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

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Reiki courses are on sale at City Lit, which should surely know better

Update 8 August 2014 - I've checked the City Lit website for these courses and am pleased to report that all the ones listed below are no longer subsidised by government funding.


Reiki is a pleasant relaxing hand-waving sort of technique that doesn't particularly offend me until someone makes health claims for it, or sells courses in it from an academic institution. A list of the courses is at the end of the post.

Most academic institutions have now stopped courses in homeopathy, which I assume is largely from embarrassment at the response to stories about this getting into the news. I rather hope Reiki comes to a similar end.

I've no objection to independent colleges teaching Reiki or anything else but it seems weird for academic institutions to do so. Perhaps I should be more concerned by availability of course from degree-awarding institutions (possibly City Lit isn't one of these) but in any case I've emailed them asking them why they offer the course and to clarify whether two of their courses are also subsidised by Government funding (which I also find troubling).

In the email I've also requested that students on the courses are given information about the current guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), via the Committee of Advertising Practice's code (CAP code). To teach them a course in stuff that isn't true is bad, but if they're then going out and selling it to the public this complicates the badness which is then further complicated by the fact that skeptic bloggers will then report them to the ASA. These courses do both practitioners and therapy customers a disservice, but I can't see me getting much of a favourable response from independent colleges.

Recently the Nightingale Collaboration asked its newsletter readers (small note - the Nightingale Collaboration doesn't have members, anyone who likes or dislikes the NC can sign up to read their newsletters) to monitor the websites of practitioners who were registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) - this included some Reiki practitioners who are in the list of several modalities that the CNHC will register. Many of them did not make misleading claims but the few that did will have been reported to the CNHC and / or the ASA for doing so.

The CNHC had previously committed to supporting its registrants in complying with the ASA / CAP code so this was a check to see that this was happening. While most were fine it's annoying to see that they're registering people but not really doing a proper job of monitoring what claims are made.

The CAP code on Reiki is very clear about what can and cannot be said and if you're teaching a course in Reiki please make sure that your students understand what's in it, that they read the example adjudications and understand the effect that an adjudication may have on their Google search results (the ASA adjudications show up prominently, and some of the blog posts about individual complaints do too).
Briefly: the ASA / CAP have seen no evidence that Reiki has any physical healing effect on the body, practitioners should be careful about referring to healthcare conditions and should not discourage essential treatment. Testimonials cannot be used as evidence for the effectiveness of Reiki but practitioners may make claims about the relaxing experience of a session and its positive effects on wellbeing, and they can also refer to the history of Reiki.

Energy and relaxation courses at City Lit

Certificate in Reiki healing: stage 1
"Reiki means 'universal energy'. You will be attuned to channel this energy and learn how to treat yourself and others with this gentle system of healing, according to the tradition of Dr Usui."

Certificate in Reiki healing: stage 2
"A continuation from 'Certificate in Reiki healing: stage 1'. Learn how to use Reiki symbols for distance healing and empowering goals."

Certificate in Reiki healing: stage 2 fast track
"A continuation from 'Certificate in Reiki healing: stage 1'. Learn how to use Reiki symbols for distance healing and empowering goals." - this one doesn't seem to exist anymore

Crystal healing and energy work
"Create a sense of well-being at home and in the workplace. Learn simple ways of using crystals to assist in the energising, healing and balancing of the mind, body and emotions."

Healing, creativity and chakras
"Take a journey of discovery through the chakras and experience a more integrated approach to personal growth. Learn how to balance your seven spiritual energy centres and discover new opportunities for creativity, empowerment and self development."

Reiki master certificate
"Learn how to attune others to Reiki and receive your master attunement. You need to have completed 'Reiki certificates' 1 and 2 and be able to draw the Reiki symbols from memory. Students selected through screening process."

Reiki with crystals
"Learn how to integrate crystals into your Reiki healings. Explore how to balance the chakras, boost energy, cleanse the aura, ‘ground and protect’, and enhance your healing environment with a variety of crystals. Suitable if you have completed 'Reiki level 1 and level 2' or are a practitioner."

Saturday, 28 September 2013

How to enjoy media files on iPhone without using iTunes (and using Dropbox instead)

I have to assume this works for most smartphones and tablets.

You will need
  • a free Dropbox account* 
  • an iPhone or similar
  • the Dropbox iPhone app installed on your iPhone
  • wifi connectivity
*or you can use my referrer link and give me extra space which is always nice - note that this shares your email address with me, so think about your own privacy too, possibly it shares my email address with you as well!

  • Save the media file into your Dropbox folder on your computer
  • open up the Dropbox app on your iPhone, navigate to the file and play it
    (you'll need the wifi to synchronise with the Dropbox server and to maintain playback - however if you favourite the file you can probably listen to it offline).
I've been listening to mp3s on my iPhone via Dropbox since November 2010 as I find it easier to handle files via Dropbox than iTunes. I just save them in Dropbox and when I open the iPhone app there they are and they play fine.

Yesterday I was rather pleased to discover that it also works for video files and I managed to play a 700mb .avi file as well as a 176mb .wmv file (it's the same programme but the larger one is nearer to broadcast quality).

Not surprisingly the first time I tried to play the larger file it kept cutting out every 10 seconds and seemed to be not working very well at all but a bit of patience was all that was needed. The iPhone did something to it to 'optimise it for mobile playback' no idea what but about 10 minutes later it played all the way through.

Dropbox's own help pages have a list of files that will play including music and video: and they also have a more advanced page for trickier filetypes and how to convert them (they suggest Handbrake - I've only used Zamzar and Real Player).

Media filetypes that I've successfully played on my iPhone via Dropbox
  • .avi
  • .flv
  • .m4a (these are meant for iTunes, but work fine)
  • .mp3
  • .wmv 
Music files listed on Dropbox help files that should work: .mp3, .aiff, .m4a, .wav
Video files listed on their help files that should work: .mov, .mp4, .m4v

Filetypes that I've not had much luck with
  • .m4r - ring tones, but these can be converted to .mp3 files via (I've just tried it, works fine)

Friday, 27 September 2013

Has your Pinterest account been hacked and autoposting to your Twitter? Check your Twitter apps page too.

Update: a note on terminology, at the end (hacking v phishing)

I've spotted a couple of people I follow on Twitter sending out a tweet promoting Garcinia cambogia extract which is yet another weight loss supplement, this one apparently advertised by Dr Oz (though he's not behind the spamming).

However they didn't write the tweet, it actually came from their (separate) Pinterest account which, because they've authorised it to post to Twitter on their behalf, meant that these nonsense tweets showed up.

At the moment you can't tell from looking at someone's profile on what app they've tweeted with. They might be tweeting from a desktop / laptop computer, using's interface (ie 'from web') or from an app on their tablet or smartphone. Twitter used to share that info, it doesn't now (presumably to discourage advertising other services when it has its own app that it wants people to use).

However some apps do still provide this information and Echofon for iPhone is one of them. Searching for the relevant tweets from my friends I saw that they'd been sent by the Pinterest app and searching for references to Garcinia cambogia brought up plenty more examples of tweets emitted by Pinterest. It also became clear that a few people's Pinterest accounts had been hacked.

At first I thought people had had their Twitter account hacked or phished but it seems that it's Pinterest, not Twitter.

What to do?
To stop emitting tweets you'll need to revoke access to Pinterest. This stops it from being able to tweet on your behalf - go to the Apps section of your Settings, and revoke it:

You will also need to check your Pinterest page as it's likely that you now have rubbish pics pinned on there by someone else.

What's happening here?
Your Pinterest account was hacked or phished, someone started posting rubbish photos on there in the hope that you'd previously set up an autopost to Twitter. If you had that set up then bingo for them as your Twitter feed is now pinging out adverts for someone's weight loss supplements and you may not be aware of it as your Twitter account is otherwise uncompromised.

I authorised Pinterest in 2012 as a log in only, I don't think it can tweet on my behalf, though it will be interesting to see (I've not revoked it as I'm curious to see what might happen).

Note that if even if you don't have your Pinterest hooked up to your Twitter it's still possible that your Pinterest account has been hacked anyway, but any damage is probably less obvious.

The take-home messages for me are:
  • Echofon and other apps can give you background intelligence about which app is being used to send a tweet. By itself that information may not be particularly illuminating but it can be useful (eg to see, more generally, if an account is a real person or always posting via automated systems)
  • Your Twitter account can be indirectly 'hacked' by hacking of another system which is hooked up to it. Not surprising and not unknown but interesting to see it happening so... almost covertly here.

This isn't a new technique, even for Garcinia spam which has been doing the rounds for at least a year and the blog post below shows before that it was the well-known Acai berry spam:

Don't buy Garcinia cambogia - no evidence for it, certainly no evidence that the pills you're buying even contain it (and they may contain something much worse). And check your Pinterest account (and Twitter apps) :)

Terms used - update
When I posted this on Twitter Tim Haines pointed out that I was fibbing a bit by talking about hacking. He's kind of right, so I'm clarifying the meanings by pointing to Wikipedia:

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Asking for evidence when companies make misleading claims - but whom should we ask? #askforevidence

The charity Sense About Science has a rather good campaign called Ask For Evidence which I'm fully behind. I think if someone makes claims they should expect to be asked for their evidence and I applaud a campaign that raises awareness of this, both in terms of reminding people that they're perfectly entitled to ask for evidence, and in reminding organisations that they should expect to be asked. We should all be a bit more skeptical about claims that seem too good to be true.

proof reflection | 096/365

Actually, when I ask for evidence I'm usually not asking the company or marketer directly, I'm asking one of several regulatory authorities (such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Trading Standards or the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) to investigate on my behalf.

In fact my strategy has generally been to research the claims myself and put forward a fairly detailed explanation of why I think something's not quite right. I don't put in a huge number of complaints but I have a fairly high 'success' rate (in that the material is amended, or an adjudication is upheld) though occasionally my complaint doesn't get taken forward.

Another thing I typically do is blog about the topic I'm complaining about, or the company itself. This means that people searching for information about it / them might find a blog post that is critical of the intervention and explains why the claims are misleading. This changes the Google landscape a tiny bit and an explanation of the reasons why a claim is misleading might put someone off wasting money on a treatment.

Complaining about misleading adverts
Whenever the ASA gets a complaint it contacts the marketer and asks for evidence or, if the claims clearly breach the advertising code it'll ask them to amend the ad. Either the organisation has evidence or it hasn't but in any case the outcome will end up on the ASA's website.

The basic publication is on a list of 'informally resolved' cases where the organisation amends the claims and no further action is taken. In more complex cases it goes to adjudication and is either upheld or not upheld (a good outcome for the organisation). In more extreme cases where the marketer refuses to amend claims they will end up on the ASA's non-compliant online advertisers list - this can lead to further problems including being passed on to Trading Standards (who can instigate criminal proceedings and shut organisations down) and having their site downgraded in Google search results).

Sense About Science have a series of guides to help people ask for evidence effectively, depending on who they're asking and what it is they need to ask for.

The guide covers asking
  • companies about their product claims, 
  • politicians about things they've said 
  • and how to respond to articles in newspapers and magazines.

    There are also examples given where people have asked for evidence, and whether or not they're still waiting for it or the advert has been withdrawn (I'm not sure if there are any where evidence has actually been forthcoming but that would be nice).
A question for fellow skeptic bloggers / activists... and perhaps for 'quacks'
I've always thought that it would seem to be a kindness to give a company an opportunity to avoid a citation on the ASA's website by seeing if it's possible to resolve the misleading claims before snitching on them.

However I'm yet to find the right way to do this - and wondered if anyone had any ideas or if we've all agreed to just get on and report it. I wonder if people who are (let's charitably assume they're doing it unwittingly) making misleading claims would rather skeptics 'had a quiet word' before bringing things to the ASA's attention.

I've tried face to face, telephone conversations and emails but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a way of communicating to someone that their advert is misleading without getting their hackles up. Or if there is I've not managed it (and I'm always Britishly polite about it even if they aren't).

Worse, I feel that I do have to tell them that if they don't change the advert I'm going to report it to the ASA and that just sounds threatening. So, much as I'd like to, I'm afraid I don't bother with the preliminaries and just report the misleading claims.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Healthcare professionals: research project / focus group on error, blame and resilience in London

There's a focus group next Thursday in London for healthcare professionals to talk about the issues of error, blame and their resilience strategies to avoid errors. An example might be using a post-it note to flag up a reminder.

By their very nature people's 'resilience strategies' aren't official or found in manuals - we're collecting this sort of 'hidden' information to use in improving the design of medical devices.

Making devices more resilient to error can make them safer for patients. 

Medical Professionals (e.g. nurses, doctors, paramedics and emergency care practitioners)
Thursday 26th September 2013
5.30-6.00pm – registration, food and refreshments
6.00-8.00pm – focus group

I work on the CHI+MED project which is about making interactive medical devices (such as cancer drug pumps and blood glucose meters for people with diabetes) safer and more resistant to error. One of the offshoots of the project is Errordiary* which collects examples of everday error and they're running a focus group next Thursday 26 September 2013 to find out about error, and its prevention, in healthcare.

In most situations we pretty much accept that everyone makes mistakes. If I turn up to the tube station and reach for my keys out instead of my rail card I've made a mistake. But no-one dies. There are no calls to retrain me and no-one's blaming me beyond some annoyed tuts from passengers behind me. The press is unlikely to scour my Facebook page for pictures of me drunk and incompetently trying to get through barriers with the wrong card, and I'm unlikely to lose my job.

We do tend to be a bit more blame-y towards people who work in healthcare when something goes wrong - these are highly trained individuals who are rarely 'permitted' to be human and make mistakes. When we ask for them to be sacked for incompetence we may be holding them to an impossible (unreasonably high) standard. When we ask for them to be retrained we may be wasting everyone's time if 'lack of training' had nothing to do with the fault in the first place.

No amount of training can really prevent me from grabbing the wrong thing but there are things that can be done to make it less likely.

Most people are right-handed so it's useful to have the control point on the right hand side (that's building resilience into the system) and it's sensible for me to keep my card in my right pocket. I can also keep my keys in my bag, so they're separate from my rail card!

On a chemotherapy pump it's easy enough to type in a wrong number: 52 instead of 5.2. Perhaps the visual display of the decimal point be clearer. Or the decimal point on the keypad could be in a better position. Perhaps the drug library installed on the pump could flag up that the drug dose is much higher than expected.

Hopefully the user will notice anyway and re-enter the correct figure - but what can be done to increase the chances that any error is spotted?

Finding out more about the errors that people make and how they avoid them, or recover from them, is a big part of tackling them and improving the safer use of devices.

Here's the blurb that I've pinched from my colleague Dom Furniss' post on the Errordiary focus group:
We are organising focus groups to find out more about what you think of human error, blame culture and resilience to error. We’re interested in mistakes – why we make them, how often we make them and what happens when we make them in trivial and serious contexts. For example:
  • How often do you make errors? All the time, never or somewhere in between?
  • What do you think about errors? Are they sometimes funny? What about when they happen at work?
  • What do you think about fatal errors reported in the news? What do you think should happen to people after they’ve made a serious error?
  • Should we share errors more? What are the pros and cons of this? What are the challenges?
  • What can we do to prevent errors happening in the future?
If you're a healthcare professional and free next Thursday please help, or tell a friend - thank you :)

"To err is human…
To understand why we err and to try to reduce our erring is human too!

Errordiary is about sharing errors so people can think about human error in a new way. We already know that the same psychological principles lie behind everyday errors and those errors of a more serious nature. Whether they are funny, frustrating or fatal depends on the context."
From About Errordiary
Wiseman, S., Gould, S., Furniss, D., & Cox, A. (2012). Errordiary: Support for teaching human error. Paper presented at the Contextualised Curriculum Workshop at CHI 2012, Austin, Texas, May 2012.

You can see the latest tweets, tagged with #Errordiary (about errors) or #rsdiary (resilience strategies diary) too.

Further reading - preprints available to download as PDFs from the links given
Furniss, D., Back, J., & Blandford, A. (2012). Cognitive resilience: Can we use Twitter to make strategies more tangible? Proceedings of European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics (ECCE 2012), 96–99. New York: ACM.

Lee, P. T., Thompson, F., & Thimbleby, H. (2012). Analysis of infusion pump error logs and their significance for health care. British Journal of Nursing (Intravenous Supplement), 21(8), S12-S20.

Furniss, D., Blandford, A., & Mayer, A. (2011). Unremarkable errors: Low-level disturbances in infusion pump use. Proceedings of the 25th BCS Conference on Human Computer Interaction (HCI-2011), 197–204.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Alt+Shift+5: How to strikethrough text on Google Drive (Google Docs as was) - Option+Shift+5 for Macs

Being able to delete text without deleting removing it is a useful thing as you can see how a document has changed, or in some cases how thinking has changed during the editing process.

Strikethrough text options let you do a very minor example of version control. Here is an example of text that has been (can we use the past tense for this...?!) 'struck through' using the strikethrough tool on Blogger, which looks like this ABC.

It's something that I see used a lot on blog posts including my own. New info comes to light so you want to correct things, without necessarily pretending that you got them right first time. It can also be used extremely effectively in contentious posts as this subtly edited Cancer Research UK Science Blog post shows. Supporters of the expensive and unproven Burzynski cancer intervention wanted certain things changed on the post, they almost got their way ;)

In html you can just append the strike tag around the word to be amended (no spaces between the angle brackets though, I had to write it like that so that it would show up on the screen).
< strike > TEXT < /strike >
On Google Drive / Google Docs there doesn't appear to be an obvious button to click to strikethrough text - but it is possible to do this, with this keyboard shortcut:

PC: Alt + Shift + 5
Mac: Option + Shift + 5

In the menu options Strikethrough can be found in Format - which isn't that surprising. But I like keyboard shortcuts.

More Google Drive / Docs keyboard shortcuts for Mac and PC

The StackExchange page that told me about this, when I googled for help

How to remember who tweeted that article when you want to give them credit later

Fairly often someone will tweet, or retweet, a link to an article. I'll click on the link and have it open in a tab all day until reading it later. By that point I've probably forgotten who it was that sent it.

While I could just tweet it out myself I prefer to say where it came from if I can. Not just out of British politeness but because others might be interested in following the people who initially shared it*.

Use search to find out who shared the link
All you have to do is take the address of the article you're reading, paste it into Twitter's search box and see who's tweeted it. You can select 'People you follow' to limit it a bit. If your friend has RTed someone else tweet then you'll not see your friend listed. You'll have to click on likely looking tweets to see how often it's been RTed and by whom and if you're in luck you'll spot your friend there and can add in a 'via @name' to your own tweet.

If there are too many or it doesn't show up, then that's the time to admit defeat and just send it out yourself. But I occasionally see people say 'I can't remember who posted this' and I thought I'd share how to find out. Mind you, if something's popular and being retweeted by loads of people then... just post it and don't worry about it!

a) This is more generally useful for monitoring your website of course
Hopefully this also flags up, to anyone who might not have considered it yet, that you can search for your organisation's website (or your blog URL etc) and see what people are saying about it. You don't even need to have the full URL. If you search on Twitter for brodiesnotes you will see all the tweets I've sent where I mention a new post I've written.

b) How to link to a site without flagging it up to the site owner, ie stop people from doing (a)
The sneakier among you might have noticed that people can see when you've posted the link to their website.

If you want to share a link on Twitter to an organisation without letting said organisation know about it you might think the obvious thing to do is 'not include their @name' however if they're monitoring their URL(s) as above then they'll see it anyway.

To thwart them, you need to use a wrapper to hide the URL. Suggestions include Do Not Link - I've not tried it myself yet but understand that it's being used to share links on blog posts where you don't wouldn't want to link to their site directly (which risks benefiting them because once Google indexes your page and notices that your site has linked to them, that slightly increases their 'rank').

Or you could use - its intended use is to share multiple websites under the banner of a single address - you add a series of pages that you want to share, 'krunch' them and end up with one URL, but you can krunch a single URL too. The people behind the site seem to have stopped developing it further so it's a bit unreliable for sharing multiple pages (you used to be able to go back in and edit out pages that disappeared or moved, but not now), though ideal for hiding an URL on Twitter I believe.

Kenter Link

*This is one of the reasons why I really dislike automatic RTs because they strip out the chain of how a tweet arrived in my timeline.

Pretend I'm following Jane but not Fred. If Fred tweets something amusing and Jane retweets it I'll see it. If I retweet it it just looks like I'm retweeting Fred, Jane doesn't get a mention unless I manually retweet it and add her name. There are loads of people who consistently cause interesting stuff to appear in my timeline and people who follow me might like to follow them directly. If I just RT the stuff they've RTed I'm not giving these 'middle men' any credit, which I think is a shame.

Obviously the person who crafted the tweet initially should get credit, but I also think credit is due to those who've spotted it and shared it.

On the plus side they'll probably never know if I don't because, by definition, they're not notified ;)

All my other blog posts about things I've discovered on Twitter over the years live at the Twitter tips category and I've also tagged this as a how to post, and I've done umpteen of those too.

Blackheath, Hampstead and Richmond Scientific Societies - are there others?

I know of the Blackheath Scientific Society, the Hampstead Scientific Society and the Richmond Scientific Society. They all put on evening talks, generally once a month, in what I think many would agree are lovely parts of town - there must be more scientific societies like this in London? I don't mean societies for professional bodies but more for local enjoyment of science, or pleasant disagreement depending on the talk under discussion.

Science Cookie Break
Science cookies taken by Flickr user Ryan Somma (ideonexus), at Science Online 2011

Here are the talks lists for the three societies and links to find out more.

Blackheath Scientific Society
These take place on Friday at 7.45pm in Mycenae House, 90 Mycenae Road, SE3 7SE

18 October 2013
Dr Lewis Dartnell, University College, London
Many organic molecules exist in space; they probably contributed to life on earth.

15 November 2013
Conservation - Knole in Flux
Ms Emily Watts, MA, House steward, Knole / Ms Sioban Barratt, Conservator
A project for External Repairs and to provide an on-site Conservation Studio.

20 December 2013
AGM and Members Evening
Short Talks and Exhibits of Scientific Interest Members

17 January 2013
Damascus Steel
 Mr Owen Bush
Reviving the ancient art of handmaking Steel Swords.

21 February 2014
Eels and the Thames:
Mr Darryl Clifton-Dey
Their numbers have drastically declined and are being monitored to find out why to be able to improve their lot.

21 March 2014
Advances in Dentistry
Dr Dharaka Nathan

11 April 2014
Firefighting in Tall Buildings
Mr Adam Carter, London Fire Brigade

16 May 2014

Im Wissenschaftszug Science-Express in Halle(Saale)
Im Wissenshaftszug Science-Express in Halle (Saale) taken by Flickr user gynti_46

Hampstead Scientific Society
These take place on Thursdays at 8.15pm in a church, St John at Hampstead, Church Row (head for The Crypt Room), NW3 6UU - I love the hand-drawn maps on this page, they remind me of the maps of the village that Milly-Molly-Mandy lived in, in the books I enjoyed as a child.

19 September 2013
Water in the universe
Prof. Jonathan Tennyson (University College London)

17 October 2013
How well do you know your pet?
Miss Ezat Luba Yomtovian, BVet Med MRCVS (Veterinary Surgeon and Behaviour Consultant)

21 November 2013
HIV - How, why, when and where?
Prof. Dorothy Crawford (University of Edinburgh)

12 December 2013
The Higgs Particle
Prof. Jonathan Butterworth (University College London, ATLAS, CERN)

16 January 2014
The impact of lasers on the world
Professor Stephen Sweeney (University of Surrey)

20 February 2014
Hybrid and hydrogen powered cars
Professor Richard Bucknall (University College London)
20 March 2014
The star-crossed stone: the Archaeology, Mythology and Folk Lore of the Fossil Sea Urchin
Dr Ken McNamara (Director, Sedgwick Museum, University of Cambridge)

17 April 2014
Can you make yourself invisible?
Dr Akram Alomainy (Queen Mary, University of London)

15 May 2014
The Working Brain
Prof. Steve Swithenby (Open University)

26 June 2014
8:00 pm
AGM: Wine and Cheese £zzz + scientific entertainment

It starts 15 mins earlier for more drinking and eating cheese, which seems very sensible :)

Anu Frank-Lawale (right) and a VIMS student (left) discuss the graphic facilitation that Julie Stuart did during the communicating science panel. ©Will Sweatt/VASG
People discussing the results of a communicating science panel, photo taken by Flickr user Virginia Sea Grant

Richmond Scientific Society
These take place on Mondays at 8pm in the Vestry House, 21 Paradise Road, TW9 1SA.

11 September 2013
Atmospheric measurements from small airborne platforms
Dr Keri Nicoll - University of Reading

2 October 2013
The story of noise
Preceded by the Annual General Meeting. Wine & Nibbles after the talk.
Dr Mike Goldsmith - science writer

23 October 2013
3D photography from 1841 to the present: an illustrated talk
Colin Metherell - Stereoscopic Society

13 November 2013
A growing problem - invasive pests of plants in Britain
Dr Andrew Halstead - Royal Horticultural Society entomologist (retired)

11 December 2013
Dinosaur sociality: crests, colours and signalling
(Christmas meeting with wine and nibbles)
Dr David Hone - Queen Mary, University of London

22 January 2014
Life histories & evolution in Hawaiian lepidoptera
Dr Michael de Podesta - National Physical Laboratory

19 February 2014
How do you know what the temperature is?
Dr Michael de Podesta - National Physical Laboratory

19 March 2014
Lecture for National Science Week
Materials for fusion power
Prof Steve Roberts - University of Oxford

16 April 2014
Fracking in the United Kingdom
Prof Peter Simpson - Imperial College London

14 May 2014
(to be announced)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Programming and more - short courses for teachers of GCSE computing at @QMUL

Programming and more: CPD* for GCSE computing 
*CPD = continuing professional development

This is the third short course run by my colleagues at Queen Mary, University of London. The first ran over Wednesday evenings for 10 weeks and there was a second intensive week-long course over the Summer. My only real contribution is boiling water for the tea and some light admin, as I can neither program nor teach it ;)

The third follows the pattern of the first and so starting on Wednesday 2 October 2013 at 5pm teachers can come and learn some Python and tinker with a Raspberry Pi. The format is a short lecture to start with and then a session of programming.

There'll be free tea/coffee and biscuits too and there's a Sainsbury's across the road from the venue and a Co-op next to Stepney Green station for something a bit more substantial. That's not free alas ;)

Programming and more: CPD for GCSE computing
Queen Mary, University of London
Wednesday, 2 October 2013 at 17:00 - Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 19:00
London, United Kingdom

Registration Information

Registration Type       Sales End      Price       Fee     
Course registration     2 Oct 2013     £150.00     £9.65     
Group discount          2 Oct 2013     £100.00     £6.65

Event details
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, including during half term. Each session will last for two hours, from 5pm to 7pm. It will take place in the Engineering Building at Queen Mary, University of London, E1 4NS.

Programming Language: The main course language is Python, a popular language in schools, although the concepts you will learn using Python will be applicable to other languages.

Prerequisites: 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). It is not essential to have used a textual programming language before. 

Highlights include:

  • The course fee includes a Raspberry Pi for each teacher to keep, used for programming and exploring computers, both during the course and in your own time.
  • 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.
  • Flexible Study Pattern: Material will be available on QMUL’s VLE, which is accessible from anywhere and includes recorded lectures, forums and online tests. The study pattern provides flexibility, allowing for occassional unavoidable absence. The weekly sessions at QMUL will focus on practical programming work. To get the best out of the course, participants should expect to do additional study using the VLE.  
Topic outline

How Computers Work
Python expressions and variables.
Component of the Raspberry Pi
Writing scripts; simple input and output.
The Operating System
Conditional statement; boolean expressions
Boolean logic and truth tables 
While loops; finding faults
Binary representation
Dry running a program
Memory and storage
Arrays (lists)
CPU, caching and performance
Communication principles
Pseudo code and flowcharts
Internet components
Functions. Problem solving
Logic gates and boolean algebra
Using files; designing programs for file I/O
Binary adder circuits


Monday, 16 September 2013

How to turn one PDF file with 10 pages in it into 10 files with one page in them

This is an aide-memoire post for me really but I hope you find it useful too. If you're on a Mac I think you can do this easily-peasily with the Preview tool but I'm currently on a PC at work and this is a method I've found that works.

How to Split a PDF Document by Page Without Adobe Acrobat, Using Google Chrome

It's an excellent and clear article on WikiHow with pictures and the instructions work perfectly - you need to use Google Chrome for this one obviously but I'm sure there are other options available.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Botany talks: Monday evening lectures at Kew: KMIS - the Kew Mutual Improvement Society

These are worth going along to if you can get to Kew Gardens on Monday at 6pm. In fact, not the gardens bit as such but the Jodrell Theatre which is much nearer to Kew Bridge station (easy to get to from Waterloo) than to Kew station (both on underground and the overground).

They're a series of talks from September to April and have the wonderful air of the village flower show about them, all quite genteel and edifying. I mean that as a compliment!

One of the first ones I went to in 2007 (that's the link to the original listing there, on The Lecture List) was archaeobotanist Mark Nesbitt's talk on what you can glean about a society from its wheat (for example charred grains suggests a bit of cooking) and all sorts of fascinating things about wheat itself. Mark's since become a mate (we run the big ethnobotany group on Facebook) and through him I've found out about all sorts of fascinating events and courses such as botany for beginners at Kew and a two-week course in economic botany held in Leiden and run by David Mabberley. I recommend that course, it was wonderful. Plus Mark's told me about plenty of one-day events and film screenings and evening talks, some given by Mark himself.

Here's what Kew has to say about its own KMIS (Kew Mutual Improvement Society) lectures:
KMIS Horticultural Lecture Series

KMIS lectures run on Monday evenings from September - March each year, and are open to the general public. They cover a wide range of topics of horticultural and botanical interest.

The Kew Mutual Improvement Society was established in 1871 under the auspices of Joseph Dalton Hooker. The Society programmed a season of horticultural lectures for the benefit of student gardeners at Kew.
For some reason they've hidden the actual KMIS lecture listings in a PDF. Perhaps this is intentional and I am going to peeve them a bit by copying and pasting it here and giving it to Google to index and share more widely. Oops. Well obviously if they ask me to hide them again I shall, so make the most of the info while it's in the wild :)

Check out the nominative determinism there on 21 October.  And 28 October too, kinda ;)

Mondays 6pm
Jodrell Lecture Theatre, RBG Kew
£2 entry. Schedule may be subject to change. See website

September 2013
23     Rocky mountain high – alpine plants of Colorado
Thomas McCarter (Kew Diploma Student)

30     Gardens in a royal landscape – the Savill and Valley Gardens in Windsor Great Park
Mark Flanagan (Keeper of the Gardens, Windsor Great Park)

07     Rethinking the lawn
Lionel Smith (PhD Researcher in Horticulture. University of Reading)

21     No-one knows about wild flowers anymore? Does it matter?
Charles Flower (Countryside restorer)

28     Exploring Britain’s native plant medicine – old wives’ tales or old and wise tales?
Lara Bean (Medical Herbalist)

November04     Floral treasures of eastern Turkey
Kit Strange (Kew alpine horticulturalist)

11     Giant tortoises and heterophyllous plants – the uncut story of Mauritius and Rodrigues
Amy Moffett (Kew Diploma Student)

18     Flower gardening and the natural world – a sideways look. And where is all the energy going?
Edward Green MBE (Founder member of theAncient Tree Forum. Conservation Consultant/

25     Greening Tokyo – urban planting in one of the world’s most densely populated cities
Suzanne Patman (Kew Diploma Student)

02     The restoration of Gravetye Manor
Tom Coward (Head Gardener)

09     Parks and plantings in southern Germany
Martin Deasy (Kew Diploma Student)

January 2014
13     New England salt marshes – plants and productivity
Susan Urpeth (Kew Diploma Student)

20     Victorian gardens
Brent Elliott (RHS Historian)

27     A beginners guide to the orchids of Malaya – hybridisation, urban restoration and cloud forest habitation
Thomas Freeth (Kew Diploma Student)

03     Forensic botany
Peter Gasson (Kew plant anatomist)

10     By elephant, rickshaw and Shanks’ pony – the long road to a Flora of Nepal
Mark Watson (Coordinator of the Major Floras Programme, R.B.G. Edinburgh)

17     The Yorkshire Arboretum – Kew’s partner in the north
John Grimshaw (Director of The Yorkshire Arboretum)

24     What have plants ever done for us?
Timothy Walker (Director of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum)

03      The ancient and diverse fungal-plant symbioses
Bryn Dentinger (Kew Head of Mycology)

14      Flora of Ecuador
Hans-Wilhelm Mackrodt (Kew Diploma Student)

21      Red listing and saving trees from extinction
Sara Oldfield (BGCI Secretary General)

The lectures are occasionally preceded by 'items of interest' from the audience - these can be delightfully random and I keep telling myself that one of these days I should rustle up a five minute talk on bere (pronounced 'bear') which is a type of barley, Hordeum vulgare. It grows in Orkney (one of my favourite places in the world) and may have been introduced there by Vikings in the 9th century and an awful lot has been written about it and its modern use in local food and beer, and emerging markets. While on that economic botany course I learned a fair bit about barley, malting and beer...

Friday, 6 September 2013

Why don't we watch television programmes in the cinema a bit more?

Edit 5 November 2013 - well I'm very pleased to note that the first episode of the new third series of Sherlock is going to be shown at the BFI on Sunday 15 December at 1pm. Public tickets go on sale next week, or tomorrow at 11.30 am for members.

I've just been to a preview at the BFI's NFT3 screen of the first episode of Neil Brand's new BBC Four television programme on film music (Sound of Cinema). Film music is one of my favourite things ever and since there's so much going on at the moment that's about film music (events, talks, TV and radio programmes) it must seem that I'm unusually obsessed with it at the moment (yup). I've posted information about all sorts of things happening over at one of my other blogs (Sound Stuff).

Neil's programme is brilliant - the opening sequence is pretty funny and exceptionally well done. I also learned loads and have discovered what a click track is, developed by Max Steiner apparently.

As a science communicator I always enjoy hearing from people in other 'disciplines' explaining their knowledge in an accessible way so the programme ticks a lot of boxes for me. It's part of the BBC's 'Sound of Cinema Season' of film music programming across radio and television and there are three episodes in Neil's series covering orchestral scores (ep 1), pop / rock (ep 2) and electronic (ep 3). By the way there's a LOT of cool information in both of the links in this paragraph!

First episode's being broadcast on Thursday 12th September 2013 on BBC Four at 9pm. The next night (Fri 13th) I think they're showing Prom 65 which is the Film Prom I went to at the weekend. Pretty sure Neil's presenting that as well actually.

One of the audience members at tonight's event asked if all three of the episodes could be shown on the big screen at the BFI, and that exact same thought had popped into my head while watching the episode. It's an unusual treat (for me) to see television programmes on a big screen and I wondered and tweeted on my way home about why more TV isn't viewed in the cinema.

Possibly there are some good reasons why it's not done but here's my thinking on why it's an utterly brilliant idea.

1. Cinemas seem to want to increase their audiences and have tried all sorts of things to do so. Clearly film is always going to be more of a fit to a cinema screen than television but you can watch 3D sport in cinema screens these days (see 'Exploring alternative content in digital cinema' - I'm afraid only the abstract's available unless you have institutional login). Some pubs have big screens and show sport there and I've seen The Simpsons on more than one pub screen.

2. Admittedly this is more anecdata than data but there is a small precedent for this sort of thing. I went to see an episode of the TV comedy programme 'The Academy' at the Prince Charles Cinema. Ian McKellen (as his 'brother' Murray McKellen, the Principal of the struggling Clapham Academy of Creative Arts, CACA) and Jonathan Hyde and several others from the 'school' were there along with the 'students' and they performed in between clips and it was incredibly good fun. Incidentally everyone was given a card from 'Murray' inviting us to upload photographs of the event (while respecting the on-screen footage and not recording that) and tweet with a particular hashtag - it was an extremely competent bit of multimedia and social media fun.

3. The film 'A Field in England' was recently simultaneously released in cinemas, digital and on television over a weekend in August. Despite people perhaps expecting that everyone would 'just watch it on television'... apparently not, it did quite well in the cinema and has been highlighted as an example of how effective a simultaneous multi-platform release can be. Mark Kermode seems to hold that model of film release in high regard and Film4 (who were behind the film's production and release) blogged about how it had all gone, pretty interesting stuff (see 'A Field In England multiplatform release: the results' from Film4's blog).
4. Scalarama (the amazingly brilliant UK-wide film festival which encourages people into cinemas and also to turn non-cinemas into screening locations along the lines of 'let's fill this land with cinemas') happens to have some much-loved TV shows in among its programming and I've also been to see a series of 'shorts' at the BFI which was all from television, I think.

5. Thank you to @bigdinosaurprod who pointed out, after my series of tweets, that the BFI do in fact have TV marathons on the big screen and that they're pretty well attended. We both wondered why there aren't more of them.

6. Harking back to example (2) where a programme is augmented with a live event... I can imagine that the fans of Dr Who and Sherlock (for example) would welcome the idea of episodes being screened, perhaps alongside Q&As with the writers and producers etc. @bigdinosaurprod also tells me (while writing this blog post in fact!) that the BFI is indeed screening episodes from Dr Who. Gosh!

There's recently been a Dr Who prom and in the last couple of weeks there has been some mumblings about a Sherlock prom next year (see Radio Times interview with one of the series' composers and the Facebook page of the other composer where he asks 'Would you go to a Sherlock prom?').

So... assuming TV producers are happy with the idea and that it's as practicable and straightforward as I've assumed it is (I accept it might be a 'bit more complicated than that')... can cinemas show more TV programmes as well as films (after all TV shows plenty of films!) please?

7. Open air cinema has either increased massively in popularity over the last few years, or it's got better at advertising itself (or I've got better at finding it). In London alone there were well over 250 screenings during the summer in 2013, still ongoing. I collected most of them here (as I do for most years, I've a collection of previous open air screenings in London since 2006 here). I can imagine TV programmes would do pretty well on an open air screen.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Will it embed? How to embed all sorts of things on free Wordpress dot com blog posts

Although my main blog is here on Blogger I have umpteen subsites littered across the web, mostly at Wordpress (the free .com one, not the confusing .org one where you have to faff with a server, download stuff and host it yourself then wrestle with it periodically - that's not for me). They're all there because they used to be at Posterous, it closed down earlier in the year and it was that or a blog site I'd never heard of, so there they are - an example is jobs in science communication.

It's long been known that is cautious about what people can embed on their free blogs but there seems to be a way around this for most things. Here's what I've found - these may not be the best or most elegant solutions but they work, and once they work I pretty much stop looking :)

Below I refer to the following:
• URL which means a web address, eg
• Visual and Text edit windows which refer to the view you're looking at in when drafting a post.

Sometimes to make code work you have to insert it into the post while in Text (ie html) view (cos it won't work if added while in Visual mode). Of course, other times it's the other way around ;)

Note: this is about how to embed stuff on, not on Blogger

Also note: it's entirely possible that the theme you've chosen for your blog may interfere with any of these and require some other strategy! 

As far as I can tell there are three code options:
  • (a) use the URL / web address
  • (b) find out what the shortcode is
  • (c) use the standard 'embed' code (usually longer than shortcode, unsurprisingly)
Half the fun is guessing which of the three to use. If in doubt, stick them all in (first in Visual mode) and click Preview. If that doesn't work, take them out, switch to Text edit view, paste them in, return to Visual - so you can see if it looks like any of them might work, but you'll still have to check in preview. 

Workarounds / embed codes found so far include
I've found methods for Audioboo, Flickr, Google Maps, Mixcloud, Storify (though it's quite laborious), Twitter, Vimeo, Vine and YouTube.

Audioboo: use (b) or (c) the embed code IS the shortcode if you select Wordpress option
This also uses the gigya shortcode as Mixcloud does below, but the advantage here is that it provides the right code for you, so no editing needed.

Call up the page with the boo on it that you're after, then click on Embed. Click on More options at the bottom and choose the option - it will present you with a bit of code that you can insert into the Text edit window and, once published, you'll have a little Audioboo player.

Flickr images: use (c) Embed code
Pretty straightforward - just grab the embed code from the image itself, paste into the Text edit window and you're done. I'd not be that surprised if it turns out you can just do it with the photo's URL but I've always done it with the embed code.

Google Maps: use (c) Embed code
To be honest I was expecting that it was going to be the short code format, as it is for so many other embeddable media. However, surprise surprise I could only get the 'iframe' format to work, yet this is the format that usually doesn't work on You can see why people write blog posts about this sort of thing ;)

Find the Google map area you like and then click on the symbol for link (it's next to the symbol for 'printer' in the panel on the left hand side next to the map bit). Some options will appear - they include a basic URL and a 'Paste HTML to embed in website' option - that's the one that seems to work. You need to insert it while in the Text html editor.

You might also notice an unticked box next to 'Short code' - if you tick that it will reload a short URL, which I assumed would be perfect for Wordpress, but no - it's the 'Paste HTML to embed in website' option.

Mixcloud: use (b) 'gigya' Shortcode (basically tweak the embed code given)
I had a bit of difficulty with this one initially, wrestling with the embed code, trying the URL. Then trying both in the html Text window and in the visual edit window. Then I thought 'someone else will have solved this' and so they have - here's one of several forum posts about the topic.

It seems you need to convert the embed code so that it's in a shortcode form that's acceptable to (this is a 'gigya' shortcode). Then put it in the html Text edit window and it will resolve into a player window wrapper thingy when you publish it (or look at it in the visual editor).

To be honest I just copied the code below and replaced the 'feed' URL with the one I wanted to embed. I added in a space between the [ and the code, and then another one at the end so that I could display it here. You'd need to remove them to make the code work.

[ gigya src="" flashvars="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="opaque" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="480" ]

I took the bit in red out and added in the Mixcloud URL I wanted, which happens to be this

[ gigya src="" flashvars="feed=" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="opaque" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="480" ]

Works perfectly.

Storify - nope
Don't think it can be done - I've never managed it anyway. Do you know how? Please tell me.

Edit 6 Nov 2013 - still can't be done, but can be faked - here's how I did it "How to make it look like youv'e embedded a short Storify story into a free Wordpress dot com blogpost".

Twitter tweets: use (a) URL
Very simple. Just take the URL of whatever tweet you want to embed and paste it into the 'Visual' editor (don't need to hyperlink it, don't need to paste it in while in 'Text' mode either). If you want to add in a few just press enter at the end to create a paragraph break and add the next one. Once published they resolve beautifully into fully realised tweets.

This is an example of the URL of one of my old tweets:

You can find the tweet's address from the timestamp in the top right (on or from the bit at the bottom left which says 'Expand' or 'View conversation' depending on the tweet.

Vimeo videos: use (a) URL
Counterintuitively you don't use the embed code, just the URL of the video. Add it straight into the Visual editor window, don't hyperlink it and it will come out fine.

Vine: use (a) URL
Use URL not embed code, hat tip @JosephFreeman. He used it in the HTML edit window but we're both agreed it would probably work in the Visual one too :)

YouTube videos: use (c) Embed code
Find the embed code on the YouTube video. Click the 'Text' tab on the editing window and paste it in, once you return to 'visual' you should see a small window appear with nothing much in it. Once published it should contain your video.