want to purchase software from a company that provides no documentation?
Swan: Undocumented software is unusable; the only example I know is RMN (unusable). All other programs are well documented.

Ryan: Do you want...? The List goes on.
Swan: Unsupported software is a theft. When I mean "supported" I mean that the customer can ask for extensions, modifications, etc... It's all included. The physical meeting is not necessary. Skype is enough.

Ryan: It is another good reason to have a relationship building stage between the sales person and user.
Swan: The direct relationship between the user and the programmer is more productive.

ACD (Another Commenter Deciphered)

To describe a software do I really need it in my hands or not? Can the manual be enough? If the program, as described by its own manual, doesn't attract me, the direct experience is going to be even more disappointing. I haven't the ACD processor, nor I have the manual, I only have Ryan's blog. This is the third time I am citing it, because it's a mine of precious information. Strangely enough, when Ryan praises his product, he brings forward such arguments that make me conclude I can never like it. I will try to write a review of ACD exclusively based on Ryan's blog. To start with, today I am commenting what I find to be his best post: The Price of NMR Software. There Ryan is able to engage the reader and, at the same time, to hide the most important facts.

Ryan: "Some people have a pre-conceived idea that no matter how good a piece of software is, it shouldn't cost more than $500."

It depends on what they are going to do with the software and it depends on the price of the alternatives. If they use the NMR software only to avoid sitting in front of the spectrometer (which is the case of 99% of the chemists I know) they are perfectly right. To attract them, you must make a good product that costs less than 500. If you are only able to create specialized and advanced tools that cost much more, a thing that you still have to prove to myself, sell your stuff to the few ones who really need them, don't try to convince the rest of us. I have a driving license and second-hand Opel Corsa 1.0. Was I supposed to own a Rolls-Royce? Would it make a difference?

Ryan: "The cost of supporting the software and the customer base. i.e. product management, development, technical support, sales, marketing, production, etc."

I am ready to pay for development & technical support and that's all. I also know a lot of people who don't care or renounce to technical support. I don't want to pay for a sales-agent. I don't want to pay for advertisement. I don't want to pay for that University which, in your press release, stated that the ACD processor was cheap (the cheaper was for them, the most expensive is going to be for me...).

Ryan: "We have many, many customers from all over the world. To name a few: ..."

Then you cite Menarini Ricerche, the company where I worked from January 15 1990 until July 15 2007 and where I never used nor bought any of your products. Are you sure you sold anything related to NMR there?

Ryan "Why wouldn't we share our prices publicly?"

I don't think that's a problem. Whoever wants to know the price can ask a quotation. The real annoyance for the customer is when he discovers that not all customers pay the same price. The same happens, for example, with many 4 star hotels. Only a few unlucky customers pay the full price. For a reason or another, the lucky ones pay the half. I am not curious to know how much you will ask me, I am curious to know how much the University of XX paid!

Ryan: "We've sold to these companies and institutions and we have survived more than 11 years in this industry selling and supporting our software in many of the above institutions and more. I don't think we would have come this far if our software was flat out "too expensive"."

But you also wrote: "Unfortunately, there are also cases where users just haven't found the software useful for their research, or haven't even gotten around to installing it yet." which means that some people were convinced by your shows and demonstrations, not by first-hand experience. Or it means that it was the boss of the department to buy the program, against the will of the researcher.
You forget that today we have the internet. It can directly connect the creator with the consumer, by-passing the middle man. Before the internet, only 10-20% of the price of the program could arrive at the creator. Today we can reach 90-100%. It means that the same product can cost from 5 to 9 times less. The internet also means that a patch (or a new version) can be released in a couple of hours; as a consequence, testing is much less critical and time-consuming than it used to be. Will people always be happy to pay 5 times more only for the sake of the middle man? Only to receive the CD into a box? Do they really need a major update each year? Get Real! GET REAL!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


How many things I have discovered on a single web page! (click the title of this post):
  1. I am not the only dinosaur on this planet.
  2. We should not consider ourselves as dinosaurs.
  3. I have something in common with Linus Torvalds.
  4. Programmers don't feel offended when they are told they are full of bullshit.
(On the contrary, musicians feel offended whatever you tell them; this is an older discovery, however).

MestreNova versus iNMR

People keep asking me which program to buy for the Mac: iNMR or MestreNova? There are many other alternatives (NMRPipe, Jeol Delta, NMR Notebook, NUTS, VNMRJ plus, in the future, TopSpin and SpinWorks) for Mac OS X, but the first two products are so far ahead of competition that you must be eccentric or masochist to even consider something different. If I start speaking about the difference between iNMR and MNova, I can go on for a whole day, telling you the whole story and philosophy of both. Something fascinating for me but no other human being can stand a whole day listening to it. If I start writing, I could write a book, like Rodgers and Hart. Why should people read such a book when both programs can be downloaded and tested in less time? The truth why I can't write that book is that I am too much involved, it's so dangerous. If Mestrelab goes out of business, I go out of business as well. How much dependable am I for you? Don't get me wrong, both products are so nice and stable and offer such a wonderful customer support that there is no concern of going out of business. I simply wanted to demonstrate that I am the most biased source of information that you can find.
Last year I explained in detail that I didn't like the old Mestre-C. MestreNova is much more usable, most of the problems have been fixed but the philosophy remains the same and I'll never like it. The MestreNova document is not a spectrum, but a container. Even if you always populate it with a single spectrum, you are still facing the container concept. There are 5 omnipresent green handles to remind it and they are something I can hardly bear. The more I see them, the more I hate them. They belong, however, to the second impression. The first impression arrives when you launch the two programs. One of them is 10 times faster than the other. Just to open the program; a whole order of magnitude. It's well known that Apple has always cared a lot about first impressions. You can see it from their packages. They say: "if the first impression is negative, there will be no second impression". What's fundamental for Apple can be less important for Mac users, but is still worth mentioning.
If you have also read the rest of the blog, you have found other comparisons. I have written enough. Let's other people speak. They did! You can find a lot of engaging reviews here:
They are all real people, sometimes even famous scientists, sometimes from prestigious research centers. If you are at least a mediocre detective, you can retrieve their email addresses. The other page to read is:
They don't come, however, to directly compare the two products on those web pages. I have other sources. Paul Brémond, a French PhD student, wrote in his email:
"iNMR is so simply intuitive to use! I would like to have a Chemdraw so easy for example! I have tested MestreNova (Windows Version) and it seems to be a renewed MestreC and that's all...".
This is what they say, but what are they doing? Where do they put their money? The case of the Scripps Institute of Florida is an instructive... swinging mystery. Last year they bought a package of 20 licenses of iNMR version 0 (it used to be extremely affordable; today is available for free; next year probably not). Subsequently they purchased a site license of MestreNova. Final decision? Not at all! This week they ordered 3 copies of iNMR reader. I ignore what's behind each single decision. I know the reported facts and nothing else.
A similar case is more documented and I also received the permission of reporting it. Troy Ryba recently moved from the same Scripps institute to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where he found another site license of MestreNova. He asked me the terrible question: "How does iNMR (the full version) and MestrecNova differ?" which, in the case of somebody already owning a fresh license of MestreNova, sounded like an SOS call. I offered him both a tip on how to make a better use of MNova and a complimentary copy of iNMR, for him to perform the comparison directly. He kindly refused the gift and ordered a paid copy of iNMR instead. You can really say he digs iNMR! Troy wrote:
"At any point if you would like an endorsement/testimony for simplicity and ease of use of iNMR, I would be happy to provide one."
Dear Troy, an act like yours is worth one million words! That "point" has come a few lines ago.
This blog is open for discussion...

Friday, September 21, 2007


I was curious to discover: why isn't SpinWorks the most popular NMR application in the world? It has the essential qualities: it's free, it runs on Windows, it comes from Canada... I have read the manual of version 3, by Kirk Marat, and I soon realized that he knows more NMR than I will ever do and works into a much more scientifically advanced environment than mine (presently at least). From the manual I received some strange hints. Look at this excerpt:
"The polynomial is defined such that increasing curvature is to the right or low frequency (high field) end of the spectrum. If your data has significant baseline curvature at the left end of the spectrum, simply reverse the spectrum, correct the baseline, and then reverse the spectrum to its correct orientation."
Unbelievable! Does it mean that the baseline model can only consider a limited set of coefficients? Why can't it be changed? Even if the proposed work-around doesn't sound too difficult, it's an indecent proposal. You can't ask such a thing. No other NMR program asks such a thing. You should change the program instead!
Apart from this incident, the manual is short, readable, simple, well-done. The author states that he prefers writing the program rather than the documentation, but I received the opposite impression. I have installed version 2.5.5 and started playing with it. I was appreciating the consistency of the interface. For example, a lot of commands require the presence of 1 or 2 cursor, and every time you click with the mouse you are creating on of them (when there are already 2 cursors, they both deleted). The icons are easy to find (they come in limited quantity and are wisely color-coded). Following either the pdf manual or the tutorials, every thing makes sense. Not enough effort has been made, however, to create shortcuts. Some operations that could have been condensed into a single gesture, actually require many steps. The most striking example is the simulation of a 1D spectrum. The parameters are stored into 3 different dialogs, one for the chemical shifts, one for the Js and another for the dipolar couplings. What's worse, when you close the dialogs, nothing happens. You need to issue a menu command to force the recalculation of the spectrum. Certainly we are not speaking of a routine operation (for any other program; simulations are actually a pillar of Spinworks). The concept is more general. Zooming also requires 3 clicks and, overall, there is an incredible high number of menu commands for such a small application. This is not a defect, just a characteristic of the program you need to get used to.
The module for Manual Phase Correction is very well done, and that's important, because automatic phase correction performs quite badly. There are, however, important details that would discourage me from using SpinWorks. The integrals are visible only if the integration module is open. The labels of peak-picking stick exactly on top of the corresponding peak, therefore overlap with other labels or other peaks and I can't see neither the labels nor the peaks. Baseline correction requires manual sampling (really boring) and I was not satisfied by how the correction itself works (my baseline kept a significant offset). In such unsuccessful cases, it's annoying that the correction is not interactive.
The adjustment of the optional inset is, instead, interactive. That's OK.
I still had to explore 2D and simulations and had already been able to make the program crash twice. I felt that I was not doing justice to the product if I reviewed an old version and decided to download the latest one (number 3, still in beta stage). The installation was OK, but the program refused to start ("initialization failure" it said). The same thing had happened with NP-NMR. It's quite frustrating to be forced to review these poor programs onto such an unknown OS (Windows XP) and be faced by these hopeless messages. Enough to discourage me to keep this blog alive. The manual says: "Release 2.0 (or higher) of the .NET runtime environment is required." I have seen enough.
Whoever you are, you can collaborate to this blog. If you want to write a review, I will publish it. If you prefer to add your comment, just do that.
I always expressed my impressions, in all honesty, knowing that, if I am wrong, any reader can correct me. I want to comment on the few things I have seen of SpinWorks. It has a good style, that makes for a sweet learning curve. Several parts of it are OK, while others work so bad that are useless. My impression is that the author doesn't care. He's not lazy, otherwise he wouldn't have written all that documentation. It seems that he can't realized which modules are finished and which are approximative only. Or, if he realizes, he doesn't care, or has something more important to do in his life than programming.
He has recently embarked, however, into a new effort, because he has moved the program from an architecture (MFC) to another (.NET). The program hasn't changed too much, which means that the underlying design is still the same. Users should never worry about these things. They should only care about stability, speed, support, etc.. A bad design means, however, that the program can't grow. For example, SpinWorks can't open more than one spectrum. Nothing is forever. A design can be changed, like the architecture can be changed, the programming language can be changed, the name too... It all depends onto how much the maker and the sponsor like to invest.
The bottom line: SpinWorks has an inviting interface, but many modules are not satisfactory. I am not recommending it for daily use. If you need to simulate a spin system, consider also gNMR (abandon-ware). If you need to simulate a dynamic spectrum with either DNMR3 or MEXICO, then you should try SpinWorks first, for the simple reason that it contains both.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Reading the Spinworks manual I stumbled across this accusation:

"It appears that another NMR processing package has also added HOGWASH processing (after being included in SpinWorks) and copied SpinWorks HOGWASH dialog box almost exactly."

my comment:
(1) I don't know this HOGWASH, but common sense tells me that it doesn't work (it's already 20 years old: if it really worked, everybody would be already using it today).

(2) From the point of view of the user it would be a dream if all programmers were copycats. Once you have familiarized with a program you have learned them all. One of the reasons why NMR software is so bad is that NMR programmers refuse to copy the good ideas of their colleagues.

I have asked the colleagues if they could recognize the accused program. The copycat himself (I don't want to disclose the name today) came out and wrote for this blog:

"I have to admit he's right. I had found HOGWASH in an article and I decided to implement it (mainly for fun), I googled just to see if there was any implementation available out there, and I found SpinWorks. So I used the information contained within the manual and its user interface as a reference. My only intention at that time was to improve my knowledge on NMR data processing techniques, that’s it. It only took me a couple of hours but soon I realized that the technique is not useful, and I wanted to get rid of it from the program. Unfortunately, I never did it, because of the lack of time but mostly because I forgot about it."

For a random example of a nonconformist: