Re easy vs powerful OS -

frist at ccu.umanitoba.ca frist at ccu.umanitoba.ca
Wed Mar 20 12:50:48 EST 1991


In article <9103191019.AA06674 at genbank.bio.net> ODONNELL at arcb.afrc.ac.uk writes:
>
>>>Top omitted
>
>>	People learn to use what they need. Anyone who can design and
>>perform a subcloning experiment -  with all the steps required to
>>isolate fragments, match ends, ligate, and transform - can figure out
>>how to login, check a directory, edit a file, and run the sequence
>>analysis programs on unix or VMS.  Anyone who is doing a sequencing
>>project MUST learn to the machine.  So they do.
>>
>>Bill Pearson
>
>A short reply:
>
... stuff omitted ...
>Biologists typically do not login frequently enough to keep up with all the
>minor changes that are made to the system. The analogy of riding a bike,
>using a power tool etc - People don't change the position of the handle bars,
>the brakes and pedals since the last time you rode it.
>
>Research scientists typically spend several weeks or months in the lab
>gathering data (ligating, running gels etc), then turn to the computer.
>"Ah, now what did I do last time?....". If they remember, it sometimes won't
>work anyway because someone has 'improved' something.  So the PERCEPTION of
>many (certainly not all) is that computers only make life harder, and that
>programmers etc only seek to find new ways of confusing users.
>
>Cary O'Donnell

I disagree. My experience is that laboratory scientists are always using
their computers. Most of the time is devoted to word-processing, but people
are always doing something with the computer.  As electronic mail and other
network applications become more widespread, usage will increase. 

The problem is that most users never bother to invest the time to learn
what the computer can do for them.  For example, most people who have
access to databases use them for two things only: searching for sequences
similar to their own sequences, and retrieving sequences.  With just a
little extra sophistication, the user could also be addressing questions
such as:
     - What other genes have been cloned in the species I work with (eg.
source of probes, examples of codon usage)
     - What other genes have been cloned that are associated with the
biological problem I am working on (eg. heat shock, photosynthesis)
     - Do the transit peptides of thylakoid proteins have characteristics
that distinguish them from the transit peptides of plastid matrix
proteins? 
      ... etc.

Databases aside, the computer can do lots of other things for the molecular
biologist. There are programs for managing clone collections, designing
oligonucleotide primers (an everyday occurrence now), calculating the sizes
on unknowns on gels, assigning RFLP's to map positions, mapping restriction
fragments. 

Molecular biologists are the biggest bunch of whiners in science.
Physicists, astronomers, ecologists, population geneticists etc. have
recognized that they can't function  without being able to work with
computers.  The didn't complain, they learned to use an important tool of
their trade. 

The computer is the ultimate general purpose machine, if you have some
understanding of how to use it. With the expansion of the matrix of
biological knowledge, there is, and will be in the future, too much
important information out there to ignore.  However, the benefits of this
'general purpose machine' are only available to those willing to put in a
little effort to understand it. I maintain that the things a user needs to
learn are quite small:       
     - how to organize your data in directories, and the file-name syntax
that goes with them
     - 15 or so basic commands for moving, copying, deleting, and listing
files
     - use of a screen editor
     - use of a mailer
     - use of online help

Can somebody tell me why the above is so hard to learn? Do you let people use 
your HPLC without fairly lengthy training?  The reason people get
so frustrated with computers is that they want to start NOW, without learning 
anything. In the long run, it's a lot easier to simply take a 1 afternoon 
course, or read a high-school level book on using your operating system.
 
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Department of Plant Science     | Can you say 
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