March 2015

Well thanks to the engineers from Agilent (the makers of the GC-MS) we now have the autosampler working well. It is so much better at injection samples in than I am. The injection is now easy all I have to sort out now is the data analysis. ( I am going on a course on Masshunter software in 2 weeks so hopefully that will sharpen me up in this area.)

I thought that I’d do a bit about our experience with our various software systems.

Things have changed a bit over the years. In the old days lab work was test tubes, burettes etc. Lots of wet chemical techniques. Nowadays it’s a little box that you put your sample on, or in, and the box is plugged into a PC which then takes control. We now spend all of our time interacting with PCs and trying to get the software to do what we want. So the quality of the software makes a big difference on how easy our work is.

Inevitably we have lots of problems with software here are some of my pet hates

“Greyed-out” facilities
These are the facilities that the instrument maker wants you to pay an extra £x,000 for, and just to remind you, has them there, but you cannot use them ( until you pay for the unlock codes!)- Sometimes the helpful engineer shows you how to work around them and get the same result using a rather circuitous route- which you are really grateful for then you will never have to pay the extra ££’s
Non-existent buttons and drop downs
This is where the help says, click on the drop down tab in “settings” called “setup” well it doesn’t exist. Well maybe it used to be there a few versions of the software ago, when the help was written, but now it’s long gone, and it’s taken most of the afternoon for you to work that out.

Random saving of data in a variety of locations
This is where the software puts your data apparently randomly around the PC rather in the folder “user results”, (it seems to think that “user methods” is a better place for it, as it was where you last were when you selected your method!!)

Always being asked if you want to save data
Some software is paranoid about you not saving your data so it is always asking you, but it actually makes things worse as you are so used to telling it “no” that you do lose data, ( you also end up with lots of duplicate files)

Software “training ” from engineers that know nothing about the software
When you buy an instrument the quote always comes with 1 days training. This is done by the installation engineer. The poor engineer rarely knows much about the software (as it’s not really his job) and sometimes, if they have just upgraded the software to a new system, has less idea than you do, (at least you spend your life struggling with this sort of software, so you have a bit of an idea what its about)), so its not really much training.

“Best in the world software”
Being told by the sales guy that this is the best software package for this type of instrument in the world- rarely true and probably he is a bit sensitive as he knows that it is really a bit of a dog!

That being said, most of our software is good and some of it really good. Here are the software stars with their strengths (my equivalents of “the Oscars” for lab software)

Best for Data storage: ( ie. least chance of losing your hard worked for data) Netzsch Thermal Analysis – never lost a file yet.

Best for making custom testing and analysis routines Malvern (Kinexus) great for writing testing sequences and analysis and so easy even I can do it!!

Best FTIR Software: Thermo Omnic 32 great simple package but still with some really useful features

Best supporting FTIR software: Thermo TQ, great for writing simple analysis programs that can churn through spectra cutting out days of work.

Best Chromatographic software Masshunter great functionality but is also really easy to use

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