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

Friday, 11 October 2019

That time I tried a 'recipe box' and wasn't very good at it

While deleting old emails I found one I sent to my boss four years ago (12 Oct 2015) bemoaning the fun / misery of trying a recipe box where they send you all the bits and bobs and you make a delicious and healthy meal. It turned out to be a bit of a faff. At one point the recipe called for taking a small pot of hazelnuts, rubbing off the skin, then chopping them. I've never chopped a hazelnut before in my life, I just eat them as they are (or buy machine-chipped ones which is a better strategy and I'll be sticking to that in future). The hazelnuts were just pinging everywhere (I think I tried the old squashing them with the knife laid flat, as you do with garlic - don't think it worked). Gosh it was so miserable, haha.

"The [recipe] box wasn't an unqualified success. I'm actually really crap at cooking and although I followed the instructions closely I went off-piste a couple of times and things ended a lot more wetly than planned. There was a bit where I was supposed to roast the aubergine (success), let it cool (less successful) then peel the skin off with my bare hands. Alas the cooling didn't really happen and I ended up soaking them in cold water to try and reduce the temperature. This was my first mistake.

Also my rice was not in need of 'fluffing up'. Sadly mine was in need of draining. My kitchen is swimming in liquid.

And the main bit of the meal was way too spicy, there was no warning about how spicy it was.

I might have a little cry and eat some Ambrosia pudding. White, bland, stodge. Next time it will be pie and chips."

Haha, poor me.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Quora A2A: How can I hide my likes on Twitter? Only likes

(I am no longer answering questions on Quora's website)

My answer assumes the questioner is asking about tweets that he or she has liked, rather than tweets of theirs that others have liked - though in either case it's not possible to hide them beyond making your account public.

Liking a tweet is a semi-public act in that anyone can see that you've done it by looking at your liked tweets page, mine is here - just change the username in the URL and see yours or anyone else's (only if their account is public of course). You cannot hide any liked tweet from here beyond unliking it, which you can do by clicking once again on the heart symbol to unlike it (it's a toggling sort of arrangement: click once to like, click again to unlike).

However once you've liked a tweet Twitter will most likely have sent out a notification to the tweet's sender so it's possible (depending on their settings) that they'll have been made aware, via the notifications tab, or via pop-up notifications or by email.

Newer versions of Twitter including the latest #NewTwitter interface have also been 'surfacing' (explicitly drawing attention to) these 'like' actions in your timeline so you may see "So and so liked a tweet by XYZ". Most people find this pretty irritating and I've written a post on my tech-focused blog that addresses it called 'Hate seeing other people's likes? Some options to try' - the post has had 110,000 views since I published it, from which I assume a fair few people want to stop that feature.

Many people like a tweet to bookmark it, rather than to say 'I like what you've said' or 'I've seen this and am liking it to signal the amiable end to this exchange', or whatever meaning people ascribe to the action. There are plenty of ways to bookmark a tweet to read later and if that's all you want to do with it then do that instead of liking it and no-one needs to know.

Examples might include bookmarking the URL of the tweet (desktop) or copying and pasting its URL into some file of saved tweets, you can also email the tweet to yourself or take a screenshot. You could even create a spare account, log in there and like it then the like is not linked with your primary account. That may be taking things a bit far of course!

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Homeopaths are delighted that a draft report has been released - not sure why

tl;dr - Homeopaths are cock-a-hoop that a report has been released containing the phrase "encouraging evidence" (for homeopathy) but several mentions are just saying that "the term 'encouraging evidence' has not been defined" and highlighting problems with the conclusion. There are 6 'positive' mentions (in favour of homeopathy) in the report. All have been corrected with an annotation highlighting that it was a mistake.

Here's the draft first report from 2012, it's 294 pages long (293 pages plus a one page statement at the front from the NHMRC's CEO Anne Kelso saying that -
"NHMRC strongly encourages interested members of the community to refer to the 2015 NHMRC Information Paper: Evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions. Contrary to some claims, the review did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective. Rather, it stated that “based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”"

The 2015 report (all 2015 docs can be found here) has an accompanying statement with some fairly strong warnings about NOT using homeopathy.
Table of Contents
1. How frequently does the phrase "encouraging evidence" appear?
2. How does the phrase "encouraging evidence" appear?
3. Full details of how "encouraging evidence" is used on each page - 13 to account for
4. Conclusions and rationale for this post
5. Background to the report
6. References
7. Screenshots of search strategy and results

1. How frequently does the phrase "encouraging evidence" appear?
Searching in the 2012 draft report (using Ctrl+F or Command+F on a Mac) for "encouraging evidence" brings up 12 mentions of 13 instances (one isn't picked up in the automatic search). Four are on p9, one each on pages 10, 11, 12, 54 and 236 with two instances on pages 85* and 138. By the way there are also 25 mentions of "no convincing evidence".

*Of the two mentions on p85, one is not picked up by the search. One is a mention, the other an annotation cancelling it.

2. How does the phrase "encouraging evidence" appear?
There is a rough split between statements in the report suggesting that there is encouraging evidence for homeopathy and statements that are annotations, highlighting that the conclusion was incorrect. It's not a 1:1 mapping of a positive phrase with a negative annotation because other phrases are also used (eg "See comments on issues with this section of the report on page XX").

Seven mentions are positive (all are corrected with annotations), 2 are neutral and five are negative. 

Three instances of the negatives say
"The term 'encouraging evidence' is not defined in this report. There are inconsistencies as to how it is interpereted." - examples found on pages 9, 85 and 138.

3. Full details of how "encouraging evidence" is used on each page - 13 to account for
All page numbers are those counted in the PDF by Adobe eg p10 of 294 refers to page "ix" in the document and p85 of 294 is actually page 72.

3a. Page 9 - four mentions
Page nine says that there is encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy (one mention) for fibromyalgia, otitis media, post-operative ileus (first time to flatus), upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in adults and side effects of cancer treatment. All are given 'Grade C'. The annotations (two mentions) point out the flaws - that 'encouraging evidence' isn't defined and that Grade C has sometimes been used to mean 'encouraging evidence' and sometimes 'no convincing evidence' so it has been applied inconsistently.

The last mention is the phrase "listed above under encouraging evidence [Grade C]" which I've taken to be a neutral statement (one mention).

3b. Pages 10-12 - three mentions
Context: Table 1 in the report is a 'Summary evidence of effect of homeopathy by condition' for 27 conditions. The phrases "no convincing evidence", "inconclusive / equivocal evidence", "insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion" or "no evidence" appear next to all but two.

Page 10
Cancer treatment symptoms (one of three mentions) says that there is encouraging evidence for topical calendula and Traumeel S. The annotation says "See comments on issues with this section of the report on page 40". [NB page 40 = p53 of 294]

Page 11
Fibromyalgia (two of three mentions), annotated with reference to page 70. [NB page 70 = p83 of 294]

Page 12
Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) (three of three mentions) - annotated with reference to page 139. [NB page 139 = p152 of 294]

3c. Page 54 - one mention
There is one positive mention of "encouraging evidence for topical calendula... and Traumeel S" but this is then trashed in the comments. The annotations are a bit brutal including "incorrect - see below" and "The conclusions for topical calendula and Traumeel S cannot be justified AND WERE NOT CONFIRMED BY THE EXPERT COMMITTEE" (their capslock). The annotations also point out that the Traumeel S study was based on a small clinical trial of 32 participants. I don't think they're very impressed.

3d. Page 85 - two mentions
One mention of encouraging evidence for fibromyalgia treatment with a Grade C given. The other mention is the annotation saying that the term isn't defined and is inconsistently interpreted. Another annotation says that "this conclusion is flawed" and goes on to say that it should be a D.

3e. Page 138 - two mentions

One mention suggests encouraging evidence for postoperative ileus and this is immediately thwacked with "not defined / inconsistencies".

3f. Page 236 - one mention
This part of the report contains all abstracts of all the references considered / used, with a comment below.

"Although there is some encouraging evidence for hypnosis, herbal medicine and acupuncture..." - homeopathy is not actually included in this bit at all. It is subsumed into the phrase "there is insufficient evidence to suggest that other CAMs are effective for the treatment of childhood conditions". Pleasingly this is one of Edzard Ernst's papers (Ref 43).

4. Conclusions and rationale for this post
So there we have it. The draft first report, released to such fanfare from homeopaths, does not support homeopathy. The NHMRC does not recommend its use in any condition. Since homeopaths will probably try and use this report to suggest that regulatory bodies should loosen their restrictions on homeopathy (eg NHS and RCVS) I thought it best to have something to point people to saying why this is pointless.

5. Background to the report
A few years ago an Austrlalian study was commissioned by the NHMRC to examine the evidence relating to the use of homeopathy to treat a variety of health conditions. There were a number of problems with the draft of the 2012 report - it included studies of lower quality and was not clear about how it graded the quality of studies.

A second report was commissioned, and later published in 2015 and concluded that the evidence for homeopathy was not impressive. Hardly a surprise given that pretty much all overviews of the evidence come to the same conclusion.

Homeopaths were annoyed that the earlier 2012 draft report wasn't published. They were under the impression that the first report had shown some success for homeopathy and that this had been deviously edited out in the second report, unfairly implying a negative effect for homeopathy.

The first draft report has now been released and homeopaths are very happy that the phrase "encouraging evidence" appears in the document, such as -
" which the author concluded that there is “encouraging evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy” in five medical conditions." (1)
It would be more correct to add the word 'wrongly' or 'mistakenly' between 'author' and 'concluded'.

Appended at the start of the draft report is a statement from the CEO of the NHMRC, the text of which is at the top of this post. The HRI has managed to draw this conclusion from it -
"We also welcome the valuable clarification provided by NHMRC CEO Prof Anne Kelso, that NHMRC’s second Homeopathy Review published in 2015 “did not conclude that homeopathy was ineffective”, despite claims to that effect in media reports and by anti-homeopathy campaigners." (1)

Incidentally there is an important but subtle difference between these two statements
1. There is evidence that homeopathy does not work
2. There is no evidence that homeopathy works

6. References and further reading
(1) NHMRC finally release first report on homeopathy (27 August 2019) Homeopathy Research Institute

See also Hinner Feldwisch's thread

7. Screenshots of search strategy and results
Click to enlarge any that need it.
Ctrl+F or Command F brings up the Find option

Click the gearwheel to bring up the full search options

This is what I searched for in the document - encouraging evidence

There were actually 13 instances but only 12 appeared in the automated search. All are accounted for in my post.

The annotations for page 9 were particularly brutal.

Monday, 26 August 2019

I've had it with Quora and am gradually closing my account there

I've had enough of Quora, though I still occasionally answer questions there. Too many things about it annoy me now and chief of these is -

The Quora Partner Program... (QPP)
...which pays people to ask questions. This means that in among genuine questions people ask them most inane banalities and then tag people (which might include me) to answer them. It's never bothered me that Quora doesn't pay for answers as I'm happy to answer where I can contribute. Similarly I get no payment for editing Wikipedia and - although the homeopaths seem unable to accept it - I also get no payment for pointing out on social media that homeopathy is guff. But I digress ;)

The Quora Payment Program has certainly coincided with a massive increase in absolute drivel appearing on the site, though I can't prove that it caused it. However it does mean that any question I'm now asked grates a little more as I wonder if someone is getting paid to ask it, although really it shouldn't make any difference because I have always enjoyed answering questions! But it does.

The QPP may also be responsible for a series of almost identical questions being asked over a short space of time - perhaps people forget that they'd already asked me to answer their first version.

Duplicate answers
The search on Quora is pretty good and will generally show you if a question has already been asked / answered. There's no point in re-asking it but Quora's now full of these duplicates and triplicates that are phrased in a slightly different way. Fortunately it's fairly straightforward to merge questions and answers and you're given the opportunity to pick either the more viewed page over the less viewed one, or the one that you think more people will search for (the more popular one may have been actively shared on social media).

Email spam
I went through all possible "do not email me" options and had several months, possibly years, of no emails from Quora until recently when I discovered it had added some new options and automatically signed me up. Don't ever do that. I've now gone through and blocked those settings too (I don't object to on-Quora notifications).

Inability to set a "please don't ask me questions for a period of time" option
I've previously asked Quora how to adjust things so that I don't show up as a suggestion when people are looking for answers. As I log in infrequently (I tend to visit the site mostly during Christmas and bank holidays) I'm effectively ignoring people who've asked me to answer. Instead of doing that I'd much rather say "I'm out of the Quoffice" and set it for a period of weeks / months. People cannot know if I'm not around or just ignoring them (it used to be possible to give a reason when you passed on a question but that option seems to have gone). It's unfair to other users and annoying to me when I log in and find loads of (often irrelevant) questions in my 'requested to answer' pile. I just whizz through and delete them all now unless I spot one that's actually relevant / that I can answer.

The only solution is to deactivate (rather than delete) your account - this works very well. The only reason I'm not using it at the moment is so that I can log in and access 'my' content and move it offsite. Once I've finished and deleted all my answers I'll be able to delete my account permanently.

Layout doesn't prioritise 'asked to answer' questions
When you click on 'Answer' it gives you 'Questions for you' which are random questions that might be relevant based on previously answered questions. But it's not the list of questions that you've actually been asked to answer, that's in a separate bit to click in, called Answer Requests.  This page is one of the more irritating as it shows you some of the latest ones and as you delete or answer them starts to show you some earlier ones. I've found questions in there from several months ago (I'd assume you'd show them in order with earliest asked first - nope).

Has it already been answered by someone else?
My fault for not noticing this more promptly I think but there's no point in answering an asked-to-answer that's been answered satisfactorily by someone else. I just don't see the point. I'd only answer or comment if I have something to add (or occasionally correct) or if there was currently no answer. Of course Quora arranges things so that you're presented with a question and an option to answer. I can see that questions do say "No answers yet" or "5 answers" or "1 answer" - perhaps that's always been there and I failed to spot this clue (!).

You cannot download or export your own content other than manually
It's not portable as far as I can tell. I'm manually copy / pasting my answers to my new storage place for them and deleting them from Quora. They won't be properly deleted until I kill my account as at the moment I can restore them at any time. It should be straightforward to download and migrate my own content.

I've got over 270 answers on there so the copying and pasting will take some time, done 5 so far, doing a few every few days so will probably take me about a year to transfer. I look forward to liberating my answers from Quora's clutches. A shame, as I really liked Quora to begin with.

You have to log in to read more than one article
If you're not logged in and want to have a bit of a read it keeps pestering you to log in. I think you can get round this by right clicking and opening in a new tab, or searching for the content on Google and re-entering the site through that way but it's irritating, the content is free and it's supported by ads. There's no need to log in. On a mobile it's apparently even worse with a pop-up constantly requesting you download its app.

Good things about Quora
It's free to use, anyone can ask or answer a question, it is fairly well moderated (though one of my own answers was deleted because it pointed to a commercial site), it's really easy to paste in a screenshot (no need to file / upload). Although adding links can be a bit fiddly, anything from Twitter autoresolves to a hyperlink saying 'Login in to Twitter' so you have to 'hide' the link under some text or have a fight with it to stop it doing that, but generally it's fine.

Further reading
What turns people off about Quora? (a question asked on Quora) which has even more bleats than this post!
Yes, Quora still exists, and it’s now worth $2 billion (May 2019) - Recode

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Preparing and packing for Wilderness 2019

Woohoo, this time next week I should be all packed and ready to go for the 9th Wilderness Festival. I last went in 2017 and am going again for the same reasons - it's lots of fun and my friend Dr Helen Pilcher is giving a talk on Saturday afternoon (4.30pm) in the Books Tent and it will be a lovely family (I'm Auntie Jo to the kids and Oddparent to her eldest) outing, hooray.

Last time I took the world's tiniest, lightest tent along with a sleeping bag and camping mat. It was a bit of a squash, so this time I've booked myself into 'boutique' camping (finally, glamping!) and will not have to bring the following items as they're already included.
  • Tent
  • Thing to sleep on
  • Duvet
  • Pillow
  • Towel
Once again I'm using a combination of Gmail, WorkFlowy, Dropbox and Evernote to organise myself because I need all the help I can get.

  • 1. Maps
  • 2. Software
    • 2a. Gmail
    • 2b. WorkFlowy
    • 2c. Dropbox
    • 2d. Evernote
  • 3. What I'm packing
  • 4. FAQs

1. Maps and useful documents
Annotated map, where the Info centre and meeting points are etc

PDF of camping and entrances

Stage times 2019

Environmental Policy 2019

There's info about my travel tickets and times, festival tickets, alternative travel arrangements including taxi numbers and the postcode for satnavs. I also have info about ISS passes as it's rather nice to be out with friends under an open sky and see the International Space Station pass by.

2. Software 
2a. Gmail All emailed tickets and info are in a Gmail folder called Wilderness 2019. This has been synced so I can access it on my phone and I've opened all the emails on m phone and told them to 'show images'. There's a high chance that before I leave the house (night before) I'll re-do this and take some screenshots of tickets and stuff just in case.  

2b. WorkFlowy I've been using this for years for pretty much everything. It's a list-making marvel which makes it easy to add, move, mark as done or delete new items. If you start making a list and realise you want to add in subsections it's easy, you can just add a heading and indent anything below it (and you can click and drag to move things between headings or between levels of indentation). You can have a go of it yourself here. For Wilderness I'm using it specifically for my Master Packing List so that I can pick out items that might be relevant for a few days away in a field. The WorkFlowy app is also on m phone and sync'd but I'm just using it on the desktop for this. I've transferred the relevant items to Evernote and put check boxes next to them (see below).  

2c. Dropbox I have the app on my phone, behind an additional password, sync'd. All the files I need for Wilderness (stage times and maps PDFs etc) are in there. For extra usefulness I activate settings that will let me access the files offline. Relevant bits can also be enlarged and saved as screenshots and stored in a cameraroll album.  

2d. Evernote This is quite like WorkFlowy but with pictures. You can very easily paste in images and use colour and change the font size etc. This acts as my main one-page info.
  • At the top is stuff I still need to do or buy
  • ...or print
  • 1. Travel Times
  • 2. Tickets
    • 2a. Travel tickets info
    • 2b. Festival tickets info
    • Barcode of festival ticket order
    • Screenshot of main map
  • 3. Taxi numbers just in case
  • 4. Packing list
    • Wilderness' lost property form link just in case 
Here's what the packing list looks like.

3. What I'm packing / to-do list
And here's the actual packing list of what I'm taking. I don't have any prescribed medication but if you do don't forget that, and obviously if you're not glamping you might need a tent, groundsheet, camping mat, sleeping bag and something pillow-ish not to mention a towel. Or a mallet and tent pegs. Also I'm a woman so chaps reading this might want to have a think about blokier items to pack.

3.1 To-do a day or two before
  • Print information and maps
  • Charge up phone charger(s), ensure right cables for packing
  • Check e-tickets are sync'd on phones, screenshots in album, Dropbox sync'd
  • Buy things I need to buy
3.2 Hardware
  • Rucksack to put everything in
  • Day bag to have stuff I need when away from tent
  • Charger + cable (plug probably not a lot of use but you never know (works on trains)) 
  • Torch / headtorch and spare batteries - keep with you so that you can return to your tent after dark with ease
  • Plastic bags - to wrap stuff in and for putting used clothes etc in.
  • Vaguely wondering if I'll regret not buying walkie talkies
3.3 Outside
I'll be spending time away from my tent so need to be comfortable
  • Plastic ground sheet - anything to sit on in case grass is damp. A plastic bag would do
  • Sun cream - weather's gonna weather
  • Anti-bite cream - especially for evenings out
  • Hat / sunglasses as suits
  • Re-useable water bottle (a 'Misc' item but for the daybag)
3.4 Clothing
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • T-shirts
  • Trousers / jeans (or shorts, skirts or dresses if that's your thing)
  • Jumper (can get cooler in evening)
  • Jacket (warm / waterproof)
  • Spare shoes / Wellington boots / flip flops / sandals
  • Pyjamas or nightdress
3.5 Ablutions / health / comfort
  • Toothbrush / paste
  • Wet wipes
  • Liquid soap
  • Deodorant / scent
  • Tampons / liners
  • Nail clippers, scissors, tweezers
  • OTC meds like ibuprofen or dioralyte
  • A bit of talcum is always walcum
  • Ear plugs if your camp site isn't that quiet
  • Plasters
  • Spare insoles for added comfort
  • Hair stuff - clips, comb
3.6 Misc
  • Snacks / sweets / chewing gum - if you're leaving on Monday you'll need to pick up some portable snacks on the Sunday as the site will be closed and you'll be hungry
  • Cash (there are 2 ATMS on site)
  • Re-usable water bottle for day bag
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • Pen / pencil
  • Notebook
  • Reading material - kindle or book 
  • Bunting - this is Wilderness you understand
I'm not packing any exciting outfits as I'm not really the demographic for that but that would probably go in Clothing. There are people who seriously dress up at the festival and bring colourful hats and headdresses. Not me :)

 Above is what the INFORMATION TENT looks like. Lot of bunting there. I want to live in this tent.

4. FAQs
Cash machines: there are 2 ATMS on site (see annotated map)

Family friendly: it's very family friendly. See the bit about trolleys below too.

First aid tent: if you're a bit under the weather (see annotated map)

Food: excellent, not cheap (though General Shop has basic snacks and cooking stuff), ubiquitous
& Water: free, several taps on site (see annotated map), bring a re-usable bottle

Information tent: where you can buy programmes and find out about timing changes and other stuff (see annotated map, it's pretty much in the middle)

Lockers: they have them. You can also charge your phone in them. I didn't investigate cost cos didn't need them last time.

Loos: very nice, usually have mirrors in, mildly posh. You can pay extra for a Loowatt loo which is fancier but don't think you'd need to

Meeting point: by the entrance to family camping, used for several events

Phones 1
Recharge: see bit on lockers above

Phones 2
Switch off cellular data: you won't need 3G or higher, or wifi, for telephone and text, only for internet. Keeping it mostly switched off will preserve your battery life and data use but you can text or ring your friends. I'm with people who have iPhones so I'll switch off iMessage on mine and suggest similar (Settings > Messages) as sending via iMessage involves data and isn't necessary. Just make sure SMS/MSS is on.

You'll need to switch data back on again to send tweets or instagrams or to share pictures via text. I had excellent 3G and general O2 text / call signal throughout the festival. It struggled a little on the last day (when everyone is packing up and arranging to meet people I suppose) but I didn't really need it then. Also for checking the weather app!

Shop: There is a general store that sells all sorts of useful stuff. Get there early if you need serious stuff like camping gear. They also sold spring onions last time I was there. Don't think they sold many but I like the idea that someone had some with their bacon and sausage campfire barbecue arrangement. (Soft drinks, sun lotion, lighters, stoves, sleeping bags, ground sheets, tent pegs, toothpaste, the usual).

Snacks for Monday: if you're leaving by coach or bus etc on Monday grab some snacks on Sunday from the general store or get some toast or something from someone to carry with you. Everyone's shutting down on Monday and there isn't necessarily time to decamp / pack and fetch food before getting to the pickup point. If you can pack something that won't go off without refrigeration before Mon 5 Aug I recommend it.

Trolleys: can be hired in advance or at the entrance to your camp to help you transport your stuff to wherever you park your tent. From Friday evening you can then hire these trolleys overnight or for the weekend to wheel your small children around in.

Twitter / Instagram: @WildernessHQ for both