Tag Archives: science journals

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?

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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