Scientific Software

Al Thompson art at world.std.com
Thu Jan 6 13:24:23 EST 1994

I am sending this to nearly every news group that even hints in its title
that it might have some remote connection to my subject.  So, if I send
it to an inappropriate group please accept my apologies in advance.

Late last week a posting from J. Jowett appeared in bionet.software.  In
it he laments the lack of available software for the biomedical, and
probably other scientific communities.  In particular he includes the two
following paragraphs:

>For a while now I have been aghast at how difficult it has been to get a
>hold of and find out about good programs for the PC that carry out
>cloning type operations and keep track of DNA sequences- so that when you
>want to look up a restriction map of a vector that maybe in it's 4th
>generation, you have to sift through a pile of notes about which fragment
>came from where!
>[...] Lots deleted.
>It seems that software for science is seriously lacking, maybe we should
>quit and learn how to program computers! it would appear there is a
>vacuum where there could be many extremely useful programs - and I can't
>believe they would be beyond technical faesibility to write.

I have Ph.D. in biophysics and did indeed "quit" and start programming
computers.  In fact, I drifted into computers nearly twenty five years
ago while doing a post-doc in biophysics when it became clear we needed
some fairly heavy programs.  I would have much rather bought them, but
nobody had anything like that for sale, so I was elected to write them.
Little did I know how long it would take and how intellectually consuming
it would become.

This got me to thinking that this problem might be more widespread than I
had thought.  To address this, and possibly propose a solution, I have a
couple of pertinent questions on the subject and would very much
appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to answer them and respond
to me via email.  I will summarize the responses.

1.  Just what kind of software do want and/or need?

2.  How many of your colleagues want the same things?

3.  Has your work been slowed, or inhibited by the lack of software?

4.  If appropriate software was available would this have a positive
effect on your work?  That is, do you think you would you find yourself
planning more effective experiments?

5.  Do you want or need real time data gathering or instrument control

6.  How many of your colleagues want or need real time data gathering or
instrument control programs?

7.  Would you or your colleagues make more use of computers if you were
not burdened with the need to produce your own software?

8.  How much do you expect to pay for substantial pieces of software?
When answering this question, please remember how much time is involved
in producing large programs.

9.  About how many people at your organization make use of the internet?

Thank you for your trouble.
      Allan Thompson
      10 Flora St.
      Haverhill, MA 01830
      (508) 374-7782
      art at world.std.com

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