In an old post, Meghan asked “What is (or will be) your old school science cred?” The scientific thing you’ve done that, in future, will
make you seem really old connect you to a bygone era. Here, I want to ask a related question: what bit of your old school science cred do you miss most? What now-obselete technique, tool, or practice do you (secretly?) wish you could return to?
I had to think about this one for a bit, because there are plenty of things I don’t miss. I don’t miss physical slides and the associated slide carousels, for instance. I don’t miss printing out five copies of my ms and mailing them to the journal for consideration.
I miss physical hard copies of journals, mostly because I miss making notes in the margins of the papers I read. And I’m glad that I’m old enough to once have had a paper listed on the cover of Ecology. I know it sounds a bit silly, but I was proud of that. Once a journal goes online-only, it either stops having a cover, or else making the cover doesn’t feel special any more (at least, it doesn’t to me, your mileage may vary).
I kind of miss Statview, my go-to stats package as an undergraduate and graduate student. Yes, R is objectively better in various ways–much more versatile, better for reproducibility, etc. But for doing the simple exploratory and hypothesis-testing analyses appropriate to simple experimental designs, and producing the associated simple figures, Statview was really convenient. I now use Excel to do exploratory stuff I used to do in Statview, which is slower and worse. But the R Commander package is similar enough to Statview that I don’t miss Statview too much.
I also miss Mathcad, Mathematica’s competitor. Or rather, I thought I missed Mathcad, but while writing this post I was shocked to learn it still exists!* Mathcad
was is slower and less powerful than Mathematica, but much easier to learn. It had has a unique interface, like a computerized scratchpad. You could type any math you wanted, anywhere on the screen, in notation that looked like math (contrast Mathematica’s command line interface). You could also insert simple programs and various sorts of graphs. And you could drag your equations, graphs, etc. around the screen. When commanded, Mathcad would execute/evaluate everything you’d written, starting at the upper left and reading left to right and top to bottom. It was much more convenient than R for systems of ODEs, and it could also do symbolic math using the embedded version of Maple. R only does symbolic math kludgily.
*Mathcad was bought by PTC and then not updated for years and the support forums were shut down, so I assumed–apparently naively!–that Mathcad was on the way out. But no, it retains a market among engineers. Now that I know it still exists, I may have to buy it!