Friday, June 06, 2008

Fear of Learning

Last week I wrote that people generally don't like to learn new software. It must be a tedious job indeed. This week was opened by a small and incredible event that is also an example of opposite attitude. It has nothing to do with NMR, although the main character of the story is reach enough to buy and maintain a couple 900 MHz, privately. Jose Mourinho came in Italy and spoke in public, for the first time, in Italian. He explained that had been studying the new language for only a month, but he spoke so fluently that nobody, here, believes him. If he had learned Latin in 1 year, than I would have really been impressed! FIY, he already spoke Portoguese, Spanish, English and I don't know how many other languages. Isn't it simpler to learn to use a program than to learn so many languages? Of course, but if you could afford to hire the best teachers all for yourself, as Mourinho has certainly done, many things become easy.

The expression of Mourinho after having been informed that, before you can use an NMR spectrometer, you must learn the software.

(photo taken from

NMR software, alas, is never easy enough. Even when it is, you refuse to learn it. It's... scaring, that's the problem. It's not like driving a car. Once you have learned to drive your first car, which is not immediate, it takes very little to learn driving another car. In principle the same is true for NMR programs: they must have many things in common. In practice they are like different languages: when you switch language you should adapt yourself to a different syntax and even a different mentality. (OK, that's exactly what I am NOT doing when blogging, that's why this blog sucks!).
If you still think in the way dictated by your old software, switching to a new one is frustrating, I know. You'll soon be wasting time to search, into the new program, for all the "equivalent actions" that some times are completely absent, but you don't know and you keep searching.
Although it's conceptually wrong, it's in the human nature, it's hard to defeat the instincts developed in the past. The same mechanism that makes so natural to switch to a new car, makes so difficult to switch to a new NMR program.
This in the fundamental reason for the success of the software created for the spectrometer that is also abundantly sold and bought for the PCs.
Advantage: you don't have to learn anything new, you are productive from day one. Disadvantages: (1) the higher price, certainly; (2) the ugliness, quite often. The best programs are those that perform a single task and do it perfectly. It's feasible to write a program that manages acquisition, processing and analysis at the same time, but when you put so many tasks into a single product, the interface and the usability suffer. A program that performs a single task, like processing or analysis, has more chances to be elegant, pleasant, accurate and flexible.
For a prolonged period I have been happily using 3 different programs for acquisition and a fourth one (SwaN-MR) for processing. It was wonderful because I could also modify the latter whenever I wanted anything more. Of course you are not supposed to be a programmer. The best you can do is to choose a single program and learn it very well, both by studying the manual and by using it daily. After a couple of years, only if you are bored and can afford it, change program or job or town and start again.


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