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

Monday, 29 April 2013

Have just invented the word 'teledelegates' for people who aren't actually AT the conference but are participating by hashtag

I remember reading a year or two ago that conferences would soon reach the point where those attending remotely, either through hashtag following (interacting with other non-attendees as well as delegates who are in the room) or via videolinked 'watch parties', would probably exceed the number of people actually attending the event. We've probably comfortably passed that point now.

Anyway, I have just made up a nice word to describe these 'delegates at a distance', akin to telegraph, telephone and television. I'm not sure if teledelegate needs a hyphen but let's see how it goes ;)

I like to think that this word will do better than my acronym 'satbawu' which stands for 'Start at the bottom and work up' and can be used for those ridiculously long threaded emails. Can be used, but isn't...

Bet this is my shortest blog post.


Edit 30 April 2013
Others have suggested 'telegates' which is the more obvious word, though I don't think it actually works that well, 'hashgates' and 'delegavatar'. I still like teledelegates the best, but don't get to be in charge of usage ;)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Posterous is closing next week - here's how to move your blog to

Posterous is closing, Posterous is closing. Move your blog before 30 April 2013. Posterous is closing.

Section A - download blog - you need to do this before Posterous closes on 30 April 2013
1. Log into and click on the 'Backup' button (it should be visible from all pages but if not click on Spaces).
2. Click on 'request back up' next to name of blog, wait a bit, come back later (you'll get an email when it's done) and...
3. Click on 'download' to get a zipped file containing your entire blog, unzip as and when needed.

Bonus points
  • Disable the autopost to Twitter and then...
    (Spaces > Your blog ('space') > Autopost setup (in panel on right) > hover over Twitter name then press red X to delete) 
  • ...add a final post saying that your blog is closing / moving (if you do this once you've moved the blog to its new home you can include the new adress).

    This means that all your Posterous followers will get a notification but it won't go to your Twitter followers (who don't need this info since your new blog will seamlessly start autoposting to your Twitter account).

Section B - import blog to another host, example given is (free version) - you can do this at your leisure

If you want to move it to Tumblr then Posterous has suggested using (you might need to do this before Posterous shuts though) - if you already have a Tumblr blog and it posts to Twitter you'll need to switch off the autopost function before you start the migration.

4. Unzip the zip and note that one of the files is an xml with the word 'wordpress' in it
5. Create a free blog at
6. In the dashboard [] go to Tools > Import > Posterous and select ('navigate to') the xml file
7. Wait patiently - or just open your new blog in another tab / window - I've moved large blogs and it's been done and dusted within about 3-15 mins but usually takes an hour or so for you to get an email letting you know it's all done.

5b. If you prefer to go for the self-hosted type of blog then there's a plug in that will help you transfer it (you need to do this before Posterous shuts though

To create a new post on your new blog you can just click on 'New post' which appears on most pages including the dashboard, however this brings up a light version which I don't like one bit, I prefer to go to Dashboard, then hover over my name (top right) until the list of my blogs appear (I have several), then hover over the one I want to post to and choose the New post option that shows up there.

I've moved about 8 blogs so yell if you get stuck :)

Section C - customising it a bit 
You need to be in your dashboard for this, it's
  • Autopost to Twitter etc: Settings > Sharing > Add Twitter account (also Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr)
  • Getting rid of the weird tagline they keep adding: Appearance > Customise > hover over panel on right, choose Site Title and then amend text in Tagline field
  • Tweak the look / themes / skin: Appearance > Themes

Section D - troubleshooting
The import info says that it will let you "Import posts, comments, images, video, and categories from a Posterous export file" - attached files seem to show up as an absolute link, pointing to files.posterous (though some point to files.wordpress or something like that).

I'd not be surprised if file links might break once Posterous disappears, however you have all the atttachments in the various folders of your zip and can navigate to them and manually upload if necessary. I've got over 800 to do for ScicommJobs so not overly enthusiastic about that ;)

Saturday, 20 April 2013

I love blogpost comment spam - this is from very poor article-spinning algorithms

It's often very, very easy to spot a spam comment - and it's made an awful lot more easy when spammers try and throw several comments at once. Admittedly any one of these by itself would ring spam warning bells (some spam comments are better formatted and aren't as immediately obvious) but taken together I find them rather delightful.

Someone somewhere has written a basic sentence and then its text has been modified (probably automatically) by swapping words around to create an almost-infinite number of versions - this is 'article spinning' though it goes under different names too.

It's been used as a quick way of creating "fresh" website content to get round Google's disdain for obviously duplicated websites, although I think Google has toughened up on this. Far be it from me to imply that all badly written incomprehensible articles on the web are spun articles but if they're selling something I think that increases the likelihood.

Article spinning makes me think of  a combination of linguistics and cryptography (how easy is it to take these sentences and back-translate to work out the original text), and to a lesser extent, genetics (substitutions / mutations).

Here's my latest crop of spam comments.

1. ShowGarden offers the unreduced Subsistence tidy sum after our household and commercial customers. With resolution packages starting from as toy as e30 you can be subjected to that masterly manicured garden recompense less than you think. We self-confidence in 100% consumer happiness is a minimum.

2. ShowGarden offers the utter Alimony unit for our home and commercial customers. With upkeep packages starting from as particle as e30 you can obtain that professional manicured garden in behalf of less than you think. We take it 100% bloke reparation is a minimum.

3. ShowGarden offers the concluded Sustentation box a substitute alternatively of our housekeeper and commercial customers. With sustention packages starting from as toy as e30 you can get that educated manicured garden after less than you think. We assurance in 100% personally fulfilment is a minimum.

4. ShowGarden offers the unabridged Sustentation enclose for our household and commercial customers. With sustentation packages starting from as petite as e30 you can force that prompt manicured garden with a view less than you think. We believe 100% chap fulfilment is a minimum.

5. ShowGarden offers the unabated Persistence case for our house-broken and commercial customers. With upkeep packages starting from as little as e30 you can have that professional manicured garden in place of less than you think. We credit 100% customer satisfaction is a minimum.

Thing I have never understood about defamation and the Streisand effect

I generally only hear about defamation cases or libel threats when it appears that 'a bad guy' is going after 'a good guy'. Clearly it can't be that simple and I'm sure the 'bad' guys have mothers that love them and friends that think they or their name has been maligned unfairly.

There's a recent case in which a company got cross after the person they'd been slow in sending payment to expressed their annoyance about it on Twitter. I'd never heard of the company before or the writer who'd done some work for them. It seems that the company eventually paid up and the writer tweeted about that as well (ie they didn't just complain when the company got it wrong and then stay silent when the company rectified it, they acknowledged that things had improved).

Now the company seems to suing the writer for defaming their good name.

To me this ensures that they no longer have a good name to me as the only reason I've heard of them is because of this action they've taken. Not surprisingly there are quite a few tweets and blog posts popping up that are cautiously negative about the company, and in support of the writer (money has been raised by the public to support court fees).

This is also known as the Streisand effect where someone's efforts to stop one thing happening end up magnifying it far beyond its original reach. Barbra Streisand apparently wanted a photograph of her property removed from the internet but by drawing attention to its existence several thousand people saw it whereas previously it had passed largely unnoticed.

If a company draws attention to something mildly bad that it's done (not paid on time) and something mildly bad that someone else has done (complain publicly about the lack of prompt payment) by doing something much worse (suing someone, which seems to be a bit of a disproportionate response) surely they've defamed themselves and have disqualified themselves from pursuing any claim.

It may be fairly obvious at this point that I am not a lawyer... ;)

Friday, 19 April 2013

#CS CPD for teachers preparing to teach Computing at GCSE or beyond - 10wk course at QMUL w Python & Raspberry Pi

Edit 20 May - not sure why but this post is suddenly receiving a lot of hits. If you're a teacher wanting to get to grips with anything to do with the Computing curriculum in the UK please keep an eye on Computing At School's (CAS) website in particular its events page which has all sorts of free and low-cost events on Python, micro:bit, crumbles, computational thinking etc -
all events
official CAS events

Original post continues below...

I discovered yesterday that some of my colleagues are running this, finger on the pulse me ;)

Rather tempted to do the course myself but alas I can't because I'm not a teacher - although I'll see if I can persuade them to run one for randoms like me.

ONLY FOR TEACHERS not for Jos...

Have copied and pasted the text below.

Programming and more: CPD for GCSE computing

Queen Mary, University of London

Runs on Wednesdays 4.30pm-7pm (BST) from 8 May 2013 - 17 July 2013

London, United Kingdom

This course is for teachers preparing to teach Computing at GCSE or beyond. The course focuses on programming using a textual language and on understanding the essential concepts of the workings of a computer.

The course will run for ten weeks, excluding half term. Each session will last for 2.5 hours, from 4.30pm to 7pm. It will take place in the ITL Building at Queen Mary, University of London, E1 4NS.

The main course language is Python, a popular language in schools. Programming will be taught from scratch but we recommend that you should have tried at least a little programming beforehand (for example, using Scratch, Kodu, Alice or a similar tool). The ideas you will learn using Python will be applicable to other languages; we will make some comparisons.

Highlights include:
  • The course fee includes a Raspberry Pi for each teacher to keep, used for practical programming both during the course and in your own time.
  • The course is supported by practising school teachers who will be available to answer questions about classroom practice.
  • The course leaders are from Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London, the home of cs4fn, a respected resource for teachers and students about computing. As well as teaching undergraduate computer science, they have experience of talking in schools and producing fun computing activities for students.
  • Material will be available on QMUL’s VLE, which is accessible from anywhere.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Medical device spam, and claims of curing everything

"It cures completely automatically, and can be used by people who know nothing about medicine."

In my line of work I keep an eye on stuff to do with medical devices and having moved the work blog to Wordpress I've discovered the 'aerial view' that Wordpress provides, showing other blogs publishing posts tagged with the phrase 'medical devices', to be rather helpful.

Anyone who's read any of my posts on this blog might have picked up that I'm also quite fascinated by spam, more about the techniques (such as article spinning) used to exploit, or subvert 'SEO' by writing and arranging content that pays as much attention to Google's 'eyeballs' as to human ones.

According to the list of blogs tagged with 'medical devices' (and note that link will bring up different stuff depending on when you click on it) there's a new device in town. Well it's been around since 2012 but they seem to be gearing up to promote it.

In the last week and one day a video introducing Medicomat products has been posted 37 times on two blogs belonging to "hair61form" and "tray35libra" - and seemingly no other Wordpress blogs (or at least not tagged with medical devices).

Drilling into those two blogs, it seems from their archives that the 'hair61form' blog has posted 54 posts since 13 March 2013, all promoting the same company's devices.

The tray35libra blog has published 76 posts about Medicomat's devices and the video features on many of them.

The most recent of their posts is basically a screed of text that isn't particularly relevant to the product but which presumably increases its chance of faring better on Google etc by being natural-looking text which contains lots of searched-for terms.

The title is "Treatment of diabetes - the best equipments" but I think you'd agree that the first paragraph doesn't bear much relation to that.
"Home Treatment For Sinus and Medicomat Treatment Of Diabetes – Amazing Benefits of Medicomat. Wrist Laser Therapeutic Instrument Therapeutic principle: Our semiconductor laser therapeutic instrument has been developed base on modern laser medicine and clinical practise.It adopts low-level laser with the wavelength of 650nm,through specific parts of irradiation and using light radiation of laser and wavelength relation to change the biological characteristics and peel off the fat layer and cholesterol wrapped in the red blood cells,to improve the activity and oxygen carrying capacity as well as the deformability of cells,reduce the concentration of middle molecules in the blood,improve hem rheological properties and lower triglycerides and cholesterol,in order to effectively treat and prevent heart and brain diseases."
It then goes on to talk about endometriosis, sinus infections, ozone generation and a bit about acupuncture - all bases covered.

The company has on its website an expandable picture showing their stamp of 'approval' from the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which just lists all of the trademarks the company has on its various products - there are quite a lot.

I've no idea if this product works or if there's any good evidence that it works but I have been struck recently at the lack of trials for medical devices in general.

At the "Medical devices: is the new legislation sufficient to protect patients?" event in Brussels on 14 November 2012 (the video is on the page linked above) one of the delegates (at around 41 mins) quotes from a 2011 BMJ article* highlighting the difference between effectiveness / efficacy:

"... “If a manufacturer wishes to market a laser to incise heart tissue to treat arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) in the EU, the manufacturer must show that the laser incises heart tissue only. In the US, however, the manufacturers must show that the laser incises heart tissue and also treats the arrhythmia.”"

I also thought this quote, from the same paper, was interesting "Earlier this year, Rita Redberg, editor of Archives of Internal Medicine and a cardiologist, told Congress: “I can’t help but wonder why clinical trials are widely accepted by the pharmaceutical industry as essential to ensure patient safety, but not by the device industry."

Me too.

Anyway here are a few screenshots from the Medicomat video (click to enlarge). They surprised me quite a bit. I wonder if it's going to be promoted over here in the UK, or if it already is.

No, it doesn't

Europeans are left to their own devices
BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 15 May 2011)
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2748

The founder of the company has certainly been busy (see also, which is relevant to article spinning linked above).

Monday, 1 April 2013

On a post can you 'reprime' the autopost-to-Twitter function?

Thanks to Posterous shutting down I now have several of my blogs at and I must say I'm very happy with them in their new home. One thing that I've not worked out how to do relates to the autopost function.

If you link your Wordpress blog to your Twitter account then when you draft a new post there's an automatic thing set in place (which you can disable for individual posts of course) that will, once you press publish, publish a note about your post to the relevant Twitter account. You can also edit the tweet that will be sent (by default it's the title plus the link to the published post).

This means that for each post you get one tweet sent through the blog's linked Twitter account. How can I arrange things so that I can send out another tweet from the linked Twitter account?

It's easy for me to copy and paste the post's title and URL and send it from *my* Twitter account but I want it to come from a different one (eg @ScicommJobs).

On Posterous if you were logged in you could hover over any post you'd written and click the Autopost link - this would send a tweet not from your own account (eg I'd be logged in to Twitter as @JoBrodie) but from the appropriately linked account (@ScicommJobs).

I'd like to be able to do this on the Wordpress blogs - is is possible? Does it involve a widget or is it not possible with the basic blog hosting, as opposed to the self-hosting business?

Just to be absolutely clear about the different types of tweets
1. Re-sending an autopost from through the Twitter account that is linked to it rather than my main Twitter account - that's the one I'm after
2. 'Tweet this' - which lets anyone send a tweet about a blog post, through whatever Twitter account they're logged in with (I'm not interested in that).