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 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Maximising your reach: Medical charities - If you answer public science enquiries, how do you share the answers with more people?

Every day I answer scientific / evidence-requiring questions from people with diabetes. I've done this for seven years, along with other colleagues in the Library and Information team (nee Science Information team). We have a huge 'database' of answered questions which we can draw on and update for newer similar queries.

In 2011 I'm hoping to find some way of getting some of these questions and answers 'on the web' so that others can search for them, read them and, ideally, comment on them. This may not be possible or feasible, for a variety of reasons.

I/We'd have to take time to pick out some suitable ones and make sure they're up to date before uploading them. How will we manage any follow-up enquiries that might arise from these questions and answers having been made public - assuming anyone reads them of course, but if they do, they may well have a related query of their own. How do you organise and index the information? Can people browse for all questions, is there an alphabetic listing or do people access the information via keyword search, and is the 'database' open to Google?

What about the risks of putting information on the web that can quickly become out of date? The team I'm in doesn't just answer questions, we do other things too (we provide statistical information to the rest of the organisation and train colleagues in the use of our intranet), and while we'd love to be able to have the resources to answer everyone's questions, we simply don't.

So... have you tackled something similar, and how? I'm wondering if other medical research charities (a) provide a direct or indirect enquiry service and (b) make the results available to the public? What problems might arise and how are these dealt with or pre-empted?

Note: I'm not talking about our main Careline service where people can chat with trained counsellors about anything that's worrying them about their diabetes or its care (we'll help our colleagues in Careline to answer some of the more sciencey queries, but theirs is a separate direct-to-public enquiry service).

Further background information
We don't currently have the resources to have a full-scale direct public enquiry service in our team, but queries that come in to any of our colleagues that require scientific / medical explanation or a search for evidence can be passed on to us to have a look at.

Over the years the enquiry numbers have dropped, probably because the internet makes it much easier for people to find information for themselves, and I expect this trend is common to many information services. I do wonder if people are getting really good information if they're not getting it from us (not to blow our trumpets or anything, but I think we're pretty good at finding things out and explaining it clearly), but critical appraisal of information found on the internet is a whole other blog post.

We reply either directly to the enquirer or to the colleague who originally took the enquiry. We keep our responses and refer to them for similar queries, but beyond that we don't make this content public, it's just one-to-one sharing.

I used to enjoy learning from the old NLH Q&A (ee also Wikipedia's mini article) which was similar in concept to our query service, but NLH's was for clinical questions from GPs. This was a large searchable database of enquiries which were speedily answered using the best available evidence - a good quality rapid response, but not a systematic complete answer (because the aim was to respond in a day or two). The questions were from real doctors asking about real patients.

Questions were not routinely updated and carried a warning to that effect highlighting that more up to date evidence might be available, but the information contained within the response was very helpful in signposting to further information. For example, if a reference is cited in a document written in 2007 the first thing you can do is have a look at more recently written literature which has cited that reference. Or, if NICE guidance was published in 2006 you can take an intelligent guess as to where you might go to see if it's been updated.

This wonderful service was run by Jon Brassey behind the equally fab TRIP database which makes all / most of these enquiries available and searchable by Google. If you work in the area of health communication you've probably already come across this database, which in addition to questions and answers links to a number (OK, loads) of documents which have been evaluated for their evidence quality.

Our query service isn't for medical questions from patients or GPs etc - we're not medically trained nor medical librarians but we can certainly signpost to other sources of information.

Apart from the potential problems with getting this information onto the searchable web, there are lots of great reasons to do it - and why I'm so keen. But I don't think it's sufficient merely just to dump a bunch of stuff on the web and leave it.

I suspect that the sheer range of enquiries that we have answered over the years probably exceeds the range of queries that any one individual would likely have, or come across. It would seem to be a helpful thing to make the info more widely available. I want people to be able to find information to questions that they didn't even know to look for.

Making Qs and As avaialable could increase the chance that someone with an even better response can contribute and improve the overall information. This might come from someone who has diabetes who can share their experience of something, but equally it could come from a doctor or pharmacist who might tell us about an information source that we hadn't known about. I can vividly remember the pivotal moment when I learned about the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) which lists every patient information leaflet inserted into the packet of medicine, as well as the much more detailed summary of product characteristics which was very useful for us. Similarly, finding out about the registers of clinical trials.

I shall add more of my thoughts here later, but a good film's just come on...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

How to unsubscribe yourself from a JISCmail mailing list

The quickest way to unsubscribe from any JISC mailing list is to send an email to listserv@jiscmail.ac.uk
with the message
unsubscribe LISTNAME

This instruction comes from the jiscmail FAQ
http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/help/subscribers/subscribercommands.html


I think you can also send an email to jiscmail@jiscmail.ac.uk with the message
unsubscribe listname --
(with the hyphens)

But you might not really want to unsubscribe...

On pretty much every mailing list I've been on someone will eventually send an 'unsubscribe' message to the entire list. This usually plays out with a few people explaining that they've sent the message to the list with others sending annoyed messages at the unfairness of it all. With all the bad feeling a few other people try and unsubscribe as well... and so on... but eventually it's all tidied up.

The next time this happens one of the mailing lists I subscribe to I shall point them to the jiscmail FAQ and this blog post!

I suspect that most people probably don't really want to unsubscribe, they just want to stop being annoyed by the endless loop of unproductive messages.

You can either send a message to the email address above instructing jiscmail to send you a digest of the posts (so you get one post per day for example) or you can suspend the sending of emails for a set time. The commands are:-

for a digest of messages
set listname digests (and to switch it off - set listname nodigests)

to suspend mail while on holiday
set listname nomail (to switch off - set listname mail)

Or, you can visit the homepage of your mailing list, which will have the following format
https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=listname

You'll need to log in with the email address you use for this mailing list - if you don't have a password for the JISC site you can create one.

Sometimes sending a message (by mistake) to the entire list can work anyway because the moderator will see it and delete you manually, but best not to rely on it in case they don't.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

How to get out of Blackheath - travel plans

I hate a dull commute and like to vary things a little in my journeys. Not that I'm really going to try and go anywhere while it's skittery and icy, and Southeastern trains probably aren't running anyway.

The nearest rail stations to Blackheath are Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Westcombe Park and Charlton - all of which go to London Bridge, Cannon Street and Charing Cross. In addition Blackheath also goes to Victoria.

Buses: 53, 54, 89 (&N89), 108, 202, 286, 380, 386, 422
(not a million miles away 472, 486)

[All buses mentioned in this blog post 15 | 17 | 24 | 29 | 53 | 54 | 89/N89 | 108 | 202 | 286 | 380 | 386| 422 | 472 | 486 ]

Blackheath - BKH
Local area map from National Rail Enquiries
Click on the links on the left hand side to see Bus stops in Blackheath village and click on Destinations to see the full list of places where Blackheath bus stops will take you, and whether or not day or night buses go there.
Full details for Blackheath, including train tracker, departures and arrivals.

There are also bus stops serving the Royal Parade area of Blackheath.

Lee - LEE
202 bus (a short walk from Lee Station) goes to Blackheath, past a Sainsbury's.
Local area map | Full details

Charlton - CTN
Local area map, again click on left hand side links for bus destination information and position of bus stops, and full details.
[Charlton rail station really has only one bus serving it, the 486 - the 380 bus stops very close by though].

There are also bus stops serving Charlton Village.

Lewisham - LEW
Local area map | Full details

Westcombe Park - WCB
Local area map | Full details

Railway maps for the UK, including London & South East

Example journey - getting from Blackheath to Camden.

Note that I tend to avoid the underground so that will add a whole layer of travel options that I've not included. I have done all of these journeys, but some of them are faintly ridiculous. I picked this journey because I do it most days, but also because it includes lots of opportunities for at least getting to the middle of town even if you don't want to travel all the way to Camden.

1. Rail and bus, with a tiny bit of tube
Blackheath > Victoria
Either go to Victoria and get the 24 bus (also goes past Westminster) - the stop is on the right hand side of the station after you walk out of the front entrance, or get off at Denmark Hill, walk across the road and get the 68 bus heading to Camberwell, stay on until Elephant and Castle and get the 168 all the way (also goes past Euston).

Blackheath, or other stations > London Bridge
The Northern Line will take you directly to Camden (and may the gods have mercy upon your soul, particularly between 8am and 9.30am). Or you can take the 17 bus to King's Cross and walk, or walk up to Euston and get the 168 or 253.

Blackheath, or other stations > Cannon Street
Bit of a palaver, don't really recommend it unless time is on your side and it's a beautiful day. Take the 15 to Aldwych, while admiring the more beautiful bits of London, cross the road and get the 168, or stay on the 15 to Charing Cross and get the 24 or 29 (longer).

Blackheath, or other stations > Charing Cross
From Trafalgar Square take the 24 and 29 which go up Charing Cross Road / Tottenham Court Road and Hampstead Road to Camden. Or, if you walk along the Strand to Aldwych you can get the 168 which passes Euston.
You can also get off at London Waterloo East and get the 168 from there, or take the 521 (it goes through a cool tunnel and drops you off in Holborn) and pick up the 168 from there.
(If you happen to want to go to Kew Gardens you can do so from London Waterloo East by transferring into London Waterloo mainline - all covered walkways).

2. Bus, underground and overland rail
Get to North Greenwich (by 108, 422 (from Blackheath / Royal Parade) or 472 or 486 from Charlton), then Jubilee Line to Stratford, then overland to Camden Road.

From Royal Parade area you can take the 53 or 54 to Charlton Village and then pick up the 486, or take the 380 to Charlton and pick up the 486 from outside Charlton. Once at Charlton station you can also walk to the next stop and get both the 486 or the 472 to North Greenwich.

3. Bus
The 53 bus travels from the Royal Parade part of Blackheath (does not go to the village) and passes through Deptford, New Cross, Elephant and Castle and goes as far as Westminster Bridge.

4. Ferry (better in the summer months)
Walk to Greenwich, ideally through the park, and float merrily onto one of the many Thames Clippers ferries travelling to Embankment (they also pass London Bridge and Canary Wharf on the way). Alight smugly, especially if it's a hot day and you've sat on the deck with the wind blowing in your hair, walk up to Charing Cross / Trafalgar Square and take the 24 or 29 to Camden. The ferries used to stop by Savoy Pier but this added smugness has been taken away from us and plain old Embankment Pier it is.

5. DLR
Lewisham goes to Bank or Tower Bridge as does Greenwich Cutty Sark (in the main covered shopping area). From Tower Bridge I'd take the RV1 which is actually the best bus in London, to Aldwych (more like the back end of Covent Garden) then the 168 and from Bank I'd walk or take any bus to London Bridge, or Cannon Street and start from there. To be honest, I'd probably give Bank a swerve.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Collaborative mapping of Greenwich's salt bins using Google maps

Today I rang Greenwich Council's Highways department (020 8921 5419) to find out (a) if they could grit my local pavements and (b) tell me where the salt / grit bins so that I could make a start on it myself, if feasible.

EDIT: I've since found this.
Greenwich Council FAQ "Where can I get rock salt for gritting my road or driveway?"
"You can buy bagged rock salt from your local builders’ merchant usually. We do not sell salt."

After being cut off twice I finally managed to speak to someone who read out a bit of a page of their website about the fact that the salt bins were vastly reduced in number because of budgetary constraints and vandalism. I asked if there were any near me and they managed to suggest one, admittedly not too far away but in slippy weather what's normally a ten minute walk can last a lot longer. Although they said the gritting team should be out in a couple of hours I'm pretty sure (from a look outside my window) that they haven't been. They were very helpful though and happy to try and find information for me, even though (as I discovered later) they weren't able to find the information I wanted.

I searched Twitter and Google to see if there was any better information about salt bins and spotted that @mysociety had tweeted about someone who'd created a Google Map for Sutton's grit bins and other #gritdata maps. Eventually, I managed to find the very PDF from which the council person had read bits of to me. Clearly they'd not spent much time familiarising themselves with the document as Appendix F contains the full list of local salt bins in Eltham, Greenwich (including Blackheath) and Woolwich. There are quite a lot of them, and plenty are near me. Why wouldn't someone specialising in the gritting of highways in Greenwich not know this?

Surely they could promote this data and encourage people to map it themselves - Greenwich is not short of community-minded nerds.

I decided I'd have a go at creating a Google map cos I've never created one before and it sounded like a good project. I tweeted that I'd found the information and @greenwichcouk got in touch saying they had thought about a Google map too. We collaborated (I have to say, I added really only about ten blue marker points, the bulk of the work was done by @greenwichcouk - EDIT, I have since done a goodly amount of Eltham ones) and the resulting map is embedded below, can be viewed and edited on Google, is on Greenwich.co.uk's site and that of Charlton Champion.


View Greenwich & Blackheath gritting: location of salt bins in a larger map

I'm very pleased with how it's turned out - it was nice to collaborate with someone local to create something that we hope others will find useful, if nothing else it reminds people that we can use data in interesting ways to benefit the local community. It would be nice to think that it might get used to de-ice the pavements though, and of course the next phase of the project is to find a shovel and get out there to my nearest salt bin and get shovelling.

Areas listed below in orange are mapped - instructions on how to edit are further below.

Eltham
CASTLEWOOD DRIVE BETWEEN 68 AND 70
WESTMOUNT ROAD OUTSIDE 118 (SHOPS)
WESTMOUNT ROAD OUTSIDE 148 (SHOPS)
ROCHESTER WAY JUNCTION OF GLENESK (NORTH) UNDER FOOTBRIDGE
COURT ROAD (SHOPS) JUNCTION OF PORCUPINE CLOSE
THE MOUND OUTSIDE LIBRARY WILLIAM BAREFOOT DRIVE
WILLIAM BAREFOOT DRIVE OUTSIDE 77/79
FOOTSCRAY ROAD OUTSIDE 404 SHOPS
FOOTSCRAY ROAD FRONT OF LIBRARY
FOOTSCRAY ROAD SHOPS OPPOSITE BEEHIVE PUB J/O BLANMERLE ROAD
FOOTSCRAY RD J/W BLANMERLE
FOOTSCRAY ROAD OUTSIDE SCHOOL OPPOSITE 327
BEXLEY SERVICE ROAD ON RAMP AWAY FROM TELEPHONE BOX OPP SHOPS
cannot find 'Bexley Service Road'
GREENHITHE CLOSE JUNCTION OF HAMBLEDOWN ROAD
NEWMARKET GREEN S/O P.O
SIBTHORPE ROAD OPPOSITE P.O
LYME FARM ROAD J/O WEIGALL ROAD
CRAITHIE ROAD J/O STRATHAVEN ROAD
HORN PARK LANE J/O UPWOOD ROAD
RYLAND CRES OPP 19 - it's Ryelands!
ALNWICK ROAD O/S SCHOOL
KINGS ORCHARD OP BOB HOPE THEATRE
ROCHESTER WAY ALLEY TO DUMBRECK
COURT ROAD J/O WOODMERE
ARCHERY ROAD J/O STATION APPROACH PATH
ALLENSWOOD ROAD NR J/O DUNBLANE ROAD
HEATHERBANK S/O 13A
GLENLEA S/O GLENHOUSE
GLENLEA S/O BEECHHILL
GLENLEA S/O BALKASKIE
OAKWAYS S/O 28
WEST HALLOWES 39
SPEKE HILL J/O BUCKLER GARDENS
CROCKHAM WAY OPP 10
HEVERCROFT 18
BROWNSPRINGS J/O DOMONIC DRIVE

Greenwich
FRANCES STREET, JUNCTION OF SAMUEL STREET (BOTTOM END)
FRANCES STREET, S/O L/C 17, JUNCTION OF SAMUEL STREET (TOP END)
FRANCES STREET O/S FLATS 289-393
SAMUEL STREET, OPPOSITE 118
ARTILLERY PLACE J/W REPOSITORY ROAD
WOOLWICH CHURCH STREET J/O CHURCH HILL
FERRY APPROACH, LB NEWHAM SIDE, S/O RAMP
CHARLTON LANE, OPPOSITE LANSDOWNE LANE
THE HEIGHTS, OPP 2
FLETCHING ROAD, OPPOSITE LANSDOWNE LANE R/O COOP
CHARLTON CHURCH LANE, JUNCTION OF THE VILLAGE
CHARLTON CHURCH LANE, OPPOSITE WELLINGTON GARDENS
HUMBER ROAD J/O DINSDALE ROAD PART WAYDOWN HILL
HALSTOW ROAD ON BRIDGE, JUNCTION OF HUMBER ROAD
STRATHEDEN ROAD S/O THE STANDARD PUB
BEACONSFIELD ROAD, JUNCTION OF BEACONSFIELD CLOSE
HYDE VALE, O/S NO 56
POINT HILL, JUNCTION OF WESTGROVE LANE
POINT HILL, JUNCTION OF WINFORTON STREET
CHARLTON ROAD, O/S SHOPS
CHARLTON ROAD, ON BRIDGE OVER BTSA
CHARLTON BROAD, TOP OF WESTCOMBE HILL
OLD DOVER ROAD S/O CHIP SHOP
PROSPECT VALE OPP 71 ON REDMAC FOOTWAY
INVICTA ROAD OPP 22 ON CONCRETE VERGE
RUSTON ROAD S/O POST BOX REAR OF FOOTWAY
VANBRUGH HILL OPP ANNANDALE ROAD ON WIDE FOOTWAY
RIDEOUT STREET IN CORNER ON BEND
CORELLI ROAD ON TARMAC VERGE OPP 48
WYNDCLIFFE ROAD OPP 26 IN FRONT OF GUARD RAIL
MAIDENSTONE HILL OPP DABIN CRESCENT
MAIDENSTONE HILL IN FRONT OF HEDGE OPP 14
KINVEACHY GARDENS J/O WOODLAND TERRACE
THORNTREE ROAD S/O 20
THORNTREE ROAD S/O LC 12 - one marker given for both 20 and 12
BRAMSHOT AVE JNC OF EASTCOMBER AVE

Woolwich
MOORDOWN J/W CONSTITUTION RISE
DONALDSON JUNCTION OF MOORDOWN ON ROUNDABOUT
MOORDOWN JUNCTION OF CONDOVER ON ROUNDABOUT
MOORDOWN JUNCTION OF ANKERDOWN ON ROUNDABOUT
EGLINTON HILL JUNCTION OF SHREWSBURY LANE S/O 93
EGLINTON HILL JUNCTION OF BRENT ROAD LINE UP WITH L/C
PLUM LANE OPPOSITE ROWTON ROAD
SHREWSBURY LANE JUNCTION OF OCCUPATION LANE
KENILWORTH GARDENS JUNCTION OF CROWNWOODS LANE
SANDY HILL ROAD JUNCTION OF CRESCENT ROAD
DURHAM RISE S/O WAVERLEY ROAD
GOSSAGE ROAD J/O GRIFFEN ROAD O/S FLATS
BUNTON ST S/O RIVERSIDE HOUSE
MANTHORPE ROAD JUNCTION OF VICARAGE PARK
DALLIN ROAD (TOP OF STEPS) S/O 45 - 47
NITHDALE ROAD (TOP OF STEPS) S/O 39 - 41
SLADEDALE ROAD NEAR JUNCTION OF LAKEDALE ROAD
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF HOWARTH ROAD
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF ROCHDALE ROAD
BOSTALL HILL J/O BOSTALL LANE
BOSTALL HILL ON BROW L.H.S
BEXLEY & GREENWICH HOSPICE
VIEWLANDS ROAD O/S 26
MASON HILL/ANGLESEA KERB SIDE
ELMDENE/BIGNELL S/O 19 BIGNELL
ELMDENE/WILLENHALL S/O ELMDENE COURT
CANTWELL/RIPON BACK OF PATH
CANTWELL/BRENT BY STEPS
CANTWELL/PAGET RISE S/O SNP LC 10
PLUM LANE /BRIINLOW (SOUTH) S/O SNP
PLUM LANE/BRINKLOW (NORTH) BETWEEN LC & BOLLARD O/S 3
DALLIN ROAD S/O 45
DALILIN ROAD /MAYPLACE LANE S/0 LC 4
NITHDALE/MAYPLACE LANE BY SUB STATION KERB SIDE
GENESTA / MAYPLACE LANE S/O 1 BY LC
GENESTA /WROTTESLEY S/O LC BY SNP
GENESTA VERNHAM S/O 75 VERNHAM
PLUM LANE/GENESTA O/S SCHOOL
ROWTON/ADMASTON S/O SNP COMMON SIDE
HINSTOCK/OVERTON S/O 33
UPTON/ENNIS BY RAILINGS
PALMERSTON/PLUM LANE S/O 43
BRAMBLEBURY/HEAVITREE LC 9
MAJENDI S/O 1
BREWERY ROAD/CHESTNUT RIASE BY POST BOX BACK OF PATH
PARKDALE S/O 98 BY SUB STATION
TORMOUNT.OLD MILL ROAD O/S CHURCH HALL
PARKDALE /SLADEDALE S/O 67
LAKEDALE/TEWSON O/S 137 BY WALL
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/KENTMERE S/O 121
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/BARTH ROAD S/O 141
PLUMSTEAD HIGH STREET/ BANNOCKBURN S/O SCHOOL
RIVERDALE/SAUNDERS S/O SNP
TYMOUTH/RIVERDALE O/S 58
WINNS COMMON / RIVERDALE S/O SNP COMMON SIDE
WINNS COMMON / PURRETT BY SNP
ROCHDALE / BOSTALL HILL
BOSTALL LANE / BOSTALL HILL
ROCKMOUNT / GROSMOUNT S/O SNP
HEATHFIELD / BASSANT S/O LC 1
GILBOURN / BASSANT S/O SNP
WARLAND / WELTON S/O LC 24

How to edit Google maps - you will need a Google account to do this
1. Open the link to the Greenwich grit map
2. Open in a new tab or window another version of Google maps so that you can search for roads without disturbing the map you're editing.
3. Check that someone hasn't already done the road you've picked by using Ctrl+F to find its name in the list (note that there is a PAGE 2 as well!), if it's not there, proceed :)
[Until I get around to re-ordering them, the most recently added is at the bottom]
4. Find the location of the road (and the relevant junction if appropriate) in the spare Google maps page, then in the grit map page use the zoom in / out buttons and grab and drag the map image to bring the relevant area into the viewing panel.
5. Click on Edit (which is at the top of the list of roads added, in the left hand side panel. A small panel of icons will appear, click on the blue placer mark icon to launch a floating marker which will follow your mouse.
6. Position the x part of the marker where the bin is located, wait for the little dialogue box to appear and place whatever Greenwich Council has labelled this bin in the larger window, writing a title in the top,
eg.
Bostall Hill / Howarth Road
BOSTALL HILL JUNCTION OF HOWARTH ROAD
7. Press Save and continue to add more if you're inspired, otherwise press Done.
8. Thank you :)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

A fail for #Southeastern and a micro win for Twitter

A couple of days ago I was at Charlton station hoping to get the 8.59am train into Charing Cross. Just ahead of that would be the 8.50 to Cannon Street. Neither train showed up and people began moving from the front of the platform towards the exit which is where the indicator signage is, in search of explanations. I can't be the first person to suggest that a second indicator sign further up the platform might be a help (they manage it at London Bridge and Charing Cross but perhaps don't bother with smaller stations... fair enough but then why not have it nearer the middle).

Anyone languishing at the top of the platform can sometimes hear a tinny distant voice that might be trying to tell us something interesting about a train. I've had the pleasure of listening to the results of a live recording of an Edison phonograph (at Dorkbot) and the quality of sound was better than the tannoy system at the top end of Charlton station. It's a lonely place to be, when no trains are appearing and no information is forthcoming so it's not too surprising that passengers were migrating to the station exit in the hope of seeing something. All we got from the indicator board was that the trains were DELAYED, but if you squinted your eyes at it it seemed as if one might be along in a bit.

On platform 2 a train came towards us (in the wrong direction, heading up to London as opposed to down to Dartford) and quite a few people looked like they might dash over to the other platform. The train sat there for a while and nothing much happened. The tannoy system by the exit is actually pretty good and we heard apologetic information telling us that there was a temporary signalling problem. After I tweeted that Southeastern's information sharing skills weren't up to much there seemed to be a sharp increase in the numbers of messages though I expect it was just coincidence. The messages were largely irrelevant though: it's illegal and dangerous to cycle on the platform, icy weather might make the platforms slippery and we should be mindful of our personal belongings.

At this point I'd sent messages to my boss and colleagues letting them know that we were settling into the comfortable Southeastern familiarity of uninformed immobility. I also posted a tweet or two in case anyone else was at the happy stage where they could cut their losses and try something different (like the 486 bus outside Charlton to North Greenwich, Jubilee to Stratford and the overland trains to Camden town, which is where I work).

Then someone tweeted that they'd been stuck at the level crossing just outside Charlton station on the up (London) line for the last 45 minutes. Given that the train that had come in on platform 2 had entered the station from the wrong direction this certainly made sense. I was about to tell some of the passengers standing next to me what I'd heard when I noticed a man talking to one of those on-platform Help points. It was a bit comical as the person at the other end wasn't familiar with Charlton and needed it spelled out just to be sure. Eventually he came back, on 'speakerphone', to tell those nearby that there was indeed a problem at the level crossing, but that it should be fixed within half an hour.

I've been to that level crossing, it's actually really rather beautiful with a lovely arch - you can get great shots from standing on the track area but best to get out of the way when the bells ring to indicate the gates are to shut for a train! It's just next to Maryon Park.

Shortly after the call finished the stuck train on platform 2 headed off in the correct direction, and a train appeared on platform 1. It added an hour to my journey and I think it's significant that the only information that anyone found out about (me by Twitter, fellow commuter by the Help point) occurred because commuters tried to find something out themselves.

Here's my complaint. I think everyone accepts, even if grudgingly, that sometimes trains break down and signals don't behave as they should. Stuff happens and it slows the system down for everyone with knock-on effects etc. etc. But it's pretty poor that no information is VOLUNTEERED to passengers. There's an electronic indicator sign and a tannoy system. Surely someone somewhere has a way of communicating with some sort of central office, and surely the driver of the stuck train or the person in charge of the level crossing was able to communicate this to that central office.

Why was the information we were given so irrelevant? Although it might come in handy if I see anyone cycling on the platform on an icy day.

Surely Southeastern staff must understand that they can gain a fair bit of good will by explaining clearly what the problem is and whether or not it's the sort of thing that has previously taken ages or over within the hour (or an unknown quantity). Even the person that the commuter called via the Help point didn't seem to have the relevant information to hand.

From other local blogs it seems that Southeastern have been strongly criticised - and not just by commuters I think Newsnight had a pop and the boss was summoned to Westminster - for both a poor service and worse communication. I can almost forgive a poor service - I wouldn't have wanted to run trains in during the snow either, but why not admit that nothing much was going to run and be done with it? Having cold annoyed passengers standing on platforms without any guidance is no way to go about things. V. poor, could do better, see me later.

In short, Twitter has so far been a very reliable indicator of what is going on with Southeastern trains and the same cannot be said of their website or other communication channels.