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Chemputing in the workplace.

Chemputing in the Workplace

Computers have had a profound influence upon the nature of our work. As I look for specifics related to this month's topic, the list is enormous... everything from desktop publishing to process control. We credit computers for aiding us in our work; we also blame them for almost every mistake that is made. This month's column looks at the recently updated front-running programs of the two applications I personally feel have had the most profound effect upon what we can do in our day-to-day work and how we go about doing it: the word processor and the spreadsheet.

WordPerfect, version 5.1

Today's world revolves around paper: text books, proposals, reports, and technical papers. As a consultant working from my home, I have cooperated with or competed against the biggest engineering companies in the country. I don't have their resources, yet my reports look as good as their's; often better. How is this possible when you compare their resources with mine? I have no secretarial help and type with two fingers. My secret is WordPerfect 5.1 coupled with a Hewlett-Packard DeskJet Plus printer (see Nov/Dec'88, p.5-6).

Version 5.0 covered the range from simple letter writing through to desktop publishing (including the incorporation of graphics) with more features than any one person could utilize. Major improvements in version 5.1 include improved capabilities for tables and equations. Tables are much easier to produce and can have attributes such as borders, grid lines and shading. Data can be imported directly from a spreadsheet or database file and each value can be aligned by decimal point, centred or left/right justified. The capability to print mathematical equations now enables WordPerfect to compete with the specialized technical word processors. Although this feature was not designed for chemical equations, it works quite well. The one feature I found annoying was that all letters in equations are printed in italic and numbers in Roman characters.

WordPerfect 5.0 introduced several international and technical symbol character sets, but few printers could print them. Bitstream (see Jan'90, p.8) and similar font packages allowed some printers to print more, but not all of them. With version 5.1, the entire set of technical symbols, accents and Greek, Hebrew, Cyrillic and Japanese alphabets can be printed. Reference to Czech or Hungarian authors can have the correct accents. We can print our * that we have learned over the years to fake in various ways from mediocre to ingenious. Many characters are printed as graphics with printing time substantially increased if there are more than a few. Using a high-resolution printer, a single page with a lot of special characters could take twenty minutes or longer to print. Using the Bitstream fonts (see Jan'90, see p.8), the same page could be printed in seconds. I had to work from my 5.0 printer file, but a new version of the Bitstream Fontware program compatible with 5.1 should be released before this review appears. Revised WordPerfect files to fine tune the line-weight consistency from one character set to another can also be expected.

A few words of caution: English-language programs sold in Canada are UK English; while those in the States are US English. There are more problems than centre vs. center. As each file contains a header to tell WordPerfect which thesaurus, speller, and hyphenation dictionaries to use, using the incorrect version can cause major confusion. As a bonus, the Canadian version includes a French dictionary. In your setup menu, make sure the correct language is specified and set hyphenation to 'internal rules' or it may look forever for the wrong dictionary. Whenever you start a spelling check always wait for the options menu. For some reason, if you're too fast and select the option before the menu appears, you may lock up your computer.

Documentation for WordPerfect 5.0 left much to be desired. It has been greatly improved for 5.1. This is a massive program with an almost infinite set of options to meet the needs of a variety of people. I know no single user who uses them all. The 1,014 page manual may look formidable, but each new task is fairly simple to master when you actually need it.

WordPerfect is highly recommended for anyone who writes. As each individual writer can format and print the page exactly as they want, the quality of the output is limited only by the imagination of the user and the capabilities of the printer. There is no excuse for mediocre looking documents.

Lotus 1-2-3, release 2.2

Spreadsheets represent one of the greatest tools for scientific calculations. These electronic 'scratch pads' can be the equivalent of up to 100 pages long. Make a change and all calculations related to it are updated. The uses are almost limitless for keeping track of your data... and at the same time you can both tabulate and graph your results. Who needs graph paper? Enter the numbers on a spreadsheet to plot them. As each single laboratory value is entered either by hand or from an 'intelligent' analyzer, the entire record including long-term statistical analysis can be updated.

There are many spreadsheets on the market with Lotus 1-2-3 the most popular. Two new releases 2.2 and 3.0 recently appeared. 2.2 maintains the compatibility with all MS-DOS based equipment on the market while 3.0 requires a minimum of an 80286-based machine with 1.0 megbyte of RAM. To me, 2.2 is the more exciting product as it maintains the ability to work with the many 'add-in' products now on the market.

Release 2.2 now includes Allways (to appear in the next issue of ACCN) to add desktop publishing capability. It recalculates faster and can 'learn' as you work your way through the development of macros. The graphs have corrected that tendency to push the first and last bars into the corners, but alas; they have not yet included log scales, double axes and some mechanism to use different line weights or styles. The graphics now have 300 dpi resolution. With Freelance Plus (see Jan'89, p.7), the more complex .PIC files require much more memory. As worksheets from releases 2.01 and 2.2 appeared to be fully compatible in both directions, I recommend keeping a stripped version of 2.01 available to simplify producing multiple or superimposed graphs with Freelance.

Lotus is more than just another application program; it is a total system. It sure keeps this column going. We have looked at Freelance Plus to improve the appearance of the graphs, SeeMore (see July/Aug'89, p.8) to increase the number of cells visible on the screen, and Allways. We also reviewed SPC Orchestra (see Sept'89, p.8) which was a Lotus spreadsheet and Baler (see July/Aug'89, p.8) which compiled the spreadsheet to allow the user to run it without actually having Lotus. More reviews are planned.

Lotus can be considered as a programming language much the same as Basic or Fortran. A few years ago, Henry Miyamoto, MCIC and I wrote a Basic program called Windex to evaluate the potential for calcium carbonate scaling over a wide pH range. Recently we updated it using Lotus. For....Next loops became columns and rows in a table and the Lotus graphics simplified plotting trends. Macros created a user-friendly menu system that simplified access to the various graphs. Writing (and debugging) time was much faster as we could see the effects of a single change without 'running' the entire program. While the original Windex did the calculation for one set of conditions; this version does it for a wide range of concentration and temperatures and both tabulates and plots the trends. From a programmers point of view, writing in Lotus and compiling with Baler provided a professional looking piece of software with the capability of supporting an almost infinite number of graphics cards and printers.

Release 2.2 provides a somewhat improved performance over release 2.01. Other spreadsheets may have more features when you look at them as stand-alone products. Lotus provided the first spreadsheet for the IBM PC system; it (and Symphony) is the industry standard and one of its biggest strengths is the one the company barely acknowledges. Other software developers have created the add-in packages to enhance and customize its operation with everything from extended graphing capabilities through to risk analysis. No other spreadsheet presently offers this. One final comment: All spreadsheet programs strive to be 100% Lotus compatible; from my experience there are always small differences that complicate the exchange of spreadsheet files; these are the real thing.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:computer software
Author:Silbert, Marvin
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Previous Article:The 21st International Chemistry Olympiad (1989).
Next Article:The 1988 salary survey.

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