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, 31 December 2011

Capsiplex Plus - yet more magic beans advertised in newspapers

Christmas and New Year means weight-loss-pill-season. It's the annual low-hanging fruit of evidence-based skepticism for stories in the news. Yawn :-) See "Watch out for some PR about Nuratrim"

The merchants who provide products for the MoreNiche affiliates tend to go into overdrive with new products or in this case new versions of older products and there's plenty of advertising PR in the newspapers and magazines. Over the last week we've had adverts for Nuratrim appearing in The Telegraph and the Daily Mail but there's a new thing for the New Year, of course.

Capsiplex Plus
Capsiplex has been around for a while I think but it has been upgraded to a more expensive version and the PR is apparently due to be published in the Daily Express (obviously I'd love it if they read this). 

According to the company's website the newer product contains 5HTP (5 hydroxytryptophan). You can see here how it apparently contributes to the overall product (would something that increases metabolism and enhances mood need a marketing license from the MHRA?).

My favourite bit on that page is the apology to (I assume) Angelina Jolie but whoever the apology's intended recipient is she's referred to only as Ms Jolie... this clarification doesn't appear to have been transmitted to the sites who are marketing Capsiplex. Oops. I understand the PR is also going to mention that it contains 'bioperine' although the website doesn't say that yet, but it does mention piperine.

The company's website has a page called /clinical-trials which doesn't yet mention anything about Capsiplex Plus yet so perhaps some further information will be added. The evidence, as provided for the original product (Capsiplex) is a bit sparse though, in that there's nothing referenced specifically for Capsiplex at all. The page does mention four clinical trials of Capsiplex (although none had more than 14 participants) but of course this isn't actually published. There are some references included but they're for the individual ingredients (this seems to be a feature of these types of products).

More tomorrow when the Daily Express publishes it then...

1 January 2012 - as yet, nothing that I can see on the Express website about Capsiplex Plus athough there's somethng about Capsiplex from 2009. Anyway I've trapped copies of the manufacturer's claims as this seems more like something for the MHRA than the ASA.

Update: still nothing on Daily Express site, maybe tomorrow.

It occurred to me that one could create a website with links that go to the company's website and allow readers to buy the product directly, bypassing any affiliates. Alternatively since the affiliate track IDs are easily findable one might be extra kind and pick a few at random and give some of them a random boost. Of course this means that more of this product is sold despite the fact that I've not found much good evidence for it yet...

Update 2: just checked the blog stats and amusingly there are rather a lot of Google searches that contain Nuratrim or Capsiplex (not many for Capsiplex Plus though) in the incoming list...

2 January 2012 - still haven't spotted anything in the papers about this yet. Although I did check the Advertising Standards Authority pages and spotted that Advanced Health Ltd, who make / market Capsiplex Plus, did have an ASA adjudication upheld against them earlier this year for another of their products called Meratol (they also make Nuratrim).

Friday, 30 December 2011

Blog stats for this blog part two

I wrote a post on the stats for this blog back in January 2011 and thought I'd update things. Despite a mild worry that it's a bit like saying "here's how much money I've got in the bank" I thought it might be of interest to others, and it will be of interest to me this time next year - I don't really know how my stats compare for an average blog. 

As observed in the previous post I seem to get random hits mostly from Google and this appears to be 'long tail' stuff in that each post gets a gradual increase in the number of hits overall but there's nothing too dramatic, bar one or two popular posts. And of course Google's own spiders visit my blog and crawl everything so I suspect quite a lot of the hits are non-living readers.

The blog itself is a bit of a mish-mash and isn't really about anything in particular - I'm glad I gave it an appropriate title at least. I suppose overarching themes might include skepticism, jobs in science communication, Twitter tools, nerdy pursuits and cinema but there's some random stuff in there too. I think if you were trying to build an audience or a niche you might want a blog that is a bit more coherent but I like to think the internet has enough space for everyone.

The picture below shows the number of hits per month, I've added in the letters myself, but it doesn't appear to have any information about stats in 2010. I believe these are pageviews rather than visitors (individual people) but I haven't delved too much into it.

From my previous post on this it appears that this information started to become available from within Blogger (without having to visit Google Analytics) in July 2010 so I'm doubly surprised that 2010 info is absent, but each spot reads as follows.

May 2009 - 0 and A June 2009 - 0 - 2 posts
B July 2009 - 3,632 - 4 posts
C August 2009 - 3,236 - 6 posts
D September 2009 - 3,384 -  9 posts
E October 2009 - 3,369 - 14 posts
F November 2009 - 6,336 - 4 posts
G December 2009 - 3,394 - 6 posts

2010 - absent data (77 posts in total: 9,7,7,9[April]; 2,10,4,9[August]; 5,6,4,5[December])

H January 2011 - 3,938 - 5 posts
I February 2011 - 3,630 - 10 posts
J March 2011 - 5,532 - 6 posts
K April 2011 - 4,641 - 11 posts
L May 2011 - 4,584 - 3 posts
M June 2011 - 5,838 - 5 posts
N July 2011 - 4,120 - 5 posts
O August 2011 - 4,901 - 7 posts
P September 2011 - 6,766 - 3 posts
Q October 2011 - 6,813 - 6 posts
R November 2011 - 7,982 - 11 posts
S December 2011 - 4,899 so far (25 December 2011) - 14 posts (so far)

At the time of writing (30 December 2011) the December 2011 total has recently increased to 6795 and the number of blog posts written this month is at 16 (this will be the 17th). Much of this spike is due to a small prophecy coming true, about the PR for a product called Nuratrim ;)

Edit: 5 February - final tallies for December 2011 and January 2012
December 2011 - 7,226 - 18 posts
January 2012 - 8,137 - 10 posts

Some of my posts I mention on Twitter a few times because I really want people to see them or know about something - eg my post on tools for Twitter, but with some others I don't bother as they might just be things I want to record for myself for later. In either case the majority of any hits come from Google keywords (as a librarian I suppose I am at least fairly good at titling and tagging my posts correctly, when I remember to do it that is) rather than from following a link on Twitter, however the blog post that indirectly led to the map is an exception as it was tweeted by Ben G and so there are a couple of spikes there that relate to that. In short, for most of my posts tweeting about them doesn't make that much of an impact, but occasionally it does. All my blog posts are also fed into FriendFeed and I expect I will get around to migrating my Blogger profile to Google+ profile, although I don't really use G+ at the moment.

The most popular posts are below (Google Analytics suggests that the numbers are higher, in fact I'm not entirely sure how to marry up the disparity in figures between Blogger Analytics and Google Analytics (remembering that Blogger is owned by Google)) with their pageviews.

24 Oct 2010, 7 comments
8,684 Pageviews
5 Jun 2010, 3 comments
8,575 Pageviews
24 Jul 2009, 8 comments
7,716 Pageviews
11 Apr 2010, 4 comments
4,114 Pageviews
30 May 2011, 5 comments
3,992 Pageviews

Ironically I stopped promoting "How to find old tweets" (because it's out of date and superseded by "A list of tools..." however an awful lot of people seem to be searching in Google for that and so that's the one that brings them to the blog. See my earlier point on tagging.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Both my parents are ambidextrous, I'm not - why?

My mother was actually left handed but was encouraged to write with her right hand as a child, but in adulthood her handwriting with either hand was excellent although she did use her right hand more often.

My dad's teacher was amused to see how he wrote things on the blackboard when asked - he'd start writing the sentence with his left hand and when he got to the middle would transfer the chalk to his right hand and continue until the end. This somehow seems easier to do on a blackboard than when writing on paper (I've tried this myself and it's not too bad).

But my handwriting with my left hand is pretty bad - why am I not ambidextrous? And can I improve my left hand writing with practice? 

I've been remembering my non-impressive attempts to take up archery a year or two ago (fun, but don't rely on  me for your dinner, I might hit the animal but unlikely to be a clean kill) and how being left-eyed and right-handed turned out not to be that brilliant a combination.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Polite suggestion to people writing about diet pills, patches or other supplements

Please (please!) cross reference the name of the product from any press release that advertises some new diet pill, patch or supplement against the MoreNiche affiliate forum and others like it (edit: I also recommend checking the ASA's website too). Thank you :) 

The simplest way to do this is to run a Google search that will pick out the product's name from the MN site, as in Nuratrim which will bring up this list of items. I'm sure there are other affiliate stables too. 

This is a shortcut to using the advanced search function of Google, allowing you to search for a term within a website and can be quite useful. You can even find instances of your word of interest in PDFs, for example, by adding the file:pdf search string.

You can also find other sites that are flogging these products by using the following search string "" Nuratrim 

It's also worth cross-checking against adjudications published on the ASA's (Advertising Standards Authority) website. Advanced Health Ltd who are the merchants / distributors for Nuratrim had a complaint against them upheld earlier this year for the marketing claims they made for another of their products, Meratol.

You can search on Google for the following search string:
site: meratol 
- the results will look like this

The Telegraph has published this today (no wish to pick on T'graph, just they provide a convenient examp) about a product called Nuratrim (here's what I wrote about it a few days ago) but as you can see from the search results above it's one of a suite of pills, patches and supplements flogged at fairly high cost. Evidence is a bit cherry-picked I think. The Daily Mail has also published the 'story'.

Further reading
You may also be interested in the article spinning / SEO techniques which affiliate marketers use (really, it's quite clever) to route Googling eyeballs to sites where money can be made. See the bit below the grey line in this post.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Idea - co-ordinating a web hub thing for local highstreet shops

A few weeks ago I received a survey from Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. I didn't fill it in because the small print creeped me out a bit but one of the questions intrigued me. It was "what can the Mayor do to improve the health of highstreet shops?"

Here is my suggestion.

A website 'hub' of info about local shops, curated by shopkeepers / community
It's now very, very easy for anyone to set up a website using free basic tools such as Google Sites or a low cost one that's a little fancier. My suggestion is that one or two of the nerdier people in a row of shops agree to maintain a website for all the shops in that area on a particular site which is then publicised (eg in newsagents' windows and local newspapers for starters). At its most basic it need only have the names of the shop and the order in which you'd find them when walking down a highstreet. If required, each shop name could have a sub-page which has information on its opening times, contact details, types of items sold etc. As such a basic website would be scaleable in that people could add more information if they wanted to or had time. When a shop moved away and another replaced it, the website could be amended.

Each local website could be collected together under an umbrella 'highstreets' site, searchable by area, postcode, shop name, even product. In this way you can 'drill into' London » Greenwich borough » Blackheath » Blackheath Village (or Blackheath Royal Standard) » highstreet shops.

There's a great precedent here but it's run by a company.

Streetsensation - Google streetview for the posh or touristy shops of London
This is already done extremely effectively for some of the more touristy posh shops in London - for example Streetsensation is a company which has mapped the shops for places like Marylebone High Street and Oxford Street.

Recently I walked from Camden to Oxford Street intending to go to HMV and I couldn't remember, when I got to the bit where Regent Street and Oxford Street intersect, whether I should go left (yes) or right (no). I should have visited these pages beforehand - see the blue number [7] marked here. You can then click on the 7 and see all the shops, as they are when you're walking past them, that run from 178 to 136 (because the numbers get smaller in that direction I presume) on Oxford Street. Basically you can see exactly where each shop is and all their spatial arrangements. 

Not only that but you get contact details for most of the shops, so you can ring them up and say "when do you close?" and most of them have a link that goes to their website. Annoyingly it's an affiliate link that pops up in a window where the URL is hidden (can't right click open in new tab either) but we can't have everything.

Could something like this be translated to local shops - all that's needed is a photo of each shop, their contact details (maybe even opening hours), a link to their shop and information about where they are in relation to the other shops (eg at the end of the row, next to the hairdressers - this can be obvious from a knitted together panoramic shot). Possibly local councils might get behind this too.

Have a play with Carnaby Street and imagine something more basic but conceptually similar for your local highstreet shops.

[Edit: 11 July 2012 I might make a start on a Blackheath page unless anyone knows of one already...]

Why do I think this is beneficial?
It increases the amount of useful information about an area and makes it available to people both in and not in that area (visitors!) via the internet. I hesitate to suggest that knowing what shops are in an area might make someone more likely to visit ("oh I didn't know there was a bookshop in X") but that would definitely work for me. I'm often surprised, when on detoured bus journeys, to discover some interesting shop that I'd not known about.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Thoughts on job vacancies pages part two

I have a new plan. I am going to try and persuade all organisations to add a page - /jobs - to their website and for it to be the official page on which their jobs are posted. For some organisations new jobs will appear infrequently (some orgs are small and have a low turnover of staff) in which case it might say for several months in the year "there are no vacancies at present".

Not all organisations have a page like this, which would look something like or, presumably because they think it's pointless having a non-regularly updated page that doesn't have much on it.

I disagree.

1. If all organisations have such a page in existence (and we all agree to accept that some will be updated at slower rates than others) then it makes it an order of magnitude easier to find where that org keeps its jobs. Imagine if this was an industry standard. I've written about this before, sort of, in part one.

Also it would be very helpful if you could set your website search engine to point job, jobs, vacancy, vacancies, "work with us", "work for us", opportunities, recruitment, employment and any other synonyms you can think of to point to this /jobs page.

2. This adds an extra page to your website. By all means link it back to other pages in your site and do something clever with it for search engine optimisation.

3. You can add content about people you have working for you and what they do, thereby demonstrating that your organisation is a great place to work in.

4. Call me crazy but why not have some information about your jobs such as a few job descriptions, typical salaries and organisational structure, as well as copies of your application form and guidance on filling these in. I appreciate that job descriptions are very variable (as is organisational structure) but surely we can all agree that we won't hold it against you if you put this information there. Feel free to put a disclaimer. 

5. If it's an organisation that is likely to employ science communicators then I'll list it on my great big list (two and a half years old and getting bigger) of 'places where science communicators might work'.

So, please add a page to your site and make it easier for people to bookmark / link to / look at when they want to come and work for you.

Thank you :)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Watch out for some PR about "Nuratrim" - wonder where the evidence is

This post is now five years old so many links don't work, but here's what will probably be being advertised in newspapers in the New Year (2018):

Occasionally I take a look at the MoreNiche affiliate forum (see 'further reading' below) to see what new pills, potions or salves their members are flogging. Affiliates do this by setting up websites to promote a product and then linking these sites to a separate site that sells it. Each affiliate adds a piece of code to their promotional pages and if their site routes more customers to the selling site and secures a sale, then they receive a payment. Naturally people are trying ways of making their site more prominent so that people will find theirs and be routed through to the payment site.

Based on the evidence of last Christmas there seems to be a reasonably strong correlation between what's being discussed on the forums and what gets plugged in the Daily Mail post-Christmas relating to weight loss. The MoreNiche people don't deal just in weight loss pills, teas or patches though they also have stuff to flog for people with acne or erectile problems. 

Something called Nuratrim has apparently joined the MoreNiche family and we're to expect some post-festive PR for it.

The affiliates have already registered some websites which will be used to promote it - I've tried to avoid giving them any Google juice by deliberately not making these active links.
nuratrimre// and others a bit like this

and the main website for the product is here w//ww.nur// /

It seems to be a herbal supplement containing the usual suspects and there are some claims made on the "Why Nuratrim works" page that I think are quite amusing. For one it says that the product "contains a blend of leading edge scientifically proven weight loss ingredients" - oh no it doesn't. These ingredients have cropped up in plenty of other products so I think that's just flannel. 

I'm really not sure about this "scientifically proven" bit - typically with these products a list of ingredients, and the evidence for them as individual ingredients, is given, rather than the evidence for the product. I don't know if anyone has done any testing on Nuratrim (a combination of four ingredients: glucomannan, licorice extract, green tea and capsicum extract) as a product rather than reporting information about the evidence for items individually. 
Interestingly the information given for capsicum refers to 'capsiplex' which is also another MoreNiche product.

Anyway, no evidence is given for Nuratrim, only for individual ingredients and none of that seems unusually impressive - certainly not enough to pin the sale of a product to, it all looks more like pilot studies.

No evidence at all offered for glucomannan, just information about what it is. Licorice extract is backed up with an 8 week study in 84 people - I'm not saying it's a bad study, more "steady on there, let's not sell products based on small short studies". There's actually a full reference given for the green coffee one (which looks interesting) so that might be worth looking at and finally I think there's enough information in the paragraphs on capsicum / capsiplex to find the study to which they refer, but again it seems like it might be a small study.

Last year the Mail was advertising products from Roduve (slimweight patch and Tava tea) but it looks like there were a lot of dissatisfied affiliates who didn't get payments in good time...

By the way, anyone can set up a website about this product ;-)

Here's how the story has unfolded... this is a kind of bloggytracker (idea pinched from The Guardian's Storytracker)

26 December 2011: because of the publication (well, less 'publication', more 'blurting') of a press release about this product in a newspaper today I wrote a brief follow-up post appealing to anyone writing about diet pills and patches to check the name of the product against the MoreNiche affiliate site. I think it's a safe bet that if it features there then the evidence might still be *cough* being gathered...

28 December 2011: yesterday (27 December 2011) I saw that the Daily Mail had written about the story and also checked the whois information for and didn't find much (because I think they've made it private, which is fair enough) but did spot that Newstel Media Ltd had a mention there and from that company's own website it's conceivable that they are behind the PR and / or providing the telephone answering service for people to ring in to buy the product.

According to the cached version of the 'terms and conditions' the page used to say "We accept Credit Card, Debit Card payments via our secure on-line payment processing system, provided by Sage Pay and supported by Newstel Media Ltd." and now says "We accept Credit Card, Debit Card payments via our secure on-line payment processing system, provided by Sage Pay and supported by Advanced Health Ltd.". Advanced Health Ltd also have an Amazon store where they offer quite a range of products including Meratol, Capsiplex and things to grow eyelashes (!)

I added this story to the PRlapses blog (News that isn't).
Today (28 Dec) I spotted that the MoreNiche forum posse have clocked my blog posts (and page three) about their activity and have now made some posts on the forum private, including the ones I mentioned here. I've linked to the cached version of the forum post and of course I have a permanent copy (the cache will eventually disappear). A couple of the affiliates are also selling on their Nuratrim sites.

29 December 2011 
I re-read the Daily Mail article (Google suggests it was updated within the last 23 hours) and saw this line that I'd missed before, or it had been added. Quite cheering really "However, requests for the clinical evidence from the company has yet to be returned."  The Daily Mail doesn't seem to be that amenable to checking the cached pages so it may have been there all along and I just missed it, or they've added it in. I also hadn't seen the name of the company - Nuropharm Ltd which is behind the product, that info is available at Nuratrim's site but I hadn't noticed it.

30 December 2011
I caught wind of a new product - Capsiplex Plus - which is going to be advertised in the Daily Express (or probably the Sunday Express) on New Year's Day. Yet again evidence is offered for the individual ingredients yet the tiny pilot studies of the combined / complete product are mentioned but I failed to spot any publication details for these. 

31 December 2011
There's a member on the MoreNiche forum who seems to be of a skeptical mindset (no it's not me in disguise, honest!) and who has published several posts expressing concern about some of the marketing for Nuratrim (in particular the claims that it had been previously launched in the US). Today I spotted that he or she was concerned about fake nutritionists and doctors being used to lend credibility on websites, but according to the others commenting on his / her post they're real. No reason why they shouldn't be of course.

Results of a Google search for the text in bold

7 December 2012
After indirectly getting in touch with The Telegraph to ask them to sort out their unwitting advert for Nuratrim they've now removed it (although at the time of writing the URL still indicates what might have been there This isn't much of a victory in retrospect as the mere fact that it was published at all is what allows MoreNiche affiliates to write stuff like "The Telegraph is a reputable and popular media source and now it has published a full-fledged article on Nuratrim."

This was not a 'full-fledged' article by any stretch, it was 'wire copy' which is a press release sent by the company or its PR agency, ie written by someone who wants to sell a product in the hope that a newspaper will write about it. The MoreNiche affiliate's website implies a degree of journalistic appraisal rather than straightforward churnalism - hopefully all this sort of nonsense will be magically sorted out by the Leveson inquiry, one can hope ;)   

You can easily tell if an "independent review site" really is by clicking on the 'buy' link which will undoubtedly be there. You'll have to keep your wits about you and also have View / Taskbar enabled but, if you don't blink, once you've clicked 'buy' and the company's page loads you should see the tell-tale sign of appearing in the taskbar, see pic below.

The taskbar usually appears in the left hand side of the window... sometimes on the right hand side ;)

16 January 2012
From the King's Fund weekly email alert on health policy...
Food supplements: guidance and FAQs
The responsibility for legislation on food supplements in England transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department Health on 1 October 2010.  Guidance and summary documents have been updated to reflect this change and update references.
19 January 2012
On further investigation it appears that Nuropharm formulate the pills and print labels for them "Nuropharm can handle basic design and vitamin label printing as well as more complicated requests" and may well distribute them as well. A commenter below has highlighted that Amazon has stopped selling Nuratrim - presumably that makes it a bit easier for the affiliates to do so instead.

3 June 2012 - my favourite line is "The product has been mentioned in so many popular publications like The Daily Mail and The Telegraph" although it was actually removed, fairly promptly, from the Telegraph after another blogger (no, not me) got in touch with them about it.

22 August 2012
I have just noticed that Nuropharm Ltd (trading as the parent company of Nuratrim), has been added to the Advertising Standards Authority's list of 'non-compliant  online advertisers'.

"[The compliance team] has contacted Nuropharm Ltd several times about removing claims that Nutratrim is scientifically proven to assist weight loss, burn fat, reduce cholesterol, increase metabolism and reduce appetite." More details here.

Although this particular post gets most of its hits from people Googling for Nuratrim (along with other relevant keywords) this blog post has actually only received around 2,500 hits in total which is a bit pathetic really. I doubt Nuropharm's citation on the ASA's website will stop people sending money to buy a product for which there doesn't appear to be any good evidence though. As always, they win ;)

For independent reviews of the product I recommend having a look at its page on Amazon.

26 August 2012
Despite the 'advertorial' in The Telegraph for this product* was online for less than a week it seems to have done its work. I've had a look in the Amazon reviews (vastly negative) for the product and spotted a few references to the product being advertised in both the Tele and the Daily Mail. I've also found several copies of the Telegraph article (made available by MoreNiche as a banner) in use on a number of affiliates pages, for example this one.

* it was nothing more than a copy/pasted press release and the 'author' of the story was given as 'wire copy' which I believe means it wasn't written by anyone on the paper

Further reading
I discovered the MoreNiche forum at the end of December 2010 and wrote about a particular product that had been promoted in the Daily Mail. There's also a lot of information in there on how they use various forms of search engine optimisation (SEO) to flood Google with pages that lead anyone looking for these products to affiliate sites first of all. It's here that I learned about article spinning sites - Google doesn't tend to index identical content so by changing a few words here and there you can turn one article into tens, hundreds and increase your indexing and page rankings (all the pages link back to each other).

I noticed that a photograph I'd taken of an advert in Holland & Barrett for a tea had been picked up and used in sites that were trying to sell it. I also noticed that the comments I'd left below the photo on my own Flickr page were also picked up. This gave me the idea that if I created free images and added comments to them then these might be picked up as well - in this way I hoped to Trojan horse my way into scam sites by linking to something sensible and pointing out that there's no evidence for the product. It's been only mildly successful (in terms of stuff getting picked up) but I've honestly no idea if anyone's decided against buying something because they've seen one of my images and comments).

Trying out the Twitter embed tweet option

Came across this page from the Twitter development pages: Embedded Tweets

It says that the easiest way to create a bit of code to embed a tweet is to click on the Embed link in the tweet...
I can't see, when I look at a tweet's individual page, any mention of an embed link as they show in the example so I wonder what I'd have to do to make it appear..

At the bottom of the page there are two bits of code and this is one of them - it might embed a tweet, it might not, let's see

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Testing out the Bettween widget for Twitter conversations

This is a tool I've just heard about via a retweet of @latentexistence's tweet by @living_as_if, called Bettween.

It tracks a conversation between two people (a bit like the threading functionality that Echofon has on iPhone, which is rather good and can stretch back quite a few tweets. Also, if you click on a really old tweet it can pick up the tweet to which the person was replying [assuming the account is still active]) and you can apparently embed this in blogs.

From the little 'how to' video it looked as if this might be a thing which is 'live' and refreshes itself as new tweets come in. If so it won't be any use for me (my interest is largely in fossilising tweets. But I shall have to look back in a few months and see what it says.

It does say "Tweets from all time" in the widget below so possibly the tweets will persist - in which case I'll have to test this out by deleting one of the tweets I've sent. Tools like Storify and Chirpstory will trap a tweet properly once it's been recorded and if the original is deleted it won't disappear from the Sfy / Chy archive you've created.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Would film soundtracks be much different if we'd gone straight to talkies with no silent films?

Films have always had music I think - in silent films there would have been someone playing in the theatre itself with music to fit the mood of the film. This provided a soundtrack to the audience and also helped to make it clear what was happening, where speech couldn't be used (obviously there were some text boards appearing too).

Other than that I don't think there's been much of a precedent to soundtrack things since real life lacks that (obviously!). There's an episode of Family Guy in which Peter Griffin has the opportunity to ask a genie for a wish and he asks to have his own soundtrack though which is quite fun.

There are musical interludes in plays (and I suppose there always have been, although I don't know if Shakespeare annotated his plays for dramatic violins for example!) and opera is music-based storytelling so the emphasis is less on music as an accent because it's central to the piece.

But I've been wondering how music might have been used in films if there hadn't been the history of using it, during the silent era, as an accent to what was going on on-screen...

Probably unanswerable :)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Howl's Moving Castle at Southwark Playhouse is lovely

London is a pretty magical city and the only reason I take such heroic commuting routes is so that I can drink more of it in (while avoiding the crowds). That's how I discovered the RV1 bus route (Riverside route) which runs from Covent Garden (fairly near Aldwych) all the way to Tower Gateway / Tower Hill station.

I took it tonight from Tower Hill to London Bridge. We passed the Tower of London and then went onto Tower Bridge before moving into Tooley Street, where the Southwark Playhouse is. I absolutely love this part of London, so many cool and interesting bits crammed into one place - Hay's Galleria is lovely, there's the More London bit (near the Mayor of London's offices) where there's open air cinema in summer at the Scoop amphitheatre. There's also my favourite journey home, via the ferry from London Bridge pier. So I'd already had a pretty lovely journey before I arrived at the theatre.

Tonight was my first visit to the Southwark Playhouse, which is on the corner of Tooley and Bermondsey Streets, and it is gorgeous. It looks like a proper night out sort of place (they were selling mulled wine and had the boardgame Frustration on the bookshelf!) and I wished I'd arrived earlier to see it without the hordes of people queueing to get into the theatre rooms.

Howl's Moving Castle takes place in a bit of the theatre called The Vault, which is a wonderful space to start off with - I think it's in the bowels of London Bridge station, there certainly seem to be the sounds of trains rumbling past in the near distance and it's basically a big brick arch. They'd set it up rather nicely as well with candle light flickering against the brick wall and as we found our seats there was pleasantly eerie music... and the smell is just wonderful. It put me in mind of a wine cellar (actually there's a bit in London Bridge station itself which has a similar musty smell, but not unpleasant at all).

As you're facing the stage at first all you see is this incredible castle which looks like it's made of paper or cardboard (I didn't have a closer look at it), with windows and crenellations (or whatever the wiggly bits at the tops of castles are called). But the castle is completely plain white to start off with but then, when things start... it's so beautifully done. A castle facade is projected onto it and this changes throughout the performance to take on different settings (inside the castle, outside it, as well as scenes taking place in Sophie's home).

Picture credit: @Dr_Black, used with kind permission (thank you!) - this shows the castle before it was fully illuminated.

The three actors are clearly having a fantastic time with it all and the story is cleverly narrated as well with a neat handover between the live action and what I assumed are pre-recorded bits. Great background music too although there were times when it was a bit loud to hear what was being said on stage (perhaps my fault for sitting at the back!). Very lively performances from everyone involved.

I heard about this because someone I've followed on Twitter pretty much since I joined it (@sizemore) mentioned that he'd been involved in its stage adaptation (his name's on the poster, which is gorgeous and there's an interview with him linked from his website ) - so I wanted to see what someone I (sort of) know had been up to :) And it's great!

Stops after 7 January 2012 though...

Here's another nice review that really captures the energy of the piece

@Documentally (who I also know from Twitter) has done a couple of Audioboos:
Howl's Moving Castle & Steampunk Dr Who

A nod to Hitchhikers with Susan Sheridan #howlscastle #nsfw <-- this means not safe for work, watch out for the swears :)

Belated waves to @Dr_Black who I also know from Twitter but have never met... she was there tonight at the same time as me ;) We keep missing each other!

Do RTed @-mention tweets get seen by the people who are mentioned in them?

This might be a question for Quora but I'll try here first. If I discover that Company X has done something dreadful I might tweet "I am appalled by the way @CompanyX has behaved in MatterY" and Company X will see this in their @mentions stream.

(a) If 100 people press the RT button I will see that my tweet has been retweeted 100 times, but what notification will @CompanyX get?
(b) If 100 people manually RT my tweet so that it looks like "RT @JoBrodie I am appalled..." then @CompanyX will see 100 of those.

When Tweetdeck for iPhone worked (used happily from June2008-Nov 2011) I had a column for jobrodie (in addition to my mentions). I had this column since ~2008 because I noticed that, at that time, some @mentions didn't get through and I didn't want to miss any. Once I created the column I also noticed that as an added bonus it let me see the (a) type of RT separately from the (b) type.

But this doesn't work anymore and I don't know what CompanyX would need to do in order to see this.

Perhaps I could investigate this on Tweetdeck for desktop computers - but even if that does let me see these 'missing' RTs, do companies know enough about the hidden tweets to be able to find this information?

Quite often there are Twitter campaigns to draw attention to some wrongdoing and these get hundreds of retweets. But does the company concerned get a sense of the strength of feeling if they only get a tip-of-iceberg view of tweets that include their @mention in a manual RT.

Two questions then:
1. Companies know about this problem, yes? (Assuming it is a general problem and not just some glitch I'm experiencing!)
2. What tool do they use to solve it?

It goes without saying that I really don't like the (to me, new) RT style and avoid using it when I can.

Edit: 26 December 2011
Further reading
h/t @EvidenceMatters who pointed me to this excellent post with which I entirely agree :)
Retweet the old fashioned way, using 'classic' or 'traditional' retweets only (7 December 2011) by Ray Beckerman

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

How to do Chirpstory

I use Chirpstory to collect hundreds of tweets relatively quickly. I used to use WTHashtag and Twapperkeeper (both no longer with us - Twapperkeeper recently announced their service was ending). I still use SearchHash and Twilert to capture tweets (these do it automatically and Twilert sends you an email, with SearchHash you have to manually collect a bunch of tweets later). Chirpstory is similar to Storify but for me Chirp has the edge because it lets you collect tweets in pages rather than individually. Here's how I do it.

  • Log into with your Twitter account
  • Collect a bunch of tweets, re-order chronologically (optional),
  • Delete RTs (optional)
  • Publish your collection
  • Embed the collection in a blog (optional)

This post assumes you want to collect a bunch of tweets from a hashtag or a user. The user can be you of course.

You can also collect tweets sent to you but don’t forget that because you’ll be logged in to your Twitter account, you’ll see all the tweets you normally see including those from anyone whose account is private / locked. So for this reason you might need to be a bit careful if you’re planning to publish your collected tweets somewhere else, eg by embedding in a blog. Don’t share tweets that aren’t public to everyone.

One really great thing about Chirpstory is that it lets you move a whole page of tweets at once (you don’t have to move them individually!) and a page is about 50 tweets. Generally you can go back about 16 pages (800 tweets) but it varies depending on the number of tweets sent and the time that’s passed – after a week it becomes a lot harder to capture the earlier ones, particularly if many were sent.

1. Go to and log in with Twitter (using the authorisation system that magically works when you’re logged in to Twitter).

2. Once logged in, click on the blue Create Story on the top right hand of the page, shown below.

Click image to enlarge

3. Scroll down below the panel at the top and you’ll see the screen split in two. On the left are your source tweets (initially this is the timeline you’d see if you were logged in to Twitter) and on the right is the panel into which you’re going to put your tweets of interest (target panel).

The first thing to do – unless you want to save the tweets that you’re receiving – is clear your timeline from the source panel on the left, to do this, click on the Clear link highlighted with a dark pink circle in the next picture. You’ll be asked “Do you want to clear this timeline?” – OK it.

Click image to enlarge

4. You now have a blank slate in the source panel, and several options. You can choose to collect tweets relating to you (eg your replies or favourites), from someone else, or from a stream of hashtags.

In the picture above the links marked with a green oval are to do with you, from left:

  • User timeline = what you see in your timeline from everyone you follow
  • Replies = your @ mentions
  • Favorites = tweets you’ve starred.
Clicking any of these will bring up the relevant stream of tweets.

Below that is the search box and the link in the blue oval which relate to others’ tweets, from left:

  • Keyword = word, phrase or hashtag
  • User = a named person which could be you if you want to collect the tweets that you’ve sent
  • List = a Twitter list – you’ll need the full URL for this (eg

To access these tweets you need to click on the button to the right of the search box which will say Keyword Search (if Keyword button is ticked), User Search (if User ticked) or Load List (if List is ticked).

5. I’m going to assume you want to trap hashtagged tweets. Click in the little radio button next to the Keyword link and then type in your #word of interest into the box, then click Keyword search.

A page of tweets will appear – click the ‘copy all’ button to move all of them (max 50 to a page) into the target panel. If you prefer you can click and drag individual tweets and move them around, you can also click on the X at the top right of any tweet to delete it from the stream.

6. Once you’ve moved all the tweets you want you can click on the ‘More’ link in the source panel (there’s a blue dividing line with white text that will also tell you which page you’re on).

7. Carry on clicking on the More and Copy all links (or transferring individual tweets) until you’ve got all the tweets you want, or no more tweets appear when you press More (this usually happens at about 16 pages which equates to 800 tweets I think).

8. If any tweets are missing (it sometimes happens) you can enter the individual URL for that tweet into the search box on the right hand side (that helpfully says “Enter individual tweet URL”) and then press the Load tweet button – it will appear automatically in the panel on the right. If you’re wondering “what’s the tweet URL?” then you can find this in the timestamp for any tweet, as in the picture below.

Click image to enlarge

All tweets have a timestamp (it might say “3a2 minutes ago” or “7 Dec” or something else but if you hover over it there’ll be a link to the individual tweet (shown at the top of the picture). In the image above first there’s the URL, then the tweet as it appears in the timeline and the lower bit of the image is the tweet as it appears on its own page (whose URL is the one listed at the top).

9. If you want to reorder the tweets so that the earliest appears at the top then click on the little up arrow next to the button marked duplicates. You can remove RTs by pressing the RT button and you’ve probably guesed what the Duplicates button does.

10. Once you’re ready to publish you need to click on the ‘Create Story’ at the bottom of the page and not the one at the top (which basically resets your page – my suggestion to Chirpstory might be to rename these as ‘Create story’ and ‘Publish story’ and also have a ‘Save as Draft’.