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WAKE UP! [Re: email servers]

Keith Robison robison at lipid.harvard.edu
Sun Aug 7 21:29:08 EST 1994

Reinhard Doelz (doelz at comp.bioz.unibas.ch) wrote:
: Keith Robison (robison at nucleus.harvard.edu) wrote:
: : a handsome chappy!! (jenkins at aidsun.nibsc.ac.uk) wrote:
: [...]
: : : The reason i'm asking is that we as a network are going 'internet' soon if that makes sense.
: [...]
: : : To access these services, what software package(s) are required.
: [..]
: : For simple usage, E-mail servers require no special software --
: : you just format a mail message and send it.  Some software does
: : come with hooks to E-mail servers -- the one I am most familiar
: [...]

: When will Biologists ever learn? Electronic Mail is the most unfriendly 
: and least controllable software environment which is available. Since 
: the 'Bitnet' type of mail with semi-interactive jobs disappreared (Don't 
: understand me wrong- Bitnet had its weaknesses, but was excellent in other 
: aspects where Internet mail has a long way to go!) the Internet developed 
: much more exciting and challenging protocols than electronic mail. If 
: Biologists get hammered in that they should use Mail 'cause there is no 
: need for special software this is only partially correct. I heard quite 
: often that you need 'simply' to format a message. You don't swim across the
: Atlantic as you don't need anything than a bathing suit which is easy 
: to jump in? 

I'll agree that E-mail is by far inferior to other access means
(I am a serious addict of WWW, Entrez, and the NCBI Blast server).
There remain, several reasons for continuing to mention such services

1. No special software
   Everyone on the net has E-mail.  Despite my best efforts, that ain't true 
   yet for WWW :-)  nor anything else.  E-mail is good for occassional and
   one-time users (such as non-professionals), as well as introductions
   to services.  And (I understand), many of the commericial Internet
   services don't provide much more than E-mail -- which is nothing to
   condone, but for many people E-mail is it.

2. Fewer auxillary needs
   Novice users don't have to know anything about files or directories;
   everything goes in their mailbox.
   (see also #4)   

3. Less heterogeneous
   One curse of my local computing world is that every lab uses a
   mix of PCs, UNIX, and Macs.  It would be great if they all had
   the same software that all looked the same and was up-to-date, 
   but of course they don't.  
   (see also #4)

4. Referrer laziness.  
   For better or worse, I have become the local analysis guru. 
   It's fun when people bring interesting problems; it's miserable
   when they don't know anything (i.e. they want me to do all
   their work for them).  I can escape quickly by just
   passing off an E-mail address.  Nothing to be proud of, but
   if I went the hero route I would lose my sanity long before
   I was booted out for not graduating.

Are these all signs of failings in the bioinformatics community? Yes,
most certainly.  A lot of this is due to the infancy of the community
and the immaturity of the really good packages.  And, of course, the
lack of formal instruction in computer resources which seems to pervade
the biological community.  

Keith Robison
Harvard University
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
Department of Genetics / HHMI

robison at mito.harvard.edu 

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