Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Sunday, 15 January 2023

No-one's more surprised than I am that I have an Etsy shop for printables to colour in

My Etsy shop front...

Recently I have been 'getting into' Inkscape (free) in a fairly big way, learning how to use it by a mix of trial and error, watching YouTube videos, reading the help files and tutorials and even asking on the forums. I have now reached the status of Adequate At This, coinciding with a burgeoning in my use of it for work and fun. 

I began using it in 2019 as I wanted to apply some hand drawn things to a printable item I was creating in PowerPoint, the item being a wearable cyborg hat for kids to colour in at science festivals. It's half human, half robot / computer and known as a 'hatagon' (hat polygon). Quite fun. 

My earliest use was fairly basic - drawing something in pencil, going over in black ink, erasing pencil, photographing and importing the image into Inkscape then using the automated 'trace bitmap' to produce a transparent version that I could easily resize (basically 'digitising a scanned in image'). Gradually I learned to draw things directly into Inkscape and manipulate them and I'm quite pleased with my progress. This is the A3 Hatagon v2. (Download your own to colour in, A4 versions of the older one are also available).

On the left is the planform for the hatagon, on the right is one coloured in and worn

I wanted to produce a nice version of a tile I'd like to paint at a ceramic cafe. There are two ways of doing this - print out a copy of the tile and trace it by hand then apply the tracing to the bisque tile and paint. Lacking a printer I've chosen the slightly more time-consuming but probably neater Inkscape way which is to use the pen tool (in 'B-spline mode') to trace over the pattern. This results in very clean lines, though I'd be the first to admit they probably look a little cartoonish compared with a more hand-drawn effort. Tracing them is also a very pleasant activity.

Black and white line drawing of one of William De Morgan tile designs, for colouring in

Now I'm tracing all sorts of items (all are public domain photographs or scans of public domain artwork and I've listed the provenance with each item I've put on Etsy) including William De Morgan tiles, William Morris patterns, random Iznik patterns I've found, fleur de lis examples (probably my favourite motif) and have shoved them all on my Etsy shop. Many of the listings also include a link to free versions where they are available, for example these William De Morgan tiles below (the one bottom right is a 16th century tile not by Wm De M). These are just PDFs for colouring in, the Etsy store has the SVG files.

Four Floral Tile Patterns to colour in – free printable to download (A4 and US letter size)


The four featured items on my Etsy shop


A note on Etsy
The pricing structure of Etsy is a little unintuitive and they take a chunk (fair enough I suppose) to host an item. When I first added an item it told me it cost me ~£0.20 to list it and asked me how many copies I wanted to make available, which made no sense to me as it was a digital file so completely renewable. I wanted to make 1 copy available and for it to remain there to be downloaded as often as people wanted it. That isn't how it works though, so I googled and found that most people put '100' so I did that. Then I discovered (after a friend tried the system for me and bought the file) that Etsy charges 20p every time a copy of the file is downloaded me, so each one of the 100 there is treated as a separate listing. Other fees mean that you'd end up losing money if you set a price much below about 70p so most of mine are that (it automatically converts this to 84p to account for tax). I don't really like it and am hoping that people will download the free stuff, and I'm just paying 20p to advertise files ;)

Anyway I only discovered that people sell digital files on Etsy because I was learning how to create those files from YouTube videos and 'how to sell SVGs on Etsy' kept coming up, so eventually I wanted to see if I could satisfy the remit. Job done, even if none are ever sold :)


Saturday, 24 December 2022

Last-minute Chrismas gifts and activities that are emailable or printable or bakeable


Depending on where you live there may well be a smaller shop open for emergency snacks. Where I live in Blackheath we have Best One Xpress open in the village (24 hours) and Pravin Supermarket in Blackheath Standard is open from 10 until 3pm. I hear that Deliveroo is likely to be up and running too. 

Here are some ideas for gifts that don't require leaving the house or having them delivered. If a gift for someone hasn't arrived then you can draw or print or email something to give to someone that indicates that something mysterious and delightful is on its way, just currently delayed.

1. Annual Memberships or pre-paid events / courses

I'm a member of the Royal Geographical Society (UK-wide) and a couple of London cinemas. Possibly buying someone a gym membership at Christmas might be a little pointed but perhaps a cookery or photography class or something nice like that, or art gallery membership etc. 

You can buy a ticket for a future event and print out the email to give to someone, or email it to them.

2. Gift cards / book vouchers / iTunes vouchers etc / magazine subscriptions

These can be bought online (you get an e-voucher with Amazon or iTunes) or in shops if you're able to get to one.

3. Bake biscuits / cakes

This one does require a trip to the shops for supplies but works quite well as a last-minute thing if you have a box (cake) or paper bag (biscuits) to put the end product in. Recipes abound on the internet. If you don't have a handy gingerbread man cookie cutter you can cut one out of paper and then place it on your biscuit dough and cut around it with a knife.

Gingerbread men recipe: and see at 3m in this video how to cut out shapes without a cutter.

4. Make salt dough decorations

Pretty much as above, but non-edible (too salty!).



5. Printable decorations and colour-in activities

TES (formerly Times Educational Supplement) has all sorts of Christmas Craft activities for kids, many of which are free. Some also have a bit of curricular learning in there too but this one is just for colouring in.

Free DIY ornament:

For work I've also made a Christmas Computing zine (A4, folds into a tiny booklet) and a HexaHexaFlexagon (never stops folding!), free:

Etsy is full of (paid for) printable things to colour in and decorate, including colouring-in placemats to keep kids occupied while at a table. Be careful about bleed through onto your table if using coloured pens. After you've paid you'll be sent a link to download a digital file which you can then print.

Gingerbread house by ArtbyEmilySkinner (A4):

Merry Christmas colouring in placemat (A4):

Search for more Christmas printables:

Note: some products are aimed at a US audience and so print out on US letter size which is slightly different from A4 size. Look for products that are tailored for A4 sizing, or that come in PDF form (which you can just shrink slightly and cut off the extra). 

A4 = 8.27 x 11.7 inches (210 x 297 mm)
US letter = 8.5 x 11 inches (215.9 x 279.4 mm)

If you have a Rymans near you they will print items for you (£2.50 set up charge then approx 30p per A4, or a bit more for A3). Other printers are also available of course, though they'll be shutting soon.

We have lots of printable activities / colouring-in sheets / puzzle sheets, all with a computing theme here:

6. No printer but have a computer?

Here are versions of our puzzles and colouring in sheets which can be done on a computer :)

If you like magic we have lots of free booklets you can download and read as a PDF, plenty of tricks involve a pack of cards:

Santa Trackers and seeing the International Space Station as it goes over on Christmas morning


If it's not cloudy in the UK tomorrow morning (Sun 25 Dec 2022) at 7.12am you may be able to see - with the naked eye - Father Christmas in his sleigh and the International Space Station flying overhead, travelling from West to East. They'll appear as a tiny bright white dot moving quite fast, with no blinking.

The latitude table linked here is for London and more Northerly / Southerly cities might not be able to see it directly, but can certainly watch along online. Santa Claus' journey path can zip about a bit as he's not relying on quite the same laws of physics as the rest of us and can use a bit of magic to appear in more than one place at once. 

Spot the Station:

Enter your city to find times and dates, and where in the sky to look, for the International Space Station. This link will take you to sightings for London.

Christmas Day - Sunday 25th December 2022
Sun Dec 25, 5:39 AM       3 min      61°      61° above SE     10° above E     
Sun Dec 25, 7:12 AM     7 min     86°     10° above W     10° above E

NORAD Tracks Santa:

This uses radar, infrared sensors (Rudolph's nose gives off a good heat signal) and geosyncronous satellites to track Father Christmas' sleigh throughout Christmas Eve.

FlightRadar24 Santa Tracker:

FlightRadar24 has multiple sensors around the world tracking aircraft flights thanks to a transponder on every aeroplane that transmits its location. Santa's sleigh (flight registration: HOHOHO) has been fitted with a transponder, and for greater accuracy, Rudolph the Reindeer's antlers can be used as an antenna.

Google Santa Tracker:

Follow Father Christmas as he drops presents down chimneys and there are also games to play too.

You can also just type where is Santa into Google, and see what happens when you type Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Save the Westminster gas lamps: London-lighting lovely lanterns under threat

The above lamp, in Bull Inn Court Westminster, is a Grosvenor style gas lit lamp (see the spotters' guide below).
Update 22 Nov 2022: Westminster City Council has said it will now only electrify 94 lamps and leave 174 as gas. This has been welcomed cautiously by the London Gasketeers campaigners as it raises more questions than it answers.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
Westminster has nearly 300 gas powered street lamps, a small percentage of the thousands of electric street lighting across the borough. The lamps are over 100 years old and under threat.
Below is a copy of my submission to the Westminster City Council gas lamps review (consultation), which closes today. I've emailed this to and (the leader is Mr Adam Hug). Help yourself to anything I've written if useful.
For detailed background information on the gas lamps and the campaign to save them see

Here's a nice article in the Daily Mail about the lamps and the people who look after them, with pics. Plenty more articles in that LinkTree link above.

A spotters' guide: What Grosvenor, Rochester and Windsor lanterns look like. There are other styles too, there's even a Westminster!
- - - - - - - - - - Copy of my submission - - - - - - - - - - -
Dear Westminster City Council lighting team and Mr Hug

Until 31 October 2022 I had no idea that we still had any working gas lamps in Westminster (or anywhere in London) and was delighted to discover their existence thanks to seeing a retweeted story about them. This was followed by surprise that I'd not known about them, and that "We have gaslamps!" isn't more widely known. I think this interesting historic link with our own past should be more widely celebrated and actively exploited as a 'draw' to the area.

Other than information about the gas lamp review I didn't find* a page on the WCC website celebrating these evocative lights. No 'gas lamp trail' with a map showing where to find them, and suggestions of nearby places to have a meal ('10% off with code: LANTERN' sort of thing). "Have you seen Westminster's wonderful gas lamps?" seems like it would sell itself.

When I think of Westminster I think of Parliament and the Abbey and the Northbank BID areas, Trafalgar Square, Aldwych, Covent Garden etc. It's a shame I'd not have been thinking of the gas lamps - I imagine it's been the same for many others who have recently and enthusiastically discovered them - but I think this has been a missed opportunity.

You might think, given I'd not even noticed they were there, that I shouldn't be too bothered about their loss - no. I would be very sorry to see them go. Within a few days of hearing about them I had gathered information about where to find the lanterns then met up with a friend one evening so that we could see them ourselves. We thought they were wonderful and rather magical; we also enjoyed spotting the different kinds (Rochester, Grosvenor etc). We also discovered a lovely new (to us) restaurant after emerging from a side-alley.

Now that I'm more informed about their history (and that the first street in London to have gas lighting installed was in Westminster) I'm astounded that there are plans to sever that historic link. London is famous for its history and is full of original buildings and other features. These 100+ year old lamps were definitely a 'Wow!' moment for us, now that we were aware of the historical context. That can't be replicated with LED facsimiles.

The suggested replacement lamps are nice enough (I suppose in the 1800s and 1900s the current gas lamps must have looked a bit too shiny and new too) but now that we're all going to know they're not really gas it's going to feel a lot less authentic. It's not just what they look like, it's knowing that they're using a living historic technology - that's amazing, please celebrate it.

People come to London to see the bright lights, why not invite them to come and see the warm ones too. The gas-lit lanterns link us to an earlier London - I think replacing them would be irreversibly damaging, and a terrible shame. Please don't electrify or replace these lamps.

* gas lamps - there's a brief mention here but only in the context of pausing the gas review. I also varied the search with gaslamps, gas lights and lanterns.

Thank you
P.S. I am not a Westminster resident nor do I work there but I visit frequently, and now have an additional reason to visit!

P.P.S. On the night I visited Carting Street at the back of The Savoy hotel the place was eye-searingly floodlit to film Netflix's new 'One Day' series and there were lots of people with equipment. Despite the (presumed) energy consumption of lighting, cameras and generators we accept this because we enjoy the end product, I think it's similar with the gas lamps.

Sunday, 30 October 2022

Consultation Watch - keeping an eye on consultations from UK Governmental departments

Back in 2012 I wondered if there was a single online place, on the Gov•UK website, where people could find out about all the various governmental consultations that were currently open for input. Since then, yes, it's here -

1. Get Involved
- information about all sorts of ways you can be that bit more civic-minded, which includes information about submitting a response to consultations.

2. Open Consultations
- this link takes you straight to the page of open consultations. [RSS feed (opens an atom file)]

I was reminded of this recently because I missed hearing about the government's consultation into bias in medical devices, which was announced in November 2021, launched in August 2022 and closed in early October 2022. There was quite a lot of fuss kicked up when Sajid Javid announced it last year with people opining that it was all nonsense (it isn't) and the Daily Mail also wrote about it. There was so little fuss about the actual consultation that I missed hearing about it until 3 weeks after it closed and only because I went looking for it after writing a related article for the work blog.

To help me keep an eye on this sort of thing I've created an automated Twitter account, called @ConsultationsUK (had to be less than 15 characters so couldn't use ConsultationWatch alas) which I've set up to send a Tweet whenever a new consultation is added to the Gov UK's website. See Technical details below for an explanation of how.

Department or country-specific consultations

I searched on Google using both the following search strings inurl:consult inurl:consultations

and this returned several departmental pages and also pointed me to country & county pages too.

Local examples (there are many more)

There's no though!

Technical details

To make the Twitter account announce consultations I've used a free online app called IFTTT (IF This Then That) which lets you set up a trigger, in this case an update to the RSS feed from the Open Consultations page. I've linked the Twitter account (@ConsultationsUK) so that when a new feed item appears (the trigger) the resulting action is that that account emits a tweet with the title of the new consultation and its link.

I won't know if it's worked until a new consultation is added!