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April 03, 2014 | By:  Nick Morris
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So long, and thanks for all the...*

Well, this has been coming for some time, and I have been ignoring it.... It is with great sadness that I bid farewell to Scitable after 3 years.

It has been a fun journey, and I have learnt a lot along the way. By my count this is the 143 post, and the sad thing is I still have around 30 posts that I have started to write for this blog, and not got around to finishing.

There are two main reasons why I am stopping:

  1. With my current job as Dean of Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) I am finding it increasingly difficult to find the time to blog at Scitable (or anywhere....)
  2. I have never really got on with the blogging platform at Scitable (sorry guys!) as I find it old, slow and clunky, and these days I like to blog in Markdown, which is not supported on this system. (The only time I really get to blog these days is when I am traveling and it is not always possible to fire up a webbrowser and login to the Scitable to post, I have tried writing my posts in Evernote (which I can use on the move), but copying them to the Scitable platform usually results in 20 minutes of reformatting.)

So, thanks for reading, and if you want to follow what I am doing then please look at my teaching blog (I plan to have more pedagogical posts on the blog in the future, the blog is currently aimed at my students), or follow me on Twitter.

Finally, I would like to thank all the staff at Scitable, past and present, for their help, support, and encouragement over the last three years... It has be fun.... Thanks guys.

(* with apologies to the late great Douglas Adams)

November 05, 2013 | By:  Nick Morris
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E-mail - The Zombie Technology That Refuses To Die...
This coming weekend I will be participating in The Dark Art of Dark Social: Email, the antisocial medium which will not die at SpotOn London 2013 via Skype or Google Hangouts from the campus at Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) with Alan Cann (University of Leicester).

The reason I became involved was because a series of blog posts earlier this year on the evils of e-mail (see My hypothesis: e-mail is evil and deserves to die!, Problems with email….. I appear to have touched a nerve…, What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed?, What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed? - The Programmers, What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed? - The Receiver and the dreaded FYI, What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed? - The Receiver and meta-data and What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed? - The Sender, and What is wrong with e-mail? Can it be fixed? - My battle to get e-mail working again - some tips and suggestions), and I had been chatting to Alan about the subject online, and how I feel that e-mail is an old technology that has had its day, and that we now desperately need a replacement that better meets our needs and is more like the type of communication we now regularly use, e.g. text, instant messages etc.

I have also been asked to put together a short video outlining my views just in case we can’t the technology to work, which I have now decided to post online at, feel free to give it a watch…

Image: Apparently there is a cocktail called a Zombie, which is what you may need after a day of dealing with e-mail! - Source - Wikimedia

October 31, 2013 | By:  Nick Morris
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Stop Press: Mac Fan Boy Impressed by Microsoft!! Or, Why We May Need To Rethink Things
Over the years a number of people commented that I’m a bit of a “Mac fan boy”. Although I do not like the term, it is something I cannot deny. Yes, I use a MacBook Pro, I have a Mac Book Air, an iPad, and an iPhone. In fact I have been a Mac user since 1990, and I can also write and produce software that can run on a Mac, an iPhone, and an iPad. Some people would also say I am a Microsoft hater….

I gave up using Microsoft programs about 10 years ago, and there were two ‘events' that lead to this decision. The first was when an annoying little paperclip popped up in Microsoft Word that suggested I was writing a letter and asked if I needed some help, when in fact I was writing up my lab book for the day, and didn’t need any assistance. The second was when Microsoft Word had a major meltdown just as I was about to print out a grant application. Admittedly part of the problem was my own fault as I didn’t have the work backed-up, but then again, you would expect a word processor to process words and not to throw a major tantrum just because it had been asked to print out a document.

I guess the paperclip really encapsulated my problem with Microsoft Office programs at the time as to me it symbolised how Microsoft viewed its users, that is, they viewed us as idiots that couldn't even complete the most simpliest of tasks using their behemoth of a program without some assistance.

I have never regretted my decision to turn my back on Microsoft Office, and it is only in the last year that I have re-instealled it on my Mac as I needed to collaborate on some documents and the people I was working with insisted that I use Word (By the way, it was a nightmare! Something that would have taken 30 min on a Mac using Pages would often take an hour or more of wrestling in Word, plus Word was not a joy to use (and it is butt ugly).)

So overall I would say that I don’t like Microsoft products as I don’t like the way they work (or often don’t work), and I am also uncomfortable with the way Microsoft appears to view their user base, i.e. as idiots. However, the other day I was listening to the excellent Guardian Tech Podcast for the 16th October 2013 (link - podcast) when at about 27 min and 30 sec up popped an interview with the Dave Coplin, CEO (Chief Envisioning Officer)*, Microsoft. It was a really interesting, refreshing, and free ranging interview that explored why Microsoft has Bing, and how they are integrating their search index with a whole range of services to give the user a better experience. One really interesting part of the interview (~38 min) is the discussion about trying to move the analogue (the old pre-computer) way of doing things to the digital way for performing tasks.

The analogue/digital discussion got me thinking about how and why we do things in certain ways online with student learning. Why have we tried to mimic the old way of doing things when we should be looking at things in a new way and making the most of the freedom that digital tools gives us?

There was also a great discussion on ‘enterprise IT’, and how meaningless it is, particularly when the users now are been exposed to the simplified and powerful world of Apps on their smart phones, tablets and in the cloud, and how users often come up with better, faster and more efficient ways of doing things than is often possible with the ‘enterprise' tools thrust upon them by their company or their boss. I particularly liked the idea of IT vanishing in to the background and the user being empowered to do the job they had to do, with the best tools that met their needs.

Anyway, have a listen to the podcast and let me know what you think below….

(* Dave Coplin admits it is a comedy job title.)

Photo: I recently took this photo of a Long Tailed Macaque (Crab Eating Macaque) - Macaca fascicularis - on a day trip from the Newcastle University Medicine Malaysia (NUMed) campus to Tanjung Piai National Park (Taman Negara Tanjung Piai), which is the southerly most tip of mainland Asia. You can read more about my trip on my Malaysia Blog. The reason I am using this photo is because it nicely expresses how I felt during the Dave Coplin interview.

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