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April 18, 2007
I have boxes and boxes of files here at home these days, the contents of my filing cabinets in my former office. Obviously, I heaved the proprietary stuff before I left, but I still have plenty of folders full of papers from the literature. Some of those went into the dumper as well, though, as I pulled them from the cabinets and realized how old they were. The biology-based folders were the main candidates - stuff on Alzheimer's from the early 1990s, for example. Old NMR manuals and such got the heave, too.
The chemistry files have held up better, although some older reviews went into the shredder. I still have the first real journal articles that I ever copied off, from my undergraduate days back in 1981. These were a series of articles from the late 1970s by two guys named Burfield and Smithers on the best ways to dry common solvents. They're looking a bit tattered these days, but the information in them is still valid.
And there's another old folder that I'll never throw out. It has my continuation exam material in it from grad school, and it looks like something made by a caveman. The bonds are drawn with pen, using a plastic template, and the atoms are the good old rub-on letters. You used to be able to buy sheets of those things from Aldrich - standard rub-on sheets didn't have the letters biased toward common atoms and tended to get used up too quickly. When you messed something up with the template, you either did the whole thing again, or used some correction fluid. When you messed up with the letters, you scraped them off with a razor blade. The whole process was much, much, closer to making gouges in a tablet of pressed buffalo dung and leaving it to dry in the sun than it is to using Chemdraw.
And that's why I'm keeping them. When I get frustrated with some device or technology, I try to remind myself of the days when a page of structure drawings involved Scotch tape, ball-point pens, and razor blades. I just barely overlapped with that era, but it was more than enough.
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