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, 30 August 2009

Public engagement with DIY technology - wind turbines

Climate camp turbine and sky
One of the wind turbines used to power the Climate Camp on Blackheath

I live in Blackheath in South East London and this weekend Climate Camp conveniently parked itself about a half hour walk from my doorstep. In among the climate activism classes there was a ~1.5hr wind turbine workshop which I attended on Saturday afternoon - much of the camp's power has come from a couple of turbines which charge numerous 12V batteries for distribution throughout the camp (Blackheath's very windy). There were also a few static bicyles which provided power by energetic cyclists.

The workshop was packed and I thought it was a really nice example of public engagement with engineering - the people leading the workshop were engineering students (postgraduate) and took the crowd through the principles of how turbines work including wind velocity, drag, torque, rotor blade profiles, magnets, copper coils, currents, voltage and where to find instructions to build one as well as online communities of like minded turbine fans to help you along the way. A lot of the material used came from skips (apparently university engineering department skips are fantastic) even though it's still not cheap to build one in terms of either time (a few hours to carve just one of the rotors) and money (one of the turbines cost around £400 for the parts that didn't come from skips such as magnets and copper coiling for the rotor and the metal braided cables used as guy ropes).

We didn't get to take a wind turbine home with us after school (they're quite large) but I chatted to the people running the course and asked them if, in addition to attending eco-type festivals, they'd ever done anything at the science festivals - I must say I'd be delighted to see them doing workshops at science festivals (assuming it could be accommodated). They haven't, but have done workshops with school pupils doing woodwork classes (the rotors in the models they demonstrated are hand carved) and metalwork etc.

The people behind the workshop are V3power and their website is - they use designs from Hugh Piggott, whose website is He has written 'A wind turbine recipe book'
The writer of a local blog, the Blackheath Bugle, has written a post about the turbines with a couple of pictures of their set up

At the end of the session (there were a lot of interesting questions and answers) a few of us helped in getting the turbines up and vertical again which was a lot more exciting than you might imagine.

Of course, now I'm wondering what it would take to turn one of those children's windmill toys into something that could power an LED...

See also the write-up of the post-camp residents' discussion: Climate Camp - Blackheath / Lewisham / Greenwich residents' meeting (19 September 2009) - I learned a bit about effects of camps on wildlife directly (canvas over ground) and indirectly (police surveillance equipment, apparently).

Friday, 28 August 2009

We're going to need a bigger hashtag(s)

There's going to be a debate, between Lord Drayson and Ben Goldacre, on the quality of science journalism / PR in September at the RI.

Science reporting: is it good for you? (Sold out)

The debate's already started, to a certain extent, on Twitter with a few people throwing examples of good science journalism / PR around and others countering with examples of the bad. I think we might be missing an opportunity to corrall or collate this information and that a couple of hashtags, one for the good and one for the bad, might be helpful.

This would enable us, if anyone wanted, to
  • collect some real world examples for future 'arguments' as well as this debate (might be useful for #scicomm students too?)
  • get a (preliminary and inexact) idea of the number and type of good and bad examples and the strength of feeling about them
At the moment I can't help thinking that currently both 'sides' are not going to do much better than selecting references from our own prejudices. At least that's what I'm going to do :)

For example, I work for Diabetes UK and people with diabetes or the parents of children with the condition will occasionally ring me (well not 'me' as an individual but the team I work in, and other front line teams too) to ask about diabetes breakthroughs they've read about in the newspapers.

I wouldn't want to overstate the case though (a) people quite often ring us about corporate websites where some 'intervention' is being sold, and that has nothing to do with science journalism (it's not in a newspaper or on its site) and (b) sometimes people misread what is being said in the paper (ie the article's fine but has been misunderstood).

There's a danger that, because of my job, I'm perhaps going to come up with rather unhelpful suggestions of news articles that hyped something related to diabetes, just because I tend to remember these ones better.

So... hashtags - I'll admit I'm a bit stumped for what these hashtags might be and I don't think the idea has really 'taken off' shall we say, but at a push how about #yayPR and #booPR or #yaynews and #boonews. I'm not normally this poor at coming up with hashtags!

This is a separate issue from the use of #scidebate as the hashtag for the RI event itself ...

One problem I can think of is that of 'weighting' a suggested article. I might think an article is very good on a topic that I'm not very familiar with but a scientist working in that field might think it's awful. Another issue that's already been pointed out to me (h/t @EvidenceMatters) is the relative importance of the topic.

Other problems are practical - how will people fit a newspaper citation into a Tweet? Who will harvest and deduplicate the hashtagged data.

It was at this point that I thought an everybody-can-edit Google Doc might come in handy and it would certainly save all that tweeting ;)

Just a thought...

Please help me make my FriendFeed room for 'Diabetes Twitterers' better

Shortened link for this post:

A while ago I dipped my toes into creating a FriendFeed room, really just a test of how to do so, in which I added myself and some other Twitter feeds to form a small collection of people who tweet about diabetes - I made it closed so that it wouldn't bother anyone. Then I forgot about it for a while.

Diabetes Twitterers

Recently I logged on to FriendFeed to find 40 people had requested membership and since I opened up the room it now has 52 people, all of whom are very welcome.

However the room sucks (no offence to the people whose feeds I've used, including my own).

There are two problems that I can see, though more experienced FriendFeedsters might spot more.

One is that each tweet is divorced from its owner - there's nothing to say who said it, it seems as if all tweets in that room are being said by 'Diabetes Twitterers'. I'd like it at least to recognise (ideally with the right photo) who it is that's said the tweet.

Secondly, I have added myself (and others) who talk about diabetes. However I also talk about lots of other stuff and it's currently scraping every single Twitter utterance from my feed (which isn't unexpected but I wonder if it can be improved upon).

Having said that, there are five 't' icons for five twitter feeds and mine isn't among them so I'm not sure how I've managed to appear anyway...

Can I filter my own feed and those of others so that only the tweets we make that mention #diabetes will be picked up by that room? I don't mean just a #diabetes query search being threaded into the room, I do mean filtering my tweets, and those of others whom I've added.

I don't really want a #diabetes search feed in the room as I've seen the output of this on Tweetdeck and there's far too much blether about herbal remedies, raw food and alkaline water and my intention is to keep guff to the minimum ;)

So... can I fix either or both of these problems? How? Having played with the settings I don't think I can, but I'm not that expert yet with FF so all help gratefully received.

Thank you :)

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Analogue Sound Workshop

See also my previous post on this topic: Geeky creative things in London

Update August 2016 - Ian runs bespoke analogue sound workshops for 2 people in his flat, for £55 per person

Last year I went on "Analogue Sound Workshop", a one-day course in Brighton, with Ian Helliwell (the tutor, who created The Tone Generation podcasts). We did all sorts of fun things like splicing 1/4 inch tape loops then playing them on an old tape machine and we also soldered a mini theremin kit.

One of the stranger things was drawing sound on a slightly wider 16mm tape by using patterns from Letraset / Letratone. The tape was threaded through a projector and the patterns (because of where we had positioned them on the tape) are able to create sound from an optical sensor. I think the best explanation of this might be this 2.4.10 Optical techniques which I found on Google books Sound synthesis and sampling.

We also prised open a walkie talkie and unearthed its circuit board, tinkering about on the metal contacts with a pin then once we liked the sound, soldering to make a new connection.

It was a lovely day, reminded me of the best sort of unhurried afternoons doing art projects at school. I'd highly recommend it.

There's one in November.

Analogue Sound Workshop
Ian Helliwell
A one-day practical session focussing on analogue electronic music techniques using hands on tools and equipment. Each student will make their own tape loops, draw sound onto 16mm film, build a Junior Theremin kit and creatively solder a walkie-talkie circuit. All materials provided. Course notes
8 November 2009, 11am-6pm
£90 full / £80 concessions

Noisemusic also sounds fun...

Friday, 21 August 2009

Query about connecting iPhone to TV (via DVD...?)

Recently I spotted that there are two packs of AV cables for iPhones and iPods. One cable set is composite video, the other component video.

My TV (an old CRT - I made an audioboo of it humming) has only SCART and aerial sockets so I certainly can't use the cables to connect my iPhone to it.

However my DVD player has all manner of sockets which the cables would fit.

I suspect the answer is 'no' but is it possible to connect the iPhone to the TV indirectly using the DVD? (iPhone + AV cable => DVD player, + SCART => TV)

The reason I think it isn't possible is because it's not clear to me how the DVD would know to send the component cable inputs to the SCART and on to the TV...?

It's not that I particularly need to connect my iPhone to the TV it's just that I'm curious to see if it could be done this way.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Perseid meteors

There are plenty of ways of watching, in real time, a stream of tweets on a particular topic. An easy one to get to grips with is What The Hashtag or wthashtag.

For Perseid meteors go here

If you want a transcript of the tweets (possibly more used for conference tweets but you never know, someone might want to make use of the facility!) see the 'View transcript' link just below the coloured bar chart.

Other methods of watching a twitter stream include Twitterfall (, Monitter ( and of course Twitter search ( but that last one doesn't automatically refresh. As far as I can remember none of these require you to have a Twitter account to 'tune in'. I think Tweetdeck ( does need a Twitter account and I certainly recommend it.