Back in the Saddle Again

Followers of this blog probably wonder where all the chemistry went.  I was in the middle of Anslyn and Dougherty when my iMac G5 began crashing earlier  this summer. So I had to put things on hold — for just why see —

I’ve now been able to transfer the HyperCard Data to FileMaker Pro 11, a program actively supported by the company that makes it, and a large user community.  Learning to program it was one of the most frustrating intellectual experiences I’ve ever had.

Readers of blogs like this one likely are always trying to learn new things, and invariably run up against concepts hard to understand the first time around.  I’m still trying to see how the various definitions of tensors are really about the same thing.  Mathematicians describe them as being over modules rather than vector spaces.  Physicists use vector spaces over the real numbers.  Other definitions stress multilinearity.  The concept of phase transition and what a renormalization group really does to explain it are currently beyond me.  I don’t think that anything in chemistry is that subtle (assuming you don’t get into the quantum mechanics of it all).  In medicine, it’s acid base balance and electrolytes, everything else is pretty simple once you memorize 50,000 facts.

But there’s always a place you can go to find the answers to your questions.

Not so, with learning FileMaker Pro.  There are reams of documentation, all sorts of bells and whistles of the program.  The problem is finding answers to the simplest of questions.

Pick up a “FileMaker 9 Developers Reference” and you’ll find all sorts of mention of values returned by functions. They never define just what a value is. “Ditto for FileMaker Pro 11 The Missing Manual”, value isn’t in the index, even though functions about them are.  Modern languages are very strongly typed — variable names must be declared and the program told what type it is — which type of numeric, text, function etc. etc.  The first few scripts I saw in this and other books had variables defined by “Let variable = something”.  About 150+ pages into one of these books (and “FileMaker Pro 10” by Cologon which I think is the best of the lot) do you learn that variables are brought into existence just by naming them.  Similarly, the way a given field in a table is addressed in a script was never stated explicitly in any of the books, just mentioned in passing in one of them.  Basically I had to read all 3 of these books sequentially to find what I wanted.  I still don’t have a list of key words in the language, nor do I know what characters can’t be used in an identifier.  Basically I picked it up the same way an infant learns language, — by observing usage.   It could have been much easier, if the stuff that “everybody knows” was made explicit at the start.   I’ve never been so frustrated trying to learn anything, and it’s not because the material is difficult.

Rant now over,  the next post will describe some of the incredibly complex and subtle ways that the product of a protein coding gene can have different outcomes depending . ..  I’ts of some philosophic interest because it shows how crucial (fairly simple) chemistry is to understanding what’s going on, and yet, on a higher level, inadequate or irrelevant.  Stay tuned (those of you who haven’t given up).  I can’t wait to get back to finishing Anslyn and Dougherty (and posting about it)


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