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

Saturday 11 November 2023

Currently at war with the Victoria & Alfred Hotel in Capetown, which will not stop emailing me

For the last six years (since October 2017) I have been receiving unwanted sporadic emails from various email addresses related to Newmark Hotels in South Africa. I don't seem to be able to stop it for any length of time.

It looks like someone used my email address to create an account. This means that unsubscribing doesn't actually work because if that person makes a booking the hotel will continue to send the booking information by email, even if they stop emailing marketing stuff. So I have recently been getting booking information for someone else, who was staying at the V&A hotel. Apart from being annoying it also seems like a privacy problem or security flaw.

"Please note if you unsubscribe from the Newmark Hotels email list, we will continue to send you important, time-sensitive messages related to recent transactions, such as reservation confirmations.


Presumably the person also managed to get their booking information, somehow, as I later got an email inviting me to give feedback on 'my' recent stay.  Or perhaps it was automated and the person didn't get their info and didn't manage to stay at the hotel.

All attempts to contact the hotel or the chain through various email addresses to try and nip this in the bud (too late) hasn't worked and there seems to be no way of stopping them from emailing me. I've had to set up filters on my email so their future attempts will bypass my inbox.

I'm sure the venue itself is perfectly adequate for hotel stays but persistently emailing people who aren't interested doesn't warm me to them.

Tried leaving a message on their Instagram account too but it was rejected as spam, so the war continues ;)

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Another spam email, promising me millions ;)

I do love a good scam email. This was correctly categorised as spam by Gmail and placed in a folder, however I am unable to resist playing along (if you do this, don't click links) so I hoiked it out to see what they send out when you 'bite'. 

Not surprisingly an almost identical version of the second email can be found here

This arrived first, apparently from someone at HungKuang university in Taiwan, who may have had their account hacked or phished. Email address begins with letter u then there are eight numbers.


On Tue, 24 Oct 2023 at 20:30, Name redacted <[email address redacted]> wrote:


I apologize for the urgency, but could you please speak with me at your soonest possible convenience?”


[Name redacted]
*President of BNL – Head of BNP Paribas Italy*
This message has been scanned for viruses and
dangerous content by MailScanner, and is
believed to be clean.



I replied disingenuously that this had reached me in error, which of course triggered this one:


---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: [redacted but now a Gmail address]
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2023 at 08:22
Subject: Re: Mutual Benefit
To: [me]

Hello [me]

Thanks for your swift response, firstly, I will formally introduce myself to you, my name is Mr. [Name Redacted]. I am currently the President of BNL – Head of BNP Paribas Italy. I am sorry to have encroached into your privacy in this manner, without further delays, I will immediately proceed with the details of the proposal as said in my introductory email to you.

I would respectfully request that you keep the contents of this email confidential and also respect the integrity of the information that you are coming across as a result of this email. I contacted you privately and no one is aware of this communication thus the reason why I had us communicate strictly via our email.

I am the personal accountant to one (Late Mr. Robert), a foreign contractor with Royal Dutch, who has an investment account with my bank. Unfortunately, my client died along with his nuclear family in France while on a Sabbatical leave during the summer of the year 2011, may their soul rest in peace. He died without leaving a Will. Several efforts were made to find his extended family through his embassy without success.

Furthermore, I received a notification last week to provide the next of kin of my late client being his personal accountant or the account risk being transferred to the government (es-cheat) in 14 days' time. I am contacting you to assist me in repatriating the funds left behind by my late client. This claim will be executed without breaching any Turkish laws and success is guaranteed if we co-operate on this. The bank will release the account to you because of the recommendation of you as the next of kin.

I am a man of high integrity; I will not lie to you and I expect the same from you. The amount involved is €8,250,700.00EUR (Eight Million Two Hundred And Fifty Thousand Seven Hundred Euros), I propose we share the proceeds 50/50, I think this is fair?

I will provide you with all the necessary information about this deal when I get your response. I am contacting you to assist me because I know you can handle this. The bank could not identify any of his relatives because nobody came to make claims, of which no one knows of his account with my bank. That's the reason I contacted you, to stand in as the NEXT OF KIN to my late client because in a few weeks' time all the assets will be handed over to the government, so I thought it wise it could be of benefit to us if we did co-operate as one to archive this.

I assure you that there will be no form of Risk or illegality in carrying out this transaction because I have been working on this for a very long time and have made sure that the process is free and fair for both of us. I anticipate your cooperation. Treat this proposal with utmost confidentiality and urgency for 100% success. Do not take undue advantage of the trust I have bestowed in you.

My position as President of BNL – Head of BNP Paribas guarantees the successful execution of this transaction. If you find yourself able to work with me, I urge you to indicate that without delay. Once again, do note it's confidential, and be assured that this transaction would be profitable for both of us.

Thanks in advance for considering this, and I await your prompt response.


[redacted, in case they've stolen a real person's email account and are using their name]
*President of BNL – Head of BNP Paribas Italy*


Wednesday 11 October 2023

Inundated with spammers trying to get a link on my posts ;)

A post I wrote back in 2009 and updated in 2013 receives a disproportionate amount of spam attempts in which someone tries to get me to add a link to the page. Of course the link they want me to add has nothing to do with the page (it's very clear they've not read it or understood the page). 

The intention in getting the link onto my page is to 'tell' Google that my site thinks their page is worth linking to. Nope. This has been going on for a decade and I have kept 50 or so examples which I'll gradually add below, with their link, name and email address redacted. 

The page in question is which is a fairly popular page but is actually only my 10th most-read page is (inexplicably!). You might expect they'd want to pick a more popular one but perhaps are hoping to go under the radar.

Where London science communicators might work (24 July 2009) - this one attracts all the spam despite being much less popular than nine other posts.

All-time views for the most-read posts on this blog - the one
that attracts all the spam is the one right at the bottom!

Here are some examples from the back catalogue.

Suggestion of a link about nursing but my page is not about that.

I get a lot of requests from people claiming to be teachers or home educators saying that a small child in their class is terribly excited to share a resource with me and please can I add it and then tell them I've added it so they can celebrate. Bit too social engineering for my liking. Hard no.

The most recent one, on holistic ophthamlmology.
Note that 'click to unsubscribe' link at the end. I hadn't subscribed ;)

Spam link attempt from weight loss surgery and diabetes

Spam link attempt from someone with a guide
for safe travelling for people with diabetes

And a couple of bonus emails from people who've misinterpreted my post showing how you could (in 2012) "bypass" a third-party resource for handling RSS feeds sent to Twitter.

Handy Twitter RSS feeds to bypass IFTTT Twitter trigger switchoff (30 September 2012)

Someone asking me to post advice that is about heart bypasses on a
page where I'm talking about a completely different type of bypass.

This one is hoping to get a page about heart disease
and hair loss after a bypass on my page.

Another one just came in later this evening!


Wednesday 16 August 2023

Making your event easy to use (film festival screenings in particular)

Pic credit: Dean Leggett

I help run a free film festival in Greenwich (specifically the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival) and every year when preparing the listings I try and keep the following things in mind. My aim is to make it easy for people to know what to expect at our screenings and either reduce or at least draw attention to any barriers.

1. Subtitles / captions

If a film screening can be subtitled then that helps to include people who are d/Deaf or who have a degree of hearing loss or audio processing difficulties. Those difficulties can also be exacerbated by the acoustics of the venue. 

Even people with good or perfectly adequate hearing (me!) can pick up extra stuff they'd not even realised they'd missed. For me it helps solidify how place or character names are spelled which generally helps me remember and know what's going on. 

Subtitles do exclude people who find them a visual distraction though. They also tend to appear on-screen just before the character speaks them, so can ruin the joke or flow a bit. 

It's fine to have no subtitles but the most important thing is to state whether a film will have them or not. Just let people know.

Also if you are subtitling a film that gives you access to another advertising venue:

In my own listings I've used the "Regional Indicator Symbol Letter S" to denote subtitled events ๐Ÿ‡ธ

2. ♿️ Wheelchair accessibility: venue and loos

A venue may be wheelchair accessible but if the screening room is upstairs and there's no lift... not so much. If possible visit the venue yourself and see but if you are able-bodied you may miss some subtle things that seem fine but which might be a barrier or annoyance to someone using a wheelchair. A good website to check a venue's accessibility is - with information gathered by people who've visited a site and know what to look out for.

For a film screening many people can manage the couple of hours duration without needing a loo, but others will need to know the loo situation, particularly if coming from work or elsewhere. It's a helpful kindness to say in your advertising blurb if there is only a standard loo or if it's accessible. Emojis are a quick shorthand but do also write it out for users of screenreaders.

♿️ ๐Ÿšฝ ❌
♿️ ๐Ÿšฝ ✅

3. Different exits?

This one is my pet peeve and I've been to two events which caused me a bit of stress on leaving as I'd not been aware before the screening that we'd all be leaving a park by a different gate from the ones we'd come in by. 

Open air park screenings are fantastic but parks often close during the screening and everyone is shuttled through a single exit. This can be a bit of an unpleasant surprise. Sometimes there's a financial cost too, e.g. I can walk into the top of Greenwich Park and walk home from the same gate, but if we're all leaving by Cutty Sark at the bottom that's a bus ride home or a longer walk up a steep hill. Fine, but helpful to be able to plan for this (particularly, I would assume, for people using wheelchairs). 

Also for me personally, having no sense of direction I prefer to know exactly where I'm heading for on leaving and can't necessarily guarantee a good signal to get that info from the CityMapper app!


4. What3Words location markers

These are super helpful for outdoor events where people might need to know the location of any preferred (nearest, or where the ticket-checkers are) entrance, the exit and the actual screening area if a walk is involved. Adding a link to the Google Maps map is also very helpful as people can zoom in and see what the nearest bus stops are, plus other transport options or nearest car park.

This one will give you a nice view of the row of cherry trees in April: stay.path.wizard

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Imaginary GCSE Magic

I remember the first time I saw my colleague Paul do magic at a work event I was at. It was great fun anyway but he also linked some of the science of the tricks to the science behind the work that we were doing (medical device safety) and honestly my mind was just ever so slightly blown by that. 

He and our colleague Peter McOwan (who died in 2019) at QMUL used magic to talk about computing and maths topics as well as human-computer interaction, particularly in schools talks. One example is that a trick has a set of steps to be followed (a bit like a computer algorithm) and also a method of getting the audience to 'look over there' (a bit like the user experience). 

Paul's just published a book (co-written with Peter with additional material added after Peter's death) called Conjuring with Computation which is for sale, but almost all of Paul and Peter's magic-themed output via CS4FN (Computer Science For Fun) is completely free, and brilliant. 

There are lots of fascinating overlaps between magic and computational thinking, and lots of discussion about teaching computational thinking in schools. It has wide applicability (a way of approaching and solving tasks that can be useful beyond programming). 

This thought now keeps popping into my head: should magic be taught in schools? And if so what would the curriculum be...

I'm neither a teacher nor a magician but in line with my series of "Imaginary" posts here's what I have let my mind come up with while on longer bus journeys...

Magic Circle - 15th Century manuscript via Wikipedia


✨ Imaginary GCSE Magic

Firstly it would be super interdisciplinary, linking to other different curricula including history, maths, chemistry and so on. See how we've sneaked computing into various other subjects in our 'Computing and...' interdisciplinary computational thinking page. Also I came up with an interdisciplinary game (Combining Careers) where you pick two topics and try and come up with a job that incorporates both - I think this was inspired by hearing about a Cow Historian on the TV programme Coast and learning about a Hairdressing Archaeologist who works out how complex hairdos of yore were actually put together.

Presentation skills ๐Ÿ–ฅ
A bit of showmanship is quite handy when doing magic tricks, learning how to work with and respond to an audience, that sort of thing. Obviously a magician pretty much also has to lie to their audience so I might not want to take that too far with a classroom - but the audience know they're being led a merry dance at least.

The importance of practice
You can't just learn a trick and then do it, it needs repeated application and effort - a useful thing to learn.

Critical thinking skills, spotting pseudoscience
I remember reading or hearing James Randi say that the faces of 'psychics' would blench somewhat when they knew he was in the audience. The strategies of cold-reading and hot-reading can be (mis)used to give the impression of supernatural knowledge, or used to debunk nonsense. General 'logical thinking' skills, always useful.

You could really go to town on the history of magic (both as a form of entertainment as well as a deliberate deception). The history of women accused of witchcraft and how they were treated too

Botany and chemistry etc ⚗️
I think the Harry Potter-ish aspects of Herbology and Potions can definitely be included here. I like to think that either the text books or lab notebooks can be made to look a bit steampunk too, with lots of lovely drawings and doodles in the margins. Anyway the chemistry syllabus in its entirety is magic, converting one thing to another and emitting colourful light
๐ŸŽจ  and heat ๐Ÿ”ฅand useful products. Practicals would definitely include re-creating 'mauveine' from highly dangerous chemicals and making explosions ๐Ÿงจ from metals in water etc. 

Poisonous and hallucinatory plant products would get an airing - I suspect my GCSE wouldn't pass health and safety checks. Plants are also inherently magical, turning light and carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen.

Also the history of folk beliefs and superstitions, and plant-based cures for various ailments.

Obvious things like 'how are we fooled?' and how to avoid getting duped (incredibly widely applicable!). I might also bring in things like sound design in TV/film/theatre and film scores and how they can augment what an audience is feeling

I don't really know much about quantum stuff but it sounds pretty magical, possibly that can be incorporated!

Drama / acting
I think it's pretty magical that a person on stage can say some words and affect the emotional state of the audience, even without fancy set design.

Film / CGI
Literally creating something from nothing through the medium of pixels. Miraculous.

The nature of believing something which may or may not be true.

Maths and magic
This is already pretty well mapped out (we have some books on Maths and magic^^) but thing like trigonometry, Fibonacci weirdness, solving problems, mathematical curiosities. Also Islamic and Celtic art and patterns follow maths structures and the result is pretty magical but I may be stretching the meaning somewhat :)

A nice mix of physics, maths, acoustics and emotion. It's basically alchemy.

What would you have in your Imaginary GCSE Magic course?