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, 30 April 2011

Screencap video that I made about Google Realtime

UPDATE 7 July 2011: Google Realtime is no longer with us. Initially it seemed to be temporarily offline while under-bonnet tinkering happened and it was assumed it would be hooked up with Google+ however it now seems that Google is no longer accessing Twitter's stream as the deal ended on 2 July 2011. This isn't great.
I know I bang on about Google Realtime (originally called Google Updates) quite a bit - it seems to be our best option for finding old tweets and giving us a sporting chance of capturing something, now that it's becoming increasingly difficult (unless you're a researcher) to download or archive hashtagged tweets.

Google Realtime is a dual functioning tool which lets you watch tweets as they come through (live) but also allows you to scroll backwards and see tweets from as far back as March 2010. Not bad at all.

Hopefully, a video mp4 thing that I created with Screencast-O-matic (it's free) will appear below. I've checked the sound and it's perfectly listenable with the volume up a bit but it's not perfect. I'm embarrassed to admit I don't know where the microphone is on my new mini laptop... oops.

See also the 'threaded conversations' bit in this post I wrote previously about Realtime and my post on How to find old tweets.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Trying the concertina thing again

This is the first panel

Any content can go in here.

  • This could include

  • unordered lists, like this one

This is the second panel

Any content can go in here.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Just spotted that Radiolab lets you embed its podcasts / audio

Radiolab is my top favourite audio, Jad Abumrad is my favourite sound engineer / designer and I love the gleeful exploratory discussions between Jad and Robert Krulwich. I first discovered Radiolab after searching to see if there was such a thing as a podcast with Daniel Moerman. I'd recently discovered, and become quite smitten with, podcasts in general and was listening to quite a few science pods and ethnobotany ones - audio and video.

The reason I was prompted to search for Moerman podcasts was because he'd featured in a Bad Science column on placebo (he wrote a great book called Meaning, Medicine and the 'Placebo Effect' which I'd been given as a birthday present) and this took me by surprise because obviously it's an area I'm interested in, but I realised I'd already known his name from his work on the Native American Ethnobotany database and there was a bit of a lightbulb moment when I realised it was the same guy. Probably not that surprising given that he was talking about placebo, but... duh nonetheless, I'd not put two and two together.

He briefly features in the following episode of Radiolab, 'Placebo', the first I ever heard, and I can vividly remember listening to this for the first time and being hooked. The use of sound is incredible and I think the interview with Fabrizio Benedetti is one of the most delightful things ever committed to tape (or whatever it is that they use, I don't think it's tape).

The second podcast happens to be the second one I listened to - wonderful storytelling and interviewing of guests, beautifully intercut with snippets of lovely sounds. This one is 'Time'

Perhaps what I should do is add a Blogger sidebar widget that can handle javascript and let people browse posts other than this one without stopping the player when another page is visited...

Friday, 22 April 2011

FishBarrel - simple Google Chrome app to help automate quackery complaints

Shortened link for this post:

This morning I used @Simon_Perry's excellent FishBarrel tool to put in complaints about two ear candle treatments on sale in Blackheath. I also used it last night to put in a complaint about a homeopathy website but the ASA is already working on guidance for homeopaths (a 'profession' famous for making some ridiculous and dangerous claims) I probably won't complain about too many more of these sites for the time being.

Ear candling rarely causes problems but on occasion it can drip hot wax into your eardrum which can cause (usually temporary) damage and discomfort. I'm not too bothered about people wasting their money on rubbish or even injuring themselves in the process but what I do find annoying is the health claims accompanying this product.

Ear candles (used in 'thermo-auricular therapy') do not create a suction vacuum and therefore cannot suck out toxins, literally or figuratively. They don't do anything to lymphatic drainage either and the wax that appears inside the candle after the treatment is chemically identical to candle wax, not ear wax. By all means sell this nonsense - people have a right to stick burning candles into their ear whether I like it or not, but please don't imply that it is safe or has any health benefits at all.

With any complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority (don't forget they're doing websites now, which they weren't previously) or Trading Standards / Consumer Direct there are some constants (your name and address) and some variables (the address of the website and the claims made). FishBarrel lets you store your constants, housed in a Google Chrome app that sits by your bookmarks bar, and with a couple of clicks you can activate the app to start capturing the variables. As you select misleading claims FishBarrel will store copies of these and the website from which they came, and will also let you take a screenshot of the area of the website on which the claims are made.

Once you've selected all the claims you want to complain about you can review the complaint and make some amendments (eg give some background about the claim made and why you're complaining about it), then you can choose where it goes - ASA or TS/CD. At this point the programme does a rather nifty thing and autocompletes the complaint form for you. I've only used it for the ASA one which has four sub-pages (you fill in first section, press next and so on) and it's nice to find all the text pre-installed. You get an opportunity to go through each section and make further amendments.

Then press 'submit' and hopefully chip away gradually at the amount of misleading claims on websites.

You might well say "oh really, what's the point - as soon as you get one claim removed another one will crop up" and I'd agree there's an element of truth to that. The world will always have homeopaths and sellers of ear candles among other crap. If sellers remove misleading claims that's a win (whether or not it was because they thought it was a good idea by themselves or because the ASA asked them to).

Where I think complaining about quackery 'adds value' is that there will be an adjudication on the ASA's website, if your complaint is upheld. These don't always show up on Google searches - even to find them on the ASA's site isn't straightforward as a site-search won't find them, you have to go into the Adjudications section and search within that. Each new adjudication is a piece of news that someone might blog about. This increases its reach across Google and other search engines and makes it marginally more likely that someone searching for information on a questionable treatment will come across one or more pieces of information that are critical of it. Well, maybe a bit.

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Saturday, 16 April 2011

Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services - lovely electronic noodling

Another lovely thing that my ears have been enjoying.

Radio Belbury - from the people behind Belbury Poly and Ghost Box recordings

Discovered this gem a few weeks ago and have been listening to it quite a lot, and just spotted that I can embed it from Mixcloud (see below).

The companion programme to The Belbury Parish Magazine

Belbury Poly - Belbury Poly Logotone
Johnny Scott - Glad Gaddabout
Denton & Cook - The Great Egg Race
Toro Y Moi - Go With You
Andrew Bown - Tarot
The Rattles - The Witch
Moon Wiring Club - Dancing Against Time
Elektriktus - Flying At Sunset
Elpida - He Will Come, He Will Come
Basil Kirchin - Primitive London 1
Ray Cathode - Waltz In Orbit
Belbury Poly - Now Then
Matching Mole - O Caroline
The New Vaudeville Band - Winchester Cathedral
Cambridge St John's College Choir - Svyati

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Google Realtime: Finding threaded conversations on Twitter as well as year old tweets

Shortened link for this post is


UPDATE 7 July 2011: Google Realtime is no longer with us. Initially it seemed to be temporarily offline while under-bonnet tinkering happened and it was assumed it would be hooked up with Google+ however it now seems that Google is no longer accessing Twitter's stream as the deal ended on 2 July 2011. This isn't great.


1. Google Realtime
2. Storify
3. Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive
4. Library of Congress

1. Google Realtime is probably intended to let people watch tweets as they happen but a nice feature is that it can "re-run" older tweets from as far back as April 2010. I found tweets from me / sent to me back in 18 April 2010 by searching for both jobrodie and @jobrodie

An example or two

BoraZ, from 25 April 2010
"Yes, @JoBrodie I tell new Twitterers to import tweets into FriendFeed as the only reliable way to search old tweets years later."
We've agreed this is probably no longer true as FriendFeed's search is a bit unpredictable.

@MarkSpoff tweeted this on 7 October 2010
"@JoBrodie recording of ambient and other found sound is old as hills. Only now are the social tools there that make it something all can do."

@EvidenceMatters tweeted this, on 1 April 2011, about a 'hack your own sous-vide' event.
"@JoBrodie It was very interesting & it was good to meet diverse ple who attended. @mriemenschneidr was fund of experience/knowledge."
picked from this selection of tweets from Google Realtime's sesarch.

Threaded conversations
I think the bit that's really interesting about Google Realtime is its capacity to capture threaded conversations, even including people that you might not have been conversing with directly, but who were still contributing a conversational aside to the topic as a whole.

From @EvidenceMatters tweet above, the Realtime search results also have a 'Full conversation link' which gives this result.

A longer version is the result of a search for a conversation happening earlier today among @xtaldave @diamondlightsou and @clsresoff. The range of tweets can be found here, and selecting one of the 'Full conversation' links results in this thread, also shown below (in miniature).

I wonder if people will use Storify to capture tweets now that "What the hashtag" is no longer with us.

2. Storify and other curating tools
Storify lets you compile tweets (and other units of information, eg photos from Flickr, bits and bobs from Google, posts to Facebook groups - anything public basically) and compose a story around them. I suppose it's feasible to collect tweets as they come in, on a topic or with a hashtag, and save them as a Storify story.

"The New Curators: Weaving Stories from the Social Web" - this blog has a section on Storify and explains its use well. A nice example of the sort of use I'd put Storify to has been demonstrated by @kristinalford working with tweets from the #onsci tag.

"Onsci: Telling Better Science Stories" curated by Kristin Alford

I liked Storify the minute I saw it, it's very intuitive, has a nice interface and is easy to play around with. It takes a wee while to get your beta invite once you've registered so if you want to play around with something instantly, try the similar Keepstream. Here's an example I've just created. I prefer the interface and options given in Storify but this isn't bad. I didn't manage to get anywhere with Curated.By however.

These tools, rather than letting you find threaded conversations, let you create them from disparate units - according to the New Curators blog post linked above Robert Scoble has used the term "atoms" of information, and described curators as "information chemists" ;)

3. The Wayback Machine from the Internet Archive
I've mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating. It doesn't let you find threaded conversations but it does let you see a random selection of your historic tweets - what's available will depend on when the archive crawled your tweets. My timeline has been visited six times over three years taking a snapshot of what was going on at the time it visited.

My tweets were first 'snapped' on 23 December 2008, and then another five times since.*/ - on the first crawl I was following and followed by 66 people and had made 333 tweets. Here I am again on 21 September 2009. Unfortunately it doesn't let you go back and forwards in your timeline as you can (to a limited extent) on Twitter itself.

It's as if all your tweets were packed up at the end of the day into slim volumes but a year later you were only allowed to look at one of them... still, it's interesting to see some old tweets.

4. Library of Congress
The US Library of Congress has been given all public tweets, by Twitter, since 2006 - but I don't know know if it's possible for people to access this database yet, or ever. The linked blog (Twitter's) refers to Google Replay which is what's now known as Google Realtime, having previously spent time as Google Updates.

Trying out Storify's embed link to see what happens - this is @kristinalford's #onsci Storify story

This is a really nice use of Storify built around the #onsci hashtag. The curated tweets talk about using stories to engage different audiences, and highlight another tag - #protectresearch - which is the Australian equivalent of #scienceisvital I believe...?

Just in case there isn't an embedded widget below I've included the link for the Storify story.

(This doesn't work if you're viewing from an iPhone).

Sunday, 10 April 2011

How does one actually go about screening a film outdoors then?

Edit 13 April 2011: I wrote this post on 10 April 2011 and on 12 April 2011 I heard, from @PopUpScreens, that Jurassic Park was to be shown on 11 August in Hall Place, Kent. I like to think that my blog helped ;)

Edit 16 April 2011: Coincidentally this week there have been a couple of science blog posts about dinosaurs , mentioning velociraptors. See Brian Switek's "That's not a dinosaur!" and Ed Yong's "Dinosaurs around the clock, or how we know Velociraptor hunted by night" and maybe buy a 'No raptors' t-shirt from xkcd to help you sleep at night.

You might also enjoy this massively slowed down version of the theme song from Jurassic Park - I strongly doubt that it's 1,000% slower than the original (as labelled) because you can follow what's going on, compared with 9 Beet Stretch* which stretches Beethoven's 9th into a 24hr piece and the tune is completely divorced from the original. Either way it's lovely.

*Make sure you listen to the beginning of the episode, although the segment discussing 9 Beet Stretch is at the end.


If I had my way then one summer night on Blackheath, as daylight turns to dusk, a projector would whir into life and first it would show this:

saying something like "Jurassic Park follows shortly". Jurassic Park theme tune mix.

Then the screen would go dark and the Earth would appear*, along with the words UNIVERSAL, and the soundtrack of the fictional jungle / forest creatures that live on the fictional Isla Nublar would quieten the crowd as the first dinosaur and Bob Peck appear on the screen.
*works well in Firefox, tries to download weird stuff in Chrome

I've no idea how to make that sort of thing happen though I hear about people putting on films all the time, how do they do that?

I presume I'd have to do the following:
1. Get permission from Greenwich Council or landowners to show a film on Blackheath (possibly Lewisham too)
2. Get permission from Universal to screen Jurassic Park, and acquire a copy of the print for screening
3. Hire a projector and screen and get it safely installed and pay for someone to run it
4. Inform various bodies and possibly pay for a small police presence in case the raptors get everyone all scared and rioty
5. Pay for people to tidy up all the heath on the next day
6. Consider having stalls selling xkcd merchandise relating to Jurassic Park, stalls with information about how to be an archaeobotanist (I know a couple of these, shouldn't be that hard) and related palaeontological fields, chaoticians and geneticists, also food and drink stalls where you can buy tempura and perhaps Belgian beer. Not forgetting cushions, pac-a-macs and blankets. And perhaps stalls with information about genetic disorders...
7. Tell people about it - posters and whatnot as well as via the information superhighway (give the event its own website for example).

In short, how much money is this going to cost me?

Until then, I'm collecting all the open air screenings in London that I hear of in the hope that one day someone will screen Jurassic Park. (I don't mind if it's not me, but I'm definitely up for it)

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Oops button for computers

My mum once suggested to me that there should be an 'oops' button on her computer so that she'd be able to click it and see whatever it was that she'd done that made something go a bit wrong.

Sounds like a brilliant idea.

I can do Ctrl Z one or more times to undo whatever it is that I've done by accident but sometimes my mum was a bit flummoxed by her computer, with the cursor leaping about somewhere, or a toolbar opening or disappearing unexpectedly. Her laptop's 'synaptic pointing device' (the bit you have in front of the spacebar if you don't have a mouse) was a bit too sensitive perhaps.

For less confident users, a button that you can press which will tell you what steps have recently been taken might be quite helpful. This information is evidently accessible, after all Ctrl+Z wouldn't work without it, and I understand there are malicious programmes which can harvest keystrokes.

Is there something hidden on computers that can be brought to the fore? It would need also to record inadvertent mouse clicks too (eg if you accidentally clicked on a link and couldn't understand why, not realising that when you clicked into another window the bit you clicked on was an active link).

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Well I have just spotted the 'share on blogger' button on Flickr...

Pink and fluffy, bit unnervingLike heads on spikesBit intenseNot a dog I'd want to play withI would run screaming from this lamb if I were a small childIMG_0534
IMG_0506IMG_0504IMG_0503IMG_0502IMG_0501IMG_0500 let's see what happens. The first set of photos on my photostream were taken during a visit to Hamley's. While trying to buy a soft toy for a nephew's birthday I noticed how un-cute stuffed toys had become.