Tag Archives: Apple

Why Academic conferences need to change, and why Powerpoint is a dead technology walking

I’ve been travelling around Australia giving workshops to teachers about presentation skills as well as technologies and mental health. Few teachers have ever heard of Apple’s Keynote presentation software, as I discovered when many came up to me after my presentations to ask how I did what I did – the why was pretty obvious!

I’ve also in the meantime been asked to become part of my professional society’s organising committee for its 50th anniversary conference in Queensland in 2015. I was part of the organising conference for its 25th anniversary where I was much involved in both the social program as well as the media coverage.

I think this time around my involvement will be concerned with social media, something that didn’t exist as we know it now all those years ago.

So with this in mind, I was delighted to see in my Zite feed today a blog post from a professor of Sociology, Steven Fuller, now at Warrick University in the UK.

Here is its title, and link:

Six principles for organising academic conferences in the 21st century

When I read the blog entry, I tweeted, “Halleluya, Brother”, so happy was I to see someone who also wished changes for academic conferences.

You can read the bulk of them at Fuller’s blog, but let me highlight (with the author’s permission) his first thee principles for presenters:

1. A conference is a distinct channel – perhaps even genre – of academic communication. It is not a watered-down or zombie version of the academic print culture. It requires its own ‘peer review’ standards that do not simply trade on the conventions of academic writing. Thus, instead of abstracts, prospective presenters should send video clips of 1-3 minutes that convey what will be said and how it will be said.

2. Presenters should be strongly discouraged from reading their presentations. More generally, presenters should be forced to make a special case for presenting material that is already available in print. The norm for conference presentations should be new material – unless a presenter hails from a field with which conference members are unlikely to be familiar.

3. Presentations heavily reliant on Powerpoint should be gathered thematically into what are essentially high-tech poster sessions rather than be given stand-alone speaker slots. This may mean that a larger percentage of the space in the conference facility is given over to such sessions. Indeed, organizers may wish to consider that the explicitness of many Powerpoint presentations render the human presenter redundant. Thus, interested conference goers may simply be directed to a computer terminal where all the Powerpoint-based presentations are loaded, perhaps with recorded voice-overs from the absent presenters.

I like these sentiments – a lot!

Fuller clearly understands that academic conferences need to change, and how presenters are selected and expected to present is different from that which pervades conferences now, based almost exclusively on the same principles as for paper publications.

He recognises that conferences are not the place for the regurgitation of printed articles, but are a meeting place of ideas, and where presentations to large groups need to be exceptional.

Along the same lines, today I also continued to read an eBook by Clive Thompson, called Smarter than you think: How Technology is changing our minds for the better.

It neatly follows my lectures to teachers this past month where I have described the history of moral panics down the centuries when new technologies have been introduced. Whether it be the loss of jobs or whole industries, our brains are changing, “knowledge is power” struggles, or issues of privacy, how we change technology and how technology changes us is an important ongoing discussion we need to be having.

Certainly, technologies like Powerpoint and Keynote and Prezi are changing how we distribute knowledge, and readers of this blog will be aware of my beliefs that it’s not all positive, especially in the case of Powerpoint. While many still follow the meme that Powerpoint is merely a tool badly used by too many, I fall into the camp that it is a very poor tool to begin with for knowledge distribution, especially in an age which is demanding far more audio-visual literacy, as Thompson points out.

A few choice quotes from the book:

thompson ppt

and

tompsonppt2

I don’t know that I need to place to much context around these quotes about Powerpoint – the astute reader will get the picture. It’s one of the things I have been banging on about consistently in my presentation magic workshops for those who attend: that the world of knowledge transfer, sharing and engagement is undergoing a radical shift and the usual means – i.e., traditional and socially normed – will no longer cut it as the 21st Century progresses.

Using software merely as an advanced overhead projector system – for which Powerpoint was originally developed for the Macintosh in the mid-1980s is a dead technology walking, no matter how you spruce it up, as we’re about to see when the next version for Windows is released soon.

The next generation of learners, employing their iPads in school, will be using Keynote or equivalents available on the iPad since 2010, with Powerpoint on the iPad mainly used by those currently in industry compelled to use the desktop version and needing some sort of tablet parity mobility.

But may I suggest, a whole generation of young people will never use Powerpoint. Kind of makes a mockery of all the educational administrators all those years ago who insisted their schools standardise on Microsoft products like Word and Powerpoint because “that’s what the kids will be using when they enter the workforce in ten years”.

Yeah, right!

 

 

 

 

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Keynote presentation power users: Don’t upgrade to Keynote 6 until you’ve read my experiences with the new version. You’ll save yourself much grief. (The news is not all bad).

It’s now been a few days since the October Apple keynote announcing new products and services. Much to many Keynote presentation software users’ initial delight, Keynote 6 was announced, almost five years after the last significant update.

I write “initial” because for many, to judge from Apple’s own discussion support groups, and others on Yahoo, this update feels retrograde, with too many existing elements cast out, and insufficient hoped-for new features added.

Indeed, some expected they could open their existing and in some cases very complex Keynote 5 files and expect them to somehow be transformed magically into something ethereal. Or at least just work.

I did this too, only to watch a shopping list roll down before my eyes, of missing builds replaced by a default “dissolve”, missing transitions – ditto – and missing fonts.

This of course was the same experience I “enjoyed” when I opened Keynote on the iPad the first time in July, 2010, again with the hope of full compatibility.

When that didn’t happen, and another year went by with no upgrade to Keynote (but numerous updates to the iOS version), Apple’s intentions for iWork became clear.

So, before you go installing iWork – actually the three apps that used to be referred to as iWork – please bear the following thoughts I have previously cast on this blog in mind. And then I’ll make some recommendations. Don’t rush in – I did before the free update for iWork DVD installed apps actually became free (it took about 24 hours after the October keynote), and paid $40 for Pages 5 and Keynote 6.

On this blog, I have suggested, not based on insider knowledge, but a long time user and observer, that Keynote 5 would not receive an update until there could be parity between iOS and Mac OS versions.

With the A7 chip and Mavericks, and the maturing of the “iWork in the cloud” beta,  that has come about. It’s a distinct poke in the eye to Microsoft and we long term power users of Keynote are the poker. We have been sacrificed on the alter of “progress”, parity, and another nail in the Microsoft hegemony/monopoly/”we control the vertical – we control the horizontal” – attitude to the consumer.

But I also predicted much gnashing of teeth from said Keynote users would parallel our colleagues in the Final Cut Pro sector who had hoped for further evolution of their professional “It pays the bills” software, only to be rendered (ahem!) Final Cut X. For some it felt as if an iMovie Pro had been thrown at them: They were insulted as power users. The same can be now said to be happening to Keynote power users, who’ve been with the program for a decade.

Many in the Final Cut Pro world of course left for seemingly greener grass and the open arms of Adobe and Avid, who facilitated this unexpected gift from the gods. But those who stayed with the Apple program have apparently received their reward as FCP X has matured, and now we see it matched to the Mac Pro. One can reason with some predictability that the same  iterative process will happen with Keynote given how well it had been selling on both desktop and iOS devices, and especially for the latter, the generation of schoolchildren with iPads who will never touch Powerpoint.

For now, I am following my own advice:

1. Install KN 6 (and Pages 5) on the Mavericks partition on my Macbook Air (Haswell). Do not install on the Mountain Lion/Keynote 5 partition. KN6 does not work under ML. (I have a developer license for Mavericks). Make sure your Time Machine has been put to good use.

2. Duplicate mission critical keynote files and transfer them to the Mavericks partition, and convert them to KN6 and see the tragedy that unfolds…. dissolve, dissolve, dissolve…

2a. IMPORTANT:  If you have installed Mavericks on a single partition  and now have KN6 and KN5 on the same hard drive as your KN5 files, don’t double click these files to work on them. They will open in KN6, which will try to convert them. If you want to work on them in KN5, rather than play in KN6, first open KN5 then either use the “Open…” menu item or drag the files you wish to use onto the KN5 icon in the dock.

Mavericks sees KN6 as the default for ALL Keynote files. You’ve been warned.

3. See if some of my proudest achievements in Keynote can be fixed in KN 6 (e.g. shaking book) or at least repaired or even improved; hey, you never know. (Have Kleenex tissue at the ready). Update: there are improvements to be made, and even less clicking in some cases. I will post later how I fixed and improved the Shaking book effect. I do believe Apple was inspired by it via the inclusion of a new “jiggle” effect, as well as a new “pulse” build.

4. Explore which of my third party KN stuff, from developers like Jumsoft, etc., remain compatible, including motion background themes (QT looping) movies. Monitor their websites for signs of life.

UPDATE: Sadly for now, Quicktime movies with transparent backgrounds which I like to use a lot are currently broken. Much unhappiness in the 3rd party add-on industry over this. For many,  this will mean staying with Keynote 5 not just to keep doing what they’ve been doing, but even for creating new presentations from scratch. If you open these same files with their transparent QT movies in KN5 in Mavericks, they work. Below, an example of a beating heart from Jumsoft, and what happens in KN6.

5. Check out how my helper apps may have been affected, e.g. Doceri for annotating slides, and whiteboarding in Keynote. UPDATE: Doceri is fine – phew! OTOH, Animationist with its beautiful titling effects, will suffer for the same reasons as listed in 4., above: transparency loss.

6. Keep reading blogs and Apple discussion lists for hidden gems (yeah, right! Much gnashing of teeth currently. Most major websites such as Ars Technica, iMore, CNet currently all carry mainly strongly negative “what were they thinking/smoking” jibes at Apple’s iWork engineering team.

7. Watch for KN 6.0.1 to address some of the shortcomings, bugs, etc. This has got to be a long term process and will surely test many long term users resolve. Prezi will welcome them, some will return to the bosom of Powerpoint (“The herd may stink, but at least it’s warm”) while some like me will divvy the work between KN5 and KN6 in the short term.

8. Stick with my day job as a clinical psychologist, and presentation skills trainer where even current KN on the iPad is better than how most use Powerpoint on the desktop – seriously. That’s not to say Powerpoint on Windows doesn’t have a hugely impressive feature set – it does. But 95% of presentation only ever use 5% of its capabilities – in other words, dull, or replete with the most awful “art text”.

9. My guidance to you: If you’re doing mission critical presenting right now, stay with KN 5 even on Mavericks. Only if you’re starting a new project from scratch, or have the time and energy to update your older files to KN6 (and learn what repairs you’ll need to do), do you employ KN6.

10. There are some immediate disappointments. I am unhappy to lose the Fall transition; the lack of a timeline for precision build timings appalls; while item grouping has improved (more on this in a later blog article), multiple grouped items are all still named “Group”, making it difficult to navigate busy files with numerous groups needing to be layered. Smart builds, like those rotating turntables and object swapping has been dropped. The Keynote engineering team were always disappointed in their take-up, even though they had a huge splash when Steve Jobs first showed us the iPhone. Remember the spinning elements: “It’s an iPod; it’s a phone; it’s an internet communicator – are you getting it yet?”,  created with Smart Builds.

UPDATE: The loss of hyperlinking within a KN file, and between KN files is for me, a serious one. It will change some of my conceptualisation of knowledge transfer, and my attempts to be more immediate and less linear in my teaching.

One must remember that KN1 initially did not have hyperlinking, and it made its first appearance many years later. It’s not the most used of its features to judge from Keynote workshops I have conducted; of course, after I showed what it could do in terms of audience engagement, I’m sure many explored it further. I do expect it to return in a KN6 update.

FURTHER UPDATE: It’s there in KN6. But buried. I am working on a new blog article about it.

11. Slide editing of Quicktime movies remains the same: Imprecise, and only one “In” and “Out” point for each movie. I would have hoped how movies can be edited on the iPhone might have made its way into Keynote, but it will surely come later.

So, in summary, it’s not the gee whiz, pull out all the stops, show us what you can really do Apple upgrade starved Keynote artists had been hoping for after five years. Our imaginations filled the void, ignoring where Apple is making its money, with iOS devices.

But now that we see a road ahead, powered by A7 chips in iOS devices which will no longer be referred to as toys, or media consumption devices (go back and rewatch the Apple video showing the diversity of iPad uses which starts with the wind energy generators), these content creation devices will drive Keynote further.

There may be a surprise awaiting us with a Keynote Pro with a look and feel of Apple’s Pro software like Final Cut X and Aperture (we can dream), but for now there is a workflow for power users, and that is to keep doing what you’re doing with Keynote 5, and find the time to play with Keynote 6 and become curious and explorative. There are some hidden surprises I will blog about soon.

Hoping to see new Apple products announced Monday? Well, there’s a legion of Apple’s Keynote presentation software users who’ll be hoping to see evidence of a major update

It’s that time of the year again.

The time of the year when expectations for new Apple products and services reaches a fever pitch. This year it’s especially intense because expectations seem to be so high following a very long time between drinks. The drinks in this case being Apple’s entry into a new product field where, as it has on memorable occasions in the last ten years, allegedly mature technology domains are ripe for disruption – only they don’t know it yet.

Recently, the “pundocracy” have been alleging that with Tim Cook at the helm, Apple’s streak of innovations have come to an end. The Samsung range of cellphones, especially the S4 has been cited as an exemplar of Apple being left in the innovation dustbin. Mooted devices such as an iWatch and AppleTV – not the current box, but a real screen device – have not realised, and this has only added to the frustration of Apple watchers and investors.

So this Monday (Tuesday in Australia), many will be observing Apple’s offerings, some superficially so, eager to get their hands on newly announced products and services. A heady proportion will be announced for release that day or week, others for later in the year, since this is after all a developers’ conference for the purpose of showing new software with plenty of lead time for a developers to release their wares in September or October.

But there will be a group who will look beyond the products on show, at those Apple crew and guests making their demos and announcements. They’ll be looking not at what Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and maybe Jony Ive announce, but at how they make their announcements.

Since 2003, Apple has used its keynotes to secretly demonstrate new software for those who looked closely enough. Starting that year, when Steve Jobs spoke of being a beta tester for Keynote, Apple’s presentation software which was designed to take on Microsoft’s Powerpoint, Apple has shown advanced editions of Keynote as the tool to show new official products. Powerpoint itself had been Microsoft’s first software purchase (apart from the initial Desk Operating System from Seattle Computer Products for use in IBM PCs), intended for the Mac Plus/SE to make black and white overhead slides – foils – using new Laserwriters. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 a five year deal was struck with Bill Gates to have MS Office for the Mac continue in production, with Internet Explorer becoming the de facto web browser for the Macintosh.

It’s not surprising then that the same year Keynote was released, Apple’s own browser was released too, in the form of Safari. And it was ten years ago, at the same Macworld at Moscone where Monday’s keynote will be held, that Apple introduced 17″ and 12″ Powerbooks. And it was there that Apple told all those who would listen that a post-PC world was on the horizon, with predictions that laptops would soon outsell desktops, much like tablets will soon outsell laptops, leaving desktops to do the truck-like heavy lifting, such as scientific number crunching, animation rendering and the like.

In the ten years since Keynote 1.0 was released, Apple has added new software to rival Office, such as Numbers (Excel) and Pages (Word), and brought those same OS X apps to the iPad in iOS form. The introduction of iCloud was meant to provide synchronisation between the platforms in the same way one can with Evernote, and it’s hoped that WWDC on Monday brings major improvements and developments in cloud computing from Apple.

There have also been incremental updates to Keynote along the way, bringing it from a functional but anaemic software which was hardly a match feature-wise for Powerpoint 2003, to an outstanding platform for helping transform a presenter’s implicit knowledge into a format to help transfer that knowledge to others.

Powerpoint 2010/11 has transformed itself too and on superficial inspection looks a lot like Keynote. Power users can make it do great things, but for a ten year veteran of Keynote like myself who coaches others in presentation skills across both platforms, Powerpoint for all its features remains clunky and Keynote easy on the eye and the hand.

That said, Apple has treated Keynote with seeming disdain, last updating it with any significant feature improvement in 2009. I have it on reasonable authority that in the time since that last official update, Apple was preparing to release a significant update, but pulled back at the last minute. Keen observers of Apple’s keynotes, such as WWDC, will occasionally report feeling as if there was a glitch or oversight in the narrative, as if there was a last moment change. Perhaps because a product didn’t meet quality standards or deals weren’t signed in time.

In the case of Keynote, Apple’s unexpected success with the iPad, and then the development of iBooks, has seen resources thrown at iWork for the iPad, much as we have heard stories of the OS X team being diluted to provide crew for iOS 7, which many commentators have asserted needs an “urgent” facelift.

Thus, keen eyes will be observing this week to see if Apple either hints at an iWork update via new features on display in Keynote (to tell Apple’s story of new services and products), or perhaps a section devoted directly to iWork updates, perhaps with the inclusion of a new software to the suite.

Why an update to Keynote feature set urgently needed

In the fours and a half years since Keynote’s last sprucing up, much has occurred in the world of presenting, leaving aside Powerpoint’s updates.

We have new platforms such as Prezi, an effort to move away from the linearity of the standard slide show paradigm.

We have online services such as Slideshare, and Presentate. And we also have iPad based iOS apps for specialist analysis, such as performed by Asymco’s Horace Dediu in the form of the free Perspective app.

But in the years after 2009, there has been another disruptive technology introduced which I fear Apple has neglected, worth billions, which it can now be a part of… and that is MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses which are seeing colleges and universities scrambling to adapt to, including developing their own. Apple provides a conduit for courses too, using its iTunes U app and services.

There is also a massive swing to online continuing education within industries, professions and vocations, where the old linearity and style of Powerpoint simply won’t cut it anymore.

That style, which I personally have always thought was incredibly overused and abusive of students in tertiary settings, much less business meetings (you know, all text and pixelated images), will simply not cut it for either MOOCs or Continuing Education.

Those online trainings, where individuals work through a series of modules at their own pace – but which need to be passed at a certain level of competence before moving to the next – require high levels of quality multimedia production to maintain viewer engagement. There is a great deal of competition for attention on both the screen and in their pockets via smartphone distractions.

I’ve already seen one business-oriented training course, for which I used Keynote to create the visuals, change midstream from a “stand and deliver” live course, to an online course, with minimal changes to the Keynote files, since they weren’t the usual Powerpoint in the first place.

You can see some demos at the site, http://workmindset.com, and the voiceover is my work as well (yeah, multi-talented, huh?).

Here’s where an opportunity exists for Apple to become disruptive in another game, one worth billions. To do what I did with the online learning program, I had to go outside Keynote’s limitations, something its users have learnt to do since version 1.0.

I had to use two screenshot apps, Voila for stills and Screenflow for movies, as well as third parties for images and movies requiring payment of royalties. I also incorporated animated backgrounds featuring professional looping Quicktime movies to bring some “energy” onto certain slides, as well as themes from third parties which better suited my purposes than Keynote’s default themes.

I had to be inventive with callouts, where certain areas of the slide were highlighted and other areas backgrounded since there is no laser pointer to show the way (ugh!). And I had to use Screenflow to record quite complex builds where I needed exquisite timing of visuals and sounds which Keynote could not provide with sufficient precision, showing in glaring spotlight its major deficiency with respect to a timeline. We see these in all manner of Apple software from Garageband, through iMovie, onto Motion and Final Cut X.

The last two also incorporate third party modules to enhance their capabilities and the reader is referred to Noise Industries‘ FxFactory for examples which could find their way into a Keynote Pro should it adopt such a modular system. While it’s nice to see a supporting ecosystem of themes, images and movies for Keynote, none so far add to the workflow the way FxFactory and its ilk bring extra competencies to Final Cut X or Motion. Indeed, some have remarked to me that a Keynote Pro would see a merging of the simplicity and ease of use of Keynote with the professional capabilities of Motion.

I want to make a reference to two more third party applications and resources which I am exploiting more often, especially to improve upon Keynote’s text and graphic effects. The first is an application from Synium, called Animationist which allows wonderful moving and changing text, exported as masked Quicktime movies. Only in version 1, the sooner Apple buys this and brings it into Keynote the better. When you download the demo, note its ease of use of a timeline. Here’s a YouTube video to tempt you with:

The second is a bespoke service from India which I discovered via a Google search when I was under time pressure and needed some ready-made visuals, rather than creating them from scratch. It’s an Indian company called Chillibreeze, and their Keynote service is called Muezart. I found them delightful people to do business with. I needed a way to show change over time, moving from low level abilities to high.

Here’s the “tachometer” effect I ended up with ($4.99), for the launch of the workmindset.com program last week (wait until the very end to see all the components in the tachometer I purchased):

In Conclusion:

So come Monday, there will be a legion of Keynote users who will once more look past the content of the keynote (although we will no doubt be very interested in what’s on show) to look at the process of Keynote.

Will we see at long last an update and will we hear of new products and services Apple will be releasing to disrupt yet another billion dollar marketplace ripe for the picking?

PayPal Here, a card reader and app for taking payment on your iPhone or iPad finally comes to Australia, getting in before Square and Apple’s likely credit card system.

Some time back, I introduced a video from Square in my “IT for Psychologists” workshops which I offer in Australia. At the time, Square was just beyond being a startup.

Square offered a small hardware device which plugged into your iPhone headphone jack and communicated with its own app so you could accept credit card payments. The Square card reader “swiped” the card, and the money would soon enough be transferred to your nominated bank account.

The video still excites many of my colleagues even though it was made several years ago, and it’s yet to be made available in Australia. It’s been reported that Square has since enjoyed an investment from VISA after initial warnings of “security issues” from Verifone, a maker of card readers More recently, Square has expanded its wares to purposely include iPad-expanded abilities for point-of-sale businesses.

There has been talk of Square coming to Australia, where many psychologists use those old bank-leased card readers, which usually means you also need to have a landline, or a more expensive 3G model. Some like to use it because one bank has arrangements with Australia’s Medicare national medical health scheme, allowing payments to be made directly into the psychologist’s nominated account.

But for the many solo psychologists who work in multiple locations, these solutions are not particularly cost-effective, since one pays a monthly fee for the lease, as well as a percentage per transaction, a 30c fee, and other ancillary set-ups fees.

It’s essentially a monopoly situation, which I have rejected in my own practice.

For those who want to pay me by credit card, they receive ahead of their appointment, advice that credit card payments can be made via PayPal, with a surcharge of $5 to cover the fees I am charged (a little under 3%). This keeps the banks in their place.

The other electronic alternative (cash is certainly accepted; cheques are a dying monetary exchange system in Australia) is direct debit, where the patient can make an online payment from their bank account. Neither they nor I receive any costs for this transaction. For that reason, I have the apps of the most popular banks installed on my iPad, so patients can either pay at the end of the session using my iPad, or pay at home or their office. Many now use their own iPhone during the session to make their payment. Once they use my bank details, websites usually keep me as a preferred payee and those details don’t need to be entered a second time.

The case for an iPhone or iPad enabled payment system is a no-brainer. One wonders, what with the Samsung vs Apple trial currently under way, if Apple ever thought its iDevices would be used this way. After all, even in its own Apple Stores it formerly used Windows CE-based portable card scanning devices.

These were replaced, perhaps with a big sigh of relief, with iPod touch units and an EasyPay system, as its called. At left, is an Apple Store employee in Perth, Western Australia using one when I visited in June 2012.

The units incorporate both a card reader and a bar scan reader and after taking your money, a receipt will be emailed to your nominated address. If you’ve purchased before, your details will quickly come up from the server and speed up the process.

More so, you can now use an EasyPay app on your own iPhone to make your purchase without even sighting an Apple Store employee!

Apple’s modded iPod Touch showing the bard card reader in action, purchasing an AppleTV remote

Apple EasyPay app at work in the Apple Store

Returning momentarily to Square, some have mooted it might make an excellent acquisition for Apple, as reported in the New York Times recently, above.

What makes the NYT report incorrect is its report that the Square service is “a unique electronic payment service through iPhones and iPads”.

There are several competitors, not all of whom use a card reader. One is ICCPay, which I also mention in my IT workshops, below (Shame on the NYT for not doing its homework).

The app needs to be used with a gateway linked to banks, and for some people these extra steps may prove to be a hurdle.

With the next iPhone not very far away, others have suggested Apple has its own plans for an iPhone based payment system, using Near Field Communications (NFC). With iOS6 coming with a coupon and ticket app called Passbook, it may also be the case that Apple will later allow iPhones to act as credit card terminals, perhaps utilising technologies from its Apple Store EasyPay setup.

While all this is in the not-to-distant future, Australian and US iDevice owners have another system just coming onto the market from PayPal, called PayPal Here. Below, the US website announcing its availability.

The Australian PayPal site shows a “Notify me when it’s ready” sign but some time back when it was first mooted coming to Australia, I applied to go on PayPal’s waiting list. This was back in April. In recent weeks, I was notified things were on the move. Last week , apparently in preparation, my PayPal account was suspended, pending receipt of documents pertaining to security questions, including if I was at all politically connected to anyone in the public eye. Seriously. I had to fax or email documents containing my photo ID and birthdate, as well as documents showing my name and current address, such as a utility bill. I used my US Passport business VISA for the former.

This was accepted eventually, and I was in business, even though the small triangular card reader was yet to arrive. The free app was available to be used however. Doing this has drawbacks, though.

1. Entering card data manually, with a purchaser’s finger signature and three digit CVV, attracts a higher % commission (about 3%), and

2. It takes 21 days to clear into your PayPal account, plus a few more after that to go into your nominated bank account.

Fortunately, my card reader arrived by courier yesterday, after being notified by PayPal Australia to expect it in 3-5 business days. It actually came just a day or two after that email, with its courier tracking details.

Here’s what the container box looks like:

The box includes an adhesive label you can place at your business entrance

Here’s the physical unite – it measures in imperial terms, 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 2″ approx

Here are a number of shots I took with my iPhone showing the boxing of the unit. This might not quite match the unboxing of a new Mac, but still….

It’s nicely done, complete with the adhesive label to place on your front door, and PayPal’s local support number. I haven’t tried to reach support yet, but would think that anyone trying to compare various payment systems ought to incorporate a comparison of support parameters, such as time spent waiting, quality of answers, followup, etc.

Using the unit requires you to download the free PayPal Here app from the App store. It is set for the iPhone, but will happily expand to 2x appearance on the iPad without much pixelation.

There can be a problem with iPhones with cases which make full insertion of the card reader difficult which I have already discovered with certain cables.

The card reader, unlike the Square unit, contains a triangular cover which partially rotates and “grabs” the iPhone preventing the unit from swivelling. Again, with a thick iPhone case, this feature just gets in the way. I have  swivelled the unit, and held it for a successful card swipe, but clearly if one is to use it frequently, it might require the temporary removal of the case.

The app., by the way, allows you to practise swiping without incurring fees, and as a way to test the functionality of the card reader.

Let’s now go look at the app itself, which has a number of interesting features.

The first is the “Open for Business” screen, above,  which connects you to PayPal to show balances, as as well the means to input items and information about your business.

There are a variety of settings, above, where you can list your inventory and give each item a sale price, and keep a running total of items being purchased. It night be useful for a bar or restaurant,  for instance, collecting table orders.

Each item can have its own amount and description, above, quite useful for those working garage sales or fleamarket transactions.

The app also includes a handy calculator, above,  to keep a running total going…

The app also includes the option, above, of putting in your business information, including either your mapped place of business and/or your correspondence address, as in a post box.

There is also the opportunity to track sales figures, both past and pending, above.

Items sold may include not just physical goods, but services too which can be itemised. There is also for goods, an area to display a picture of the item next to its description and cost. The picture can be imported from the Photo app, as you can see, below.

The option to take a picture on the fly could turn out to be very useful in some circumstances. There also exists the option, like Apple’s EasyPay system, of emailing a receipt to the purchaser. Handy to develop a marketing list of email addresses…

There are some questions that remain however.

Will the card reader work with all cards, and what of worn cards? How well will it work with the next iPhone, if rumours of its headphone jack heading south to the bottom of the unit prove to be true? And what is its future should Apple release its own credit card system in the near future?

The beauty of the PayPal system is the small size and thus portability of the reader, the data safety via encryption offered standard by PayPal, the well thought out version 1 of its app, and the public’s general awareness of the PayPal brand.

It’s also relatively easy to use and navigate through the various app screens, and the costs are very good when compared to what’s already out there. While it’s currently limited to VISA and Mastercard credit and debit cards, the lack of AMEX and Discover might be a concern for some. Mind you, I can’t recall the last time a patient tried to pay for a session with AMEX.

I’ll  update this blog entry once I start to make some “sales” with the unit, and report back on its actual usefulness.

The vacuum left in presenting on things technology now that Steve Jobs has gone. Can All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher fill the gap? Um, er, No.

My preparations for Macworld 2012 are well and truly underway with flights booked, special guests invited, prizes being organised for attendees and reviewing my syllabus.

One of the things I’ve been doing in Presentation Magic workshops in 2011 is showing presentations by others and asking attendees to offer up a critical analysis of what they’re witnessing, based on the presentation principles so far addressed.

One of the primary sources for high quality presentations across a variety of styles and subjects has been the official TED website. Here, we’ve seen an increasing professionalism in the quality of both slides and presentation. Even Bill Gates has shown vast improvement.

Less so, but no less instructive, is the TEDx satellite circuit, where organisers can license the TED brand according to some very strict rules. Here, the quality control is much more varied, and occasionally one gets the feeling favours are offered to speakers by organisers. That was certainly my experience at the TEDx I attended in Canberra a few years back where I scratched my head at the inclusion of one or two speakers. Their presentations were poor, and seemed not to fit the theme of the day.

Moreover, the organisers had not thought to offer a vanity or confidence monitor for speakers, who continually turned their backs to the audience to view the screen behind them, some reading off their displayed slides. My tweets were very critical of the presentation style of some presenters.

This week, while on the lookout for more presentations to showcase at Macworld, I located the TedX BayArea Global Women Entrepreneurs event.

I was actually doing my usual search for all things Apple, when I located a talk at the event which mentioned Apple, by well known tech journalist, Kara Swisher.

I was aware of Kara’s work from her interviews with Steve Jobs, as well as her authoring a book quite a few years ago on the rise and fall of AOL, in which Apple had played a small part (if you recall eWorld).

Her talk was entitled, More, and on her blog called BoomTown, which is an RSS feed I see each day, this is how she had described it:

I recalled that Kara had been indisposed for the All Things Digital event in Hong Kong recently where she had planned to share the stage with co-host Walt Mossberg. And I was aware she’d suffered a stroke. Her speech description intrigued me so I was prepared to sit back and watch her for the standard 18 minute Tedx Talk.

Here is the speech below, from the YouTube site. Watch all of it before you come back, or just the first five minutes and make a mental note of your emotional response to what you witness.

What did you notice?

For me, there were several things that felt like the proverbial fingernails down the blackboard sensation.

1. Did she start her speech by dissing her host for mispronouncing her name? Did this set the tone for a rather snarky speech that followed? There seems to be no one safe from her sarcasm: United Airlines, Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch (her employer) to name a few.

2. Kara was placed between two screens showing her slides and spend about 80% of her time looking at the screens, and not at the audience. Even when the slides were no longer relevant to the story she was telling.

3. Within fourteen seconds, the thing that most got in the way of her presentation made its presence felt: “Um”. There were other connectors too, such as “Er” and “you know” but these did not grate on me nearly as much as the incessant river of “Ums”.

Now these might go right under your attention radar because the content of the speech is riveting and engaging for you. But for me nowadays, I attend to both process and content. Not just what is being said, but how are the ideas being conveyed?

In Kara’s case,  I appreciated her attempts at sarcasm and the occasional self-depracating dig and had a laugh too. But there is a quantum of hubris in this speech which is unattractive and disengaging, not helped by the torrent of Ums.

Curiously, in her blog writeup of the speech she actually refers to her ums, viz:

“…women in tech, and, um, sparkly vampires.” (see screenshot, above).

So I decided to see what her talk would be like without the “ums” included, but leaving in other connectors and pauses. I imported the video downloaded from Firefox into iMovie and edited out all the ums. In a moment I’ll reveal how many there were in her 20″ speech.

You can see the results below, and do note that the video does jump about a little, so if this bothers you, just look away and listen, and ask if her speech flows better without the ums.

But the fun discovery was what I did with the edited elements. Sometime ago, I had work led on a Keynote project where we had to include a sound file of an interview. It was recorded in Garageband, and it was in there that I edited out long pauses, “you knows”, “ums” and long breaths to give the podcast some polish.

It sounded so much better and professional, smooth and flowing.

So in Kara’s case, I look all the out taken “ums” and put them together in chronological order. The resultant movie file is below, and I’ve topped and tailed it with the intro and finish elements. What’s astounding is both the number of “ums” and how much time they take up out of an 18″ speech (actually it was more like 20″).

So, how many “ums” were there? Watch the video below, and I’ll give you the number below it.

If you can be bothered counting, there are about 96 Ums which fully take up a minute of her allotted time. That’s 6% of her total speech in connectors.

A little analysis

There are many ways to think about these utterances. Rarely do they add to the comprehensibility of the speech. For a few of them, they are cues for the audience to laugh: “Hey, I’ve said something funny – this is where you laugh.” It allows the audience to take a moment to digest what’s just been said before Kara moves on. Stage actors in rehearsal without an audience need to know from the director sometimes when to pause when the audience is expected to laugh, otherwise the next funny line goes unheard.

Jack Benny would merely pause and look at the audience for it to be their cue to laugh.

Other shows of course employ a laugh track to goad us into enjoying the performances. And many other comedians have found their own way, from the raising of an eyebrow, or the curve of a lip, to let you know it’s OK to laugh at this point.

However, in Kara’s case there are less than a handful of these. Most of the ums are signatures of other less redeeming aspects of a presentation.

To my eyes and ears, these other ums and other connectors like “er” and “you know” are signs of under-preparedness, too little rehearsal, anxiety, and attempts to wing it, possibly in the belief that the spontaneous retelling of her story will suffice.

Let me be straight with you. I don’t rehearse all eight hours of my Presentation Magic workshops. I do rehearse each of the slides and how best to use it to tell my story. I don’t write the lines out, nor add them to my slides in Keynote’s presentation mode. Rather, every so often I’ll use the Post-It note style comment icon to remind me of the movie that’s coming next, or a factoid that I’ve forgotten on a previous occasion. But I don’t memorise every word. I simply rehearse – lots.

In a TED talk however, you’ve only got 18″ minutes to make your story count, no matter how famous you are. You need to be rehearsed and unless you’ve really got vast experience winging it, like a stage comedian dealing with hecklers, you’re better not hoping for the best on the day.

Kara’s “um’s”, snarkiness and her leaving her essential message right to the very end – it’s OK to work to your own schedule even if you’re ill  - requires her to use Steve Jobs to provide ultimate evidence of her belief. He arguably produced his most influential and lasting creations while fighting cancer, so anything’s possible if you apply yourself.

I tweeted Kara to say I had watched her speech but her “ums” needed some work, to which she replied shortly afterwards,  “forest, trees”. Our next tweets ended up with her reinforcing her point I simply didn’t understand her speech, and ultimately would never “get it”.

Kara’s a very influential person in the tech world, an employee of Rupert Murdoch’s, but ultimately when you get up on stage in front of a live audience and another one which may number in the thousands who’ll watch you for years to come on YouTube, you owe it to your audience to be rehearsed and prepared, especially if you want your story to be persuasive. I include modifying your idiosyncratic speaking style to minimise your off-putting connectors. It’s something I continue to work on for myself.

By the way, I did give some thought that perhaps her anxiety or frequency of “ums” was a possible aftermath of her stroke, but locating other speeches she’d given before the stroke suggest this is Kara’s usual speaking style.

Your thoughts? Am I making too big a deal out of this, or did I miss something that is important to you?

UPDATE: Two predictable responses on Twitter and on a blog.

@karaswisher asks on Twitter if I have nothing better to do (presuming she’s read the blog) and the simple answer is we’re on holidays here in Australia, so things are slow, and I am putting together my Macworld syllabus and Kara’s presentation is a possible inclusion. Many people do want to know how to control their speech style even in workshops on Keynote. It’s value adding.

Over on his personal blog, Jose de Silva essentially agrees with Kara that I’ve mistaken the forest for the trees and have lost sight of locating a presenter’s content. My counter-argument (which I would have written on his blog if comments were allowed) has always been that audiences should not be made to work so hard to decipher the message. That you can assist the transfer of learning process by making it easier through an understanding of adult models of learning (see the work of Richard Mayer for examples), stagecraft, design and rehearsal. Make an audience work too hard and no matter who you are or your subject, they will disengage and reach for their iPhones to play Angry Birds.

I agree with Jose about Kara’s being a superb journalist with a little snark, and perhaps not having time to better prepare her speech. Is this a sufficient explanation? No, it’s not. One can do both. (Or, to parallel Apple, don’t ship a product until it’s ready and capable). We can all do with a little help with our presentations, and I have only just missed out seeing Edward Tufte in New York January 23 because I booked my flights to Macworld too swiftly without checking Tufte’s 2012 schedule. My learning plan for this year is to see him and Stephen Few and really upskill my data visualisation prowess. This is especially as I’ll be targeting scientists and educators this year with my Presentation Magic workshops and blog. Finally, if you look around the various presentation blogs, I’m one of the few who puts up his unedited workshop evaluations in all their “glory”, not just positive testimonials.

You gotta take it if you’re gonna dish it!

Happy Holidays, Joe and Kara!

UPDATE: It may have something to do with this blog entry, but Kara has now blocked me from following her Twitter feed. Quelle domage.

With the passing of Steve Jobs, its primary beta tester, has Apple now orphaned its presentation software, Keynote, which hasn’t received a major update for almost three years. Will dissatisfied users abandon it for Powerpoint (which Jobs despised)?

I’ve just finished reading on my iPad and iPhone Walter Isaacson’s superb biography of Steve Jobs. I knew much of the story he told from the various unauthorised biographies as well as individual blogs written about him, as well as movies such as “Triumph of the Nerds” and “Pirates of Silicon Valley”.

I saw Steve a few times up close when I visited the Apple campus in the last few years, but never had a chance to speak with him. I can certainly fantasise that he many have read some of my blog articles about Apple products such as the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and of course his presentation software of choice, Keynote.

In more recent years, he spoke of hoping to keep Apple’s DNA alive after he was gone by dint of the new Apple building he has commissioned to be built on some previous Hewlett-Packard land. Perhaps he had read of the “Apple DNA” concept on my blog article in December, 2004, a screenshot of which is below. It is on this website that I first suggested Apple ought to make a tablet (I nicknamed it the iScribe) which would be brilliant for Keynote users to remote use:

(If you can find a description of Apple’s DNA earlier than 2004, please let me know!)

I’m sure many readers have fantasised what they would have said to Steve Jobs if they happened to meet him, and perhaps some of you have! My other fantasy includes him walking into my first Presentation Magic  presentation at Macworld 2008, saying  “This sucks!”, then taking over the show to share his presentation ideas. How I and attendees would have had special memories to take with us had that happened!

But before you think it merely fantasy, others in the health professions have indeed been on the receiving end of Jobs’ “advice” with regard to their presentations, especially when they used Powerpoint.

Walter Isaacson’s Jobs’ biography mentions his distaste for Powerpoint, and slideshow-based presentations in general (save for his own keynote presentations) on six occasions. You won’t find Powerpoint or Keynote listed in the book’s index, but in the iBooks’ version I have, you can of course do a global search for keywords. So, here you have them:

Global search of Powerpoint references in "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson

We’ll work our way through some of them because it’s quite illuminating to hear what someone who presentation bloggers and authors rate as one of the world’s best presenters (and the world’s best CEO presenter) has to say about Powerpoint, and presentations in general.

Let’s start with the final reference where Jobs is very ill, and his wife Laurene and others have organised various medical and genetics research staff to investigate where next in his treatment:

One could just imagine Jobs focussing on the expectedly lousy Powerpoint slides of medical researchers while they’re focussing on his genome sequence for which he’s paid $100,000!

But earlier on the book, when Jobs has returned to Apple and is setting about constructing his “A” team to resurrect Apple, we see how he eschews presentations with slideware when he believes it takes from, rather than adds to, the creative process:

“People who know what they’re talking about don’t need Powerpoint”

This might sound strange coming from someone who was the original beta tester for Apple’s Keynote, and who continued to employ it to show Apple’s wares right up to the release of the iPad 2.

But as I have written elsewhere, a Jobs’ keynote does not engage the audience in a dialogue. The audience is engaged with the story he tells of Apple’s products and services, where he employs Keynote like a storyboard, outlining a roadmap. It’s not used as a lecture technology, as an adult training tool, or as a brainstorming of ideas technology. Jobs never hid behind his slides as so many people do, preferring their slides to sell the story. No, Steve emulated for us how the slides were adjuncts to our spoken stories, never getting in the way of what the presenter was saying or doing, but ready to illustrate ideas when words were not enough.

With Steve’s passing who at Apple can carry the torch for Keynote? The obvious answer is Phil Schiller who, after Steve, is most associated with demonstrating iWork in action at Apple keynotes, and showing us updates.

But is Phil invested sufficiently in Keynote to see it continue to be updated with features for a contemporary presentation population, both givers and receivers who have become steadily sophisticated in their expectations.

I say that with some sense of caution however. I was sent a link to YouTube video of several start-ups competing for venture capital, each giving a recent 3 minute presentation.

You can watch it below. But let me remind you that since the release of Lion 10.7 and a point update for Keynote, many in various discussion groups have complained of considerable unhappiness regarding the auto-update feature, which for some means minutes of spinning beach balls for even the slightest of changes to a slide. It has meant on Apple discussion support boards that some have either reverted to Snow Leopard or an earlier edition of Keynote so as to bypass the auto-save feature, or have returned (shudder) to Powerpoint.

So when you watch the video below, bear in mind two things:

1. There is still plenty of room for presentation skills training to judge by the young group of entrepreneurs missing the central point of their presentations, viz.: their failure to appreciate the most important obstacle to overcome as soon as possible is the audience’s fundamental cognition: “Why should I give a $%# about your product?”

2. Feel some empathy for the first presenter, who uses the organiser’s Powerpoint (Mac-based) when it falls over (at 2min56sec):

Notice too what happens when you don’t provide speakers with a vanity monitor, which I have been discussing lately. You’ll see how often the presenters need to look over their shoulder to see what’s happening and lose contact with their audience. Not good when you’ve only got three minutes to persuade people.

You’ll also see many presentation errors with the slides (perhaps I’ll use this as an exercise at my Macworld presentation), which shows I hope that even young, hip entrepreneurs whose presentations really count can so easily be sucked into the Powerpoint vortex of lousy knowledge transfer.

So the mission Steve started in 2003 with Keynote 1.0 is way from over, I believe. Yet the last significant update to Keynote was in 2009 when it moved to version 5, as part of iWork 09, giving us MagicMove (which has become a default Apple transition for their keynotes), some new chart animations, and some remote apps for iDevices.

In two months, it will be three years while its users have patiently waited for Keynote’s multitude of shortcomings to be dealt with in the form of a brand new version, making a significant form and function leap as did Final Cut Pro X.

Yet without Steve there to champion it, as he did in the final period of his life, who within Apple will take it to Tim Cook, hardly renowned so far as a presenter par excellence, and the senior executive team, and offer up an improvement?

Apple keynotes themselves have settled into a very predictable pattern, with incredibly overused build styles, such as the “anvil” whenever amazing financial figures are displayed. In the last few keynotes we have not seen any hints of new effects or styles, although  of course there could be events happening outside of visual awareness, such as the much sought after timeline for more precise animation and build timings.

What’s worse, Apple’s own internal briefings using Keynote which I get to see when my MUG has an official presentation from an Apple rep., are merely Powerpoint converted to Keynote, and I recall conversations with my iWork contact who lamented the generally low level of presentation skills using Keynote performed within Apple’s various divisions. It’s probably why people like me and Larry Lessig were invited to present to the Keynote team, not just to discuss what we wanted in future Keynotes, but for the team to witness how to Present Different.

Prior to the current version 5, the longest time in Keynote’s history  when its users had to patiently wait for a new version was twenty four months, between versions 1 (released January 2003) and 2 (released January 2005).

There were some minor point updates in that time, more for stability than features. Version 2 was a huge improvement, almost like going from OS X 10.1 to its first really useable, put away System 9, version 10.2, Jaguar.

Three years is a very long time, although if one lives in the Windows Powerpoint world, where in the last decade you go from PPT 2003 to 2007 to 2011, it’s not so remarkable. And in the face of continuing updates of significance to the iPad version of Keynote, perhaps not all hope is lost.

But unless we see something new soon, and the current Lion auto-save issue is resolved, I fear issues of abandonment will continue in the face of Apple’s seeming orphaning of what appeared to be one of Steve Job’s favourite applications he loved using himself; one where we watched its use in amazement not just of the products he showed as emblems of Apple’s DNA, at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, but of the “how” he showed them, the likes if which in a CEO we won’t see for a long time.

Vale Steve.

Vale Keynote?

Please Mr. Jobs: Suck in the publishers with your tablet’s promises of saving their sorry backsides, then grab them where it hurts, don’t let go, and change the way science moves forward

I was born in the same year as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Turning 21 in 1976 was a special event according to Malcolm Gladwell in his most recent book, Outliers.

In the same year, 1976, Sun Microsystem founders Scott McNeally and Bill Joy were also 21, turning 22. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen was already 23. These five men have had a huge collective impact on how we work and spend our leisure time, even if at the time they began their enterprises, they didn’t know what was ahead of them.

Gladwell’s hypothesis is that their youth and backgrounds came together with the technological zeitgeist to allow them to do what they did in their early twenties, while companies led by men and women in their forties and fifties couldn’t grasp what was to come.

I mention this because so many of my professional colleagues still have not grasped the relevance and importance of the technologies these men developed, describing to me how they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into using technologies for the professional lives. Last year and in 2008, I ran courses for my colleagues on how to make their professional lives a little easier using technology and the level of “Oh my gosh – you can do that!” was palpable.

It felt the same way when I visited Boston in November for the “Learning and the Brain” conference (I’m heading to a follow-up after Macworld next month in San Francisco), and attended a session by a class teacher who now offers workshops for teachers working with children of the digital age, so-called Millenials.

Her breathless “Gee-whiz, look at what Facebook’s doing” was incredibly annoying and I had to bite my tongue on several occasions. But I have to acknowledge that perhaps I am an exception, if I compare myself with others my age. My partner’s children who are in their early twenties think she and I are so cool, because we got them both to take up the Mac platform, to take on iPhones, and we do their tech. support for both. Usually it’s the other way around in families.

My first direct contact with a computer was a mainframe at university in second year when I had to learn to program in Fortran and use punchcards. My first contact with SPSS, a major science statistical package, also used punchcards. I recall doing my Masters in 1980 when visiting the library to perform a literature search meant speaking the with librarian, spending time finding the right keywords to search with, then waiting a week for the printout search results to became available.

After, I headed into the journal stacks to start locating the articles and photocopying them. Later, I learnt how to use Current Contents and Psychology Abstracts to better guide my quest, but it was all so slow and tedious.

After joining Compuserve around 1990 and getting my own email address (1000033.271@compuserve.com or something similar) I used its very expensive service (I had to call overseas @ $2/min in 1990 dollars) to track down articles and publications.

Later, when the intertubes became available (I was firstly lposen@ozonline.com.au) as well as lposen@aol.com (don’t worry, it already gets so much unchecked spam) a whole new world of communicating with peers and researchers opened up. Whereas before I had used snail-mail to write to researchers for paper copies of their original research – the turn-around time would be around three weeks if they responded promptly – I could now email the senior author and often overnight a response would come together with a PDF or link to a website, with the bonus of a email-based dialogue commencing.

Let’s fast-forward to January, 2010. I still email authors, but more and more I am using Google to track down original research publications, often on researchers’ own websites, or free in certain journals. Or I’m using software such as DevonAgent or Papers to both search and archive research papers. (I highly recommend these Mac applications for researchers.)

When one gets used to free, it becomes hard to bring oneself to pay. Even when one knows it’s the “right” thing to do in terms of copyright and rewarding creativity. Millenials especially seem incapable of understanding the idea of paying when they have spent their lives knowing how to obtain their music or videos for free.

Every so often, despite my assiduous efforts to track down free publications, I am refused entry and referred to payment pages for journal articles. I get the abstract for free, then a link to download a PDF or MS Word file takes me to a virtual payment checkout. I’m talking here of peer-reviewed research, the sort of thing I’m meant to read to keep myself current by law. With hundreds of journals publishing relevant research, I cannot afford to subscribe to each one for the occasional relevant article. Nor do any of my alma maters offer a service where as a graduate I can access their electronic libraries as do enrolled students and faculty.

So like many independent practitioners, I have to rely on my wits to get what I want. I join discussion lists where others have access to material they can distribute and of course I continue to email directly.

It’s an OK system, but it can be improved upon. Others have also recognised the almost prohibitive cost encountered with paper-based science publications, and together with concerns about the peer-review process, have begun online, copyleft-type clearing houses of information. One such community is PLoS, the Public Library of Science.


PLoS is

“… a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. All our activities are guided by our core principles.

Open Access: Everything we publish is freely available online for you to read, download, copy, distribute, and use (with attribution) any way you wish. Watch 1-minute videos from a teacherfunderpatient advocatephysician scientistlibrarian, and a student about why Open Access matters to them.”

You can also send your original research to PLoS and have it peer-reviewed.

Now, you might want to know the views of those in the mainstream journal domain and if they feel their money stream to be challenged by PLoS. So I Googled to find out and one of the first results came from one of the premier science journals, Nature:

Ah, the irony! To read what Nature has to say about a free peer-reviewed journal system, I have to pay for it!

What was it Reagan said to Gorbachev? “Mr. President, tear down these walls!”


Well, I’m saying the same thing to Steve Jobs: “Steve, mate, help science along by luring the publishing world in with a tablet as a lifeline to a dying industry, then grab them by the short and curlies like you did with the music industry!”

You see, if I could get a hold of a journal article for my tablet for 99c, I’d grab it in a heartbeat. But how much do publishers want now for a single article?

Take a look below at a screenshot of an article I wished to buy today, from a lead sent to me by a fellow twitterer:

This is a 9-page article published by the APA, one of the USA’s premier associations for psychologists and a major publisher of peer-reviewed research.

I would spend $11.95 on a book, but not an article unless I was heading to a deadline and my article was incomplete without referencing this publication. And you can bet I’d claim a tax deduction for “Professional Library“.

Occasionally, journals will offer one or two free articles in a special journal devoted to a particular topic, but more often than not I am asked to pay exhorbitant rates to download pdf files.

Now, let’s have a look at another system, this time from the National Academies Press. In 2007, I read a review of a great and recommended book on the so-called Information Overload problem, authored by Alex Wright called: Glut – Mastering Information through the Ages.

This is a book you ought to read if you believe information overload is a problem of modern times, and Wright, with his library studies background, does a great job offering up a history of humankind’s making sense of the world. It’s nothing new, to give you the three word synopsis.

After I had read the review (Google <Alex Wright> to find a video of him speaking at Google) I was satisfied it was a book I wanted on my bookshelf.

A brief search lead me to the NAP site, where to my delight I discovered a number of ways I could access the book.

Firstly, I could order the book delivered to my postal address, and pay online for a discount. Fine. Or, I could for a little extra, order the book AND a PDF of the book too. Which meant several things… I could keep a copy on the bookshelf and on my Macbook Pro for reference and for cutting and pasting text into my Keynote presentations; I could access the illustrations for fair use without having to resort to photocopying and scanning to put it on a slide; I could copy and paste sections within fair use into an email to send to friends to interest them in the book and open discussion.

Or, I could preview each chapter, and order one as I went along, eventually owning the whole book in PDF format. So, if after reading the first chapter, or perhaps reading a chapter of interest, I could leave it there. It’s a little like sampling music on iTunes. I can hear some of the tracks, I can buy the album, or I can buy the individual tracks.

Take a look at the NAP website screensite below to see the options:

Here you can see the options offered. Notice, will you, the price per chapter: $1.70

That’s a far cry from $12 for a journal article. Now you might ask how many pages per chapter.

So if you click on the website, you get to see how to download each chapter for the same $1.70 no matter how many pages (sound familiar?)

Take a look below….

Isn’t this the iTunes music model, but already existing for publications?

Buy the whole thing (even in hardcopy) or the whole PDF which will download as soon as you pay (its 63MB will take under a minute on ADSL) or buy both and wait until the hardcopy arrives in the mail. Apply the same to journals. Even now, only a few articles in each journal I receive as part of my professional membership registration interest me. The rest is a waste of paper.

Mr. Jobs, please let me do this now with publications. I’ll still try and get what I can for free by writing to authors and opening up a dialogue, just like some musicians give away their music, but let them earn a buck and let me gain easy, ready access to articles I can read on my tablet. Just make it affordable and within a click or two’s reach. The irony is that researchers get nothing when their work is published in peer-reviewed journals. But it’s imperative they publish, not just to advance science, but to satisfy their institution’s employments policies (“publish or perish”), obtain tenure, make a name for themselves to get a book contract, or  publish research sponsored by well-heeled corporates especially the pharmaceutical industry, then do the lecture circuit.

And do a deal with PLoS so they can earn some money for their efforts and offer even easier access to their wares. Using the expected multimedia capabilities of the tablet, let me see the authors discuss their experiments, show me any experimental equipment they perhaps used or questionnaires they employed I too can access via the tablet, and let’s move science forward rather than hold it back via paywalls. You know information wants to be free, right?

(UPDATE January 12, 2010: Searching through various twitter conversations showed up the Journal of Visualised ExperimentsJoVE – which is a visualised journal for the biological sciences. This is the sort of peer-reviewed research which would find an easy home on the tablet).

Despite what I said at the very beginning of this entry about my colleagues’ lack of technological-savvy, an easy to use tablet with a no-brainer yet compelling user interface and inexpensive access to the world’s knowledge storehouse on-the-run (3G or Wifi or both) will sell in the scores of thousands to scientists alone in the first year.

Pair that up with the ability of students to carry all their now-inexpensive textbooks with them, and you’ll have the next “Mastering Information down the Ages” revolution to further cement your place in history.

(Oh, and let it do Keynote presentations too, please?)

UPDATE (January 8, 2010): This post prompted me to go back and look at the PDF of Glut. Looked high and low, on my several back up drives, and couldn’t find it. So I emailed the publisher from whom I’d made the Book+PDF purchase, with the date of purchase and credit card number retrieved from my iBank finance application, and emailed the customer-support section. Within a few hours, I received an email reply from Zina Jones, National Academies Press’ Customer Service/Order Processing Manager who had retrieved my information from NAP files, and offered me another free download, which I duly complied with!

Think about this: How many books have you left behind on planes, at coffee shops, in hotel rooms, or lent to friends, never to be recovered. It’s not so bad if it’s a work of fiction, but what of a $120 textbook? You can’t just ring about Laurence Erlbaum and Associates and plead “I left my book in my hotel room!” and expect them to FedEx you another copy.

But as NAP has demonstrated (and as iTunes very occasionally allows for “lost” music files), you can recover your missing book and very quickly too, if you have kept track of your purchases. (It’s also why I never delete those receipts from the iTunes music store).

UPDATE – January 15, 2010: I located a very scholarly blog entry entitled:

Why Hasn’t Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted Already?

by Michael Clark (January 4, 2010)

Highly recommended reading

Forget an Apple tablet’s form factor – yeah, it’ll be stunning – it’s the apps that will be its ultimate success. Especially the ones that let you self-publish: 70% for you, 30% for Apple

Three years ago, speculation was rife that Apple would release a mobile phone at Macworld 2007. Apple kept shtum, admitting nothing publicly but as history now show, a chosen few got their hands on the iPhone ahead of its release under NDAs.

I wrote about it then on my now-orphaned Cyberpsych blog, not ready to accept it was actually coming, but predicting if it did arrive, it would contain all the hallmarks of Apple product design we’ve become familiar with over the years, especially since Jobs returned in 1997.

During December especially, with Macworld 2007 being the first week of the new year, the rumours and “confirmations” mounted daily, and now in 2010, in feels like deja vu all over again.

Another landmark product, which as Jobs showed with the iPhone gives Apple a further opportunity to introduce the next interface (r)evolution to the masses, is my prediction, despite commentaries asking why we need another tablet (Joe Wilcox, don’t hold Apple to Microsoft’s product standards and marketing).

If you’ve been watching Apple for the last decade or so, or at least kept up your observation at a distance of how Jobs operates, you’ll know his design mantra centres on bringing complex engineering feats within the reach of ordinary users who don’r need degrees in rocket science to manage. This kind of exactness of execution and attention to detail can’t be achieved at the cut throat prices Apple’s apparent competitors sell their wares for. I say apparent because Apple and say Dell or HP sell computers with much the same internals. Where they differ is:

1. Design

2. Packaging

3. Marketing

4. Operating System software

5. Point of sale experience, Price and After purchase experience.

For some people, price is all that counts, which is how Microsoft’s most recent advertising using “real” buyers pitched its cause, even acknowledging the coolness of Apple’s products. The coolness factor is meaningless for many, perhaps even a turn off, and as long as the specs. appear much the same, the experience ought to be as well, no?

Er, no. It’s like saying because two presenters use slideware their presentations will be equally satisfying or effective. As if.

So when it comes to an Apple tablet don’t expect just another interface that we’ve already experienced. It’s not the Jobs’ way. Whether it brings with it a new tactile feedback device for both keyboard and object manipulation – such as application “windows” , flicking pinballs in various games, underlining or highlighting words on a page, and turning that page or chapter with the flick of a finger or two which feels like a flick – it will likely exceed what we’ve seen in the iPhone. It gave us visual and auditory feedback, rather than haptic as has been mooted for the tablet.

But if history is to repeat itself – yes, early adopters will pay a special Apple tax – it won’t be the design alone that will win hearts and minds, and have competitors scratching their heads dreaming of counterattacks (apart from suing Apple for alleged patent infringement). As we saw with the iPhone, it’ll be the software. Not just the operating system software, perhaps iPhone OS 4.0, but what the software will allow in terms of Apps. I fully expect a chosen few app. developers will demonstrate their special versions of existing iPhone apps. as well as new ones specifically designed for the tablet. And I further expect companies fully immersed in the enterprise setting in a very big way to show both hardware and software developments which could only be constructed for the tablet. I’m thinking here of medical applications, already utilising tablet configurations for data storage, but which will really come of age with the Apple tablet’s OS and feature set.

I have no insider information, but I will not be surprised if Apple released its own homebrew set of apps for the creative set, in particular versions of iLife and iWork which will enable users to create endproducts which will somehow be compatible with desktop versions of iLife/iWork.

Let’s think of Pages for a moment, with its dual functions as word processing and desktop publisher. What if Apple provided you with all the necessary tools to create your own book, upload it to the new version of iTunes which will be released the same day as the tablet, and be a saleable item – yep, Apple takes 30%, you get 70%.

Talk about cutting out the middle man, the publishers of expensive textbooks, magazines, and novels! There may be a new industry of for-hire editors to help shape it up, deals with sites like iStockphoto to enable you to fill your book with royalty-paid illustrations (or perhaps help you find specialist illustrators who can also show their wares on a new iTunes store), and even the opportunity to add music to your publication from the iTunes store. Apple will take of royalties for the music publisher in one easy and attractive arrangement.

With respect to Pages’ older brother, Keynote, I have some time back (May, 2007) written of what might happen if your Keynotes could be uploaded to the iTunes store.

Again, a place to show your wares, but it seems iTunes U has to some extent executed this vision by using Quicktime movies exported from Keynote rather than raw Keynote files to provide the educational material. Given the possibility that the next version of Keynote may well be Snow Leopard-only, it’s hard to see how a tablet could create Keynote files to be imported into the desktop version.

That’s not to say a tablet couldn’t be integrated with the management of regular Keynote files, much like the iPhone can in a rudimentary fashion. But rather than just control the slides forward and back, why not call up each slide at will while they’re laid out in order on the tablet, big enough to identify. Stacks of slides that go together, which can be organised in Keynote now, would take care of huge numbers of slides in a stack. And going beyond that, as I have suggested elsewhere on this blog, why not use the tablet to live annotate your Keynotes, even monitoring Twitter feedback during your presentation which is becoming a popular conference activity. This already occurs with tablet-based Powerpoint for Windows.

So, to all those focussed on the hardware aspects of the tablet, don’t forget how after the excitement of the iPhone form factor, it was the app store that provides for its clear lead over its competitors (who will ever catch up with 100,000+ apps?).

I have no doubt that while we swoon over a tablet’s form factor in late January, it will be its software, interface and ability to disintermediate the current publishing houses that will be its permanent “of course, why didn’t I see it coming” factors. It won’t happen first, because for the tablet to succeed it will provide for the same publication houses to sell their wares. But as the music recording industry discovered when they allowed iTunes for the Mac to come to market, in a few years, self-publishing via the tablet will have them asking if they made a deal with the devil, which is where the details will be.

Oh, and one more thing… just as with the iPod and the iPhone, watch the detractors leap on it, disappointed the tablet doesn’t also make toast. The usual suspects will also emerge without the wit or elan to actually commend Apple on shifting the digital world forward incrementally. Don’t worry, that’s their job… someone’s got to do it.

A Keynote 5 wishlist – because 2009 will be the year presenting well comes of age, and Apple will lead the charge with Keynote.

Season’s Greetings!

I’m preparing to head to the US where I’ll enjoy some R and R in Miami/Fort Lauderdale then head across to San Francisco to Macworld.

My two day Powertools conference is coming together, but folks, I have a dilemma…

You see, I’m strongly of the belief that Apple’s Keynote, which I’ll be using to discuss my Presentation Magic ideas – actually, more than discuss, I’ll be exploring Keynote’s capacities to render great persuasive presentations – is due for an update very soon.

We’ve seen over the past twelve months or so various Steve Jobs keynotes (remember them?) where he has shown new transitions and builds (animations for those of you switching from Powerpoint), which have eventually found their way into the next update to Keynote.

Would it not be ironic that at the 2009 Macworld keynote, to be delivered by Phil Schiller, that Keynote and iWork get a makeover, updated for 09?

There have been a number of point updates in the time Keynote has been in version 4, as the Wikipedia entry shows here. Going from version 3 in iWork 06 to version 4 in iWork 08 (does that mean perhaps that we have to wait for iWork 10 which sounds awful?) produced a massive overhaul including alpha masking, new transitions and “smart” builds, and most importantly motion effects, Keynote’s most glaring deficiency compared to Powerpoint.

My conference preparation has been centred on the current iWork 08 version of Keynote, as I’m not party to any beta testing of the next version. But my dilemma centres around what I might have to do in the two days I have to work with other Keynote afficionados: stay with what I have prepared or spend time exploring some of the new features of any new Keynote that might be released in a few weeks.

As it is, I’ve probably overprepared the syllabus for the two days. Including any coverage of a new version means leaving something out… looks like it could be a late night on Day 1 (Wednesday) if the crowd asks me to go over additional features in a potential update. Actually, to do so removes some pressure to be spot on with my choice of materials and ideas the attendees could be exposed to… I’m quite happy to “wing it” should it come to that, and I’m guessing an excited Keynote-oriented crowd would be quite forgiving if I slip off the prepared syllabus which they’ll receive in a workbook I’ve prepared.

Let’s imagine for a moment that Keynote 5 will be released at Macworld 09… spend a few moments with me fantasising how to improve upon a great presentation tool. It’s important to visualise this every so often, by the way, lest you settle for what Keynote allows you to do rather than stretch beyond it. To do this would be to create a “Cognitive Style of Keynote” and see it vilified in much the same way as Powerpoint.

No, we have to think outside the rather creative box Keynote has constructed for us, and push the limits as we currently understand the workings of message delivery systems to broad audiences.

But first, an aside.

Some people have suggested to me that I ought to focus more attention in these blog entries on presenting in general and not be so Keynote-specific. Their suggestions are warmly received and where possible I try to balance my general ideas and views on presentations with entries on Keynote alone, albeit tied in with better presenting skills.

I could I suppose write more positively about the elephant in the presentation room (Powerpoint) and possibly generate more work for myself from corporations and industries who see no alternative to it. But guess what? There are thousands of people writing, discussing, blogging and authoring about and with Powerpoint. Why would I want to, minnow-like, jump into a Pacific-ocean sized pond and try and get my message out there?

At some point, we each have to make decisions and follow them through as far as we can, and for me it’s advocating Keynote as the better knowledge-sharing tool, because of the means by which it seems to generate greater creativity and workflow styles than Powerpoint. It seems “truer” to the cause of memorable presenting, despite its shortcomings and fewer features than Powerpoint. If that means losing out on workshop and training opportunities because I won’t toe the corporate line, so be it. Been there, done that, no thanks ma’am. I much prefer to work with those who can see beyond the Marketing Department’s demand that each slide has the corporate logo taking up valuable real estate.

Was 2008 the year we changed how we thought about presenting?

That said, I want to share with you my belief that 2008 was a turning point for Keynote and presentations in general. Seriously. It came about through the massive increase of Mac sales, each with a full working demo of iWork installed. It came about through the publication and wonderful take-up of books like Presentation Zen and Slide:ology, and the creation and exposure of sites like Slideshare. It also came about because of the massive public awareness of YouTube and the expectation of higher quality multimedia now that the technology to do so is inexpensive and easy to use. Web 2.0, or social media seemed to reach a certain developmental stage where old-fashioned textual information exchange was inadequate to the task. It came about when Macworld allowed me to have some time with attendees and present about presentation skills, and then left the video of the session (or the slides with narration) up on the Web.

And like so many things, all technologies have a limited time span to make their mark before something new comes along. Last year (2007) marked 20 years of Powerpoint, and on that anniversary we had time to pause and ask if our communication skills are any better, despite the clear demand that abundant information from a huge reservoir of sources deserves better means of knowledge transfer.

And probably that hoary old chestnut that so often saw education-based IT department heads condemn Macs to the graphics department – “kids need to learn on the hardware and software they’ll use when they leave school” – was also finished off once and for all.

2009 – a presentation revolution on its way

So 2009 will be the year of a presentation revolution, in my humble opinion. It’s time has come. There have been many attempts to topple the cognitive style of Powerpoint (You don’t know what it is? OK – just come up with any esoteric subject, put it into Google search, add “ppt” to search for Powerpoint on the topic and sit back and be appalled 99% of the time. Increase it to 99.5% by only choosing those presentations from sites that have .gov or .mil in their domain name. Why? The greater the levels of bureaucracy, the more the levels of text on slides, with sub- and sub-sub-headers. And less degrees of imagination in case you don’t conform.)

If Keynote is to lead the charge to better presentations in 2009, I am fantasising it will include the following features. A number of these have been floating about the web and Keynote discussion groups for some time, but these are my personal preferences to suit my style:

1. Highest on my list of priorities will be some kind of timeline addition to the Inspector. This will allow for much more precise timings of builds, and much better matching between sounds, the delivery of text and images, as well as movies.

Apple introduced many users to the concept with the original iMovie, with its video and twin audio channel timelines for precise editing. This continued into the video Pro apps, and then returned in slightly different form when the iLife suite was introduced, including Garageband. It too allowed for precise matching of multiple tracks including in an updated version, graphics for podcasts.

It’s clear that Apple engineers understand the importance of precision editing. At the moment in Keynote, it feels pretty much hit and miss, requiring much manual tweaking.

I want to go one step further though, as so far the timeline pertains to a slide. I’d like to see a Master timeline so that audio can be faded in and out across slides, not just within. At the moment, in order to do that, you need to export the sequence of slides as a Quicktime movie into iMovie (for instance, or it could be Final Cut), add the desired sounds including any “ducking” using the provided timeline, then import into Keynote. I’ve found this produces less than sharp images and text. Better to do it within Keynote.

2. Greater control over the choice of slides to allow less linear operations.
At the moment if you hit the command key in Keynote it will bring up the current slide and one each side of it (i.e., before and after) when in Presenter Mode (current and next slide is visible to the speaker). But there are times when that choice is limiting. Currently, the work-around is to printout the slides (including all builds on the one slide) and clearly number them so you hit, say Command-42 to take you to that slide.

My preference would be a means to view all slides using a hot key selector then point and click on it to go straight there, leaving the audience unaware of this occurring. Perhaps some integration with the iPhone or iPod Touch in wi-fi mode will allow some measure of this to occur, with the handheld unit acting as both remote and Preview device.

While in Presenter mode I’d like to be able to see all the linked hot-spots I might have created on a slide, where clicking in the area would take me to that slide in the Keynote deck. At the moment, it’s doable, but requires fiddling and guesswork.

3. Free form line drawing. This is a real oversight, where I now have to use a third party drawing application to draw precise curved lines, then import it into Keynote. My preference would be to allow Keynote to do this, as long as we don’t end up with a top-heavy inspector, which starts to look like the Powerpoint ribbon. Once the free form line is drawn, I’d like to be able to make an object traverse it accurately and smoothly. It’s still fiddly in the current version of Keynote.

4. Better image manipulation tools including masking. Let me be able to distort, skew and change perspective, rather than having to open Photoshop and then import into Keynote. Powerpoint has moved a great distance down this path, allowing for a great deal of image manipulation which at a pinch can be an aid to Keynote. In my experience this is not a perfect solution producing artifacts, but it’s easier than using Photoshop for novices.

5. An improvement in motion builds. There are a variety of effects I’d like to achieve, but the four motion builds (scale, move, rotate, opaque) are too limiting for some of my ideas.

6. One of the the things I like to do when creating a slide is gather all the materials I’ll be using onto the slide, or more accurately around the slide, which I’ve placed in 25% size. This gives you a great deal of surrounding white space to “store” your slide components, and plan some motion builds. But Keynote puts the slide in the top left hand corner of the work space. This is OK if you are bringing elements onto the slide from the right or below, but requires imprecise guesswork for the other two sides. Better to be able to place the slide in the centre and thus use all four sides for any motion builds.

7. Some build refinements, such that I can make an object glow or pulse to draw attention to it. I can do it now, and will show how at Macworld, but it’s a lot of clicking and pasting and effort. Drawing attention to slide objects, such as cells in a data table, or parts of an object, is now a very important element of presenting, and will hopefully do away with silly laser pointers. There are third party tools for this currently on the market, like Mousepose, but as usual. I’d prefer to see it within Keynote.

To that extent, once I have constructed some builds, give me better preview options, rather than the miniscule Inspector to see how an effect will look.

Now this is not an exhaustive list, and late night tiredness prevents me from adding some illustrations (which I might add in an update once I’m settled in Florida with a high speed connection). And others will no doubt have their own wishlists, which you can see if you head to the comments section of a blog entry I wrote some time back here. That blog entry was written pre-Keynote 4, just as I am writing this one, but almost two years later! And while one or two of my requests have been fulfilled, the main ones are still outstanding.

It would be a pity of Keynote users spend another year or so feeling abandoned as happened between Keynote 1 and Keynote 2. Hopefully, at Macworld they’ll be an opportunity to chat with Keynote users and engineers (fingers crossed) and let them know how much Keynote is enjoyed for its ease of use and creativity-generating properties, and it shouldn’t be abandoned as Apple continues to build itself as a digital media powerhouse.

To that extent, while I’ll miss Steve Jobs give his keynote in two weeks, I’m hoping that he’ll give others during product launches in 2009, and the high level of presentation standards are maintained when Apple VPs stand and deliver. Fingers crossed on that one.

What the designing of the Boeing 777 taught me about how to use Apple’s Keynote to give memorable presentations

My attention this week was partially taken up with the news that the Boeing Corporation had completed tests on a core component of its newest design, the 787 Dreamliner, below.

Boeing 787 roll out at Everett

Boeing 787 roll out at Everett

The Dreamliner is Boeing’s answer to rival Airbus’ giant A380, which recently commenced service from Melbourne to Los Angeles with QANTAS. Smaller, and with a longer range, Boeing believes it is a better match for what the flying public desires than the Airbus competitor.

Built of new lightweight but very strong materials, some of the parts being assembled here in Melbourne, the Dreamliner is undergoing many tests before taking its first ever flight. This week on its website Boeing showed video of a very important test outcome: the destruction of the wing box, the central part of the aircraft to which the wings will be joined as well as the fuselage. It needs to be able to withstand huge forces and strain. You can see the test here.

In my work with fearful patients, especially those who believe severe turbulence will rip the wings from the aircraft, I show a similar test performed by Boeing more than ten years ago when its 777 was being tested before entering service. In this case, Boeing built a plane just for the purpose of destroying it, to see what forces the wings could withstand before breaking. To do this very strong steel cables were attached to each wing tip and pulled up in increments, with the hope the plane’s wings could withstand 150% of the worst the weather and a pilot’s poor handling could throw at it, as well as test it in advance of heavier versions being built.

In regular flight, wing tips can flex above or below the centre line by six foot. In the test, the wings bent twenty four feet from the horizontal before an explosive compression took place. You can see the video I show below:

It’s a pretty impressive video, and can start the cognitive shift fearful flyers need in the quest to feel safe on board commercial aircraft. (Touch of irony: The guy in the frame above holding his neck is former Boeing Commercial VP Allan Mullaly who was initially in charge of the 777 program. Later, he was cherry-picked to become Ford’s CEO and it was he and the other Detroit CEOs who copped huge ridicule when each flew in their company’s corporate jets to Washington DC seeking automotive bail-outs this week.)

I first saw this video, narrated by actor Peter Coyote, after a visit to the Boeing plant in Everett, Seatte, WA, and purchased the five-VHS tape series, made by PBS.

The design and manufacture of the 777 set new principles of collaboration for Boeing, between various departments as well as launch customer, United Airlines. (In the wing destruction video, above, the guy who puts the binoculars to his eyes, at 1’27″, is United’s liaison staff member.)

But the design of the airliner was also a first for Boeing in that it used computer workstations to perform many of the designs previously performed by hand on paper. Different departments  designed various systems, such as air-conditioning, hydraulics, moving control surfaces, interior design, etc. At various times in the past, full-sized aircraft mockups were designed, often out of wood or clay (much like cars are designed) to see how the various systems “came together”.

Every so often, a hydraulic element would “interfere” with the positioning of say an air conditioning duct. Then it was back to the drawing board for each department to eliminate this “interference”. Call it stamping out the bugs, to use a coder’s lingo.

What they had to do was design “affordances”, room for piping and other elements like wiring to co-exist in the same space. The advent of large and powerful computers and CAD/CAM software allowed engineers to make redesigns easily achieved while calling up other departments’ system designs to make sure of their shared affordances. (If you go back to the Boeing website and look at the middle video describing the undercarriage, you’ll see how many systems are involved and the close tolerances needed to allow the gear to move into position.)

It is here that I learnt of this concept of affordance, and I now apply it in my presentation magic training.

If you got to Wikipedia, here, you will see a variety of definitions of affordance, some of which contradict each other.

But if you’re reading this while toying with your iPod, then you’re likely to experience the kind of affordance I have in mind for my presentations. It’s an aspect of industrial design that leads the eye and hand to act in a certain way. The iPod’s scroll wheel and menu system were designed such that no manual was needed to operate the device, and learn its nuances.

Indeed, just this week, I was showing a colleague an iPod for his first time. He wanted to borrow it to record some lectures, and I was happy to lend it to him together with attachable iTalk recorder hardware. Within a few minutes, with me guiding him with words, and he using his fingers and thumb, he caught the essentials and reproduced them on his own without my advice.

This is affordance at work, and it has perhaps reached a near-zenith with the iPhone where again one needs very little instruction as to its use, and the design implicitly guides you into action. Contrast that with how Steve Jobs described its so-called “smart phone” competitors at the iPhone’s release almost two years ago, and you will also understand the concept of “interference”, where the menu system seems to be conspiring to make your use of the competing phone difficult and thus stressful.

Users, and audiences for that matter, give up if the task they are being asked to perform is too stressful or interfering with how they usually do things. Sometimes they know what they should do, and other times they don’t understand how things operate but that doesn’t matter as long as they get the main message. This is how magic becomes entertaining, when we know we are being fooled, but don’t know how the trick is done.

In presentations, I use my knowledge of neuroscience, and the social psychology of persuasion, to create affordances leading the audience where I want them to go. This is why the use of colour, pleasing animations, movies, sounds, text which matches voice, and other affordances make for engaging and memorable presentations.

It’s why I choose to use Keynote rather than other software because it better matches my desire to create affordances, not just for the audience but for slide design, while say, Powerpoint seems more intent to my taste on creating interferences.

This is why I so often describe Keynote as eliciting creativity because it seems to reduce the likelihood of interferences, even though at times I wonder what the programmers were thinking about. For instance, in Keynote 4, the addition of Instant Alpha has changed the way I work with Keynote. Look at the video below to see what I’m talking about.

Using Art Text’s wonderful icons, I wanted to use a paper clip to create a special effect, which most in an audience wouldn’t notice (but a Keynote user would).

Here’s what it looks like when I try to place the paper clip onto the picture in a way that emulates the real thing:

All that happens is that the picture covers up the clip. Of course, if you send the Clip forward of the picture, you will simply see the clip sitting on top of the picture, not doing its job of being a paper clip.

But with some use of a new affordance introduced in Keynote 4, Instant Alpha, a photo retouching device previously only available in third party software such as Photoshop, and somes screen shot magic, I can fool the eye into believing the photo is being placed between the loops of the clip – a 3D illusion in 2D, seen below.

It’s a very simple illusion which many wouldn’t bother to notice because it’s something they do most days (using paperclips) and is hardly outstanding. But those who create presentations will momentarily wonder how I did it, knowing it’s doable, but which “magic” was elicited to do so.

If you got a hold of the original Keynote file I created, you could “reverse engineer” my actions by looking within Keynote’s Inspector at the actions I created and seeing each step. In my Powertools session at Macworld 2009, I’ll be creating features like this, some more complex, and showing how to use Keynote’s abilities to elicit illusory acts which take quite some time to plan and execute in the design phase, and which may only last a few seconds in the audience’s attention span. So be it.

The whole idea about knowing the secret of affordances is that you are abandoning the cognitive style of Powerpoint (which is about making life easy for the presenter with bullet points, copy and paste text, and chintzy clip art providing a dumbed down message), by making your slides tell a story to make life for the audience easy, allowing your central message to penetrate and stick.

You see, if your presentation contains interferences – jarring transitions, pixelated images, written text competing with what your saying, and smartass animations for the sake of it – your messages are compromised and won’t stick. What will stick is an idea that will spontaneously form within about three minutes (the length of a speaker’s “honeymoon” period after commencing their presentation) which is that the audience will first check their watches, then their iPhones or Blackberries, and then how covertly they can leave the auditorium.

Affordances, if you know how to create those that sync. with how the brain works, will engage your audience. The best affordances involve the audience. Some presenters choose to do this, depending on their personal style, by asking questions directly of the audience, or having them chat to the person next to them, or have them close their eyes and imagine a scene, or break people up into small groups and have them do tasks. All well and good, and I’ve used each of them and more in workshops.

But I take particular pride in involving audiences without their knowing I’m doing it by my cognitive style, supported by what I can do with my voice, my body, and my slides.

In my Powertools workshop, we’ll look at all these factors and how to (hopefully) seamlessly integrate them while always keeping a focus on the central story. Indeed, telling stories is a major affordance by my definition, tapping into the human hard-wiring for story telling.

While it’s great to become extremely competent with your presentation software, knowing its in’s and out’s and becoming technically proficient, the danger is that this same competency can become an interference if all you do with it is to show off your prowess and thus lose your message in the process.

I’ve seen this happen when some have seen my presentations, taken some of the effects and devices, and applied it without suffcient thought to why I did what I did. What’s left is a pastiche of clever animations, funny cartoons, and an audience that leaves amused but not persuaded.

And a presenter who thinks they’ve abandoned their old traditional means of presenting in exchange for something for the 21st Century, but they’re only part of the way there. As are we all!