A Box of Rainbows and Unicorns

My wife and I had a long day, with a lot of items to complete on our agenda. We both wanted to exercise, take our daughter to play at the park, go to the supermarket, get new pillows at the shopping mall, fit in time to watch the 1st week of NFL football, all the while preparing food for dinner. Well we got the first 5 things done, however it was running late in the day so we decided to go out to dinner at the local chain restaurant. She ordered a veggie burger, I ordered the cheeseburger sliders, and my daughter ordered the kids grill cheese. We had a great dinner, the food came out hot, and the server was very attentive to our needs. He continually came to the table to ask us how the food was, fill up our drinks, and replenish our napkins. As we all know burgers and fries can get a little messy. The burgers at this establishment are pretty big, and after we were finished with them we were a bit on the fence about getting dessert.

As usual after the dinner portion ends, our server comes by and asks us if we would be interested in dessert. My wife had been walking our daughter around the restaurant to tire her out and saw a new dessert that wasn’t on the menu. It was one of her favorites an apple turnover with a heaping scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. So of course she asked the server, if he thought the apple turnover was any good. He paused for a second and said the single most hilarious comment I have ever heard while being waited on. He said that the apple turnover is the equivalent of a “Box full of Rainbows and Unicorns”, hence the title of my blog.

Obviously the imagery that was sparked by his comment, first had us doubled over laughing, but then created an ethereal response. We had to try it, and it was everything that he said it was, creamy, sweet, a bit tart, and scrumptious. When we gave some to our daughter her immediate reaction was a smile and the sound of her yelling hmmmmm!

So how does my great food escapade all tie in together with HPLC/UHPLC you might ask?

In early August, I tasked myself and my sales representatives with starting our ACE Excel 2um UHPLC column Beta program. The goal of the Beta program was to put these columns into influential chromatographer’s hands before the official launch date of October 1st. This way we can have a prequel of the column feedback to understand more about the columns practical application uses and to see head to head comparisons between these UHPLC columns and the market leaders UPLC/UHPLC columns. This prequel will help us in the future troubleshoot issues that may come up when introducing this new product to the market.

The data we got back was an overwhelming positive response. My initial impression as the sales manager left me with a question to answer. Maybe the new ACE Excel UHPLC columns are indeed a “Box full of Rainbows and Unicorns” like my Apple Turnover dessert? Could it be that these columns have addressed the shortcoming of the current market leader’s columns in a number of ways?

What the beta-testers told me was there were numerous advantages to these columns over the standard UPLC/UHPLC columns available on the market today. The ACE Excel columns have larger frit sizes (~2.0 um) then the standard 0.5 um frits used by UPLC/UHPLC columns, which has led to longer life times in head to head comparisons. These columns give lower back pressures which allow you to push the speed of the 2um Excel UHPLC columns faster then a sub-2um column of the same corresponding size because the analyst simply has more pressure to play with in the pumping system of their UPLC/UHPLC. These columns give you the same outstanding peak shape that the ACE HPLC column range is known for, and these columns are available in a number of orthoganol phases like the C18, C18-AR, C18-PFP, C8, AQ, C4, CN, and Phenyl. What more can a chromatographer as for?

Now I know I sound like a bit of a homer, however, I thought the comment made by our server the other night deserved some attention and the above is the best way I could tie it into my work scope without laughing too hard.

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Practice and Expect Great Things

I had been a casual treadmill runner for most of my life and always wanted to run in an outdoor race. So this past June, I signed up for my very first 10K race, which is a 10 kilometer long (or 6.2 miles) outdoor run. The 10K race would be held in August, giving me ample time to train beforehand. Admittedly, I felt that I was in the best of shape of my life (according to my treadmill times), and knew I could do it.

I vividly remember my first day training for my 10K. I drove to my old middle school, which stood atop of a big flat hill where many runners in my hometown like to run. I got out of my car, stretched my muscles, and walked around the track to warm up a bit. I wanted to see how well I could do on my first outdoor run, so I wore my new Nike+ SportBand to keep track of every run detail, including my time, distance, and pace. I felt pretty confident that this day was going to be a good day, and was eager to show off to my friends the results of my first run.

Unfortunately, this run was far from great – it was an absolutely disaster. Running outside was completely different than running on a treadmill, and I felt incredibly tired by the first mile. I ended up stopping once I finished my third mile, and remembered feeling completely exhausted, sore all over my body, but more importantly, bummed out I couldn’t run the full 10K.

While I felt defeated and could have just given up, to me, quitting was not an option. Instead, I developed a plan to train more and build up my endurance before race day. And as a consequence, I started to create weekly goals I wanted to achieve. I focused on progressively running more miles each week and simultaneously improve my average mile time, which all could be possible thanks to my Nike+ SportBand. After I devised this plan, I began to implement it as a part of my routine, working hard every week to surpass my expectations.

Though I had my own ups and down training in the subsequent weeks, this routine ultimately turned into a permanent habit. And soon, my endurance had finally picked up where I could comfortably run a full 10K. And little did I know that race day had finally arrived. But instead of feeling nervous or anxious, I felt mentally and physically prepared for the run, and was ready to rock-and-roll. So how did the race go? Well, not only did I successfully complete my very first 10K, but I also obtained my best personal time ever!

All my hard work paid off in the end, but it would not have been possible without practice. In life, we come across myriad obstacles, which in this case was my first failed attempt at running a 10K. But by making an effective plan and sticking with it, I was able to improve my endurance and speed by simply practicing it over and over again. Fortunately, it worked out for me, but the same concept applies whether you are getting ready to compete in a big game, preparing and rehearsing for an important speech, or even learning how to leverage selectivity for a new method you are trying out for the very first time.

We are destined to run into issues in whatever we do. However, I for one am a firm believer that with enough practice and preparation, expect great things to happen.

Any other similar success stories you’d like to share from practicing? Let me know by commenting below or sending me an e-mail at pcung@mac-mod.com. Don’t forget to check out other cool new ways to help improve (with practice!) your HPLC, too, by clicking here

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Selectivity in Isocratic and Gradient RPLC Separations, Part I

I’d like to take the opportunity to review and enumerate the various parameters that affect analyte selectivity (relative retention). The first four parameters have strong impact on selectivity, and the latter three have less effect, but they can sometimes be very important—especially for method robustness and ruggedness.

• Column stationary phase (C18, C8, Phenyl, Polar-embedded, Cyano, etc.)
• Organic modifier (ACN, MeOH, ACN/MeOH blend, etc.)
• Mobile phase pH (for ionizable compounds)
• % Organic modifier (gradient steepness for gradient mode)
• Column temperature
• Buffer choice (e.g., TFA, phosphate, formate, acetate, citrate, etc.)
• Buffer concentration/ionic strength

Modern method development strategies often include column phase screening as a first step, particularly when an impurity method or related substances method must be developed for a new or existing compound. Frequently, chromatographers will choose to compare as few as two to as many as eight columns with different, orthogonal selectivities. In addition, they will usually screen those columns with both of the more commonly used organic modifiers (acetonitrile and methanol), and they may also carry out those screening runs at several different pHs (for example, pH 2–3, pH 3–5, pH 6.5–7.5, etc.). Usually such screening runs are carried out in gradient mode, with a column geometry that is a compromise between resolving power and required gradient run time, to help minimize the total time used for screening all columns and conditions. Good choices for column geometries include 3.0 x 50 mm or 3.0 x 75 mm or the corresponding 4.6 mm ID sizes with 3-µm particle sizes.

Criteria such as the total number of peaks observed, peak tailing factors, resolution, retention time and peak order (for example, to choose conditions where a small peak elutes before the expected main component) are typically used to rank the various chromatograms produced from the column screening experiments described above.

Once one or more possible combinations of stationary phase, organic modifier, and pH have been selected, the next step in method development will be to assess what the impact of varying column temperature, the choice of buffer additive, and buffer concentration will have on the separation and its robustness.

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Customer Relations: A Web of Lies

Is closing the sale worth it at the expense of building a relationship with a customer? The answer is NO. There are two specific situations that come to mind where two completely different companies decided that it was more important to close their sale at my expense.

This year I turned 30 years old. Since it was such a momentous occasion my wife wanted to do something very special for me. She knows I am a huge comic book geek, so she purchased me two tickets to the Broadway show Spiderman: Turn off the Dark.

I was very excited to see this show. Two days after she pre-ordered the tickets, we received an email from the ticketing agency saying that this show may be delayed up to six weeks. Obviously, my wife was very disappointed, because she wanted to do something very special for me for my milestone birthday, where she set aside time, purchased a hotel room, and took off from work to make this specific day very special.

It turns out that the reason for the delay was because the show was still in previews and there was an accident where a cast member was seriously injured. Fortunately the cast member that was injured survived his fall.

But, this to me is an example of what not to do when conducting a business. There should have been some kind of notification from the company that runs the ticket office that stated clearly your show may be delayed due to extraneous circumstances that could not be predicted. They did eventually reschedule the show and it turned out to be a great weekend, but the fact that the ticketing office duped my wife into scheduling a show without any warning or notification that there could be an issue with the timing of the show has left a very bad taste in my mouth. Therefore I will never utilize this ticketing agency again for fear that I will not be treated right.

I recently moved closer to the Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania area. The reason for the move was to lessen my commute to work from 2 hours a trip to less than 30 minutes. Everything during the move could not have gone smoother, from hiring the movers to changing over our credit card bills. However, on August 6th I ordered phone, internet, and cable service for my new home. I called our major service provider and the sales representatives were happy to set me up with our new installation service time and date. At 12:00 AM the very same day this companies installation crew went on strike. I have been without cable or internet service for over three weeks now.

This is another example of how not to conduct business. Why didn’t the sales representative on the phone inform me that there was a possibility that the installation date could be postponed for sometime because of a strike? My guess is that upper management told their sales team to not tell prospective customers this information. Obviously, I would have signed up for their competitor’s service package.

This should not be how companies run their business. I believe that customers appreciate honesty even if it hits the bottom line. I want to make sure that all customers feel that I have taken an ethical approach with their inquiries.

It is very important that a customer believes that you are honest, because the best relationships are built on a foundation of trust. How can you trust someone that you know hasn’t been honest with you? Won’t you always in the back of your mind question what they say next? You can rest assured that I will be honest with you good, bad or indifferent. This way you will know that our relationship is not built on a web of lies

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Customer Service: Listen to What the Customer is Saying

A few weeks back, I finally said “yes” to a recommended software upgrade for my smart phone.  I naively assumed, that once updated, my phone would work better, even though I had no complaints about how it worked up until now.  Unfortunately, after the “upgrade”, the phone didn’t work at all.  Actually it did work, for maybe an hour before the battery drained.  Plus, I could no longer get my email.  I was in a panic.  There was no way I could exist without this device that six months prior, I didn’t even own.

Fortunately, there was a MacroMegaTelecom store near the office, so I drove there for a repair.  I told them my story of how the phone worked fine before the upgrade, but now the battery drained in less than an hour.  A sales person looked at my phone.  “Oh, here’s your problem, you’ve gotta close these apps.”  He pushed lots of buttons and handed my phone back.  “There ya’ go!”  I was so excited at the possibility that my phone was fixed, I didn’t even question his diagnosis, and sped back to the office.  The battery was dead before I sat down at my desk. 

The next morning, I returned to MacroMegaTelecom and this time talked to a different sales/service person.  “Oh, I see the problem.  You have to shut down your Bluetooth.”  More buttons were pushed.  Once again I left the store confident that my phone was fixed.  This time the battery lasted about two hours.  Definitely an improvement, but given that  practically every app was turned off, I could no longer call my phone “smart”. 

Now I’m mad.  Actually mad doesn’t describe what I am, but this is, after all, a public forum, so I won’t go there.  I returned to #@*&^% MacroMegaTelecom the next day prepared to take hostages if necessary.  I’d do anything to re-connect with the world.  I talked to yet a third tech and, once again, I was assured that the solution was at hand.  “I’m turning off your WiFi.  If the phone is constantly seeking a wireless network, it will drain the battery.”  “But my phone settings were the same as before the upgrade.  The problem is the upgrade” I said.  “You’ll be fine now,” and he sent me on my way. 

The fact is, I wasn’t fine.  My phone was still broken and I am not a happy camper.  The problem here was a failure to communicate.  I communicated my problem very well, emphasizing the fact that my phone was fully functional until I downloaded the upgrade.  The “problem solvers” only heard that I had short battery life and continued to “fix” my phone by making suggestions to extend the battery life.  What I knew, but what they failed to believe was that there was something seriously wrong with the phone. 

Sussessful problem resolution means listening carefully to what your customer is saying.  Solving customer problems is a fundamental tenet of any successful business.  One would not think so, however, based on my experience with MacroMegaTelecom.  This is a case where demand for the technology and lack of competition creates an attitude of arrogance where customers can be taken for granted.  That attitude will change as more competitors enter the field. 

BTW, in case you were wondering, my phone is fixed.  I finally called CENTCOM of MacroMegaTelecom and talked to a most excellent technician who actually listened to my problem.  She asked lots of questions and finally said “You downloaded a bug with that upgrade.”  YESSSSSSS!  I’m vindicated (and a happy camper).

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Is a triopoly bad for scientists who use chromatography?

A couple of weeks ago I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about duopoly. A duopoly is an oligopoly limited to essentially two competitors. John Nash, the Nobel laureate economist, studied duopolies and showed that two powerful competitors will often act in a way that seems like collusion to keep smaller competitors out and exert tight control over a market, to their mutual benefit. The focus of the Wall Street Journal article was on the duopoly in American politics, the Democrat and Republican parties. However, there are numerous examples of duopoly in business, such as Visa and MasterCard, Airbus and Boeing, FedEx and UPS, just to mention a few. Recently, concerns have been raised that AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile will lead to a duopoly in the wireless industry with AT&T and Verizon controlling the market as a duopoly. Critics are complaining to the FCC that less competition in the mobile phone marketplace will lead to higher prices, fewer choices and poorer customer service.

It occurred to me that a similar situation exists in our industry. In our case, however, it is a triopoly rather than a duopoly with Waters, Agilent and Phenomenex dominating the HPLC column market. The creation of this triopoly has been facilitated by large corporations, particularly Big Pharma, aggressively reducing the numbers of column suppliers they buy from and bestowing “preferred vendor” status on just a few suppliers.  Procurement departments at these large companies then collude with their “preferred vendors” to limit the HPLC column choices available to their scientists. This is all done to save their company money.

Procurement professionals that implement these “preferred vendor” policies don’t see any problem in limiting the choices of scientists. HPLC columns are just consumables like latex gloves and pipette tips, aren’t they? And, after all, large companies, like Waters and Agilent, are sure to have the highest quality products and offer cutting edge innovation, so procurement isn’t really impeding the scientist’s work by limiting their choices, are they?

I see it differently. Innovation is not limited to just a few large companies, and neither is product quality. When scientists are denied choice, their ability to innovate and produce their best work is impeded. Limiting choice may seem like a good idea to the people in procurement who use spreadsheet management to control costs, but it cheats the company out of fully leveraging its most valuable resource, its scientists.

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