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

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

If you're using Storify for conference or event tweets you *might* be doing it a bit wrong-ish, suggest Chirpstory :)

Well obviously I don't mean to be rude, you can choose whatever method you prefer of course but hear me out :)

I follow quite a few conference / event hashtags and have noticed that people often use the Storify tool / website to capture them. This is fine if there aren't too many tweets - as far as I can tell you still have to move each tweet individually (I've written a post over at Free Pint's FUMSI on how to use Storify) but two problems arise when the conference generates a lot of tweets (1) there's the danger that in clicking and dragging so many you'll get them out of order* and (2) it's a bit hard work.

*You can double click to move a tweet to the top, and if you hold down the shift key before double clicking the tweet will snap to the bottom of the list.

For larger numbers of tweets I've found Chirpstory to be the more pragmatic choice. You can move a page worth of tweets (I think it's 20 tweets [edit: I counted, it's 50]) so rather than having to do something to each one of 100 tweets you want to collect you can do it five times to five pages of them.

As well as that you can click a button to reverse the order of the tweets meaning that you can read the earliest tweet first.

I think Chirpstory is best suited to occasions when you want to bunch a couple to a few hundred tweets together as a record of an event and Storify seems best suited to fewer tweets where you want to add further commentary. You can add commentary in Chirpstory too but I prefer the Storify interface for that.

Obviously it does come down to personal preference but just in case you weren't aware of Chirpstory...

No Chirpstory don't pay me, I just find it a really really useful tool (as I do Storify) and I'm always on the lookout for info about tweet wrangling tools - see also A list of tools for finding or capturing tweets (30 May 2011, updated 14 October 2011)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

How to stop Word 2007 / 2010 (y’know, ‘new’ Word) capitalising words.

  • File » Options, click on Proofing, then AutoCorrect Options... button
  • In the new window make sure there ISN'T a tick next to "Capitalize first letter of sentences".
  • Adjust other options to taste then OK, and OK again to dismiss final window.
Background chatter
I’ve been using ‘new’ Word for ages and find it pretty intuitive but today I found that I wanted it to stop capitalising the first letter of a word in a list (every damn time I press space or enter – maddening!)

In the old days it was Tools » fiddle about with the Options / Autocorrect options, but of course there doesn’t seem to be a Tools toolbar to hand. Anyway, I’ve found that it’s in the File tab.

This is a tab that’s always confused me. I’m currently in ‘Home’ but File is the one that’s highlighted blue.. anyway, if you click on File it will bring up a window in which you can do other stuff (I’d much prefer this to have been a floating dialogue window as it used to be but…). Lurking towards the bottom of the left hand side of the menu is Options – it’s all in there – see instructions above.

Seriously I’ve only just spotted that…

I wrote this bit first and then realised that people might just want the how-to rather than the me-bleating so put it at the top.

Other posts in the Word tips series...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Michael Meacher MP has some unusual ideas about intelligent design

Over the weekend I popped into town and decided to visit Berwick Street. I’ve not been there for *years* but used to go there regularly to pick up records and videos and later CDs and sometimes DVDs. I decided to have a late lunch in Beatroot CafĂ© which is a vegetarian / vegan restaurant.
There was a free magazine called Positive News which I thought I’d have a look at while eating. Based on years of experience I was expecting to be annoyed by some unevidenced crap but it was perfectly tolerable and highlighted news in green finance, meditation flashmobs, couchsurfing and time banking. Nothing too offensive.
This didn’t last long as I found an irritating quote from Michael Meacher MP on page 10. He seems like a nice man and has written a book which is apparently ‘an impassioned plea to the divided worlds of science and religion to put their differences aside, join forces and engage in nothing less than an evolution in human consciousness.’ Steady on.
In response to the question “What makes you believe science and spirituality can work in partnership?” he says:
There is clearly some kind of intelligent design in how our planet began to evolve life forms and this has continued to evolve into who we are today. Science is now struggling to get its head around the sheer scale and possibility of the universe and unlimited scope of human consciousness. Science cannot reduce consciousness to fit the models it currently has for understanding the world we live in. Spirituality and faith can help us understand. Scientists are beginning to realise the limitations of sticking to reductionist models.
The Gaia theory [that all living things in Earth form a single, self-regulating complex system] was once seen as a far-fetched concept but as a result in a shift in scientific understanding and study, is now universally accepted and seen as fact. The evidence of intelligent design is becoming clear.
He does save things a bit later on when he says that ‘Humans are not the pinnacle of evolution but simply a stage in the process’ but I’m amazed that he’s saying that there’s clear evidence of intelligent design. Have I missed a bulletin somewhere?

Edit 28 March 2013 - I'm reading a story on Jane Goodall's recent book, excerpts of which have apparently been plagiarised from elsewhere and came across this:

"And it apparently escaped Goodall’s notice that Smith’s most recent book—the one that she fulsomely endorsed—features a foreword by British politician Michael Meacher, who, after being kicked out of the Tony Blair's government in 2003, has devoted a significant amount of time to furthering 9/11 conspiracy theories." (3rd page of the document).

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Getting digital on older televisions without wasting money on fancy gadgets


About six years ago when I lived round the corner from where I live now I helped my then flatmate Phil plug in his Freeview box and TV to DVD, VCR, amplifier and speakers. Not knowing exactly how to do this at the time I spent a LOT of time on the pages learning about the different types of cable connectors and sockets and the order in which one might connect up the spaghetti. I was deliriously happy :)

The site has information gathered by volunteer nerds on how to connect up various permutations of peripherals (fortunately I didn't have to contend with any gaming devices) and it also takes into account how many SCART sockets your television has, or hasn't.

It also has information on which types of Freeview set top box to buy depending on what socket options you have on the back of your television.

This was where I discovered it's perfectly possible to have digital / Freeview television if you have an old television that doesn't have a SCART socket. As long as you have an aerial / RF socket (I've never heard of a television that doesn't have such a thing!) you can get Freeview. It's possible to buy set-top-boxes that have a 'modulated RF output' which will effectively re-broadcast the digital signal into your TV via your regular aerial cable (RF co-axial cable).

I keep seeing adverts for offers to help people 'go digital' in time for the digital switcover happening in the UK in May 2012. I do hope people aren't being suckered into buying things that they might not really need... however if anyone knows that these remodulators definitely won't work after switchover let me know and I'll amend this post!

According to the site the Icecrypt T5000 device does the job if you have no SCART socket in your television and costs from £25 from Amazon.

I'm currently using an old CRT (cathode ray tube) television - mine does have a SCART socket though. I rent and it's what was here so I'm not really in a position to change it, but to be perfectly honest I've always found the picture on these to be better. I'm not sure if that's because my TV is a fair bit smaller than the massive ones and if my TV screen was bigger I'd see that a flat screen was better - but all the flatscreen ones I've seen seem to have what I can only describe as topographical / contour lines on everything. I will certainly avoid knowingly buying anything with a 'Painter IC' integrated circuit in it. Here's a forum post from 2005 in which I bleat about them ;)

Modern televisions are, I am led to believe, much less awful for landfill - however CRT ones seem to last well enough.

Shall we have a charity science communication session at the Science Communication Conference #scicommconf

I have a vague notion that I, or someone, should ‘do something’ on the topic of science communication within medical research charities at the next Science Communication Conference 2012 (hashtag has been #scicommconf or #SCC[year] so possibly #scc12). To be honest I’ve been threatening to do something for a number of years now but I’ve never really come up with what it should be. 

So… it seems like a good idea to see what others think ;) 

My first #scicommconf (we didn’t have hashtags back in the day) was probably in 2004 and I’d recently started working as a Science Information Officer in the charity sector. I noticed that there were only a few other people at the conference from the medical charity / patient group sector and wondered why – at the time I had the impression that such charities didn’t necessarily seem to think of themselves as “science communicators”. They were all getting on with the business of communicating science without (seemingly) labelling themselves that way – in the manner of the chap who didn’t realise he’d been speaking prose all his life. 

At the moment I believe there are around 127 members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and many other medical research charities too, most of whom are probably communicating science in one form or another. For a number of years the AMRC has had a science communication award for charity publications. 

What I’m interested in is being in touch with ‘people like me’ as well as people who do different types of scicomm in all the other medical research charities and I created a group on LinkedIn for us and a few have joined. It’s open to everyone so we also have people who are scientists who are funded by charities and who are interested in communicating their science and research area. That’s a little different from what I was originally looking for but I’m delighted that we have a nice mix of people (about 50 at the moment). 

I think I’m proposing a sort of ‘unconference’ for science communicators in medical research charities to meet up / network / chat about resources and to get a sense of what we’re all doing and in what spheres. 

There are many different (and really quite distinct) kinds of charity science communication and I tried to put a list together for the LinkedIn group, reproduced below.
Medical research charities and patient groups employ several different types of science communicators (although they might not necessarily use that term in the job title).

Depending on the size and needs of the charity, science communicators will do any or all of the following (and I'm sure I've forgotten stuff!):
• write and edit content for websites and magazines (for members of the public as well as professional audiences)
• work in press teams
• manage research portfolios and give talks about the work that is funded
• provide a science enquiry service to people affected by a condition or to healthcare professionals
• develop policies on animal or stem cell research (or other controversial issues)
• respond to external consultations
• fact-check statistics and provide evidence-based information to colleagues and critically appraise literature etc.
Different roles and teams communicate science / research / health information in different ways and I can’t help thinking it should be possible to clarify this a bit more than I have done. Smaller charities will rely on a few people to do more than one role whereas larger charities will divide this up into different teams or departments.
I’m not just talking about the research that the charity funds – in my case I only rarely allude to this in my role which involves answering more general questions. 

There are a number of professional groups that people working in these various roles might be a member of for example the Patient Information Forum (PiF), Stempra as well as AMRC (for which membership is at the charity level not individual) and there are other networks too – psci-com’s an obvious one although charity scicomm isn’t a huge feature there. It is pleasing to be seeing more and more jobs advertised there. This might be a good point to plug my other blog for jobs in science communication which does have a particular fondness for those in medical research charities.
So is anyone interested in looking at this further, or is it not really something that requires a session at a conference? I’d certainly like to encourage more people to join the LinkedIn group but also to hear of any other networks that others have created that I’ve not yet heard of. Thanks!

Friday, 7 October 2011

The power of communication - a minor #southeastern train drama and a great driver

Today I spent two and a half hours on a train that didn't really go much beyond Deptford. I'd made an effort to get on a much earlier train to get in for a meeting so the irony of not getting in at all wasn't lost on me.

It seems that shortly after passing through Deptford (the first time) the train lost any ability to pick up electrical power from the tracks and consequently we couldn't go anywhere. This was a bit annoying but I didn't think it would be much of a problem and wasn't too bothered about it, it's happened before and usually after 'rebooting' the train all is well. While waiting I sent out a few tweets every now and again.

The nice thing was - and I appreciate it's a bit unusual for me to be sending much praise to #SouthEastern - was the quality and frequency of the train driver's communications to us about what was going on and who was involved in trying to fix things.

Note that this is the train company whose abysmal efforts during the snow earlier in the year resulted in questions in Parliament about their pathetic efforts and questions from bloggers about their fitness to run their franchise. No-one's too surprised that trains struggle on slippery icy tracks or that they physically can't get out of their ' housings' or that the drivers can't turn up because they're snowed in or that there are signalling problems. The difficulty was that none of these problems was communicated across the network, either via the display boards or via their website. As always people tweeting updates on the #southeastern hashtag is how anyone found anything out.

But today was different, at least for those of us on the stuck train. The driver was in touch with us many times throughout the two and a half hours to let us know what the problem seemed to be, what she might have to try to do to fix it and then when that didn't work she kept us updated on other rail staff walking up the track to look at the train. She told us about the 'shoe gear' which is something that connects with the live rail and completes the electrical circuit - she thought it might have fallen off or been damaged and a fitter was going to come and have a look. We also had a Field Marshall and someone whose job title is Manager of Movements (snigger) visit us at one point. People walked up and down the outside of the train and then inside the train for good measure.

When we lost power completely the risk was that the main doors, being no longer under power, became unlocked and were liable to open if leaned on - she explained this to everyone and asked that people stand away from them. I don't think people had to be asked twice.

I'd quite happily have heard more about how trains work from her although I think she was chatting to the signal people every bit as much as us and probably didn't have too much time to ruminate on train engineering.

Then things got a bit more dramatic when she announced that they'd tried everything and the train was absolutely stuck - the next plan was to manoeuvre a second train onto the track alongside us and presumably we'd all make a sideways jump into the new train. I was relieved that no-one was asking me to get on the tracks but I wondered how some of the older or more anxious passengers might be feeling. To be honest my parents wouldn't have liked this much, and I'd have hoped that someone would have given them a seat if they were standing. But for me, it was quite exciting and I carried on tweeting friends and emailed colleagues to let them know where I was / wasn't.

Eventually the decision was made to roll the train backwards to Deptford as apparently the viaduct we were stuck on is uphill of the station and gravity could lend a hand (it really didn't look very hilly though) - we knew this would still take a long time because there were several trains backed up behind us. The train immediately behind us was going to travel back to Greenwich so that we could take up the space in Deptford. While the train behind us had power and could travel at any speed it wanted, because it was making an unscheduled backwards journey it had to go at 5mph for safety.

At some point the previous train must have done this successfully as our driver announced that we were now going to try and go backwards. We lurched off and then stopped fairly suddenly. I wondered if this meant we were stuck but somehow at that point we seemed to recover a bit of power (the things that normally scroll information about the final destination and intermediate stops said "Electrostar" again, which it had managed to say earlier on before power died) and we even picked up a little bit of speed, but not much. Eventually we were deposited at Depftord where it took a good 20 minutes to get everyone out of the station and onto whatever their "onward journey" was. For me this was home as the network was by now a bit seriously disordered and I wasn't keen to get back on another train for a bit.

As I left I managed to say thanks to the driver - I hope her employers appreciate her efforts. We certainly did on Twitter and on the carriage I was on. Her announcements were regular, as comprehensive as they could be given the limited information available and she even told us about some of the technical stuff - at one point she mentioned that the engineers could remotely download some information from the train to pinpoint where the fault might be (early on it wasn't sure if it was the track or the train but it turned out to be the train). She was brilliant and in a situation that could have become a bit claustrophobic and panicky she did a really good job of preventing that.

Of course it was up to us to communicate her updates to us to everyone else on Twitter because they were stuck at various points across the network and I don't know how much information they were getting from SouthEastern. A couple of tweets indicated that one driver had announced that he had no information and was requesting that his passengers let him know of any that came in via Twitter. Ha!

If that's the worst thing that worries me this week then I'm really not doing too badly - one mustn't lose one's perspective in these things! But I wanted to record my gratitude to the driver and to say how impressed I was with her professionalism and efforts in keeping us informed, and calm... and safely on the train until it was time to alight.

My new policy: never get on a train without something to drink or something to eat. Go to the loo when you get a chance. Bring a book.