Online Scientific Supply Catalogs

Harry Mangalam mangalam at UCI.EDU
Sun Jul 25 17:25:32 EST 1993

Hi again,
   Having watched my wife in catalog hell for the last few weeks as she
tried to outfit her new lab with reliable labstuff (a technical term) at
reasonable prices, I have just started a low-level, reasonably polite,
harrasment of the big scientific suppliers (VWR, Baxter, Fisher, West Coast
Scientific, Sigma Chemicals, etc and a few smaller ones for variety) to see
whether it's possible to get them to either a) make their catalogs
available by WAIS searching or b) failing that, giving me their data, so
that I can.

I mention this partly because of the frustration I feel in having to deal
with a process that screams for automation and computerized databases,
partly because of the number of catalogs that get sent out each year to
support this endeavor (and the number of trees they represent), and partly
because the solution for it seems so obvious (and getting more so - Don
Gilbert mentioned that he's working on a Gopher+ extension that would allow
the protocol to return files (sort of like a gopherized verion of FTP) and
there was recently mentioned a perl script for allowing gopher to interact
with SQL databases like Sybase and Oracle (the probable (?) structure of
quite a few of these catalog dbs).

I was expecting much more hostility than I have gotten, so the time may be
ripe to get them to acceed.  Most have never heard of WAIS, gopher and the
like, so it may be a matter of informing them that such things exist,
accentuating that the software (both clients and servers for a variety of
machines) is free (well, sort of free - some great programmers absorbed a
lot of radiation to bring you these services - they just didn't bill you

While I realize this action also brings up questions about the
commercialization of the net, it would serve the I'net biocommunity by
making it quicker and easier to find items and to compare pricing and
availability (nothing like spending an afternoon tracking down a great deal
on a critical enzyme only to be told a week later that it's backordered for
a month).

There are a few companies that will set you up with a proprietary ordering
system for their products but this is hardly the solution that I

So, does anyone out there have any experiences along these lines?  Has
anyone pried loose a database of a major catalog company?  Would you be
willing to mention to your local rep that you'd certainly be more inclined
to order their stuff if you could find and verify it quickly by WAIS and
didn't have to spend a day paging thru catalogs?


Harry Mangalam                                         Vox:(714) 856-4824
Microbiology/Molecular Genetics                        Fax:       Not Yet
Irvine Hall, School of Medicine           1'             mangalam at
UC, Irvine                                2'   mangalam at
Irvine, CA, 92717                         3'        hjm at

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